There is a wonderfully powerful phrase: "The tragedy of the commons" (see here). If ever there was a time in history that this was so applicable, it's now. Where are the protests that once railed against the establishment's machine and tried to keep rampant abuse at bay? Who are the challenging lyricists of today, like Pink Floyd once were - "their interests are truth and illusion, life and death, time and space, causality and chance, compassion and indifference" (See the wikipedia entry under lyrical themes - here).
It's no wonder that the public face of Christianity stinks in the nose of many who do not know God as they watch the apathy of Christian inaction on oppression and greed. Can you now understand the militant New Atheism and the bitter sarcasm of non-Christians that produces such posters as those below?
Instead I am deeply saddened.
Of course the complaints against the Christian's self obsession is little different among most non-believers too; Christian and pagan seemingly strive side by side in their pursuit of power, wealth, hedonism and personal advancement. Apart from the differences in rhetoric one will easily find the same degree of brokenness in both communities, although expressed in different ways; "as long as my comfort zone is secure" seems to be the guiding principle.
How sad it is that such a strong complaint against the Christian church is justifiably made. Yet all this anger directed against Christianity, and the distrust of the Christian God, is premised on two erroneous assumptions:
- the behavior of those who follow God must surely reflect God's real nature, and
- an all powerful and all loving God would of course never allow the state of affairs we know today.
But stop for a moment and consider the logic of these.
Posters like those shown here reflect a real emotion rooted in a reality, but the inferences drawn by non-Christians are illogical and wrong. Christianity has as a foundational tenet that we are a broken, corrupted, selfish, greedy and proud people. That some would claim that those of faith show no practical evidence of this faith, is perfectly in accord with the base human nature Christianity ascribes to us! It is unthinking foolishness to think that we would all correctly and consistently portray God's nature perfectly ... we're broken, some are very broken and unaware!
The paradox is that God gives up (for now) authoritative control and asks only that we give up trying to be God. Because there will come a day when our choice to accept and reject will be final.
In any community of Christians there is a continuum of reality from those who are really transformed in a deep relationship with God, all the way through to mere cultural Christians of convenience - just as we find marriages that are deeply loving partnerships and marriages that are full of abuse and destruction. Likewise, in any community unrelated to faith the same spectrum of people occurs. There are some who seek and find, some who struggle endlessly with the search, and some who say "I am all I need".
This is the deep sadness; that we have largely become a culture of self promoting individualists. We have built walls around ourselves hoping to make our own little eternity, while the sand trickles though the hourglass and a loving God stands at the door and knocks.
And so it was very interesting to come across this move to grow atheist churches: a godless Sunday gathering. There is much to be commended in this: the faithless come together (we need to learn community all over again and find at least some faith in each other) to sing awesome songs (music is powerful, and we desperately need more awe), hear interesting talks (if ever a society needed to fight the "comfortably numb" it's our society), and to think about improving ourselves and helping other people (sadly it's still the self first, and mostly only thinking about others).
Now, some Christians will surely feel threatened by an atheist event such as this. But such Christians are probably of the persuasion that they think they need to defend God. I don't need to defend who my God is, he is more than capable of doing that without my aid.
I would argue that any move among people that looks in awe at our existence, that asks hard questions about our very nature, and wonders at the meaning of good and bad, life and death, and where values come from, is only likely to draw more and more people to God. For he is a God of wonder, awe, reason, and honest questioning by those brave enough to step beyond personal preference.
Ultimately, however, I think this move will suffer exactly the same fate as churches that build on a self defined purpose, whether in the name of God or not. I fear that the move of the atheist mega-church will become one of self affirmation, of building comfort zones, of massaging consciences, and making people feel good about themselves with little real action to redress the ills of the world. Not unlike some churches.
But my God is not mine: I am his. This is not a God made in my image, this is a God of alien perfection, one who inverts my perverted perception of normality. A God of relationship, of awe and wonder, who sets the agenda, and welcomes the exploration of the deepest of mysteries. His nature and character are definitive and not for me to define. He is not safe. Yet once found, how could I ever walk away from that reality.
This is the tragedy of the commons: we consume one another while ignoring that we may one day be consumed.