Have you seen a messiah somewhere around here?
May 15, 2006 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Please help convince me to become a Christian. Or not.

The idea of becoming a Christian is extremely appealing to me-- all that love and selflessness urged in the Gospels. Plugging into that tradition and community sounds like great fun.

But, I am hung up on a few things. Thoughts, resources, etc. on why I should or should not get past any one or all of them are welcome.

I recognize that this might be too chatty, or too open-ended, and I won't compain if this thread is deleted. I just would be glad to hear the thoughts of better informed people on this.

1. Are non-Christians condemned?
1a. If I understand right, there were about 11 people in the world who realized what Jesus was up to when he was alive. Why would God create one path to Himself, and then hide it so well? I'm willing to believe that His ways are not our ways, but that seems to be pushing it a bit.
2. Jesus didn't seem to do a great job fufilling Old Testament prophecies. Jerusalem wasn't liberated, no new temple was built. At least some of the prophecies cited in the New Testament seem to selectively quote the OT.

I have no desire to challenge others' beliefs; these are just some of the things that I am hung up on. Unfortunately I don't know who, or how, or where else to ask about these matters without seeming prying or rude or inquisitorial.

The place where I currently live does not have a particularly nuanced intellectual life, so for the time being I am limited to non-interactional forms of religion, I think.

I am not too concerned about the anti- or non-love-and-acceptance-based forms of Christianity that get so much attention. I am convinced from my reading of the Gospels that Christ wasn't as preoccupied with gay-bashing as some of his followers today are.

Thanks for any thoughts, facts, perspectives, or resources you are able to offer.
posted by ibmcginty to Religion & Philosophy (109 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Addressing #2, I think you're confused in the same way people of Jesus' time were- he said, I'm going to build a new temple, destroy it and rebuild it in three days, and they said, ARE YOU CRAZY? Can't be done! But he was referring to himself- his body as a temple for the new covenant God was gonna bring through his death and resurrection.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:11 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


My parents are/were seminary students- my mother got her certificate of biblical studies, and my father is going for his Masters, so I'm going to e-mail this question to them and see if they have any thoughts/insight on these questions. Combined, they know more about the Bible than anyone else I've ever met.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:13 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm definitely not a Bible expert nor do I claim to know a lot about The Bible BUT -

"1. Are non-Christians condemned?"
From my own (admittedly knowledge-deficient) perspective I think The Bible says you can't get into heaven without being a believer BUT - for me ultimately, I believe that God recognizes that we are all imperfect and can be forgiven. Can non-christians go to heaven - using my google-fu, I do not support/oppose this site.

RE:winnipeg
I'm definitely not a Bible beater and I'm not trying to stir up the pot but it just seems pointless for you to chime in when (you say) what you're saying is not meant to be condescending - is quite insulting.
posted by heartquake at 12:24 PM on May 15, 2006


I'm not sure how to answer this without being condescending, but why can't you love your fellow man and be selfless, without needing to believe in a giant invisible wizard in the sky? Why do you need to identify with a faith in order to enjoy tradition and community?

Similarly, what precludes you from taking philosophical inspiration from the stories of the Bible and Christian values in general without bothering with all the clap-trap? It wouldn't be hypocritical of you to cherry-pick the good stuff if you're being true to yourself and act accordingly.
posted by macdara at 12:26 PM on May 15, 2006


a giant invisible wizard in the sky

Yeah, there's really nothing in Christianity (that I know of) about a giant invisible wizard in the sky (Christ: Not invisible, not giant, not in the sky, not a wizard), so the first thing you should do as you try to decide whether Christianity is the way to go is to disregard blatantly inaccurate mischaracterizations like that one.

The only real way to find out if Christianity (or any other religion) is the "right" one is to study it out and then ask God. If you don't believe in God enough to ask him/her/it, then there's your answer. As far as the theological questions including whether and how OT prophecies were fulfilled, etc., you're likely to get a variety of answers from any given sect or scholarly viewpoint. But whether or not Jesus is the Christ is, IMO, a separate question that can only really be answered by divine intervention.
posted by JekPorkins at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2006


Noise, WinnipegDragon- completely off topic.

