Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

1.12.05

We get the Christianity we want

I was reading blogs the other day (and you know what's coming this weekend if I'm reading blogs!) and I came upon this post about Stanley "Tookie" Williams and the celebrities who don't want him to fry. Tookie Williams, who founded the Crips in Los Angeles, seems like a scumbag, and I certainly don't care if he's in jail or not. I don't agree with the death penalty, but that's neither here nor there. I made this comment questioning whether people who want to execute Williams should call themselves Christian. This commenter mentioned that I shouldn't confuse forgiveness with consequences and wrote "Their is NOTHING wrong with advocating the Death Penalty for murderers from a Christian POV!!" Sorry for the exact quote - I just wanted to get snippy with the incorrect use of "their," the capitalization of "Death Penalty," and the use of two exclamation points. But it's still something to think about.

There are probably many people who call themselves Christian who think the death penalty is fine and dandy. There are many people who call themselves Christians who are pro-choice. In fact, the difference of opinion among Christians themselves as to what is correct for Christians means that "Christianity" doesn't exist.

Now, this is hardly a radical stand to take. Christianity has never been united in its belief system. In today's United States, it seems Christianity has become more politicized than ever, even though it always has been. But why do these Christians become politicized, when the Bible is pretty clear on matters of belief?

I would argue it's because that the Christianity we practice (by "we" I mean Americans, not me, since I'm not a Christian) is largely inherited and given to us. We inherit our morals, ethics, politics, and taste in entertainment from our parents and other members of our families. Why not our religion?

I don't mean to belittle anyone's religious beliefs. However, we are creatures of our upbringing, and religion is part of our upbringing. It's very difficult to break out of that, and if we do it in one aspect of our lives, we feel that we don't need to do it in the other parts of our lives, because of the difficulty. I've mentioned before why Christians shouldn't be involved in politics, and part of the reason for it, I think, is because it's hard to be a Christian. Most people are willing to go along with the sect of Christianity in which they were raised because it's easier. So their Christianity becomes informed by other aspects of their lives. If they are generally conservative, their Christianity becomes conservative and they think there's nothing wrong with pulling the switch on the electric chair. If they're generally liberal, their Christianity becomes liberal, and they think that welfare is a groovy idea. As you know, I'm pretty liberal, so I like the liberal idea of Christianity more, but that's not the point. The point is that you can find a sect that agrees with you. You don't have to change your attitude toward life and how the world works, because their is a church out there to validate your beliefs.

These sects themselves are the result of people not agreeing with each other in matters completely divorced from the spiritual. The Celtic Church and Roman Catholic Church disagreed in the seventh century over the dating of Easter. Yes, people got very angry about this. The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church had a lot of issues, but one of the biggest was over the word filioque, which means "and the Son." One stinkin' word drove groups of Christians into schism. I can't even tell you what the difference between Presbyterians and Methodists and Lutherans and Baptists and all those other Protestant sects. I know Presbyterians say "debts" instead of "trespasses" in the Lord's Prayer, but other than that, who knows? This is because groups of people objected to a small part of how the church was run, and split off on their own. It had nothing to do with the Christian ethos.

There are a few problems with Christianity, as opposed to the two other great monotheistic religions. First, Judaism is much more an inherited religion than Christianity was supposed to be. It grew out of a pact with God, and it was made with a specific group of people. Those are the only people who are supposed to be Jews - Judaism has never been about converts. Now, we can ignore the fact that the pact with God may never have occurred and that, according to at least one book, most of the Jews in the world today aren't descended from the original ones of the Bible. The point is what kind of religion it is. Islam is much more like Christianity than Judaism, but still not completely similar. It also has the advantage of being largely monolithic - there's the split between Sunni and Shia, of course, but the Shiites are still a big minority within the religion. It's a younger religion, of course, and if they follow the timeline of Christianity, Muslims are about ready for a Reformation of their own. But that's not the point, either. The point is most Muslims are raised in a stable, Muslim, somewhat Arabicized (even for non-Arabs), conservative tradition. That's a horrible generalization, of course, and I'm not a Muslim scholar, but for my current purposes, I think it's valid.

