12/04/2011 | Share this article:By unoder ~
What is a True Christian?
One of the most popular rebuttals of Christian apologists who visit us here at ex-Christian.net is that ex-believers were never true Christians. Similarly, whenever atrocities committed by Christians in the name of god are mentioned, the apologists tell us that those perpetrators were not really followers of Christ after all, that they were appropriating the Christian message for their own ends and that their warped view of gospel tenets says more about their inherited sinful nature than the true teachings of god. This argument would appear to imply that there is one very simple, unequivocal message within Christianity which is lost on all but True Christians™, but this begs the question, what is a True Christian? The purpose of this article is to try to get to the bottom of this conundrum.
A house divided
It would appear that the definition of a True Christian depends entirely on whom one is talking to, but it would also appear that in essence, every Christian believes they are the real deal. Every Christian believes they hear directly from god, that they are inspired and lead by the Holy Spirit, and that they understand the message of the bible correctly, even where others may err. Thus, if anybody claims to be a Christian but believes something different from them, they feel a sense of assurance in claiming the dissenter is not really a Christian.
Now this is where it gets confusing
Unfortunately for the True Christian in question, the Other Christian they readily dismiss believes exactly the same things as they do in principle, even if they don’t share the same beliefs. That is, the Other Christian believes that they are the True Christian and that it is in fact the other party that is incorrect. This leads to an absurd situation where followers of the One True Faith not only somehow believe different things, but can’t agree on what is and isn’t “from god”. From this, we can already see that contrary to what Christians may tell you, the message of the faith is not at all unified in any way. And this is only the beginning.
Pick ‘n Mix
As an example of the ambiguity of the overall Christian message, one only has to look back to the era of slavery in the United States. Retrospectively, most modern Christians would now express sheer disgust at this rather ignominious part of American history and would be quick to assert that god would not ever condone something so abhorrent since god is a god of love and peace, but how true is this really?
The passages that condone the practice of slavery should be relatively familiar to anyone who visits this site regularly, so I will not repeat them here, but the fact that such passages exist at all should tell one all they need to know about the biblical position on the issue. Still, most modern day Christians would balk at the thought of slavery in spite of the bible’s apparent support for the practice (which, according to their own rationale means they disagree with god!). Similarly, Christians at the time were divided on the issue. The slave owners and other proponents believed it was the sanction of god and, rightly or wrongly found ample evidence in support of their beliefs in the bible. On the other hand, those Christians more sympathetic towards abolition found ways to biblically justify their stance also. (I would personally argue that the pro-slavery crowd actually had more biblical bases for their beliefs, but that’s another issue outside the scope of this article.)
Either way, the schism on the issue divided early churches in the United States which, in spite of being nominally Christian just could not seem to come to a general agreement based on the words of the very same bible. How can this be? However, so as not to bog this article down with what is essentially as side-issue to illustrate a point, a more detailed summation of what I am talking about can be found in this article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_views_on_slavery#Slavery_in_the_Americas
The point I am making with the above example is this: if Christianity is really as clear cut and as straightforward as some Christians would have you believe, then how do divisions like this even manifest? If there really is only one true, clear message in the bible, then it should not be at all possible to distort or pervert that message in any way without it being clear and obvious to anyone who clearly follows that same message. However, when Christianity is examined objectively, we find this is not the case: contradictions are rife, what god commands in one chapter, he condemns in another, and teachings upheld by one group are completely ignored by others. Thus, if the bible does have only one message, it is one very mixed and unclear message.
To further support the points outlined above, let us look at some more areas where Christians do not agree: the relevance of the Saturday Sabbath, alcohol consumption, pre and post-Tribulation rapture, predestination, the “correct” way to interpret the prophecies of Revelation and the importance of faith over works. These disagreements and others like them are so divisive that they result in other denominations being formed since the Christians caught in the middle can no longer agree and “fellowship” together. As a result of the ensuing fallout, Denomination A becomes convinced that they have the correct scriptural interpretation and that Denomination B is completely wrong and, by extension no longer following the teachings of Christ (in other words, not really Christians). Conversely, Denomination B thinks the same of Denomination A. See where this is going? Where is the unity? Where is the consistency? Why so many different versions of the One True Way?
You say “Tomato”, I say “To-may-to”
True Christian™ is simply a label Christians assign themselves to lend their own personal interpretations of scripture an air of authenticity. Whenever I have confronted Christians with the above in debates, they usually resort to one of three unsatisfactory pat answers.
1. The bible teaches of false prophets and false Christs, which explains the many variations, since much of Christianity doesn’t really walk the “narrow path” and has it all wrong.
2. The differences are superficial, but all Christians agree on the main core issues (i.e. Jesus’ birth/death/resurrection so picking on the differences is really just splitting hairs.
3. The divisions are of human origin and say more about our “sinful nature” than the core teachings of Christ.
The first argument is unsatisfactory because the person using it makes the assumption that they are following the “correct” Christianity. They are quick to point out where others have it wrong, but never acknowledge the same thing within themselves. People who use this argument never consider that they might have it wrong, or that they also fail to follow the entire bible to the letter, which, to my mind is incorrigibly arrogant. It also does not address the main issue which is how such differences can arise from reading the same texts.
