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The Various Stages of the Christian

By Ben Love ~

The “A” stands for “America.”

Christian “A” is merely that Christian who possesses the title simply because he inherited it by being born to American parents. (Obviously, this only applies to my home country, the United States; the letter differs based on where you’re from; “U” for Uzbekistan.) Christian “A” goes to church on the holidays or, if he is particularly well trained, each Sunday. Why? Because that is his obligation. This is not to say he does not enjoy his time there or that he is there against his will; he may very well love going to church. But the first and most basic reason he goes is that this is what he was taught to do. As a well-adjusted participant of society and as a responsible vessel of the values which were implanted within him, he does what is expected of him. Perhaps there is no special kind of fervor present in his emotions when it comes to the “matters of God and/or religion.” He may possess only a loose understanding of theology or he might be somewhat of an armchair expert on the subject, someone who is perhaps invited to teach Sunday school or a Bible study. He may answer well when someone inquires about his religion, or he may stumble over concepts he doesn’t really understand. Whatever else he may be, he is a Christian in the same way he might belong to the local country club or sit on some school committee. It’s just part of his life; a part he didn’t necessarily choose so much as he either inherited it or married into it or just does it merely because that is what he sees those around him doing. It is part of his environment. He is a fish; Christianity is merely one aspect of the water in which he swims.


This particular realm of Christianity, the realm of Christian “A,” is by far the most populous tier of the religion anywhere in the world. The latest statistics suggest that Christianity has nearly 2.4 billion adherents worldwide. My question, though, is this: how many of those 2.4 billion people are Christian “A” or some variation of that label, depending upon their country of origin? What makes this such an interesting question is that if one were really to adhere strictly to biblical thought, one must observe a few things, such as: 1) Jesus said the road to God was narrow and that only a few find it; 2) not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” is actually in the club; and 3) biblically speaking, to be a “true Christian” seems to embody more than mere mental assent or cultural happenstance. Thus, it is entirely possible, if not probable, that not everyone who falls under the category of Christian “A” would be considered a “true Christian” by other “true Christians.” (And don’t forget, we are really referring only to America for this discussion; it could be that the 2.4 billion adherents find truer brethren in places like China or Africa.)
In truth, it doesn’t take much to be Christian “A.” All you really have to do is, well, get born into it. Moreover, you might be Christian “A” without even knowing that you are. Perhaps you are what some would call a “Cheaster Christian,” which is to imply that you show up to church only on Christmas and Easter. Perhaps aside from this display of piety you don’t give Christianity or God or Jesus or any of it a second thought. Well, this is still enough to place you tidily under the heading of Christian “A.”

The Slightly Less Populous Realm of Christian “B”

Christian “B” (the “B” stands for “born again”) is very different from Christian “A.” He shows up to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other time he can possibly do so because he cannot wait to be there. His life revolves around church. More accurately, his life revolves around the Christian God and this God’s three Trinitarian manifestations (most importantly, Jesus), the Christian scriptures (the Bible), his Christian friends, his Christian pursuits (such as godly behavior, conformity to scripture, evangelism, worship, and the like), and, of course, his faith.


Unlike Christian “A,” who is merely swimming those waters in which he was born, Christian “B” has willfully taken a dive into these waters—waters in which he perhaps did not otherwise originate. He has undergone some form of inner transformation (and even if this is just in his imagination, it is still real to him). He has had an awakening, a conversion, a transplantation whereby he has plucked himself from one territory (that of mental assent, nonbelief, or complete ignorance of the “gospel”) and situated himself firmly into another territory, the territory of intentional devotion. His motives do not arise from a casual indifference or a sense of duty; they arise from an elicited passion (which is particularly strong right after his conversion, when he is described as being “on fire,” but which cools considerably as the years wear on) and a conscious determination on his part to thrust himself fully into his newfound realm of existence, which is, of course, the realm of theism and faith and biblical thought; in short, the bowels of Christianity. He does all this because he wants to do so. For Christian “B,” his religion has become his life.
According to his theology, Christian “B” believes that at the moment of his conversion (or his baptism, depending upon whom you speak to) he was “reborn.” What this basically amounts to is that while he sees his physical life as having begun at the moment of his physical birth, original sin has resulted in his having been born spiritually dead. In fact, according to the Christian, we are all born spiritually dead—and we remain so for the rest of our physical lives. The only way to become alive spiritually, or to be “born again,” is to accept the salvation of Jesus Christ through faith. Once that has occurred, the human being in question is now alive both physically and spiritually. This is apparently a pretty good position in which to be due to the alarming fact that if a human dies physically without ever having been born again spiritually, he spends eternity in hell. Yeah, not a good scenario.


