How many people do you trust, how many institutions? And by ‘trust’ I mean what the word always used to mean, to have confidence in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. It is a searching question, because when it comes down to it, most of us tend to qualify our answers. Absolute trust is placed in very few, usually only someone very close to us and never, in my experience, in an institution. Yet today’s first reading from Isaiah (Is 26. 1-6) urges us to ‘trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord is an everlasting rock’ while the gospel (Matthew 7.21, 24-27) insists that doing the will of the Lord will mean that our house, our life, is founded on rock. That suggests both strength and reliability should characterize our lives as Christians, but the plain fact is that Christianity and its adherents have never had a worse press than they do today; and despite the fact that our beliefs prompt us to many acts of charity and service, it is not unusual to encounter hostility and suspicion. Even our festivals are mocked or circumvented with neologisms like ‘Winterval’ though no-one, I think (hope?), would dream of re-naming Eid al-Fitr or Rosh Hashanah or any of the great celebrations of other religions.
Sometimes it can be instructive to listen to what our detractors say about us. The most common charges against Christians seem to be that we are
- obscurantist and anti-sciencee
- intolerant (homophobic, misogynistic, racist, right-wing, left-wing, etc)
- child abusers
- out for personal gain
It is true that some of us are guilty of one or more of these charges, but by no means all. In fact, I’d dare to say the majority of Christians are guiltless of all these things. Personal sin and failure affect the whole body, of course, but so too does the faithful living out of our Christian vocation.Why should the negative outweigh the positive?
I think we are beginning to have a real problem with the public perception of Christians as trustworthy people whose beliefs should command respect, even if they are not shared. Time was when a very British reticence would have made me prefer to die on the spot rather than even hint at my beliefs in public. Not so now. It’s time we all came out of that particular closet. I habitually say a cheerful ‘Bless you!’ as often as I say ‘thank you’. I mean what I say, and if I get a snarl in response, as I sometimes do, I simply smile. I have no hesitation in saying grace when I have to eat in public or using the ritual gestures when I have to say the Office away from the monastery. I’m not forcing my beliefs on anyone, but I’m not hiding them, either. Scio cui credidi, as we sing on our profession day. I know in whom I have believed, in whom I have placed my trust.