I think we live in a society that tries to make things easier. It’s one of the cruxes of Western civilization; it is one of its greatest strengths and yet, I also find it to be a great weakness. One of the areas I observe this the most is in religious discourse.
I make no secret of my faith. I am a cradle Catholic, and I’m very proud to be one. I think I’m a better person because of it but I don’t think I am better than anyone else. I am fully aware of the shortcomings of my humanity and like it or not, I fail every day as a Christian in small and big ways. Perfection is difficult, perhaps impossible, yet it is the objective – “you must be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
I looked in the mirror this morning and I’ll tell you what, I saw a very flawed human being staring back at me. At times I am dishonest, I get irritated too easily, I am not patient enough, I get jealous, I swear. Sometimes I am gluttonous and lazy and I could go on and on. But perhaps above all, I do not love nearly enough.
Christianity is difficult because it expects a lot from you. The most difficult thing that is expected is love for all people. And not the distorted love that abandons you to your passions but the kind of love that demands you rise above them while being compassionate to human shortcomings. You just need to step outside into the world on any day and it’ll give you a reason sooner or later why loving people is so hard. People are difficult; many self-centered, negative, hostile, and sometimes do things that are plain and simply evil. It should be said, when I speak of people, I am fully aware of my inclusion; I do not wish to disassociate myself.
I find myself struggling with loving people especially when they are antagonistic towards my faith. And in this modern world, that’s very easy to find, subtly and overtly. For example, I often find it commonplace for people to complain about someone of faith they know who “constantly needs to talk about God” whether online or in real life. I often ask if they find it offensive or uncomfortable because of the subject matter or because they feel like the person is “pushing their beliefs on them,” to which many people respond, “both.”
It is my belief that this notion of “pushing one’s beliefs” on others is a grave misconception. Very rarely, at least in this part of the world, do we not have the capacity to have agency in what we choose to believe. Moreover, what no one likes to say is that everyone has values and beliefs and our exercise of everyday living pushes those beliefs on others by what we say and don’t say and our actions and inactions. Our mere existence pushes beliefs on other people, every single day. And if we are honest, whether we are people of faith or not, and whatever kind of values we choose to ascribe to, we all have to live with the fact that values are constructed to be prejudiced in one way or another.
It is my assertion that we live in a society in which the popular culture has a problem with Christian values and discourse being present at all in the public sphere. And although people often like to point to separation of church and state, I am not particularly referring to legal matters. I am denoting the capacities which constitute popular discourse and public culture, in which I perceive hostility towards Christian values, and efforts to simply exclude them altogether. And I find this problematic because although we live in a secular nation, I think that this has become tantamount to believing that the default values of this nation privilege a certain nationalistic agnosticism. And correct me if I’m wrong, but even if we were speaking within legal constitutional capacities, secularity does not equate agnosticism. Secular discourse in the public ought to privilege a plurality of perspectives.
Regressing back to a more personal narrative, there have been times I have been hesitant to tell people what I really think because I know that what I have to say will be viewed as an imposition because of my faith. But if we take faith as simply a subscription to a certain way of life and not solely an institution, then we are all creatures of some kind of faith and as I expressed earlier, we are all imposing our faith on each other. I don’t see why mine should make others feel uncomfortable. We seem to live in a society that talks about sex and drugs and drunkenness without a second thought and without any inhibitions. But a mention of God more than once a day in the public discourse makes people uncomfortable? Why? It’s worth pondering.
Yes, Christianity is difficult. Sometimes I wish it was easier. I wish it was easier to love people, especially people who show contempt towards my faith. I wish people would see that even as a person of faith, I don’t represent every single person of faith. I wish I had more courage at times to speak the truth and I wish I wasn’t so damn imperfect in my practice of faith. I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that it would be a lot easier too if the mistakes and wrongs and hurt that has been caused by people of my faith weren’t so markedly terrible. Even though I believe very much in my faith, I am fully aware of its shortcomings as a Church that is made of people, very imperfect people.
So I try to do the best I can, as I’m sure most people do, which is the greatest reminder I have of why I have to love all people. And moreover, I remind myself that the Jesus who I believe is Lord, was a man who was despised and hated and ultimately was put to death – that is the Son of Man. That is the Man I seek to follow and if he was despised for who he was, how much more His followers? More importantly, that is the Man that I am asked to see in every single person. And however difficult it is, I’ll keeping trying to live that way knowing full well that the best testament to faith, are not one’s words, but one’s life.