Born A Sinner

Through out my childhood of being raised in the Church I was told by my pastors and Sunday school teachers  I was born a sinner. It was the great warning given to the Church. All you need to do is look at the Bible and you can see how sinful we really are. Verses like Psalms 58:3 “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies”, Proverbs 22:15 “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him”, and Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”, have all been used to prove we are sick and evil creatures. The trump card when trying to prove our original sinful nature often comes from John 8:44 when Jesus was talking to a group of Jews who questioned who he was and the truth he spoke. He said, “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires”.  Gosh! It can’t get much worse then being told you are the devils child.

Knowing these verses are part of most Christians foundational beliefs you can see why they have such a hard time connecting to the secular world. The foundation of our faith tells us not to trust the world. We are told the world is an evil place full of deceit and folly. Quite literally all of you non-Christians are considered no better then the devil. Am I the only one here who sees how this is setting both sides up for failure?

Let me first explain my original philosophy on what my job was as a Christian. When I was still part of the Church my main mission was to bring people to Jesus. The world outside the Church was a world in need of salvation. It was a world all damned to hell unless I and my fellow Christians did something about it. We were God’s soldiers. We were sent into the world to invite people to our youth groups and bible studies so they could be converted to Christianity. The main mission was to see the secular friends we invited to Church raise their hands when asked if they wanted to give their souls to Jesus and go up to the front of the alter so they could accept Jesus into their hearts. The Church rejoiced with “Hallelujah” and clapping when our pastor told us at the beginning of service, “We had twenty five people give their soul to God last week”.

I believed it was my job as a Christian to protect my soul from the evils of the world. Those who did not know Jesus were enemies in the eyes of the Church. I may have had secular friends but I was careful not to be influenced by them. I was warned numerous times their hearts were evil and if I let down my guard I would fall into their sinful ways. My secular friends were those who went out drinking, disobeyed their parents, and thought only of themselves. I never cared enough to know who they were; learn about their hobbies, understand their views on life, or hear about what they wanted to do in the future. I didn’t get to know these things because I was so convinced it wasn’t worth anything unless they first accepted Jesus into their hearts. I was ignorant and naive. I had the audacity to believe they should care about me and my views without giving a crap about theirs. I pursued relationships thinking myself superior and neglecting the truth in my secular friends lives. Is there any greater sin then denying Jesus where he is evident? That is what I did for a good portion of my life. It is what much of the Church still does today.

Christians must understand when they deny Jesus in the lives of nonbelievers, they are look in the faces of Mahatma Gandhi, Tenzin Gyatso (the Dali Lama), and Malala Yousafzai and say “God does not live in you”. I like to bring up these names to Christians when discussing salvation and truth. Most Christians I know still stick to the idea God is only in Christianity. Even more Christians I know stick to the idea that “accepting Jesus” (becoming Christian) is the most important thing we can do in this life. Well Mahatma Gandhi, Tenzin Gyatso, and Malala Yousafzai are not Christian and either did not or will not convert to the Christian faith. Much of their humanitarian work is inspired by their personal faith in Buddhism, Islam, or Hindu. As a youth being raised in a Christian Church I would have been worried about these peoples souls. I would have looked past the work they have done for God because they don’t attribute their faith to the right name. I would have said I, as a 14 year old Christian boy who was mostly just minding his own business not doing anything for the poor, the sick, or the uneducated, was closer to God then these people. Can’t you see something is wrong with this picture?

I am sure a good portion of you would reply, “Nope”.  There is nothing wrong with the way I once thought. The problem I am making in my last paragraph is putting works ahead of faith. When I first began to question these things the biggest argument was always, “God does not judge us based on works but rather faith”. All the things I see non-Christians do for others is done out of their selfish sinful nature. It sure looks as if the sixteen year old girl Malala is advocating for education for all and pushing towards non-violence because of her faith and her love for the others, but in reality she is just trying to fill the empty void that only can truly be filled by Jesus Christ. Sure Gandhi might have been the main one responsible for the freedom of the Indian people from Europe and might have saved countless lives through advocating fighting with none violence, but he was a Hindu when he died and thus suffering in an eternal Hell. After countless conversations of putting up with these arguments and trying to diplomatically reply to why I don’t agree with them I want to give you a definitive answer to what I think of this line of thinking. BULL SHIT!

I am tired of needing to argue whether humanitarians who have done greater things then I could imagine are in question of damnation. I am tired of talking to Christian friends who deny God in a sixteen year old girl who was able to forgive the man who shot her, or in a man who has spent his whole life teaching the importance of living for others, or in a leader who won a war through not being willing to pick up a sword or fire a gun.  I am tired of seeing Christians constantly give sin and “the devil” more power and influence then their own God. How narrow minded is it to say our God can only be seen in one religion?!  How naive is it for us Christians to say we have a monopoly on truth?! Not only does this hurt our ability to recognize God in others, it hurts our ability to recognize His absence in ourselves. Thinking ourselves closer to God then people like Malala, The Dali Lama, and Gandhi, allows us to feel good about living a mediocre life where we go to our Bible studies and Church services but don’t live our faith out in the regular world. It is so much easier to ignore people when you see them as the child of the devil instead of a child of God. Words like, “I believe in Jesus” become more important to us then feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the poor, and taking care of the sick.