Christianity is different from Judaism and even Islam because it is a revealed religion. There's one law: believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died and was resurrected for our sins. That's it. If you confess that, you're a Christian. It does not matter what racial or ethnic group you belong to, nor what religion your parents follow. It's inclusive in a way that Judaism and Islam are not, not because they don't want to be, but because, unlike Christianity, it's not part of their mission to convert people. If people want to convert, that's great, but it's not a huge part of the mission statement.

As it is a revealed religion, Christianity demands quite a bit out of its followers, and, as I mentioned in my previous post on Christians in politics, a lot of self-professed Christians are not up to the task. Again, I don't mean to offend anyone, but Christianity is hard. The reason I don't call myself a Christian is not because I wasn't raised that way - I went to Sunday School almost every Sunday, went to youth group when I got older, joined the Warminster Presbyterian Church (all roads lead to it, according to the map) when I was 13, and had a wonderful time through it all. But I was going through the motions because I was being raised in the Presbyterian tradition. To be a Christian, I believe, you need to have a profound mystical experience, where you ask Jesus into your life and he actually shows up. I've never felt the need to ask Jesus into my life, and he certainly hasn't struck me blind on any road to Damascus. I certainly could go to church and profess my devotion to the Christian ethos if I wanted to, and I would live my life according to the precepts of the New Testament, but I'm not sure if I would change the way I felt about, say, abortion simply because I became a Christian. But Christianity is a life-altering event, and you should rethink your entire way of looking at the world. You should be unrecognizabale to your friends and families who aren't Christian. I believe Jesus said something to that effect.

This is a tough topic to deal with, because I truly believe that there are many, many people calling themselves Christian in this world who aren't, and as we know from our mothers, you don't discuss religion and politics because people take them so very seriously. Maybe I'm off base with how Christianity is supposed to work. I don't know. I do know that people who haven't had that mystical experience but follow the rules set out by Jesus (but not Paul, whom I've never liked) are probably living a better life than I am. Who knows. I just find it interesting that it seems like when people speak of "Christian" ideas, they are remarkably close to conservative or liberal policies that they espouse without bringing religion into it at all. They can find a pastor who says abortion is fine, or gay marriage is an affront to God, or the death penalty should be used on all non-believers, or that we should all be environmentalists, or that we should rape the Earth because Judgment Day is at hand. Yet they all call themselves Christians. So who's right? When I'm dictator, I'll be right, of course, but until then, we'll have to muddle through.

6 Comments:

Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

I don't have time to fully disect your treatise, but it's been my experience that there are a lot of movement at least within that broad faith of Christianity. I know lots of lapsed Catholics who are Methodists (or Unitarianians and I'm not not going to parse that particular strain.)

In any case, I think those of who are not literalist believers of the Word believe that the Bible is an evolving document. Otherwise, why read it again and again in the liturgy? I participated in a fascinating study of a book, and though it was not on the page, it (and the ensuing discussion) informed how we should look at rebuilding New Orleans and global warming and all sorts of stuff that wasn't in the original text but that we need to address in our modern lives.

I agree that Christianity is hard, but not because you need a mystical experience. It's hard because you have to keep thinking, not just repeating scripture as though it were dogma.

2/12/05 3:09 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

Greg, I think the big mistake you make is that you are trying to figure out something that doesn't make sense. Beliefs are not science and logic is not required, which is why religion is such a great platform for any loony to jump up and take a stand on. If you take all this seriously you may go mad. Leave the witch-doctors alone.

2/12/05 6:48 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

But the problem is, Roger, that most people do read it as dogma. I think one of the interesting things about any religion is that fact that not everything is in the holy book(s) and we need to think. But most people don't want that.

And we have to take it seriously, Gary, even if we admit that it's not logical. Religion is a powerful force in today's world, for better or worse, and I continue to find it fascinating.

2/12/05 7:34 PM  
Blogger Ashley said...

This is exactly what drew me to reading your blog in the first place.

I feel better when I read your thoughts on this subject because I know I am not the only person with these kinds of thoughts about Christianity and religion.

I live in a very political, very red state and the current trend of blending Republican politics with a new brand of extreme "Christianity" - where charity is whatever the givers say it is, where the haves never mingle with the have-nots (unless it's the haves giving the have-nots a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, and the New Testament after their home was destroyed by a hurricane/flood), and where Jesus speaks directly to pastors who drive Maseratis and attend $2000 a plate fundraisers for Tom Delay is not only unsettling, but unChristian.

3/12/05 12:43 PM  
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