Ephesians 6 makes a startling declaration for Christians, and one that most of them totally ignore. We’re going to talk briefly today about what it means to be an ambassador.
In this chapter, the author (believed by most–but hardly by all–to be Paul) talks about dressing up like an old-school warrior, with a breastplate, shield, and sword so he can fight the good fight, and talks about how he prays all the time. He requests the prayers of those to whom he addresses the letter so that his god can use him to communicate the “good news” to the world–because he’s an “ambassador in chains.”
You can find a similar sentiment in 2 Corinthians 5:20, wherein the author (more likely to be Paul than not) declares that Christians are the ambassadors of Jesus, “as though God were making his appeal through us.” That lays out it out even more explicitly: Christians are the living ambassadors of a god who wants to communicate with the world, and they make his appeal known to that world on his behalf.
Ambassadors are people who show the best of the place they represent. They are its highest ideals. In our world, we don’t pick horrible people to be ambassadors; we want people who are above reproach, because they must deserve the perks and protections their rank will give them.
Do Christians deserve those perks of the rank they have voluntarily assumed?
No, they do not, and that is consequently one of the marks against their religion, and one more reason we may discard and disregard its claims. They can’t even do what their Bible says to do, and they’re the ones who are supposed to love it and believe in it so much. Heck, the louder and more insistent the Christian is, the less able they seem to be to live by its dictates and demands. What are they showing us about their religion?
What would we make of people who came to us saying that they were the ambassadors of a truly good and righteous civilization from the stars, who had come to share with us their civilization’s advanced enlightenment and beneficence before their masters came to gather us all up and help us join the Galactic Federation they’d made? What if we discovered that these ambassadors of this good and righteous civilization were rapists, murderers, torturers, mind-controllers, and deceivers? What if we found out that they were hardly any better than we were as people, and maybe even worse? What if we found out they brutally suppressed any and all dissent and considered “justice” to be outrageously long and disproportional punishments for relatively minor misdeeds? What if we found out that their Galactic Federation was little more than a brainwashed swathe of doomed peons struggling under a fascist-style rule that clung to control even after death? What would we think about these ambassadors’ great and righteous civilization–and what would we consider about their masters?
Christians show by their words and deeds just how righteous, loving, and great their god is. And what they show is that he is none of these things.
The other day I ran into a Christian who showed up on a comment board declaring that he was there to show everybody Jesus’ love. Within about, oh, one challenge (by me), he’d reverted to spouting vile insults, personal attacks, and denigrations. Considering he’s the one who is under a threat–depending on which of 41,000 different flavors of Christianity he happens to think is correct–of eternal doom for not loving his neighbors, that’s quite a shift, isn’t it?
Lest one think I’m picking on this poor guy, he’s hardly unique in failing to be an ambassador for his god. My preacher ex, Biff, wanted to put a Jesus fish and bumper stickers on our car and I flat refused on the grounds that the maniacal way he drove would make those decals a false witness to the world. I told him, “The world doesn’t need another reason to dislike Christians.” And this was in 1990! Even today I see huge pickup trucks festooned with Praying Calvins (btw–there are no Calvin & Hobbes items that are authorized by its creator, so if you see any Calvin stickers, they are bootlegged) whose owners text while they drive, engage in road rage, or are clearly incapacitated behind the wheel. If a Christian feels strongly enough to put the sticker on the car, or to wear the turn-or-burn shirt, or to put the pins on the jacket, or to brandish the Bible or leave the tract, then that Christian should feel strongly enough to conduct him- or herself in a way that reflects well on the religion and not poorly. Yet for some reason they so rarely feel the compulsion to do so. “Do what I say, not what I do” is not an adequate demand.
