“No True Christian Would Do That…”

Sometimes people who call themselves Christians do something morally wrong; even hateful or cruel. And not only do they do this, but they do it ostensibly in the name of Jesus. They will, for example, treat a perceived “sinner” badly while explicitly invoking God, quoting the Bible, and frequently even referencing Jesus’s offer of salvation, etc. When others condemn these putative Christians’ behavior, sometimes others will say something like “Those are not real Christians.” And usually they will explain that Jesus told his followers to love, but these people are not loving, ergo they are not real followers of Jesus and, so, not real Christians.

Of course it is not just Christians who do this. A lot of groups trying to influence others to join them can be found saying similar things as a tactic for distancing themselves from appalling or embarrassing members of their group who do things they don’t approve of. We will just representatively use Christians for specificity and because they’re the ones most often saying this to me and I would like a handy reply I can point them to. (Hello there, Christian reading this because I linked you here! Have a seat! Make yourself comfortable!)

There are some good things I think that Christians are aiming at when they say “That’s not a real Christian” and yet some really problematic things too.

Before we explore both we need to make some huge, important distinctions. With all groups that are built around beliefs and values there is a difference between the real world thoughts and practices, historically, contemporarily, and across the individual members and observable subgroups of the overall group–both historically and contemporarily. According to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, there are presently around 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. And not only have there been many more Christian sects over the previous 2,000 years of the religion’s existence, but even the denominations that exist today have taken substantially different forms of believing, behaving, worshipping, and judging as they have existed in any number of different times and places. If we are being merely descriptive, the Christian church historically has comprised billions of people. And Christians, even on the account of most forms of Christianity I am familiar with, are imperfect people. And so not only can their beliefs and values differ widely, but their behavior in any given instance might often not even live up to their own standards, according to their own interpretations of their faith.

Maybe some Christians want to claim that Christianity is only for perfect people or people who agree with them perfectly, such that any Christian who, on their perception, does something wrong should not be called a Christian. But that’s not for an outsider to decide. We can, quite fairly, say anyone who believes some minimum constellation of identifiably Christian things and self-identifies as a Christian qualifies to be considered a possible permutation of a Christian.

Now, the other thing someone might be saying when they say someone behaving or thinking immorally is not actually a Christian is that they do not represent the ideal values or beliefs that Christianity should be understood as teaching. This could mean several things, but I think each of them has a claim something like the following at its core: “Christianity, when rightly understood, does not teach people to believe or value in the ways this person does, therefore the faith should not be assessed as false or bad on account of this person’s behavior. Since a right understanding of the faith does not teach people to act in this way, it should not be rejected on account of people who act in this way.”

This claim about the “right” interpretation of the faith might be interpreted one of (at least) two ways. On the one hand, it might be an attempt to say not only that this is the right interpretation of the faith but it is the one usually promulgated or, at least, the one consistently taught by those churches with true claim to be Christian, etc. On the other hand, reformers might acknowledge that something they’re saying should be understood to be a Christian belief or value judgment historically has failed to be recognized by the church but nonetheless clearly can now be seen to be given what we have since learned.

Since traditions are living things, I have no problem in principle with people wanting to argue for better, more humane, more rational understandings of their faith, which take into account modern realities, modern learning, and advances in moral values. While I reject faith-based believing in principle, if someone is going to be a part of a faith, it is always far preferable to me that their beliefs at least be interpreted in a way that is more consistent with reality and with objectively defensible good than not.

So, when I see a Christian repudiate something that I think is evil as not really Christianity, I am at least grateful that they are making a gesture of distancing themselves from that action. And when they are trying to disown Christians who have repugnant values or behaviors as not really Christians at all, again, I appreciate the impulse. I think it’s a good sign. It tends towards a good thing–the improvement of their faith. It also means that maybe there can be fractures in their faith where those with improving understandings and values might start renouncing their affiliations with those who make their faiths stagnant and regressive.

For centuries, given the hegemonic power of Christianity in the West, our moral and intellectual progress has depended on a Christian majority finding ways to reinterpret its faith to assimilate new findings of fact and new advances in values. If we depended on people becoming atheists in order to morally or intellectually progress, we would still be stuck in the Dark Ages. So, insofar as “those are not really Christians” means “we are working to make it so no Christian will promote that kind of behavior”, I am grateful and hopeful.

But that’s not all “Those are not really Christians” means. And the other meanings of the phrase need to be taken seriously and Christians who want to clean up their faith by distancing themselves from bad people, values, and beliefs within their faith need to be more conscientious and find another way of indicating that that’s what they’re up to.

When you say, “Those are not really Christians”, a lot of critics justifiably worry about several things.

For one thing, whereas within the Christian faith saying “That’s not Christian” effectively means “that’s bad”, it’s not that way outside the faith. It is a bit of Christian privilege to assume that calling something unChristian means calling it bad itself. That assumes that everyone shares Christianity as the standard of good and bad. That means you’re not being self-aware that to outsiders Christians are just members of a particular group among others, and that their values and behaviors are open to question and their faith has to prove itself in practice by more general ethical standards rather than just assert itself as the ultimate standard that can never itself be at fault for wrongdoing or challenged on account of bad Christians’ behaviors.

In this context, if you say “those are not really Christians” it sounds like you are unwilling to take responsibility for the historical and contemporary problems with your faith. It is healthy to think in terms of some corporate solidarity when belonging to a group. All belief-based (including the non-belief-based) groups have characteristic vices. All groups, no matter how noble their intentions, have temptations to certain kinds of flaws and develop cultures that create or reinforce some bad habits. Responsible group members are alert to this and are conscientious reformers. They refuse to become intellectually and morally idle and let the brain’s natural cognitive biases towards idealizing members of their own group and denigrating people outside their group blind them. They are proactive about engaging in critical self-assessment. They study and own up to the mistakes of their group’s past and work on tangibly improving things. They don’t send the message that when they see the bad behavior of group members they think, “Well, am not like that, so it’s not a problem!” It is a problem and they acknowledge it.

They also don’t defensively say things like, “Well Christians are not perfect, we’re only forgiven sinners”. Because that just sends the message to outsiders that in their minds “being a Christian means never having to say you’re sorry.” Even if you believe God’s forgiven you, that doesn’t mean anyone else has to. You have to seek forgiveness from those you harm separately. Good people take responsibility for themselves and their associates (at least to the point of being able to offer apologies for them when they hurt people). They don’t claim for themselves a “Get out of remorse free” card and wave it in outsiders’ faces.

They are also aware of the danger of overreacting to the stereotyping they are receiving. When someone from a group does something wrong its enemies, thanks to their own in-group/out-group biased brains will say “See! That’s what they’re all like!” because it’s easy to demonize the Other and to see no differences between them. But it’s not any better to correct that slanderous mistake by going to the opposite extreme and saying essentially, “No, none of us are or could ever be really like that at all! That person’s a fake!” We need to have nuanced and sensitive discussions that acknowledge no groups are perfect but then assess, case by case, just how representative each bad actor is of his group in fact and just how likely belief and value statements associated with the group might account for the behavior, and how representative the motivating beliefs and values gained from the group are of the wider group’s beliefs and values, etc., etc. Neither “they’re all like that” nor “none of us are like that” are at all true in the vast majority of cases.

So, when someone points out Christians behaving badly either today or in the past, the morally conscientious Christian says, “Yes, the people in my faith have screwed up unconscionably at various points in history. We even have some temptations that seem to afflict us worse than others. I am willing to call these things out wherever I see them in myself or in others in the church. I am committed to not replicating the past and I assure you I regularly have these conversations with my fellow believers when I see them falling into patterns of thought and practice that have dragged the church down into sin in the past. But I still think my faith can be vindicated as true and good. Let me explain to you how I interpret the ideals and the teachings of my faith and why, and I think these values and beliefs can stand up to scrutiny, even if the people of the church cannot always.” That kind of display of responsibility and humility is consistent with the Christian still asserting a commitment to principled beliefs and values. And it can easily serve as the opening to a constructive discussion.

The other problem with saying “Those are not really Christians” when Christians behave badly is deeper and more theologically engrained in many Christians. This problem is with falsifiability. A “falsifiable” claim is one that could theoretically be shown false. Hopefully everyone can see that when someone claiming to be a psychic makes predictions that are so vague that they can never be exactly proven wrong, they’re cheating. It’s the same way with Christianity. Christians, when you make huge claims about the transformative power of Jesus but then rationalize every terrible thing actual Christians do by just saying “Those are not really Christians” you are being really slippery. When we regularly find that any given Christian is in fact no morally better or worse than any non-Christian, Christianity seems to make no essential difference.

When Christians claim their every good deed as “the work of Christ” and every bad deed as “their sinful nature” there is no observable difference between a normal person’s propensities to do good and bad. There is no proof that anything different is going on than with non-Christians in making the good happen or the bad. And when Christians talk about the True Invisible Church of people really saved and the Merely Apparent Church of people which is filled with people both genuinely saved and people who only seem to be so, this is laughably transparent. Every time someone turns out to be good, they were really a Christian. Every time they turn out to be bad, they only appeared to be one. In that case, becoming a Christian and spreading Christianity cannot be expected to actually improve people in the main. There will still be just as many bad people. We’ll just now call them “not real Christians”. What in the world is the difference then? Where is the evidence that anything supernaturally different about people thanks to Christianity and the gift of the Holy Spirit?

And, further, you cannot try to prove your faith by how much it improves people but then ignore all the ways that not only do Christians wind up making the same mistakes as everyone else but many Christians have certain bad behaviors that are either created or exacerbated by their interpretations of their faith themselves. When Christians have hateful ideas or obnoxious behaviors that are distinctly traceable to their interpretation of the Bible or to their overzealous desire to make others Christians, you cannot get away with saying “Those are not really Christians”. And you cannot so easily evade the question, “If Christianity is supposed to make people better why does it regularly make people worse in distinctively Christian ways?”

And it’s not just people who put the Christian religion over a relationship with Jesus. It happens with people who are very piously devoted to Jesus himself. So, why do people who explicitly and fervently pray to Jesus constantly for his will and guidance wind up not only doing and thinking terrible things anyway but coming away from all that prayer and service to God convinced that it is God who wants those things from them. It is one thing to say that Christians are just fallible people like anyone else and so make mistakes. But how is it that a perfectly loving and omnipotent God would let precisely the people who desperately beseech him for guidance go so wrong in precisely those matters of morals and beliefs that they pray to him about so fiercely?

Your Thoughts?

Related Posts:

“You Must Have Mistakenly Left The Perfect Christ Because The Fallible Church Hurt You”

“True” Christianity?

True Religion?

Why I Criticize My Fellow Atheists

4 Mistakes You Make When You Talk About Islam

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • SocraticGadfly

    There’s one other issue. The Xns who say “those aren’t true Xns” may themselves not be considered true Xns by the fundamentalist types, and these more liberal Xns usually don’t address that.

    • Liralen

      Another obvious answer. Christians don’t all agree.

      What more do you want?

  • Laurent Weppe

    Do you know Tartuffe? The thing about this character from Molière’s eponymous play is that he is Not a self-righteous bigot: he’s a charlatan who wears his apparent bigotry like a mask: call Tartuffe a “Christian”, and you’re already his unwitting accomplice. Which was of course Molière’s whole point: religious devotion can be faked, and the wise thing to do is to not believe in the sincerity of excessive displays of religious devotion.

    Take for instance the parasitic monetization of evangelical tribalism: when an act is so transparantly motivated by one’s selfish quest for a lavish rent, it is ludicrous to give the people who devoted their carreer to the many lies of the religious right the benefit of the doubt and play along with their charade. Sincerely devout Christians have every right to reject imposters’ pretension to religious devotion; sincerely devout religious people in general have every right to refuse to play along the religious hucksters

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Sure, if they have evidence a specific person is a huckster, they can call that out. But to blanketly attribute every Christian hatred, hypocrisy, or general obnoxious expression of their beliefs or values to their “not being real Christians” is an evasion of numerous serious problems I discussed above. There are some things that Christians believed for centuries that today might get called “not truly Christian”. Are we to believe everyone was a fraud for centuries? Hardly.