Realize when I am talking about feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, and taking care of the sick, I am talking about spiritual growth. We mistake doing these things as physical acts of goodness. I rather believe those who are committed to these things are people who have a spiritual urge to do them. Whether they know it or not, someone has put the need to help others in their heart. I watch someone like Malala speak about her faith in God and I can no longer help but see my savior in the God she speaks of.

This I know is blasphemy to some of my friends. Many of the Christians who have stuck through reading this are probably throwing my comments out just because I have not used verses to back up my statements. I don’t want to get into a bible thumping debate. For some reasons Christians think the world should put a huge amount of weight on what they say the Bible says, even though they think very little of the other religious books of faith. However, I do want to close this post with one verse. Genesis 1: 27, “So God created mankind in his own image,in the image of God he created them;male and female he created them”. Human kind was not created by the devil. We were not created in the image of the devil. We were created by God, in His image. We are all born children of God. Let us not forget we are seeing God’s creation when looking into the faces of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Atheists. And Let us not be so naive to think God isn’t seen in those faiths. I consider myself to still be a Christian but I am not willing to limit God and His wonders to my personal faith. The more I look into other faiths and religions the more I can see God in them. I want to learn from the scientist inspired by the beauty of evolution. I want to understand the peace seen in Hinduism. I want to look upon the true face of God. The only way we will be able to do this is if we open ourselves to all of God’s creation.

Christianty’s Blind Eye

I remember going to a friends house about two years ago. It was just a time where we were going to sit down, relax, and play the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game that had just come out. It had been a while sense I had played video games. However, I had played an old version of Call of Duty in the past and was up for this new challenge. We played multiplayer mode. All of us were in a deserted town and our mission was to find and kill each other. It is not like I hadn’t done similar things like this before. I remember playing the game Donkey Kong 64 where we all were monkeys running around trying to knock each other out by shooting bananas at each other. I also was a huge fan of Super Smash Brothers, where you play as classic Nintendo video game characters and try to knock each other off the screen.

Unlike prier games however, when I began to play Call of Duty that night I was unusually taken back when I was shot for the first time. It was by a sniper. I got hit right through the head and I very accurately fell to the ground with blood pouring out of my characters head. “Yikes!!!”, I said to myself, “video games have gotten more realistic“.

I came back as my character a few seconds later. I was bound and determined not to get shot this time. I was determined to in fact hunt down and take out someone else. I remember hiding in a multistory building and scoping out one of my friends. I shot him strait through the head. He fell to the ground lifeless and just like my character a few minutes before blood was spilling out from his head. I felt stimulated. Even excited. I in fact felt happy that I had just KILLED A MAN… that is….a virtual replica of a man. After spending some time thinking about it later that night, the high I got from making my first kill frightened me.

We played for a few more hours and I got killed more then I was able to kill. Oddly enough we were listening to Christian music while playing. The more I played the more I felt turn. There was part of me that was really enjoying the “high” I got when finding and shooting my fellow friends. There was also a feeling deep down inside me that was saying, “this is not right”.

I can not say that I stopped playing violent video games after that night. I remember going back to the same friends house a few weeks later and playing Call of Duty and the video game Halo, which also involved a multiplayer mode where we tried to kill each other. I realized that I was not getting any fruit out of playing these video games but rather I was becoming numb towards violence in general. It wasn’t like most war movies I watched. I was not an observer, I could not make the judgment to whether I was okay or not with the killing I was seeing. There was no good reason to why we were killing each other and when we died we did not stay dead and face the consequence of what killing really does. A few seconds after being killed we would be revived and then set out to kill someone else. Also, I couldn’t help but feel the graphics of these games I was playing were adding to my “high” in a very bad way. The killings were physically very realistic, especially on the Call of Duty game. My character would react completely differently depending on how I was shot. If it was by a sniper the impact was clear and precise blood shooting out of the entrance wound and my character lifelessly falling to the ground. However, being shot with a shotgun would send my character flying, blood spattering everywhere.

After a few years of thinking about it I have come to the conclusion that violent video games are some of the worst things we can expose ourselves to. I have also found violent video games have become the drug that is somehow excepted by most of western Christianity.

I have often heard Christians complain about how lost this world is. About how the world needs to stop participating in things like drugs and pornography. However, mindless video games and violence is usually conveniently missed. It is the area where Christianity seems to have turned a blind eye.

It is hard for me to justify playing games in general now a days. They can be very addicting and time consuming. Most games I see people play do not involve much thought. Most video games actually seem to function the same way masturbating or drugs function. For most video gamers it is all about getting to the next “high“, we are never satisfied for very long it is all about getting to the next level. Graphics for video games seem to be working the same way. Just getting knocked out by bananas is not good enough anymore, we need the game to be more real and more stimulating.

