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The Christian Riddle





Indi
The riddle is simple: "When is a Christian not a Christian?" But the answer is complex.

For the sake of full disclosure and clarity, i have to admit that i am not a Christian. Although i was "officially" baptized into the Anglican church, and raised according to Anglican principles - "Sunday school" and all - i don't know if i could ever have been called a Christian. Or could i? Well, that's a good example of the riddle i am talking about. Let me offer my personal history as one example.

My parents were never particularly religious. If there was a Bible in our house other than my own (which i will explain momentarily) and the picture one my mother used in her school (which i will also account for), i didn't know about it. i think my mother had a crucifix necklace, but i cannot recall if or how often she wore it. Other than that, i do not think there was a single religious icon in our entire house. We never prayed, not before dinner nor before bed, and when my puppy died, my father blamed worms, not God's divine plan (when my tortoise died, my mother thanked God, but i don't think she was serious). i was baptized, yes - but more as a social move than anything else - had i not been baptized, there would have been hell to pay (hell, not Hell).

The first school i went to (that matters) had a religious studies class (it was called "religious studies", but it was really just learning Bible stories and basic Christian theology and apology, but that's what all "religious studies" classes there were) - which was common (this was not America) - but no daily prayers - which was uncommon. When that school closed down (the owner/headmistress had health problems - not my fault, i swear), i was sent to another school that was more typical... which meant far more religious. In fact, it was far more religious - to the point that shortly after i left it became "'The Rock' Christian Academy", and the rock they are talking about is in reference to St. Peter, and i'm not talking about St. Peter Townsend or St. Peter Frampton. My Bible - the first Bible i owned (which i still have - it has a sticker of Thundercracker on it because he kicks ass, generation 1 of course) was actually a textbook from that school. Before that happened, my mother pulled me out, determined that i should be educated not indoctrinated - so determined, in fact, that she started her own school, taking me and some of my friends on as students. But even in her school she had a religious studies class - taught by an American missionary (who gave her the illustrated Bible as a gift). i took religious studies classes all through high school - they were mandatory.

Now did i believe in any of it? Of course i did! i was a child being taught by adults who all stated Christianity and its tenets as blatant fact. i was a bright child, yes, and i asked difficult questions - but independent thought was strongly discouraged (not necessarily for religious reasons, that's just how they are there: "don't make waves"). Everybody seemed to accept all the claims without question - even my parents - and not a soul ever spoke out against Christianity... it just wasn't done. If you asked me if i was a Christian, i would have said yes - what else would i be? The only people who weren't Christians were Muslims or Hindu (there were no Jews, atheists, or anything else there), and you could identify them easy, and since i didn't act like a Muslim or Hindu, i must be Christian: that's all there was. A lot of Christianity made no sense to me, but there are a lot of things that make no sense that i just accept - and the same is true for anyone - and since no other option had even occurred to me, i just accepted it. But there it is - i believed in Jesus, and i accepted him as my saviour, and all that stuff... just because i never had any notion that any of it might not be true.


So, in the previous three paragraphs i explain that: 1) i was baptized, 2) i studied the Bible (and i challenge anyone here to show they know it better than me ^_^) and 3) i believed and accepted Jesus as my saviour. Now, for all intents and purposes, shouldn't that be enough to make me a Christian?

But... wait a minute. i was baptized to shut everyone up from talking, i learned the Bible in mandatory classes that i never really wanted to go to, and my "beliefs" were only accepting what everyone else believed without any consideration of whether it might be true and without ever learning about alternatives. Was i really Christian?

That's the crux of the riddle. What makes a Christian a Christian? And when is a Christian not a Christian?

Believing? i did that. But my belief was based on ignorance - blind acceptance of what i was taught and what everyone else around me believed. In fact, as soon as i realized that i had other options, i simply let go of those childhood beliefs - i didn't "change" my beliefs because what i had before were not really legitimate beliefs, it was ignorance given a shape by the culture around me. As soon as i learned, those childish beliefs simply got forgotten - i can't even remember why i thought these things because there was no why, there was just no other option. But if i was not a Christian because my beliefs were simply indoctrinated and unexamined... then how can any child be Christian, and how can any adult who has never learned about alternatives be Christian either? A number of people who post on these forums calling themselves Christian have no clue about the alternatives - as several of them have demonstrated clearly time and time agaon. Are they not real Christians?

Studying? i studied. i know the Bible as well as anyone here. In fact, in many cases, i have shown i know it better. Does that make me Christian, or more likely to be a Christian than someone who has never read the Bible? Doubtful. But what do you think?

Actions? i was baptized and went to Bible classes all the time. i prayed in school and so on. But i did it because it was what i was taught to do, and it was what everyone did. Still, i did what you're supposed to do if you're Christian. Did that make me Christian?

Let's try looking at actions a different way. i did the actions without feeling, just going through the motions, so you could argue that made me a non-Christian. Alright. Let's consider someone who goes through the actions with feeling. Let's choose... Shirley Phelps-Roper. ^_^ Now, she is a devout practioner of Christian actions. She believes. She's surely studied the Bible. Is she a Christian? Read up on her. What do you think?

So what makes a Christian a Christian? When is a Christian not a Christian? (Note that this same question could apply to any religion.)

Here are some answers i expect to get, but don't want to see:
  • "When they don't believe in my particular flavour of Christianity."
  • "When they do something i don't like."
  • "When i don't like them."
miacps
I think Christianity is relative. It really all depends on who you ask or what you've read. I could be wrong, but isn't there a passage somewhere in the bible that states something along the lines of "once you have accepted god, you will always be saved" or something along those lines (I could be kind of off or flat out wrong about this line, maybe it refers strictly to the after life and not a particular religion?). If I'm right about that line, it would lead me to believe that god considers me a Christian even though I reject the idea of god.

The Church certainly wouldn't consider me a Christian since I don't practice their religion.

I think what it comes down to is, only the individual can be certain whether they're a Christian or not. They could be a good Christian, bad Christian, ignorant or educated Christian, but if they believe they're a Christian, then they are.


Question (there can't be anyone one answer to this riddle, can there?) Question
Jinx
Than you, Indi. You very eloquently described exactly what I realized when i first became aware of other options than my loosely Christian upbringing. And I say loosely because my parents were not religious, yet we still went to church on occasion, and my brother and I got shipped off to Vacation Bible School every summer (more to give our parents a break from the constant cry of "I'm bored" that was a chronic problem over summer break than to instill any real religious fervor). It was done simply because that was what was expected. I grew up believing... or rather never being disabused of the assumption, that everyone was Christian - with the rare exception of the occasional Jewish person.

When I got into high school, and even more in college, I was turned on the the fact that there are many different beliefs out there, and you don't have to grow up in some exotic land to learn about them or believe in them. I finally began to see Christianity from an outsiders point of view. I explored other faiths, and finally settled on a heavily modified version of neo-pagan Wicca.

I saw the other people I new who were pagan or who practiced other faiths (religious exploration being a fairly common thing in college) trying to hold dialogues with Christians about faith and belief, and was shocked at how blind and close-minded the Christians could be... until I really thought about how I was raised - with the idea that there was no other option.

It's like being raised with blinders on, and you don't even know it.

I remember going to a youthgroup event at a local Baptist Church with a friend of mine when I was in highschool. The pressure to go aside with the pastor or one of the volunteers and pray to accept Jesus was very strong, and I did it - pretty much just giving into the peer pressure rather than from any real need to be 'saved'. But after that night I didn't give it any more thought. I had just been going through the motions to appear 'normal'.

As soon as I learned that there was nothing shameful about not being Christian I left it behind and never looked back.

To answer the question: I think there are two types of Christians.

There a cultural Christians, which is what I was when I was young, just going through the motions because that's what the society I lived in considered normal.

And there are true believers, those who have made an informed decision, having looked at other faith systems and decided that Christianity is for them, or who believe they have had an actual religious experience (visitations from angels, a calling to serve, etc...).

I'm pretty sure that most Christians, in America and Europe especially, are cultural Christians. They may not have much interest in religion, or they may be very active in Church culture, but they are just participating because that is what they have always done, what their family has always done.

The distinction between the two is very subtle and complex, and I really don't feel like writing whole paper on it to defend my position just now Smile

And I'm sure that many people who are cultural Christians in my view will argue that they are true believers.

Anyway, that's what I think.
Bikerman
Interesting question.
I think it boils down to - can faith positions be valid if based on ignorance?

On the one hand one could say that the answer is yes. To be a Christian means (I think) to accept Jesus as saviour, and to try to live according to his teachings. Ignorance of the problems inherent in the bible, and of other ways of looking at existence, simply makes it easier to 'toe the Christian line'.
We can define a faith position as belief(s) regardless of, or despite evidence. Being unaware of evidence to the contrary, or alternative views, therefore, does not disqualify one from holding a faith position - in fact it makes it easier.

There again, if we consider faith positions to be only valid if they are freely adopted, well that is a different story. I would say that no true freedom exists without awareness of the options/possibilities. A person is free to make a choice only if they are aware that choice exists, and what the alternatives are. Therefore the person who holds to a faith without being properly aware of the alternatives to, or critiques of, that faith cannot be said to 'freely' hold that faith position (at least not in the sense that I would use the word 'free').
Does that mean that they don't really qualify as a member of that faith?
Indi
miacps wrote:
I think Christianity is relative. It really all depends on who you ask or what you've read.

If that is true, then Christianity is objectively meaningless. There is no such thing as "Christian morality" or "Christian beliefs" because neither really exist. It would mean that whoever has the most power gets to define "Christianity" in a completely arbitrary way - as in, if the King wants to believe that Jesus was a girl, then anyone who doesn't believe Jesus was a girl isn't Christian.

Now, i'll happily grant that that's how it seems to have worked throughout history, which certainly seems to imply that Christianity is meaningless nonsense... but i'm not quite ready to assert that as absolute fact yet. If i insisted i was Christian even though i don't believe in God and believe that Peter was crucified and Jesus never existed... someone is going to cry foul. No one is going to accept me as a Christian if i spout those beliefs. So there must be some objective standard by which we can judge what is and what is not Christian, it can't be completely relative.

miacps wrote:
I could be wrong, but isn't there a passage somewhere in the bible that states something along the lines of "once you have accepted god, you will always be saved" or something along those lines (I could be kind of off or flat out wrong about this line, maybe it refers strictly to the after life and not a particular religion?). If I'm right about that line, it would lead me to believe that god considers me a Christian even though I reject the idea of god.

