I’m the first to admit that I’m not always the humble, even-keeled guy I ought to be. I’m very opinionated and very outspoken about those opinions. I often find myself diving headlong into online debates about politics and, occasionally, religion . . . admittedly, sometimes when I probably ought to keep my mouth shut. But no matter how passionate I am about a particular subject, I always try to express myself in a polite, respectful, honest way that reflects my Christian values.
I dove into one of these debates recently on a friend’s Facebook wall. The topic began with an innocent post on the subject of people’s sometimes overly-sanctimonious ‘keep Christ in Christmas’ posts, but the comment thread quickly turned to a broader discussion of the original basis for a number of Christmas traditions—including a number of pre-Christian Roman, Nordic, and Pagan festivals. I covered this same basic topic back around Halloween, but I had some time to write up a reply and posted it. I also added my opinion on the subject of holiday-season political correctness and the double-standard with which it is usually applied (i.e., ‘Merry Christmas’ is branded intolerant, but ‘Happy Hanukkah’ or ‘Happy Eid al-Adha’ or ‘Happy Kwanzaa’ are all considered perfectly acceptable).
Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. What stunned me was one the the replies I received:
“Scott Bradford, you are an absolute LIAR. Which is pretty much what I’d expect from a Christian.”
– Bill Wodenhelm
The curious thing about it was that my comment had pretty much concurred with everything Wodenhelm had said earlier in the thread, but expressed a different conclusion from the same set of facts. Of course Christian tradition and practice was influenced by the European cultures it took root in. Wodenhelm took this to mean that Christianity had usurped—through violence and suppression—those faiths and cultures. I took it to mean that when these people converted to Christianity, mostly through their own free choice, they took elements of their preceding cultures and traditions with them.
I believe that my position is supported by the bulk of the historical evidence, while Wodenhelm’s is not. Although there have certainly been inexcusable examples of conversion-by-force and religious suppression in Christendom, the overwhelming majority of Christianity’s growth happened because people learned about Christianity, liked it, and decided to join. In fact, the Church has traditionally grown fastest and spread furthest in the eras when it was viciously persecuted by the powers-that-be. In other words, it has thrived most amid its own persecution, not through persecuting others. Those who wish to trample upon Christianity today should bear this in mind.
You are, of course, free to disagree with me. You could argue that I’m misguided, or incorrect, or that I’m drawing erroneous conclusions, or whatever. I will not be offended by any of this, provided you express your disagreement with some civility and respect. You are free to present evidence to the contrary and engage me in a debate on this (or any other) topic any time you like. But I hope that you have enough sense not to conflate honest disagreement with a lie. I can state, unequivocally, that I do not lie—most certainly not about history or the Church. I’m sure I have at-times been mistaken, but that is a distinctly different thing.
I can handle Wodenhelm’s insult, but I won’t lie (heh) and tell you that it didn’t sting. I took great care to ensure that my post in the thread was polite and respectful to those with differing views. I make a practice when writing on sensitive subjects, even in a simple Facebook comment, of carefully editing my words before posting them to try and ensure that I will not be misunderstood. I want all of my writings, from inconsequential Facebook comments to these articles here on Off on a Tangent, to be received as they are meant: in a spirit of respectful debate and Christian charity. Sometimes I fail due to my own mistakes. Sometimes I fail because the person on the other side simply insists on assuming the worst of me, as is the case here.
But read Wodenhelm’s insult again. Not only does he insult me, but he implies that all (or most) Christians are liars as well. I can’t speak to what was going through his mind, but if he truly believes this . . . well, I can’t imagine what could possibly have prompted such an irrational hate for the followers of Christ. At least I am in good company; there are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world—about one-third of its total population. And they all claim to subscribe to the Ten Commandments, which prohibit bearing false witness (i.e., lying). Of course there are hypocrites in the ranks, but I am reasonably certain there are not nearly so many as Wodenhelm seems to think. It is dangerous to paint that many people with any brush, good or bad, without a lot of hedging. Implying that all Christians are liars is just as absurd as implying that they are all perfect. Both sentiments are far from the truth.
Anyway, it has been some time since I have been insulted in so direct a way . . . especially not for an honest attempt to defend my faith with historical facts (which, by the way, I invited Wodenhelm to refute directly if he could; he has not yet done so). But I take solace in that faith. I take solace in my Confirmation, the seal of the Holy Spirit on my soul that strengthens me against this kind of attack. And I take solace in the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew 5:3-12, the Beatitudes (emphasis added; quoting from the Revised Standard Version):
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.