Monday, March 08, 2021

This week, I gave the Thought for the Week on RTHK Radio 3. This is the transcript of the talk:

Good morning, I’m Ross Royden

I am no longer happy to call myself a Christian. Now before anyone thinks that I have lost my faith, let me try to explain.

Our age may not believe in God, but it remains religious. Our religion is ourselves. Its creed is summed up by the well-known advertising slogan, ‘Just do it’. We can just do it, we are told, if we just believe in ourselves. We should follow our dreams; be true to our own identity; be who we want to be and accept no limitations. The problem is that we don’t always feel we can just do it. We get lonely. People let us down. Our hopes come to nothing. None of this is our fault, of course. But bad things do happen to good people like us. So, what are we to do when they do?

Enter the Christianity popularly on offer. Want someone who understands and will help you realize your dreams? Jesus is who you need. He accepts everyone and condemns no-one. He is here to help you to just do it, whatever it is you want to do and whoever it is you want to be. Jesus believed in himself and did what he believed in. True, it got him killed, but that shows he will understand when people don’t understand you and when they try to force their views on you: #youarenotalone

This is ‘Jesus my imaginary friend Christianity’. It makes no demands because it is not meant to. It is meant to be comforting, positive, and encouraging. It builds up our image and doesn’t fill our minds with negative thoughts, and especially not about ourselves.

This is all very different to how two young women, Perpetua and Felicity, saw things. They were Christians at the beginning of the third century when it wasn’t a good time to be a Christian. The local authorities were demanding that people deny they were a Christian and make a pagan sacrifice for the Emperor. Perpetua and Felicity refused. The penalty for not doing so was death. Perpetua’s father begged her to just do it. What did words matter? Perpetua pointed to the vase on the table and asked her father whether it could be called anything other than a vase. ‘Of course not’, answered her father. ‘And neither can I be called anything other than what I am, a Christian’, Perpetua replied.

Perpetua and Felicity died a horrible, brutal, and humiliating public death, leaving behind two young babies. The name that Perpetua and Felicity died for, rather than deny, meant for them something very different to what is often meant by it today. So, if you ask me whether I call myself a Christian, if you mean what St Perpetua and St Felicity meant by a Christian, I consider it an honour to have the same name as them. But if you mean the religion of ‘Jesus, my imaginary friend’, then I would be letting them down if I said I was. The real Jesus said:

‘If anyone wants to become my follower, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life because of me and because of the gospel will save it.’ (Mark 8:34-35)

Jesus did not come simply to befriend us: he came to save us. But that, of course, suggests that we need saving; that it’s not enough to believe in ourselves; that we can’t just do it; and that life is to be found, not by pursuing our dreams, but by giving them up. We find our true identity, not by believing in ourselves, but by following Jesus, the Jesus, that is, whom Perpetua and Felicity followed.

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