Why, ThePinkSuperhero? I was having the exact same thoughts. It is unclear to me whether ibmcginty already believes in a god and just wants to pick the right branch to join, or whether he is considering believing in one in the first place.
posted by koenie at 12:28 PM on May 15, 2006


You can email me for a discussion if you like.

In fact conversion and the process thereof will be on my theology final next week. Go figure.

The first thing is, read the gospel of John for yourself, slowly. Then ask yourself what sticks out to you. Something probably will. Go from there. (That was part of my own process.)
posted by konolia at 12:29 PM on May 15, 2006


why can't you love your fellow man and be selfless, without needing to believe in a giant invisible wizard in the sky?

That was my initial reaction as well, upon reading your statement that "the idea of becoming a Christian is extremely appealing -- all that love and selflessness urged in the Gospels." Christianity doesn't have a monopoly on love and selflessness.

I'll leave the theological questions to someone else, but I have a feeling you're going to hear that people who self-identify as Christians believe in a whole range of things.
posted by ludwig_van at 12:30 PM on May 15, 2006


Although I'm not a believer myself I think finding faith should not necessarily be an analytical cerebral procress.

So maybe it's just about finding the right denomination where you feel that people and the faith professed ring true to you and not worrying about some things in the Bible that you can't reconcile.
posted by jouke at 12:33 PM on May 15, 2006


WinnipegDragon may have phrased his answer rudely, but in substance I think it was entirely on topic. After all, ibmcginty did specify a desire to hear arguments both for and against becoming involved in organized Christianity. That said, please allow me to phrase a similar response thusly:

Christ's philosophy of love and acceptance is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, over the centuries it has become tainted by attempts to co-opt or hijack it for political purposes. You don't need to tie yourself, even nominally, to this unsavory history, when there are other philosophies that offer similar modes of selfless living, and even the sense of fellowship that you seek. Perhaps you could seek out the secular humanists in your area?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:34 PM on May 15, 2006


Different demoninations see the answers to these questions differently. To me, these sound like great questions to ask a pastor, priest or chaplin. Perhaps try leaders from different congregations and different denominations. You'll get a variety of answers, and you can see which, if any 'click' with you.
posted by raedyn at 12:35 PM on May 15, 2006


jouke, I think there's a lot of truth to your statement.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:35 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


If you are looking for other arguments against it, you might want to read through http://whydoesgodhateamputees.com/.
posted by procrastination at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2006


I'm not sure why my statements are considered noise?

I'm on-topic offering an viewpoint, which the poster asked for. I then specified that this is coming from the perspective of a hard-core atheist.

I realized that it might have seemed somewhat harsh, and tried to imply that I didn't want to be condescending, but that there is no way for me to put it that wouldn't be insulting to those who were religious.

Finally, I made a second post to clarify that I was specifically questioning the need to identifiy with a 'by-the-book' religion.

All on-topic points, that you are free to disagree with.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:36 PM on May 15, 2006


1. It appears that Jesus was less concerned about believing in certain tenants than he was about a moral path approach. You must realize that what we know about Jesus comes froms gospels written at least 70 years after he died. Many of the gospel writers had agendas (to the gentiles, the Jews) and their writings demonstrate that. I would not believe anyone who says "If you don't believe in X, then Y will happen." Nowhere was Jesus that specific. He had a lot of stories abou the so-called faithful actually not be as good as the prostitutes he hung out with. No one can really answer your question, if they do they're trying to sell you on something.

1a. I'm not really sure what you're saying. If anything Jesus was very much like Aristotle and to me it seems you could use natural reason (as Aristotle did) to reach his conclusion of "lead a virtuous and happy life." See Thomas Aquinas and Summa Theologica for more on reconciling the Philosopher (Aristotle) with Christian Theology.

2. One of the Gospel writers wrote specifically to the Jewish people. I forgot his name, but he tried very hard to convince the Jewish people that Jesus was the messiah of the OT and then tried to fit what Jesus did to the many prophecies as best he could. If you are not Jewish I would not worry about this.

