I wish more Christians realized that when we use the word “Christian” as a synonym for “ethical” we are insulting the rest of the world. My church has lost members because I refuse to display the Christian Yellow Pages in our foyer. The idea behind such a phonebook is that by shopping from Christian merchants one is less likely to be cheated. But what kind of a worldview is that? Is every Jew like Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic character in Merchant of Venice? Is every atheist indifferent to matters of virtue?
To use the word “Christian” as a synonym for “good” drifts very close to self worship. Are we Christians really better than ordinary humans? After thirty years of ministry I have seen very little evidence of it. We may be better to people from our own group, but then so is the mafia.
Jesus said the test of ethics is how we treat the outsiders to our group. To love another, we must surrender any desire to shape them into our own image. This means we must surrender the desire to convert them. We cannot answer the call to love if we see the Jewish person or atheist only as a potential Christian. To answer Jesus’ call, we must love the Jewish person as a Jew and the nonbeliever as an atheist.
When Jesus walked the earth there was no church to convert to, there was no Bible to read, and no creeds to brainwash converts with. So Jesus did not come to convert the world to a sect that did not yet exist, he came to convert us all to communities of universal love. Would that more Christians knew the inclusive universal love Christ taught before they tried to spread their own smaller sectarian idea of it.
I am always irked (offended being too strong a term) by other farmers at the market who have signs assuring the public that theirs is a Christian farm.
I strongly agree with everything you’ve written in the first three paragraphs. A book I’m currently reading has me questioning the fourth paragraph and I Reza Aslan and he points out in the beginning of the book that he isn’t writing about Jesus the Christ, the person who is worshiped but Jesus the man and his actual historical life. In it he makes a very convincing argument that Jesus wasn’t around to convert people to Christianity, obviously, but he was trying to take back the Jewish temple from both the corrupt priests and the Roman empire.
I’ve been thinking of you a lot while reading this book because it makes Jesus out as a pretty radical activist, which reminds me of you a bit. But your activism is very different from his in that yours follows the teachings of Jesus the Christ – words written long after Jesus the man’s death that were most likely written in a way to form the new religion of Christianity into what it needed to be at the time, rather than a zealous attempt to take back the Jewish Temple.
I know, this is mostly really off topic from your actual post but I just thought I’d throw it out there.
Trisha, I don’t think you are at all off topic. All insights are welcome and yours is certainly interesting, so thank you. I haven’t read his book yet, but several theologians have made the case you describe from his book that Jesus was a revolutionary. I certainly agree with that conclusion, but I also see Christianity as a mosaic built of many pieces. There is definitely a revolutionary aspect, but I also believe there is also a cosmic hymn that is also important. I personally do not believe we can get back to the historical Jesus to know much for sure, so I don’t want to base my life on anyone’s theory. But I think the conversation provokes much growth and so provides a good vocabulary for this kind of conversation. I believe religion should provoke good art and lead us to good science as well as to good politics so I want to include parts of the story that some authors would consider as beside the point they want to make.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply.