Why Christianity isn’t Conformity
I do not trust in my own righteousness; only that God is righteous, and I hope to conform to His will—not that of the world.
Ever since the beginning of the modern age, Christianity and nonconformity have been seen as polar opposites—schools of thought that are about as compatible as oil and water. We grow up with that image of the authoritarian, submission-minded church and the scattered rebels attempting to defy it. I’ve always found it a little funny. For me, to be a Christian is to be a nonconformist in every sense of the word.
What does it mean to conform, first? Instead of consulting my nonexistent copy of Webster’s dictionary, I’ll offer a definition of my own. To be a conformist is to model one’s own desires, opinions and interests after those of the society around oneself. Such a person sees this world and decides that his or her neighbors are the ones to follow, regardless of the size of the neighborhood. If wealth is valued, they pursue money; if sex and drugs are held in high esteem, they’ll go racing after them. The rudder of personal preference is lifted, allowing one to float along the current of the mainstream.
At a shallow glance, one might mistake the Christian tradition as being conformist. Don’t followers of Jesus adhere to some sort of creed or dogma that prevents personal choice and standardizes believers? The key word in my above definition is “society.” In a technical sense, conformity is also a part of the Christian tradition; its followers are expected to put God’s will over their own. The irony is that such “conformism” actually makes Christians rebels in the context of everyday life. Allow me to explain.
I live in a world that teaches me to love money. The school I learn at, the commercials I watch, the people I listen to teach me that wealth is something to revere and seek. And yet, God tells me something drastically different. When the “rich man” in the Bible asks Jesus what he needs to do to earn eternal life, he receives a response so fearsome that he runs away: “Give up everything you have and follow me.” The Son of God goes on to send shivers through Jerusalem by expressing that a camel will have an easier time getting through a needle than a wealthy person will getting into the kingdom of Heaven. This is a religion that teaches against the desperate search for money; a way of living that frowns upon the lavish and the shallow.
Those same schools and commercials I mentioned earlier teach one more important message: You should do whatever it takes to get ahead of the pack. Don’t worry about the homeless man on the curb or those strange children in the Red Cross pamphlets. This is your life; live it for yourself. And yet, what does Jesus say when asked what the most important commands are? Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. The words sound sweet and docile until one contrasts them to the conformist’s favorite saying: love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself. Being a true rebel has nothing to do with skateboarding in the mall or buying drugs across the border. It’s simply about putting God and others before oneself, an action that cuts across the grain of society like nothing else.
I could talk at length about Christian nonconformists: the martyrs of old, fed to lions because they wouldn’t worship the Roman emperor; or the Weisserose, an anti-Nazi group whose members were punished—beheaded, even—for putting Christ above Hitler. There is no limit to stories, either in the past or the present, of people whose obedience to God makes them rebels to the world at large. Such tales continue to be written today.
There will always be that group of people that perceives church bells as instruments of authority and restriction. The best I can do is live my life in a manner so different from society’s expectations that such people will ask where I get my nonconformist streak from.
My answer may surprise them.