I understand that the question: "What church do you go to?" is often used as a sort of conversational icebreaker between practitioners of the same religion. It's a valid question among fellow travelers.
Sometimes I am mistaken for one of those travelers.
Recently, a Christian friend asked me where I went to church.
"I go to the radio station", I said, "I have a Sunday show. Then I watch football."
"Duh", they replied,"I know that...there's plenty of time between your show and kick-off to go to church."
"Well, actually I'm not a Christian."
"Oh." They seemed puzzled. "I always thought you were."
"Because you are very open and honest."
Me? This struck me as especially hilarious. I started laughing.
"What's so funny? You are."
"No, I'm not", I protested, "in fact, I just finished lying to my grandmother. I'm scum."
There was a long pause, finally broken by my friend's whispered questioning:
"You lied to your grandmother...? Uh...do you mind if I ask what you lied about?"
"I lied about religion."
More silence, followed by another hushed question.
"Um, I am not sure that I understand. What exactly did you tell her?"
"I told her that I believed in God," I whispered back,"It made her feel better."
"But you don't believe?"
"No. Why are we whispering? God knows what is in our hearts and thoughts; why are we talking so softly? He can hear. "
My buddy considered this for a second.
"I thought you just said you don't believe in God...how can you know how God thinks and hears?"
"I don't know. But there are books and stuff that claim to. I have read some of them."
"Yeah, I know, me too, but not as much as I should...I wish I were a better Christian. I'm Bad. I'm not Good, at least..."
Now it was my turn to be confused. I asked for some clarification- why were they not a 'Good Christian?'
"Because, honestly, I don't go to church much anymore, especially during football season...the kids have moved out...the divorce...you know how it is. I should go more often, is all..."
Damnation! I have a lot of Christian friends and most of them say the same thing, that they are not "Good Christians", usually because they don't go to church very often...or have ribald thoughts...or drink/smoke/toke (in moderation) etc. It's never for anything that hurts another person- in my understanding a Bad Christian would be one that deliberately causes harm- and none of my friends are like that.
I'd like to ask them questions to help me understand this logic gap, but they have already told me that they are Bad Christians...if I took my car to a garage and the mechanic said: "I am a Bad Mechanic", I'd be disinclined to ask for mechanical advice or service from that shop.
But this was the only garage open, so I asked him a question that I haven't uttered in years:
"Let me ask you something: what if you instinctively lived your life in accordance with the words of Christ- perhaps a few bad deeds (such as 'white lies' told to comfort a dying relative)- but considerably more good ones- you never hurt anyone, you help people when you can; you act on empathy and compassion, you are charitable and honest, kind to children, pets and the elderly etc...in short, you live a very moral, exemplary life- except you were not a Christian. Would you still get into Heaven, assuming it exists?"
"Hmm," he pondered," that's a tough one. Me, I'd be inclined to say yes, that it was deeds, not words that counted- and I think that helping people is a form of worship that has it's own rewards...but I'm a Bad Christian. I think most Christians would say that you were going to purgatory -or to Hell. But not me. But my opinion doesn't matter, I'm a Bad..."
"No, you aren't. You are a Good Christian. If your God exists, He surely loves you", I said.
I meant that.
It's been a year or more, but the last time I asked someone that same 'what if?' question, I was told by a self-proclaimed Good Christian that nothing you did on earth would matter unless you first accepted Jesus, that you could save a billion lives and you would still burn in Hell for eternity because you hurt the feelings of a being that's powerful enough to create the Cosmos. On the other hand, you could kill a dozen people, find redemption on Death Row and get into Heaven on the fast track via lethal injection.
I hope I never understand how someone could believe that.
That sort of dogma makes it difficult for me have any faith in God or Man, so it was refreshing to hear a more tolerant, open perspective...my friend had nudged me ever-so slightly towards a favorable impression of his faith, which, I would think, is what a Good Christian would do.
I think his God would approve and would love him for it. I explained this to my buddy, who seemed a little confused, but mostly unruffled. At least he listened.
"But you don't believe in...ah nevermind, dude. You might be crazy but you're right. Even if you do lie to your grandmother."
I think my Bad Christian pals are better souls than they credit themselves for.