An Acknowledgment of the Benevolent Ones
There’s no denying it. I get a small degree of pleasure from picking on Christians every now and then. I admit it. However, my rage is mainly directed at militant Evangelicals. These are the Fundamentalist Christians that:
- Deny science and create a false equivalency between religious metaphor and empirical evidence
- Discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community
- Malign women and their interests
- Zealously defend Donald Trump
- Advocate militant Zionism that disrupts the Middle East peace process
- Seek to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which would allow non-profit churches to endorse political candidates, without losing their tax-exempt status.
The list goes on and on. With that being said, I do want to give a shout-out to the many well-intentioned and genuinely altruistic Christian organizations that provide humanitarian relief to those in need. There are a few organizations that I’ve personally worked with. These are small, community-driven operations that send teams of medical missionaries to various developing countries. They provide the communities that they serve with free surgeries and clinics, which provide basic supplies and educate indigenous people on basic hygene and preventative care. Additionally, they provide free economic development services, such as water filtration system installation and micro-finance loans to help local entrepreneurs get quick access to capital.
My uncle is a general surgeon and he is the president of one of these organizations. The group is completely self-funded and no administrator or officer receives a salary. My uncle is a devout Christian, but he actually puts his money where his mouth is. The operation’s board of Directors is predominantly Christian, but the contributing members of the organization come from extremely diverse backgrounds. Hindus, athiests, Muslims and others are key members of the mission. It’s refreshing to see a multi-faith group of people that devote their time and personal resources, soley for the purpose of helping those in need.
These Christians are the embodiment of Christ’s rubric of discipleship. They are caring for the least of these. Their goal is not material aquisition or philanthropic showboating, it’s simply to help people in need and to give a voice to the voiceless. Debilitating birth defects are corrected so that people can perform basic life functions and be able to work. Children are vaccinated so that they don’t contract life-threatening illnesses. Missionaries like my uncle are far less interested in converting destitute, starving people to their faith than they are with making sure that those people will be able to survive. That is what discipleship look likes.
Where the Body of Christ Starts to Rot
Sadly, most alleged forms of Christian discipleship do not look like my uncle’s benevolent altruism. For many Christians, the faith moves away from a calling to serve others and becomes a means of self-validation. This shift is where benevolence becomes malignancy.
So, what’s going on beneath the surface that causes this dissonance of discipleships? It doesn’t matter whether a believer has been raised in the church for their entire life or if they are a new convert. The psychology is the same.
A contributing factor in religious nacrissism is brain chemistry. A recent explosion of neurological discoveries has shed light on how the human brain responds to religious experiences. Brain scanning technology (fMRIs, etc.) has allowed us to see what regions of the brain are activitated during moments of spiritual ecstasy. The evidence shows that the brain reacts to these experiences in a manner that mirrors drug use. Dopamine floods the brain, the activity in the hippocampus heightens and the reward system is activated. This helps explain the intial allure of Christianity (and religion in general) and the odd behavior of worshippers, which include speaking in tongues and waving their hands in the air like they’re trying to signal a helicopter.
The brain chemistry described above functions as the malignant cells of the deviant disciple cancer. For some believers, the dopamine bliss doesn’t metastasize into problematic religious practice, but it does for most. The idea of becoming a disciple for Christ becomes such an obsession for some Evangelicals that the entire faith becomes fetishized. Believers flail around in church like their on the verge of orgasm. They cover their car with so many over-the-top bumper stickers proclaiming their devotion to Christ that spectators can no longer tell what color the car is. Pastors pray painful, border-line pornographic prayers that remind God how amazing he is.
Evangelical Christianity fills a void in many peoples’ lives and helps create a meaningful identity, where one didn’t previously exist. I take no issue with that. It becomes a problem when people develop a tolerance to the provocativeness of their own religious expression. They keep needing to kick it up a notch to get the same rush of discipleship high. The need to show how on fire they are for Christ becomes more important than actually acting like him.
The deviant disciple is never confident in their religious qualifications. They fill their home with Jesus paraphernalia and flood their social media outlets with Bible verses and musings about the wonders of God’s creation. Evangelicals need the world to know WHO they are. Oddly, that’s much more important than what they actually do. While their peers’ perception is an important consideration, the deviant disciple is just as obsessed with convincing themselves that they’re a righteous follower of Christ. They suffer from a crippling insecurity about their own identities.
We Need More Real Disciples
I hope that more Christians take my uncle’s lead in the pursuit of authentic, Christ-like discipleship. These Christians are secure in their identity. They do not boast to the world about their noble efforts or how alive they are with the holy spirit. Their identity is grounded in behaving like Christ and embodying the values that he exemplifed, not on wearing a teeshirt with Christ’s face on it. The world has no need for the deviant disciples. They are addicts. And they need to be rehabilitated.