Sunday, November 9, 2008

decaffeinated christianity

my term "decaffeinated christianity" does not refer to a lukewarm version of christianity, one in which the christian merely does the actions of a believer without devoting themselves in mind, heart, and spirit to the christian walk and a relationship with Christ. it is not the opposite, either.

what it does refer to is the christian worldview in which we live in, our christian culture, this reality in which mainstream christianity in the united states exists. the music, the worship, the books, sermons, evangelism, ideas, solutions, standards; the christian essence. but if christianity is decaffeinated, then what does caffeination look like?

in short, our world. mainstream christianity has launched a rather aggressive campaign to quite literally be "a part of the world but not of it." and it has accomplished to create the greatest of taks: safety. this is evidenced in numerous places. christian music mimics the music of the world, except it is safe. the ever-mediocre christian movie industry presents thrillers, romances, horrors, life-affirming movies meant to simulate those of the world, minus the parts that make us uncomfortable (most often sex, less often violence). i have personally walked into christian bookstores and seen shelves containing one christian romance novel written specifically for each state in the united states. guitar hero? we've got guitar praise.

the trend is very clear: make things we enjoy safe. the message is even clearer: we love what the world has to offer and would hate to leave it behind.

and why shouldn't we like what the world has to offer? it has so many things christian culture does not: drive, motivation, creativity, quality, vision, purpose. so we take and pillage and water-down until we are left with a replica that just so happens to align more closely with God's world.

which leaves us with a bubble, a christian bubble, one that we don't ever have to leave and one in which we can enjoy all the pleasures of the world guiltless. we are, if i can use an even more ridiculous and culture-specific image, tofurkey.

but this is disastrous. this bubble rids us from ever interacting with the world - the first step in alienating ourselves from unbelievers around us. next we claim our replica is better than the original, and we judge. and how harshly we judge. we fret over morality, over the disappearing social fabric, ethics, behaviors. we force unbelievers to change to our decaffeinated world through laws or angry signs or protests. we delight in telling them how wrong they are.

but how right the world is! how perfectly it understands suffering and loss, the depravity of mankind, our selfish nature. movie after movie, play after play, song after song points to that universal truth that we are lost, fallen, imperfect, incapable of redemption. and through that darkness it also knows light - a kind deed, selfless acts, responsibility, integrity, wealth in giving and not in receiving.

that the world's culture misses the point is obvious. but how are unbelievers expected to know the truth about why they are fallen when christians won't leave their bubble? how are they supposed to know that murder selfishly destroys something precious to God when all christians care about is getting them to stop having abortions? how are they supposed to know the destruction of divorce when all christians care about is making sure only the right people can legally marry?

at the heart of the problem is a rather unhealthy fear that, i quite strongly believe, empowers satan to intimidate us and belittles our God's power and glory over his creation. satan's intimidation is like the u.s. government's colored threat alerts - it is only good for fear-mongering and submission, then for blindly rallying behind divisive and irrational acts. fear of the world causes us to judge, denounce, condemn. this is how we often treat unbelievers, especially when we attempt to evangelize. we cry "sinner, repent!" or just hand them a piece of paper (to fulfill their origami needs, no doubt). and when we do this, when we focus on the wrong, our fallen human nature shines brightest. we are no different than the unbeliever, we adhere to no higher power, we have given in to fear. and fear, to quote the film "persepolis," is what makes us lose our conscience.

all mankind was originally created in God's image (genesis 1:27), yet even after the fall we were still made in God's image (genesis 9:6). how often we miss this crucial point. the most wretched unbeliever we know, whoever that may be, is made in the image of God, just like us. which means that all mankind has the capacity for good, since God is good, and all mankind has the capacity to know truth, since God is truth, regardless of whether they are saved or not. their mere existence already makes them like God, according to the bible.

when referring to his disciples in john 17:15, Christ prays to God, "my prayer is not that you take them out of this world but that you protect them from the evil one" (niv). how often we miss this too. Christ does not want us to live in safe christian bubbles, he wants our protection as we live in the world. for at the end of the day, the world is not wrong, it is lost. at the end of the day, our goal is not to bring morality to unbelievers, it is to bring Christ to unbelievers. we are not supposed to be right, we are supposed to be truth.

acts 17:18-34 is such an incredible example of the type of evangelists we should be. the apostle paul knows so clearly the world of athens that he can name their gods, their poets, their beliefs. he knows the world. knows it! he does not shy away from it, he does not preach from the nearest church, he does not demean. he acknowledges the truths that they know with utmost grace and then, only then, points them to Christ. his speech should be memorized by everyone who claims to be an evangelist, in my opinion.

