1/31/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Ben Love ~
Suppose that even though I am young, I have a wisdom beyond my years. There is something kinetic about me, and others in the tribe can see it. Thus, I am well liked and highly esteemed. Suppose also that I am a decent man who loves his family, who respects his elders, who treats others with kindness and generosity, and who happens to be loved by the most sought after young maiden in the local settlement.
You can probably relate to my story, yes? Even though I am what you might today think of derogatorily as a savage, and even though I probably don’t wear many clothes and have a string of bones hanging from my neck and feathers attached to the head of my spear, you can still see the connection you have to me. I am human, like you. I live in a community, like you. I have friends, like you. And like you, I have a love story. If you have any trace of sympathy in you at all, you can likely see your own reflection in my story, even if it is just on the most basic of human levels.
To make it even more personal, suppose that I, as this hunter living in 1304, am laying down one night to sleep. I’m not aware of the Julian calendar, but if I were, I’d know that it is the night of June 17. There is a hole in the roof of my tipi so that the smoke from my cooking fires has a means of escape. So here I am, lying on the floor of my tipi, staring out through that hole at the top. The sky above is dark. There is no pollution, and thus I can see the sprawling majesty of the firmament in its cosmic splendor. I try to count the stars, a futile endeavor which I’ve attempted before, but I’ve found that it helps me fall asleep, futile or not. Tonight, however, as I’m looking up at the heavens, a light streaks across my field of view like some kind of zooming torch, winks brightly for a moment, and then is gone. It was a shooting star, but I don’t know this—the science behind this phenomenon escapes me and I can only wonder at what it was I just saw.
Again, you can probably relate. Who hasn’t sat around a campfire at night or just sat on the edge of their bed, staring out the window, and not contemplated the stars? Who hasn’t witnessed a shooting star and felt pretty special for having seen it? Suppose also that as I am laying there on the floor of my tipi, I wonder what those stars really are. Suppose I wonder what is out there, if anything. Suppose I wish I had the answers to these mysteries. Suppose also that I am very well aware that part of the magic of life is to be found in not having the answers to these mysteries. Eventually, I fall asleep sensing the edge and ache and wonder of my aliveness. You can still relate, yes?
The similarities are about to end, however. (Or are they?)
When I awake the following morning, I start my day much as you might do: I pray. But to whom am I praying? Is it Yahweh? No. Is it Jesus? No. Is the recipient of my prayer in any way connected to or indicative of anything have to do with western civilization, western culture, or Abrahamic religion? No. The recipient or recipients of my prayer is/are, according to Christianity, a manifestation of Satan. Let us, for the moment, assume that this is true (even though it is not true); am I, the hunter born to a time and place he didn’t choose, aware of this slightly disturbing fact? Do I even know about Satan? For that matter, do I know about Jesus? Do I know about Holy Scripture? Do I know about original sin and redemption and the particulars of theology that would help me better understand and know to whom I ought to pray? No. I am merely a product of that into which I was born. And I am not responsible for that.
I am human, like you. I live in a community, like you. I have friends, like you. And like you, I have a love story.At this point, if you are a Christian, you have probably recalled that which you might like to forget: I am going to hell. It doesn’t matter that I’m a good guy, that I would never hurt anyone, that I am well liked and well respected, that I’m just another human being making his way through life, that I know how to love and how to be kind and how to be generous and how to be selfless—no, none of that matters. In a sense, the entirety of my life—all that I am, all that I do, all that I learn, all that I experience, all that I know, all that I feel, and all that I encompass—actually has no meaning whatsoever. It has no meaning because I spent my life never knowing “God;” never knowing that I was created to have a “relationship” with this God; never knowing that I needed to be forgiven and that such forgiveness was indeed possible; never knowing that Jesus died for me, that he rose from the dead, that I could experience his redemption if I would just believe in him; never knowing that I was included in that which I do not know, that my sins, whatever they are, were included in the gift of Jesus’ death but, since I have no clue about this stuff, it amounts to nothing. I don’t know any of this. I don’t even know that I am going to be spending eternity in hell. I probably don’t even know about hell.
My life seems kind of cheap. And tragic. And worthless. Indeed, it would have been better for me if I had never been born at all. The brief six or seven decades I spent as a living human on planet Earth in no way compare to the fathomless breadth of eternity. One wonders why this God even let be born in the first place. In fact, if this God is real and he lets me be born into space and time as a human being, knowing ahead of time that by doing so he is consigning me to an eternity in hell, I think I’d have quite a legitimate right to feel as though something unfair, unjust, and possibly even sinister has gone down.
The point I want to make, however, is this: this Sioux hunter, born into his culture at this particular time, is only doing what we all do: he is swimming in his environment. When a fish is born, it does not attempt to leave the water, does it? No, it populates the sphere of existence into which it was born. No one can blame the fish for living in water, or even for being a fish. All the fish ever did was just get himself born, and even that happened without his consent. Likewise, all the Sioux hunter ever did was just get himself born, and like the fish, he had no say in the matter. How likely is it that this man is going to embody the cultural ideologies of his parents and those of his tribe? Very likely. In much the same way he was born a “Sioux,” he was also born as a “believer” or an “adherent” of that which his parents teach him.
If you live in the United States, you are really no different from this man. In much the same way, you were born into a set of realities that were determined without your having been consulted on the matter. Among these possible realities are, say, the fact that you are “German” or “Irish” or whatever it is you happen to be. Perhaps also, you were born into a predominantly “Republican” family, or a “Democrat” home, and in either you case, you grew upon embodying those principles thrust upon you by your environment. Perhaps not. It is possible you grew up a dissenter, the black sheep, the sole Republican in a Democrat family. The point is this, if you were born as an “American,” the chances are quite good you were also born as a “Christian.” In this sense, you are just like the Sioux. He was born a Sioux. Thus, he was born into the religious mindset of the Sioux. You were born an American. This means you were likely born into a Christian mindset. It’s possible that you weren’t; after all, there are many non-believing families in America. But the statistics of this country say that your chances of having been born into a Christian home are very high.
Thus, in one sense, to be a Christian isn’t that much different from being an American, or a Republican, or a person of Scottish heritage. When filling out a form, you check “white” or “African-American” or whatever else under the ethnicity section, and under the religion section, you check “Christian.”
It happens to be lucky for you that the religion into which you were born is the “right” one (I’m speaking hypothetically here, since I myself do not believe any religion is the “right” one). You escaped hell by being born into the right home. Good for you. Your parents will likely raise you to believe the biblical values they were taught by their parents, and you will have a kind of faith instilled within you from a very early age. You are starting life off on the right foot, oh yes.
It kind of sucks for that Sioux man, though. According to the Christian, he wasn’t born into the right home. He wasn’t even born at the right time. Everything he does during the short span of his mortal life is on a collision course with eternal torment—and he doesn’t even know it. And yet all he is doing is that which you do: he is swimming in his environment. He’s just being the fish that he is.