Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Giving up Christianity?

In chapter five of How (Not) to Speak of God, Pete Rollins writes about a movie called Amen. The movie takes place during World War II in Germany and centers on two religious figures – one a Protestant youth worker and the other a Catholic priest. Both individuals try to tell their religious leaders about the genocide occurring, but the churches resist, keeping their eyes closed to the atrocities. Rollins looks in particular at the Catholic priest who in the movie wonders if it would be possible for all the Christians in Germany to convert to Judaism – hoping the Nazis could not resist such a large and influential number of people. Of course this large-scale conversion does not happen but the priest “in complete frustration, and with a crushing sense of obligation towards the persecuted…takes his own advice. In tears he turns from that which he loves more than life itself – his own faith tradition – and becomes a Jew. By taking on the Jewish identity he suffers with the persecuted, voluntarily taking his place on the trains that run to Auschwitz.” Rollins points out, “It was his very tradition (or rather his interpretation of that tradition) that demanded that he should give up that tradition.” In other words, the priest believed his faith called for him to give up his religion and become one of the persecuted. Rollins asks, “would you be prepared to give up your religious tradition in order to affirm that tradition?”

This really got me thinking.

What if some Christians were called to give up Christianity in order to follow Jesus? What if it was their strong faith and trust in Jesus that compelled them to give up Christianity?

I don’t mean this in a symbolic way. I mean what if I (for example) stopped calling myself a Christian. If someone directly asked me, “Are you a Christian?,” I would simply respond, with full honesty, “no.” What if I (remember, I’m just using myself as an example) stopped doing “Christian” things? No more Easter or Christmas holidays. No more church (ok, I’ve already done that one). Simply no more Christian religious traditions. Not because I don’t like these traditions – I may even love some of them – but rather, so that I could live as a follower of Jesus, obeying him and pursuing his purposes, more than ever.

I certainly don’t think this is for everyone (or maybe even anyone). And I am not trying to make a statement here. It wouldn’t be an “anti-Christian” kind of thing. Just like the priest in the movie, I would be giving up what I love in order to better follow and live what I love. Again, this isn’t for everyone but what if some Christians decided to give up Christianity to follow Jesus? Not as an evangelistic scheme but simply out of a compulsion to follow Jesus all the more, and in a way that would not be possible within the confines of the Christian religion.

I know this is bizarre. It really is. I really can’t imagine saying to someone “I’m not a Christian.” And I’m certainly not saying I am going to start doing this. Nonetheless, I have really been thinking about this a lot ever since reading this part of Rollins’ book.

So what do you think? Completely ridiculous? Unnecessary? An abomination to God? Or is there maybe something to it…? Cast your vote in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(By the way, is anyone interested in watching the movie with me?)


Rishi said...

I lean toward completely ridiculous. Not in the movie's case, but yours.

But I'm interested in watching the movie with you!

Adam said...

We have one vote for completely ridiculous. I'm going to go ahead and vote for "maybe there's something to it." Let's start a tally:

Completely ridiculous - 1
Unnecessary - 0
Abomination to God - 0
Maybe something to it - 1

I look forward to move votes coming in!

andrea_jennine said...

I think I lean toward some combination of answers a, b, & c. We are called to identify with Christ and his church, and I don't think following Christ would ever really mean denying him. This is not to say that we have to keep all the cultural trappings of "religion", but we do need to be faithful and obedient to God's Word.

Adam said...

Andrea - good thought about identifying with the church. Would it be possible to "give up" Christianity and still identify with the church? Definitely a significant question.

Completely ridiculous - 1.33
Unnecessary - 1.33
Abomination to God - .33
Maybe something to it - 1

(I have a feeling we might get some more votes for a, b & c together...)

Brooke said...