Thus, Christian “B” maintains that he is now a new creation. His old life, the life he lived prior to his conversion, has died (a strange reality to ponder when you consider that he was supposedly already spiritually dead to begin with; how do the dead die?) and now he is something new: a rebirthed hybrid of body and spirit—fully alive, forgiven of his sins, and now able to access God’s presence which before was unattainable to him (another strange reality if we allow that the Christian God is apparently omnipresent). In addition, he is now in a “relationship” with God through his faith in Jesus and will most assuredly be transported to heaven upon his physical death. Oh, and one more thing: the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, now lives inside of him. (Although whether this means the Holy Spirit has joined with his spirit or if the Holy Spirit has actually geographically taken up residence in his physical body is unclear. One would think an omnipresent God does, by default, geographically reside in everything and everyone anyway, but we won’t quibble about this kind of thing.)
Sometimes, as it was in my case, Christian “B” is an altered version of Christian “A.” When this happens, a person who has been exposed to Christianity for most if not all of his life suddenly has a light bulb switched on in his heart and mind. He comes to believe that the gospel he has been immersed in for years is actually life-changing, dynamic, pervasive, the best possible road to total mental and emotional health, and the (only) utter truth. Now, what was once only an inherited part of his life becomes the sole motivation behind everything that he does. In this sense, whether his God is real or not, Christian “B” truly has been born again, even if he himself is the instrument of his own transformation (which, as we will see later, is the likeliest explanation).


In other cases, Christian “B” is a foreign transplant from the realm of disbelief. He began his life as a “heathen,” having little or no exposure to Christian theology or Christian thought. Perhaps he was born into a differing faith, such as Islam or Judaism or Hinduism. Perhaps he wasn’t raised to be religious in any sense whatsoever and thus comes to Christianity as a true virgin, possessing no prior experience with or understanding of anything having to do with God or faith or theistic principles in general. He comes as a blank slate, an empty vessel into which his new Christian leaders and friends can pour whatever they want.
It also possible that Christian “B” was in fact hostile to the religion prior to his conversion. Perhaps he did have exposure to Christianity, as an outsider looking in, and did not like what he saw. Perhaps he then made it his mission to combat Christianity but ended up falling in love with it in the process. This actually happens quite a bit. When it does, Christians usually see to it that the rest of us hear about it. (What we don’t usually hear about, and which happen just as often, are those cases where believers set out to prove why their faith is well-founded but who end up becoming atheists in the process. This, by the way, is exactly how my exodus into atheism began.)


The realm of Christian “B” is understandably less populous than that of Christian “A.” This makes perfect sense when we consider that there are far more humans out there detachedly going through the motions of Christianity “A” than there are fervent enthusiasts going out of their way to live the so-called “purpose driven” life of Christianity “B” (although curious spectators on the outside would be right to examine this “purpose driven” life and wonder why it so often fails to resemble anything other than everyone else’s “regular everyday” life).
The instrument by which a person becomes Christian “B,” regardless of whether he comes to it from the realm of Christian “A” or the realm of disbelief, is frequently an evangelizing agent who is intentionally spreading the Christian message in an effort to harvest converts. While it can sometimes be irritating to those on the receiving end of this proselytizing (which at times can feel a bit like cajoling or even coercion, almost like a salesman trying to close the deal), one must note that the Christian is engaged in this behavior because he believes this is what he is supposed to do; his scriptures tell him as much, after all. He is ordered to partake in evangelism, which is really just a fancy word to describe the process by which someone who is already firmly entrenched in Christianity “B” tells others the “good news” of Jesus Christ in the hopes of turning them into replicated versions of themselves. It would never be stated in this way, of course. The Christian evangelist professes to be interested in saving your soul and leading you to God, but we must not forget that there is also this small, seldom spoken of incentive: a believer apparently receives greater rewards in heaven for greater works done on Earth.


The Sad Landscape of Christian “Z”
“Z” for zombie, of course. The implication is that as Christian “B” lingers within the perimeters his religion, he is slowly reconditioned over time to become something other than the fervent convert he was when he began. This is to suggest that at the moment of his conversion he may or may not have been transformed theoretically in some unseen spiritual dimension, but his personality, his proclivities, his aversions, his affinities, and general outlook on reality all remain the same—and will remain the same unless the doctrines of his religion include reconditioning. Christianity does include reconditioning. In fact, it is an expected part of the Christian approach to life from the moment of conversion onward (see Romans 12:2). By this I mean that as the Christian brings himself to the Bible, deposits himself there, takes up a newer version himself as gleaned from the pages of the same book, and then goes out into the world to live his daily life, he slowly changes to become less of what he was prior to conversion and more of what his religion teaches him he should be. Sometimes this is for the better; sometimes it is not.