I would recommend finding a secular, scholarly text on the development of religion. I would stay away from anything evangelical and go for a more scholarly approach of Roman Catholics or even some Jewish writers. If the name is from a big university like Boston College I would respect it. Something like Brigham Young I would not. You want something that doesn't make conclusions but simply says "This was a problem, some people went this way with it, some people went that way with it." Your questions are no doubt very basic and very basic questions are the ones that split religions. It'd be a good idea, if you seriously are interested, to look at it as academically as possible. If you want the touchy-feely stuff, and a lot of people do, go for that but don't expect any real answers.
posted by geoff. at 12:39 PM on May 15, 2006


Don't be a Christian per se.

Love, compassion, selflessness, and charity -- all the good parts -- predate Christianity. Modern Christianity, seen in its best light, is merely a huge elaborate incentives and rewards structure. It's the culture of Santa Claus when really all you want is your kids to be nice instead of naughty. I could go on including saying the good things about it, but I see that you're already taking the Bible literally and considering the idea that there was an actual holy superbeing walking the earth at one time... so maybe you're already finding what works for you, and my answer is in chatfilterland.
posted by fleacircus at 12:41 PM on May 15, 2006


ibmcginty, there are a few Christians on MeFi who are very cool and who can probably help you. There is one Christian posting in this thread who I think you should stay far away from, lest you be caught up in narcissistic trivialities.

I would not recommend to anyone that they become a Christian, but I have no desire to stop you, only that you not be led astray here.

To answer the other questions.

1. Are non-Christians condemned?

Yes. The New Testament is very explicit on this.

2. Jesus didn't seem to do a great job fufilling Old Testament prophecies. Jerusalem wasn't liberated, no new temple was built. At least some of the prophecies cited in the New Testament seem to selectively quote the OT.

Some of us have our own theories on why he didn't do a great job fulfilling prophecies, but I'll leave it at that.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:42 PM on May 15, 2006


Regarding both your concerns:

The more you read the history of Christianity, the wider and more varied you will find the doctrines. Many tenets of "American Christianity" (in it's various forms) would be found heretical by Christians in previous centuries.

I am a Christian. I do not believe that all non-Christians are doomed to hell, which did not exist as such in any theological works until hundreds of years after Christ. I also do not believe that many so-called prophecies are saying what their interpreters would sometimes have us believe.

1) Christian Universalism, or "universal reconciliation", Greek 'apokatastasis'. It is my understanding (as best as I honestly can) that this was indeed the prevailing doctrine in the first few hundred years after Christ.

2) Many of these "prophecies" are only dubiously tied to the events of Christ's life. Medieval Christian alchemists and qabalists (but also some orthodox, east and west!) interpreted many of the weirder ones as mystical allegory or metaphysical speculation, which, personally, I can more readily buy than the complicated chains of indirect reference which are required to interpret them as directly prefiguring the historical Jesus' life. YMMV.

I do not want to knock anybody, but check out some of the Seventh-Day Adventist (just for instance!) prophetic readings; some time with that stuff may demonstrate to you some of the extremely numerous and invariably conflicting interpretations that have been applied to "prophetic" books like Ezekiel and Isaiah. Prophecy itself has been interpreted variously, as well, not necessarily entailing prediction of future historical events.

I guess which is to say, just because someone tells you some verse in the OT refers to this or that or prophecies something, you should be very skeptical. These interpretation generally rely strictly upon English translations of Hebrew writings and Jews of course do not read the passages in the same way.

If God is conceived of as the ultimate truth, reality, what-have-you, I cannot see how any doubts regarding any particular doctrine of faith or even the fundamentals of faith can have arisen, ultimately, from anywhere else than that ground of being. I cannot conceive of any deity worth the description that would ask its followers to violate their consciences or accept propositions they cannot justify to themselves in good faith. I have found Quaker thought to be mostly concordant with these views.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:42 PM on May 15, 2006


Oh, I should have said, I admit that the tone was bad. So, my fault, accept my apologies for it. I'm just really, really frustrated that we seem to need to label people in modern society, whether it's race, religion, society, region, or what have you.

Believe what you want to believe. Love the God you love. Be who you want to be. That's all that's important.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:42 PM on May 15, 2006


Reading the Bible wouldn't be a bad idea to shedding some more light on what you feel is right for you religiously.

Full disclosure: I'm an atheist who will not push his godlessness upon others.

You should read the texts of the religion(s) you're interested in, and assess/evaluate for yourself what you feel is the correct path. My assessment was that I didn't believe in any of it after having read a variety of religious texts. I did, however, agree with the overall themes of morality and treating others as you hope to be treated.

