Remember that “Imagine” song by John Lennon? Everyone thinks it is just awesome. The lyrics go like this:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

I was at a Christmas concert where John Tesh sang that song once. It ruined the whole concert for me. The basic premise is this:

The only way the world can ever live in peace and harmony is if there are no possessions, no national boundaries, but MOST OF ALL–no religion. No heaven, no hell, no religion, no nothing. Just shiny, happy people. Now why would you sing that right after, “O Holy Night” John Tesh. C’mon, man!

Religion gets a bad rap. So much so that most religious people–at least the evangelical circles I run in–don’t even use that word any more. It’s not about religion, they say, it’s about a relationship. While it’s true the central teaching of Christianity is a relationship with Christ, there’s no way around calling Christianity a religion. It just is.

While some religious people make an effort to distance themselves from the “r” word, non-religious people daydream about a way to get rid of all religion. Not just Christians–Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. Notably, the general atheistic population presumes this would result in fewer wars, less hate, and more togetherness and goodwill. If it can’t be gotten rid of, perhaps we should just encourage people to keep quiet about it. Throw religion in with other taboo topics–like whether or not you spank your kids, how much your car cost, and whether or not you are a dude and watch The Bachelor. (To be transparent: yes, $1800, and no)

But all this got me to wondering. What would happen if Christians kept their religion to themselves? I can think of some things that wouldn’t happen.

  • Most of the hospitals in your community would never have been started. If it starts in “St.”, take it out. And while you’re at it, take out the Methodist hospitals, Jewish hospitals, Baptist hospitals, etc. At least we’d still have Missouri Agnostic Medical Center and Atheist General in Houston, Texas. Oh no wait…
  • We would not have Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn, Brown, Columbia, or Dartmouth. Of the 8 Ivy League schools, we would not have 7. Oh well…there’s always Cornell. In fact, most schools founded a couple hundred years ago all were founded as Christian universities. Even Southern Illinois University’s motto is “God willing.”
  • Wanna give blood? Can’t go to the Red Cross. So better hope you never need blood, because the Red Cross provides over 40% of the nations supply.
  • No Salvation Army, either.
  • No Chick-fil-A! (how many of you are most terrified by this prospect…be honest)

374973_10151649854217387_570269436_nLet’s face it. There are some not-so-shiny examples of Christians being outspoken in their faith or living it out in a very public manner. See: Crusades, Pat Robertson, and all rappers who thank Jesus after winning a Grammy for repeating the “F” word 50 times on a hit single.

But for the most part, the Christian religion has been a very positive influence on society. And it flies in the face of our faith’s origins to keep our religion to ourself, anyway.

Our whole belief system is founded on a guy who lived out what He stood for. Jesus practiced what He preached. He told us to do the same. Live it out, but don’t keep your mouth closed. If you don’t believe me, read some of these texts: Matthew 5, 6, and 7. Matthew 25. Matthew 28:16-20. The entire book of Mark (where Jesus runs around doing stuff). The Gospel of Luke, where the poor, the outcast, and the socially scorned get special treatment. The Gospel of John ends with Jesus telling Peter to “feed my sheep.” Acts is named “Acts of the Apostles,” for a reason.

Action makes Christianity what it is. We aren’t a bunch of scholars who lock themselves in a library and study (well, some of us are…and even they are living out their faith in academia). We don’t keep to ourselves because that’s not what our faith instructs us to do.

The other thing that gets me when it comes to this whole, “keep your faith private” is that we don’t apply that to anything else controversial. Quite the opposite, in fact. We are very public in our political preferences. We endorse products and services. When was the last time you heard someone say, “It’s great that you like Dunkin’ Donuts, but could you please keep that opinion to yourself.” We don’t. Why, if we can acknowledge that we all have different tastes and preferences and circles we run in for everything else do we insist that faith must be kept private.

Do you keep your love for your spouse to yourself? Your kids? Your favorite sports team? Etc. Of course not. It’s impacted the way we live, who we are, what we stand for. So has the faith of the Christian (or any religion, for that matter).

We can’t check our belief at the door. It is engrained in us. It defines us.

So, imagine a life without heaven or hell if you’d like. But don’t paint with such a rosy, idealistic brush. If there was no religion, there would be less religious conflict, sure. But that doesn’t mean people would instantly and instinctively get along. In fact, the wonderful picture of society the song depicts would have no source. There would be no theology or philosophy to influence people’s behavior.

The unity would have no force around which to unify. “Living for today” would end in a mad dash by everyone to get theirs, not in sharing. There would be hunger and greed because there would be no reason to not be greedy. The world would be as one–one giant mess of humanity doing as they saw fit and not being concerned with other people so much.

I’m not saying that Christians are perfect. Nor any other religion. Plenty of problems and conflict arise from interactions among imperfect people engaged in various walks of life. But the solution to those problems is not the lack of all belief. Rather, the solution is found in people who determine to live less for self and more for others, that seek to serve their fellow man, that seek to generously give to those who have less, and that realize that the best way to treat other people is the way they want to be treated.

How I know that, of course, is because Jesus said so. About 1950 years before John Lennon wrote, “Imagine.”

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