An example of the reconditioning in my own life can be seen in how I responded to those unsettling issues found within the pages of the New Testament. For instance, when during the course of my early Christian years—the formative years, in fact—I would come across something in the Bible such as the admonition that women ought to keep silent in church (see 1 Corinthians 14), the obvious expectation was that I had to assume this was God’s will since it was found in what was ostensibly God’s “Word.” Thus, I had to forego what I knew was right in my heart—that there is absolutely no reason why a true deity would forbid women the right speak; indeed, only a male dominated society would do that—and reorient my heart around what the official text of my religion conveyed as “right.” Reconditioning.
To demonstrate another example, take what the New Testament says about hell. The text clearly indicates that to physically die without the protection of having been “set apart in Christ” is to be tormented for eternity. The text implies a finality to this issue, as though it really is a simple case of black and white in the eyes of God. No caveats are given, no exceptions, no special cases, no demonstrations of God’s alleged mercy for those who happen to die without ever having known about this alleged good news. The faithful Christian who is letting this text recondition his mind must therefore reconcile a number of incompatible elements. First, he has to accept that his loving God has no room in his heart for this nonbeliever. Then he must ask himself why he, as a lowly human who has fallen short of God’s glory, seems to care more about this than God apparently does. Then he must remember that since the Bible is his authority, there is no other course available to him but to allow that somehow all of this is okay (even when he knows in his heart that none of it is okay). His faith in God and the written words of his religion take precedence over the sense of humanity he possesses toward the billions of other people that share his planet. Reconditioning.


There are so many more examples we could observe; the point is that as the Christian reorients himself to the particulars of his religion, there arise many instances where he must exchange what he knows for what he is expected to believe. Failure to do this implies a weakness in his faith, an unruly, prideful, even rebellious attitude toward his God, and that worst of all possible connotations: liberality.
Now, those cases where the reconditioning aligns with what he already feels and thinks do not usually produce any problems for the Christian. It is when the reconditioning causes him mental distress that problems arise. In these cases, he has two choices. He can either cease the reconditioning at that point, a road that usually leads to either a partial or a total rejection of his religion, or he can cease to be himself at the point, a road that leads to what I call Christian zombification. This is the process by which a Christian loses himself in the greater mesh of his religion and thus becomes almost like a mindless drone, a mere parrot of those teachings which have been embedded within him. In short, he has been brainwashed. He has been altered. He is no longer that unique being he was before, no; he is now a reprogrammed minion doing the bidding of his imaginary God.


Hence, the sad landscape of Christian “Z” is populated with reconditioned corpses, mere shadows of what their former selves used to be. Like Ringwraiths who have been consumed and have thus lost themselves in their mad desire to possess the power of the rings, those in realm of Christian “Z” are no longer truly alive outside of that upon which they feed: their projection of God. If this God was real and was everything they believe him to be, perhaps this wouldn’t be such a bad state of affairs. However, since their God cannot possibly be real, their willingness to lose themselves in him can only be thought of as a kind of sad death. And that, by the way, is the definition of a zombie, no? A corpse that is somehow still walking around—dead but undead. The irony, of course, is that his theology teaches the Christian to believe he is now alive, that he was dead prior to his conversion. In reality, however, it may be that he is much more dead now than he was before.
Most of the time, Christian “B” devolves into Christian “Z” without even knowing it. The reconditioning process is usually so slow and so subtle that when coupled with the insinuation that to question God is wrong, he loses himself before he even detects something is amiss. And perhaps he never detects anything amiss. Perhaps he is so far into the psyche of his religion that anything would seem okay to him so long as he can convince himself in his mind that it came from God. This particular brand of Christian “Z” is so far gone that there is absolutely nothing that could possibly bring him back to the other side. He could be shown a thousand different valid reasons why his God is incoherent and it won’t matter to him. We shouldn’t be surprised; you cannot, after all, reason with someone who is dead.


Sometimes, though, Christian “Z” does detect that something is amiss. Sometimes he fights back and forces the juices of life to start flowing within him again. Sometimes he shakes off his numbness. Sometimes he challenges the pillars of his faith, not necessarily to end up as an atheist but perhaps to bust through to a better level of belief, one where he no longer has to make excuses for that which he knows is wrong. Either way, to walk the sad landscape of Christian “Z” is to experience a kind of suffering. There is a degree of pulling taking place within the Christian at this point; his faith is pulling him one way, his mind is pulling him in another. Such an inner conflict is always painful. Sometimes he can only alleviate the pain by choosing one side over the other, and all too often, he chooses his faith. Of course he does; after all, who wants to go to hell?


