The essay is found in:
I would say I agree with each of these thoughts. "Christians" today are more concerned with impressing each other than they are about letting their life be an example of Christ.
I have a pastor friend who when asked what he "is" replies he is Christ follower. I'm gonna go with that too from now on. too many walls between people already.
I think the big tags for these might be arrogance and hypocrisy.. not that I can relate to either
*a smattering of applause*
I would like to ask, sincerely, why not take the eminently reasonable defense you make for open-mindedness and go a big step further, and ask if the Bible can be fallible at times? That is, perhaps in the thousands of hand-written pages, in between words inspired by God there might have crept in from time to time the human authors' personal views. There is some debate between liberal and conservative Christians about what was actually intended about homosexuality, but the authors of the Bible had their own prejudices from the time they lived in and if you feel from your own personal relationship with Christ that the morals you use to live your own life are more in line with supporting a friend's homosexual relationship than with condemning it, then why should you overrule that feeling based on an interpretation of Biblical text? The Bible says things about women in 1 Timothy which are difficult to reconcile with the way most Christians believe women should be treated today. The alternative seems to try to reinterpret the text as you wanted to read it to begin with, or else let the text overrule your own sense of morality.
It is possible that this approach is unacceptable to some purely on the basis that it allows one to pick and choose what parts of the Bible to take seriously. In a sense, this is true. But, you still have a personal relationship with Christ, and you are still held to the morals that you sincerely believe you understand through that relationship, and you have no choice about that.
Finally, I would like to insist that I do not mean to be contentious. My intention is not to argue and debate, or to change anyone's mind. I just happen to think that you tend to be very thoughtful about these kinds of things and I wonder how your relationship with Christ has led you to choose this particular approach to the Bible, which does not seem to me to be the only one.
Thanks, you guys. To each of you.
Pat: I don't think you're being contentious. To be honest, though, I'm not actually sure what you're asking/saying, insofar as I'm afraid I don't exactly know to what you're referring when you refer to my "particular approach to the Bible."
Everybody picks and chooses what to believe in the bible, because of #3 in John's list. Find me an intruction or principle in the bible and we can also probably find a different verse to argue against it.
And John, I give you eleventy million bonus irony points for #10 in the list, especially given the title of the post!
#6 fascinates me. I need to read more of your books to get a better grasp of your big-picture view on the topic.
John, well said, as always.
It's too bad Jesus didn't say anything about your points 2,3,5,6, and 10 … you know, if He'd said something about making sure that we remove wood from our own eyes before bothering other people about the specks in theirs, it really would have helped.
I'm kind of surprised He didn't think of that, aren't you?
A specific example of what I mean is when you say that the "Christian" stance on homosexuality is Biblically unassailable, and therefore correct (though you also say maybe it would be good to make less of a fuss about this). I presume what you mean is that the Bible has several places where it clearly says homosexuality is a sin, so therefore it is a sin. But a different approach would say that, yes, there are several places where the Bible condemns homosexuality, but that those parts are wrong.
Pat: Oh, yes, of course: I see what you're saying. I appreciate very much your tact and sensitivity. I think you might be new to my work, and so might not know that everything that appears on this site—Suddenly Christian—also appears on the very large, very conservative Christian website, http://www.crosswalk.com. Because of my affiliation with that site, I must, out of respect to them, be … exceedingly careful, shall we say, about what I say, and how. They've been amazingly open to me, though, and so it's actually been great. Crosswalk should be commended for its willingness to allow on its site questioning voices.
But you might be interested to go to the link below, and see some of the stuff (published both on here and on CW) that I've written on the whole gay issue. I'm pretty confident you'll there … get a sense, again (and if nothing else) of how … careful/respectful/tactful I, too, have learned to be when dealing with these kinds of inflammatory "issues." I stay in the middle, basically, because … because, for one, no one else is here, and I think more people should be.
Anyway, I'd be pleased if sometime you checked out some of this stuff, and saw what you thought:
Great conversation about homosexuality. I so agree with what you said in #8 John.
Heard a pastor recently say that we need to be careful in how we discuss the issue. He said that we need to be careful about our "loving the sinner and hating the sin" approach adding that no one wants us to say "I love you but I wish you didn't eat so much" or "I love you but wish you weren't so materialistic".
