Thursday, 12 July 2012

Is Christianity A Crutch? Part Two - I Got Two Problems, But A Crutch Ain't One

I am delighted to be able to welcome you back to our discussion on the crutchiness or otherwise of Christianity with the following exciting piece of news: the word "crutch", in archaic use, can also mean "crotch". Yes. See, we're only one paragraph in and it was already worth the effort, right?

Really? That's awesome! Thanks Dave! Oh the jokes
I can make! Everyone will want to be my friend!" 
Anyway, forget all that, time to get back to the crux of the Christianity crutch conundrum: Is Christianity a crotch? Sorry - crutch. Is Christianity a crutch?

Well, in the last exciting instalment we came to this definitive conclusion: Who cares? It's not the important question. Here is what we should be asking instead: Do we need it? Does it work?

Today, dear readers, we shall tackle the first of these. But before we get stuck in, I should warn you that this is going to get a wee bit depressing. Don't worry, to counter this I've stuck a picture of a girl dressed as a pink dalek at the end. (Don't just skip straight to the pink dalek girl though, that would just be rude.)

Okay. Here we go. For our answer we are going to look at a wee bit of the Bible. I could have picked any number of bits of the Bible, since this question runs through it rather like the writing in a stick of rock, but I picked this passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians because it is cool:

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:17-26)
How does this help us answer our question: do we need it? Here's where it gets depressing. Because by "we" I mean to include everyone. This is not "Do I need it?". If this is a crutch we all need, then we must be looking for a problem we all have. So we're not talking about difficult life circumstances here - that moment when the ground vanishes from under your feet and you are left in mental free-fall, desperate for something to make the world seem right again. Because not everyone has those moments. And, horrible as they are, we have plenty of coping mechanisms - the support of friends, good old fashioned denial, exotic holidays, gin... Christianity certainly helps in these situations, but people can survive without it. If the worst things we have to face in life are those "Sh*t happens" moments, then the answer to our question is probably: No. Not everyone needs it.

So what we are talking about here is in another league.

I'm guessing we've all heard the saying that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes... Guess which one we're going to be thinking about?

You see, we have a problem. And, whatever your view of Christianity, I take it we can all agree that the problem is real, and will affect every one of us - deeply, individually, personally.

We are all going to die.

Maybe it seems unreal to you - a long way in the future. Or maybe not; maybe you have experienced the pain of bereavement closer to home, in which case I'm deeply sorry. But I don't think the Bible is being especially controversial when it tells us that "in Adam all die". If you are "in Adam" - which basically means if you are human - then you will die.

This is not a psychological problem, for which we need a psychological crutch (or a psychological crotch). This is a physical problem. A problem faced by everyone. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Perhaps they last a bit longer than the uneducated ones, but education is at best a palliative treatment of the underlying issue. Fashions come and go, jobs come and go, money comes and goes... death just comes.

So that's part one of why we need a crutch. Part two is worse.

Notice that this passage distinguishes between different types of "death". Paul speaks about "falling asleep" but he also speaks about "perishing" in verse 18, and "being destroyed" in verses 24-26. Falling asleep is just a poetic term for dying - which is bad enough. But perishing - that is something more. Something worse than death. If you are still "in your sins", says Paul, then you are not simply falling asleep... you are perishing.

I'm not going to go all fire-and-brimstone on you, but we need to unpick this a little.

I think we assume that, if there is a God, he'll be pleased to see us when we die. If you are picturing this scene, chances are there's a big white beard involved. And kind, crinkly eyes, and a gentle welcoming smile. And he'll be saying something like "Surprise! I did exist after all! Sorry about all the confusion down there, but you are here now, that's all that matters. I don't care how you lived before, just come on in and enjoy paradise! Here's your complimentary harp, go have some sedate and dignified fun."

This lady got her harp fast-tracked.

If you read the last post, I'd like to suggest that this is the same sort of mistake Fictional Jim made when he assumed his examiners would be pleased to hear him play, after not practising for a year.

