Any society, regardless of its character, teaches and encourages people to be honest and just. In Christianity, however, honesty and justice must be consciously practiced and cultivated; they are, at least theoretically, fundamental principles that should characterize those who have decided to follow Jesus’ and Christianity’s teachings.
But is it possible to be an honest and just person?
The answer is, obviously, no. But then, how and why is Christianity “the way, the truth and the life” as recorded in John 14:6? What makes Christianity different from other religions and ways of life? Is it the simple intellectual assent, “I believe in Jesus’? Certainly not. The Scriptures, either implicitly or explicitly, tell us that Christianity is a matter of faith in action.
Why cannot we be honest and just persons? The answer is related to both human nature and the nature of society, which are responsible for people’s inability to act honestly and justly. No culture or religion has emphasized the frailty of human nature as Christianity. It is the essential feature of Christianity, the cause of whole salvation history without which Jesus and Christianity would have no meaning. Through the sin of disobedience of the first human parents, Adam and Eve, human nature lost its ability to act properly and according to its sinless original state.
On a positive note, Christianity has solved the issue of human defective nature by the intervention of Jesus, who inaugurated a new era. He asked people to repent, that is, to change. John the Baptist asked those who wanted to be baptized to repent and to act piously before submitting themselves to the act of baptism. Paul tells us that Christians are new beings who see the world through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection. What changes in a person who repents is not the human nature but the view regarding life, and with the view, consequently, the way of life. Christians can and must do well. Grace — that is, Jesus — is the gift and gate of salvation, and it should not be abused.
“For the sake of fitting in, we close our eyes to not see, our ears to not hear, and we often consciously walk on the path of injustice.”
History is not void of cases of remarkable and good people, which tell us that people can act remarkably well and responsibly, especially in times of need. According to the late Henry Chadwick, the success and growth in early Christianity was due to Christian charity. Also, names such as those of Francis of Assisi, Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day and of many others who were ready to sacrifice themselves for noble causes remind us that there are remarkable people among us.
In an individualistic and competitive society like America — where no education, good work or character guarantees anything with certainty — there is probably nothing as important for people than the desire to live a decent and successful life. It is a commendable desire, but success depends, in a significant part, on people’s ability to fit in, which usually requires compromises. People often give up some of their principles and make a “pact with Satan” in order to see themselves on the secure side of life, which is a chimera because our greed is insatiable.
We all would like to fit in within our community — school, church, work — but the truth is that we do not. Since most of us do not have the possibility of choosing our friends, schools, churches and jobs, we try much to fit in, to be liked and accepted. But often, in trying to please others, for a decent life, for more money and prestige, we compromise our good principles. For the sake of fitting in, we close our eyes to not see, our ears to not hear, and we often consciously walk on the path of injustice.
At school, we are shy of our Christian principles, for the sake of fitting it. I remember how as a child, in a country where to be a Christian Baptist was a disgrace and a sign of intellectual inferiority, I was reluctant to tell others of my faith, but I could not hide. In religiously diverse America, this is not an issue because there are many kinds of Christians. However, as a professor who teaches Christianity, I have not seen differences between students who profess to be Christians and those who are indifferent about it.
Except for a Romanian Pentecostal — and a few Muslim students — I have not seen Christian students stand up for their faith. We are too civilized to defend our beliefs and principles. In addition, we do not want to be considered intellectually retrograded for our emphasis on faith. We want to be like others, like the majority. Augustine tells us how he, as a child, for the sake of fitting in, lied and committed evil actions together with his friends.
At work, we do not raise our voices against injustice, for the sake of civility and fitting in. We know that anything that would offend the status quo cold cost us money, reputation and even our jobs. So for the sake of security, we are deaf, blind and speechless. A few years ago, I heard about people who, for the sake of keeping their jobs, could not expose the evil that had taken place at their places of work. And so, for the sake of civility and fitting in, Christianity seems to be a tradition of Sunday and of special occasions.
“There is nothing that distinguishes Christians from other people here in the United States.”
In the very diverse and individualistic America, where the capitalist spirit has shaped Christianity, it is hard to tell what is distinctively Christian and clearly separated from culture and society. For example, while in Romania, Baptist Christians considered dancing wrong and unbiblical — and they still consider it so, although the invasion of the Western culture in Romania has caused many changes — here in the United States dancing is a popular activity among the most conservative Baptists. While in Romania about 20 years ago, Baptists often could be distinguished from other people through their dress and comportment, based on my experience, there is nothing that distinguishes Christians from other people here in the United States.
The obvious impression is that God is not able to inspire people with a sense of awe, admiration or love that would cause them to stand firm and faithful for their values and principles. Indeed, as Machiavelli said, people change their opinions and actions according to the direction of the luckiest or most favorable wind.
The truth is that God does nothing without people. Since there are not many signs of spiritual and practical changes in America, it means Christianity is a formal religion unable to generate much light in society and the world. When Christianity practices what it preaches and teaches, it successfully evangelizes and changes the neighbor, the stranger, the world. When it fails to do so, it discredits itself.
It is our responsibility as Christians to reflect how we relate to God. Are we making God visible to people? Are we pushing God out of our world and community?
Gavril Andreicut teaches theology at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. He also is a visiting professor at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Bucharest, Romania.