Sunday, March 20, 2022

The 'Jesus in America' Survey

 A really interesting Ipsos study commissioned by the Episcopalians. (ht) You always have to have a certain grain of salt in looking at these kinds of surveys. You get things like 5% of Christians not saying that Jesus is an important spiritual figure, and one wonders what kind of person identifies as Christian while just not thinking Jesus very important, or the 11% of Christians who aren't willing to say that Jesus existed. Any number of things might be behind that. 

One of the interesting things is the views of Christians by non-Christians, in which the primary characteristics attributed to Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, unforgiving, and disrespectful, which I find notable because these are quite clearly retorsive -- these are terms that are as negative as they are only because they are made so by Christianity. In fact, the first three -- hypocritical, judgmental, self-righteous -- are all terms that only exist in English as negative evaluations because of Christianity. ('Hypocrite' in our sense was a term invented by Jesus, or possibly by early Christians translating into Greek what he said, if he was speaking in Aramaic, and strictures that made the words 'judgmental' and 'self-righteous' negative are based on His teaching.) Which, fair enough. I can absolutely guarantee you that you will find plenty of Christians who are all of these things, and many who are all at once. In fact, even putting them all together is very mild criticism; I can guarantee that most of us are even worse than any of these things sometimes and that some of us are worse than all of these things most of the time. We have murderers and thieves and rapists, hatemongers and underminers and treacherous backstabbers, and, indeed, for just about any sin on any list, we've got it. When Jesus accused the Pharisees of being hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous, it was part of his point that they were so close to being what they should be and they ruined it by undermining all of their promise. I can guarantee you that many of us are not even close to being what we should be.

But it's also the case that, while hypocrisy and so forth are very serious things if you are trying to live according to the holy gospel, as accusations they generally fall flat. Jesus could get away with accusing people of these things, but He was Jesus. Unlike, say, murder, everyone already has tendencies to these things, to such an extent that all of these criticisms have sometimes taken on an aspect of self-parody. "You are all judgmental," he said in a judging tone. "Exactly right," she agreed with a pious folding of hands. "And self-righteous," he said, with a firm conviction of his own rightness. But at the end of the day, if these are your criticisms of Christians, you've largely just accused them of the sin of being human. Which is also fair enough. The Church would be angelic heaven if it weren't for its human beings. Much less like a Church, though.

One of the things that the Episcopalians were apparently interested in doing, at least from news reports about it that I read somewhere, was to see if non-Christians made any distinction among different kinds of Christians, and they seem to have discovered that they don't. It doesn't much matter whether you are an Episcopalian enthusiastic for rainbow flags, inclusion, and being officially non-judgmental about everything or a fundamentalist Baptist opposed to all of these things; for the most part, non-Christians just lump us all together. Which is perhaps a reminder, or at least I'm inclined to see it as such, that our real task is just to focus on being Christian, not to bend over backwards trying to convince non-Christians that really we are very, very unhypocritical, un-self-righteous, non-judgmental people. If you succeed at being Christian and they still criticize you, what of it? We're called to preach the gospel, not win a popularity contest.