‘Christian’ – A Subjective Term

Are you a Christian? Do you know someone who claims to be Christian? What does that word mean? Dictionary.com has a few definitions for both the adjective & noun, but the two I’ll use are ‘a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity’ and ‘a person who exemplifies in his/her life the teachings of Jesus Christ.’ I’ve also heard that the word translates to ‘little Christ.’ Regardless of which definition you go with, my point is that it’s meaning has no real consensus.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that everyone in the world agreed to the fact that ‘Christian’ means ‘follower of Christ’s teachings.’ Cool. But there will be staunch disagreement on what exactly that means. Some people say they are Christians who love gay people. Other people who claim to be Christians hate gay people. Some people who claim to be Christians are okay with gay people, but ‘hate the sin’ of gay people. Which group is correct? Is it open to interpretation? If so, then the definition of the word Christian is fluid as well. And if that’s the case then it’s ability to define someone is limited to a vague generality with several possible exceptions. It has no more relevancy than saying something is ‘new-ish.’ The concept of ‘new’ is a very relative word that must always be placed in context to have meaning. Cosmically speaking anything under a billion years old could be considered new. As far as human life is concerned we tend to stop using the word ‘new’ within the first year of life.

I pose that the word ‘Christian’ means different things to different people. Recently I posted an article on FB about some people who claim Christianity said that Robin Williams’ death means that he is currently in hell. As I assumed, it flared some tempers. Some people commented to the effect that ‘the people in the article may claim Christianity, but they’re not really Christians.’ And that got me thinking. The people the article was talking about may very well believe that my friends who commented are in fact not really Christian. In other words, there are different types of people who claim the Christian religion who invalidate the claims of other people who claim the same religion. Who’s right?

If you’re left handed, there’s little ambiguity to that term. If your left hand is more dominant than you’re right hand then you are left handed. If both hands are equal, you’re ambidextrous. You might also be right handed. But that’s not a subjective term at all. We can test that. If you write a sentence on paper with each hand, we simply compare the handwriting. Whichever one appears legible and smooth was written by your dominant hand. If both were then you’re ambidextrous. We have a test for hand dominance.

We have no test for Christianity. If you claim Christianity and someone else claims you’re not then you have no test to prove it. Any ‘proof’ you have could be as easily dismissed as your initial claim. You may say, “I’ve been Baptized in a church and I have a video of it I can show you.” Someone could easily retort with, “I don’t recognize your Church’s authority to Baptize in the name of Christ.” Who’s the authority in this situation who can say who is correct? You may say, “That’s easy. God is the ultimate authority.” Fine. How will God let us know who is correct? Will he speak in an audible voice? Most Christians I’ve ever known or read or seen lecture would agree that God rarely ever does that. And most Christians I know would be skeptical about a claim from anyone that God did this. Most Christians would likely say that God reveals his truths to us internally through the Holy Spirit. Cool. Except, we still have no way of verifying that other than to take a person’s word for it.

“Hey just so you know, God told me that I was definitely a follower of his Son and you’re not.” Response, “Actually, God told me through the Holy Spirit that you can’t hear the spirit and anything you feel is just your own desires you mistake for the Spirit.” Well crap. Now what do we do?

My whole point to this is to say that religion is a very subjective thing. You may think that you have done the research and the studying that qualify you as an expert in the Bible. And I’m not gonna disagree with you. Many people I’ve known have devoted their lives to studying Church History, Ancient Greek, Hebrew writings, etc. But even among the most knowledgable people out there, there is still disagreement. For example, William Lane Craig is considered a top name in his field of theology. He’s written a number of books. He flies all over the world debating atheists and people like that. He seems like a genius to me. I don’t agree with everything he says all the time (but then again there’s not another human being on the planet I agree with 100%), but I respect the hell outta the guy for being so smart and so dedicated to his study. Craig does not believe that the Earth is only 10,000 years old. And yet there are many young earth creationists out there who believe that the only correct way to interpret the Bible is to do so literally and therefore the Earth simply must by somewhere around 6000-10,000 years old.

Now, I’m aware that generally speaking Christians don’t accuse each other of not being a Christian based simply on their belief of the age of the earth. But some do. And there are other beliefs that cause some Christians to judge other claimers of the religion as not correct. The gay issue comes up. There are gay churches out there. Churches who specifically cater to the LBGT community. I know people who claim to be Christians that believe there’s no way someone can be both pro-gay and following Jesus. Who’s right? Again, it’s super subjective. Do we go with the majority? Well according to a poll I found here http://www.pewforum.org/2011/12/19/global-christianity-exec/ 50.1% of the world’s Christians are Catholic. Does that mean the Catholics interpret the Bible correctly because there’s more of them? But not all Catholics even agree. The the protestants are in second place with 36.7%. But we know they’re splintered up into hundreds of denominations that largely disagree on things big and small. Don’t even start a conversation with someone about Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Why? Because it’ll bore you to sleep. But did you have a choice in falling asleep or was there a possibility that you would have stayed awake? Snore.

I’m not quite sure why I wanted to write about this, but I do think it’s important to discuss. If Christianity is truly subjective then what does it mean to identify yourself as one? I think it’s kinda like a venn diagram with hundreds of different circles. They all overlap in a few beliefs such as ‘Jesus was God (or at least a demigod),’ ‘The Bible (or parts of it at least) were written or inspired by a supernatural force (usually God himself or the Holy Spirit).’ And that may be it. And honestly, there may be people who claim Christianity that disagree with even those statements. So, insted of thinking of a venn diagram with nice round circles, think of it more like an abstract painting where every type of ‘Christian’ is a different shape. Parts of many of the shapes exist with no overlap to any other shape. Some overlap heavily. Some overlap more lightly. But no two shapes overlap just the space of each other.

So, here’s what I’m trying to say I guess…If you believe you have the authority to determine that someone who claims Christianity is not a Christian, maybe recognize the fact that while you believe it, you have no way of definitively convincing anyone else that you’re correct in your belief. And maybe if we all realize that our Christianity (or maybe any religion) is nothing more than subjective beliefs (similar to our political beliefs or our taste in movies) then we will be less apt to judge and hate each other for our claimed religions. Religion can be important for many people. But your judgement of anyone else’ religion is nothing by unnecessary negativity. Sure, it’s cool if you disagree with someone. I’m a Tony Romo fan. So, I know what it’s like to want to convince people that my choice of quarterback is amazing despite popular opinion. And sometimes I’ll admit I get frustrated when people won’t believe me that he has amazing numbers.

I digress. My point is that we all wanna believe we’re correct. But if something’s subjective then we don’t have to feel the need to get judgmental, or pissy, or emotional about anyone else’ subjective choice in life. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we just worried about our own religion and not the religion of others? In other words, if you think that someone who just died is burning in hell, maybe just keep that to yourself. Or if you don’t like gays marrying, then don’t attend gay weddings. Or if you don’t like abortions then simply don’t get one. Or if don’t like pornography then don’t watch it. Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them. But telling someone that they are wrong for their interpretations of their religion just doesn’t make any sense in light of the subjectivity of the religion.

Rather than using your first amendment rights to act like a jerk just ask yourself those important three questions given to us by Craig Ferguson: “Does this need to be said? Does this need to be said by me? Does this need to be said by me right now?” Again, I’m not telling you what to believe. But why you gotta get up in people’s faces with what you believe? Maybe just chill out and stop saying stuff, because you think you have the monopoly on the teaching’s of Christ.

Just a thought. But then again, maybe I’m wrong.

Thanks for reading, y’all!
Rich

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