(Technically, the Bible is vague and internally contradictory about how that works. The position you describe is the Johannine position - the Synoptic gospels don't word it like that; in the Synoptics (and the Pauline letters, for that matter), you have to accept God and do good works, but just good works is enough as long as you don't reject God.

But even in the Johannine position, you can "lose" your place in Heaven, if you do the right/wrong things. Rejecting the idea of God is... debatable. Some say that if you do that, and not only do you lose your place in Heaven... you can never get it back and never be forgiven. My interpretation (not just my personal interpretation, it is supported by many Bible scholars, especially secular ones) is that that's not quite enough - just rejecting the idea of God is not enough, you have to actively and really say nasty things about God, including taking him as a devil and/or subordinate to other gods. So, you're probably safe, if you're worried. ^_^; )

miacps wrote:
The Church certainly wouldn't consider me a Christian since I don't practice their religion.

But that's what i'm trying to avoid - that's just (more or less) two different arbitrary views arguing with each other... without any objective way to determine who is right. Is Christianity really like that? i don't think so - i think there must be some objective standard.

Which means i don't give a rat's ass about what any church thinks. That's just their opinion, and probably not even an educated or objective one. i want a realistic, objective standard that i can use to determine who counts as Christian and who does not (then, if i cared, i could seek realistic, objective standards by which to differentiate different kinds of Christians - this one is a legitimate Catholic, that one is a legitimate Baptist - and so on, but that's skipping ahead... right now i want to identify real Christians).

miacps wrote:
I think what it comes down to is, only the individual can be certain whether they're a Christian or not. They could be a good Christian, bad Christian, ignorant or educated Christian, but if they believe they're a Christian, then they are.

But it can't work that way.

If Christianity is true, then God must have some way of determining who is and who is not a real Christian - unless he's just randomly making shit up as he goes along ^_^;. What metric does he use? (Note: it may be a metric we can't actually test ourselves - how do we test whether someone really believes or if they're just faking it well? - but it must be an objective metric.)

If Christianity is false, then it may just be vapourous, relative nonsense as you suggest, but i don't think so. If i started calling myself a Christian, no one would take me seriously (even atheists and other non-Christians), so there must be some standard being used.

Jinx wrote:
I finally began to see Christianity from an outsiders point of view.

You call me eloquent, then you go and sum up everything i was trying to express in a single sentence. ^_^; i am humbled.

You hit it dead on - a lot of people have tried to characterize every deconversion from Christianity as motivated by selfish and hedonistic reasons ("i am quitting Christianity because it cramps my style") or arrogant superiority ("i am quitting Christianity because i am smarter than Christians and know better than what God says"). Of course, that's mostly motivatd by the general antipathy toward atheists and ignorance about atheism... but it's better than burning them at the stake, so we've made some progress. The truth is, of course, far more complex. As you say, it is not a matter of embracing and then rejecting so much as it is a matter of blind, trusting acceptance followed by an eye-opening, leading to the discovery that there are other choices... and then, for the first time, probably, does any embracing actually happen.

Ah, but all that is an aside from the actual question. ^_^;

Jinx wrote:
To answer the question: I think there are two types of Christians.

There a cultural Christians, which is what I was when I was young, just going through the motions because that's what the society I lived in considered normal.

And there are true believers, those who have made an informed decision, having looked at other faith systems and decided that Christianity is for them, or who believe they have had an actual religious experience (visitations from angels, a calling to serve, etc...).

I'm pretty sure that most Christians, in America and Europe especially, are cultural Christians. They may not have much interest in religion, or they may be very active in Church culture, but they are just participating because that is what they have always done, what their family has always done.

The distinction between the two is very subtle and complex, and I really don't feel like writing whole paper on it to defend my position just now Smile

And I'm sure that many people who are cultural Christians in my view will argue that they are true believers.

i think your analysis is correct, but you're answering the wrong question - i am not interested in who wants to believe they are Christians. i am starting from the idea that there is something concrete that defines Christian. What is that?

To put it another way, i don't care about the people at all. i don't care if everyone on the planet that calls themself Christian is deluded, or whether or not they have a legal or cultural right to call themselves Christian. i am asking this question from a completely objective perspective - which means there can't be two types of Christian, there can only be Christians and non-Christians (there may be subtypes of Christian, but not two different types of Christian). So either both of the types you listed are really Christians, or one is not and one is, or neither is.

Now why am i asking? Explaining the reason might make the question a little clearer.

  • Theology: Whether it is true or not, Christianity in general holds to some theology - sub-sects may expand on and/or modify aspects of this theology, but there must be some core Christian theology. Part of understanding what that is invovles understanding what makes a Christian a Christian. We can't discuss Christianity without understanding what a Christian is.

    Also, within Christian theology there must be some way that God makes this determination, so even if you are trying to understand Christianity as a Christian, you (should) want to understand what God is looking for.

  • Academics: Anyone who has debated Christianity with Christians knows how slippery they are with how they identify what is and what is not Christian. Depending who you're talking to, their mood and the current alignment of the stars, they change their standards - "moving the goalposts", as it were - to suit their position and condemn anyone else's attempts to make different definitions (even other Christians). They're also big on the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. That makes debate a pointless - and frustrating - experience. By determining an objective standard, we would pull the rug out from under their dissembling.