Christian “D” and the Realm of Wanderers


I would imagine that most Christians, at one point or another, flirt with a sense of disillusionment to some degree. After all, even the best of us go through seasons where nothing seems to be working, where the dots just don’t connect anymore, and where it seems like we’re getting bruised on all fronts, no matter what our religion may or may not be. No one’s life is rosy all of the time. However, for the disillusioned Christian, or Christian “D,” experiencing these periods of desolation (in all of its varying degrees) can often lead to troubling questions, which he may or may not end up exploring. For some, the disillusionment doesn’t last long. For others, it might last the entirety of their lives, though they may never manage to do anything about it (after all, our reluctance to “question God” runs deep). For still others, like me, it becomes the catalyst by which better answers are eventually sought, a process that more often than not leads to an exodus from the religion.
It would perhaps be useful to differentiate between disillusionment and what is known as “Christian suffering.” The latter implies the endurance of some particularly difficult season of life, one which the sufferer attempts to withstand through faith, a feat which is then supposed to strengthen faith. The Christian will sometimes attribute this suffering to God, as though God is testing or trying him in an effort to produce some other character trait. Other times, the Christian will attribute his suffering to his own mistakes, such as a sin, the consequence of which is the intense suffering that may follow. In either case, the Christian may or may not be disillusioned with his faith. He could very well be enduring this period of suffering while remaining steadfast in his commitment to faith, experiencing no sense of disenchantment at all. Disillusionment, on the other hand, is definitely directed at the particulars of one’s religion, such as his faith, his theology, his spiritual experience, his view of God, and so on. In this case, the Christian has discovered things that do not add up. He has noticed features that do not set well. He has observed a disparity between his consistent experiences and that which his religion has taught him. He has come to dislike the way certain aspects of his theology violate what he knows to be true in his heart. He has begun to suspect that either some of the puzzle pieces are missing or he is fiddling with the wrong puzzle. All these things begin to gnaw at him. His doubts, which were previously held in check and thus weren’t very dangerous, have begun to graduate into serious concerns, the kind that linger and eventually lead to mental torment. In short, he has come to believe that his religion may not be what he originally thought it was, and he is unsettled by this. Distressed. Conflicted. Turned off. Disillusioned.


I happened to be in the zombie stage when it happened to me, but any of the various brands of believer can make the jump to Christian “D.” All it takes is the emergence of suspicion—a justified suspicion, after all, since a sober understanding of Christianity’s message and the particulars of its theology ought to make anyone with a good conscience doubtful. And when this suspicion turns into distaste, as it almost always will when the believer finally faces his own honesty on the matter, he is prime for disillusionment, a position that sounds negative but is, in actually, the best place one can be. How could I make such a statement, you ask? Knowing what I know now, and having liberated myself from the oppression of Christianity, I can look back and say that of all the different types, Christian “D” is in the best possible position, at least in my opinion. I say this because, to me, Christian “D” is the closest to throwing off the chains of his bondage and finding the real truth on the other side. His disillusionment will likely be the trigger that spurs him on to eventually find freedom. This is always a good thing. Always.
However, because of the tenacious nature of religious faith, the psychological impact of the fear of hell, and the weight of “God’s perception of us” in our minds, many disillusioned believers often linger in that state for quite a long time, suffering inside as they are tugged in two competing directions: the road they’ve been walking (Christianity) and the road they are coming to sense they should be walking (something other than Christianity, the particulars of which may not be known quite yet). As we’ve already observed, the Christian may end up shunning his disillusion, either through the discovering of answers that he deems suitable or simply by using his faith to obliterate his doubts and his suspicions, an accomplishment he likely looks back on with pride, but which, in reality, was the worst thing he could have done. If, however, he is unable to reverse the disillusion and it continues to poke at his heart as he goes about his business, the ensuing tug of war in his mind will place him on a path of wandering that could take many years to unfold. For me, it took nine. I wandered through the desolate wastes of Christian disillusionment for almost a decade, never quite able to fully practice my faith, and yet never quite able to walk away from it…until finally I did.


Conclusion


There are other stages we could discuss, and other possibilities. We could talk about Christian “L” (the “L” stands for Legalism), Christian “H” (the “H” stands for Holier-Than-Thou), Christian “F” (the “F” stands for a life dominated by Fear), and many others. I’m curious which of these you identify with, if any, or if you have new stages to bring to the table for discussion.

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