You see, this passage doesn't paint the kindly-grandfather picture of God. The God in this passage has enemies - check out verses 25 and 26. And the God in this passage doesn't give his enemies free harps and a four-bed semi in a nice part of heaven. The place for God's enemies is under his feet. He squashes them.

And if we are still in our sins, says Paul, then that's us. If we are still in our sins, then we are not falling asleep and waking up on a cloud surrounded by our own harem of vestal virgins*. Nope, we're dying and meeting God as his enemy. We're not going to be looking at the big beard and the kind smile, we're going to be looking at the underside of his foot.

So being "in our sins" is rather an important factor, and it would be somewhat irresponsible not to stop and ask the question of what it actually means. We're talking about Hitler here, right? Or Davros, or Fred West, or the bankers, or the paedophiles, or the Commies, or the corrupt wealthy greedy capitalist exploiters of the poor? You know... the Bad Guys?

Remember I said I wanted to show that this crutch is something we all need - not just the Public Enemy Top 100?

"Sinning" just means disobeying God. And it's something we have all done. Here's my attempt to describe what being "in our sins" looks like: Imagine every thing you've done wrong, big or small, getting written on a post-it note and stuck to you. That time when you punched your brother in the face for breaking your action man? Post-it note. That time when you thought about punching your brother in the face? Post-it note. That time when you promised to do the washing-up, then decided it would be more fun to burn the house down?** Post-it note. That time when you decided to spend an hour at work researching the top ten dowdy nightdresses in a movie musical number, instead of doing what you were paid to do?*** Post-it note. When you walk past a girl on the tube and briefly wish that your wife had her bosoms? Post-it note. When you lie. Post-it note. When you get road / pavement / bicycle rage. When you break the law - even the laws no one cares about, like speeding, or cycling through a red light, or copying music, or killing homeless guys - post-it note, post-it note, post-it note, post-it note. 

It's a lot of post-it notes. After just one day I reckon I'd be covered in them. They'd surround me. I'd be in them. Just picture it... Imagine what we'd all look like, shuffling around in our post-it note shrouds... We'd be like something out of Doctor Who (the proper original series, before they got a budget and started doing fancy CGI stuff).

Okay, I couldn't actually find any Doctor Who monsters made out of post-it notes. I suspect
the budget didn't stretch to them. But here's a Doctor Who Fish Guy made out of sequins.

Actually, I shouldn't be joking about this stuff. Because this is us - freaky shuffling post-it note monsters, covered in a catalogue of every single way we have hurt God. And it matters to God. If God hasn't forgiven us, and thrown away all the post-it notes for us, then we will be meeting him as his enemies... and death won't be the worst thing that happens to us.

Those are our problems.
So, our first question was this: do we need a crutch?

Well, without it, every one of us will die. And every one of us will meet God as his enemy.
Yes, we need a crutch.

And we don't need some airy-fairy namby-pamby psychological crutch. All a psychological crutch will do for us is fool us into thinking we don't have a problem****.

We don't need a distraction crutch, or an analgesic crutch. We are facing real, inescapable problems, and we need a big damn solid crutch that will actually do something.

Which leads nicely into our second question: does it work? Is Christianity a real, weight-bearing crutch, that can solve the problem of death, and deal with the problem of sin? Or is it just a fake, psychological crutch used by the weak to help them ignore their impending death and feelings of guilt?

Real? Or imaginary?

Namby-Pamby Rubbish For Losers, or Genuine Solution To All Life's Problems?

And that, of course, is next week's question.

Oh, and here's Dalek-Girl. Thank you, Distraction-Crutch-Dalek-Girl.

"Exfoliate! Exfoliate!"

* I may be getting my mythologies mixed up here.
** I've not actually done this.
*** I may have done this.
****Imagine jumping out of an aeroplane, seeing the ground come closer, reaching for your parachute rip-cord and then discovering that you didn't actually bring a parachute. You brought your iPad instead, so you could play Angry Birds on the way down.

1 comment: