Too often religious people come off as being complete wackos. They talk weird. They dress weird. They sing weird. They put weird things on their bumper stickers. It’s just plain weird. So, why is that? Is that normal? Should it be that way?
The short answer is that no, this is not normal and no, it should not (usually) be that way. Why? Because the purpose of religion is to make you fully human, not to turn you into something anti-human. Unfortunately, many religions other than Christianity have as their objective to turn human beings into something else, something “higher,” something “ascended,” something “liberated from the body.” The language chosen to describe the objective shifts with the various religious or cult groups, but the common thread of all of them is that they see religion as turning human beings against their own nature.
Unfortunately, many religions other than Christianity have as their objective to turn human beings into something else, something “higher,” something “ascended,” something “liberated from the body.”
Even more unfortunately, across wide spectra of Christianity you run into the same nonsense of physical alterations, speech alterations, dress alterations, etc. And when you peer deeply into how these groups understand the purpose of the Faith, they also see it as aiding human beings in ditching their humanity to arrive at something supposedly better after death. Ask such a person, “Why are you a Christian?” You will get answers like, “I don’t want to go to hell.” Or, “To get to heaven.” If you press them a bit on what that means, “Ok, why do you want to go heaven?” you’ll likely receive an incredulous look.
Mark Twain raised this issue in his hilarious critique of Christianity entitled Letters from the Earth. In this book he asked why anyone would want to go to heaven. His model for heavenly life was the small protestant church with bored cowboys sitting in the back twiddling their thumbs while the old women brayed out “Bringing in the Sheaves” to pulsing organ music. Why indeed. If heaven is just some “spiritual paradise” of boring church services, then what’s the point?
When you press people harder on why they want a life like that, they will come back around to not wanting to go to hell. Hell-avoidance seems to be the real objective. Burning in fire for ever and ever is unquestionably horrible and worth avoiding. But is the Faith simply providing people with a “Get out of Hell Free” card? And if hell is negative, and if avoiding hell is the negation of a negative, that brings us back around to the positive question, doesn’t it? What’s it all for?
No one would expect to find a man desiring enlightenment with the Buddha through separation of himself from the physical plane of existence to own season tickets to the Cleveland Indians!
If the purpose of religion is to turn us into pure ascended spirits, beings of “higher consciousness,” beings “one with the universe through the annihilation of the self,” then all the anti-world and anti-human cultural demonstrations in dress, behavior, desires, and speech make sense. No one would expect to find a man desiring enlightenment with the Buddha through separation of himself from the physical plane of existence to own season tickets to the Cleveland Indians! We expect that fellow to be sitting on a hillside of some remote mountain, sitting in a most uncomfortable position, wearing strange clothes, pretty much bald, and eating very little as he meditates in strange chants and sounds and prepares his consciousness for ascension to that other plane of existence.
If the preparation for death is to die to everything normal in the world, you might wonder why we are in the world at all.
But our cowboys aren’t going to be interested in finding a mountainside to fade away on. You probably aren’t either. And yet, you know that death is a certainty. Thus, preparing for death makes sense. But if the preparation for death is to die to everything normal in the world, you might wonder why we are in the world at all. Is it just a huge temptation like the tree in the garden designed to lure us away from the pure spirituality of God for the carnal desires for fame, power, wealth, sex, food, and possessions?
Perhaps we should consult Jesus on the matter. When he attended a wedding with his mother, she pointed out that the hosts had run out of wine. She expected him to do something about it, because she knew he could, but more importantly for our conversation here, because she knew it was important. Having enough wine for a wedding is important? Evidently, it was. Apparently, it was so important that it became Jesus’ first miracle.
But it gets worse. Jesus had a reputation for hanging out with the scum of the earth as well as the noble and well to do. He had drinks with tax collectors, prostitutes, bi-racial Samaritans, sick and deformed people. His friends were all grainy people, fishermen and the like. Earthy. Human. In fact, Jesus called himself not only the “Son of God” but the “Son of man.” Jesus was both fully God and fully man. He is the epitome of what man is supposed to be.
Religions that say that man is the problem must, therefore, be wrong. It’s not our human nature, the structure of who and what we are, that’s the problem. Trying to squeeze out whatever traces of humanity you possess will accordingly not help you one bit in solving the real problems.
Religions that say that man is the problem must, therefore, be wrong. It’s not our human nature, the structure of who and what we are, that’s the problem. Trying to squeeze out whatever traces of humanity you possess will accordingly not help you one bit in solving the real problems. The real problems are what people have always thought they are: that we treat one another in astonishingly awful ways when we know full well that we wouldn’t want to be treated those ways ourselves. Jesus said that the solution was love. We need to love God with all of ourselves and love our neighbor as ourselves. How did he do that? Did he wear funny costumes? No. Did he refrain from eating meat? No. Did he reject alcohol? No. What he did do was to meet people in their daily lives and heal them, feed them, teach them, and love them. He met both their physical and moral needs, their human needs. Why? Because God isn’t in the business of destroying human nature (that’s what the devils wish to do). God is in the business of fulfilling human nature. What is Christianity for? To transform us from selfish shadows into full and radiant human beings whose lives exude love. That’s not just for the saints. It’s for every one of us. In fact, to live lives of love is what being a saint means. And thus, to be a saint, is to be a maximally human person, just like Jesus and Mary were.
Christians should be immersive human beings, fully engaged in all the same arts and sciences and enjoyments and labors as everybody else.
What does that mean practically? It means that you need to stop thinking that being a Christian means you have to be weird. Christians should be immersive human beings, fully engaged in all the same arts and sciences and enjoyments and labors as everybody else. We should be lawyers, doctors, artists, judges, ship builders, professors, garbage men, restaurateurs, automobile makers—just like everybody else. We should play sports, cook great food, enjoy fine wine, sail and fish, climb mountains, hike forests, sculpt, attend theaters, write limericks and epics, dance and cry—just like everybody else. We should marry people of lovely souls and bear our young, keeping close to the generations before and after us—just like everybody else.
Wait a minute, you might object, what makes the Christian different from everybody else? Simple: in all that he does, the Christian loves. That means that negatively, the Christian employee doesn’t steal, the Christian lawyer doesn’t lie, the Christian parent doesn’t abuse his children, the Christian spouse doesn’t harm his wife or her husband. That means positively, that the Christian seeks the good for those around him, his neighbors. Christians ought to be the sorts of persons you want to be around, because they are robustly full of life and thanksgiving and love. Christians ought to love everything God made, because all that he made is good, and to be a Christian is to be someone who loves the true, the good, and the beautiful. As such, Christians should be interested in everything (relative to their intellectual capabilities, educations, and resources). A Christian, therefore, is the last person you’d expect to be hateful, withdrawn, sullen about his existence, and figuring out ways to meditate, abstain, cut, or pray his way into the next world as quickly as possible.
A Christian is the last person you’d expect to be hateful, withdrawn, sullen about his existence, and figuring out ways to meditate, abstain, cut, or pray his way into the next world as quickly as possible.
What, then, does God want of us? Lives consumed with love. When God makes the saint, he does not unmake the man. Our Faith adds to the normal human virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation and justice the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and love. But these supernatural virtues fulfill that human destiny by fully directing us first to God and then to our neighbors. Thus, we should be super, all right, but super normal. We should stand out for one thing: our love.