Friday, November 19, 2010

Who's a Christian?

Comments regarding my last post unwittingly makes me think about what makes a "real" Christian and if it's really up to us to decide who is one and who is not one.

I've been watching/catching up with "The Tudors" lately (highly recommended) and taking issue with characters in the show who claim to know God's will. How can they decide, and how can we say they are wrong if we, too, claim to have our own version (as believers or agnostics)?

Regarding an alleged (by the show) Papal-authorized plot to kill Anne Boleyn, from a representative of the Pope to the assassin: "Angels will praise you as you enter heaven if you kill this whore."

Christian? They would certainly think so. And who would we be to question that in a religiously motivated sense--they were protecting the Church and its people. This powerful woman to-be threatened the church. Others rebelled, sure, but Henry's royal move would be too influential, too revolutionary, take too many from the flock. To kill Anne would be no different than God telling Nephi to kill Laban because "it's best that one dies to spare many." Every denomination has its own rationalizations that it would make.

See also: Abraham and Isaac.

I'm loathe to judge who is and who is not Christian because it really does depend on one's definition of "Christian" and I think it's a bit more complex than "A follower of Jesus" let alone "duh his name is included in the name of our church" or even "duh we include the Bible in our canon."

I know few people I'd consider "Christian" but again it's subjective to what I consider Christian. I like quiet people who live their faith and don't shove it in my face and who follow the more difficult examples of Christ as written in the Bible. Then again, some very close people to me to not do this, and I would never take their self-description of "Christian" away from them.

That said, their actions bug the shit out of me and I'm not entirely comfortable with their method of worship and active fear-mongering, all in the name of saving the otherwise damned. All in the name of being Christian.

But that's how they interpret the Bible. This is how they define "Christian."

The Mormons: genuinely nice people but incredibly, as Cognitive Dissenter put it, ethnocentric. Some of you will O_o at our use of the word, but it really is descriptive enough.

Unlike mainstream Christianity which effectively separates spirituality and reality of how one conducts their behavior and lives, Mormons are more active, assuring themselves and others that they are followers of Christ--faith, yes, but works are required to prove that faith.

It doesn't necessarily work, but this is how they interpret scripture. This is how they define (true) "Christian."

Back in the days when King Henry VIII broke off with the Catholic church the Catholics decided who was Christian and who was not. Even Henry did--and both by the sword. And what authority did they have? The authority they and tradition gave them, an authority they abused to absurd lengths and continue to abuse. But they believed it with all their hearts. It was genuine. They had the truth, it was irrefutable (though one could also argue it was a matter of power making for quite the insatiable hunger)

This is how they interpreted the faith. This is how they defined "Christian."

Some churches accept gay parishioners and even openly gay clergy, saying God would accept, that it's totally okay while others demand it's an abomination--against God, nature, and scripture.

Others disagree on women in the church by way of participation and leadership. Women will be in submission, they will be silent. Until 30 or so years ago women were not allowed to give a public prayer in an LDS service. You think other churches even today don't disagree with that? Speak with a Jehovah's Witness. Find an especially conservative or orthodox church.

This is how they interpret scripture. This is how they define "Christian."

There are various versions of the Bible floating around--even the Book of Mormon (see Reformed LDS). They act accordingly. This is what they believe. They is how they honestly define "Christian."

Are they any different than those cults with leaders who literally get their followers to live on communes and drink the kool-aid (that's not just a saying, in case you didn't know)? Any different than Westboro Baptist Church? Of course they're evil bastards, but they read scripture differently and interpret "Christian" another way.

I could go on, but in the end here is my point:

Anyone and everyone has and will say they have whatever authority to determine who is a "real" Christian and who is not and what actions prove such an affiliation. The interpretation is based on individual and collective experience and knowledge--even personality and culture. History.

Too many factors make deciding who is right and who is Christian far too beyond our reach, yet we insist upon it. We insist upon it, also, given only what we know: a book of scripture canonized by a circle of men with their own perceptions and motivations, including political ones. We insist upon it even though what we have is minimal. We insist upon it even though much of what is in the Bible is hearsay. We act as mind-readers. We accept and reject--all of us. We know nothing except what we have, and I don't think this is wrong because we cannot help what we do not know (to a certain degree) by way of Biblical history--we can only act on what we know, but we cannot act as if it is all we need to know. We should at least qualify it, which some do! but not nearly enough.