I honestly dont know. But I do know that the terms "Christianity" and "Christian" have become so repulsive to the world that I almost hate to identify with them, or what they have (wrongly) come to represent. And I think that, if I were to not use those terms, that doesn't at all mean that I can no longer identify with the Church and Christ. I think doing this could most definitely remove a stumbling block to some people. In fact, Adam and I have already seen fruits of this kind of thinking. (not that we've been not calling ourselves Christians, but just in the way we've been interacting with those around us in the last year or two).

But perhaps the way I'm thinking/writing here really is more along symbolic lines, and not the truly radical changes you are talking about...

So, take what you can from that towards your vote tally!

Amy said...

I don't really know what I'm voting here, but I think it's either along the lines of "unnecessary" or "maybe something to it".

I get what Andrea's saying, and I think I get what Brooke and Adam are saying, too.

I think the best way I can express what I'm thinking is to go back to the priest in the movie. I can absolutely see Christ calling me (or whoever) to give up the trappings of my religious beliefs to better identify with or serve or love someone. But I cannot see myself ever denying that Jesus is the Son of God, that I live by his life, etc. Other than that, everything else is secondary. Whether I celebrate Christmas or Easter, whether I go to "church", whether I call myself a Baptist or an Episcopalian, whether I live in poverty or am well-off--it's all secondary to Jesus. I think I could give all that up (if I were really sure I was supposed to), but I could not give up Jesus. So, for that reason, I don't think I could become truly Jewish, like the priest (maybe a Messianic Jew, though).

I don't think calling myself a "Christian" is all that big of a thing. But I think letting people know that I love Jesus (and that Jesus loves me, and more importantly, that Jesus and I love people) is paramount, and is at the heart of identifying with Christ.

So, what am I voting for? =)

Amy said...

Oh, yeah. I'm interested in watching the movie. =)

Adam said...

Ok, I think Brooke and Amy just voted with me - if you're at all open, then I think "maybe something to it" fits best. So here's the latest:

Completely ridiculous - 1.33
Unnecessary - .33
Abomination to God - .33
Maybe something to it - 3

Aaron said...

Is this maybe just a label issue? I don't think it is possible to live for/serve/be about Jesus without being about/living for/serving his church. Christ has called us to build his kingdom after all. Can this be done (deliberately) without being a part of that kingdom? I don't think so. So my vote is for unnecessary. But to cast away religious fetters in order to better serve Christ. Yes. I might even go so far as to not call myself a christian. But to not belong to christ? No. Should i divorce my wife in order to better love her. No.

Aaron said...

oh. yes on the movie.

SursumCorda said...

Nice way to flush out lurkers. :) Starting with the movie (which I haven't seen), I'd say unnecessary. I think there were plenty of opportunities to identify with the Jews during the Holocaust and get oneself killed in a concentration camp without denying one's faith.

The movie's dilemma reminds me of those soul-tearing questions sometimes asked of (or among) schoolchildren, such as "If your house were burning and you could only save one parent, which would you choose?" I remember teaching my own kids to say, "That is a pointless question, and I don't need to answer it" to such disturbing scenarios. Perhaps I would understand more if I could imagine a situation in which denying my faith would make me a better follower of Christ, but at the moment it's like trying to imagine dry water.

That said, I don't think we have to wear an advertisement of our faith as a neon sign across our foreheads. It's sadly true that many people have bad associations with the name, "Christian," so staying low-key is often a wise move. It isn't denying one's faith not to sow seeds before the ground is prepared.

If it came to that, I might say, if I thought it might be beneficial, "I try to follow Jesus Christ, and generally avoid other labels." But I see no value, and much harm, in denying the truth. What one believes is not something one can willy-nilly change, like a pair of shoes.

Aaron's analogy is a good one. Someone could concoct a situation in which he might think he could better love his wife by divorcing her (some rather odd medical care situations come to mind), but if you asked his wife, I doubt she would agree.

Adam said...

The latest count:

Completely ridiculous - 1.33
Unnecessary - .33
Abomination to God - .33
Maybe something to it - 5

Yes, I realize my interpretation is coming into play here!

By the way, make sure to re-read what I wrote if you think anything in it proposed abandoning Jesus or faith.