and just like paul, we need to caffeinate our christian worldview. we need to know exactly what is happening in our world so we can identify the Godly truths that unbelievers already know and let them know who's behind them. we need to learn to look for God in our unbelieving friends and let them know that they are made in his image, that the reason they know to be selfless is because their Creator is selfless, that the reason they seek justice is because their Creator seeks justice.

because finally, to push the metaphor to its extreme (if rather clumsily), while the world is caffeinated coffee, God created the cacao beans. the struggle of good and evil so present in the world's art? biblical. the stories of suffering after relying on oneself to fix mistakes? biblical. existentialism? life without God, as the writer albert camus wrote of his book "the stranger."

so if the caffeinated world is a copy of biblical struggles, that makes the decaffeinated christianity we enjoy a water-downed version of a water-downed version of God's worldview. ouch. so let's ditch decaf and pray like Christ prayed - for God to protect us from the world but not to isolate us from the world. let's follow the apostle paul's lead and read what the world reads, study what it studies, so we can point to Christ in a way that makes sense to those around us. our God is far more powerful that we like to think.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

value voters and the spiritual pay-off

i think that being a value-voter is being a lazy christian.

being a value-voter has implications. it implies that we want someone in office who, say, opposes abortion or same-sex marriage. someone who sees the importance of abstinence-only education. who prays. goes to church. claims God as the center of his life.

the logical next step is that this person will carry values into their decisions.

ignoring what has happened with the current president of the united states and his lies, let's look at a decision that this "christian" made regarding abstinence-only education, since i am a teacher and education matters to me, as does sex. president bush passed a law in 2000 that limited sex education as part of his "no child left behind" reform (which continues to fail on an abundance of levels). the law declared that if states wanted to receive federal funding for their sex education programs, they could only teach abstinence as a means to stop pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, and the failure rates of all types of contraceptives. students couldn't learn how to use contraceptives, how to have safe sex, how to protect themselves against disease, only abstinence and failure rates.

the law also required the center for disease control to remove all scientific research and documentation regarding the effectiveness of contraceptives from its publications and websites. all that scientific research had to be suppressed.

california rejected this proposal, which meant that california rejected federal funding for sex education. it could not refuse the funding that the center for disease control offered, since it was fighting west nile virus and avian flu, so it had to comply and remove all scientific research from its cfdc websites that proved the effectiveness of contraceptives. but it refused the sex education money so that it could teach its students comprehensive sex education. it was the only state to do so for approximately five years, during which time teen-pregnancy rates skyrocketed throughout the united states, as did std rates and the number of teenage abortions. california's rates continued to decrease.

eventually more and more states began to realize the catastrophe that they had on their hands, and they began to refuse the federal money. currently, sixteen states in the united states refuse federal money for the teaching of sex education, which means they refuse to teach absitence only education.

so what happened? teenagers across the country were learning abstinence and that the only place for sex was in marriage, all because of a law that was grounded on good christian values, and it backfired. teenagers continued to have sex, except they had sex in unsafe ways. the number of single-parents increased. the number of teen abortions increased. all because of a law founded on good christian values.

but this law founded on good christian values had a spiritual impact, right? because shouldn't that be the point of electing "christian" leaders? leaders with whom we share the same values? shouldn't we expect society to improve by grounding it in good values and morals?

california's health-education standards state that sex education in california is to be absitence-first. this means that abstinence is taught as the only sure-fire way to prevent pregnancy and stds, but that there are other ways as well. abstinence first, contraceptives second. it's a real approach. and it's paying off.

our goal as christians is to bring unbelievers closer to Christ, not to create order in our fallen world. our actions must have a spiritual pay-off in mind instead of seeking to turn the country into something comfortable, like church. choosing to elect someone who will, say, overturn roe v. wade must be based on the belief that making abortion illegal will have a spiritual pay-off. except making abortion illegal will only create a lucrative black market for abortions, not bring desperate women closer to Christ. choosing to elect someone who will, say, write into the constitution that marriage can only be between a man and a woman must be based on the belief that outlawing same-sex marriage will have a spiritual pay-off. except same-sex couples will always be around, and the church will continue to push them away from Christ.