I just read a quote on my reader that resonated with me with regard to this post. The speaker is Jack Pryor (random dude on FB quoted by my feed):

Taking a set of facts and forming an opinion is alright; taking a set of opinions and forming a fact is dishonest...

Who is and who is not Christian strikes me as more opinion than fact. Is it analogous to who is a "Real" American and who is not? It gets dicey because it becomes and is a matter of condemning or condoning ones morality, and being a good person shouldn't be and isn't an exclusive trait of Christianity.



  1. I venture that the bottom-line definition of Christianity is "a person who follows Christ as their deity". However, I also venture that this does not fly with most Christian sects. I think your analogy to "Real Americans" is right on; most Christians I've known have been dead sure that other people who claim themselves as Christian definitely aren't because they do/don't do____________.

    My stepdad soured me on the use of the word "Christian" to describe anyone I don't personally know, since he is inclined to say that people he approves of are "good Christians". WTF does that even mean? Why is no one he approves of a "good Buddhist" or "good Muslim"? OH I FORGOT because those religions are NOT good.

  2. I've heard Christians defined as people who accept Christ's sacrifice and believe that it is all that is needed for them to be saved. I remember as a TBM, saying "OMG, I like totally can't believe that people could just say 'I accept Jesus' sacrifice and I'm saved'". Nowadays, it sounds a lot better to me than, "Kill yourself trying to follow these fifty bajillion rules and then maybe Jesus' sacrifice will make up for that tiny amount of imperfect that you are."

  3. Diana: Not in this country, that's for sure.

    Becky: It is simplistic, but it was one of the things that drove me from my father's church and attracted me to the LDS one. I couldn't and still can't really stand those who profess a faith and yet don't apply it to their lives in a personal sense claiming "yeah I'm good anyways so fuck you [insert bigoted, sexist, xenophobic or otherwise racist insult here]" Cop out city.

    Yet now after killing myself as the LDS faith requires, I find that doesn't work either. I am not willing to sacrifice my own happiness in order to please someone I know little about because SOMEONE claims direct authority despite occasional and convenient hard-of-hearing. But I do like many of Christ's philosophies and try to incorporate them into my life--just like I do with anyone I agree with and admire.

    That doesn't make me Christian, though. In that way I do believe that the heart of what "Christian" means is a profession of loyalty and lack of worth to that of the perfection of Jesus Christ as my "savior." But who was Jesus Christ? There are many opinions and we are all, I think, cafeteria followers of this man. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Necessarily.

    I don't really consider myself Christian any longer (in part because I don't know that he lived or was divine or whatever, and in part because I don't believe you have to take upon yourself the title of "Christian" to be saved), but fuck--can't there be a happy medium?

    I just want to live my life the best I know how without someone breathing down my neck and making me feel like shit. I do enough of that on my own, thx.

    But this whole "you're not a real christian" bullshit just strikes me as entirely too arrogant for my tastes, so I don't think I'll include myself in the exchange anymore.

    Dishonest, evil, bad, good, moral: sure. Even then, morality is in part based on how a person lives according to what they believe, no?

  4. This makes me think of the line from the Woody Allen film, "If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up." Great post, Lisa. I am continually amazed by how easily you fire off these incredibly eloquent musings so quickly.

  5. It's always been interesting to me that the question of "who are the real Christians?" is even a debate. But -- and don't we know it -- Jesus sells. That's why Mitt Romney is trying to convince voters that his religion is part of the Christian mainstream. (He doesn't say anything about the all being an abomination as per his own scriptures -- shsh!)

    That's why Mormon missionaries use Jesus and "We're just like other Christians, just better!" to get in their toes in the door.

    That's why LDS Inc.'s logo emphasizes JESUS CHRIST over all other words. Jesus is a huge selling point and they exploit him in their marketing strategies all the time.

    A few members act like they really do believe in and follow him. However, most in my experience act a lot more like scribe, pharisees, and hypocrites.

  6. oops. "the" should be "them", first paragraph, last sentence. I really need to proofread more.

  7. Donna: *blush* Thank you :)

    CD: I think you may be on to something. Your comments brought to mind the "History of the Church" (cough) as presented in the BoM.

    Joseph Smith--History 1:5
    Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

    Seems to me the Church is now part of this.

    But then the official lds scriptures page offered THIS as a cross-reference:

    Matthew 24:23
    23 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.

    Context! I know, but still bahahaha!