As American society becomes increasingly secular, there’s a growing tendency to draw a caricature of people of faith.
You know how it goes: Christians are dour, ignorant, intolerant, emotionally immature, self-righteous hypocrites unable to face life without the crutch of an omnipotent father figure and the fantasy of life after death. Several recent books by self-proclaimed atheists – a couple of them best-sellers – have advanced this cartoonish picture.
Much of it is false and ignorant in itself, but some of it – more than we would like to admit – has been brought on by the behavior of Christians themselves.
Dorothy L. Sayers, a British novelist, playwright and leading Christian apologist of the mid-20th century, was an orthodox believer who lamented the milquetoast nature of what passed for Christian orthodoxy in her day. In her view, it was Christians themselves who often were at fault for advancing a pale, unattractive and uncompelling image of Jesus, and for creating the impression that Christianity was about little more than following rules against carnal living and denying modern science.
Sixty years ago, she pointedly (and humorously) described the “Seven Deadly Virtues” of Christians in her book “Creed or Chaos?” Beyond the Seven Deadly Sins – pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony and lust – Sayers listed the “virtues” that give Christians a bad name. They were respectability, childishness, mental timidity, dullness, sentimentality, sensoriousness and depression of the spirits. These qualities were the anti-Christian caricature of Christians, Sayers said, but not without an element of truth. She believed they hit the mark for many believers.
“Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-tempered bore – and this in the Name of the One who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which He passed through this world like a flame,” Sayers asserted.
“Let us, in Heaven’s name, drag out the Divine Drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much the worse for the pious – others will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like Him?”
It greatly troubled Sayers that the domesticated Christ – the palid, meek and mild Jesus good only for comfort and not challenge, closed-mindedness and not intellectual engagement – had come to be the popular perception.
That image is very much with us today. Christians would do well to ask ourselves how we have contributed to a distorted picture of the savior and redeemer of humanity.
“Perhaps we are not following Christ all the way or in quite the right spirit,” Sayers wrote in 1949.
In 2009, that observation still resonates.
NEMS Daily Journal