Hard to really love someone when you are fixated on their appearance or lifestyle preferences.
I'll join Lindsey with that smattering of applause.
Sometimes I just don't know how Crosswalk manages to put up with you, John!
I've only read #1, but the bible doesn't say there is anything wrong with having money…even lots of money. Jesus does say it's hard to do right while being rich, and this is true, but the Bible also says that you will be blessed in abundance. Think about this, Jesus himself had a treasurer (Judas) how many poor people do you know with a treasurer. The context of the passage where the man was told to sell everything he had was not to say having stuff was bad…it was to say he was putting his stuff before God…
Graffight: Which part, again, of "“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor" do you find fuzzy enough to warrant reinterpretation?
Great stuff, John. As usual.
I agree with what Redlefty said about #10; it is ironic, but I think it is still a good point. Of course, in this post you are not condemning anyone, Christian or otherwise. Yet in the body of #10 I get the feeling that you are also suggesting that general inter-Christian criticism might be toned down a bit, that we should accentuate the positive and celebrate what we have in common. Good advice. But….
Maybe fundamentalist and “liberal” Christians have a lot more in common than we tend to remember, reflect upon, or celebrate
I tend to disagree with this statement, having been both fundamentalist and liberal. I think these two groups are similar in the way that a member of the John Birch Society might be similar to a member of the American Communist Party. They both might have a vested interest, even a passion for politics. They both might love their country and proclaim patriotism. But their differences are so fundamentally at odds that, well, they can never put them aside.
I really don't think that these opposing views of Christianity are in any way too similar or have too much in common. In fact, I really don't think they are the 'same' religion. 34,000 denominations? C'mon, the emperor's been naked for a long time now.
How come the Jews don't have so many different sects? Perhaps it's because they come to scripture in a way that is closer to what Pat has suggested. Less tension, less competition, more questioning and searching.
Great COMMENT, Christian, as usual.
And I actually agree with you. I mean … I certainly see the validity and truth of what you're saying. And yet—stupidly, I suppose—I can never quite shake the conviction that whatever is manifestly, provably, objectively the LARGER truth must, in the end, be that truth to which everyone who even pretends to be sane pledges their allegiance.
You take, say, a "liberal" Christian, and a "conservative" Christian. ONE of them is right. The one who is right should be able to logically prove it. If he does, the other should stop being a child, and throw in the towel.
I can't help but feel (despite, I know, so much evidence to the contrary) that that IS the way it should go.
The one who is right should be able to logically prove it. If he does, the other should stop being a child, and throw in the towel.
I don't know. See, I don't think ANY of it can be proven and often logic seems to have little to do with it. A lot of it (IMO) has to do with what Pat has touched upon. Just the idea of questioning certain aspects of scriptures, suggesting that just maybe the writers might be injecting a tad of their situational world views from time to time, that just maybe God doesn't expect us to behave like the Israelites or the Judeans – this kind of stuff rocks a lot of people's boats. It once rocked mine.
Some of the brightest, most intelligent and logical people I have met have such an unswerving devotion to the Book itself (often times, IMO, to the detriment of the message contained within) that no alternative reasoning seems to be worth their considering.
Of course, now I am often called a heretic, 'emerging' relativist or someone who 'picks and chooses' what I like from scriptures. Heretic, maybe. I can deal with that. But the "Old Christian" Christian (me) was hardly ever picking or choosing those scriptures like the one you just mentioned, or the ones about motes, planks, sheep, goats, vineyard workers, wedding guests etc. etc. Jesus does seem to suggest a pattern here.
My conviction isn't that any one truth about God can be proven absolutely; it's a given none can be. I do hold, however, to the (admittedly ridiculously quixotic) possibility that whichever version of Christ and/or Christianity is truest to what God in fact wants can and should be proven to be exactly that. I don't care if people reject the proof once it's been presented. I do care that it gets presented.
Someone's right here. I think we all owe it to ourselves and everybody else to find out who. We're not freakin' farm animals.
Yes, I agree. And I personally thing this has been proven. So on with the discussion.
