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The Times
  • Shayne Looper: Why on earth this preference for sinners?

  • Making fun of religious people, which in our country usually means Christians, has been a staple of the entertainment industry for years. It’s an easy laugh, and religious people dish up more material than all the scriptwriters in Hollywood could ever use.

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  • Making fun of religious people, which in our country usually means Christians, has been a staple of the entertainment industry for years. It’s an easy laugh, and religious people dish up more material than all the scriptwriters in Hollywood could ever use.
    Is Hollywood’s portrayal of Christians biased? Certainly. Is it mean-spirited? Sometimes. Is there any truth to it? Of course there is.
    Justine Toh, of the Centre for Public Christianity in Sydney, Australia, complains that the media portrays Christians “as judgmental, harsh, ignorant, ultra-conservative, uptight, and hypocritical: in other words, the ultimate killjoy.”
    I’m sure Ms. Toh didn’t mean to, but she has described at least one Christian everyone knows. We’ve all met him. Indeed, we may have been him.
    Hollywood’s offense does not lie in making up ugly falsehoods about individual Christians – they don’t need to make that stuff up; it’s been handed to them on a silver platter. Their fault lies in making it seem like those Christians are typical of all the rest.
    I don’t think we should get too uptight when Hollywood types make fun of us. We probably deserve it. Besides, most people know there’s a difference between someone who lives like a Christian and someone who just talks like one.
    Still, it is ironic that Christians today are routinely characterized as snobbish and uppity – snooty hypocrites who look down on everyone else. In the early days of Christianity the opposite charge was made.
    The writings of the second-century Greek philosopher Celsus are evidence of just how much things have changed. After an attack on the virgin birth (he claims that Jesus invented the doctrine to enhance his reputation), Celsus takes aim at Jesus’ followers.
    While his modern-day counterparts mock Christians for their moral standards, Celsus mocks them for not having any. He would have found today’s accusation against Christians — that they think they’re better than everyone else — hard to believe.
    He felt that Christians needed to get some self-respect. He complained that they weren’t discriminating enough: they let anyone join their ranks.
    The more reputable religions only invited those with “pure hands and a wise tongue” to join. They said, “Whosoever is pure from all defilement, and whose soul knows nothing of evil, and who has lived well and righteously” may become a disciple.    Celsus sees this as good form. Don’t let in the riff-raff.
    Have some self-respect. One of the main benefits of religion, he seems to think, is the exclusion of “the silly, and the mean, and the stupid, with women and children.”
    But Christianity, he charges, fails in this regard. With obvious revulsion he writes: “Whosoever is a sinner ... whosoever is unwise, whosoever is a child, and, in a word, whosoever is a wretch, the kingdom of God will receive him.’”
    Page 2 of 2 - In Celsus’ mind, the Church’s willingness to receive such people proves that Christianity is deeply flawed. He writes: “Do you not say that a sinner is he who is dishonest, a thief, a burglar, a poisoner, a sacrilegious fellow, and a grave-robber? ... Why on earth this preference for sinners?”
    “This preference for sinners” — that’s Christianity! Think of St. Paul’s shocking claim: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
    No wonder critics are confused: a God who loves sinners, and a saint who is their chief.
    So are Christians better or worse than everyone else? They are neither; but like everyone else they are both surprisingly sinful and amazingly loved.
    Shayne Looper is the pastor at the Lockwood Community Church in Michigan. He can be reached at salooper@frontier.com.

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