With regard to the second argument, when I was a Christian, I would have and indeed did condemn certain types of believers for some of their beliefs which I thought were either “wrong” or “extreme” despite the fact that those beliefs could be backed by the bible. I might use the assertion that those Christians were being too legalistic or dogmatic about things that weren’t important. Similarly, in hindsight I’m more than certain that some of these other kinds of Christians probably thought I wasn’t really a Christian due to the fact that I liked to drink sometimes, my use of language (I had no problem with swearing, which I rationalised by citing the use of “swear words” in the KJV bible) and even some of my taste in music. However, just as I’m sure they did, I read my bible fervently, prayed every day and felt I had a close relationship with god and that he was guiding my life. I also had many “Holy Spirit moments” where believers receive a “touch” from god (usually at emotionally charged services). All of these things ostensibly would make me out to be a True Christian, but to other True Christians with different stances on certain issues, I was probably nothing but a misguided faker. And there was no love lost the other way either.
The third argument really is just a sidestep, since “sinful nature” or not, these Christians all claim to get their divine inspiration from the same source, so there should be NO division or variation since they claim to worship the same god.
When selling their religion to you, Christians are fond of stating that Christianity is unique and not like other religions. In fact, as the thinking goes, Christianity isn’t even a religion, but a “relationship with god”. They will cite the resurrection of Jesus to support their argument, claiming that Christianity is the only religion where god reaches down to man and not vice-versa as well as being the only religion whose “god” was raised from the dead.
Of course, as with much of Christianity, all of this is based on groundless, unproven assertions that one is supposed to take “on faith”, but if Christianity is indeed a direct relationship with the architect of the universe, then why do Christians seem to hear such wildly different things? How is it that some Christians can say that they don’t believe in hell whilst others froth at the mouth, adamant that all non-believers will burn there eternity? (Furthermore, some believe in annihilation over eternal torture which shows that hell-believers can’t even agree on what happens to the condemned.) Again, how is it possible that such wildly different viewpoints can arise from people believing the same thing? And how can either party ever really know if they have got it right when the ones they disagree with read and quote from the same text that they do to reach their conclusions? Does all of this really sound like the product of a faith that is unified?
Christianity is not a single unified religion in any way, shape or form. Instead, it is an umbrella term used to describe different religions based on carefully selected teachings from a single book (which is also subject to many different versions of itself), and that book is really the only thing these different strains of Christianity have in common, and that is assuming they are in fact reading from the same version of that book! It is similar to how Rock is an umbrella term for a plethora of guitar-based musical genres (Indie, Metal, Punk, Progressive, New Wave, Grunge etc etc…) that all sound very different from one another and whose only real commonality is the instruments used. Thus, for Christians to denounce other believers as not being Christians is not only hubristic, but serves to show just how fractious and divided Christianity really is.
Furthermore, if the True Christian™ believes they are right and other types of Christians are heretics, then they fail to see the apparent danger in this; if there is such a slim chance in “getting it right”, if it is so easy to adopt a heretical position from within Christianity, then there exists the chance that the True Christian™ may in fact be heretical themselves and not know it. Also, since Christians generally take the hard-line stance that non-belief in the correct doctrine is a hell-worthy offence, they also place themselves at risk of the same fires of hell to which they happily condemn others. To underline just how grave a risk this really is to the Christian, please look at the following link which gives an overview of the variety of denominations within the faith: LINK.
So, to revisit the titular question, it would appear that the answer depends upon who you ask. In essence, every Christian believes they (and possibly others who agree with them) are the genuine article. Every Christian believes they receive revelation directly from god and guidance from the holy spirit. Every Christian believes they possess divine wisdom and exhibit the fruits of the holy spirit, and every Christian believes that their personal (or inherited) interpretation of scripture and scriptural tenets is THE correct interpretation.
As an example of just how subjective and ad-hoc this all really is, I will conclude with a true anecdote: Some years ago when I was still a Christian (I would’ve been in my early 20s), my mother had a problem she wanted us to all pray about together as a family. We were all to pray and ask god for guidance or a solution to the problem and then present it to her; the idea being for god to supernaturally guide us all to the same solution. So, my mother, sister and I all went away and prayed about the problem. We were all strong, faith-filled, bible-believing Christians praying for god to give us wisdom into the issue and to guide us all to the same divinely inspired solution. You probably already know what happened – yes, all three of us heard something completely different from the same god. We were all guided to entirely conflicting potential solutions and were not in agreement in any way, shape or form. Yet the holy spirit is said to not be the author of confusion.
If Christians can’t and don’t agree on the same things, then there is no unity, and the entire notion of a True Christian™ is therefore meaningless. So rather than being objective, unified and absolute, Christianity is in fact subjective, divided and ad hoc. According to dictionary.com, the word ‘unify’ can be defined thus:
[yoo-nuh-fahy] Show IPA
verb (used with object), verb (used without object), -fied, -fy•ing.
to make or become a single unit; unite: to unify conflicting theories.
Given this definition, only a truly deluded individual would even attempt to argue that a religion with so many versions of not only itself, but the text it reveres as sacred is in no way “a single unit”. Thus, what one Christian defines as True Christianity can be very different from what another defines as such. In short True Christian™ is simply a label Christians assign themselves to lend their own personal interpretations of scripture an air of authenticity. So, to any self-proclaimed True Christians™ that may be reading, get over yourselves. You do not have a personal, one-on-one relationship with the divine creator of the universe, and your delusional preening and posturing impresses no-one and only serves to flatter your own ego.
A True Christian™ then, it can be said, is nothing more than a narcissist with delusions of holiness.