This comes up everywhere. The aversion of people to Christianity (not just generic theism) is uncanny. So often, a person may be on the edge of believing in god and the existence of genuine morals, but the stumbling block is Christianity. Some missionaries and evangelists have documented well that at times there can be an almost (or not so almost) demonic reaction to when you suddenly mention “Jesus”. That person changes before your eyes. A seed of hatred against the church and against God (Jehovah in particular this time) has been long ago planted and nourished in them.
Now perhaps their parents were professing Christians and were also abusive to them. Perhaps they have church horror stories in their past. Of course those all make sense, but what I’m talking about goes much deeper than any of those psychological explanations can provide for. Watchman Nee in his book Love Not the World deals with this and makes a convincing case that it’s our pal the devil (the “cosmocrator”, the ruler of this world) stirring up this particular brand of hatred from the inside out.
In Lewis’s demonic dialog, The Screwtape Letters, we find exactly this going on behind the scenes. Why? Because Lewis’s own journey to faith was hampered by his specific aversion to Christianity. He mentions this in his autobiography. For years he wrote off the wise advice of friends of his who were Christians, for no other reason. Even when he finally concluded that god must exist, he hung out in generic theism for a little over a year because, though it satisfied him intellectually, something in him was loth to finally give in to Jesus.
It’s a spiritual thing for sure. In academia it can occasionally masquerade as a purely intellectual thing. Here, Chesterton proposes a nice practical joke. You know this could work.
We should admire the subtlety of the Chinese view of life, which perceives that all human imperfection is in very truth of crying imperfection. We should admire the Chinese esoteric and superior wisdom, which said there are higher cosmic laws than the laws we know; we believe every common Indian conjurer who chooses to come to us and talk in the same style. If Christianity were only a new oriental fashion, it would never be reproached with being an old and oriental faith.
I do not propose to work what I believe would be a completely successful practical joke; that of telling the whole story of the Gospel and the whole history of the Church in a setting of pagodas and pigtails [dressing it up in a setting of far east antiquity]; and noting with malignant humour how much it was admired as a heathen story in the very quarters where it is condemned as a Christian story.
-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p.14
This reminds me of a story I heard in music school of a surly music composition professor with a taste for the avant garde. One of his students, no matter how hard he worked, could never achieve approval or a good grade. For a final project, (as a joke) he found a lesser-known piano sonata by Mozart and submitted it as his own composition. The professor ripped it apart and gave him poor marks, only to be found with a lot of egg on his face when the prank was revealed.
In several other places, I’ve written (mostly quoted) about how things like art and beauty can “fly under the radar” of this aversion to Christianity and reach them with the gospel. Evangelists have been trying to get around this thing for years. A note along those lines: Having a Guitar Hero party to tempt kids into coming to youth group likely doesn’t accomplish anything spiritually. But other things may. Perhaps a heavy dose of genuine love can break through it.