I'm not convinced it has been "proven." I mean … naturally (and though of course this can only sound insanely arrogant) I won't feel …completely at rest with the "debate" until I've been able to construct for myself a venue big enough so that I know enough people have heard me "prove" it. It's a … bizarre drive, basically. I kind of hate it.
Sure. What I mean is, that for me, it has been proven. Before, when I was trying desperately to adhere to doctrines and dogmas that I was told I must believe if I wanted to remain on the winning team, I chalked up my doubts to a lack of faith. With time, the faith (hopefully) would come. So I continuously sought affirmation and when it came then a round of high fives all around was in order. But each affirmation was somehow thin and fleeting.
But the proof came in the living. If I really had a strong faith then I would be able to explore on my own, without having my hand held by those who claimed to understand what I could not; the obvious inconsistencies between the teachings of Christ and the teachings of the 'church'. Too often I would hear that the church is made up of people, people are flawed and so the church would have its embarrassing and shameful moments. But I've come to see that just that the people who make up the foundation, the core of the church are not necessarily corrupt or prone to error (which at times is true) but their doctrines are fundamentally flawed.
We're Christians, right? So if we take what we know of Christ, what he said, his time, his culture, the history he was born into – before generations of men have massaged his teachings and told us what they really meant- then it shouldn't be that difficult should it? Or even if we just take his commands to love and forgive unconditionally – shouldn't that be enough? But instead we have 34,000 different ways of trying to get his teachings to support our choices.
And that, I think, is the proof. If we, as the Nike ad says, JUST DO IT! then there is the proof. Live, let live, love and be loved, forgive and forget, give when asked, give even when not asked, feed people, clothe them, visit them, love them…you can't go wrong. All the rest is just so much….extra baggage.
Gosh, that was longer than I intended.
Chris: No, that was the perfect length. And it was perfectly said. Beautiful. Thank you.
Excellent post John.
On your point #8 (giving the ‘homosexual’ thing a rest), I give you highest praise…but it begs for a non-theistic perspective. In it you say:
I know we understand our stance on the matter to be unassailably Biblical.
The truth is that it is entirely assailable. Despite your lauded call to ‘give it rest’, it does nothing to address the possibility of being wrong. You yourself (in point #3) argue that Christians need to be humble and not feel too confident in their understanding the writings of the bible. It seems a logical end to that argument that no one can judge anyone else based on biblical writings…ever. Pardon me if I got this wrong; but you still recognize that there is a (an unassailable) biblical position on homosexuality…and we know that to be ‘anti’. This well demonstrates that anti-homosexuality is endemic to the Christian faith (along with many other popular religions).
The fact is that homosexuality is naturally occurring. There is no ‘choice’ to be homosexual. Recall this study… Scientists followed the progress of a group of baby boys that had been born with genital deformities where, for cosmetic reasons, they had surgery that fashioned them with female genitalia. Many of these children were raised as girls and were unaware of their original birth gender. Every single one of the subjects found themselves attracted females (heterosexual to their birth gender). What this study demonstrates is that there is no ‘nurture’ component to homosexuality. There is no ‘choice’ in the matter…and the bible is not ambiguous in its writings here.
It is inadequate to ‘just give it a rest’. Just because one does not speak their mind on their Christian view of homosexuality, does not keep them from believing it. Again; anti-homosexuality is endemic to Christianity and, necessarily, promotes intolerance of this naturally occurring segment of society. Need the non-believing world respect such teachings?
Chris: great posts – you've said it much better than I could, and you've said much more.
Mike: I think one of John's points is that indeed the non-believing world has no reason to respect such teachings. A large part of the problem is the two sides are just talking past each other – one side says "It's in the Bible!" and the other side says "But I don't care!" and for some reason it is very difficult to move beyond that. No matter how clear the text seems to be on some issue, you will obviously never care. And no matter how powerful the force of your logic seems to be, a lot of Christians will just find it irrelevant.
no one can judge anyone else based on biblical writings
Actually, Mike, the Bible says that as well. It even goes beyond this and says that no one should judge anyone, on any basis. I think we certainly are justified in condemning the actions of others, such as murder, genocide, rape, theft etc. But to put ourselves above the perpetrators, assuming that we are incapable of such actions, that's pretty dangerous.