Yours could be different. You could identify wholeheartedly with the doctrine of Christianity, Judaism or even Buddhism or Islam. I think the best thing you could do is read the texts and make your own decision. The absolute worst case scenario is that you've educated yourself on the beliefs of others and not made a decision out of it yet.
posted by twiggy at 12:43 PM on May 15, 2006


Oh I must append on how much I would recommend browsing for books on St. Thomas Aquinas. Make sure you get a couple so you can find multiple view points. He's very, very scholastic in his process and he certainly did not convert me to anything but what he does is take the Bible and natural reason and try to figure out what it says. The ST is available online but you'll most likely need an accompanying text to get through the heaviness of the medieval text. Peter Kreeft is another big name you may want to check out as a contemparary author. Very Catholic, yes, but as a secular person (as you are right now apparently) I find Catholicism with much more doubt and a lot easier to digest than "Jesus loves you!' brand of Christianity that's taught in evangelical communities.
posted by geoff. at 12:45 PM on May 15, 2006


Kierkegaard seems to have very convincing arguments as to why Christianity is important and great. I have a hard time paraphrasing him but it is about encouraging all humans to realize that they are worthy and capable of living on the most elevated level. I'm butchering it. Read what Soren has to say about Christianity. It may alleviate your doubts. Or not.
posted by Aghast. at 12:48 PM on May 15, 2006


Yeah, WinnipegDragon's answer is definitely not noise. When someone asks "I'm thinking of becoming a Christian because" and "i believe in God and Jesus Christ" isn't in the "because" it raises some issues -- and "none of that actually happened" is a perfectly reasonable explanation for ibmcginty's specific questions.

It's completely possible to adopt the ethics of Christianity without the theology, though -- I'd go so far as to say it's even common in the West.
posted by mendel at 12:48 PM on May 15, 2006


1. Are non-Christians condemned?

No.
Also, in case you're worried about purgatory, you should go for the Catholic flavor. You can sin all your life and simply repent on your death bed!

1a. If I understand right, there were about 11 people in the world who realized what Jesus was up to when he was alive. Why would God create one path to Himself, and then hide it so well?

Maybe you can be on the "right path" without realizing it.

2. Jesus didn't seem to do a great job fufilling Old Testament prophecies. Jerusalem wasn't liberated, no new temple was built.

It's all a metaphor, you see. The "new temple" is the catholic church, etc. etc.
posted by sour cream at 12:51 PM on May 15, 2006


Please help convince me to become a Christian. Or not.

Well, uh. Do you believe that there is a God and that Jesus was his son, come to Earth to offer us salvation? If you do, then you already are a Christian, if not, then how do you convince yourself to believe?
posted by atrazine at 12:53 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


First off, Christians aren't a monolithic organization. The Baptists think the Catholics are burning forever, and vice versa.
That being said, there are (nicely enough) about as many Christian denomenations as there are people who want to believe. Some of them may very well speak to you, and that's important.

Some other notes— Many, many people who are nominally Christians don't worry about the dogma. Sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad. In my experience, the most important part is finding a local organization that you enjoy being around. I've known more than a few people who have been Lutherans locally and loved it, while still disagreeing strenuously with the official position of the Missouri Synod on doctrine. Sometimes the further up you go, the worse it gets.
However, there are also churches like the Unitarian Universalists that, shall we say, get so liberal with the doctrine on a local level that some people may question whether they are Christian. (My local UUers were more a Trotskyite organizational unit than any sort of Christians, to the point where they'd stress that a belief in Christ was not necessary to call yourself a UUer. I realize that this is both a deviation from the norm and not necessarily a bad thing.)

So scout around. Most people are very welcoming if you're thinking about joining their church, especially if you have some connection with them already (it can be nice to go to a friend's church).