if we want to do something about this fallen world, we must accept our great commision and do the heavy-lifting ourselves, instead of being lazy christians and voting for someone who will dictate our values so that we can sit back and enjoy the benefit. because unless they know Christ, those teenagers who are choosing abstinence? if they died today they would be no better off than if they had started to have sex. those women who kept their babies? not better off. those same-sex couples who can't marry? not better off. preventing unbelievers from doing things we may not agree with has no eternal benefit.

so what do we vote for? not for rebuilding the christian nation that never was, but for order, yes, and honesty, dedication, wisdom. but we keep our great commision for ourselves. we work towards women exploring more than one option, with Christ in mind. we work towards breaking stereotypes, prejudice, and taboos, with Christ in mind.

our goal as christians should not be to prevent people from "sinning," or about "fixing the country" and "creating a better world." our goal is to be lights in this world, for his kingdom.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

my gay friends

the majority of my gay friends have experienced wrongdoing from the christian community. most of them grew up religious to different degrees, and all have left the church. some of them are actively trying to find God again. some of them have told me that they miss church and that they would go back if they felt accepted. i have yet to meet a fellow gay man or woman who attends church on a regular basis and fellowships with believers. why? when did we as a christian community draw a line separating a group of people who are so clearly yearning for a relationship with God? at what point did being attracted to people of the same sex become "the unpardonable sin?"

this is the one topic that nobody talks about unless it is with the purpose of drawing judgement. there is gossip when it is found out that an ex-member of the church is gay; at least that's how it is at my church. there are openly homophobic jokes and comments. a couple of months ago, i witnessed a conversation in which a staff member at my church proclaimed that gay or lesbian women shouldn't donate blood because "i don't want to get aids." my pastor recently preached on our duty to challenge the california supreme court decision to allow same-sex couples to marry. it is no wonder that many gays and lesbians are living lifestyles of sin - the church does not permit them to come close to God. without exception, the unwritten rule is: change and then we'll let you stay. the church is very don't-ask-don't-tell, and while uncertainty about a person's sexuality is oftentimes acceptable, certainty is certainly not.

think of the chaos that an openly-gay man curious about God would create if he decided to start checking out your church and attending groups or bible studies. maybe one sunday he even drags his partner to attend. or maybe he decides to volunteer at an event in which non-believers will see him represent your church. what if a year after he's given his life to Christ he still lives with his partner? worse yet, what if people see this as a sign that your church is gay-friendly? and what if word spreads?

does the church set a timeline for spiritual growth from the point of his conversion, and a deadline for when he should end his relationship? do they kick him out if he doesn't leave his "lifestyle of sin?" do they allow him to serve in the church? do church members enter his and his partner's home?

yes, it makes things a hell of a lot easier to nip the problem in the bud.

my gay friends are lost without God, make no doubt about that. they choose their poisons from the same list that you and i: materialism, self-centeredness, sloth, over-indulgence, bitterness, fear. they rely on fellow humans to fill a void that only God can fill. they cannot turn to their maker when problems arise, to seek guidance, to seek comfort, to ask for peace in their hearts. they do not know to thank him when they are blessed. they do not know unconditional, life-giving, everlasting love, nor do they know forgiveness and repentance as we understand them. they are the same as we were: yearning, longing, fallen.

this is not to say that they are not happy, that they do not experience joy, and they are not doers of good, generous, helpful, loving. far from it. i have learned so much compassion, generosity, and kindness from my gay friends. i have seen how much i judge others through how accepting they are, and i have seen how arrogant i can be. they have opened up their homes, their friends, their lives to me. God has blessed me tremendously through them, and i have seen him protect them and take care of them as well. he cares for them so much.

and yet, they do not have a relationship with him, and i don't know what to do about it. i can talk to them about God, but what would be the next step? logically, i would encourage them to fellowship with other believers so that they will learn more about God, but i cannot bring them to my church because i do not know if they would be safe. i do not know if the members of my church would welcome them without talking about them behind their back. i do not know if they would understand what it truly means to be attracted to a person of the same sex, since the majority of them do not associate with gays or lesbians. (it's just not something you do as a christian). my closest christian friends know that i am gay, but it would be foolish for me to be completely open about my sexuality in a church setting. i do not know how i would be treated for bringing gay friends to church.

do i man up and find out? do i risk putting my gay friends through an experience that could very easily further push them away from God? do i tell them that if they come to church they should not talk about their sexuality? do i tell them that if they do there is a possibility that they may be mistreated?

my dream, my hope, is that i can one day host a bible study with friends who are christian and friends who are gay, so that they can interact and learn from each other. a bible study in which every question is acceptable, every topic can be explored, in which we can be honest about exactly where we are in our lives, our struggles, our desires, our fears. in which sexuality isn't a prerequisite for being a seeker of God.