I think that's why it's so easy for Christians to condemn homosexuals and not, lets say….business people who put profits above people. It's easy to be self-righteous when we confront 'sins' that we could never see ourselves committing. Even if those 'sins' are not hurting or taking advantage of others, which we are all pretty much up to our knees in.
That doesn't explain those fire and brimstone preachers who get caught with their pants down, though. Something fishy is going on there.
Is there any mention of homosexuality in the bible that was even indifferent on the matter? Genesis 20:13 does NOT say
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an act that creeps some people out but causes others neither grief nor suffering. Love these as you would love yourself for in 1000 score, they shall dominate HGTV programming.
To say that the bible says do not judge, but then every mention of homosexuals include includes strong condemnation (if not violent death), well, that's takes some mental gymnastics. If the bible says don't judge, then the bible ain't walkin' the talk.
indeed the non-believing world has no reason to respect such teachings.
I guess I am saying that, given the evidence, neither thiest nor atheist should respect such teachings. Furthermore, defending such teachings is worthy of ridicule.
And no matter how powerful the force of your logic seems to be, a lot of Christians will just find it irrelevant.
….Exactly what Mr. Shore was berating in point #7.
"If the bible says don’t judge, then the bible ain’t walkin’ the talk."
Yeah, you're right. I wasn't attempting to defend the Bible, only point out that, in some parts, it does say that we should not judge. Of course, those words famously come from Christ. But the prophets (like Micah) are pretty strong on this point as well.
I think the problem lies with how this "Bible" has been assembled. It was never meant to be a book, read continuously, like an epic. The writers had no idea that their writings would be compiled and linked together. The writers obviously inserted their world views, including their prejudices, into the documents. Some of the writings are historical, where they record the story of the Jews early civilizing efforts, and like all early (and current) civilizations, their culture was rife with fears based upon ignorance. They then took the liberty of stamping God's authority on the things they did (like genocide and inhumane punishments for what they took to be crimes against society.
Other scriptures consist of the one sided arguments of Paul (and those who wrote as Paul) and they are also full of his personal, and culturally influenced opinions about marriage, women and sexuality. With all due respect to those who elevate the bible to a higher status, these are Paul's words, not Gods. Powerful and extremely influential words he used to help a fledgling church made up of disparate traditions come together.
Because so many Christians have taken to a literal reading of scriptures, ignoring the cultural influences upon the writers, and insisting that it is infallible in all aspects, we have a warped understanding of the Christian God. Mike is reading the bible in this way and why not? Many Christians do. But if we come to the bible with a more dynamic mindset, willing to see the gems buried within some of the antique and irrelevent wrapping, then there is some wisdom to be had.
We wouldn't want to discount the work of Jefferson just because he owned slaves, right?
I guess I would be happy if the world could recognize, like you, that the bible (koran, torah, etc) is a work written by mortal, ignorant, prejudiced men. At which point, absolute certainty would be mitigated and the ills of religious belief systems would pretty much evaporate leaving, for the most part, just the good stuff. Then would could just get on with our lives.
Sure. Just like the US Constitution and just about everything else put down on paper. I think it is impossible to be fully unprejudiced and it is certainly humanly impossible to be omniscient. But those problems that challenge the writer don't necessarily invalidate what is written. (Unless they suspect that they are in some way above theseinfluences.)
There is no reason to believe that faith in God will evaporate. As John suggests, if less effort was spent on trying to convince people how to think the 'right' way and instead was spent on living the right way then perhaps Christianity would have fewer opponents and more adherents.
I never claimed and anyone was without prejudice and bias. I have mine, you have yours. Our constitution was, by design, created to be modified as our understanding of society and the world improved. Our founding fathers knew full well that they could not create a final draft. This is in stark contrast to how some use the bible. It was Mike Huckabee that said he would change the Constitution to meet God's standards. http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=huckabee+co…
I believe we are in full agreement here. If we recognized that the bible (and any other holy book) was written by mortals, then the certainty of some teachings that goes along with it would, for the most part, disappear (i.e. the gay thing). At that point is is entirely immaterial to me whether people believed in God or not…and many would continue to do so.
