'Christianity bad, Christians good.' That was the surprising conclusion of Beyond Belief, a survey of a group of agnostics back in 2003. The report said that, while individual Christians were often seen in a positive light, Christianity as a whole was viewed quite negatively. I wonder what a similar survey today would show.
You may well agree with 'Christianity bad'. After all, the media frequently presents the church as outdated and hypocritical. The Church of England, in particular, is seen to be muddled and divided, at war with itself, as Christianity struggles to come to terms with the modern world. Where is the leader who can cut through the confusion and demonstrate the relevance of faith to people today?
Then there are the continuing revelations of historic abuse by church leaders who were living a lie. This is heartbreaking stuff, with many casualties finally able to tell their stories and be heard. With all this, it's unlikely that the public image of Christianity has improved in recent years.
What about 'Christians good'? The positive view of Christians noted in the 2003 survey was based on personal experience. But it's hard to make that judgement if you don't have significant contact with people you know to be Christians. I suspect that is less likely these days.
For one thing, the number of people who have a direct connection with a church is declining. Meanwhile, society has become much more polarised. As liberal views have gathered strength, individuals have become more reluctant to be identified as Christians, particularly in the workplace.
Who wants to be thought of as a bigot?
This all sounds like bad news. 'No-one likes us, we don't care' is not exactly a great motto. But that begs the question, 'What do Christians have to offer?'
The answer is simple: Jesus.
Christians don't always do a good job of representing him (and don't forget that not all 'Christians' are truly Christian!) But don't let that put you off. If you want to find out whether Jesus really is 'the light of the world' then you need to read his words and the story of his life.
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