Why are Christians such hypocrites? Why is the church responsible for so much injustice?
For many people today the plausibility of Christianity is seriously undermined by the failures of Christians and Christian institutions, especially the church, to live in a manner consistent with Christian beliefs. Hypocrisy is a problem, and Christians shouldn’t try to cover it up where it’s present. Tim Keller defines hypocrisy this way, “an inconsistent person, a person that says one thing; does another, and knows that they are doing something wrong but puts up a front.”
This objection to Christianity is often tied to the belief that religion of any kind poisons everything. The late Christopher Hitchens put forward this view in his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. The idea is this: people believe they have the absolute truth; they necessarily begin to feel superior to those who believe differently, and this inevitably leads to oppression and injustice.
There is no denying Hitchens' critique of religion, but it is also true of societies and cultures where religion is substituted for secularism. Which raises an important question. Are hypocrisy and injustice exclusively attributable to religion in and of itself? Or could it be there is something true about all human beings everywhere that leads to hypocrisy and the abuse of power?
To solve the problem of hypocrisy, some suggest we should get rid of religion. Others suggest religion is fine but that we shouldn't take it too seriously.
However, Christianity presents another approach. On the one hand, Christianity teaches that to be a Christian, a person must admit that he or she is a sinner (self-absorbed and full of pride). On the other hand, Christianity teaches there will always be inconsistency in a person’s life. This is radically different than other religions and self-help programs. Christianity calls you to live perfectly before a holy God and at the same time acknowledges you can’t and won’t live perfectly. At the heart of Christianity is good news for the inconsistent person: Jesus came to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Unlike any other religion or belief system, Christianity acknowledges it cannot be followed perfectly, and at the same time tells of One who has lived perfectly in our place.
So is Christianity one big excuse for our hypocrisy and mistreatment of others? Absolutely not! Rather, Christianity is self-critiquing. Christianity does claim to be "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). But it also critiques self-righteousness, selfishness, pride, and oppression. At the heart of Christianity is a Person who came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Many people who find Christianity to be intellectually untenable often do so against the background of personal experiences with Christians and churches that are disappointing and painful.
Whatever your experience of Christianity, please join us for a conversation April 1 from 6 to 7 PM at the Black Sheep Pub (just north of Tenth Church on 17th St.). There will be a brief introduction to the topic of the evening followed by open-ended questions and conversation, led by Rev. Will Spokes, Minister of Outreach, at Tenth Presbyterian Church.
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