Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian?
A recent article headline caught my attention. Why Are So Many Christians So Un-Christian? it asked. I have been asking that same question for years. What gives with people who claim Jesus Christ as the ultimate role model putting so much energy into wanting to govern people into behaving the way they see fit? What gives with “Christians” wanting to deny others health care, or cutting food stamps for the poor, or grousing about raising the minimum wage, or fighting efforts to care for the planet? What is it about their fascination with guns, their promotion of the military, and their craving for power in general?
Choice theory, it turns out, provides helpful insights into the cause of this disappointing reality. Two important components of the choice theory model are 1) the Quality World – the place in our heads where we store the pictures of the people, places, things, beliefs, activities, etc. that we find need-satisfying – and 2) the Perceived World – the reality that we perceive as our experiences pass through our knowledge and values filter. The Quality World is the most important of the choice theory concepts, however I find the Perceived World to be the most fascinating. Choice theory contends that from the moment we are born we begin to learn to satisfy our needs. This collection of need-satisfying people and behaviors forms our own personal Quality World, the center that motivates all of our behavior. The Quality World represents what we WANT. We experience the world through our five senses, although our perceptions are coded through filters before becoming our reality. Our Perceived World represents what we HAVE, or probably better put, what we THINK WE HAVE.
One of the filters our experiences pass through is our valuing filter or, put more accurately, the filter of our Quality World. Our personal Quality World represents everything we value and these values have an incredible influence on our perception of reality. We literally place a picture into our Quality World because we believe that picture will satisfy a need. That picture also now becomes a filter through which all of our perceptions must travel before being coded in the brain. These picture filters are very good at letting certain beliefs and images into our reality, modifying others, and in some cases, prohibiting other images and beliefs from coming anywhere near our reality.
Amanda Marcotte, the author of Why Are So Many Christians so Un-Christian?, may not be a choice theorist, but she explained the process very similarly.
It’s a process called rationalization or motivated reasoning, and to be perfectly fair, it’s how most people think about most things most of the time: They choose what to believe and then look for reasons to explain why they believe it. Huge reams of psychological research show this is just how the human brain works. Almost never do we look over a bunch of arguments and choose what to believe based on reasoning our position out. As Chris Mooney at Mother Jones explains, “We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close.” Our faculties are usually put to the task of trying to defend what we already believe, not towards developing a better understanding of the world.”
Even before I had read Marcotte’s article, a passage in the book of Matthew got me to thinking about this topic. As part of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explained that –
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” Matthew 6:22, 23
Interesting that Jesus even described a filtering process that affects our ultimate view of reality. When your eye is a good filter you are filled with light and truth and healthy insight; when your eye is bad you are filled with darkness. The bad eye filter is so effective that a person can reach a point where they think they are filled with light, even as they are surrounded in darkness. “How deep,” he says, “that kind of darkness will be.”
How is it possible to reach the point where you think you are in the light, yet you are in a total blackout? Especially spiritually? How is it possible to be concerned about living a Godly life and attend church and give offerings and hang out with other “Godly” people, and yet be filled with darkness? Which brings me to another text that got my attention. In the upper room, prior to His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus, wanting to strengthen His disciples and alert them to a terrible reality ahead, said –
“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God.” John 16:1, 2
Talk about blackness. Murder as a holy service for God. Jesus experienced this kind of “holy service” himself, by religious leaders who killed Him, but wanted the whole affair done as soon on Friday afternoon as possible, since they wanted to get home by sundown so they wouldn’t break the Sabbath.
Such is the power of our ability to create our own reality. We have everything to do with creating what we WANT (Quality World), and we also have a great deal to do with creating what we THINK WE HAVE (Perceived World). My hope and prayer is that we will let God re-create us in His image, rather than us putting so much energy into changing Him into our image. Love, amazing love, is at the heart of God’s character and He wants us to not only experience it ourselves, but also to share it generously with others.
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. Dear friends, since God loved us so much, we surely ought to love each other. 1 John 1:5; 4:11
(You can access Marcotte’s article at http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-are-so-many-christians-so-un-christian.)
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I do not think there are short cuts in becoming like Jesus. There is a cause and effect relationship in the Biblical principal that “by beholding we become changed.” It is what we think about that counts. My daily challenge is to think about the Jesus revealed in the gospels. The more I focus on the Biblical Jesus, the more I become my thoughts. This is the filter you talk about, Jim. Not books about Jesus; the authentic Jesus of the gospels.