The Mythological Creature that Christians Still Believe In

The Mythological Creature that Christians Still Believe In July 29, 2019

Editor’s Note:  It’s easy to sense the writer’s frustration coming through here. It’s also fascinating to hear the “arguments” from a fundamentalist point of view.  /Linda LaScola

See ADDENDUM at the end of this post.

===================

By John Lombard

As atheists, we tend to make fun of Christians who believe in things like talking donkeys, talking snakes and fish that swallow people whole and then deliver them, unharmed, several days later.

We laugh at stories of a sea magically parting in half on command, or an angel flying around killing the firstborn sons of everyone who didn’t put blood on their door.

We can debate such things with Christians endlessly (and we have). And the truth is, not all Christians even believe in those things. But there is one mythological creature that it seems all Christians believe in, and yet which cannot possibly exist. It is cited far more frequently than any other mythological Christian creature, with the absolute conviction that it really exists.

This mythological creature is “the Real Christian”. You hear about this creature all the time, particularly when discussing Christians who did something that they disagree with:

“Oh, well they obviously aren’t a real Christian!”

Now, obviously, Christians exist. So why would I claim that the ‘real Christian’ doesn’t exist?
Simple: because it is a logical impossibility. The only consistent definition of a real Christian is

“a Christian who believes the same things I do.”

Thus, those Christians who share the same beliefs are “real Christians” and those who have different beliefs are not.

There is absolutely no consensus whatsoever on what a real Christian is. Different groups have different definitions – often entirely contradictory. Churches like Westboro Baptist teach that those who don’t follow their creed of venomous hatred towards everyone who disagrees with them are not real Christians (and yet they arguably follow many of the Bible’s teachings about how to handle homosexuals, idolaters, adulterers, etc., far more literally than most other Christians).   Meanwhile, the majority of Christians proclaim that the WBC people are not real Christians. There are Roman Catholics who claim that Protestants are not real Christians and Protestants who likewise claim that Roman Catholics are not real Christians. Both liberal and conservative Christians accuse each other of not being real Christians.

The best attempts that I’ve heard to address this are that a real Christian is someone who follows the most basic principles of Jesus:

to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Yet the fact is that they cannot agree even on what this means. One of the biggest debates in Christian circles today is how they should treat homosexuals – some saying that homosexuals should be treated the same as everyone else, and not condemned on the basis of who they love; while others say that homosexuality is wrong and sinful, and must be condemned. Both groups say that they love homosexuals, but will then claim that the other group doesn’t really love them, and are therefore not real Christians. The liberals don’t really love homosexuals, because they empower then and allow them to live in sin. And the conservatives don’t really love homosexuals because they cannot accept them as they are, created that way by God.

There is no definition of a real Christian that you could get even half of all those who identify as Christian to agree on.

And yet, despite the fact that this mythological creature cannot possibly exist, and has no reliable definition whatsoever, it is one of the most consistent claims used whenever the actions of Christian groups are criticized.

“Oh, yeah, what they did was terrible— but they’re not real Christians.”

And thus, with two simple words, they absolve themselves of all responsibility. There’s no need to examine one’s own beliefs or how Christian theology may have contributed to that abuse, because the person who did it wasn’t a real Christian.

Many of our ex-Christian clergy in The Clergy Project get this all the time, too. When we were Christian leaders, we were frequently praised for being so devout and inspiring. I myself was a missionary to China, frequently praised for my devotion and commitment in facing potential imprisonment in China in order to bring the Gospel message to the Chinese people.

And yet today, when people hear that I rejected my beliefs, and became a Secular Humanist, the most common (almost instinctive) response is that I obviously wasn’t a real Christian, because if I had been, I wouldn’t have rejected my beliefs.

 

Once again, they invoke this entirely imaginary and mythological creature in order to avoid having to examine any of the real reasons why I rejected those beliefs. It’s not because I recognized real problems; it’s not because I realized the Bible cannot possibly be true as written; it is because I wasn’t a real Christian.

So let me make this clear. The mythological real Christian does not exist; and every time a Christian cites this mythological creature, in yet another vain attempt to dismiss a situation, rather than actually having to examine or understand it, I am going to call them on it. I am going to challenge them to come up with a definition of a real Christian that is more than just “Christians who believe the same things I do” and that could reasonably be accepted as a valid definition by a minimum of 50% of those who call themselves Christians in the world today. Don’t tell me your definition is proper because “that’s what the Bible says” –because the Christians who disagree with you will say exactly the same thing.

Again, it’s all just a game of

“Those who agree with me are right, and those who disagree with me are wrong.”

And that, my friends, is no foundation for a belief system.

***Editor’s Question *** What encounters have you had with “real Christians.”

5:45 PM 7/29/19 ADDENDUM: great example of this mythological ‘real Christian’ phenomenon is demonstrated in the recent events surrounding Joshua Harris.

