Reclaiming the Strangeness of Christianity

I used to teach a class on world religions. In the process of my research, I became fascinated with the different belief systems that developed all over the word.

When studying these religions, especially the Eastern ones, I was able to appreciate them from the outside looking in. There was something elegant in many of the beliefs. For example, Hindu balance of karma, dharma, and samsara creates a harmonious understanding of metaphysics, anthropology, and ethics. Or there is a serenity in Buddhism that is on many levels admirable.

I then took this outside/in perspective to Christianity and I came to a startling realization:

Christianity is the strangest religion of all.

Compared to the claims of Buddha, Mohamed, or even Moses, the claims of Christ are shocking nearly beyond belief. Even compared to newer religions, Christianity is incredibly strange. If you belong to a religion where you believe aliens came and started human life, you have a belief that is less strange than what Christians believe.

One of the reasons I think most Christians don’t see how our faith is so odd is that we are surrounded by it and its effects. Many of us were raised in families that went to church. Our culture still celebrates the birth of Jesus at Christmas and His resurrection at Easter. Our philosophy of rights come from a Judeo-Christian idea that all are made in the image of God.

But we forget how strange a foundation this is. That we would say “Amen” when someone holds up the Host and says, “The Body of Christ,” is something that should strike us every time we say it.

This is beyond things like miracles (although one miracle in particular is foundational, which we get to later). Most religions have tales of their founders performing miracles by access to some divine power.

When I teach Christianity, I make this point to my students. Jesus said and did a lot of weird stuff. He said “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12). I don’t recall Moses saying anything remotely like this. Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15:5). This is not like anything I’ve read Mohammed say. Christ also said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even though he dies, shall live.” (John 11:25). Buddha did not say things like that.

As Dr. Peter Kreeft points out, all the founders of the major religions pointed beyond themselves. Moses pointed to Yahweh, Mohammed to Allah, Buddha to the Dharma. But Jesus points to Himself.

Christ claims to be divine (John 8:58). He says to His followers “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood.” (John 6:53)

That is weird.

Why am I harping on this point?

In the modern world it is very fashionable by those outside of Christianity to claim it is an elaborate construction to fool people into belief in God. My point is that no rational person would make up a religion like Christianity.

Christianity is a mysterious religion. It asks much of the believer that goes beyond (but does not contradict) reason. If you were to invent a religion, wouldn’t you make it palpable for even the most basic minds to grasp and wrap their heads around?

But Christianity asks you to believe that there are Three Persons in One God. This is not Three Names for the same Person or Three Gods in Unity.

Christianity asks you to believe that Jesus is the God Man. This is not to say that He is a hybrid demi-god like Hercules or Perseus. He is not a Hindu Avatar like Krishna or Rama. He is 100% God and He is 100% man.

The Catholic Church believes that we must eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Jesus. The Eucharist not a symbol of Christ’s Body and Blood. We really consume His Flesh and Blood at mass.

Perhaps I lack the imagination, but I cannot see how any of these beliefs are something that would be invented by those who wanted to fool others into religion.

Of all the religions I have encountered, Christianity is the strangest. I tell my students that it is so strange that there is absolutely no reason to believe it except one:

Because it is true.

CS Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity that reality itself is pretty strange. Why should we not also have a religion that is also strange. Christianity does not have that elegant simplicity that would be needed to make it easily understood and promulgate to an unwitting populace. It does not even have that feature of most religions that makes it non-disprovable.

What I mean by this is that most religions do not make claims of historical proof. If you went to someone from Ancient Greece and said, “You know, Heracles never really existed,” they would probably respond, “I know. They are just stories that teach us a truth.” If you went up to a Buddhist and said, “You know, Buddha never really existed,” (to be clear, there is a great deal of historical data to said that he did) they would probably respond, “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that his teachings will bring you to enlightenment.”

But that doesn’t work with Christianity. We make a claim of history. All of Christianity is built upon the single foundational miracle of the Resurrection. If Christ was not raised, then our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17). Christianity is the only disprovable religion in that if they ever discovered the corpse of Jesus, then everything we believe in is false. We have firmly planted our faith in the events of the real world, not merely easily digestible stories.

The strangeness of our faith makes it much less likely to have been invented by men.

To paraphrase the late Rich Mullins, this Christian faith is not something the human race has made. It is something that is making the human race.

Copyright 2021, WL Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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