As Mark Twain said: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." Take away that certainty, and we can then use reason and our best knowledge to live our lives.
As a post de-converted Christian (smiling here), I would add a #11 (maybe).
11. Investing too much time, money and energy building "churches", funding building projects, creating Superstar personalities with expanding "ministries", and basically treating the Church like a business.
Can you imagine what Jesus would say about all of that, in the midst of the thousands upon thousands of homeless and hungry right in our own backyards? Every night here in Los Angeles, there are almost 80,000 people having to sleep on the streets.
I'm not sure how I found my way to your blog…but I appreciate what you say here.
Yeah, Mike. Twain also said: "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand. "
I've heard fundamentalists use that quote to suggest that Twain was uncomfortable with the truth. I just think that he was uncomfortable with Christians. And with good reason.
My simple question to Christians is this: What is so wrong with being a non-Christian?
It is a honest and sincere question. I am curious why being non-Christian seems to just disturb so many Christians….
That is an excellent question. Why are we (Christians) so concerned about the faith of others? Seems to me that we should leave that up to God and redirect our focus on how we are relating and responding to him.
What is so wrong about being a non-Christian? Heck, Moses, Abraham, Isaac – all the prophets – they weren't Christians either.
So, what IS wrong with being non-Christian?
Miss out on a wonderful life but not without trouble.
Eternity without God.
God is everywhere. There is no escaping God. For some people, this is bad news. For others, it is good news.
God is not a toy in schoolyard over which we can fight. God is greater than that. Also, God is not a Christian. Technically, God is a Jew, is in fact the King of the Jews, though some would consider him a Jewish Heretic. But really, God is well beyond all religion, which is a good thing.
As for Christian exclusivism–we are starting to make the religious authorities of Jesus’s day look like kind, decent, compassionate people when compared to us. This is not a good thing.
Julia, you surely know the answer to your question. But in case you're … I don't know, seven years old, or were raised in a country in which Christianity is almost utterly foreign: The vast majority of Christians think anyone who is not a Christian should become Christian so that when they die they don't go to hell.
John, not to split hairs, but there's also all the Christians who believe that it is only through Christ that we can live in the fullness of who we were created to be, and gain a far deeper knowledge of love and spirituality. It's not ALWAYS about death, it's about life, too.
So, willingly choosing to be non-Christian is willingly choosing to go to hell?
Willingly choosing to ignore life?
Willingly choosing to ignore god?
No, Lindsey, you're right, of course. And that's not splitting hairs, of course: that's the essence of it. I emphasized the negative because of how true it is that generally it's the Christians who act basically pissed off that others aren't Christian who are coming from that place of condemnation and negativity. You could tell she was talking about that ilk of Christian. She's also clearly just baiting, and so I didn't care to spend time treating her question in any kind of … thorough way.
Julia: C'mon. Stop. What possible pleasure can there be for you in baiting and arguing with Christians? You're clearly just looking for a fight–or, as people instigating such exchanges almost invariably put it, a "debate." If you don't want to be Christian, don't be. No worries.
At the risk of throwing more grease on the fire here, I think she does as a pretty good question. Take a look at the rest of the world's religions, even Judaism, of which Christianity is a branch of. With the exception of the recent rash of Muslim fundamentalists, none of them seem to be so concerned (obsessed) with making converts of others.
I might be repeating myself here, but I am reminded of the story Huston Smith tells of the Christian lady who found so much beauty in Buddhism. She had the opportunity to ask the Dali Lama how she could become a better Buddhist. He told her to forget about converting to Buddhism but instead work on being a better Christian. It's better to dig one well deeper than to dig many multiple shallow ones.
Not looking for a fight, John. I am looking for understanding.
The sharing of understanding and insights between folks who walk a miriad of paths, each sacred, each unique, each with a wealth of experiences, insights and wisdoms to share with one another.
I've never been a Christian. That does not mean I dont know God. I have a faith, a path, one I feel with all my heart that is one with the Creator, a communion that has existed since before I took my first breath, one I celebrate and seek to exlpore every waking moment. One where I welcome the sharing of experiences and wisdoms with others.
