Saturday, September 12, 2009

Q: "How can good people remain Christian?"

That’s a question many non- and ex-Christian people ask, every day (well, that or another version that isn’t as “polite”!). I used to ask it myself, years ago!

After all, how many wars have been fought by Christians (even today)? How often has Christianity been used to justify domination and exploitation of the poor? How much hatred and judgment is spewed out of the hearts and mouths of Christians – today against Gay and other sexual minority people, but in years past also against people of African descent, Jews, and others? How long was Christianity used to rationalize the enslavement of others? And – yes – just what about all that violent, ugly stuff in the Bible, too?

And there’s no denying any of this – though many Christians try, or try to explain it away as a misunderstanding or failure on the part of the questioner. But there is no doubt:

Christianity in the past, present, and without a doubt into the future has and will continue to show itself to be filled with people who may (or may not!) have very good (apparent) intentions, but who are nonetheless ignorant, arrogant, fake, intolerant, and hypercritical, and who love violence, control, prejudice, and abuse. And even worse, they always have and always will claim they are and do these things with divine authority and approval.

However, here are some things to consider!

(1) - Christianity in its “pure” or original form – the way we can find it in the Bible as GOD originally gave it to us in its original languages and contexts – has always predicted that most of its “followers” would, in fact, not be real followers at all.

To judge Christianity based on the people who claim to be Christians but don’t act like it in the way the Bible itself describes, then, is just like judging Native American people based on the European-ancestry people who claim to be “spiritual Indians.” It's also just like judging hundreds and hundreds of millions of normal-living Gay people around the world based on the few thousand Gays who prance around naked in parades or have sex in public places.

Jesus and His original followers (i.e., those who actually lived with and heard Him with their own ears – not anyone who came along too late to be included in the Bible) warned again and again that the numbers of those who not only talk the talk but also walk the walk would always be very small, compared to the far larger numbers of people who (intentionally or unintentionally) are just faking it. Jesus and His original followers also tell us we must actively work to tell the difference between those two groups, and to make sure we ourselves are only part of the group on the smaller path so that we will gradually become more and more like Jesus, each day.

So good people can be and remain Christian because original Bible truths and the infilling of God’s Spirit into their hearts will lead them to be! When people truly accept God’s real truth (not one or more human “versions” of God’s truth) into their hearts and minds, their hearts and minds begin to change. When that happens, they change away from ignorance, arrogance, hypocrisy, intolerance, judgment, domination, prejudice, and abuse of others, and change towards understanding, humility, sincerity, tolerance, compassion, equality, love of all God’s diverse creation, and care for others (which were all the things the original Christians we see in the Bible were well known for!)

(2) - Most Christians (because they aren’t really following Jesus after all) are judgmental, ignorant, arrogant, and so on – but then, so are most Buddhists, atheists, Muslims, Hindus, pagans, Jews, agnostics, and so on!

In fact, being a “not-nice” person is pretty much the overall human condition, true of all of us no matter what our religious or non-religious beliefs, cultural heritage, gender, racial background, political stance, socioeconomic status, sexual and gender orientation, and so on.

Still, we often hold an extra measure of distaste (or even hatred) of Christianity because it’s what seems to be all around us, in our western cultures. Bad "Christianity" is always "in our face", flexing its muscles and kicking sand in everyone's face (which means it reveals itself as part of the group that killed Jesus, and not the part that followed Him). And that can be infuriating, not only for those under attack, but also for others who simply despise the injustice and harm that causes.

But reading works by and listening to those who grow up in cultures that seem to be almost all "Buddhist", or almost all "anti-religion", or almost all "Muslim", and so on, reveals that people in those cultures can feel just as tired of being so overwhelmingly “surrounded” by those, as well. So it often isn’t the actual Christianity we’re sick to death of (in fact, we hardly get a chance to see that, especially if we aren't looking for it). Instead, it’s the badly done or false Christianity that seems to permeate everything around us, that can drive us crazy.

So good people can be and remain Christian because, as they grow more and more in God’s Holy Spirit, they actually become more and more uncomfortable with and rejecting of that badly done and false Christianity – so much so that others may not even believe they are Christian, since they don’t act like (bad-behavior) "Christians"!

(3) - There is a lot of violence in the Bible – almost all of it in the Old Testament. But there is a context to it that’s often missed (I certainly missed it myself, for many years).

You see, there is a standard, mainstreamed storyline most often given for the Bible – one that many people use to justify all sorts of really ugly, violent things even today. Problem is, most of that storyline is based on:
  • bad translations of Scripture,
  • misinterpretations of Bible context and language and history, and,
  • failure to truly understand the whole Bible story within the context of Jesus Christ and what He taught.
It's as if centuries upon centuries of sinful human bias and ignorance all rested like layers of muddy filth, growing one on top of another and forming this huge idol of refuse that we're taught to believe represents God's truth. And if we don't ever see beyond the garbage idol? We'll never get to what God's real purpose was in any of this.

For example, there is the violence of the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. Did God require that? Yes He did – but only for a few centuries, and only of a certain violent, evil people that He was trying to grow into a people of justice, mercy, and service in a way that their stone- to iron-age minds would understand. Nearly everyone across the whole world was sacrificing animals and even people in those days. And for a very short time – that is, between giving Moses the strict rules that the Hebrews were to follow, until the time that Jesus died on the cross – God went along with that because it was something that the ancient people (including the ancient Hebrews) would actually understand.

See, one truth that the Bible teaches is that God always meets us where we are.

And we should be able to understand that, just from normal human experience. We know, for example, that a six-month-old baby can't control her bodily functions. She must eventually learn to do so, but until then we will allow for complete inability and then accidents, helping with diapers and training things and so on, and encouraging and teaching her, until little by little she can eventually get to what's required to be a mature person.

God acts as a parent in this way, as well. He understand when we just aren't mature enough yet to do what's right in His mature eyes, and He helps us with the "baby steps" and training aids we need for now. But the Bible also shows that – just like a parent – He also leads us forward (individually and as a people) toward full spiritual maturity (if we will allow it, that is!). But just as a child not only doesn't need the diapers and training aids after a time, the parent also doesn't allow their continued use and stops tolerating even "accidents" after a time, too. And animal sacrifice falls into this category: "Ok for back then, because you had no real way of understanding why it was wrong and immature. But definitely not Ok any longer."

Things like slavery, inequality, and violence also fall into the same category:
  • Allowed in whole when humanity was still a babe,
  • Allowed less when humanity was a child,
  • Allowed hardly at all when humanity was a teenager, and
  • Allowed not at all now that humanity is an adult.
And that's one of the reasons that people who center their Christian beliefs so heavily in the Old Testament, or who understand the New Testament through the lens of the Old Testament (rather than vice versa), have such a hard time finding and living real spiritual maturity: They should be studying college-level by now, but instead they are still stuck in and preaching from grade-school readers.

So good people can be and remain Christian because – while they learn huge lessons from Old Testament stories and laws that seem very harsh today – they also understand them through the lens of Jesus Christ, who came to grow us past and set aside that very harsh, not-yet-mature way of living and understanding the world, oneself, and God – the Old Covenant way – and brought to us the gentle, mature New Covenant way to be and live, based on demonstrated love of God, neighbor, and enemy.

(4) - Finally, much of the Bible does appear to be sexist and homophobic -- but only in mistranslation and/or misinterpretation and/or misunderstanding of the original Scriptures, and only when the whole story isn't being told from God's point of view.

In a lot of the ugliness we see in the Bible, there is what we talked about in #3, above – that "allowing for now" but then progressively eliminating the acceptability of poor and even evil behavior, as humanity became "old enough" to understand that sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, and so on are not acceptable, and to be held accountable to God when those things weren't gotten rid of in our lives.

We see, for example, sexism tolerated some of the Old Testament (though not in the Genesis creation story and other places we are traditionally trained to see it). But by the New Testament times the allowance for sexism was eliminated. Jesus Himself accepted women as being equally valuable as men, and proved that God valued them for things other than their reproductive capacity even if human men did not. We also see that Paul's writings, while often misquoted and mistranslated to keep women oppressed and block their Holy Spirit potential, actually accepted and even defended women's role within the church, treating them as no different than the men, while also demanding they be helped past and defended from the sexism of the pagan culture around them. In fact, in the first 200 years of the original Christian church, women became Christian in huge numbers precisely because of the dignity and value Jesus and His early followers placed on them – dignity and value completely denied them in the pagan religions all around them.

In a similar way, Bible words and phrases have been completely invented or twisted around to make the Bible appear to condemn Gay people (as a whole – obviously there are bad Gay people, just as there are bad straight people, and the Bible doesn’t defend bad people no matter what their sexual orientation is!). Yet sound Bible study quickly reveals the huge holes in the anti-Gay misinterpretations and mistranslations. There is just nowhere in the Bible where being a godly Gay Christian still means one is condemned to hell!

The same kinds of Bible study, intent on revealing what GOD had to say in the original Scriptures as He gave them to us in their original contexts, reveals similar translation and misinterpretation errors in what the Bible has to say about the poor, the disabled, racial minorities, and more.

So good people can be and remain Christian because it’s only other prejudiced and ignorant people who make one kind of person “superior” or “condemned” in God’s eyes – and not God Himself! Good people can, in fact, gain a solid understanding of how valuable each and every person on the planet truly is to God, in the exact way that He created them to be, based entirely on the Bible!

So, if you’ve been hurting or turned off by what you thought was Christianity or the Bible, isn’t it time to take a new look at Jesus? I encourage you to consider it!

Start by reading the Gospels to learn or re-learn about Jesus – knowing that the entire rest of the Bible must be seen through the “lens” of Jesus, because the whole purpose of everything that happened before He came to earth was to prepare human beings to understand His purpose for being here. Remember that no Bible translation in English today is perfect – all have biases and mistranslation. When you come to a difficult part, don't hesitate to seek out resources that will help you get what the original writer, in his or her original historical, language, and cultural context was trying to communicate.

As you study, keep in mind that many of those who make really bad Christians focus almost all their study and preaching energy on the Old Testament (when I’ve listened to conservative Christian radio, for example, I’ve found that about 80% of their teachings are from the Old Testament, about another 15% are from the non-Gospel New Testament, and only about 5% of the time are they teaching from the Gospels). Remember we're aiming for and required to be spiritual adults now – no more tolerating or conforming ourselves to spiritually childish ways, any longer!

But also keep in mind that others who make really bad Christians put almost all their study and preaching energy only on some parts of the New Testament. The way they talk and preach, you might think the Bible consisted of just the “nice” parts, where God is all about love – but never about vengeance on evil, for example. But keep in mind that God is about love and mercy, but also about justice and making things right in the end – and both are required (unless, of course, you believe that unrepentant child molesters, war criminals, and greedy exploiters and attackers of the vulnerable should never be punished)! The good thing is that when God shows justice and making things right in the end, He won’t do it like people do it. He won’t do it in a way that is selfish, or corrupt, or even more damaging than the evil deeds themselves. When God makes things right, they will really, truly, finally be right! And that is something we should all look forward to!


I know from my own experience that in today’s world, it can seem like a very strange idea: the thought that good people can actually be or stay Christian!

But I’ve also come to know, to the depths of my heart, that the bad Christians in your life and in the world don’t really belong to God (the Bible itself says so!) – and that God can, will, and does reject them for the fakes they are (though He still hopes they will repent and become real Christians, someday!)

And wouldn’t it be a shame to reject God based on the bad behavior of people He rejects as much as you do?

Wouldn’t it be a shame to not explore the whole point of Jesus from God’s perspective, rather than from only the opinions of those who don’t really understand Him at all themselves?

And wouldn’t it be a shame to never really know, or truly accept, the incredible depth of love that the God big enough to create an entire universe and more, has just for you?

Exploring, despite my doubts, despite my hesitations, despite my hurts and angers and disgusts, and then coming finally to begin accepting the real truth of God as I shed the false “untruth” of mainstream Christianity, was the biggest and best thing that ever happened in my life. It healed me of things that I’d been told were un-healable. It made me finally understand love, even though I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt really loved before in my life. And it gave me peace and joy that I could never have imagined before.

All because I began to consider one day, that I might still be a good person – and be Christian – at the same time.

I invite you to consider considering the same, today! 

Don't let bad Christians keep you from a good God!

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