    • JohnH2

      “Are we to believe everyone was a fraud for centuries?”

      An extremely large portion of the thousands of Christians sects that exist today are premised on the Christian leadership during at least part of the two thousand years having gone astray and/or being frauds. One can hardly blame the average Christian during whatever part of that time is in question as for most of that time the average Christian had minimal access to what the majority of those sects consider to be vital towards having a correct understanding of Christianity.

      Besides which, the average priest or monk had no say in the greater actions of the church where a large portion of the atrocities were happening. A priest that spent his life trying to convert Cathars and formed an order premised on attempting to be more pure than the Cathars in order to be able to convert them can’t be blamed for the crusade against the Cathars, nor can the Christians in most of Christendom whose only knowledge of the Cathars was what was given out of Rome (if at all). Usually even those that condemn the Christian church of that period for its actions are still willing to admit that Saint Dominic or Saint Francis of Assisi were not frauds but attempted to be true followers of Christ.

    • UnfortunateConflictOfEvidence

      And yet, Christianity has been successfully used for a variety of morally reprehensible purposes for more than a millennium. Are all these things that use Christianity as a justification really non-Christian, or are they simply revealing a side of things that people just don’t like to admit exist in their tiny, perfect world of faith? Do you really think that the Crusades would have happened if there weren’t thousands of people who were willing to swallow any pill their spiritual leaders gave them because it was “the will of god?” That every single protester who attacks abortion doctors and clinics, or flies planes into buildings on suicide missions (yes, I do digress into Islam) does it purely to promote their own selfish agenda rather than out of some deep-rooted belief that their god wants them to do this? People use verses straight out of the Bible (or other holy book) itself, the supposed holy
      book(s) straight from the word of god, to support their causes. They use direct quotations from what are supposedly god’s teachings to justify the spread of hate and death. These passages have been in there for over a thousand years, just waiting for someone to walk by. Are modern Christians, or any theists, truly blameless for endorsing what is really just an ancient cult founded on these philosophies? Yes, there are good men who do good things in Christianity, but that can be said with literally any idea, anywhere, ever. Atheism, Hinduism, Islam, socialism, capitalism, electricity, nuclear power, marshmallows and fluffy bunnies. There are also bad people doing bad things with it, and bad people doing good things with it, and even good people doing bad things with it. And if “true” Christianity teaches only love and joy and happy little rainbows, then where the hell do people get all these mean, nasty, unpleasant things to pull out of it and wave in our faces?

  • Croquet_Player

    In the comments on HuffPo on discrimination against atheists, after I provided
    evidence of same Noproblematall just wrote to me: “No harm has been
    done. You atheist should know your place.”

    Seriously. What a great example of a Christian.


  • Little_Magpie

    The thing I am thinking is that “Xians aren’t perfect, just forgiven sinners” is one thing as an excuse for Xian individuals acting badly _as individuals_, for instance reprehensible sexual improprieties*… and I’m not saying it’s a valid excuse, or that sin and supposed redemption with God is a get out of jail free card for doing those things, but at least it’s the right… i don’t know, field of action? But it doesn’t remotely cover those who act horribly _in the name of (their flavour of) Xianity._

    * Yeah, I know it’s often hypocritical, they say don’t have sex before/outside marriage, don’t have gay sex, etc, because Fire Brimstone Hell Evil, and then get caught doing exactly that… but that’s hypocrisy, not living up to one’s own teachings, and having a personal moral failing. But they’re not claiming they’re doing it because of their religion, rather in spite of their religion’s tenets.