  • Practicality: There are a lot of ways in society that the label really matters: Do you get to get out of mandatory military service for being a conscientious religious objector? Do you get to make confessions to a priest that are inadmissable in court? Do you get tax breaks? What, should we give these things to whoever calls themself Christian? Or should we pick "experts" (like priests) to make the judgement according to their own arbitrary standards? Neither option seems fair.

    Now it may not be possible to make this kind of determination in a practical way... but shouldn't we try - or at least, make sure we can't before we just give up? (And if we can't, is it fair to offer these kinds of social and legal benefits? Of course, that's a question another thread.)


Bikerman wrote:
On the one hand one could say that the answer is yes. To be a Christian means (I think) to accept Jesus as saviour, and to try to live according to his teachings. Ignorance of the problems inherent in the bible, and of other ways of looking at existence, simply makes it easier to 'toe the Christian line'.
We can define a faith position as belief(s) regardless of, or despite evidence. Being unaware of evidence to the contrary, or alternative views, therefore, does not disqualify one from holding a faith position - in fact it makes it easier.

If that's true, then i would have been counted as Christian when i was young. But does that really work? After all, remember, the prodigal son was the one that God appreciated more.

And how far does it go? Because while i believed what i was told, i clearly didn't understand it. i still don't. ^_^; Is that good enough? i mean, could any dribbling idiot be a Christian just by closing their eyes, sticking their fingers in their ears and believing everything the preacher told them?

Bikerman wrote:
There again, if we consider faith positions to be only valid if they are freely adopted, well that is a different story. I would say that no true freedom exists without awareness of the options/possibilities. A person is free to make a choice only if they are aware that choice exists, and what the alternatives are. Therefore the person who holds to a faith without being properly aware of the alternatives to, or critiques of, that faith cannot be said to 'freely' hold that faith position (at least not in the sense that I would use the word 'free').
Does that mean that they don't really qualify as a member of that faith?

Well in that case, if i had died as a child and gone to Heaven, God would have told me "no dice", and i wouldn't have had a clue why. All my life i would have been nothing but Christian, and i wouldn't even have been aware there was another option - to then be told that i wasn't would have been absurd in the highest.

What a mess, eh?
Bikerman
Indi wrote:
Bikerman wrote:
On the one hand one could say that the answer is yes. To be a Christian means (I think) to accept Jesus as saviour, and to try to live according to his teachings. Ignorance of the problems inherent in the bible, and of other ways of looking at existence, simply makes it easier to 'toe the Christian line'.
We can define a faith position as belief(s) regardless of, or despite evidence. Being unaware of evidence to the contrary, or alternative views, therefore, does not disqualify one from holding a faith position - in fact it makes it easier.

If that's true, then i would have been counted as Christian when i was young. But does that really work? After all, remember, the prodigal son was the one that God appreciated more.

And how far does it go? Because while i believed what i was told, i clearly didn't understand it. i still don't. ^_^; Is that good enough? i mean, could any dribbling idiot be a Christian just by closing their eyes, sticking their fingers in their ears and believing everything the preacher told them?
Well here I can call up my Catholic theology. According to that theology then once you are baptised you are in the club. You don't even have to believe (that is done for you by proxy - the God-parents). It's actually a bit of a bugger for 'lapsed Catholics' (yes, that is the official term) like me, because my name is still on the club membership document (the baptismal register), and there is no recognised way to get it off (though I am currently pursuing action via the data-protection act).
Even excommunication does not get you out of the club - it is regarded as a temporary removal from the communion, not a formal 'chucking-out'. Believe it or not excommunicated Catholics are still required to attend mass (otherwise it is a sin), but they mustn't take communion.
In Catholic theology once you are baptised you are a Catholic/Christian for good. I'm not sure about other denominations, but I seem to remember that you CAN get chucked-out of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They call it a declaration of 'anathema', and it completely expels you from the church (and presumably from being a Christian).
roxys_art
I think this question can apply to any religion.

But in this case, in order to be considered a Christian, I think:

-an individual must believe in what the religious texts are saying. But, this belief must stem from your choice. This means that you know of other options and understand those options. You may not know all the options, but you do know some, and based on this understanding, you make an optimal choice (best choice according to you based on the options you know and understand).

-knowledeable. How could anyone possibly claim to be a Christian if he or she does not know anything about the religion. You may laugh at this comment, but I know so many people that claim to be a Christian...yet I know more about the religion than they do. Just doesn't seem right to me. It's like if I were to claim to be a fan of the USC Trojans football team (like many do because they are the "in" team right now). I don't know much about the history of the program, the current players, how the team did last year (specifics), etc. I would be just going through the motions of being a fan, but I wouldn't really be a fan (at least in my opinion).

I may add to this list later, but right now, I feel these two criteria are definitely needed to be considered part of a religion.
Bikerman
roxys_art wrote:
I think this question can apply to any religion.

