Monday, January 10, 2011

Bible Studies...

Hokey, Dokey: I have a question for you all: What is a Christian?

Did I tell you that I am taking a Bible course? Well, as one might expect, I am getting more, not less, confused. The one that came up this week for me was this one about who - or what makes - a Christian.

I am only reading the Old Testament just now, and I will tell you that the prevalence of rape, and pillage, and murder in our world is no surprise when you read about the behaviors of YHWH. That is one violent god. (If you think that I am out of my mind: comment below and I will tell you how the New Oxford RSV translates it. I am totally shocked.)

So I got to wondering why there is this big story of a loving god. Well, YHWH sings his own odd little praises in Exodus, but... do Christians actually believe that about YHWH?

I started looking at all of the folks who call themselves Christians and I am just at a loss as to what the common ground is. I mean in New Mexico women pray to our Lady of Guadalupe, in New York prayers get sent to any number of saints, and in Georgia men pray to Jesus who is their personal savior. Now the Hindus and the Hopi have multiple divinities too, and I have no problem with that, but why is Christianity called a monotheistic religion? In any state there are Christians who either regularly or pretty much never go to church. In any city you could get a really good argument going over whether Jesus is or isn't a god (again: back to the monotheism question.) Inside the membership of many churches there are lots of different interpretations of the Bible including whether or not God, Moses or the J, E, P etc. sources wrote it. And no matter where you go there seems to be this ferverent urge to chit-chat about original sin and what a bunch of loosers we all are. Is that really the link: that the Christian notion of god is a guy who makes wrong people?

No. That cannot be it.

So I keep thinking about who call themselves a Christian. There is the lovliest minister at the church where I am taking this class. I love to hear him preach about how he brings various theology to bear as he walks through the lives of his community and his family. It is hard work to be a loving person and he doesn't shy from the hard tasks, nor from the delight he receives as he gets support from the god of his understanding. It is an inspiration to listen to him.

But then I looked up Hitler in the encyclopedia. He was a Christian. He actually thought a lot about how his murder campaign was doing "God's work". (You can read about YHWH's cleansing campaigns in Genesis either in the Noah story or in the Soddom and Gommorah story. Or various other stories.) And Robin Hood was a Christian. As was Richard the lionheart. Which is why they both went on crusades to cleanse Jerusalem of the Muslims.

Teresa, and my mother and my father were/are also Christians. So are most of my neighbors I think. So are Southern Baptists, the Amish, Episcopalians, and Catholics. So are the Quakers, who won't fight for religious reasons and GW Bush who started two wars and has the blood of hundres of thousands of Iraqi's, Afghani's, Europeans, Australians and Americans on his hands. And so far my list shows no glaring resemblances.

My big question this week was about whether Christians worship YHWH. Or did the notion of god change by the time Jesus was teaching? (And has god changed more in the last 2000 years? Is god different now?) Because YHWH kills in the OT. A lot and often. He threatens harm and disertion too. And don't even get me started on the cutting babies in exchange for stolen lands deal. Eeew. So how many Christians think that all of this murder and pillage is OK? These teachings seem to be taking their toll on our modern times. Ask Ms. Giffords.

Because I'd say that none of the folks at this class I attend kill or steal anything. They all work daily to be hard working and compassionate people. They sure are being kind to me as I stumble and throw-up my way through the Pentateuch.

Clearly, I have a point of view, but comment to me. What is a Christian? I will stand educated.


Susan said...

You have asked the hardest question a Christian can be asked. I applaud your honesty and your search. I am not gifted enough to give an adequate answer in the space allowed for comments, but I have sent you an email. Hang in with your Bible study and keep asking questions!

educandoenlacasa said...

