That title would work so much better if my name wasn’t also Christian.
My entire life, from my teenage years to my early twenties (24 is still early, damn it), I’ve felt the need not to profess my faith, but to confess it. Like it’s shameful or embarrassing.
You see, I was not born into a religious household. We never went to church or Sunday School, I was never taught the Bible, and the only religious member of my close family (my paternal grandmother) was always regarded as a bit of a kook. I grew up in a liberal white suburb of Chicago where most of the churches were progressive, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about progressive Christians, we are terrible at marketing and evangelizing (most of us actually recoil from the word “evangelizing,” and not without good reason).
It wasn’t that most of the kids I hung out with in high school hated religion (although there were a few burgeoning New Atheists among my clique); generally they thought very little of it. When the topic did come up and I was asked directly if I believed in God, or Jesus, or in religion in general, the responses to my affirmation were always confused and a little derisive. “Why?” people would ask.
And the truth is that I didn’t have a good answer. Still I knew little about the Bible or Jesus. I knew the doctrines, of course: God had sent Jesus to die on the cross so that my sins (and those of everyone else) could be redeemed. Something about Eve and an apple (my mother’s cousin, a woman so Italian it should be illegal, insisted that the forbidden fruit was actually a fig). Love your neighbor and turn the other cheek. Jesus was really God in human form; oh, and also, something about a Trinity (I could not, and still cannot, explain what the Trinity is supposed to be or why people believe in it, but now I digress).
So my first year of college I began to read. I read the Bible, of course, but to a nineteen-year-old with very little religious upbringing, the Bible is an obscure, dusty old tome that might as well be in a different language. I wanted to know who the Pharisees were, why Paul was so significant, why there were four different gospels, what the difference between Galilee and Judea was. The Bible actually offers very little in the way of answering these and other questions.
I picked up the book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan after seeing that infamous Fox interview with the author. That book changed my life and put me on course to becoming the messed-up, unorthodox progressive Christian you’re reading today because it demolished my Christian faith. According to Mr. Aslan, or so it seemed to me on my first reading, almost everything I knew about Jesus was a lie. He was not born in Bethlehem. He was no learned man; he most likely could not even read. He never claimed to be God, and he didn’t die for my sins.
Getting into Zealot and the historical Jesus is far beyond the scope of this introductory article, but suffice to say that I was set on a path to learning everything I could, from as many different voices as I could, about the man Jesus, the time and place he came from, and the Hebrew Bible that so shaped his mind.
So now, when someone asks me why I’m a Christian (which they still do, by the way), I have an answer. It has nothing to do with sins or blood or the supernatural or redemption or even with God (my views on God are complicated, to say the least). The simple answer, which I could expound upon for a hundred thousand words (and I will, as long as this blog is up), is that Jesus of Nazareth is quite simply my hero.
The title of this blog, “Radical Christian Millennial,” is important because of the word “radical.” Jesus was a radical. He expressed radical love and a radical way of worshiping God. For someone like me, a far-left political and social activist with a passion for social and economic justice, the radical Jesus is a model for how to live my life and a gateway into the more personal, spiritual aspects of Christianity.
Now, if I feel any shame at all in admitting that I am a Christian, it is only because I know that people have preconceived notions of what Christianity is, notions that have very little to do with the Christianity I practice.