Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
Okay so I know I have been making commentary on Christians, but haven’t really laid out what Christians and which Christianity that I am actually commenting on. But now I am doing that and we are finally entering into a blatantly religious realm of study. But you may be wondering something, why aren’t we covering the numerous questions/criticisms on the Bible before entering this subject? Can’t we just go and declare Christianity relatively null and void because of the exposed weaknesses found in the criticisms at the Bible?
First of all, Christianity isn’t null and void simply on the basis that it has millions of adherents. And well even assuming that that wasn’t the case, quite frankly you could try to do that, you know go in and “disprove” parts of the Bible, but you’ll have a really hard time with that. I mean sure you can try to do what hundreds of other scholars have already tried and dig to find some point of contention in the Good Book’s historical accuracy. Many scholars have tried to do this through comparison to other historical texts as well as through archeological evidence. You could try to frame an argument against it through its teachings. But now you’ll have another serious problem. You won’t be able to actually analyze the validity of the Bible without an interpretive lens of some sort. After all, you won’t be able to study a book that says many things without figuring out what those many things seem to mean.
But even more importantly, you will miss the entire point of this blog series. The goal of these posts is to open up a new type of analysis of Christianity that is based upon relational frameworks. Because, I contend, only if you really understand the religion in its functional contexts will you begin to be able to determine the validity of what it actually is.
If you’ve been reading diligently through the previous blog posts, you will see how this is actually a harder question than it seems. Furthermore, IF YOU ARE HIGHLY FAMILIAR WITH CHRISTIAN TEACHINGS, THEN YOU CAN SKIP DOWN TO THE SECOND HORIZONTAL DIVIDING LINE.
First of all, the interpretive spectrum for Biblical interpretations is as vast as the ocean, so that’s a hurdle that we will just have to bypass through a few assumptions and narrowing definitions. Second, the Bible contains so many codes, laws, spiritual teachings, Jesus’ words, and applicable knowledge that its tough to do justice in one blog post. That is why we are zeroing in on the most bare-bone concepts in Christianity.
To start, we have to familiarize ourselves with the culture of Christianity. Of course, this goes without saying, but not all Christians interpret the scriptures of the Bible in this fashion, but by and large, many do. Now I do readily apologize for not linking this narrative below to their respective Bible verses. I simply do not have the time right now.
The mindset of contemporary, evangelical Christianity defaults to the condition that all humans are subordinate in every capacity to an all-powerful, all-knowing God. God made this world and therefore he owns all rights to do whatever he so desires with it. However, thankfully, he is benevolent in nature and loving, so do keep that in mind. And as the Genesis narrative goes, humans screwed things up. They decided that they wanted to be “like God” in his abilities, particularly in knowledge, so they acted in opposition to his set of instructions. That was the first “sin” or wrongdoing. Christians call this the “fall of man.” God became separated from his created beings, his humans, which resulted in consequences like death and so forth. God, seeking to “restore that relationship with his creation”, constructed a system to redeem humans. Hence, the blood sacrifice of animals in ritualized fashion became the “new instructions” for making everything better. For hundreds of years, this was the norm for Jews and Israelites, because also at this time, the religion was largely specific to these designated races.
So why don’t Christians still sacrifice animals and why can all races of people become Christians now you may ask?
Because God created the world, he also designed a “master plan” for its subjects. Since they screwed up, which God arguably planned to happen, all the followers could do was continue following strict laws and codes and sacrificing animals. But, God in his wonderfully benevolent nature, planned to send a more permanent fix because the sacrificing of all these animals and following all the hundreds of regulations becomes kinda cumbersome. I mean I generally despise rules and agree that those animals seem like valuable resources, especially at that point in time. So what happens? God sends Jesus Christ.
Now everything up to this point constitutes the Old Testament Portion of the Bible. Here begins the New Testament Portion.
Jesus Christ becomes born, the son of God. He is perfectly righteous and performs miracles while travelling through the Mediterranean region. Eventually, he gets wrapped up in a bit of trouble for disturbing and undermining the long-withstanding institutions of Jewish law and custom, and sooner or later, the religious leaders begin to have a big problem with him. It grows to such a level that even the Roman Empire, who was currently occupying political control over these regions, became involved. Certain members of the local populace voted to have Jesus killed in an excruciating death, in part to scare any followers away from continuing Jesus’ deviant ideology and practices. Unfortunately for the leaders, Jesus does die, but comes back. This is because God wanted Jesus to die to be the last, ultimate, sacrifice for all mankind. Jesus hangs around for a short bit to show that he is indeed alive, and then he ascends to heaven. He grants a special gift of a “Holy Spirit” which is basically a higher level conscious that guides Christians to interpret scripture correctly and behave in accordance to its moral standards. And so, he leaves his closest followers, called disciples, the task of spreading the religion throughout the world. Christianity steadily grows more influential and great leaders, known as apostles, become the centers of authority. Their experiences and instructions, inspired by the Holy Spirit, fill the remainder of the New Testament Bible.
