Can Christians Really Care About People?
There is a nagging question I struggled with during my last year at my Christian university. When I made public that I had turned away from the Christian faith, the responses were much more varied than I had anticipated. A few were blatantly negative: “I’m disappointed in you,” one girl told me. Most were simply curious. But the strangest thing happened, people who I had never spoken to before began suddenly popping up in my life. Most of these individuals are part of what I came to affectionately-not pejoratively-call the “God Squad.” It became obvious though that these people were concerned with one thing: getting me saved. Most of them were tactful enough to not go right for ‘the conversation,’ but it was fairly apparent that their only concern was that I was a lost soul who needed redeeming. And they were there to kill me with kindness for Jesus.
I didn’t mind, really. If a bit misled, and more than a bit patronizing, the gesture was at least well intentioned. In their defense, they had my eternal soul at heart. You have to appreciate the effort. But it does call into question the extent to which these people actually care about their non-Christian friends as people rather than projects. I am fairly certain that under normal circumstances I would never engage in any kind of friendship with the people I’m referring to, we simply don’t share much in common. Yet they were willing to transcend our differences with an alternative motive.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing out an accusation that these Christians are disingenuous. But it seems to be an interesting psychological bit that they would be motivated to attempt befriending me, the heathen atheist sinner kid. It got me thinking about how I perceived my non-Christian friends when I myself was a believer, and I think I perhaps suffered from the same syndrome.
Interestingly, one of the largest barriers to my atheism was that I had an atheist friend. In my mind, the ultimate purpose of our friendship was for me to somehow learn how to answer his objections to faith and bring him back into the fold. I never would have admitted it then, but a big chunk of my time and effort into that friendship was spent working to get him “saved.” That kind of concerted effort to convert someone really clouds your perception of them. It wasn’t until after my de-conversion that I really learned to value him as a friend for who he was. I mean, that element was there before, but it was trumped by my quasi-conscious goal of getting him saved. That’s only one example, I can think of dozens of people who I invested time and energy in because I wanted to draw them toward faith.
The question, then, is can Christians really care about people as individuals? Or non-Christians doomed to remain generic unsaved souls in need of a savior? It’s a question I’ve been dealing with for a while now. It causes no small bit of paranoia in discerning the motivations of my Christian friends. I mean a lot of people are very obvious–the ones who all the sudden started saying “hi” to me when we would pass, but I had no recollection of ever meeting them before. But how many of the people who I was already friends with all the sudden reduced my personhood to “atheist” and nothing more?
It’s really a fascinating psychological question to wrestle with. By definition, Christians (evangelical, anyway) must attempt to propagate their faith by converting others. With that kind of driving motivation, how can they possibly care about the person as an individual? At the very least it creates a very fine line between genuine and patronizing. Certainly many Christian charity workers donate their time to the homeless because they are driven by compassion for the individual persons, but then how many Christians donate their time because the homeless represent a distinct example of the “lost?”