But in this case, in order to be considered a Christian, I think:

-an individual must believe in what the religious texts are saying. But, this belief must stem from your choice. This means that you know of other options and understand those options. You may not know all the options, but you do know some, and based on this understanding, you make an optimal choice (best choice according to you based on the options you know and understand).
Well, that would certainly seem to be reasonable, but it is not what happens in reality.
As I previously said, the Catholic church (and some other Christian denominations) regard you as a 'member' as soon as you are baptised. This goes further into society as a whole. If a child is, for example, admitted to hospital, then the admission form will probably ask for the religion of the child (it certainly does here in the UK). The parents can also choose to have a child educated in a particular faith school which makes the assumption that the child is a member of that faith group - in fact schools can actually select on the basis of religion. The school has to provide 'religious education' but there is no national curriculum for this, so the school can, essentially, teach one religion to the exclusion of all others.

It goes even further. If a non-Catholic marries a Catholic in a Catholic ceremony, they will normally be given a little 'chat' by the priest during which they will be asked to commit to bringing up any children as members of the Catholic faith. When Catholics marry it is assumed that they will do this, without the need for the 'pep talk'. In other words the parents are assumed to be indoctrinating the child in that particular religion - in fact it is pretty much a requirement.
LutheranMafia
Ugh, Anglican... Anglican bishops are political appointees with no divinity training. I know a Lutheran divinity student in Canada where the Anglican and Lutheran churches are still somewhat homogeneous, and he is worried that when he graduates he might get a calling from an Anglican parish rather than a Lutheran one, and find himself in a political hierarchy rather than a pastoral one. Since it would be his first gig as a reverend he thinks he would take the call anyway, but it worries him a great deal.
Bikerman
LutheranMafia wrote:
Ugh, Anglican... Anglican bishops are political appointees with no divinity training. I know a Lutheran divinity student in Canada where the Anglican and Lutheran churches are still somewhat homogeneous, and he is worried that when he graduates he might get a calling from an Anglican parish rather than a Lutheran one, and find himself in a political hierarchy rather than a pastoral one. Since it would be his first gig as a reverend he thinks he would take the call anyway, but it worries him a great deal.

Err...who mentioned Anglicans? You do know the difference between Catholicism and Anglicanism don't you? Do you even know the difference between Catholicism and Protestantism in general (Lutherans and Anglicans both being Protestants)?
It appears that you don't...Let me explain, so you can get a grip.
  • Roman Catholicism - the largest and oldest Christian communion. Dating to the 4th century and claiming to be the only true apostolic church.
  • Anglicanism - a Christian denomination which has its roots in the Church of England. It claims its roots are in the 597 Augustinian mission, but in reality it only became a 'separate' denomination in the times of Henry VIII (1534 CE).
  • Lutheranism - dates back to Martin Luther, specifically to the 1580 'Book of Concord' which is held, by Lutherans, to be authoritative on matters of scripture. The 'youngest' of the three denominations under consideration.
Clear now?

Anyway - since you are a Lutheran then perhaps you can clear up the Lutheran position on the substantive issue? What defines a Christian from the Lutheran point of view? Baptism? Acceptance of Christ as a saviour? Living a 'Christian' life? I thought that Lutherans were pretty much the same as Catholics in this regard - once baptised then you are a Christian. Have I got it wrong? Do tell!
barmstonian
Bikerman wrote:
It's actually a bit of a bugger for 'lapsed Catholics' (yes, that is the official term) like me, because my name is still on the club membership document (the baptismal register), and there is no recognised way to get it off (though I am currently pursuing action via the data-protection act).


Have you seen these people's experiences of trying to get debaptized?
http://www.secularism.org.uk/debaptism.html

It looks like the catholic and anglican churches both consider being baptized as the definition - they reckon it's a non-reversible act.

As to whether a Christian is a christian if indoctrinated as such without been told about other religions or atheism, Richard Dawkins is (rightly IMO) adamant that children should not be referred to as 'christian' or 'muslim' or whatever. He considers being a member of religion is a matter of informed choice which should be only made as a consenting adult.

I agree with Dan Dennett's modest proposal that kids should be given the facts about all religions http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_dennett_s_response_to_rick_warren.html

Cheers,
Barmstonian
Bikerman
barmstonian wrote:
Have you seen these people's experiences of trying to get debaptized?
http://www.secularism.org.uk/debaptism.html
Yep - I'm a member Smile
Quote:
It looks like the catholic and anglican churches both consider being baptized as the definition - they reckon it's a non-reversible act.
Quite correct. Unfortunately there is no mechanism by which I can be 'un-baptised', even though the original baptism was obviously not something I consented to. The best that I can do, and am doing, is to seek to challenge the keeping of my personal details on the baptismal register, through the provisions of the Data Protection Act. I have a challenge outstanding on this matter (currently under consideration by the Information Commissioner's Office).
Quote:
As to whether a Christian is a christian if indoctrinated as such without been told about other religions or atheism, Richard Dawkins is (rightly IMO) adamant that children should not be referred to as 'christian' or 'muslim' or whatever. He considers being a member of religion is a matter of informed choice which should be only made as a consenting adult.
Yes, I agree completely. We would not dream of labelling young children as 'Marxists' or 'Social Democrats' since it is clearly ridiculous to expect a young child to have formed a coherent political view. We (as a society) do, however, accept religious labelling - it is time that this was challenged seriously.
Quote:
I agree with Dan Dennett's modest proposal that kids should be given the facts about all religions http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/dan_dennett_s_response_to_rick_warren.html
Once again I find myself in complete agreement. I have no problem with religious education. If people want to follow a particular religious faith then that is their right. The best we can do (as a society) is to try and inform that choice.
Indi
i guess i wasn't clear earlier, so let me try and find another way to put it.

i don't care about what it takes for Catholicism, or Anglicanism or Lutheranism to count you as "one of them" - which really what all this baptism stuff is all about. i want to know what makes a Christian, not a Catholic (or Anglican, or whatever). Presumably there's some standard that makes one a Christian in general, then subtypes of Christianity have their additional standards to counted as members of that subgroup (baptism or whatever).

Clearly baptism does not count to make one a real Christian, as those NSS testimonials prove. Does anyone have the stones to call any of those guys Christian just because they're on the baptismal registers of their respective churches? Don't be absurd - there's no way any one of those guys can be called Christian by any reasonable definition of the term.

And then there's the fallacy of baptism when it's applied to babies or other people who have no clue what's going on. i was baptised as a baby. Can anyone in any way rationally claim that i am a Christian? Hardly.

roxys_art wrote:
I think this question can apply to any religion.

Precisely. But it would clutter up the discussion if i opened it up that broadly. Since these forums are 90% Christian and otherwise stocked with people who know Christianity quite well, it was a nice way to focus the question. You could certainly ask what makes a Muslim a Muslim, etc.

roxys_art wrote:
-an individual must believe in what the religious texts are saying. But, this belief must stem from your choice.

That seems reasonable to me. However....

roxys_art wrote:
-knowledeable. How could anyone possibly claim to be a Christian if he or she does not know anything about the religion.

That sounds reasonable... but it doesn't match the reality. As you commented: "You may laugh at this comment, but I know so many people that claim to be a Christian...yet I know more about the religion than they do." Quite true. So... what, they're not really Christian?

There are a lot of aspects of Christianity that are... well, frankly, nonsensical, and cannot be understood, so they fall back on the old "God moves in mysterious ways" or "it is not for us to know" cop-outs. By your standard, these people wouldn't count as Christian. Does that work for you?

It doesn't for me. i'm ok with calling people Christian if they don't really understand everything about it, but are at least aware of what they don't understand.
Jinx
I think the simplest answer is simply that anyone who believes (or professes to believe) that Christ lived, was the Son of God, and was crucified for the sins of man can be considered a Christian, regardless of the way they came to those beliefs or the additional beliefs they may hold or trappings and rituals they use to worship or celebrate.

Or from a strictly semantic view, the word Christian means a 'follower of Christ', so anyone who follows the teachings of Christ would be a Christian, regardless of whether or not they believe the supernatural aspects of the story.

As far as God is concerned (at least as far as my Baptist upbringing has lead me to believe, and with the understanding that if He exists, no human could possibly know what's on His mind), and assuming the Bible is the Word of God and true: since Jesus, in the New Testament states "The only way to the Father is through me" or words to that effect, then it would seem that the only true way to be Christian would be to accept that Jesus died for your sins, and to accept His sacrifice would mean to accept that everyone has sinned and is in need of saving, and that after accepting that sacrifice one should strive to live without sin so as not to let His sacrifice have been in vain.

But since God (if He exists) made the rules, and it's His toybox, I guess He's the only one who can really say who can play and who can't. As for the rest of us humble humans, we can only take a person's word about what he or she believes, and therefore whether or not that person is Christian, because, unlike God, we can't read minds (or, to use the terminology of the religion, only God can know what is in your heart... or is that The Shadow?).


(Disclaimer: I haven't been to church or Sunday school in a very long time, and am no longer Christian myself, so I may be a little off in my interpretation, YMMV, IANAP(riest) etc...)

PS - on the Baptism issue - it has always been my understanding that Baptism is a symbolic washing away of sin, and the practice of Baptizing an infant (who can't possibly have any sins of his or her own at the tender age of a few days or weeks old) is to wash away the stain of Original Sin, so that if the child dies in infancy it is ensured a place in heaven. A reasonable precaution from the point of view of devout parents, but I don't think, in and of itself, Baptism is sufficient to make one a Christian.

Again, this is coming from a Southern Baptist education, and I don't know much about the Catholic position on this issue.

PPS - Having looked back at Bikerman's post about Baptism, I can see that the Baptist and Catholic interpretations of Baptism differ, and yet both sects are considered Christian, so I would think that that fact would rule out Baptism as a factor in defining Christianity... wouldn't it?

Perhaps we should list off the similarities between different Christian Sects to see what the one thing is that they all hold in common?
Poetsunited
Its what you believe, that what makes you what you are... If you're raised in an Islam culture you are like 90% sure you'll believe in it too but sometimes people defy what their parents taught them

What makes you Christian? If you believe in the dogma's set that Christians in believe...

You can't consider yourself Christian if you don't believe in god, Jesus and Mary...

Strictly spoken, if you really are Christian, you can 't believe Darwin, or any one who wrote something scientific that goes against the church... Unless if they wrote it ( like Newton ) who said, I just observe gods work, What I discover is understanding god better.... He's the reason why my theories make sense...

But if you are a true Christian, You can only believe in the dogma's.
Bikerman
Poetsunited wrote:
Its what you believe, that what makes you what you are... If you're raised in an Islam culture you are like 90% sure you'll believe in it too but sometimes people defy what their parents taught them
Not sure about the 90% figure. I have a feeling that the actual figure is much higher. Unfortunately I can't find any useful stats one way or the other..
Quote:
You can't consider yourself Christian if you don't believe in god, Jesus and Mary...
Again I'm not sure about this. 'God' is common to most religions, not just Christianity. Jesus is certainly a key figure in Christianity but the influence and importance of Mary varies across the different denominations. Catholics consider Mary as an almost god-like figure. Other denominations regard her as nothing more than the mother of Jesus - no supernatural or divine powers.
Quote:
Strictly spoken, if you really are Christian, you can 't believe Darwin, or any one who wrote something scientific that goes against the church... Unless if they wrote it ( like Newton ) who said, I just observe gods work, What I discover is understanding god better.... He's the reason why my theories make sense...
Well most Christians certainly believe Darwin so I have a problem with this. Catholics, Anglicans and many other Christian denominations have accepted evolution and other scientific explanations for the physical world (such as the Big Bang theory). I agree that a literal interpretation of the bible would lead one to dispute Darwin and other scientific theories, but I'm not sure that Christians would say that this is a defining characteristic of their 'Christianity'...
liljp617
Bikerman wrote:
Well most Christians certainly believe Darwin so I have a problem with this. Catholics, Anglicans and many other Christian denominations have accepted evolution and other scientific explanations for the physical world (such as the Big Bang theory).

Really? :O The leaders of the denominations or the congregation? Cause I have quite a number of "avid" Baptist friends and most of them scoff at the idea of evolution or the Big Bang. Obviously this is a very small pool of people, but...
Bikerman
liljp617 wrote:
Bikerman wrote:
Well most Christians certainly believe Darwin so I have a problem with this. Catholics, Anglicans and many other Christian denominations have accepted evolution and other scientific explanations for the physical world (such as the Big Bang theory).

Really? :O The leaders of the denominations or the congregation? Cause I have quite a number of "avid" Baptist friends and most of them scoff at the idea of evolution or the Big Bang. Obviously this is a very small pool of people, but...

Well, I can't speak for all Christians (in fact I can't really speak for any Christians), but it is my understanding that Catholics (the biggest grouping) certainly accept evolutionary theory (based on personal understanding of the religion). It is also my experience that Anglicans also accept evolution (based on interaction and knowledge of that denomination). I have no doubt that some denominations differ from this, but that is certainly not a defining characteristic of Christianity. The creationist group are still a minority within Christianity (albeit a vocal one).
Indi
Jinx wrote:
I think the simplest answer is simply that anyone who believes (or professes to believe) that Christ lived, was the Son of God, and was crucified for the sins of man can be considered a Christian, regardless of the way they came to those beliefs or the additional beliefs they may hold or trappings and rituals they use to worship or celebrate.

But there's the catch! Is belief required... or is professing belief good enough.

If professing belief is good enough, then all i have to do is say i believe in the literal fact of the Gospels... even if i really don't. That seems problematic.

But the alternative is also problematic, because you can't believe something you don't know or understand, so real belief may be impossible (because the theology itself is complex and contradictory). Professing may be as good as you can get... even if that professing is not really true.

Incidentally, your standards for what should be believed are also... problematic. What if i believed that God exists, and that he communicated the Gospels and all of the teachings of Jesus to the writers of the New Testament... but that Jesus never really existed? Or what if i believed that Jesus lived and the stories are true... but Jesus wasn't the son of God (he does deny it, after all)? There have been Christian sects that deny the divinity of Christ, after all. Are they not really Christian? Perhaps it is enough - as you mention in the next paragraph - to simply believe in and follow Jesus's teachings.

Jinx wrote:
As far as God is concerned (at least as far as my Baptist upbringing has lead me to believe, and with the understanding that if He exists, no human could possibly know what's on His mind), and assuming the Bible is the Word of God and true: since Jesus, in the New Testament states "The only way to the Father is through me" or words to that effect, then it would seem that the only true way to be Christian would be to accept that Jesus died for your sins, and to accept His sacrifice would mean to accept that everyone has sinned and is in need of saving, and that after accepting that sacrifice one should strive to live without sin so as not to let His sacrifice have been in vain.

That "the only way to salvation is through Jesus" thing is the Johannine version of salvation. It exists nowhere else in the New Testament - not in the other three Gospels, nor in the writings of Paul - and there are Christian sects that reject it.

The other thing - that everyone has sinned and is in need of saving - is the doctrine of original sin. Several Christian sects reject that doctrine.

The moral of all these "what ifs" and notes about alternate doctrines is that you shouldn't rush to slap restrictions on what a Christian must believe. It is very easy to forget that - the Bible being as vague and contradictory as it is - there are a multitude of legitimate interpretations that are possible... and some of them are fairly far off the spectrum of the dominant sects.

The easiest thing to do would be to demand that everyone who is Christian must accept all of the NT... but that doesn't work because a) the NT is so contradictory it is impossible to accept it all, and b) no one really does anyway. So we have to allow people to cherry pick the NT to be Christian... but how much cherry-picking is too much? Are there any parts of the NT that they must accept in order to be Christian?

Jinx wrote:
Perhaps we should list off the similarities between different Christian Sects to see what the one thing is that they all hold in common?

If you include historical sects, it will be a really short list. ^_^;

Poetsunited wrote:
What makes you Christian? If you believe in the dogma's set that Christians in believe...

Which is what, exactly? What is that lowest common denominator set of dogmas you have to believe in to be Christian?

Poetsunited wrote:
Strictly spoken, if you really are Christian, you can 't believe Darwin, or any one who wrote something scientific that goes against the church... Unless if they wrote it ( like Newton ) who said, I just observe gods work, What I discover is understanding god better.... He's the reason why my theories make sense...

Then apparently neither John Paul ⅠⅠ or Benedict ⅩⅤⅠ were Christian, hm? (And neither were John Paul Ⅰ, Paul ⅤⅠ, John ⅩⅩⅠⅠⅠ or Pius ⅩⅠⅠ, for that matter.) And neither are Kenneth Miller or the tens of thousands of Christian scientists who have no trouble with Darwin.

i've read the NT quite a few times, and i don't recall seeing Darwin mentioned there. He wasn't in the OT either. Feel free to prove me wrong by quoting a verse that mentions him.

Here's the reality: Christians who reject Darwin are actually a small minorty... they just happen to be very outspoken in the US. In the world in general, creationists are a fringe group. There is no legitimate reason to make belief in creationism a requirement for Christianity, not logical, numerical or scriptural.

As for rejecting science that doesn't agree with dogma in general: if that's what it takes to be Christian, then you are not Christian. Unless you support geocentrism, that is. Today's Darwin is just yesterday's Galileo, after all.

(Incidentally, Newton wasn't a Christian. At least not in the traditional sense. He rejected most of the teachings of Christianity, and even told the priest to f-off on his deathbed rather than eat the cracker.)
HalfBloodPrince
I'm late! :O

"When is a Christian not a Christian?"
I'm going to say one of those things you're supposed to just think and not say...Christians are not Christians when they are Catholic! Surprised Shocked

Anyway, I believe there is no longer a definitive version of Christianity. There are thousands, millions of sects which believe totally different things, reject others, make up others, erase others, etc. Some believe in modern science (hats off to them) and some don't (let 'em be happy in their own little world).

In >MY< opinion, a Christian is someone who believes in the Bible (err...let's just say any of the thousands of versions?), believes in Jesus and then all that stuff about him being the "son of God", goes to Church, etc...I think that believing in modern science is a question of personal sense or stupidity, mainly.

Indi wrote:
(Incidentally, Newton wasn't a Christian. At least not in the traditional sense. He rejected most of the teachings of Christianity, and even told the priest to f-off on his deathbed rather than eat the cracker.)

My nephew tends to do that in regards to anything not covered in sugar Laughing
Indi
HalfBloodPrince wrote:
Anyway, I believe there is no longer a definitive version of Christianity. There are thousands, millions of sects which believe totally different things, reject others, make up others, erase others, etc. Some believe in modern science (hats off to them) and some don't (let 'em be happy in their own little world).

There doesn't need to be a definitive version of Christianity in order to have a definition of what Christianity is - the definition would just allow for variation.

And there must be a definition of some kind - otherwise how can you say Baptists, Pentecostals and Lutherans are Christian and Sunnis, Smartas and Humanists are not?

HalfBloodPrince wrote:
In >MY< opinion, a Christian is someone who believes in the Bible (err...let's just say any of the thousands of versions?), believes in Jesus and then all that stuff about him being the "son of God", goes to Church, etc...I think that believing in modern science is a question of personal sense or stupidity, mainly.

But those requirements would mean that in order to be a Christian:
  • You would have to have read the whole Bible. (Most "Christians" haven't.)
  • You would have to understand the whole Bible. (Much of the Bible is vague and contradictory, and all of it is written in dead languages.)
  • You would have to believe in the divinity of Jesus. (Some sects don't.)
  • You would have to go to church. (Many Christians don't.)
And also, we would need a way to figure whether or not a given version of the Bible is a "legitimate" version. (If i wrote my own version of the Bible tomorrow, and rounded up a bunch of followers, would they be Christians?)
timothymartin
Biblically, the followers of Christ were called Christians. So, literally, one who follows Christ is a Christian. I believe, according to that standard, one can know if they are a Christian or not.
Bikerman
timothymartin wrote:
Biblically, the followers of Christ were called Christians. So, literally, one who follows Christ is a Christian. I believe, according to that standard, one can know if they are a Christian or not.

Err....that depends on what you mean by follow. Nobody can absolutely follow Christ - humans are fallible and, in any case, some of what Jesus taught would land you in prison.
Quote:
But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.
(luke 19.27).
Does that mean there are no Christians?
agbor
the bible says in john 3:16 that for God so love the world that he gave his only son that who so ever believes in him shall not die byt have ever lasting life so i believe that if we hold fast to the word of God that we can have all we wanted from him...
Bikerman
The bible says a lot of things.
Do you know what the word of God is? Do you follow the 14 commandments (or the 623 commandments depending on whether you include the rest of Exodus and Deuteronomy)?
Bikerman
But a similar question remains:
In what way is 'the life' of a Christian different to the life that another might live? How is my life different to that which a Christian should lead? I try to follow the Golden Rule (do unto others...), I haven't killed, I have stolen but I regret doing so....
Just what is it that a Christian life is?
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