    But those who cause harm because of their religion, in the name of their religion, whether that’s on the huge scale of religious wars, crusades, and Inquisitions, or on the smaller scale of forcing children into ex-gay therapy and countless other examples, I think it IS valid to call religion to task for it. With the understanding, as Dan and others point out, that there are so many different denominations w/in Xianity that actions that we as skeptics consider harmful, and (for instance) ultraconservative Evangelicals frame as being done in the name of their faith, ARE compatible with their interpretation of Xianity, which progressive Christians find utterly incompatible and abhorrent to their interpretation. And “No True Christian Would Do That” is trying to avoid having themselves, and the name of Xianity, in their opinion – tarred with that same brush.

    It’s understandable, but it’s not really the most helpful way of phrasing it. Something along the lines of “they claim to be doing this is the name of Christianity, and I think it’s horrible and I think that’s not what Christianity is about,” … and possibly even “XYZ is what I think Christianity is about and therefore that’s why I think ABC, which others claim to be doing in the name of Christianity, is not Christian by the way I define it.” And, “just because those others say they are doing horrible ABC thing because of Xianity, please don’t judge everyone who identifies as Christian as being reprehensible, malevolent (insert your favourite swear word noun here), and please don’t reject the message of the Gospel because some people are using it in this horrible way.”

    But then, that’s a mouthful and doesn’t make a good soundbite.

    • Little_Magpie

      PS sorry for the wall o’ text, folks. Clearly I’m having one of those “running on at the keyboard” kind of nights. :)

    • Baby_Raptor

      I’ve heard people say that. My response is always “I don’t reject Christianity because some people use it badly. I reject Christianity because the Christian god refuses to stop the shit people do in his name.”

      Never gotten a solid answer.

    • Little_Magpie

      yep… good response, there.

    • Liralen

      Just for the record, I assumed that your point was rhetorical and that you really aren’t interested in long winded explanations about free will, because you already understand it (fellow Slacktivite, so familiar with your viewpoints, which seem intelligent).

      If I’m wrong, I’ll give it a shot, but not being a man, I’m not comfortable with man-splaining the obvious.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Hi, fellow Slacktivite! I thought your name looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure from where.

      If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear what you have to say. I have my views, but A) I’m always open to being wrong and B) This is something that I’ve been looking for a real answer to, so input is awesome.

    • Liralen

      Cool! Thanks much for easing my man-splaining fears so graciously. ;)

      First, some caveats. I wasn’t raised Christian, which means not only was I not taught any doctrine, I’m dubious of it. It also means that when I read the Bible, I come away with a completely different interpretation sometimes than my Calvinist (a fundamentalist branch) raised husband was taught to believe (and now rejects, although Calvinism isn’t all bad, but is the consequence of their all or nothing approach). So what I’m about to say is in no way canon.

      Another caveat – when I say “I believe”, I say it specifically to mean that I don’t mean the statement is provable in any way. Although I probably don’t say it as often as I should. It’s not my intention to convince you of anything, but rather my goal is to simply explain how I got where I am.

      When I get bored, I play thought experiments in my head, one of which was how would I go about writing an artificial intelligence program, something along the lines of a talking head in a computer, like Max Headroom, but a bit saner. Something that you could hold a conversation with, which would then learn words as you talked to it.

      I decided that a basic part of the program would need to be comprised of basic motivations, and so I pondered “What should drive this computer generated brain?” I decided that the basic motivation is to keep you talking to it, and that it should learn from its failures. I thought that maybe somehow this would simulate the survival instinct that is at the core of many of our motivations.

      At some point I realized, if there was a God (I was an agnostic then), it would desire the same things from its creations that I wanted my program to achieve. It wouldn’t be interesting at all if I simply programmed it to say things that I had pre-recorded it to say. I wanted it to be able to think for itself and to say interesting things to me. It wouldn’t be interesting at all if it simply regurgitated pre-programmed things to say, no matter how artfully I set up conditional routines (If this, then do…).

      TL;DR: I believed if there is a God, there is a good chance that it would want the same things from us that we seek from artificial intelligence. “Companions the creator seeks…” (Shameless apple to our Nietzschean host. Edited out “Nietzsche loving” since the term “loving” has a negative connotation I did not intend. Very sad, that.)

      I believe it would want us to have free will or we’d be as interesting as a toaster.