Joshua was a big name in evangelical Christian circles. He was the head pastor of a mega-church, Covenant Life Church, which was the flagship of Sovereign Grace Ministries. He was also best-selling author of three books, which are largely regarded as a foundation to the ‘purity movement’ (the ideas that not only was pre-marital sex wrong, but that couples should avoid things like kissing, cuddling, or even holding hands, in order to avoid the temptations of lust). He was also adamantly anti-gay. He was widely praised by many Christians as a great spiritual leader.

Shortly after I finished writing this article (but before it was published), he came out as having rejected his Christian beliefs entirely. He has asked his publishers to stop printing all of his books after current copies are sold. He has written a really heart-felt apology to the LGBTQ community for the harm he did to them.

The result? Predictable.

Check out Christian commentsabout this, and by far the most common comment is that “obviously he was never a real Christian.”

It’s amazing how many Christians remain oblivious to the obvious idiocy of this argument.

 

=====================

Bio: John Lombard is a Humanist and ex-missionary who grew up in Ontario and has been living and working in China for more than 20 years. He currently works as a cross-cultural consultant to help foreign companies seeking to do business in China.  He is launching an exciting new business, ‘The Language of Culture“, to teach Cultural Intelligence, at languageofculture.net.

>>>>>>Photo credits:  By Pieter Lastman – IAFT8IfCTfplRQ at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24208288; “Christ The Consolator” by Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) – Private Collection. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –  By Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch (1747-1822) – Eigenbesitz, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=940691;  By E. Stuart Hardy (illustrator) – http://theprintportfoliogallery.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=116_127, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28633200 ;

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jim Jones

    There are no Christians, since all claims can be rejected by some definition or another!

  • Waski the Squirrel

    It’s that whole “No True Scotsman” fallacy, and they are unaware they are using it. What started me on the path of atheism was a fundamentalist telling me that I couldn’t be a Christian because I accepted evolution. So I sort of like it when they use this argument!

  • wannabe

    Excellent column! Thanks!

  • Brian Davis

    And that, my friends, is no foundation for a belief system.

    It sounds like the very definition of “belief system”.

  • Linda LaScola

    If I had heard that while I was still a believer, I would have laughed in his face. Evolution was never mentioned in the Catholic churches I went to as a child or the Episcopal churches I attended as an adult.

  • mason

    Well done interesting article John

  • mason

    Christians have been acting like biological cells, rapidly dividing into new and differing sects, each with the claim of being the “real” “true” brand of Christianity. Even within the Catholic sect the range of beliefs that range from very fundamentalist to extremely liberal, those divisions could be views as a sects claiming the “real” label.

    The word Christian lacking effective clarification with a plethora of adjectives, is a hot air balloon lacking hot air.

    As the term “religion” became more and more negative with the public, the Evangelicals started there mantra of, “We’re not religious, not a religion,” This is of course is like a donkey denying being a jackass.

    Almost all my encounters with those claiming to be the real Christians has been with Catholics … “We’re the original brand, everything else has splintered off, and Evangelicals with their war cry of “We’re the real Christians because we have a personal one on one relationship with Jesus.” They have an ID card in their wallet signed by Jesus to prove it.

    The encounters are generally friendly, they make their brand authenticity claims, and I explain why the concept of blood sacrifice of a son is immoral ancient barbaric Hebrew stuff and certainly a Creator of the Universe (as well as any fourth grade class of students) could devise a far more decent plan to improve humanity, than have a deity’s son tortured and killed. I might also plant another seed or two. The Jesus tale belongs in the same fiction section of a library as Greek mythology I often tell them.

    Over the years I’ve learned that a fair number of these believers eventually switched philosophical teams.

  • John Lombard

    A great example of this mythological ‘real Christian’ phenomenon is demonstrated in the recent events surrounding Joshua Harris.

    Joshua was a big name in evangelical Christian circles. The head pastor of a mega-church, Covenant Life Church, which was the flagship of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Best-selling author of three books which are largely regarded as a foundation to the ‘purity movement’ (the ideas that not only was pre-marital sex wrong, but that couples should avoid things like kissing, cuddling, or even holding hands, in order to avoid the temptations of lust). He was also adamantly anti-gay. He was widely praised by many Christians as a great spiritual leader.

    Shortly after I finished writing this article (but before it was published), he came out as having rejected his Christian beliefs entirely. He has asked his publishers to stop printing all of his books after current copies are sold. He has written a really heart-felt apology to the LGBTQ community for the harm he did to them.

    The result? Predictable.

    Check out Christian comments about his, and by far the most common comment is that “obviously he was never a real Christian.”

    It’s amazing how many Christians remain oblivious to the obvious idiocy of this argument.