As to the broader question, which I might have answered first, whether it is a good idea to become a Christian— It is, if you believe in the divinity of Christ.
That's a rather large stumbling block, and one that tends to be accepted far too readily by many people. I am not a Christian, and doubt that I ever will be simply for that fact. One of my best friends is going to divinity school to become an Episcopal pastor. He believes very strongly in the divinity of Christ (but is polite enough not to bring it up at parties).
All of the rest of it may be accepted piecemeal. It is not necessary to believe in literal miracles or prophesy, or even the accurate transcription and translation of the Bible. For people who believe that they are called through Christ to practice chastity, obedience and poverty, or those who believe that Christ's message was one of essential communism, Christianity can still work. But if you do not believe that, then it is a hard thing to believe that you should become a Christian. (You need not even believe that God talks to you, and thus may discount JekPorkin's metric of faith).

And again, I know a fair number of people who do not believe this, but who joined churches. Some of them consider themselves members of the church without considering themselves Christians, while some do consider themselves Christian. My uncle found that joining a group of Lutherans after they had helped him through his cancer treatment was the right thing to do, even though he did not believe in God at all. Still, he wanted to give back to their community. A former girlfriend of mine did not believe in God, yet was part of a congregationalist church camp and considered herself to be part of the faith.

As to your direct questions, it depends on the faith and the person. Universalists are blunt about their believe that Jesus's sacrifice saved all of humanity. Further, the views on fulfillmen vary, but those are generally the least important parts of worship for most practicioners.

If you want any more information, I'm happy to track down my pastor friend. Feel free to email me.
posted by klangklangston at 12:53 PM on May 15, 2006


The idea of becoming a Christian is extremely appealing to me-- all that love and selflessness urged in the Gospels.

Yes, it's lovely on a personal level. But that's not what you're going to find -- you simply won't find a community of like-minded christians, because the religion offers too cosy a home to the intolerant and the selfish.

I mean, the whole "do this and get to heaven" thing was built for people looking out for number one.

Sadly, "I am not too concerned about the anti- or non-love-and-acceptance-based forms of Christianity" is the tradition you're going to find. The others just aren't there. Jesus himself said "if you're not with me you're against me," which sums up the whole sorry mess.

Become jewish, instead. "Heal the world" is a far better mantra than "get to heaven!"
posted by bonaldi at 12:57 PM on May 15, 2006


Folks are doing a good job answering the more technical questions, but I just wanted to say something about finding a church. It can take a while to find one you like and it's not always love, selflessness, and community. I'm not saying this to discourage you, because I truly believe it's possible to find a church that you really dig. But by becoming a Christian and going to look for a church it all doesn't necessarily fall into place immediately. People are still people and it can be just as rocky as any other large group of people trying to make collective decisions, etc.
(I'm speaking from my experince of growing up in a Congregational Church and my extended family attending a variety of Protestant churches over the years)
posted by jdl at 12:58 PM on May 15, 2006


Does the world really need another christian?

If christianity works, it apparently doesn't work very well. If it doesn't work, why perpetuate it? Either way, it had its chance and you are not going to be a factor in its future.

The world COULD use another thinking human, figuring out how to save the species and the planet, and practicing what christianity long ago lost... the concept of caring for the fellow man without consideration for self. If the cult ever had any legitimacy, it was in this long ago abandoned concept.

I am with winnipegdragon... under the best circumstances, it's a crutch for the kind but mentally weak.... sort of the special olympics of philosophy, IMO. Under the worst, it's a veil to conceal evil directed to non-christians.

IMO, again, the net of the religion in terms of human spiritual progress has been negative. Why join such a club?
posted by FauxScot at 1:00 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


the net of the religion in terms of human spiritual progress has been negative.

Just curious, but how do you measure that?
posted by JekPorkins at 1:03 PM on May 15, 2006


"Yes, it's lovely on a personal level. But that's not what you're going to find -- you simply won't find a community of like-minded christians, because the religion offers too cosy a home to the intolerant and the selfish."

Bullshit. Just flat-out bullshit. There are religious communities of all possible dispositions and temperments, and there are quite a few loving, acccepting, kind and charitable ones.

"I am with winnipegdragon... under the best circumstances, it's a crutch for the kind but mentally weak.... sort of the special olympics of philosophy, IMO. Under the worst, it's a veil to conceal evil directed to non-christians."

