More Than Belief

More Than Belief May 13, 2014

Keith Reich posted on the subject of belief within Christianity. He is worth quoting at length:

Many see Christianity as a “belief system.”  That is, Christianity is about believing the right stuff.  And belief used in this sense is defined as giving your mental agreement to a set of statements., such as, “Jesus Christ died for our sins,” or “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, of one substance (homoousios) with the father.” To believe these statements, for much of the modern church, means to agree in your mind that these statements are facts.

This is how I grew up as a Christian.  In the early phases, my Christianity was seen as accumulating right (orthodox) beliefs about God and Christ.  This manifested itself in reading the Bible, attending church, youth group, conferences, and the like, and acquiring knowledge.  Later it moved on to reading books which explained right beliefs.  This all culminated in reading systematic theology books to acquire knowledge of a compendium of orthodox Christian doctrines, which were propositions calling for mental agreement.

But what do you do after you have acquired all of these beliefs and given your mental assent to them? Well, there’s not much left to do.  You can digest a massive systematic theology in a finite amount of time, and then what do you do?  Well, I found that the only avenue left open, if my faith was not to become stale, was to debate.  Find people who disagree with my mental propositions, and show them the error of their ways.  I think that this is what much of conservative evangelical Christianity engages in: finding the right (orthodox) beliefs, and then searching out those who disagree with them, with the purpose of correcting them, or (more common unfortunately), with the purpose of punishing them for their stubborn doubts.  This is why I believe that evangelicalism has become so ugly in the public arena. The goal is to debate and punish those who won’t put a mental checkmark by all of the right (orthodox) beliefs as determined by the evangelicals.

Is this a good way to go?  Is this what Christianity should be?

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  • “Is this what Christianity should be?”

    Well, it doesn’t look much like the life lived by Jesus, does it? I get the impression he was far more concerned with relationship than with doctrine. Love God, love others!

    • D Rizdek

      I see a difference between the life that he lived and the message he brought. It seems there were lots of things, rules, points of doctrine, he expected followers to embrace. At least if you read his words “literally” that seems to be the case.

      He taught his disciples the right way to pray. Is praying an important part of I have to accept and engage in if I am to kind of, somehow, in a manner of speaking, call myself a Christian? Don’t Christians have to pray?

      He taught that we must repent. Must I actually repent or is that optional? Maybe, notwithstanding all the claims based on a “literal” reading of the Bible, I don’t think I’ve really done anything bad enough to make me repent…or anything that fits into the category of things I’d need to ask a God to forgive me for. IOW, it’s NOT that I think I’ve never really hurt another person, but to me, anyways that’s really none of a God’s business. What is HE gonna do about it if I repent of something I did to another person…to HIM. He can’t really forgive me for hurting someone else. All he can do is somehow pretend to forgive me. But really, unless I actually make amends TO THE PERSON I HARMED, I’ve done nothing to exonerate myself from guilt. A God’s forgiveness is worthless unless something I’ve done is a sin against him, something that hurts HIM, personally. And I don’t even know what that might be…unless I take parts of the Bible literally. How does one actually HURT a God?

      Jesus said, ‘”You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues you to take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and don’t turn away him who desires to borrow from you.” Isn’t that something I have to claim to believe…that I should turn the other cheek, figuratively speaking if someone does me wrong?

      Don’t I have to believe that I should be prepared to forgive those who wrong me 70 times 7…meaning, I think, every time, forever we are always to forgive. It’s a way of life, true, but it’s also something I’m supposed to believe.

      I think Jesus believed in a literal place of torment for folks who do not, in the writer of Acts words “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” I know of scriptures to support this belief of mine. But I don’t believe there is an afterlife place of torment…at all. So that’s a box I would not check, but it IS a point of contention among various Christian mindsets.

      I think he meant it literally when he said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” So it would seem Jesus thought we were to believe in him. I’d interpret this to be a “box” to be checked.

      I stopped my surfing search there, but I think there are many many things Christians would claim Jesus said we are to believe. And wouldn’t that be something folks would debate that others should also believe.
      I mean even “how we interpret” the Bible seems to be a major bone of contention among various Christian mindsets. I’ve been called a “bone-headed literalist” when brining up points I THINK the writers of the Bible THOUGHT were literally true. I’ve been referred to as a “poor fundy atheist,” as well. I don’t care, I take pride in the fact that I DO believe that the folks who wrote the Bible thought they were, for the most part, writing literal history and truth. Of course I recognize authors of parables and poetry knew they weren’t writing literal history, but I can’t think of too many other stories that I think THEY knew didn’t really happen. Job, Jonah, Noah, Adam…I believe every one, including Jesus and Paul thought those stories were literally true. And that is something to debate…how much of the Bible and why, should we take literally, vs assume it’s allegorical, figurative, idiomatic or some other literary device to get points across by telling something that isn’t literally true. My two cents.

      • You think that the historical Jesus spoke those words and others in the Gospel of John? That seems historically improbable.