      I believe if we have free will, our free will is invalidated if God directly intervened to stop us each time we did something wrong. The Three Laws of Robotics is a necessary engineering safety switch, but it insures that the machine remains a machine that lacks agency. To a certain extent, we have them – compassion, empathy, love, etc. But if we predictably responded to these governors like Asimov’s robots did to The Three Laws of Robotics, it would result in similar conundrums that were the basis of conflict in most of Asimov’s robot stories.

      And we’d only be robots. I believe God wants more from us than that. “Companions, the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers. Fellow creators, the creator seeks—those who write new values on new tablets.” Nietzsche, Thus Sprake Zarathustra.

      And so I believe God gave us free rein, for good or ill. (and yes, I’m aware that Nietzsche didn’t mean for it being taken this way, nor do I, precisely. It’s just very poetic and pleasing language that conveys essence.)

    • Liralen

      I’ve edited the above heavily, primarily in attempts to make it more clear, but one point that was not stated in the above, is that, although it may not seem like it sometimes, the good are winning.

  • JohnH2

    I don’t own up to the Lord’s Resistence Army any more then they own up to the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I don’t own up to the Extermination Order any more then I own up to the Inquisition any more then I own up to the crusade against the Cathars any more then anyone of a group which should own up to those things owns up to blacks not receiving the priesthood in my church from Brigham Young until 1978. I don’t own up to the ideas and culture which spawned Westboro Bapist Church any more then they own up to the ideas and culture which spawned multilevel marketing schemes and large amounts of neuroticism.

    Trying to blame the Donatists for Augustine’s actions doesn’t make a bit of sense; the Donatists would be quite justified in calling Augustine as not a true Christian, even while admitting that Augustine is part of a Christian sect. To be a Christian is to claim to be a follower of Christ and to say ‘no true christian would do that’ is to say ‘no true follower of Christ would do that’ without saying a thing about their belief state.

    Of course, regardless of whatever actions I take within my faith the majority of Christianity considers me to be not a true Christian because of my beliefs.

    • John Smith

      Yes, JohnH2, it’s no fault of yours that your beliefs are based entirely on a highly imaginative scam perpetrated by a known huckster less than 200 years ago. But I guess what you’re trying to say is that the perpetrators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre were “no true Mormons.”

    • JohnH2

      Nope, sorry, they were bad Mormons that is for sure and some were excommunicated for it but they were acting under rational fears with what they thought was good evidence and under an incorrect understanding of a certain subject. They did over react and did commit a horrible atrocity, but they were certainly Mormon.

    • UnfortunateConflictOfEvidence

      And there you point out the problem with your own argument. Who gets to judge who is a “true Christian?” Is it you? Are you claiming the title of Judge of All Truth for yourself? I don’t think so, or at least I hope not. Or is it the homeless man down the street? Is it your next-door neighbor? Obama? Romney? The Pope? Sarah Palin? Why do you get to label someone else as not a “true Christian?”
      For all we know, Jesus may have been a massive jerk with a great PR department. All we have is the Bible, not a scrap of Roman records, and most of the people that others call “not true Christians” are pulling their quotes and justifications straight out of it. If you took your teachings out of the Bible, rather than mixing them with modern common decency, you might be inclined to stone people to death yourself. Who is Christ? He is a character in an ancient book. What are his teachings? It depends what part of the book you look in. You are just as likely to not be a true follower of Christ as the people who storm abortion clinics and have sex with children, and yet you have decided what a true follower of Christ would or would not do. There is no high horse in Christianity, just a justification for thinking that you’re on one. Admittedly, I like your imaginary horse far better than many others, but when you ride around on it you look just as foolish.

    • JohnH2

      “Who gets to judge who is a “true Christian?””

      A church or communion or community of faith gets to decide who are members of that community. Christianity as whole though is more complicated as there aren’t specific set rules (unless you believe in Ecumenical councils, but then what of the Arian ecumenical councils and what of the other sects which never agreed to any those councils?)

      “Is it you? Are you claiming the title of Judge of All Truth for yourself?”

