Busting Myths About Christianity: Assessing Myths 1-3


Cellini's "Perseus with the Head of Medusa"Last week, I proposed ten common myths about Christianity after watching a marathon of the TV show Mythbusters on Christmas Day.  I floated the myths to you readers to see what you thought about them, and also asked how they might be scientifically labeled as busted, plausible, or confirmed.

The Ten Myths:

  1. Christians are more judgmental than non-Christians.
  2. Christians are stingier than non-Christians.
  3. Christians are more intolerant of other people than non-Christians.
  4. Christians are more short-sighted than non-Christians. 
  5. Christians don't know how to have fun. 
  6. Christians despise intellectuals more than non-Christians do.
  7. Christians prefer kitsch over important art.
  8. Christian subculture mimics the world rather than creating anything lasting.
  9. Companies run by Christians are as unethical as secular companies, and perhaps more so.
  10. Christianity causes more problems in the world than any other religion.

I wish I could say that I have the same kind of rigorous scientific data to correctly analyze those myths, but I can't. Like the mythbusters in the show, the best I can come up with is my own personal experience after encountering those myths in my own Christian walk of 30 years. I've personally tested some of those myths in my own life, or I've watched them play out in other people's. Whatever I come up with here will therefore not necessarily apply everywhere. In other words, Your Mileage May Vary.

Onto the first few myths… 

1. Christians are more judgmental than non-Christians

Though the old show All in the Family is rapidly fading from public consciousness, Archie Bunker lives on in the lives of plenty of people. If there's one thing that can be said about Americans, it's that we have an opinion on everything—and we aren't afraid to let others know it. 

Both non-Christians and Christians have their share of Archie Bunkers who compartmentalize everything in life and assign an opinion. The Blogosphere provides a window into the American judgmental mentality as one blog after another (including this one) waxes poetic about the meaning behind everything from commercials for diapers to politics.

Judgments fill the air.

On the whole, though, we Christians can't escape being judgmental. In the end, we're far more judgmental than non-Christians if for no other reason than the Bible commands us to be so:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
—1 John 4:1 ESV

Now our definition of what constitutes a "spirit" might vary, but if we believe that ideas have spiritual forces (both good and evil) behind them, then a true Christian worldview demands that we constantly judge. Non-Christians can follow the spirit of the age, but we're called to make judgments that keep us off the broad road that leads to destruction.

But what of this?

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you."
—Matthew 7:1-2 ESV

The problem for us comes when we fail to discern the difference between ideas and people. The Lord doesn't ask that we judge people. He alone judges people because only He can correctly judge someone's heart. We're to test spirits. We accept or reject spirits, not people.

Christianity in America can't seem to understand this distinction. This leads us to a bunker mentality at odds with our Lord, the One who ate with prostitutes and tax collectors

In that way, our judging comes back to haunt us. I suspect that one of the main reasons the Church in the United States is so critically unproductive concerns our inability to judge correctly, even though we're hyperactive about labeling and judging others. The outstretched arm we use to keep "evil" at bay also holds others back from knowing Christ.

So yes, Christians are supposed to be more judgmental than non-Christians. Our problem is the way in which we judge and our judging people rather than spirits. It is one thing to make godly decisions, but quite another to be a Christian Archie Bunker.

Assessment: Plausible


2. Christians are stingier than non-Christians

A new book entitled Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks tackles the liberal/conservative battle over charitable giving. Brooks details the reality that while liberals talk about helping others, conservatives actually do it. At least they show they do it by the amount of money they give to the less privileged.

Who Really Cares postulates that those people who truly give tend to possess at least three of four distinctives:  a religious devotion, strong families, personal entrepreneurship, and a skepticism about the government's role in economic life. Those traits seem to come right out of Focus on the Family's promotional material, but they underscore the author's point.

What then to make of the perpetual grousing from wait staff at restaurants that Christians are the worst tippers? A few blogs jumped on the fact that wait staff bemoaned the cheapness of attendees at a recent Southern Baptist Convention conference. I had lunch with a pastor a few months ago and he asked our waiter what his least favorite time to work was. "Sunday" was the answer. And I'm sure you know why.

Our generosity—or lack of it—says much about the state of our souls. In too many Christian circles, I believe the prevailing verse might be

The poor you always have with you….
—John 12:8a ESV

That verse becomes an excuse not to help. We gave our ten percent at church, so don't ask anymore of us because, hey, the poor will always be there. In some circles we also hear that the poor deserve to be poor because they're out of God's will (or they're right in God's will and God is simply punishing them right now) or that they simply have not put strategic biblical principles in play to seed wealth and prosperity.

