Reasonable Christians

I met a reasonable Christian today. It was a bit weird, actually.

My wife wanted to visit a local Anglican church where my Christian friend Ray and his wife attend, and I thought: Sure, why not? So we went. There you have it. I actually set foot in a Christian church today. And I have no doubt that many of the Christians in that room would be offended by the things that I say on this blog (although I would certainly love it if they would read it).

Be that as it may, I was immediately drawn to a young woman when we arrived. You are probably thinking that this was due to my (admittedly) heterosexual nature. But, no, in this case, I was not attracted to this person in that way at all. For one thing, she was dressed in a very traditionally religious manner, which is about as sexually unattractive as it is humanly possible to be. And she had done absolutely nothing to make herself attractive, as that standard is described in our current culture. (Not that I find that necessarily attractive either: More on that later.) It was not that she could not have made herself attractive in our terms, had she tried. She simply did not care to try.

What drew me to this person was her absolute, visible and obvious rebellion against the direction of our modern culture. As soon as I started talking to her, she explained to me about how the Anglican church we were in was “officially a mission of the Anglican Church of Rwanda. You see, the Rwandans decided that America was an evil, secular, and godless place that was in need of evangelizing. So they planted this church.”

I still cannot tell if this statement was dripping with irony or not. If so, she delivered it very well, and very straight. She had me immediately.

I confessed that I was an extreme theological liberal, and told her about a bit of my journey. How I had made a terrible mistake: I decided to read the bible as a work of human literature, and put my faith on the shelf for a while. As a result, my belief systems traumatically collapsed and left me as you see me here: A spiritual wreck. Of course, the irony in my case was more obvious.

Interestingly, she understood. Turns out that she is studying the New Testament at a major university in Israel. (A very interesting place to decide to study the New Testament.) She said she had been through a similar journey. She was, as she put it: “Aware of the difficulties.” That is, she has a place at the conversation because she is at least familiar with the material concerning the origins of Christianity, the bible and the rest, and is not simply deluding herself, as many Christians do. The good news, she said, was: “You can make it through this to a better place.”

I did not get to continue the conversation past that point, although I would like to. Is it possible for a person who does not even believe in Hell, or the concept of sin (as in failing to meet the standard set out by God in His law) to be a Christian in some way? Perhaps it is, so long as it is clear that I am also a Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim. As well as an agnostic, and in times of deep despair, possibly even an atheist.

But the Christian might be the better part of me.

One thing my friend Ray pointed out to was the 10 commandments, as a part of the standard raised by God. Unfortunately, I was not persuaded by that very much. If I had to come up with a set of human laws to live by, I would have created a very different list than these. Especially when you put it in the context of the rest of the Old Testament law. Like the commandment against adultery. I would certainly not condone the form of marriage described in the law of Moses, which was, as I have pointed out frequently, polygamous, blatantly discriminatory against women, and fundamentally a form of slavery. I would have certainly added a commandment against rape. (Want to get your hair raised? Read the laws in the Old Testament on rape.) And I certainly would have added a law encouraging compassion and empathy towards every human, regardless of race, gender, age, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. Which is obviously missing from the Old Testament law, as it is completely bigoted in favor of the children of Israel, and against the rest of the human race.

So there is the challenge: Can a man like me fit into a community of Christian believers? Not sure. I guess we’ll see.

More later.

4 thoughts on “Reasonable Christians

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. If the bible is to be believed the second criminal at the crucifixion is redeemed. So I would not totally rule out optimism on this other point.

  2. It is hard to know how to start. I guess one could begin with if your interpretation of the codes of the Old Testament are the only ones possible? Could someone see them in a more sympathetic light? For another interpretation one could look at the following site. – So to what degree have presuppositions impacted your study of the bible as literature? That is always a hard question to deal with and objectivity is very hard to gain. Peace

    • Dr. Norman:

      I am not sure you have also read my post entitled The Old Testament Law According to the West Wing, but the issues with the Old Testament law are much more difficult than just the issue of rape, although I still maintain that that is one of the most glaring examples. In terms of the site you mentioned, yes, I understand their point of view. I do not agree with it, though. This sort of doctrinaire Christian position simply apologizes for the obvious defects of the biblical law.

      The most basic rule of theology that I learned very well during my many years as an evangelical is the rule of plain reading. The scripture must be allowed to say what it says. When it says that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to Yahweh in the Book of Judges, that’s pretty much what happened. Unless we can take the argument that the scripture in this case is allegorical, parabolic, or something like that. Which is not applicable in the case of either Jephthah or the old testament law.

      A simple, clear-headed review of the books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy will reveal a horrifyingly cruel, sexist, and immoral law, as Jed Bartlet pointed out so eloquently on The West Wing.

      But, as I am also careful to repeatedly point out, my criticism of the old testament law, should not be taken as a criticism of God. My Christian friends frequently accuse me of that one. Since I do not believe that God had anything whatsoever to do with the old testament law, then I cannot be presumed to paint God with that brush. No, the old testament law was a human invention, a work of culture. No question in my mind about that!

      Jeff Browning

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