but there would only be so much i could do. i am not qualified to preach. the little formal biblical training that i have i picked up at a couple of seminary courses taught at my church, and through some books i've read. i have opinions, yes, and i can share what i think God is trying to teach me.

at some point, however, authority must be present. at some point a community must be formed. this is the church's place in our lives, and we are back to square one, and i do not want to wait to try to bring my friends to Christ until i find a church that will accept them as they are. i can personally handle hiding half my life at church for now, but i don't want to put my friends through that.

so what do i do about my gay friends?

i have asked far too many questions, but there are few easy answers, if one can say that there are answers at all.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

religion, sexuality, and guilt (part three)

a couple of months ago i was blessed with the opportunity to talk about my faith with a good buddy of mine who walked away from his faith for a number of reasons, one of which i believe was his sexuality. i am always grateful for the chance to talk with friends about my personal (!) relationship with God. i don't get many opportunities to talk about my faith with my gay friends mainly because of how much mainstream christianity has turned them away from God, so this conversation was definitely a God-thing. my friend asked me how i could reconcile the guilt aspect of christianity with my sexuality, and it took two rather long emails to give him a bare-bones explanation of where i stand. i divided the first email into three parts: guilt, sin, and same-sex attraction. here is part three, a continuation of parts one and two.


there are a handful of verses in the bible that refer directly or indirectly to same-sex sexual behavior; there is a lot written on them, and i will attempt my own take on some of those later, but i think that what matters most is understanding why God would consider same-sex sexual behavior a sin.

first, a distinction has to be made between sexual attraction and sexual behavior. while this may seem nit-picky, it is crucial to our understanding of sexuality and God's truth. sexual attraction is a mental product of our culture. at its most basic level, the people we find attractive are directly related to the environment and culture we grew up in. desirable physical characteristics are not equal across the world: in some asian countries white skin is desired, in the united states a tan is a symbol of leisure and beauty, in some african countries a round body is attractive, as was in the european renaissance. a european descendant who grew up in new mexico might be exclusively attracted to hispanics, while a hispanic who grew up in the midwest might be attracted exclusively to anglo-saxons. attraction is relative, and deeply personal.

sexual attraction is not, however, temptation, nor is it lust. the songs of solomon describe beauty in what today is considered near-pornographic terms, but acknowledging sexual attraction is not sinning. looking at a person of the same or opposite sex and acknowledging that they are beautiful is not a sin. looking at the naked body should not be sin, though our culture can pervert this (a clear example of this can be seen between american, european, and asian norms regarding nudity). doing a double-take at a girl in a tank top or at a shirtless guy is not the same as turning that person into a mental object for gratification. sexual attraction can lead to temptation, but temptation is not sinning either - james 1:13-15 is clear on this. besides, jesus himself was tempted, and he did not sin. temptation can lead to sin, and sin can take the form of lust, but sin is a choice - a desire to act in a way that one perceives as best (or easiest) while compromising God's truth. regardless of the biological, genetic, or environmental origins of same-sex attraction, one cannot claim that same-sex attraction is a sin. it may be outside of the general norm, but i do not believe that there is a biblical foundation for claiming that any type of sexual attraction is a sin.

what we are interested in is same-sex sexual behavior. same-sex sexual behavior in the old testament was found primarily in the temples of pagan gods, in which people would get together and have sex with each other to get better harvests and the like. around the time that the new testament was written, a new concept of same-sex sexual behavior had emerged: older men having intercourse with boys. in this practice, it was considered wrong for the young boy to experience pleasure - it was all about the older male enjoying himself. when the young boys started growing facial hair, they were often replaced. even the people of the time were opposed to this unjust, damaging, and abusive practice. yet when the new testament was written, these two were the obvious realms in which same-sex sexual behavior was practiced. it is no wonder that the bible speaks against it, but that does not mean that opposition to those very specific cultural norms applies to sexual behavior today.

in order for same-sex sexual behavior to be considered a sin, it has to involve a purposeful rebellion of God's worldview. if two men in a committed relationship love each other as the bible commands us to love each other (1 corinthians 13; 1 john 4:7-21), if they focus their lives around God and following God's will (colossians 3:1-11, 2 timothy 3:16-17), if they show by their actions that they are men of God (galatians 5:22-23) and if their relationship shows the characteristics of God-centered living (romans 12:1-2), if they are sources of peace in the lives of those around them (colossians 3:12-17) and are able to lead others to the truth (matthew 28:18-20), can we say that they are living a sinful lifestyle? are they on par with heterosexual couples who are living God-less, self-centered lives?