Now that we've had the 2006 Class of High School Philosophers weigh in... Wow, you're an ATHEIST. That's so EDGY.
posted by klangklangston at 1:09 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


ibmcginty, why not use the Belief-O-Matic to find the religion that most suits your current beliefs and attitudes?
posted by agropyron at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2006


Faith has to come from somewhere. Most members of the early Church got their faith in Jesus from their longstanding faith in the prophets. After all, most of them were Jewish. But even in ancient times there were Christians who got their faith other ways: from the experience of prayer, from contemplation, from a personal relationship with Jesus, from witnessing miracles.

You might look into denominations that focus on those other sources of faith. Lots of non-fundamentalist Protestants, for instance, focus on a personal relationship with Jesus. The Quakers focus on contemplation. Some followers of the Catholic saints and angels focus on miracles. And everyone has their own angle on prayer, although some denominations focus on it more than others.

(Disclaimer: IANAC.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2006


The idea of becoming a Christian is extremely appealing to me-- all that love and selflessness urged in the Gospels. Plugging into that tradition and community sounds like great fun.

These things are not exclusive to Christians, so if these are your reasons for wanting to be a Christian, *and* you're not hunky-dory with the Jesus stuff, I would advise against it. There is tradition and community to be found in non-religious places, or non-denominational (I'm thinking Unitarian Universalist, perhaps) places, or non-Christian places. Something else to think about is: are you looking for a path to God (to use your phrasing) or simply the other things you mentioned?

The place where I currently live does not have a particularly nuanced intellectual life, so for the time being I am limited to non-interactional forms of religion, I think.

Particularly, then, why do this? A good portion of the value in religion is the community and interaction. Without that, you may be better off skipping the devoteness and emphasizing/practicing the love and selflessness.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:17 PM on May 15, 2006


er, devoutness, not devoteness.

Plus, though I haven't read it recently, Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2006


I am with winnipegdragon... under the best circumstances, it's a crutch for the kind but mentally weak.... sort of the special olympics of philosophy, IMO.

There is a magnificent aesthetic succulence to the juxtaposition of the words 'philosophy' and 'IMO'. Like saying, 'Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny, LOL'.

On preview, what klangklangston said.
posted by atrazine at 1:21 PM on May 15, 2006


In my Catholic family, they say:

Q: Why go to Church?
A: To listen to the stories.
posted by Aghast. at 1:25 PM on May 15, 2006


I agree with Konolia- read the gospel of John. If you're going to "buy in" to Christianity, you're buying into more than just the love and tradition, there are some basic tenets that you need to agree with first. In John, Jesus and John both make some pretty big claims about who Jesus is. There are a lot of grey areas in Christianity, but overall (and I'm well aware of exceptions), the things addressed in John are core values for most Christians. If you don't agree with those, you may want to look to some other sort of organization that encourages being nice to people.

That said, I'll take a stab at one of your questions and leave the others to better theologians:
1a. If I understand right, there were about 11 people in the world who realized what Jesus was up to when he was alive. Why would God create one path to Himself, and then hide it so well?
Reading the Gospels, you actually see Jesus expanding his audience. First, only he knew. Then he shared with his 12 apostles. Later, he sent out 72 people. At the end of his life, he commanded his followers to go and make believers of all nations. So the path being hidden or not is really up to the people on the path. They're the ones charged with sharing it with everyone else.
posted by wallaby at 1:37 PM on May 15, 2006


Jek, you wanted a measurement, I gave you some numbers to think about.

No. I asked you how you measure "the net of the religion in terms of human spiritual progress." And you gave me a single, undefined, metric. Don't you know what "net" means?

To answer the fpp's central question: If you believe in some denomination's version of Christ, then becoming Christian may be a good idea. If you like the idea of Christ's teachings generally, but you have problems with the theological elements, then Christianity's probably not for you. There are lots of people who at least pay lip service to the things you say you like about Christianity without actually being Christians.
posted by JekPorkins at 1:38 PM on May 15, 2006


I don't see what your current religion is. If you are Jewish, you may be able to find a temple with a similar emphasis on justice and good works. I have always been attracted to the Jewish tradition of discussing/thinking about ethics. Certainly, other religions might also; I'm not trying to diss any other religion; this thread's way too derailed already.

If you choose to become a Christian, you may find that the Quakers have a strong emphasis on Right Living that goes along with good works and selflessness and may meet your needs. Christian denominations vary wildly.

