Christianity Is Weird, but Perhaps Not as Weird as Your Think

Christianity has what I sometimes call a “double weirdness problem.” Elements of its teaching that are truly strange—such as the Crucified One at its centre who is paradoxically championed by Christians as being at once Victim and Victor—are still so familiar to most Canadians that they don’t arouse the curious interest they should. Even the doctrine that the Christian God is both one and three, which ought to offend against the most elementary sense of rationality, is met with a shrug.

At the same time, however, Christianity is often brushed off as having teachings far more extreme than it actually does. Two related ideas—charity and love—were recently highlighted…and badly caricatured in major media.

The New Yorker profiled Irish novelist Sally Rooney earlier this month, and the journalist interviewing her shared a view of Christianity that was at once admiring and dismissive.

On the train, eating cookies, Rooney and I started talking about religion. 

“Even though Christianity is the dominant Western moral framework, the whole idea of self-sacrificing slipped down somehow.”…

I said that I found it interesting, too, but that to really be a Christian you would have to live in a way that not many people are willing to live. I had a hard time reconciling materialism and religion. I didn’t see how anyone could call herself a Christian and have a computer.

“Right, because Christ called us to give up our earthly belongings,” Rooney said.

Well, no, Christ didn’t. He did call his disciples to leave their jobs and follow him, but those in his inner circle were sustained by the gifts of those in Jesus’s wider circle. Somebody had to remain at work to earn money, and lots of Jesus’s followers did.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Digging Out

There are two tragedies in life, to paraphrase the famous line from George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman. One is to fail to gain your heart’s desire. The other…is to gain it.

Mountaineer Cory Richards, pictured above in this famous selfie, almost experienced both on the same day.

In a poignant testimonialin National Geographic last year, Richards speaks of the thrill of being invited by two legendary climbers, Simone Moro and Denis Urubko, to climb the daunting Himalayan peak of Gasherbrum II. The honour of being asked to partner with them in a winter attempt was huge, but Richards also hoped that this great accomplishment, once gained, would put his whole life together.

“Climbing…saved me,” he writes, out of a rough adolescence. “I dropped out of high school, got into alcohol and drugs, and lived on the street for a while.” But climbing gave him a challenging purpose. He cleaned up, shaped up, and climbed up—higher than most ever do.

To ascend Gasherbrum II with these two iconic mountaineers would, he hoped, be the  final piece to his personal puzzle. “I felt that if I could just make it to that summit, then I would be permanently ‘fixed.’” (How many of us have a similar great goal we honestly believe will complete and crown our lives?)

The day came for the final, mad push to the peak, and they made it. But on the descent, an avalanche swept down upon them. Amazingly, all three survived. The famous photo was taken about an hour after Richards managed to dig himself out.

So he gained his heart’s desire on his way up. And he almost lost it on the way down.

Great story, isn’t it? But Richards has more to say.

[To read the rest, please click HERE.]

Learning from Rwanda

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the massacre in Rwanda, a quarter-century since 800,000 people died at the hands of their neighbours. The Walrus recently ran recollections of survivors, and the tales are harrowing.

Two features of this story give the Canadian Christian particular pause.

The first is the well-known fact that Canadian general Roméo Dallairewas there in the bloody midst of it, commanding the last contingent of United Nations peacekeepers. Having been refused the few thousand soldiers he requested in order to stop the bloodbath early on, he in turn refused to obey the UN instruction to stand apart while Rwandans destroyed each other with machetes, guns, fires, and bare hands. He and his fellow soldiers, Canadian, African, and South Asian, were badly outmanned, but they did all they could to staunch the flow of hatred and death, and they probably saved upwards of 30,000 people.

This is one of the stories that prompted me to transition from a Christian pacifism to the ethical position often called Christian realism. Dallaire was convinced, then and now, that a small number of troops, properly deployed, would have saved hundreds of thousands of lives by stopping the wildfire while it could still be contained. Troops would do it. And Christian prayers didn’t.

How do I know that Christian prayers didn’t? Here’s the second feature. At the time, Rwanda was among the most Christian countries in Africa—indeed, in the world—with upwards of 90% of the population espousing Christianity. So when the butchery began, you can expect that lots of prayers went up. But for all the stories of people being strangely, even miraculously, saved from the slaughter, there was still a slaughter. A huge slaughter.

And how could there be, among Christians?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]