Who is a [C]hristian, again?

October 11th, 2011, 02:38 pm

Every once in a while, it’s necessary to revisit this discussion. As a former christian I have a unique view of the question, my own efforts to gain a pure and therefore muscular and supportive version of the religion having been met with a series of increasingly narrow definitions that, eventually, defined me right out.

Yeah, really: I was a teenaged conservative fundamentalist evangelical Christian, halleluiah! God-fearing and Bible-studying, Amen!

And one of the first things I learned was that:

1. people who do/believe/consume S, T or U are not Christian, Amen!

Soon after that, I learned that:
2. God is unchanging, now, then, and forever. As a corollary,
2a. things that used to be forbidden or abominations are still forbidden or abominations.
2b. Unless there is a formal revocation in the New Testament.

It was not all that long thereafter that I learned that the set of things encompassed by S, T and U vary by the individuals or groups of people uttering Precept 1.

And I witnessed a bright, loving, and effective teenager turned out of a church camp in which she, I, and about 30 other teens had been working – because she belonged to a Pentecostal church.

And I saw a man who smoked cigarettes judged, and recommended for firing.

And I listened to men who had studied hard vow to me that when the Bible said “wine,” it meant “grape juice,” for those who drank wine (or any strong drink) would never get to Heaven.

But let us see what Jesus ben-Miriam himself said.

In Mark:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g] There is no commandment greater than these.”

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

They are agreed that each and every other law, commandment, or regulation, including all of Leviticus and Judges, is less necessary than the idea of keeping your own eye on God and watching out for the folks around you.

In Luke, we see the familiar story:

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Do recall, please, that the Levites were the family or tribe from whom all priests were to come and who, as a group, were all to be treated as priests. We might say something like: “A delegate to the Council of Churches,” or “a member of the 400 club” – or even, “a Republican candidate for the presidency.” And also remember that Samaria was looked on as low, vile, and full of sinners. We might well say “A resident of Las Vegas,” or even, “A pimp.”

If a moonshiner can be a neighbor who helps you not die, then how can the country not be a neighbor to all its citizens? How can we possibly say that it is in any way unchristian to create and support universal health care?

In Romans, which was written after Jesus had … left, we read:

9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”[a] and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

If love does no harm to its neighbors, then how can a direction not to bully others be unchristian?

The second chapter of James is also instructive in this regard.

We hear from time to time one or another [C]hristian or [C]hristian church say, “The only prayer God hears from an unbeliever is “God, please save my soul.” But Matthew shows us a far different attitude:

The Faith of the Centurion
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Here we must remember that when they say “Centurion,” what they mean is “A Colonel of the occupying army that regularly beat and taxed the citizens of Israel and abused its children.” Jesus didn’t ask him whether he had been a good friend to the Jews, or even if he had been a good man. He certainly did not ask whether the centurion was himself Jewish (let alone a “good Jew”). He just got up and said, “Shall we go, then?” The centurion said, basically, “Oh, I don’t want to put you out any, or take you away from what you’re doing here. It’s just that I know you can do this from here as easily as I can cause soldiers to move from my own house, if you’re willing.”

I do not want to hear that Mormons are not christians, let alone that Pentecostals or Copts or evangelized Jews are not christians.

I avow that it is not the business of any living soul whether any other living soul may be or may not be an adherent of any specific faith group or philosophical community. (Basically, and unless it is clear that they are just fucking with folks, if they claim it they are it.)

And I avow that supposed, claimed, or denied membership in any specific faith group or philosophical community has no bearing whatsoever on that person’s right to be treated well and with dignity by all others around.

Tuppence in the change bowl.

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