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Columnists

Crosses to bear

James Cary

CaryJesus was a very poor salesman. He regularly explained to anyone who'd listen that following him would be, at best, embarrassing; at worst costly and painful. Not only do Christians have to endure the command to love each other - which is a lot harder than it sounds - but they also have to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. When a man approached Jesus saying 'I will follow you, but first I must bury my father,' Jesus replied, 'Let the dead bury their own dead.' Smooth. One can imagine Peter or John standing next to him shaking their heads, tearing up another Disciple Application Form because another potential apostle has been scared off.

The popular image of Jesus, the meek, mild and witty John-Lennon-meets-Ghandi-type, could not be more different from the Jesus of the Gospels who constantly warns about the dangers of hell, false religion, and money. Having told people his followers will be mocked, persecuted and possibly killed, he leads the way by being arrested, flogged, mocked and killed.
Given these numerous, stark warnings, it may be surprising then that Christians in Britain complain so much about their lot in life, especially given that their so-called persecution is so mild in comparison to what has been promised by Jesus - and as it is experienced by millions of Christians all over the world. Christian groups and agencies love to recycle articles from the newspapers that another Christian has been disciplined for saying grace at a meal or sacked for wearing an ichthus on their tie.

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This is not to say that Christians should not speak up. There is much to be said for defending your Christian brother and sister who are being marginalized because of their faith. Christians are right to call for the name of Jesus to be honoured and respected. But no-one is quite sure what that looks like in a pluralistic, secular society.

Whenever I hear a story of a nurse being disciplined for wearing a cross or offering to pray, I look to see what the name of the hospital is - and smirk if it is a St Saviour's or a St Thomas's. Our entire hospital system is based on what was established by Christianity and monasticism in particular. To insist, therefore, that a nurse eschew all other vestiges of the faith is somewhat perverse. (These days, though, the nurse usually works for the South Staffordshire Primary Healthcare and Wellness Trust or some other boring title, so the joke doesn't work as well.) That said, nurses are called 'sisters', a nod to a Christian past. This doesn't mean there should be Alpha Courses run in every ward but it does mean that Christianity should be accepted as legitimate and meaningful, even if some patients chose to ignore it.

It seems the problem here is not the vast majority who don't believe in Christianity but are happy to tolerate it, but a vocal secularist minority who hate Christianity because it is a dogmatic exclusive worldview. What they don't understand is that their secularism it is not the blank canvas that they think it is. Secularism is also a dogmatic exclusive worldview. It insists that faith must be private and erased from public view. How exclusive can you get?

Another irony is that the very concept of a hospital is a Christian one. Jesus himself led the way on caring for the weak, the sick and the marginalized, helping those who cannot help themselves. I have yet to understand why an ardent atheist who sees no story in creation, no point to life itself and views everything as a Nietzschean power-play would care whether the weak lived or died. A hospital run along Darwin/ Dawkins lines would leave the frail and unproductive outside to perish whilst treating the minor ailments of the strongest and fittest (which rather defeats the point of a hospital).

The secularists have not won the day. Some would argue the shrillness of their cries implies they know they've already lost. I'm not so sure. But Christians would do well not only to look to Jesus but to Daniel and his friends. When they defied the orders of Nebuchadnezzar in order to follow the Lord, they did so knowing that they would receive a unjust lethal punishment. They did not whine that this was unfair, but accepted their fate because they deemed their faith to be worth dying for. If British Christians baulk at the odd tribunal, what are they really saying about their faith?