I remember wondering at several points in my life why it was that I was born into the right religion, or version of christianity, and not into the wrong one, or the version of christianity that had their theology wrong. When I was in elementary school, I remember a girl on the playground making a comment about how she had been saved that Sunday at church. I remember thinking something to the effect of, “You couldn’t have been saved. You don’t go to my church.” This thought reemerged many times over the years in many different situations.
One particular situation that always made me have this thought was when I would watch television preachers. They always seemed a bit odd in their theology to me, and I could never quite specify why that was. Well, except for the obvious examples like Benny Hinn.
This week my family was on vacation, and while staying at the hotel we were at the mercy of cable TV with no menu to look through and choose what to watch. So while I was sitting there one evening flipping up to the next channel and watching for a moment to decide if that’s the program I wanted to stay on, I came across a TV preacher and for some reason I let it stay there and watched for a few minutes.
This TV preacher, pastor Bob, or Bill, or something like that was talking about prayer. He mentioned that he had prayed for some lady in the hospital and now she was able to sit up in bed for a minute at a time. I wondered why she wasn’t completely healed, if prayer had any power. But that’s another issue altogether. He also asked for the viewers to call in and make a donation, to “sow the seed into this ministry” so that they could stay on the air. I wondered why, if they were in the will of god, didn’t he “just make a way.” But that’s another issue as well.
While watching, these thoughts of why I was born into the right version of christianity popped up in my mind. Except this time, it was from the outsider’s perspective. It was a completely different version of this thought.
I realized that everyone who is a christian must have a version of this thought at some time in their lives. After all, why would you stick with a particular belief if you didn’t think it was correct belief? So essentially, everyone who believes has to discredit in their own mind any number of others’ beliefs.
It reminds me of the statistic that there are over 40,000 different versions of christianity. Many of these versions are mutually exclusive, meaning that if you adhere to, for instance, baptist theology you cannot accept the adherents of catholicism as true christians. The one I know personally is that if you adhere to oneness pentecostalism, you have to think all christians from other sects are going to hell. Essentially, every christian thinks they are right while at the same time thinking there are myriad other christians who are wrong. I was not the only one thinking this. I would venture that if you got an honest answer from 99% of christians they would tell you this is true, although there are some that are more accepting of other sects, but most are a little more tight on the reigns. So while I was watching this TV preacher thinking he had his beliefs wrong, if he really knew me (when I was a believer) he would think the same thing about me.
The big picture shows a more telling story than the individual picture. Get out of yourself for a moment and imagine the 2.4 billion people who claim to be christians. Every single one of them think that they are absolutely right and a large percentage of the rest are absolutely wrong. Yet they base these views on the exact same texts (with a few exceptions).
Now imagine this scenario from god’s point of view. Which ones are right? Which ones are you going to let into heaven? They all claim to be following your will. But at the same time they think most of the rest of them are not. And why didn’t you, as the “omnipotent”, “omniscient” creator of not only them, but of the very texts that lead them to you, be a little more specific as to how to get to you; how to be the right kind of christian? But alas, I don’t think we are ever going to be able to answer these questions from within the context of christianity.
From the outside, where I sit now, it all makes perfect sense. That TV preacher’s message seems a bit off for the same reason that my own previous theology seemed a bit off: they are both based on beliefs that have no grounding in fact, common sense, or reason: thus, the cognitive dissonance that I have felt all of my life when relating to others who had a different perception of what the christian faith entailed.
I once had a boss who like to say that “perception is reality to the perceiver.” In customer service that is true. But in the christian faith it is only true on an individual level. When you look at the big picture you see that perception is a set of blinders that keeps believers from seeing their faith for what it really is: individual opinion of what is right and wrong, subjective reality that keeps the christian faith segregated into mutually exclusive denominations. Now that I see the big picture, I am glad I am out of it. This side of reason makes so much more sense. Not only that, this side of reason lacks the cognitive dissonance that I had to deal with for most of my life. This side of reason is much nicer on the brain!