      Christ is the judge, and we don’t know what His judgement is about anyone else. There are a few agreed upon things which the records that we do have say Christ said about the subject, and not everyone that believes in Christ or says they are for Christ are Christians, only those that actually do love their neighbor as themselves and love God. We can suggest that those that don’t live up to that are not true Christians, regardless of what else they say or do, like if the Donatists said that about Augustine they would certainly appear to be justified, while the Catholics would disagree.

      “What are his teachings?”

      Take a red letter Bible; scrap everything that isn’t red (okay maybe a little bit of context would be needed).

    • UWIR

      Wow, that post was a total mess. For starters, learn how to spell “than”. As for the rest, I don’t understand what you’re saying well enough to explain how you’re not explaining it. But you could try not using pronouns without making it clear what those pronouns refer to, and not writing horribly complicated sentences with no apparent concern for aiding the reader in parsing them.

    • JohnH2

      Sorry for mixing up than and then.

  • Ben

    Brilliant! When I hear this from my Christian friends, I think of the “No true scotsman” fallacy as well….

  • SecularHumanist199

    So are the families who let their children die rather than seek relatively straightforward medical treatment because that is what their religious beliefs teach not being good christians? After all, their beliefs are what caused them to reject modern medicine. The fact that their mythical god didn’t intervene is interpreted by them as some flaw in the strength of their belief, rather than in their basic belief structure. No, claiming that those who do reprehensible things are not “true christians” is not an excuse. There is no such thing as a good or bad Christian, just good or bad people. On the other hand, christianity, or most religions in general for that matter, do provide the impetus for many bad actions by individuals throughout the world.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    Spot on. These sorts of distancing attempts just highlight how impossible it is to know just what a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ even is. The same people who distance themselves so desperately are themselves denounced as false Christians, often by the same people they’re distancing themselves *from*.

    As far as I can tell, a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ is someone whose beliefs more or less coincide with the Christian’s own (or at least don’t majorly contradict the Christian’s own beliefs), who hasn’t done anything really bad or mean, and who dies in the traces. If not, then the label gets yanked away. It’s so very weird that their god is so maddeningly vague about just what a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ looks like. It’d be a lot easier if he’d just taken a little more care early on.

  • Liralen

    You lost me at “…it sounds like you are unwilling to take responsibility for the historical and contemporary problems with your faith” Why exactly is it my responsibility, and what authority do you think I have over other Christians? It sounds like a “responsibility without authority” situation to me.

    I’ve also got a pet peeve over feeling guilty for something you didn’t do. It started in high school when assigned “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. I was just as horrified as my classmates over what early Americans had done, but was surprised at their feelings of guilt, which I didn’t share. I suppose this was because I was born in Japan of a Japanese mother, and my father’s family didn’t immigrate to America until the early 20th century, so I didn’t have any ancestors that were involved. However, it didn’t make logical sense for my classmates to feel guilty either. They didn’t have anything to do with it.

    It makes even less sense to feel responsible for something that someone else does or says because they share such a broad classification like “Christianity”, which you yourself noted currently contains 41,000 different sects and there’s likely few that believe the same as their sect believed even 100 years ago. The very source of our country’s cherished Freedom of Religion is due to the disagreements and persecutions that Christians did to each other.

    But now we’re supposed to do something to control the others we disagree with? That’s just silly.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I’m not saying to feel guilty over what others do but to own up to the fact that you’re part of a tradition with them and, as a member of that tradition, you have to represent it and take responsibility for cleaning it up and for acknowledging its flaws.

    • Liralen

      Could you be more specific? What exactly do you have in mind?

      Your very post is about Christians acknowledging Christianty’s flaws by saying “They’re not true Christians” although that’s not something I would say, since it’s something I view the tribal gatekeepers saying about people like me. The liberal version is we’re “Not All Like That”, so common it has an acronym “NALT”.

      Our current problems aren’t about theology, it’s about politics, which has caused a huge influx of expensive propaganda, via the likes of Fox News. My own Buddhist mother recently went off about Obama (whom she voted for) for “blackmailing” Congress over raising the debt ceiling, based upon what her coworkers had told her. Of course, I gave her the facts, which she seemed to be relieved to hear.

