Saturday, February 5, 2011 Login

Losing His Religion

Jesus on the wall of the senior Home
Image by freestone via Flickr

About a week ago I posted an entry that asked the question “How Young Can A Christian Be?”

The general consensus seems to be that you have to have some basic understanding of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian before you can say, “Yep, I’m a Christian.”

When is the typical person’s mind developed enough to be capable of that kind of understanding? Seven seems to be about the youngest age that any church has put forth. Several noters have suggested that many people might not have the ability to understand what it means to be a Christian until their teen years – or even later.

Personally, I think 7 is way too young. I was in second grade when I was that age and still struggling to understand basic math and spelling. As near as I can recall, I didn’t really start understanding what might be called higher concepts (world geography, the sweep of history, political parties) until I was about 11 and in the sixth grade. That’s when I seem to have first started jelling as a person with ideas. Before that, I seem to have mostly experienced life as a series of fleeting impressions and feelings. I don’t think I had a good understanding of concepts and ideas until high school. And it wasn’t until I was about 17 that I seem to have been truly capable of evaluating those concepts and ideas for myself and deciding which I wanted to personally embrace or reject.

The process of maturation that you went through might well differ significantly from mine. That we all go through some such process, however, seems pretty obvious.

As a rough minimum, I think it’s safe to say that no newborn child has the capacity to understand let alone embrace Christianity but virtually all 21-year-old adults do. (If you disagree – especially if you think newborn children are actually *more* capable of embracing Christianity than 21-year-old adults are – please explain why.)

Now, what about the other end of life?

I’ve had several relatives succumb to Alzheimer’s. Perhaps you have, too. If so, you know that in some ways the disease eats away at a person’s mental capacity in a manner that’s almost like watching them devolve back to the mental status of a newborn.

One of my relatives started worrying us several years ago when he could no longer remember where Canada was. He’s now at the point where he can no longer remember his own name. Although he’s been a Methodist for much of his life, he hasn’t gone to church (or even mentioned it) for many months. If he hasn’t already completely forgotten Jesus and Christianity, it seems only a matter of time until he does.

At what point in this process can we say he is no longer a Christian?

If someone’s mind deteriorates to the point where it’s functioning at a level below that of a 7-year-old and he or she can’t even begin to tell you what a Christian is, on what grounds might we nonetheless continue to call him or her a Christian?

Pro-Christian literature is studded with accounts of deathbed conversions. Apparently you can be an atheist or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Jew your entire life, declare Jesus to be your lord and savior with your last breath, and still make it into heaven. If that’s the case, what happens if your last breath comes out of a head that’s utterly forgotten Jesus?

If remembering Jesus on your deathbed earns you heaven, shouldn’t forgetting Jesus merit hell?

I doubt that very many self-proclaimed Christians would say yes.

But what reasons can they give for saying no?

If what you believe about Jesus at the moment of death is going to determine how he judges you, and you die without even being able to remember his name, on what grounds might he nonetheless smile favorably upon your unbelief and send your soul to heaven?

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