Here's to a good time, a good life, and a good death.
In contemporary Western society, when people are discussing religion, often they will already closely agree on whatever the subject matter is at hand before entering the subject. For instance when someone asks another person, “What do you believe in?” or “What faith/religion are you?” or the classic, “Are you a Christian?”, it usually occurs in a friendly environment, like a church meeting. I can hypothesize two basic reasons for this. First, this topic of religiosity generally comes up far more in religious institutions, like church, private schools, inner family settings, and related conferences. Basically, like you may talk more about food in a restaurant, you are more likely to talk about God in a church. Very easy idea. Second, western society seems to take religion seriously to an unforgiving level. In other words, people take their beliefs so deeply to heart, that disagreeing on the subject can lead to seriously nasty results, to the point that it does not make sense to even risk the potential disagreements in the first place. Of course, these two conjectures are broad generalizations that do not always apply, but just like many generalizations, they certainly can too at times.
I’m mildly disappointed this is the case. I would love to have more open, light-hearted discussions on religion and morality, without having to worry about making a ferocious enemy or at least about damaging a person’s livelihood. It’s just too easy for people to become defensive on a sacred subject like religion. This is at least the case for the serious ones. They hold it too close to their hearts, to the meaning for their existence and so forth.
For instance, the other day on spring break, my mother “in typical fashion” tried to explain the wonders of God in the old testament. (Christians still read the Old Testament for broader biblical truths, just not in a literal sense like the New Testament). As per usual, I politely listened as I ate my freshly made tuna fish sandwiches. She explained the wonderful blessings of her Bible study in exploring the Old Testament law (which is incredibly dry and boring). In particular, she was explaining a story from Leviticus, in which God gives very specific laws regarding the process of entering, honoring, and exiting the Tabernacle, which was basically a holy altar housed by some sort of temple-like building. The Tabernacle housed God’s presence. She continued more specifically into Leviticus 10, where God kills Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, for entering the Tabernacle unauthorized and subsequently breaking some of the rules. Apparently, Aaron had explicitly told his son not to disobey the sacred procedures to the Tabernacle or there would be consequences. This was part of my mom’s justification for his lack of grief (the verses say Aaron remained silent). Further, my mom also mentioned that the Ark of the Covenant (another artifact that housed God) was very serious because another man died from disobeying there. He was carrying the Ark, reached out to stop it from falling, and was struck dead by God for disobeying. This story is recorded in 2 Samuel 6. After hearing her advocate the wonderfulness of God and the seriousness of following him correctly, I replied, “It’s a shame that he had to require death as a punishment.” My mom went from a smile to a sort of baffled look. I further commented, “I don’t really view death in any positive light, and to be honest, I’d rather not be a part of a religion with a God who puts people to death for messing up, one way or another, Especially if people are going to be happy about it, I mean at least be sad that Aaron didn’t even remorse over it. Or at least so the scriptures say.” Now at this point, she was definitely becoming defensive, starting to explain how I didn’t understand, and how it was okay because he was God (you know ultimate property rights), and all this something or other. She clearly didn’t expect to hear me say that. Either way, I knew it was time to switch topics as per usual…
So why the story? Because it provides a great illustration into the illusory thinking that religion can instigate. It’s not so much that I disagree with its content, but I disagree largely on the way that people view it or how Christians worship it. Christians see the Bible as the crux of Christianity, the only thing bearing all the truth in the world. It’s the “sword” to expose the weaknesses of other secular beliefs and so forth. But, to return to the FAM way of thinking, what really is the Bible? It’s basically the “Christian’s God”, because, what is God but a function of what is communicated through the Bible? If a Christian can only know God through the Bible, prayer, etc, and if the Bible takes precedence, then the Bible’s teachings and doctrines effectively becomes “God” in the relational sense. I could continue on into the formal modelling of a “God function” (you know what determines God), but I plan on getting to that later. Of course, I am also sidestepping what I have considered as the “Achilles Heal of Christianity” or the wide diversity of interpretation of scripture and other various sorts.