      It’s not just a Christian problem. It’s a problem of the privileged fearing the loss of privilege, and it just so happens that the majority of the privileged in America are Christians, who are using Bible thumping to justify retention of their privilege. But the propaganda even reaches my non-Christian, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, extremely liberal Japanese mother.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Our current problems aren’t about theology, it’s about politics

      No, your “current problems” range the spectrum from theology to politics to psychology to ethics, etc.

      There are plenty of authentic Christians who engage in bad behavior or have bad ideas. Evading that fact by trying to declaim them as at all Christians tries to absolve your faith tradition of all responsibility. It’s outsiders invading us! NO. It’s your very own tradition. Face up to it.

    • Liralen

      I still don’t get what you’re saying at all. In your most recent comment, specifically “Evading that fact by trying to declaim them as at all Christians tries to absolve your faith tradition of all responsibility.”

      I’m guessing you don’t mean me specifically, but rather are blaming me for things that other Christians do? If so, that’s just grossly unfair. Address what I say, not what other Christians say.

    • Liralen

      Re-reading what you said, maybe you didn’t understand what I meant by “our current problems”, since you said “your current problems”. I meant the political problems we have in the USA, which negatively affects us all in the US, and might be peculiar to the US. I believe you are American, but if you’re not, that might explain some of the confusion.

      If you are indeed trying to hold me accountable for things I haven’t done, then you are way off base. Substitute a minority group if you think all of us are guilty for what other Christians do, and they become hate speech.

      I also suspect that your fundamentalist up-bringing might have included installing in you an automatic guilt button that you think all Christians have (something I’ve observed from recent exposure to those raised Christian). Something that when pressed would result in obedience, regardless if a logical argument was given.

      I wasn’t raised Christian, so I don’t have a guilt button. I was taught to question those who presumed authority.

      You need to give me a logical argument, which you haven’t so far.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ the Old Adam

    Christians often say and do terrible things. UnChristian things. Look at St. Peter, for cry in’ out loud. Jesus called him “satan”…when Peter tried to stop Jesus from going to the Cross.

    Jesus told us that “the wheat and tares grow together.”

    “Don’t mess around with them until the time of harvest.” “Don’t judge whether someone is a believer or not.” That’s not our job but His.

    But that doesn’t mean that we ought not criticize bad doctrine or errant Christian preaching or teaching. We should. Never judging their eternal destination.


  • Y. A. Warren

    Wow! What wonderful food for thought. Thank you for this. Saying “That’s not a real Christian” is like saying “That’s not a real red-head or blue-eyed person.”

    “Even if you believe God’s forgiven you, that doesn’t mean anyone else has to. You have to seek forgiveness from those you harm separately.”

    Restitution to your fellow humans is a tenant of Judaism and is clearly stated in Matthew 5:23-25 as a direct quote from Jesus. Of course, this takes the magical power to punish and to forgive (the path to eternal salvation) away from the clergy.

    “And it’s not just people who put the Christian religion over a relationship with Jesus. It happens with people who are very piously devoted to Jesus himself. So, why do people who explicitly and fervently pray to Jesus constantly for his will and guidance wind up not only doing and thinking terrible things anyway but coming away from all that prayer and service to God convinced that it is God who wants those things from them.”

    The problem with prayer, in my opinion, is that it often acts as a substitute for accepting responsibility for the much touted “free-will” that is supposed to be God’s” greatest manifestation in all humankind, not only in Jesus.

    I believe that one of the most damaging perversions of the Jesus story is the insistence on placing the value of his life on his suffering and death. This creates “Christianity” without actually following Jesus as “The Christ.” Another is the aversion to any genitals used for normal procreative functions, but that’s another issue entirely.

    I choose not to wear religious or other political symbols of my beliefs because they tend to shut down open dialog and inhibit any opportunity for my own philosophical growth. I also prefer to say that I am not comfortable with another’s actions to allow others to ask my for the reasons, if they are truly interested.