I’m not being sarcastic this time. I just thought you should know, because I wish I had known when I was doing this. Sometimes Christians preach to each other about how to evangelize, in the sense of both telling other people about Jesus and about getting people to follow him, by telling Christians to live in such a way that other people will notice that there’s something special going on in their lives. There’s this idea that you can see the effects of following Jesus in the way a person lives and acts, and that those effects cannot be explained by anything else. They’re mysteriously, counter-culturally good, loving in the face of hate, self-denying beyond normal human ability.
It took me a few times of having weird encounters with Christians while discussing religious issues to realize that the people I was dealing with were probably trying to do that. If I’m right, and those people were acting the way they were acting in order to show me the love of Christ by example, I have to tell you, it’s not working. And although this blog does tend to show my hard side to a disproportionate degree, I assure you it’s not because I’m a cold-hearted bitch. It was because it came off as noticeably fake. And the kindness was misplaced. They would only let themselves be extravagantly loving in certain ways, not in others, the “others” being the ones that would include not toeing the line of their respective dogmas. Instead of dealing with a question I had raised, they would take pains to speak in very calm and caring ways to me…about irrelevant or even inappropriate things. Instead of respecting my feelings, they would try to cover them up with bottled compassion about how they hope I feel better and they’re so glad I brought this up (even though they’re never going to do anything about it).
I’m not proving anything here. It’s just one person’s perception, and I don’t even know if what they were thinking at those moments was “I’ll win her over with my eerie resemblance to Christ!” But I know it made me embarrassed for the way I used to try to be like that, and I know it made me realize that my focus on kindness as a Christian was often a focus on superficial kindness, the type that’s easier to monitor (no cussing, check; no gossip, check; give them a blessing, check) and less meaningful. Just thought you might want to know. I mean, there could really be a God and you just might want to realize that trying to fake being like him/her/it probably doesn’t work very well. I suppose if it’s possible to actually do that, it would have to come in a less forced way.
And of course, I have had plenty of encounters with Christians where they were genuinely kind and everything was great. It just didn’t come across as “oh my gosh the love of God is flowing through them I need that!” probably because I had encountered the same treatment from non-Christians as well and considered it normal human kindness.
There really are people who are counter-cultural for reasons unrelated to religion. There are people who are deeply, inexplicably happy for reasons unrelated to religion. There really are people who are almost confusingly good for reasons unrelated to religion. I know someone like that – he’s an atheist (and a feminist!) and, among other amazing things, he supports his father, who abandoned him and his mother when this guy was young and then showed up again when he (the father) got sick. I don’t understand that. But he does it, and not because he thinks a god is telling him to. So even if you do manage to be mind-blowingly loving, it won’t be absolute proof that there must be a god, and it won’t convince me that your religion is the right one. Just FYI.