Christianity is often viewed as solely religious doctrine. But it is more than just a religion. It is a faith. It is a set of moral principles that human beings abide by in order to live a good and decent life. But you do not have to be Christian to live by these principles. There are many individuals out there in the world who do not label themselves as Christian, nor religious, yet hold the same values that are at the very core of Christianity. In the last few months of 2020, I began thinking about these certain individuals, contemplating how, despite not being religious, they still acted like Christians. This was brought on by having a conversation with someone who was not religious but still held the same values attributed to Christianity. I had often thought about it since, and then, at the Good Friday service at my parish, the parish priest discussed what he called the “anonymous Christian” in his homily, and I knew this was something that had to be discussed further.
The anonymous Christian is someone who does not necessarily put a label on what they are, but their values align with those of the Christian faith. They may not be particularly fond of religion. Or, like the aforementioned individual who I conversed with on this matter late last year, they may have an urge, a desire to learn more about Christianity, about the faith. I hope that through my writing, through this series, and in a personal capacity I can provide guidance to those who have this urge to find out more. The Bible is more than just a religious text; it is a way of life. It contains principles, ideas, stories, and lessons that people may find are linked to what they already believe. Christianity is a universal truth. The effect it can have on people when they encounter it, when they are able to see how it links to their own lives and their own beliefs, is difficult to explain. It is one of those things that is really just beyond words.
Sometimes anonymous Christians are more Christian than us Christians. As a practicing Catholic, I do my best to uphold the values of my faith: caring for others, showing kindness, helping those in need, and even teaching kids about the faith and the values we hold as Christians. But I admit even I fall short at times. I stumble, I do or say something that does not align with my values, and I often feel a deep sense of regret, shame, or self-awareness afterwards. That is likely true for every one of us, given none of us are perfect. Sometimes the anonymous Christian espouses our values and puts them into action better than we do. While they are out there living their values and being rewarded for doing so in the joy they experience (much like the women who went to the tomb where Jesus had been laid on the third day to find it empty), we hide away like the disciples did after Jesus’ death on the Cross. Yes, in our hearts we may be good people, but we fail to live out our Christian values and use them to help others, to give back to the world, to give back to God in thanks for the gifts he has given us.
Anonymous Christians may at some point decide that they wish to label themselves Christians and begin to deepen their faith. They might start to read the Bible more, to try to deepen their understanding of Christianity, of the belief system, and of the faith itself. They might decide to consult someone who is knowledgeable in the faith, maybe a practicing Christian. Upon reading the Bible, or looking deeper into the faith, they might begin to form questions that they seek answers to, again possibly coming to those of the faith to ask and obtain those valuable answers. They might have an urge to attend church services, to be a part of a congregation of like-minded individuals and meet others who are on the faith journey. After some time, they might even decide to become a Christian or a Catholic and be baptized and/or confirmed as such. It is quite an incredible feeling being a part of a welcoming and loving community.
Anonymous Christians who want to learn more about the faith and immerse themselves more deeply in it should know that they would not be alone in doing so. Practicing Christians and Catholics are constantly doing the same. We learn more all the time. Take it from me. I was baptized Catholic and have attended mass practically every week since I was a baby. As I grew up, I learnt more about my faith and the values contained within it by discussing it with fellow Christians, by attending scripture classes throughout primary school and scripture seminars throughout high school (I was indeed lucky to attend a public high school that offered the opportunity to connect with the faith, something that is becoming increasingly rare nowadays), by attending mass each weekend, by reading the Bible and asking questions, and by watching others live out Christian values in their own lives. Over the years, I have come to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Christian faith and have learnt how to live a good and decent life maintaining the values that I hold dear.
Even now as an adult I am still learning. I have come full circle in terms of scripture classes, going from taking them as a student to teaching them as an adult, so that other kids will have the same opportunities that I did to grow and understand the faith and shape their lives using Christian values. I may teach them, but I often find myself learning things from them that I never thought of before. I also find myself still having epiphanies of sorts at mass when listening to the homily (that is, a reflection on the week’s readings and gospel given by the priest) or even the readings themselves, suddenly realizing something, connecting the dots somewhere that I had not before. For example, at the Easter Vigil mass this year, we heard the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, who he was going to sacrifice for God. But God, seeing Abraham’s loyalty and fear of the Lord, spares Isaac and provides the sacrifice Himself. This Old Testament reading reflects the New Testament story of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who was sacrificed and died to save us from sin. There is a really beautiful Bible verse, John 3:16, that reads:
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Just like Abraham was willing to sacrifice his one and only son, God the Father was willing to do the same, and did so, out of love for His people, even though the people had strayed from Him. Despite having heard these Bible stories many times before, I did not connect the two until just this year, and it amazed me when I suddenly realised the parallels. The incredible thing about the Bible is that the Old Testament foreshadows the New. God’s test of Abraham, ultimately ending in His provision of a ram to substitute for Isaac as the sacrifice, foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, whereby God provides His only Son as a substitute for us. There is the story of David, who was rejected by his parents as a child, and later by his son who rejected him as King and attempted to take over the kingdom himself. The rejection David and his ultimate ascension as King foreshadows the rejection of Jesus by the Jews and his ascension to become their
spiritual King. And there is the story of Moses, who led the Israelites, God’s people, out of captivity in Egypt by the grace of God, just as Jesus leads all who believe in Him out of the slavery of sin and death. There was the Great Flood, which God used to wash away the wickedness he saw on Earth in the time of Noah. Just as the Great Flood washed away the sins of old, baptism washes away original sin from each of those who receive it, be it those in the New Testament, or even us today.