Video game companies are working relentlessly at making the gaming experience more realistic. We now need to shoot someone and have the virtual person react just like a real person would react. Detail is everything. A virtual grenade needs to have the same impact a real grenade has. The more real the game feels the more worth we can give it. This is why games are giving us background stories these days. In some of the Call of Duty games for example we are given a past for our characters. We are role playing an imaginary character with kids and a wife back home. The war we are fighting is now patriotic. We now have an excuse to get a high off of killing someone because we are doing it for our imaginary loved ones back home.

We no longer need to go and interact with the real world. The virtual world is real enough. However, unlike real life we are allowed to feel more empowered with video games. Instead of feeling like everyone else, we can become the alpha. We can become a secret agent or a powerful warrior skilled in the art of killing.  And, the best part is the virtual world is void of consequence. We can make fun of and demean someone without worrying about that character knowing who we really are. We can beat someone and even murder him without being arrested or reprimanded in any way.

The problem is that when we pretend to kill each other for entertainment we begin to become numb to the real effects of violence. Just like any other drug video games can be and often are used as a wall to block us from seeing this world and even God clearly. And, just like drugs, video games are usually completely selfish-consuming things. When we become completely self-centered we are never satisfied. The reason why we need to beat the next level or move on to the next video game is because we are never really satisfied with our “high“.

Christianity must be willing to look at all evil, not just the evil we feel we are isolated from. As pleasing as a game like Call of Duty can be it does nothing to further ones faith in God. There is a suffering going on in this world which we have all but blocked out completely through this numbing drug we find in most video games. God wants us to interact with this world not escape to a fantasy land in order to avoid it. He wants us to be stopping the violence going on in this world, not be celebrating it.

The God Drug!

Ever think of God as a drug? The more I look around and study my fellow Christians, the more I get the feeling God is just another way to get high and forget about the hurts and needs of this world. Yes this is a big observation but I do not say it lightly. We live in world full of self indulgence. I can not help but notice how we as “Christians” are looking more and more like the world we claim to be trying to “save”.

There are two things that have inspired this post. First off, I have recently been impacted by a conversation/debate/argument (depending on who you ask) I have had with an old Church friend of mine about the topics of serving “the least of these” (Originating from Matthew 25: 31-46) and eternal damnation. Equally, I have been impacted by reading the book Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth. In this book, Gandhi seek after God far better then myself. In Mohandas Gandhi’s autobiography I have seen a man devoted to truth. Gandhi was willing to push himself to extremes for his cause. I have seen a man who had a heart for loving his neighbors and helping the needy. He seemed to use every aspect of his gifting and recourses to seek out God.

A problem arose for me in my discussion with my friend when my friend kept on posing the argument that we, “need to first seek out God”, before something like helping “the least of these” is relevant. My argument was, “When we help ‘the least of these’ we show we are seeking out God”. My friend did not agree. We went on for days with emails back and forth, both posing some good arguments and I think both would admit some “less then par” arguments as well. Eventually my friend requested we end the conversation. I felt we were stopping in a very bad spot, but reluctantly agreed.

The idea we need to first “seek out God” before “helping the least of these is relevant“, bugged me. The problem becomes how then do we seek out God? The only answers from my friend seemed to be through verbal prayer, fasting, and reading the Bible. Through experience and observation I have found that God can easily become a selfish thing. Prayer can easily be just a way to get hyped up and usually does not go much farther then  words. Fasting is often done for attention rather then to seek God out. And, reading the Bible often consists of finding verses that make God who you want Him to be, not figuring out who He really is.

When God is used in these ways He becomes just another drug we get high on. The problem with getting “high” on God is that it does not last. I have gone to Church conferences where the building seemed to be “on fire” for the Holy Spirit. I saw people dancing in the rows and falling down on the ground because they were so overpowered by the presence of God. I am not saying this was fake, that God was not really moving, but my problem was Nothing. Else. Happened. When we got back from the conference we talked a little about “how God moved”. We gave our testimonies to our Church congregations. Then life went back to normal, where we went to Church on Sunday morning and attended the weekly youth group. And, we began to look forward to the next conference where we could get our next high.

When we leave out a way of knowing or seeing God such as “helping the least of these”, we begin to make Christianity a very selfish thing. When we do not realize that loving our  neighbor is directly related to loving God, Christianity becomes stagnate and insignificant to the rest of the world.

In Matthew 22: 37-40 Jesus replied to the Pharisees when asked what is the greatest commandment, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”. The “Love your neighbor as yourself” was just as important as loving the Lord. The reason why Jesus answered with both is because they go hand in hand.

Even though we have been commanded to minister in this world we also were told not to be of this world. The world tells us that possession and power is what brings us happiness. However, Jesus taught us to go beyond our selfish desires and turn to humility and forgiveness. Jesus taught us that we are suppose to be God’s hands and feet and start to show the world the selfless love of God.

Just because you know the right name does not mean you are serving God better then those who have not even heard of Christianity. The Pharisees were the ones that were interested in the letter of the law. They knew all the “right names”. But, Jesus made it clear “knowing” was not what was going to save them (John 5:39). What God cares about is how we follow Him. Instead of making God just another drug we get high on, let’s start to own His principles along with His name and change the world.