the mainstream christian perspective on same-sex sexual behavior is this: it is not wrong to be attracted to a person of the same sex, it is wrong to act on that attraction. this doesn't make sense to me, mainly because i cannot see how God would be okay with me wanting to find companionship with a man while never being sexually fulfilled. this seems to be more in line with the sexual repression that is commonly preached in christian churches, the apex of which are abstinence and/or celibacy.

a lot of people think that being gay and christian is like wanting to have the cake and eat it too, but i think that the mainstream christian view is a clearer example of wanting to have it both ways: it allows christians to validate same-sex attraction without having to think about its origin, but it also allows them to keep condemning behaviors that they are not comfortable with, that they do not want to accept, or that they simply do not understand. i think that it should be all-or-nothing, and we cannot consider exclusive same-sex attraction to be alright and the physical, sexual, God-centered expression of said attraction to be a sin.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

religion, sexuality, and guilt (part two)

a couple of months ago i was blessed with the opportunity to talk about my faith with a good buddy of mine who walked away from his faith for a number of reasons, one of which i believe was his sexuality. i am always grateful for the chance to talk with friends about my personal (!) relationship with God. i don't get many opportunities to talk about my faith with my gay friends mainly because of how much mainstream christianity has turned them away from God, so this conversation was definitely a God-thing. my friend asked me how i could reconcile the guilt aspect of christianity with my sexuality, and it took two rather long emails to give him a bare-bones explanation of where i stand. i divided the first email into three parts: guilt, sin, and same-sex attraction. here is part two, a continuation of part one.


if we go back to adam and eve (genesis 3) the first sin was an act of rebellion against God: by acting contrary to his commandment to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, adam and eve were symbolically proclaiming to God, "we can take care of ourselves better than you can take care of us." sin, then, as i see it, involves pride and selfishness; it is the act of putting ourselves above God and above the people around us, damaging our "vertical" relationship with God and our "horizontal" relationship with mankind.

my personal belief is that God wouldn't expect us to blindly think of something as being wrong without being able to understand why it is wrong. for example, anger is generally considered to be a sin, but it need not be. Jesus himself was so angry at the people that had turned the jewish temple into a marketplace that he took the time to make a whip and chase the people out (john 2:13-16) and he was sinless. the motive behind our actions is what counts. if i am dishonest to a friend to hide his surprise birthday party, have i sinned? should i seek forgiveness? what is my motive for lying? understanding the bible is the only way understand God's worldview, and why he would consider certain actions and behaviors to be sinful.

there are many aspects of engaging in a relationship with God that require faith, especially when it comes to the most controversial or difficult to understand concepts present in the bible, but believing that something is wrong should not require faith. is this man-centered theology, in which i rely more on the atributes of man to decipher God's truth, and elevate his wisdom above God's decrees?

i believe that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a knowledge of the scriptures we should be able to clearly state why a certain behavior is contrary to God's design without mindlessly regurgitating "it is wrong because it is in the bible." correctly attributing qualities of God to man is not raising man above God. after all, we are made in the image of God, and even in our current fallen state we retain some of God's character. this can clearly be seen in God's (post-fall) covenant with Abraham, in which he reiterates that man should not kill man because he is made in the image of God (genesis 9:6). we cannot claim to be completely evil, fallen, and morally unreliable if we believe that we are made in the image of God. by extension, we have the ability to discern why certain behaviors are wrong, and, again, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a knowledge of the scriptures, we can closely approximate an understanding of God's sovereign justice.

there is an intellectual aspect of christianity that is sorely lacking in today's churches, and this is why studying the bible is so crucial. merely relying on "for the bible tells me so" is irresponsible for the christian who seeks to be a disciple of God and who seeks to have a fully-functioning relationship with him. it belittles God's amazing and comprehensive truth to a set of rules. it is no wonder that when we approach unbelievers and accuse them of doing something the bible scorns, we are ridiculed. God's worldview should transcend the printed pages of a translation of the bible and be available to all. will all accept him as lord and savior? sadly, no. but, the choice that is accepting or rejecting God should ideally be done with the greatest of care, and we do a disservice to unbelievers when we cannot intelligently back up God's morality, which is crucial for understanding the concept of being a sinner and, through repentance, accepting God's forgiveness.

consider 1 corinthians 11:4-6 (NIV):

(4) every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. (5) and every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head - it is just as though her head were shaved. (6) if a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.

before we rush to buy head-coverings for the women in our lives because of something the bible says, the question we must first consider is: "why?" why is this in the bible? what purpose does this serve? the path to an answer will be rife with uncertainties, but if our faith holds any validity - if there is any truth to our belief in God - the process will surely bring us closer to him.