If anything, the call to genuine Christianity entails this:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
—Acts 2:44-45 ESV

Does anyone see this actively practiced in most Christian churches in America? I certainly have seen little of that kind of practice on the whole, though I've encountered a smattering of families who truly believe to that level of commitment. On the whole, though, our American mindset of wealth accumulation trumps that Acts passage.

So while Arthur Brooks's study may be true, it's sadly not true enough. The bar the Lord set for giving outstrips our timid attempts, proving us far stingier than we're called to be.

In the end, whether Christians outgive non-Christians isn't really the issue, but whether Christians are giving as much as they should be. In that regard, we're falling down on the job.

Assessment: Wrong question.


3. Christians are more intolerant of other people than non-Christians.

This issue parallels #1 since judging people leads to shunning them.

It's hard not to think that we Christians today lead sanitized lives. Certain Evangelicals, in particular, are prone to erecting the kind of suburban Camelots where keeping that "one brief shining moment" from brevity demands one's attention 24/7/365. One day, that kind of idolatry may very well have a name. (I'm lobbying for "Osteenism" for its apt similarity to Onanism.)

Should we be surprised then that messy people bother us? We like our sinners converted and with a side of Prada. Nevermind some hooker who smells like the confluence of a twenty-year-old bottle of Charlie and the back booth of an adult bookstore. We'll erect a ministry to take care of her and man it with new college grads, their idealism still intact. But invite her into Camelot? Puhleeze!

Maybe it's not so much that we're intolerant, but that we've trumped the rest of Scripture with this one verse:

Do not be deceived: "Bad company ruins good morals."
—1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV

Yes, if we go alone into the world of filth, we may be compromised. But if we bring the lost into a community of faith, that's entirely different.

Our inability to accomplish this simple task reflects in the American Church's poor showing in evangelism. By all accounts, the church in this country is not growing. As pollster George Barna notes, 9/11 did nothing to swell our ranks. We're still asleep in the light.

What does this have to do with intolerance? Nothing is more intolerant than letting someone pass into a Christ-less eternity. Yet the knowledge that eternal damnation greets those whose name is nowhere to be found in the Book of Life no longer distracts us from preserving our little Camelots.

"Intolerant" doesn't mean that we have to actively crusade against some evil group or another to win that label. What it does mean, though, is that we simply don't care enough to see beyond some group's perceived evil to the real lost souls behind it.

So while non-Christians may not tolerate others, their intolerance comes to nothing. It simply doesn't matter.

On the other hand, our intolerance means people wind up in a lake of fire without end.

Last month, I quoted the following from Leonard Ravenhill's classic Why Revival Tarries, but it fits here again:

Charlie Peace was a criminal. Laws of God or man curbed him not. Finally the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death. On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses. The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. "The Consolations of Religion," was the replay. Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase with a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, "You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings"? All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he preached. Listen to his on-the-eve-of-hell sermon:

"Sir," addressing the preacher, "if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!

It's all how you look at it. And from where I sit today, I don't see us doing much about it.

Assessment: Confirmed, in far too many cases. 


Stay tuned the rest of this week for more assessments of supposed myths about Christianity. 

Entries in this series:

{Image: Perseus with the Head of Medusa by Benvenuto Cellini}

9 thoughts on “Busting Myths About Christianity: Assessing Myths 1-3

  1. Heather

    Wow … I find these words edifying, convitcing and, unfortunately, too true. Thanks for taking the time to write about them and I look forward to to reading your thoughts on the rest of the list.


  2. Dan,

    Your words about reaching the poor are so true. The conservative church is doing a woefully inadequate job at reaching and meeting their needs and too often with “scriptural justification” to mollify our own egos to affirm that we are doing the “right thing.”

    Though I agree with the premises of Brooks’ book, I wonder at the necessity of such a tome for the simple fact that it is being used as a cudgel against seculars and liberals; almost in a playground fashion. “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, we give more than you-oo.” I don’t know, there is so much we can agree on and transcend those kinds of barriers that substantial differences could be made in the lives of the “least of these.” But the American mentality of who is better than whom always kicks in in discussions like these; counterproductive, in my estimation.

    Since you mention Osteen, I fear that he may be the next “talking head” of American Christianity. Fearful indeed.

    God bless you, Dan.

  3. I suspect forgone conclusions are coming down the pipe. By some some stretch of reasoning, it’ll be mostly “dinks” down the line instead of “bonks”. I bet there’ll be a “dink” even on #10, even though xtians aren’t the ones doing most of the beheadings in the world nowadays.

