Usually around this time of year, at least one of the major Australian newspapers will publish a feature article claiming to debunk the Christmas story as recorded in the Bible. Perhaps it is their backhanded vengeance on a group whose faith has inadvertently unleashed such terrors as frantic Christmas shopping to the incessantly chirpy strains of 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.' On behalf of Christians everywhere, I can assure you: it was never meant to be this way.
Such articles usually take on the historicity of the Gospels, and throw in a few jabs at Christians as they go. My favourite from Fenella Souter's 'Divine Intervention' published in the SMH's Good Weekend on December 3rd was the claim that Christians are accustomed to suspending disbelief, 'something of a prerequisite when reading the Bible', which was approximately the time I rolled my eyes.
I have never directly written about my Christian faith on Fashademic. I'm absolutely not ashamed of my belief in Christ, but it didn't seem like the right context to write about it, or that it was even particularly relevant to most of what I include in my posts. Of course, my faith inflects almost everything I do (how could it not?) but I wanted to keep the focus on my research and on fashion rather than write about God. Even if I had wanted to, I wouldn't have known how- how can you write with nuance and care about something simultaneously so deeply personally felt and with the potential to be so offensive to others? Without being able to chat in person to answer any questions that might arise from such a revelation, I decided to let it trickle in where it would and just be honest if it ever came up. I guess this is one such time.
I can personally handle being construed as credulous- it's not like such claims about Christians are anything new, and there are many verses in the New Testament that tell followers of Christ to expect ridicule for believing in Him (1 Corinthians 1:18, John 15: 20-21 are just two for those playing at home.) What frustrates me, though, is the false picture of Christianity painted by such assertions: that the Christian faith is blind, and that Christians cling to fantasy instead of fact, blithely ignorant to the "reality" that there is no reliable historical basis for such beliefs. This adds to the general portrait of Christians as unanimously socially conservative, narrow minded and dogmatic.
It bothers me because such a portrait is destructive and is simply not true. I think dismissing the Christian faith as absurd is easier than applying rigor to the claims of the Biblical texts, which I suspect generally makes people uncomfortable because if they're true, they must engender a response. The Bible flies in the face of the modern belief that we are entitled to be gods of our own lives, and instead demonstrates that we were created to be in relationship with God Himself. I also think taking the Bible seriously and treating it with academic rigor (whether you believe what it says or not) involves more time and care than most people can be bothered spending on it.
For the record and for what it's worth, I don't believe that faith is blind or naive. On the contrary, I have found from personal experience that it fluctuates, it is frequently challenged and must be fought for. I bring the same rigor I bring to my academic studies to the Bible and it continues to astound me. I strongly disagree with social conservatism, Christian pop culture makes me cringe, and I want to strongly remind people preaching "Christian" messages of hate about what Jesus had to say about judging others.
My relationship with God is the most precious part of my life, and the most difficult. I love him but I chafe with impatience at times as I struggle with things that the Bible says and as I fail to see His hand in what happens in my life and those of the people I love. I have believed in God for as long as I can remember, being brought up by two loving parents who taught me about Him but gave me room to make my own decisions. They taught me to read and understand the Bible for myself. That's not to say that there aren't times when I have struggled with Christianity, when I haven't come to the brink of belief and thought seriously about walking away from God. At such times, I have never been able to convince myself fully that He does not exist- for me, the evidence that He is who He says He is resounds across the entire universe, even as I can comprehend only a tiny fragment of Him.
I have many friends who are Christian. Friends who are solicitors and judges and scholars, friends who are scientists, engineers, businesspeople, artists, feminists, doctors, and social reformers. We have vigorous debates about what we think and believe, yet share the conviction that God loves every person and desires to have a relationship with them.
I know that many people have been burned by organised religion, and also that many people have had awful experiences with Christians- so have I. It's painful and sad to hear such stories; and I am by no means trying to say that Christians don't really do God a disservice sometimes or that we have the market cornered on anything except speaking from experience of our own faith. I just want to send out another story, however personal, to say that despite how it is widely construed, Christianity may not be what you think it is. I'd encourage you to read the gospels and check it out for yourself.
Merry Christmas, everyone x
NB: people who read Souter's article and are interested in a Christian response, I recommend this and this.