Now, Christians like to summarize this narrative story that I just gave into a more biblically-termed, friendly-worded, succinct message. They call it the Gospel, which is basically the crux of the religion. If you’re interested in more, Here is an example of what the Gospel is from a Christian lens.
So now, we are gonna go ahead and categorize the two thresholds in Christianity we just ran over above. Of course, again, this goes without saying, but not all Christians interpret the scriptures of the Bible in this fashion, but by and large, many do. There are commonly defined two types of “covenants” which are the old and the new.
The old covenant existed before the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The old covenant basically dictated that humans would sacrifice animals to atone for their “sins” so that they could please God and go to heaven. This old covenant contained the numerous laws, instructions, and guided modes of life for Christian adherents.
Then the new covenant comes along and basically nullifies everything in the old covenant. It basically states that Jesus Christ is the ultimate atonement for all sins and that acceptance of His action into your “heart” will release you from the “mindset of the world” and give you salvation (or acceptance to heaven). The Holy Spirit now comes in to act as a higher conscious to help guide behavior and interpretive accuracy of the Bible.
Now, I love to pose this question, which asks, what is the greatest/most significant commandment of Christianity? Because it suddenly prioritizes the Christian doctrines and provides a foundation in which to synchronize all the other corresponding beliefs around. Fortunately, this question was posed, (and even more importantly, was recorded!) at Jesus Christ, basically the top authority of, and within, the scriptures of the Bible. It is recorded in the book of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 36-40.
Matthew 22:36-40 (New International Version)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Now I am not here to cherry-pick certain verses to provide a distorted view of Christianity and nor am I here to say that this is all of Christianity right here. But this verse does provide a very big insight into what the religion is about.
Now, some Christians go so far with this verse as to define a Christian as one who adheres to the instructions in Verse 37. Of course, there is one big gaping question, and sort of a subsequent problem, with this whole statement. What is loving God with everything, with all individual resources?
Second, this passage is highly intriguing because it sort of interconnects the two commandments together. Basically, loving God is sort of manifested in loving others. Now here is where things start to get interesting, could the two commandments ever be in conflict with each other and what happens if the two are seemingly in conflict with each other?
Well then the question turns into what does loving God actually look like? According to most tenants of contemporary Christianity, we can only find truth through the Holy Spirit and assess it against the words of the Bible. Basically, for modern Christians, the Bible is the only complete source of truth.
Now I’m going to kind of side-step this huge question and point out that the answer is contained within the passage above. The answer is in loving the person beside you as well as loving the Bible’s teachings, loving Christian community, loving the Holy Spirit, loving prayer, loving outright singing and worship to God, etc. But which of these things takes priority? It seems loving the person beside you as this is largely what Jesus did over his recorded lifespan. Not only that, but also because Jesus said so right in front of your eyes in the text in that phrase “and the second is like it” (this is for Christians). Now again for Christians, plus secularists and agnostics who tend to be more skeptical and in need of a bit more convincing, why does loving God actually occur through loving other people? Because it reflects PSIC, in interpersonal, inter-relational, development. It regards on focusing on the other individual, on his/her needs/desires, on what you think you should do in his/her benefit, even perhaps if dire, at your own detriment.
So can loving God and loving people be at odds? What if the person that you are required to love engages in sinful actions? Can you isolate the person from his/her actions and love one but not the other? This seems feasible, after all, people do it all the time, especially in critiquing arguments. It’s even considered a logical fallacy in ad hominem. But this gets complicated because inevitably a person’s actions reflect his/her identity. There is an inexplicably concrete relationship between what one does and who one is.
Suppose a man who is running from the authorities has committed the sins of rape and murder. He comes to you in confidence and asks you to provide him shelter because he has cancer and is approaching death. You know he has cancer. He wants to live the remainder of his life in peace since it is a short one. Do you provide a room and shelter him? Do you report him to authorities? What is loving him?
Now, granted that scenario is pretty extreme, but the question still remains. What did Jesus actually mean by those statements?