Anyone else want to join in? It's great to hear from you all. I will probably have a follow-up post at some point.

Brooke said...

I wanted to reiterate something that Adam just said on his latest comment - where in his post did he say he was talking about denying Jesus?? Read it again.

Denying Christianity as a religion is more of what I got out of the post, not denying faith in Jesus. Also, I dont think that the Christian religion always equals faith in Christ. I think it can and should, but alot of times it doesn't. So, I don't think that denying the Christian religion, as the priest in the story does, at all means he denied Christ. Really.

Perhaps, a better definition of "Christianity" and "Christian" might help clarify the ideas being discussed here.

Just my two cents.

SursumCorda said...

"I don't think that denying the Christian religion, as the priest in the story does, at all means he denied Christ." I guess we're hanging up on definitions here. What does it mean that the priest "converted to Judaism"? I'm a bit handicapped by not having seen the movie, but I can't see how one could truly convert to Judaism, or Islam, or whatever without denying Christ. I think you are right that some definitions are in order.

angela said...

Giving up Christianity, and changing beliefs are two totally different things. Did he truly believe in the Torah? Was he more of a Messianic Jew? How can you be a Messianic Jew if you weren't a Jew to begin with? My understanding of Jewish conversion is limited to these girls marrying rich guys, but I'm pretty sure they all gave up Easter.

As SursumCorda said, the Nazi's didn't just have one group to pick on. He could have easily gotten caught aiding Jews and been punished. He only would have had to become a layman to get treated the same as a Jew. I need another example. I'm going with unnessary.

Adam said...

The latest count:

Why are you making us vote?: 5
Your voting makes no sense: 4
What is wrong with you?: 3.278
Why do you keep commenting on your own post?: 2.06

Would love to read your thoughts if you haven't contributed yet.

Follow-up post to come.

Aaron said...

Just when i think i know you adam, you get even wierder. I think there should be some sort of scale of wierdenss named after you. Kind of like the richter scale rates the strength of seismic activity, the adamoore scale would measure the level of someone's (or something's) wierdness. i.e. your last comment might register a 6.3 out of 11.1 on the adamoore scale. But maybe this is all just unneceaary (read "maybe something to it")

gk said...

I gave up Christianity for lent.

Adam said...

GK, don't you get it?! You can't give up Christianity for Lent because Lent is part of Christianity!

I'm going to go ahead and count Geoff's vote as, "I can be more clever than you can."

Karen said...

I thought the meaning of 'Christian' was a 'Christ-follower' so therefore you can't give up being a Christian for Jesus.
It is just that because the world has taken some of our usual words and changed their meanings eg fundamentalist, gay, rainbow we shouldn't then stop using those words. Also many "christians" in name only have given the whole thing a very bad name.

I think if we call ourselves a Jesus follower instead this might work. If asked if I am religious I always say NO as I see this as being something to be rather than something I live. I think you can be religious and never know Christ/Jesus. I am in the Unnecessary camp and I don't believe Jesus would ask this of you.

SursumCorda said...

Adam, I suspect I have quite misunderstood you. Could you give some examples (besides the priest in the movie) of how your thoughts might work out in real life? I'm having a hard time imagining how one could give up Christianity without giving up Christ, or why it might be necessary.

Mark said...

Great post. I would say that for the priest in the movie, there is definitely something to it. He felt called to give up his heritage, the traditions of his faith, his job, his whole life, in order to stand with a suffering and perspecuted people who were certainly inspired, moved, and loved by such an act of sacrifice. This is an amazing testimony of Jesus' love.

I don't see him denying Christ. I see him denying the institution, the traditions, the salary, his friends, etc. But this looks like anything but denying Christ to me.

However, I'm not sure I see how the same principle applies to you, Adam. How is giving up Christianity going to enable you to serve Christ?

For now, put my down for "maybe something to it". But I would have to better understand why you feel called in this way before I would encourage you in it.

I'd love to see the movie.