Worlds Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part III – the finale)

Being diametrically opposed to the idea of Christians being polytheistic was not enough to prevent further investigation into the heart of a man who lives in a different world, both spiritually and mentally. I was compelled by the reverence that Kia demonstrated during our discussion. He answered my questions with a great deal of humility and dignity, always assigning honor and glory to Allah. I could not help but think of how mainstream Christianity has become so convoluted with the subconscious idea of God being the supreme novelty. With “Christian” books, music, jargon, and fashion dominating our lives, we seem to be stuck in Christian ghettos where God is the really hip mayor. Christianity has become fashionable. When you read the works of the early church fathers such as Augustine, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus, you interpret a sense of reverence in their writings. They seem to understand the magnitude of the God with which they are referencing. We have lost that; I have lost that. Kia’s insights were saturated with reverence for his God, and I was humbled by it.

Inadvertent doses of humility were often given to this evangelical Christian during the course of our brief interaction. After discussing verbal persecution in America, the privilege of white Christians quickly surfaced. Kia admitted to being the victim of countless prejudicial encounters, even several during his stint at the YMCA. The stories are all the same: ignorant and intolerant whites embarrassing America with hearts of stone and the intellects of children. We progressed on through the Civil Rights movement only to regress after the events of 9/11. Kia has come to expect this treatment, though his faith does not waver.

As we enjoyed fresh baklava, I gave my friend the opportunity to conclude our conclave with anything that might be on his heart with regards to something we discussed or failed to discuss. He proposed education as the tool to abolish the acute disease of intolerance that our nation suffers from. Kia wisely forecasted that people will not let go of prejudice until they are taught how and why. I whole-heartedly agree with this prognosis. On a more personal level, my faith was found suspect in the light of this man’s humility and respect for his God and his customs (wading through the muck of Christianity is a chore that I often fail to recognize as necessary). I truly feel that I possess more respect and admiration for Kia Jahed than I do for countless followers of Christ that have crossed my path over the years.

The previous statement, though entirely true, is devastating to my spirit.

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8 Responses

  1. It’s strange how American culture has tainted Christianity, but it hasn’t tainted Islam or even Judaism. I’m sure in small ways all of them have been tainted, but not in the severe ways you described about Christianity. It’s almost as if the church has started to look at Christianity as a marketing strategy based in theology. Where as other religions have left theology as theology, and relied on the human spirit to market itself.

    I would suggest that this is because Christianity is the religion of the wealthy, who would be more inclined to treat theology as a business, but if this were true it should also be true of Judaism. And it may be, I’m not as familiar with Judaism.

    Perhaps there’s a thinness to Christianity because it has become so segmented and watered down in comparison to other religions. That thinness may be seen only on the basis of it’s marketing aspects by non-believers as well as followers, and just like all forms of advertising it falls into the background because of the clutter. For some people choosing to go to church or not may be made in the same way they chose Coke over Pepsi. Price, brand loyalty, or just spur of the moment…the real reasons, the human spirit reasons are not as visible as they need to be on the surface of Christianity.

  2. great insight, rick.

    As someone from the outside looking in (as you have described yourself in the past), do you find Christianity unappealing because of these type issues. Basically…Has Jesus been devalued because of contemporary capitalist thinking?

    Because…when I talk to you about issues of faith, it seems that we discuss the current state of Christianity more than we discuss the character of Christ.

    What do you think?

  3. I think in terms of how Christianity is portrayed from a marketing perspective Christ is almost separate from faith. You either see T-shirts like God’s gym, or you hear the reoccurring moral side to faith minus Christ’s place in that story (or if it’s mentioned it’s downplayed).

    With the exception of “WWJD,” which is a perfect mix of using Jesus to inspire moral behavior….I think a lot of what the capitalist geared Christianity portrays is a version of Jesus as a product, much like a soap, that can cleanse you, and in turn redeem you in the eyes of God. While this is true that parable has been overused in all areas of the media, so in effect, yes I think Jesus is devalued by Christians when he’s “pitched” in this light.

    But it’s the pitch, not the story that is the problem in my opinion. A lot of the time it sounds too scripted, too familiar, and too generic. There’s a gap between a Christian’s passion, and the average non Christian who mistakes the passion for a persuasive pitch laden with emotion. But it’s not Christianity that’s the problem as much as it is Christianity’s place within a society bombarded by capitalist thinking.

  4. I asked the question on my blog a couple weeks ago, why aren’t poor people and sinners attracted to us modern, American, Christians as they were to Jesus. I think in these comments you’ve touched a little on that.

    But, let’s be honest, the reverence for Islam you saw from Kia isn’t the Islam practiced by 90% of Muslims, either. 90% of “Islam” is folk or synchretized Islam, that was built on pre-existing culture. Where people fear the “evil eye” or sacrifice in high places.

    The integrity of Kia’s beliefs cannot be determined by conversations on the subject, but rather observing his life day in and day out. Is he really submissive to God, or does he just say he is? It’s the same with professing followers of Christ.

    The only way we’re going to win people to Jesus is if we act like Jesus, day in and day out, and not just when we’re out visiting for our church, or having a conversation with someone who asks. “Passion” and “zeal” is not “persuasive pitches,” but about being transparent and authentic about your faith every single day.

    (What “capitalistic thinking” has anything to do with this discussion is beyond me). Either you’re personally genuinely living your faith (in a socialist, capitalistic, anarchic culture, it doesn’t matter) or you’re not.

  5. Tapp…let me help you understand what’s going on with these conversations.

    There is a history that Kia and I possess with one another. This history has allowed us to discuss each others faith in these ways. This history is also the reason that I am able to deem his faith legitimate. I have seen it in action….though you are right to infer that a mere conversation is not enough to judge a person’s faithfulness.

    Also, Rick (the imaginary visionary) and I have been talking about these issues for a long time outside of the blog. So, it naturally came up here. Sorry for the confusion. But…I don’t think I fully agree with your assessment. It is not black and white as you have suggessted. The culture in which you exist heavily influences the way your Christianity is manifested. And it is my opinion that America has tainted “Christianity” because of consumerism/capitalism. It very much matters what type of society we are a part of.

    So, what I am saying is that you can be completely geniune about your faith and still be misguided and blinded to the external forces that wrongly define what you believe.

  6. Smitty
    I love the way your write and the very real and relational aspects of how you share your faith. It’s just how Jesus did it! You’re onto something great. Your Muslim friends sounds like a great guy; I hope I get the chance to meet him someday.

  7. Smitty,
    Thanks for the explanation. And it is all well-written.

    I’m not sure that Christianity is tainted by consumerism as much as it just lacks a reliance on the Spirit for leadership. It’s tainted by human nature.

    The data says that we separate ourselves by income and ethnicity. Some people justify that by saying “it’s better to be divided by Truth than united by error,” but if you step back and look at churches they’re not divided by theology as much as by income and ethnicity. And your theological construct is correlated to your race and income level.

    The only way to overcome that and really be one and like Jesus is to repent and be Spirit-led. To die to human nature. When the Church does that, then people won’t go around asking “Is there a God? Where is He?” because they’ll see it in the Church.

  8. I couldn’t agree more.

    In fact, I have a series of posts that i will put up soon that discuss these very issues. I look forward to your response.

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