I am a Christian. I believe Christ died for our sins, physical resurrection, virgin birth, etc. etc. etc.
And that’s it, really, but this would be a very boring document if I left it there. So let’s look at a few issues. Click here for my response to the Christian Right on matters of evolution, Creation etc., or look below.
If you ever hear someone say “the church says . . .”, ask them which church; because, in case you hadn’t noticed, there are quite a lot of them. Don’t worry too much about the differences, because frankly they mean diddly squat to God. Christ’s ministry was all about reducing the God/human equation to a very simple relationship:
A church is a community of believers. Everything else is icing on the cake, to be consumed or not, according to taste. It has nothing to do with salvation. The original church was a collection of Christ’s disciples in Jerusalem. They were all from similar backgrounds and had shared similar experiences. They sent missionaries out into the world who planted churches in other cities — Corinth, Ephesus, Rome. The churches in these locations kept to the core beliefs but inevitably brought in elements and styles according to their own culture. And why not?
It was only over time that the idea of “the church” as a monolithic, rule-bound religious club arose, until eventually it was “the church says this” and “the church says that”. These churches also had distressing tendencies to mix up their own prejudices with official theology; hence Latin, at one time the lingua franca of the civilised world, becomes the official church language, or a society that rates its women as second class citizens inevitably excludes them from positions of power as part of its tradition. Extremes like the Inquisition were simply wicked men doing what they would have found an excuse to do anyway. Any atheist who asks me how I can be a Christian with examples like Prods v. Catholics in Northern Ireland, Christian militia massacring innocent Muslim refugees in Lebanon and so forth will be asked how they can be an atheist, bearing in mind what Stalin did. The logic is just the same — equally inapplicable in both cases.
Some people lament the fragmentation of believers into C of E, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Southern Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Reformed Southern Baptists … I love it, because instead of imposing any one manner of worship on an individual, they leave us free to seek out our own style among a community of like-minded believers. Trouble only arises when a church declares that its way is the only way. Cobblers. If you take the above denominations as styles of worship, the problem disappears. If they believe in Christ’s resurrection and all that, then they’re Christian. End of. They are the deciders of which church they belong to, not the church itself. No one has the right to go up to someone else and say “you believe that . . .” It’s a common mistake to think that because someone is X denomination, therefore they share all that denomination’s views. I belong to the AA, but I don’t agree with every AA policy.
Christianity is true, or it isn’t. Sincerity of belief plays no part in reality, as Linus discovers each year when he stays up all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin to descend upon his pumpkin patch, and has to accept that either the Great Pumpkin doesn’t exist, or there is another more sincerely kept pumpkin patch somewhere in North America. Hence, to accept Christianity is to deny the truth of other religions.
It is not to deny that many of the things they say are true. Any religion which teaches the sanctity of life, or of the individual, or proscribes theft or murder, or whatever, won’t get any argument from me. It is in other things — the nature of the universe, of God, of the soul, of the afterlife — that they differ. They can’t all be right.
So, am I consigning every non-Christian, every follower of another belief, or no belief, to Hell? Am I ‘eck. A god that can offer himself to unspeakable torture for our sake, denying most humans who have ever lived a chance at immortality because of a legal technicality? I don’t think so. When I tell other Christians this, they have a tendency to quote Christ’s words about no one coming to the Father except through him. Absolutely, and I refer them to C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle (here again I’m onto a loser in some cases, as quoting anything other than Holy Scripture very soon gets you nowhere. However, I’m using it to illustrate a point, not to say definitively THIS IS HOW IT IS).
In one of the most rending scenes in that book, the world ends. Aslan stands by a door, the entrance to his country, and every being that has ever lived comes running towards the door. There, they see him as he really is — stripped of all theological clouding or misunderstanding or ambiguity. They can take him, or leave him. If they want to get into his country, they must take him and pass by him to go through the door. Those who leave him rush off into the darkness next to the door and are never seen again. After all, why would a loving god force his eternal presence on anyone who didn’t want it?