  • Linda LaScola

    Hello all — I am trying to post the rest of what Mason wanted to say. There are problems on the blog again.

    His post was marked “waiting to be approved by rational doubt”, but it isn’t. Other blogs report this problem and it’s being worked on. I just reposted what he wrote — totally acceptable — and I got the same message.

  • John Lombard

    Linda, I wrote a post which also seems to have disappeared…

    ETA: I just checked, and it is also listed as ‘Pending’

  • Linda LaScola

    Sorry about that — DO you have a copy of it? or can you easily recreate it? I can add it to the body of your post.
    FYI — The problem is being looked into by Patheos tech staff.

  • John Lombard

    Actually, it would be a good fit to go at the end of my post, a follow-up of events that happened after I wrote it. Will send to you by email

  • Linda LaScola

    TO John and other readers here — I just appended John’s post to his original post above. Quite interesting. I didn’t know that Joshua Harris had left Christianity.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    This is part of my stance: if it’s all or nothing, I’ll just have to take nothing. In the narrative of Santa Claus, I can accept:
    A) Good boys and girls may be rewarded and bad ones punished
    I can not accept:
    B) Flying reindeer.

    If I absolutely MUST accept A and B to be a “True Santa Clausian” then I’m not one.

    This is really the answer to the original article poster. The only True Christian is on that maintains obedience to Christianity. That’s the only True Christian™. You don’t have to belief anything, just obey and act like you believe. The more extreme the enthusiasm the better.

  • John Lombard

    “The only True Christian is on that maintains obedience to Christianity”– Aye, and there’s the rub. Because nobody can agree on what “obedience to Christianity” means. Even if we take only the New Testament, we have teachings that Christian women should cover their heads and be silent in church…something that most Christians (but not all) reject today. I could go on and on and on with such things…but saying that you need to “maintain obedience to Christianity” is a phrase entirely devoid of actual meaning.

  • Linda LaScola

    ATTENTION — I’ve reported the posting problem to Patheos again and it’s being fixed. Apparently it’s happened to several blogs, where benign words are wrongly caught in a filter.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    I should have clarified.
    The only True Christian is one that maintains obedience to the religious organization to which they claim membership. “Christian” as a philosophy won’t work. “Christian” as a group that hosts Bingo and pot luck dinners is what needs to be obeyed.

  • Cozmo the Magician

    You are obviously not a ‘REAL ATHEIST’ becuase you don’t hate xtians enough /s

  • Cozmo the Magician

    I love how ‘true christians’ talk about ‘family values’ when Jesus said you must hate your family and only love him…

  • Cozmo the Magician

    well, that and the dude likely never even existed.

  • Jim Jones

    Even as a hypothetical, they all fail. Fred Rogers came close, but even he was well outside the rules.

  • John Lombard

    I’ve actually heard atheists make the argument that someone who did a terrible thing “wasn’t a real atheist”. I always confront them on it. It’s far more simple than Christianity…the definition of an atheist is very simple. If you do not believe in any kind of god, then you are an atheist. Period. Doesn’t matter if you call yourself an atheist or not. Doesn’t matter if you do wonderful things, or terrible things.

  • ElizabetB.

    John, I had to smile this afternoon listening to an online conference sponsored by Westar Institute: “Doing Theology in the Age of Trump.” I will update after the recording is available, since I couldn’t listen closely, but I caught what sounded like an allusion to the need to work toward true Christianity, as a counter to Trumpism or Foxangelicals. Scanning the book of that name, I see the heart of Christianity described as “justice,” and read “Nationalism combined with Christianity, cooked on the Right side and skewed with hidden values from past eras, serves a dish called Trumpism… but real Christianity and real Christians could, if the will is present, change the recipe.” Searching for the recording, I see a comment on the Westar FB page: ” there is nothing that the Jesus Seminar people can add to the discussion among Christians because they would have to be Christians in the first place….” Sort of a fun place to see your theory ratified : )

  • Cozmo the Magician

    REAL TRUE atheists know to ONLY BBQ farm fresh babies over Kingsford charcoal on a Weber grill.

  • Allen T Coffey

    Great exposition, John.

  • ElizabetB.

    Listening to the whole conference recording, I am interested to hear that the primary view expressed is that “Foxangelicals” call themselves Christian and so Westar Christians must acknowledge them as such and accept their own implication in the negative attitudes like racism, authoritarianism, etc. So this group seems less inclined to believe in this mythological creature : )

  • Brian Curtis

    “A real Christian is one who agrees with me” is a natural outgrowth of the religious mentality, though. After all, religion starts with the idea that “There’s an all-powerful GOD out there, who just happens to agree with all my opinions and wants me to get my own way. In fact, he’s never disagreed with me on anything. Smart fella, that God!”

  • Jim Jones

    Yes. # of gods <= 0.