It is that time of year: when the tree leaves turn beautiful colors, we drink hot chocolate and eat bowls of steaming stew, and even indulge our macabre side a little bit. Or we would, if it hadn’t snowed, knocked most of the pretty leaves off, and blanketed the country in white. Halloween has never been a big deal to me — as children, we were not permitted to celebrate it and I only got into the habit of dressing up when we became involved in a church outreach. This year, I’m going to stay at home on the couch with my laptop and watch Sense & Sensibility with a friend. But it seemed wrong to let October pass without a viewing of Sleepy Hollow, so I popped it in my ClearPlay last night and settled in with a blanket and my cat to revisit one of the more macabre and sinister costume dramas in recent years. Tim Burton does the story justice in that regard but I could not help being saddened as I saw it with new eyes. Much has happened in the last year. I have changed in many ways and one of them is gaining what I hope amounts to greater amounts of spiritual wisdom.
Whatever you may think of Sleepy Hollow, it illustrates one thing which it did not mean to — how the world views Christians. If you are unfamiliar with the film (and most of you will be), it centers around Ichabod Crane traveling to the town to solve a string of murders committed by the Headless Horseman, a fiend from hell that carries off the heads of his unfortunate victims. Ichabod arrives in town with no idea of what he is up against and vague memories of his childhood, in which his mother was murdered by a “Bible-black tyrant” (Reverend) for her participation in witchcraft. Ichabod distrusts both religion and magic as a result but is reacquainted with both when confronted with an undead adversary. The story unravels to reveal that he local minister is a hypocrite and adulterer, and that ultimately magic is responsible both for saving Ichabod from death and protecting the church from the Horseman. It sounds like a sensational anti-Christian hit piece dressed up as a thrill-raising costume drama and not to mince words but… it is. Christians should be offended by it and… I am. More so now than when it first became popular and the morbid deliciousness of it all seduced me.
Oh, I can justify it and explain away some of its flaws, even cover it up in the makeup of “it’s an American fairy tale,” or “it isn’t meant to represent real life,” all of which are arguments that I have heard many times in an attempt to rationalize liking things that we really shouldn’t — I have even used them on occasion. But rather than defending this film or my continued fondness for it in spite of its blatant faults, I’m merely going to say that unfortunately, the kind of Christianity shown in this film is what the world thinks of us. Most of us are fortunate enough to run in Christian circles but if you have ever set foot out your door into the real world, you will see that Christianity is tolerated by many and abhorred by a few. Our tolerance-minded society is not so tolerant when it comes to Christianity and the idea that they have of us runs the gamut of dreadful accusations: depictions of us (and as such, their view of us) range from blatant hypocrites to murderous tyrants to misguided fools. Burton’s view of Christianity is therefore not surprising — it is merely mainstream. Scripture warned us that Christ would be controversial and He is — His name either brings awe or hatred, and those who follow Him are either embraced or despised. The harder a heart is toward the things of God, the more hatred is spewed in our direction, because our very existence rubs people the wrong way. We can mind our own business, do nothing but good in the world, and never harm or insult anyone else, and still you will find people who hate us — not individually, but collectively. You will meet people who have never met a true Christian who still hate them. Often, I have had to turn away from a discussion or pretend not to see a hate-filled intolerance of Christianity transpiring on message boards. I wonder if those people who are so offended by God realize that they are generalizing and insulting an entire group of people who have never done them any harm? I wonder if they care?
Recently, a group study leader shocked me when she said that we do not have to justify God, as it is not our place to do so. This is an area in which we as Christians struggle, because there are so many unpleasant or to our politically-correct minds, unfair aspects of God. We naturally want to rationalize and explain and soften Him to make Him more appealing to the masses, to explain why we choose to follow Him so that we do not sound like mindless morons. But the bitter truth is, standing on the outside it is impossible to understand how He works, and no amount of explaining or rationalizing will ever satisfy the masses. Christians are called to live according to the standards set before us by Christ, and to obey God’s laws of morality. The rest of the world, those who chose not to follow Him, are not held to those standards. We are. I once attempted to explain to someone why I have chosen to remain a virgin until marriage — to her, that seemed like an outdated notion and she did not understand why I would hold to it. I understand it. I understand the true meaning of sex, that it is symbolic of the union of Christ and the Church, and carries a supernatural aspect as much as a physical one. It makes sense to me that if you follow God’s rules intended for sex, you will never suffer what sexually promiscuous people suffer — regret, guilt, unhappiness, unwanted pregnancies, and STD’s. It makes perfect sense to me, because I am living according to His purpose. But it makes no sense to the world, because the benefits are meaningless outside deeper understanding.
Christians will always be persecuted. Society will never tolerate us. Some of us, like the Christians in Afghanistan, are going to face real physical persecution — since Shari law was enforced, there are no Christian Churches left in the region; they have all been destroyed and Christians there risk death if they gather to worship. (Contrast that with a Christian nation, in which there is freedom of religion.) Others are going to face hatred in spite of never having done anything that seems “bad” by the world’s standards — we are going to be mocked, ridiculed, threatened, and silenced. We will be hated not for who we are but what we stand for, because our very existence makes others uncomfortable. I have always believed that the true atheist would not care what Christians believed. This renders most so-called atheists false atheists, because if they really knew there was no God, why would morality threaten them? offend them? what would they care? Morality and faith only offends people who hate to admit that there is a shadow of doubt in their mind that they might be wrong.
God cannot be understood by those who do not know Him, but He cannot even be completely understood by those who do. We are not wise enough to comprehend all the facets of God. He does not always match up what our arrogance wants Him to be. If I cannot even understand all the nuances of Him, how can a world lost in hatred and darkness have any respect for Him? It is a great temptation (and justifiable) to be offended when we encounter blatant persecution in our modern world, but instead, we should pray for those who cannot understand Truth even when it is staring them in the face, because in the end, all things will be Justified.