  4. Judging and discernment are two of the hardest tasks Christians have. And they are tasks. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, lay it out for us, with an interesting purpose: In the final judgement, we will sit in the judgement seat right along with Christ. In verse 3 of chapter 6 Paul says “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” Heavy stuff.

    But in verse 12 of chapter 5, he also says: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” Paul tells us that we are to associate with immoral people outside the church. but not immoral people inside the church. In verse 9 and 10 of chapter 5 he says: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people– not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.”

    We’ve got it backwards. We tolerate people who call themseles Christians who are immoral, but be are intolerant of non-Christians who are, frankly, acting naturally.

  5. 1. I appreciate David’s distinction between judging and discerning as well as his observation that Christians are not to judge or shun those outside the church. We need to hear the latter often: it would likely make Christianity more attractive – at least until someone trusts Christ and becomes a target for unjust judging!

    As most of you know, the Greek word group most often used in the NT for ‘judge’ is krino. It has a broad range of meanings: sometimes it is synonymous with discerning and at other times it means to pass judgment. Jesus tells us not to judge unless we want to expose ourselves to similar judgment; Paul tells us to judge between one another since, he says, we will one day judge angels.

    The key, I suppose, is knowing when we should be judging in the discerning sense of the word and when we should be judgmental. It is easier to be judgmental but we fail to grasp how difficult it is judge wisely.

    2. Christians are not necessarily tighter with their money than others; Christians distribute money according to their operant belief system. Far too many evangelicals put the bulk of their money on evangelism and too few invest in the temporal needs of people. So we neglect the present-day, pressing needs of the waitress and donate our money to spreading the gospel to people we’ve never seen or even heard of. This is curious given that most of the time the word ‘save’ in the NT is not referring to eternal but temporal needs.

    It’s not impossible to do both: we can give with a view towards eternal salvation and daily, physical needs.

  6. Chooselife

    I definitely see where you are going. Even Jesus’ harshest words were for the Pharisees and Sadducees — those who were supposed to be moral and religious authorities — and some of his most compassionate were for the “sinners.” I think our emphasis on judging people is partly because of the culture we live in. We in America are “mind people” and also dualistic, spending a lot of time arguing on right and wrong to bolster our positions. But to some extent, actions and behaviors are relevant and can not always be confined to the right and wrong, good and evil camps. For example, in the Old Testament, God orders Israelites to kill people on many occasions. Is that right or wrong? Good or evil? How do we explain away the Elijah cursing kids who picked at him and them being mauled by a bear? What about a woman who aborts her child after finding out the child will have severe disabilities? Is that right or wrong? Good or evil? One may say we shouldn’t kill the unborn (the fact is women’s bodies spontaneously abort quite often) You can’t always argue based on motivations either- we aren’t mind-readers and even the person doing the act can’t always explain why. When we judge, most of the time we are just projecting our beliefs and opinions onto other people. I do think that Christians are often too judgmental, especially over trivial issues, and in the end cause ourselves even more stress trying to keep up with appearances.

    • We are all faced with coin-flip type issues every day. “Right” or “Wrong” are concepts that are difficult to define without the input of some sort of rules that provide direction and influence to our point of view. Imagine Peter when God, the rule-maker, told him that some of those rules were subject to change. But were they? Jesus said that “Love God… and love your neighbor as yourself” summarized ALL the law and the prophets. We would like the concepts of Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, to be clearly defined for us, but if Jesus eating and drinking with sinners fulfilled the law, then what are we to make of issues in our life that seem to be “good” but are vilified as “evil”?

      God used Israel to exact His justice for disobedience, just as He used Elijah to punish young men for mocking His prophet (do you honestly think they didn’t know who Elijah was?) In this case, “Love God” is often left out of our evaluation. Children with disabilities are born every day, just as women have miscarriages every day. But do we kill disabled children after they are born? Why not? Where is the dividing line? We are given more choices because of technology, but the basis of how we choose should not change. Peter was given more choices because of the freedom given to him through the Grace of salvation. But the basis of his choice : “Love God, and love others” was still the same. So do we show love to a disabled child by aborting it, or is that simply easier? Is it showing love to God? Jesus told a crowd that a blind man was born so, not because of some sin of his own or of his parents, but so God would be glorified. That is true of each and every one of us.

      “We know in part, and so we prophesy in part,” never has more weight than those times where we are called upon to discern between what is of God, and what is of the world, and to judge the actions of those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. To do so in love recognizes that we often hold the fate of someone’s eternal soul in our hands. We must be careful.

  7. Pingback: Christians Are Hypocrites at The Blog Of Dysfunction

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *