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: 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. 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 ;