There’s a new thingie (I refuse to use the word “meme”) floating around Facebook telling the story of a new pastor who dresses as a homeless man and goes to his new church, with only the church elders in on the secret. As you might expect, he is shunned by his new flock, and the ushers ask him to sit in the back. The elders introduce the new pastor to the church, and they start applauding and looking around for the guy to walk in. Then the “homeless” guy walks to the front, gets up there, and starts reciting Jesus’ words:
34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
OK a pretty neat story, right? I doubt it’s true; here’s Snopes’ take on it. (And incidentally, I don’t doubt that a Christian congregation would be rude to a homeless guy who walked in to their Sunday service. Rather, I doubt that a new pastor would be that bold when he’s trying to assume a leadership position with people who don’t know him.)
Now the funny thing is, I came across this story by a Facebook friend who posted it with the comment: “Religion is s**t. Just be a better person.”
Now let’s think about this for a second. Does anybody doubt that if a homeless person tried to go to any type of social gathering of atheists–except for a soup kitchen’s anniversary party that happened to be run by atheists–that they would be bummed out and wish the guy would leave? For heck sure if it were a group of Randians, they wouldn’t embrace the guy with open arms and share a cigarette with him.
The reason this story is compelling, is that the Christians all pledge allegiance to someone who explicitly taught them to care for the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, etc. So if the story were true (which I doubt that it is), the congregation in question would burn with shame. In contrast, there is nothing analogous for a group of atheists who treated (say) their new CEO poorly, if he dressed up like a homeless guy. All he could do is get up there and say something like, “Hey, I expect you guys to be better citizens if you’re going to work for this company. We only want socially conscious people on this team.” That wouldn’t be nearly as powerful and burning of their consciences.
Now I now full well that people are going to say the difference is hypocrisy. But no it really isn’t, not in this case. If a pastor gets caught with a prostitute, then heck yes THAT is hypocrisy, because Christians say they disagree with the sexual mores of the culture, and they browbeat others for sexual promiscuity etc. Thus, if a Christian gets caught doing the very thing he complains about, then that’s hypocrisy.
But that doesn’t really work in this alleged case of the homeless pastor. It’s not as if Christians go around condemning atheists to hell for not doing enough to help poor people. And, the concern for the homeless isn’t a uniquely Christian hangup, the way “the traditional family” is. Indeed, the person on Facebook agreed that “being a better person” meant helping a homeless guy and not ignoring him.
So I really don’t see why this story should be considered a strike against religion. It’s akin to a guy in AA falling off the wagon at a party, and then being shocked to discover that this sponsor is standing right next to him. Would such an anecdote prove the 12-step program is s**t?
Now what could make sense is if you presented me with evidence that on average, Christians (or “religious people” if you want to make it broader) don’t donate to charities or do volunteer work etc. more than atheists. (I don’t know if they do or they don’t; I’m willing to look at studies if people want to put them in the comments.) Then you could reasonably conclude, “Hey, it looks like this ‘belief’ in Jesus comes with no actual change in behavior.”
In any event, I will say this: When I went to Haiti after their earthquake (and I went with a secular organization FYI), in the airport terminal on the way back, it was chock full of teams sent by their churches in the US.