Some take him, some leave him. Many of those who take him were in their time followers of the “wrong” religion, some even active enemies of Aslan. Aslan explains to one Calormene who is surprised to find himself in his country that even though what he has done in his life has been in the name of Tash (the Narnian equivalent of the Devil), Tash and Aslan are such opposites that any good done can only be done for Aslan. Likewise, any bad done can only be for the Devil. By the good he has done in his life, this Calormene has been serving Aslan all along.
In real life, of course, outside the cosy realm of fiction, everybody sins, and that drives a wedge between us and god that no amount of doing good can overcome. This is where Christ’s sacrifice comes in. He paid for those sins. He opened up the way to the Father. He is the door, even for people who have never heard of him, or who have rejected him — except that what they have rejected isn’t him, it’s a distorted image, a fake. If you were seeking for something, and the Dalai Lama explained his worldview to you, and Torquemada explained his worldview to you, which would you go for? And would God blame you for that? I think not.
More of them, please. But let them be the right sort of women, like the right sort of men: people who genuinely feel they have a calling to this vocation. Women priests who want ordination as a feminist right do more harm than good. Sorry about the last twenty centuries, but they’ve happened and they can’t be undone. Swallow your pride and work to heal the rifts, not reopen them.
Let it also be pointed out that this is really only an issue for the higher forms of church — Anglican, Catholic, whatever. The lower proddies have had women priests for years, and are doing very well, thank you.
In the Old Testament book of Judges, Gideon leads a raid to pull down the statue of the false god Baal. Baal’s irate followers form a lynch mob and head out to Gideon’s place to string him high for his blasphemy. Joash, Gideon’s father, placates them by pointing out that if Baal is supreme and powerful, surely he’s perfectly capable of performing his own punishments.
And that is my opinion of blasphemy laws in a nutshell. Scrap ’em! Let it all out! Complete freedom for any and all religions, with a few provisos to prevent unwarranted harassment, child sacrifice and so on. And may the best god win. The preacher Charles Spurgeon coined the phrase “uncage the lion” (not that that is a phrase because it’s got a verb, but …). If you have a lion in a cage and you want to protect it, the best thing you can do is let it out: after that, it’s quite able to look after itself. In Spurgeon’s case, the lion was the gospel. It’s not just a case of “may the best god win” — the best god will win, because that will be the true god, as much a reality as gravity or vitamins, and just as inevitable. In the book of Acts, the rabbi Gamaliel makes the most sensible suggestion in the entire Bible as to what to do with these new Christian chappies — leave them alone. If Christianity is from God, it will work. If not, not. Time will tell.
Some people might want a law of blasphemy because their feelings are easily hurt. Oh, diddums. I first heard of blasphemy law at a young and tender age, in the context of Mary Whitehouse’s action against a magazine which published (I think) an erotic homosexual poem about Jesus. The Last Temptation of Christ aroused similar ire. Some Muslims are angry with Salman Rushdie for daring to suggest that perhaps Mohammed wasn’t a prophet, or something like that. The Joash solution comes to mind again: the god who is right will win, and for us to take the law into our own hands is to say (a) our god is a bit of a wimp or (b) we overrate our own importance.
I both love and loathe Christmas. I love it for its religious importance, for the pleasure (mostly) of getting the family together and for the excuse to splash out on the people you love. I hate it for its tack, for the television announcers boasting smoothly about the best Christmas EVER as another Hollywood bloodfest splashes across our screens and for the starkness of the contrast between what Christmas should be and what it is.
I despise “Jingle Bells”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Winter Wonderland”, “Let it Snow”, “Mrs Santa Claus”, “White Christmas” … any Christmas song — or perhaps I should say Xmas song, as Christ has been surgically removed from the modern festival — that doesn’t actually mention God, Jesus or anything that could embarrassingly bring up the topic of religion. Any carol singers who materialise on my doorstep warbling one of the above won’t get a penny, not even to make them go away. (They might however get a lecture on why they’re not getting a penny, so carol singers in the Oxford area be warned.)
On the other hand, I do wonder if the total materialism of Christmas isn’t part of some divine master plan, designed to distract the world from Easter, which is after all the more important of the two big Christian festivals. That was when the really big stuff went down. Anyone can be born, even if being born of a virgin does take a bit more application than usual, but dying and rising again really shows talent.