I have a theory about non-Christians and former Christians. I believe that some of them, though of course certainly not all, are secretly, consciously Christian.
I believe this because of a teaching of Christ that I think of as the “spirituality of secrecy.” This is the teaching which shows up in the sermon on the mount, when Jesus says that we shouldn’t put ash on hair when we fast, shouldn’t announce our almsgiving with the sound of trumpets, shouldn’t pray on streetcorners but in closets.
A radical way to live out this teaching, a path that would require a depth of faith that I myself cannot imagine, would be to make oneself an apostate in the eyes of the world, while remaining fervently faithful in the secrecy of the heart.
This would be to embrace the life of the hypothetical just man of Plato’s Republic, who remains just even when any temporal advantages of righteousness (such as a good reputation or safety from the fate of lawbreakers) are removed. They would willingly accept that fate for themselves, as their Lord accepted a similar one.
I believe there are secret Christians, whose love of God is on a scale that most of us could never fathom. I believe the greatest saints are probably people whose names will never be known to the world, or who will if anything be known for their estrangement from the Christian community.
I will never know who those people are. I like to imagine that it is any person I know who rejects the label of Christian, or who embraces the label of bad Christian. But by definition, I’ll never find out in this life.
There are some Christian celebrities who exit the faith in a highly visible and public manner. Musicians, novelists, spiritual gurus. I have a few in mind as I write this. I can’t help but wonder if some of them might belong to this group, if the mixed motivations of being a professional Christian, a celebrity worshipper, pushed them to make a decision that would take away all motivations to pray except the purest one.