Connor Salter | Contributor
Recently, I checked out a movie some Christians have called "blasphemous." Created by Monty Python, Life of Brian follows a young man living in Jesus' time who gets mistaken for the Messiah. On its release, many people argued that Life of Brian mocked Jesus. However, the Pythons claimed they were only mocking how people misinterpret Jesus.
So, I decided to see the movie for myself, and discovered it really doesn't mock Jesus. Jesus appears in one scene but is seen as a wise teacher. However, the way people mistake Brian for the Messiah definitely mocks organized religion. Characters claim they find Brian wise but just want to blindly follow someone; others use him for their own interests.
I found this religion-bashing offensive, but also helpful. I needed to remember some people do seek organized religion for selfish reasons. Brian getting mistaken for the Messiah raises questions about whether the same thing happened to Jesus, but I needed to face that possibility.
Since Christianity rests totally on the promise Jesus was God's son, if he was just a mortal man then (as Paul reminds me in 1 Corinthians 15:17) my faith has no foundation.
Thus, Life of Brian ended up reminding me why it's important to research whether the resurrection really happened and whether the Gospels portray Jesus accurately. The "attack on faith" only motivated me to see truth better. This may be why Christianity Today contributor Jeffrey Overstreet praised and recommended Life of Brian in his book on faith and film, Through A Screen Darkly.
Obviously, I'm not saying here that all anti-religious content has this effect. If we only watch movies or read books that criticize Christianity, our faith will eventually struggle. Also, some of us may not have the spiritual maturity yet to experience such a challenge. Paul reminds us that not everything, even things believers are free to do, is constructive (1 Corinthians 10:23). Still, engaging with work by non-religious people can build up your faith in interesting ways.
In addition to motivating you to seek things out, these works can also help you assess your spiritual growth. When you examine something that challenges your faith, you figure out how strong your beliefs truly are. Philosopher Jerry L. Walls describes that process in "On Keeping The Faith," his essay for the book God and the Philosophers. He talks about reading Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell.
"Russell's arguments certainly did not bolster my faith, but neither did they shatter it," Walls said. "I did, however, gain a measure of confidence merely by engaging Russell, reflecting on his arguments, and finding I could still believe what he denied."
Anti-religious works can also help you discover why other people reject the faith. As Christians, we're called to not just reach out to other people and offer the Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), but also to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). But we can't reach or love people effectively until we hear something from their perspective.
"I find it very helpful to engage with non-Christian perspectives, selfishly, because they often illuminate blind spots and offer insight, but also because it is part of caring for people who are different from me by seeking generously and sympathetically to understand their views and experience," Kevin Diller, associate professor of philosophy and religion, said.
Reading or seeing anti-religious works will offend us. On occasion, they can harm. But in the right context, they can give us the right tools for spiritual growth or outreach.