When I was 20-years old, I hitchhiked from Europe to India. The trip opened my eyes and slowly changed my Christianity. On that trip, the strongest challenge to my parochial Evangelical Christianity began as I met more and more wonderful non-Christians (atheists, Muslims and Hindus) who were far more generous and thoughtful than most of the Christian I knew. I left on my trip with no-money and was dependent largely on the kindness of others and what I found were non-believers who gave this strange vagabond food, shelter and kindness. Yet my religion told me these people would go to hell. The intense cognitive dissonance eventually moved me to seeing that my flavor of Christianity had to be wrong.
My 12-year-old daughter and I are now planning our own vagabond trip. As my son and I did two years ago, we will be couchsurfing through Great Britain and France for three weeks at the end of June and the beginning of July. Already we found three generous complete strangers (and their spouses) who have offered us to let us stay in their homes, share their meals and swap stories. As it ends up, all of them are atheists. For our first stay, we have been invited by a fellow atheist blogger, who I’ve never met in person, to share his home in Wales. The remarkable thing is that this man has been recently disabled by progressive MS — yet he insists we visit. Amazing generosity and openness!
Our other hosts don’t know us but have offered us risk-taking hospitality. But a Christian blogger I know who I approached on a possible stay, turned my daughter and I down. I am not sure why, possibly because we are atheists, for had I been Bible-bearing Christians brother from his own denomination, I’d guess he would have been welcomed us. But either way, this Evangelical Christian’s refusal, compared to all the open arms of atheists we have met on our travels in Europe, reminded me of the eye-opening experiences I had many years ago while crossing Asia: experiences which helped me to see through the hypocrisy of my Christianity. Risk-taking generosity is universal and religion does not predict open generosity.
Look at the New Testament passages to the right. If Christians really were true followers of Jesus that they claimed to be, you’d have many more open houses around the world – more coats and shirts being given away. Note that in Luke 3:11 we have John the Baptist teaching the same.
Sure, some Christians may give to charities, but when it comes to rubbing elbows with real people and dirty nonbelievers, many Christians are slow to show generosity while non-believers (the damned-to-hell sort) are quick to give the shirt off their backs.
That is because most Christians don’t really believe what they profess — or at least they certainly don’t live it. In many cases, as I wrote here, I am glad that most Christians don’t follow Jesus’ teachings. Yet as I wrote in my story of Greg (here & here) some Christians really do follow Jesus’ teachings well.
Being a Christian or not has nothing to do with whether a person is open, loving or generous. Religiousity does not predict generosity. In fact, this study on restaurant tipping showed that Christians were more stingy than non-Christians. And click on this pic to see this horrendous story, if you haven’t heard of it.
I witness non-Christian sacrificial generosity when I hitchhiked to Asia and I saw it lacking in many of my fellow Christians. That insight was a large part of what helped me to see behind the parochialism of my Christianity and to move me toward a pluralistic soteriology — a more open Christianity. I wish more Christians would stop banking on their wonderful salvation plans, their love for their afterlife and actually start risking real F2F generosity with real earthy people. And then, just maybe transcend their own religion.