I will answer you from a believer point of view: I think a Christian is someone that believing in the existence of God, also cultivate a loving relationship with him and because of that relationship follows the path Christ has show. It is also someone who is part of a community of believer which is the church. The problem is that this definition needs to be “reloaded” in every different historical and sociocultural contexts. When during the 80’s the equivalent to republicans shot Mons Romero and 7 jesuits, we could feel surprised that the killers were Catholics.

ginger said...

my very humble opinion is...that....being a follower of Christ encompasses the old testament...but viewed through the words and eyes and heart of Jesus....and he is....unconditional love....which is why I hang in there...the things/statements that are done in the name of Christ are not what makes Christ Christ...if that makes any sense...when you can read C.S. Lewis..."Screwtape Letters" for a good illustration of evil/sin...keep going ... and keep asking questions...I do all the time...Ginger

Robinsunne said...

Hey: thanks for all of the comments. I am finding it encouraging to read through all of your replies, both private and here on the blog. I'm glad that we can talk. I remain freaked out by the violence..

This is a multi-year class and next year we start to deal with the new testament. I imagine that I will post often. :)

I am really interested in doing more painting and art-quiltmaking to work some of this stuff out as well...

Juliet A said...

It's really a very basic, simple, question. A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus's death on the cross was essential for the atonement of our sins. That is the ONLY qualifier. If you think God could have saved people any other way, then you are not really a Christian.

Everything else is frou frou.

You don't have to be a Christian to be a follower of Christ, and you don't have to be a follower of Christ to be a Christian. So many people get the two confused.

BTW, the whole thing of needing to knock up a young virgin, then eventually torturing and killing her offspring as a sacrifice for sin, that really matches anything in the old testament when it comes to disgusting violence.

Robinsunne said...

Juliet, I think that the sin + salvation combo is the most common answer I have heard. Thank you for writing that so clearly. I keep hearing that all over.

Anonymous said...

You know, I asked the very same questions when I started studying the Bible. I could not understand the violence that was shown in the OT nor comprehend the reason for it. Also, watching "Christians" and seeing how they operate is one of the reasons why I was so against the thought of ever touching the Bible and all it stands for. But I did for my husband and my children and what I have found is that true 'Christianity' is not about the religion of being a "Christian" it's about the relationship that you have with Jesus Christ. Though I still can't wrap my brain around some of the aspects of the Bible and the actions of so called "Christians" one thing I can say is - I have never been at such peace before. I have seen and felt so many miracles in the few years that I have had a relationship with Jesus. My family and I have been shown so many blessings and I have been released from a life that was crippled with pain and hatred. Jesus is the answer... how, I do not know but I can not argue the results I have seen. I hope that threw your wanderings you can experiences the true meaning of "Christianity" and come to find the peace and love that Jesus has to offer everyone.

Glenn from the Bronx said...

As a (mostly)) lapsed Catholic raised in the "North", I had the MOST uncomfortable experiences with protestant Christians from the "South" over the years, including my father's oldest sister, who was a member of SEVERAL churches in central Florida, including Assembly of God. From the Catholic mass, I think that the Old testament was used to REINFORCE the New testament (the Old was subordinate to the New), while (generally) my southerners would quote from the Old to "smite" you, and from the New when the "loved" you, but the 'why's and wherefore's' were not and are not as clear to me. I loved their strong focus on "Christian community", but G-d help if you were NOT a member of that particular community! As Susan wrote, C.S. Lewis is terrific...also Reinhold Niehbuhr.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you's just too confusing. Best I can tell you is: ITS ALL ABOUT INTERPERTATION...period.
Most people believe that if you claim to be a Christian, you believe Jesus died to attone for the sins of all humanity..but it won't work unless you believe that to be so....AND accept Jesus as your personal saviour. That comes from the Bible...a book about God wrtten by "men" (literally). And decades after His death, at that !
"The devil believes and he trembles". SO...I'd say it isn't enough (BIBLICALLY) to simply believe Jesus's death covers ones sins.
I'm so DONE with all this organized church stuff. It's ridiculous, quite frankly. If you want to call yourself a Christian because you feel Spiritually close to Jesus, that's fine with me. Or if you believe in the "sin" thing...fine with me. But you'll find fundamentalist Bible-belivers won't be so understanding. The whole thing facinates me to no end...until it just wears me out with all the unfortunate twists and turns of humans and dogma. So unfortunate, really. I'll stay tuned, tho. :) Best wishes with it all...keep asking questions and keep them on their toes !