Misunderstandings about Christianity are rampant, yet large portions of such misunderstandings tend to come from Christians themselves or, generally speaking, those who claim to believe in God.
Most Americans do believe in God (exact figures vary, but generally, figures are well higher than 60%), yet those who make such claims are largely ignorant about their own dogma. In Stephen Prothero’s book Religious Literacy, he says, “Americans are both deeply religious and profoundly ignorant about religion.” He goes further to say, “Atheists may be as rare in America as Jesus-loving politicians are in Europe, but here, faith is almost entirely devoid of content. One of the most religious countries on Earth is also a nation of religious illiterates.” Mr. Prothero adds that only one of every ten American teenagers can name all five major world religions, and fifteen of every one hundred teenagers cannot name any. Approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life’s basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels. Most Americans are also unable to name the first book of the Bible. These realities reflect poorly on Christians, but what’s even more troubling is that most Americans know next to nothing about other faiths. This all invariably leads to more confusion and misunderstanding about other religions—such as Islam and Buddhism—and not knowing is often the first step on the path toward prejudice, violence, and hatred.
In my experience, I think one of the ideas most misunderstood about Christianity is the issue of faith. Many well-educated colleagues have repeatedly asked the question that always tends to circulate around a core theme: How ridiculous is it for a person to put faith in something that is not there, thereby disconnecting from reality and blindly hoping for what does not exist? The argument goes on to suggest that faith denies reality, encourages positive thinking, and simply gives the burdened a psychological coping mechanism where expectations (hope) are established but will never be fulfilled. Let me be clear at once that hope is not faith. Hope looks forward without any prior experience to rely on; faith looks forward cognizant that promises in the past have been fulfilled, and that the Promise-keeper has proven reliable.
This is where I think the central schism between those who do believe and those who do not creates the largest philosophical dilemma for the latter group. If I did not believe in God, then I would be forced to explain reality and everything in it based on naturalism, or a closed system where there’s nothing else outside the box of our universe. In this paradigm, all phenomena—past, present, and future—have to be explained exclusively by what occurs inside the box. (An interesting thought exercise would be to ponder how the original box got there in the first place, but that’s another blog post.) As such, all hopes, desires, dreams, and wishes must have a tangible dividend within this system or else all effort is in vain. Many modern ideologies cleverly disguise this everything-fits-in-the-box philosophy in any attempt to reject the concept of the divine. Hence, the argument states that there was nothing before our reality, and there will be nothing after because everything in and of our existence must be explained from within the system. Thus, God cannot exist, and Christ was not God because he existed in the same world that we did. This ideology would still uphold Christ as a “great teacher” or a role model but would categorically deny his deity. The ominous power of denying the existence of a savior or messiah means that everyone is doomed by the constraints of the closed system. There’s no way out, and there’s nothing better than what is. The horrific and abysmal conclusion to this philosophy is one of depression and despair because upon death, people will not exist and will evaporate into oblivion. Essentially, something (us) will turn into nothing. In this system, faith is pointless, hope is fruitless, love is a temporary convenience, and selflessness is a flawed principle that robs its practitioner of maximizing self-interest in the now.
Christianity holds onto the belief that there is something outsideof the reality that we know, and that something (God) is the one who created our reality. Hence, faith does not deny realism but musters the courage to face the facts, cognizant of the idea that a better actuality may, in fact, be in store. This realization happens when we are aware that our own individual experience does not prove to be the ultimate benchmark of happiness or satisfaction because there’s something outside of our box that moves and directs all things through an invisible divine hand. In essence, something bigger is happening that transcends one person.
It is that divine will which is the final determinant of all things in our box, and such determinations are based on an ethic of love toward all human beings, who were all created in the divine image. We were made not to invest everything in the here and the nowbut to work diligently knowing that a greater ultimate reward is in store for everyone but not in this reality—it will exist upon death, where all (hopefully) faithful Christians enter into a ceaseless bliss (heaven) to dwell with God for eternity. This is the power of Christ and his resurrection; he died for the sins of all of humanity and gave the faithful an escape from our reality box to eternally exist outside of this world.
In Hebrews 11:1, it says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). Of course, a nonbeliever would look scornfully upon faith as an empty investment because their view is narrowed by naturalism. The power of faith is that it enables anyone to recognize something greater than themselves and their reality, and that truth is an unseen, everlasting, incorruptible fact. Recognizing this, our reality will only yield marginal victories at best because, in fact, our reality is not the ultimate benchmark of existence—it is a realm to test imperfect people who all have the chance to perfect their faith for an eventual perfect reality.
Christ, both the son of God and God incarnate, became a man so that God could teach humanity how to be divine. His walk of faith was perfect, he committed no crime, and he did not sin but was crucified anyway. This was only possible because he knew that his ultimate victory would not come in our world but in a realm outside the box.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal