For several years now I have been asking Christian fundamentalists and conservatives the same question; namely, Why would God care more about what we believe about God than how we live for God?
Rarely does a fundamentalist/conservative even attempt to offer a rational answer to this question. Instead, they generally respond in one of three ways:
1: Shout louder: You are denying the truth! That’s the wrong question to ask! The question has no bearing on what is true!, and so on. They respond with accusations and denials, and never get around to actually wrestling with the question.
2. Quote Bible verses and/or recite the talking points of their learned doctrine.
3. At least try to approach it rationally—but, again, never really respond directly to the question. (They usually say something about God’s holiness demanding that Jesus die in our place—which, in the end, amounts to nothing more than a recitation of a doctrine they think essential for salvation.)
And all along the question lingers, and waits, and hopes to be answered . . .
The reason no fundamentalist can reasonably answer the question is because no reasonable answer exists for it. No answer makes sense based on common sense, reason, human dignity, and our best intuitive sense of what is good, right, just, fair, and of most value. So all they can do is quote the Bible, deny the importance of the question, cling to their creed, and stumble around the question as best they can.
Such responses suggest to me that these Christians are so completely locked into their belief systems that they have relinquished all responsibility for reflective analysis. They are, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to question, probe, and sincerely struggle with their faith. They settle for a second-hand faith that offers them security (heaven when they die), comfort (God is on their side), and feelings that they are really special (they have the truth).
I think many fundamentalists who are most ardent in their attempts to win/convert others into their system of belief engage in such activity as a defense mechanism. It’s a way of keeping at bay all of their repressed and denied fears, anxieties, and insecurities.
True religion is not about believing doctrines. It’s about falling in love with God and learning how to love everyone and everything the way God loves everyone and everything.
It is much easier to believe doctrines, perform rituals, and enforce policies than to actually live in union with God, to allow God’s love to fill and overflow in our lives. Living in union with God means letting go of egoism, pride, and false attachments to power, prominence, and possessions. It means letting go of the need for control, for labeling, for judging, for creating “in” and “out” groups.
For a great many of us, knowing and communing with the one divine love means changing. And that, in and of itself, can be the greatest challenge of all.
Thanks to John Shore for his help with this.
Chuck Queen is a Baptist minister and the author of Being a Progressive Christian (is not) for Dummies (nor for know-it-alls): An Evolution of Faith. Chuck blogs at A Fresh Perspective, and is also a contributor to the blog Faith Forward.