I think the Internet makes it more difficult than ever to be myself. Messages bombard me, persuading and cajoling and berating.
“Listen to this!”
“Agree with me!”
“Think the way that I think!”
Even worse, if you’re a people-pleaser like me, you find your true identity evaporating in an attempt to keep everyone happy, to prove to everyone that you somehow agree with them. In an era where your beliefs make you smart and important in the eyes of those with whom you agree, it is tempting to walk that subtle line of conformity. It is far too easy to be devastated by the unkind contradiction of a stranger.
We are a culture where the individual is quickly defined by what she believes. “He’s a democrat.” “She’s a libertarian.” “He believes in legalizing same-sex marriages.” “She’s pro-life.” “He’s an Eagles’ fan.” “She doesn’t like Nutella.” And after hearing even one of these pieces of information about someone, it’s so easy to fill in the rest of the gaps, to turn them into a caricature, to reduce them to a flat character about whom we know everything we could possibly need to know.
Beliefs: the litmus test of our culture.
And, as has been the case in far too many instances, Christianity conforms to culture. Christians of every ilk set up idols of particular beliefs, polarizing themselves into camps of Correct and Incorrect. This, it seems, is where we find ourselves in the waning days of 2012: grasping desperately for beliefs, as if holding dearly to the right ones is the last thing keeping our civilization from complete and utter annihilation.
Beliefs have become our salt and light. Taking the “correct” position on every issue imaginable has become our way of declaring the Good News. It’s no wonder church attendance is dwindling and the broader culture is becoming increasingly disenchanted with Christianity – when the message of Good News has been watered down to consenting to various positions or beliefs, the Good News transforms into the Right News. Which is actually rather annoying, and not much fun to listen to or to help spread.
Most of us Christians today, mistaking “right belief” for saltiness, have lost the very trait of saltiness about which Jesus spoke: love. Helping the poor (and not JUST voting for the candidate whose policies we think will benefit them). Jesus’ saltiness means having a love for our neighbor that transcends whatever belief system we espouse.
When Jesus encouraged his followers to be salt and light, these words weren’t couched alongside some sort of list of correct beliefs. No, his exhortation to be salt and light comes during his Sermon on the Mount – it’s mixed in with wisdom on the importance of the posture of one’s heart; he names as “blessed” people who are merciful and meek and peacemakers (adjectives describing action, a way of life), not those possessing or understanding of correct doctrine.
Jesus more closely associates salt and light with good deeds than good beliefs. Soon after the salt and light metaphor, he challenges the cultural paradigm of loving your neighbor and hating your enemy and says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He never said, “Make sure someone knows what you believe before you help them.” He never said, “Love them only after they fully understand that you believe what they are doing is wrong.”
This is salt and light: not right beliefs, but love.
I’m afraid for Christianity today. I’m afraid that we’ve gone so far down the path paved by “correct” beliefs that we have lost the only trait that could make us truly salty: radical love, not only for the poor and downtrodden, but also (perhaps more incredibly) for one another.
But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
Are we Christians good for anything anymore? Can we still be salt and light through our deeds, our acts of love? Or, leaning increasingly on our beliefs to serve as that which makes us different, are we suitable only to be trampled underfoot?