A big reason that I do not consider myself to be a “Christian” is that I don’t think I embody enough of the principal beliefs that those around me would consider to make up the identity of a Christian. You see, the term itself has so many connotative meanings, that any efforts on my part to self-define or identify with it on my own basis would be meaningless; as my beliefs deviate further from the mainstream or that respective environment, it gradually becomes entirely pointless. Simply the whole point of saying that phrase “I am a Christian” is to signal that your beliefs fit inside that median range of typical Christian beliefs (whatever that is), or at least that you have the more heavily weighted ones down right (whatever those are). The reason for the “whatever” comments is that I have come to learn that Christians will often emphasize different key doctrines. Otherwise, you will end up having to say much more than just “I am a Christian” as their questions regarding your behavior will downpour on you like a waterfall.
Also, I don’t think too many Christians would take too kindly to my type of analytic studying of the sacred realm. When I tell my friends that I go to church for entertainment and amusement, they are quick to rattle off some choice words at me from the set of vocabulary that often utilizes euphemisms, all in good fun of course. Sometimes, though, I will go to enjoy the music, or to make my parent’s happy. Or sometimes, to listen to the teaching and consider it’s validity or practical meaning, although that’s far less often now since I’ve spent a good 18 years of my life doing that.
Despite the freedom that Christianity boasts, I actually feel more free in my current mindset. Christianity will argue that’s an illusion in itself, which I suppose it could be since it’s tough to really measure these things, but I’m not unhappy in the slightest about leaving my comfort zone of Christianity. I feel more at liberty to use my “God given” resources to explore studying religion in a more critical framework. I also credit a lot of my individual development and intellectual/moral growth to abandoning some of the unchallenged thinking that I used to harbor very closely. I am not arguing that Christianity produces unchallenged thinking, but rather that often the environments that surround zealous followers of major religions can reflect those properties. This isn’t just limited to religion, but occurs often in certain socio-economic classes, political circles, and narrow interest groups. This occurs as inclusivity becomes a desirable outcome for insulating the community from “the world of sin and problems” and so forth.
Are my beliefs that different from Christians? I don’t think so, but many Christians do. I like the idea of God, the Christian sense of morality, and different principles that I think the Bible advocates.
Do I live my life very different from other Christians? Somewhat, in terms that I regularly drink and curse, and I used to “hook up” with girls, specific things that Christians seem to more or less universally look down upon, although that can be debated in certain ways of course. Outside of that, there is relatively little difference.
Do I dislike Christians? No, not at all. I think its wonderful for people to identify with a religion so closely and find meaning in it. This is given that it is within reasonable margins and “not glorified as a must-happen phenomenon for all people” type of thing. Basically, just be a respectful religious person.
Will I ever become a Christian again? This is a tough question, because, in what sense does the word Christian imply in this sentence. No, I will never return to the classic traditionalist Christian that I was very firmly raised to be. I can be certain of that. However, will I gravitate more towards Christian beliefs as time progresses and I get closer to death, and effectively the stakes get higher? We will see, only time can tell.
Many Christians hypothesize that if everyone in the world were Christians, the world would be in harmony. Do I agree with this idea? Absolutely not. First of all, if the world were actually approaching this sort of scenario in actual fashion, we would observe an outrageously high level of diversity in belief even if it were in the Christian context. But assuming the scenario in its more theoretical nature, and assume that would mean that everybody would think more or less the same, have more or less similar moral opinions, etc. There is no doubt in my mind that much of the inherent richness of life would sort of expire. Sure, there would arguably be no more crime, murder, hate, and so forth. It would be a rather bland paradise, or to put it more accurately, a rather toxic, atrophying utopia. I am quite happy with the way the world is and am more than happy to offer religion to anyone who is hurting or in need of it. This is not to say that there aren’t other serious problems in this world of course, just that I don’t think a lack of Christianity is necessarily one of them.
Christianity is a wonderful thing for many people, but just like anything else, too much of it can become detrimental to the individual, community, and society at large.