But I've long found as soon as the non-Christian label comes up alot of understanding and sharing just simply…. ceases. Somehow I am deemed…. less. As if I am somehow deficient, unitellegent, lacking in reason and common sense. Whereas Christians modify their 'sharing' into what mostly becomes prosletyizing for it is obvious to them that something MUST be wrong with me for no rational and intelligent human would want to WILLINGLY be non-Christian. Sharing becomes strained or stops altogether where communication and understanding fails. For me to share I must now come over to 'their' side or much of what I could share will simply be dismissed as invalid and worthless. All because I walk a different faith than y'all.
I am baffled by this divide. I just find it…… sad.
I seek to find a bridge to that divide, to understand the chasm between us. Like why choosing to be a non-Christian is so disturbing to Christians.
So far, that bridge has been elusive and hard to build. Especialy when many seem to want to put a toll on that bridge or want it only designed for one-way traffic….
I welcome any dialogue that can help bridge that divide.
Be The Peace,
Julia: You certainly don't get any argument from me on anything you're saying. As you might know, I wrote a whole BOOK dealing with—and trying to get Christians to understand and validate—the exact sentiments you're expressing. It's called, "I'm OK–You're Not: The Message We're Sending Nonbelievers, and Why We Should Stop." It was published by a Christian publisher. Who, shortly after it was published, decided to pull all the copies of it BACK off the bookstore shelves, and burn them.
@ Julia: If you believe in God and choose to ignore him, yes, you're willingly choosing. If you don't believe in God then you don't believe. *shrug* If you want a serious and in depth discussion about this topic, pick up the phone and call your local pastor in whatever flavor of Christianity you fancy to study. If you're bored, might I suggest Sheldon Comics, a very funny web comic about a boy millionaire and his talking duck?
@ John: I understood that you were ribbing her, but I just had to stick my toe out anyway. It's a pet peeve of mine that Christianity is always framed in reference to Hell when talking to non-believers. I mean, it seems insane to deprive one's self of satisfaction in daily life out of fear of something as ephemeral as Hell. And if people understood the insane amounts of pleasure and satisfaction a practicing believer finds in their daily life because of God, I think they'd be more willing to listen.
@ John: I plan on getting your book oneday soon. Maybe soon as I write mine….? 😉
@ Lindsey: I believe in God. Just not the Christian version of God.
I too would wish Christians could 'understood the insane amounts of pleasure and satisfaction a practicing believer finds in their daily life because of God, I think they’d be more willing to listen.'
But, agian, the non-Christian lable gets in the way and the bridge crumbles before it had a chance. *sighes*
Be the Peace,
Christain Beyer: "At the risk of throwing more grease on the fire here, I think she does as a pretty good question. Take a look at the rest of the world’s religions, even Judaism, of which Christianity is a branch of. With the exception of the recent rash of Muslim fundamentalists, none of them seem to be so concerned (obsessed) with making converts of others.
I might be repeating myself here, but I am reminded of the story Huston Smith tells of the Christian lady who found so much beauty in Buddhism. She had the opportunity to ask the Dali Lama how she could become a better Buddhist. He told her to forget about converting to Buddhism but instead work on being a better Christian. It’s better to dig one well deeper than to dig many multiple shallow ones."
Thank you, Christian.
Some do seem to seek the bridge and understand it, yes?
Here's hoping others will continue to build it…
Just being a bit curious Julia.. what is it about Christianity that you are not attracted to?
It is simply not the Path I was called to walk.
I think one can follow God and even Christ without the constraints of traditional “Christianity”. I myself have practiced Buddhism and I have a friend who practices Bhakti Hinduism as a way to follow Christ. It’s confusing, even maddening, but I don’t think you need to stick a “Christian” bumper-sticker on yourself in order to follow God. The Church has become a HUGE stumbling block, I don’t blame people who would rather not be associated with it.
Hear God’s heart, Julia. Follow your path. Practice peace.
Lindssey: “Hear God’s heart, Julia. Follow your path. Practice peace.”
That IS the way of God, is it not?
And THAT; in a nutshell, is my Path.
Thank you, Lindsey. Mitakuye Oyasin,