Friday, June 27, 2008

religion, sexuality, and guilt (part one)

a couple of months ago i was blessed with the opportunity to talk about my faith with a good buddy of mine who walked away from his faith for a number of reasons, one of which i believe was his sexuality. i am always grateful for the chance to talk with friends about my personal (!) relationship with God. i don't get many opportunities to talk about my faith with my gay friends mainly because of how much mainstream christianity has turned them away from God, so this conversation was definitely a God-thing. my friend asked me how i could reconcile the guilt aspect of christianity with my sexuality, and it took two rather long emails to give him a bare-bones explanation of where i stand. i divided the first email into three parts: guilt, sin, and same-sex attraction. here is part one, restructured from casual email to something a bit more formal.


the old testament contains a significant number of laws and rules given to the jews by God; these include the ten commandments which are, as far as i understand it, only meant for jews, though Jesus reiterates the majority of those commandments to us common-folk gentiles. because of the fall of man and the entrance of sin into humanity (genesis 3), these laws were necessary for people to be considered "righteous" before God, and if any person broke the laws he had to make a sacrifice to make himself right again. sacrifices go as far back as cain and abel, and they eventually came to involve the shedding of blood by killing generally-harmless animals. the main bulk of the laws are found in the book of leviticus, broken down into the priestly code and the holiness code.

i follow the line of thinking that believes that these laws were put in place not to be followed, but to show us and remind us that as humans we will never be able to adhere to all laws and do enough "good" things to be considered righteous. therefore, we need something else to save us from our failures and our current sinful and imperfect state before the eyes of God. we need Jesus, who as a human sacrifice saves us presently from our sins but who also went back and redeemed all the sins of God's followers in the old testament (romans 3:21-25). following laws is not a bad thing since God gave them to us to show us the best way to live, but the point is not just to follow laws or rules, it is to connect with God and have a relationship with him.

eventually, some of the jews believed that the laws were there to be followed, and that bad things happened if they weren't followed, so they created a more intricate set of laws to keep the original ones from ever being broken. religion got dumbed down to following laws mindlessly, instead of the original purpose of communing with God. this is why Jesus had such a problem with the jewish priests when he lived. for example, one of the ten commandments is "you shall not murder" (exodus 20:13, NIV) so people assumed that if they didn't murder they were alright. but jesus didn't care about following a rule about not murdering (or killing, as the king james bible translates it), he cared about the way that we approach the world and our perspectives. so he said that not murdering was not good enough: even if we looked at someone hatefully, it was enough to be condemned (matthew 5:21). i don't think that he said this to make people have to worry about one more rule to follow, i think that he said it to emphasize that no one will ever be good enough to earn salvation, even if we think we've got things figured out. we will always fail at being fully righteous before God.

this idea of following rules stuck in our human minds because i think that it is easier for people to think that they have to earn salvation, or, more subtly, earn God's goodwill, instead of accepting it as a gift, as the bible says. because of this, a lot of modern-day christianity has become a game of following rules, do's and don't's, and feeling guilty if we don't follow them. i have heard people preach about the example in the previous paragraph and their conclusion has been that we should focus on not looking at people hatefully or else we are breaking a commandment from God. i think that they're missing the point. i don't agree with people who are only concerned with making others feel guilty about their actions. the hard work of christianity is the hard work of trying to have a relationship with someone, fully knowing that at more than one point we will mess up, but that God will always be there to forgive us and not hold our shortcomings against us because Jesus' sacrifice has already covered our sins.

i don't think that christianity is about never making mistakes, or that being a christian means going out of our way to not do things that might be questionable before God. i think that following God is about a change in perspective, and about how we react and deal with the mistakes that we inevitably make. guilt is important to an extent because it can act as a conscience through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it can shape how we think about and react to situations. but my main concern isn't feeling guilty about doing wrong, it is making sure that my worldview is aligned with God's and that i seek forgiveness and reconciliation when i do something wrong. i think that this approach to christianity requires a certain type of critical thinking and examination of motivations that scare a lot of people who would rather just think about good behaviors to practice and bad behaviors to avoid.

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