When toxic Christians drop the ball like that, we have a couple of explanations. They of course hide behind their “sin nature” and claim that their inability to measure up doesn’t invalidate the message. But I think that’s just an excuse. My explanation is that they are just human, and of course they’re going to act like humans. Of course when they’re challenged they’re going to get angry or upset. They don’t have a god inhabiting them or telling them what to do so of course they’re going to act just like anybody else, and of course they’re going to live in ways that put the lie to any threats of Hell or promises of Heaven; since nothing else in the Bible’s turned out to be true, who knows if its threats and promises will either? Their inability to be good ambassadors or even act like they take the Bible seriously wouldn’t be a problem except that they’ve put themselves out as the exception to the “false Christians” who all act the same exact way.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had a test to tell who is a true Christian and who isn’t? About all I can tell is that a True Christian™ is “a Christian whose lifestyle and doctrine more or less agree with mine.” But what a lot of judgement is bound up in that kind of assessment! To this day I haven’t heard any Christian who managed to set up any sort of objective measurement that works for telling who is and isn’t a True Christian™–and the mere attempt tends to backfire for Christians who triumphantly spout that nonsense and then get cut to size by skeptics who begin asking very uncomfortable questions about how that Christian can so confidently declare anything about another person’s heart and mind.
I know why toxic Christians dismiss other Christians as “false.” I know they have to distance themselves from someone who isn’t painting their religion in a good light–in other words, who isn’t being a good ambassador. I know they have to invalidate that person somehow, and dismissing their entire Christian walk is a good way to do that. They do it to ex-Christians all the time as well; I’ve been told any number of times that my Christian faith was false and that I was never a True Christian™, when I know I was very true and that I did everything that the toxic Christian claims is necessary to be true. I know this happens because if I was actually a True Christian™ and walked away from the religion, then something might be wrong with the religion–no, better to denigrate me instead and claim I did something wrong.
In addition, such accusations serve as ad hominem attacks that distract from the arguments that I have against Christianity. They are silencing tactics. The True Christian™ need not listen to me–I’m an apostate, so by definition I never “really” understood the religion at all, and might even be possessed by demons or something. I used to think it was weird and bizarre to see toxic Christians try to nail down exactly what I do or don’t believe before trying to engage me on anything I said about their religion; now I know they do it because they have to know what about me they can attack in order to invalidate what I have to say. Meanwhile, I’ve never had a non-toxic Christian ask me what I believe, much less dismiss my onetime Christian walk.
May I recommend a test?
Anybody who uses the term “True Christian”™ is a false Christian. Anybody who dismisses another person’s sincerity out of hand and makes claims about another person’s mind and heart is false.
Very simple, isn’t it?
I don’t pick on fallen ambassadors who don’t bother anybody. I know they’re just human, and more importantly so do they. We all have aspirations we don’t or can’t measure up to. Heck, I don’t measure up to my own ideals all the time. If I know someone decent is a Christian and that person does something that the religion condemns, I’ll do my best to be sympathetic and help if I can, because honey, we’ve all been there. I don’t expect non-toxic Christians to be perfect because, in their non-toxicity, they already know that they’re going to mess up and they don’t push themselves as examples of how wonderful and true their Bible is over and above anybody else’s belief system. I have an elderly aunt who is a Catholic nun who cusses, drinks beer, and bets on Fantasy Football–and she’s ten times the Christian that our forum-dwelling friend is. And I love her to pieces. Religion doesn’t come between us, and it never has, not even when I was a fundamentalist. That’s because she knows–as I eventually learned–what is really important in this life.
If all I had to go by when I looked at Christianity was how these Christians behaved and treated others, what would I be able to tell about it? If I was contemplating an afterlife filled with people like them, would I want to go there?
It must suck mightily to be the person whose behavior invalidates the entire religion’s assurance that a real, live god inhabits its believers and helps them be better people than non-believers. It has to suck and blow to hear that someone’s more certain of their rejection of the faith because of how poorly the toxic Christian has represented that faith. I get that. I understand that’s a huge blow to a toxic Christian’s ego and self-definition as a True Christian™. But if the religion were true, then hearing that they had behaved so shamefully should make the toxic Christian learn and grow and become more dedicated to being a better ambassador, and that simply isn’t what’s happening–when challenged, they just drill down all the harder on their hateful, cruel behavior and insist all the louder that they’re right.
There is no proof whatsoever of a god’s existence. There is no proof whatsoever that any religion is correct about how to communicate with any divine being. Without these ambassadors, we have no way whatsoever to know anything about the spiritual world at all, so how they conduct themselves is of the utmost importance. They are its essence, its highest calling, its finest expression, its surest signal. Just think about that a moment, and wonder.
All I can see is that whatever this ruler is that these failed ambassadors are speaking for, whatever this land is like that they came from and will return to, whatever the philosophy it is that they claim is the best of all, it is all very bad, and I see no reason to take its threats, demand, or promises seriously.