Monday, June 20, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Speech... a Secular University Class. A college-aged friend of mine who used to be in our youth group gave this speech on her last day of class at the University of Texas. It's a long read but worth it. She said her class was full of intellectual cynics who mocked Jesus and Christianity all semester. We praise God for her boldness for the truth.

“Oh, dear Lord baby Jesus! Dear tiny infant, eight-pound, six-ounce newborn Jesus!” These are lines from the movie Talladega Nights starring Will Ferrell. Amid this prayer to “baby” Jesus, the characters speak of their favorite views of Jesus, which include teenage Jesus, adult Jesus, ninja Jesus, bearded Jesus, and so on. While this scene is indeed amusing, I have realized that certain aspects of it are not as far-fetched as I initially concluded. Many people throughout the world do have many distinct views of Jesus Christ and Christianity as a whole. In fact, I’m confident that most people, including you in this room, have formed various opinions about Jesus and Christianity. I doubt, however, that most of these opinions are derived from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ himself. On the contrary, I have discerned that the majority of judgments about Jesus and Christianity are based on the lives of people who profess to be Christians and on the opinions of cynics. Thus, the intent of my speech today is twofold: First, I will expose potential pitfalls of forming judgments in this manner. Then, I will encourage you to investigate Jesus and His faith for yourself.

According to the Washington Post’s report “Holy Week 2011,” there are approximately 2 billion people around the world who identify themselves as Christians. That means there are 2 billion people who lead their lives in compliance with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, right? I suspect making such a claim would incite several questions, such as the following: Why is it, then, that so many Christians live just as non-Christians do? For instance, why do some Christians fornicate and commit adultery? Why do some Christians habitually use profanity and lie? Why do some Christians spew hatred and condemnation? Why do so many Christians seem indistinguishable from everybody else? To these inquiries, I would respond with a couple of questions of my own: First, have you ever considered the possibility that many, if not most, people who profess to be Christians actually aren’t? Second, do you believe it is truly logical to
judge a belief based solely on the lives of people who allegedly adhere to that belief? I do believe that some people who claim to be Christians are, in reality, unequivocally lost and have no clue about Christian living. Moreover, I believe judging the validity of Jesus or the Christian faith based on such people is unfounded.

One day, I contemplated this phenomenon while studying for a Nutrition exam. I reviewed an eating disorder called Bulimia. People who suffer from Bulimia regularly binge on food and then use various methods, such as vomiting and excessive exercise, to prevent weight gain. Let’s imagine that I claim to be Bulimic. Yet, after being secretly recorded day after day for a year, observers determine that I never binge on food, I never vomit or exercise following meals, and, overall, I practice healthy eating habits. In light of this information, would people then say, “That Bulimia disease is such a sham. This woman is Bulimic, and she behaves just like everyone else”? Surely not! Onlookers would certainly say, “Clearly, this woman is not Bulimic, because her life does not exhibit any of the characteristics associated with Bulimia.” I’m sure there’s a plethora of other illustrations I could use, but here’s the point:

There are in fact characteristics that Christians’ lives should exhibit; and the lives of many people who assert to be Christians do not display those characteristics. Christians cannot be perfect, because like all humans, they are inherently fallible. Thus, if Christians are secretly recorded for a day, there’s a chance they will have more ethical failures than successes and ostensibly look just like everyone else. However, if true Christians are secretly recorded everyday for a year, a stark distinctiveness in the way they live should be readily apparent; their lives should obviously exhibit characteristics of Jesus and principles of His teachings. Sure, they will slip-up, and they will indeed be flawed; but there should not be a consistent pattern of immorality in their lives. They should not live just like everyone else. So, when we learn of the violence of the Christian crusaders, when we see some Christian pastors do and say ridiculous
things, when various Christian priests are indicted for pedophilia, when some politically conservative Christians encourage hate, when certain angry Christians on the West Mall here at UT condemn all the passersby to hell, etc., perhaps we should be less hasty to decry and reject the Christian faith itself and more inclined to question the soundness of such people’s claims to be Christians. Because we cannot look into people’s hearts/motives, we cannot conclusively determine what any given person truly believes. However, often times, people’s actions accurately denote what they sincerely believe. The actions of some people identified as Christians do align with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, but the actions of other supposed Christians do not. Judging Jesus or Christianity in light of only the latter group is nonsensical.
Forming judgments of Jesus and Christianity based on those of cynics is misleading as well. In general, you can miss out on great things when you reject them based on others’ viewpoints alone. For instance, my senior year of high school, practically everyone told me not to take AP Economics, because the teacher was a jerk and graded too harshly. One day, I decided to sit in on his class and assess him for myself. I actually liked his teaching style and the class’s content. I enrolled in the class, finished with a final grade of 98%, and the teacher became one of my most ardent advocates; he has written numerous letters of recommendation on my behalf and nominated me for several awards and honors. Sometimes, I wonder how my life would be different if I had rejected him and his class due to the opinions of my peers. I believe it is highly difficult to construct an accurate view of anyone or anything based solely on other people’s opinions and portrayals. Therefore, I believe it is highly unreasonable to reject anyone or anything, including Jesus and Christianity, based only on the perspectives of others.

I should note that I believe it is equally illogical to accept Jesus and the Christian faith based solely on people’s opinions. It is for this reason I researched the life of Jesus and the Christian faith for myself. Some components of Christianity are primarily faith-based, but there are empirical, concrete components as well. I looked into the validity of the Bible; I researched the many prophecies in the Bible to see if they have indeed come to fruition. I looked for information regarding references to Jesus in secular texts from the time in which He lived. I read reviews of how other religions compare to Christianity. I watched investigative documentaries (i.e. Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ). I assessed Christian, agnostic, and atheistic outlooks on life. After researching and processing all of this information for quite some time, I formed my very own opinion. I do believe in Jesus Christ, and I do believe in His
Word. The consequences of this decision are manifested in my life. I have experienced true love, true peace, and true joy; and I have a secure sense of my worth and my purpose in this life. Perhaps you already have all those things. But if you don’t, then what do you have to lose? I’m not suggesting that you take my word for it. In fact, I’m proposing the exact opposite: Don’t take my word, and don’t take anyone else’s word for it either. Look into the life and teachings of Jesus Christ for yourself and arrive at a conclusion about Him for yourself.


Dan and Tara said...

This is so good! Do you think they would mind if I shared this myself?

Caryn said...

Hi Tara,
She wouldn't mind at all. She would appreciate that!