One can even go as far back as Creation itself, when God created the first human beings in existence, Adam and Eve. Upon creating the two, God gave them the breath of life, a truly magnificent gift. This first God-given gift foreshadowed the gift He would give the disciples in the New Testament at Pentecost, just after Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. This gift sent from above, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the breath of God Himself, was bestowed upon each of them, granting them seven spiritual gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord (what is now more commonly known as wonder and awe). Each of these seven gifts helps their bearer to live a fruitful and meaningful life, doing good on this Earth just as Jesus did throughout His earthly life.
Wisdom allows us to recognize truth, to understand things from the point of view of God Himself. Understanding allows us to grasp the world around us and the points of view of others, as well as the truths of the Christian faith. Counsel helps us to discern right from wrong and make a good judgement as to how best to act. That is why it is also known as Right Judgement. Fortitude, or more simply courage, helps us to stand up for good and defend our world against evil. Knowledge allows us to understand our meaning, our purpose in the world, and to live up to it. Piety gives us a willingness to worship God and to serve Him and others out of love and the goodness of our own hearts. Finally, fear of the Lord, or wonder and awe, is the precursor to wisdom. It allows us to understand and comprehend the greatness, the awesomeness of the Lord and to understand who we are as human beings and why we are here in relation to God Himself. To put it another way, everything we are is a resultant of the wonder, grace, love, and perfection of God.
These gifts of the Holy Spirit are reflected in the way Christians live their lives. But the Anonymous Christian can also espouse similar ways of living, even to a greater degree than some Christians. They can also be witnesses to the gifts, and may be so inspired, so awestruck that they discover an urge, a desire in their heart, to learn more about the faith and come to allow God to enter their life and their heart, to subsequently watch as He works in His mysterious ways to transform their life, and to deepen their connection with Him.
The Christian faith is built upon a foundation of moral principles and values that many of us in the wider society likely share. You do not have to be a Christian to live by these principles and hold these values dear. These are values that make society a better place, that make the world a better place. They help us to live meaningful and purposeful lives, ones in which the potential of achieving fulfillment increases significantly. If more people live their lives according to these values, the world will be the better for it.
So, to all the Anonymous Christians out there, I want you to know that we see you, we see the good that you are doing, the good lives that you lead, and the positive energy you are putting out into the world. Even though you share the Christian values and principles, you may not wish to put a label on yourself just yet, and that is perfectly fine. But if you have an urge to learn more, to discover the faith and all it holds, then I would highly recommend you do so. It will likely be one of the best decisions you ever make and will surely be worthwhile. If you are seeking a stepping stone per se into the world of Christianity and the Bible, I highly recommend watching Jordan Peterson’s Biblical Series. It is quite well done and is a great starting place for those who have that urge to find out more. Peterson himself is a good example of an Anonymous Christian, given he lives by Christian values and principles. In his case, I think after all the lectures he has given of a Biblical nature, all that he has written on Christianity and the Bible, and all that he has been subject to in his own life, particularly over the last few years, he has come to a point where he is wrestling with God, and, at least from my perspective, is coming to a point where he is willing to accept God into his life. It is something that is clearly an emotional and incredibly reflective journey for him, as it is for many who come to discover God’s presence in their lives.
Peterson has helped many individuals who were wondering or who had no idea at all about the faith to come to begin to understand it and embark upon a journey of further investigation and understanding. Indeed, I would say it is almost certain his work has brought more people into the faith, that it has brought more people to God. And that is truly an incredible thing for any one man to accomplish. It shows just how much of an impact Anonymous Christians can have on those around them, and on the world itself. As a Catholic, I aspire to be able to do the same. But Anonymous Christians should know that they can have an incredible impact on the lives of others, and that should inspire them to continue forth on their path, and to embark upon their own journey of discovery and understanding of the faith. I hope that this series might serve to help you on that journey.
This is the Fifth Edition of a Series entitled Uncovering Christianity: Exploring the Roots of the West. This series explores the values and ideas originating from Christianity, looking back at Biblical times, and relating them to the modern world. There are central themes to each piece in this series, with key messages throughout to guide you in your own life. The series also looks at some of the threats to the roots of Western Civilization and discusses what can be done to placate them and protect the foundation of society. Keep an eye out for new series pieces each week.