I do not participate in organized religion because I don't have any faith, but I miss the community of a good church. For reference, grew up Catholic, spent time with Quakers.
posted by theora55 at 1:47 PM on May 15, 2006


Christ's philosophy of love and acceptance is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, over the centuries it has become tainted by attempts to co-opt or hijack it for political purposes.

I agree and disagree. One of my problems with the bible in general (I'm an athiest) is that it was written so long ago that the language and customs simply cannot be easily understood in today's times--and if one believes this to be true, what's the point of Christ's teachings... we have no idea what they definitively mean.

I'll give you an example: "Turn the other cheek." We've all heard that one, right? I think it's actually, "But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also..." and is from Matthew.

Those word in contemporary times mean one thing--however, in Christ's time, it meant pretty much the opposite, according to some historians and bibilical scholars. Why? Because in those times equals faught face to face... however, a superior would strike an "inferior" (slave, woman, etc.) with the back hand (ie, on the right cheek). This is why the "right cheek" is specifically mentioned in the passage. So, to present your attacker with the left cheek forces him to treat you as an equal and is in fact an insult. Not at all what "turn the other cheek" is generally taught to mean.

So, to me, it seems that if something this 'simple' can be so misunderstood/taught, then more complex ideas and many, many other 'simple' ones, are pretty much a bunch of lost or wasted meaning.

Basing one's life on the bible seems utterly silly in this context to me. You're interpreting things that seem 'obvious' but have no way of knowing the intention of the written word--and if that's the case, you're pretty much writing your own rules/ticket/philosophy/excuses.
posted by dobbs at 1:47 PM on May 15, 2006


Seems to me you're approach here is entirely wrong. Belief comes first. Your trying to intellectually con yourself into believing, but belief is a matter of the heart, not the mind. If you believe, you already are a Christian, if you don't you're not.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:50 PM on May 15, 2006


right next door there's someone struggling with Christ's love. the lord works in mysterious ways, indeed.

consider living as Jesus did, but avoid joining a church. that's pretty much the only way you'll become a christian.
posted by joeblough at 1:54 PM on May 15, 2006


Back in highschool, I was dating a Christian girl, and so found myself at youth group, where I had The Conversation with her youth pastor.

He asked me, "so, are you a Christian?"

I said, well, basically. I believe in being fundamentally caring and kind to my fellow man, encouraging peace and understanding as the right path in all situations, etc.

He said, "well, it sounds like your a humanist. I was wondering if you were a Christian."

Pretty simple and defining question on his part—he was a good guy and a firm Believer, and so the distinction was relevant to him. To me, it was a non-issue; belief or not in the divinity of Christ had zero effect on my desire to be a good person and treat people right.

You can find good people and good communities irrespective of the religious baggage. If you're looking for God, sure, check it out. If you're looking to lead a good life, do it however you please—Christian ideologies are pretty much irrelevant if you've already got a conscience.
posted by cortex at 1:56 PM on May 15, 2006


Christianity revolves around Jesus Christ. My advice would be to study who he said he was and what he did. Ignore those things that have been added by people and institutions. That should tell you whether you're interested or not.

I'd recommend CS Lewis' Mere Christianity for some well written essays about exactly what you're questioning.

About the derail. . . It's a added-on Catholic doctrine (one not found in Jesus' Christianity) that opposes the use of condoms. I don't think you can count that against Christian's in general. . . no more then it would be fair to count Stalin's murdered millions against Athiests. Let's be reasonable here.

PS. I'm not a Catholic, but are people really excommunicated for using condoms? Because then. . . there would be like 10 american catholics i think.
posted by visual mechanic at 1:56 PM on May 15, 2006


I have to agree with atrazine.

Do you think that Christ was an actual person who was also God, and who died and then rose from the dead?

If so, you are already Christian. If not, you are not. If you think that those things are ridiculous or repugnant, than your answer is that you do not want to be a Christian. I mean, if you actually believe that Christ was God and all that, then does it really matter whether others are condemned? If they are, then what that means is that you're a Christian who hates some of what God does, which is hardly unusual.

There are any number of ways to do good deeds and hang around with decent people if that's what you really want.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:06 PM on May 15, 2006


Bullshit. Just flat-out bullshit. There are religious communities of all possible dispositions and temperments, and there are quite a few loving, acccepting, kind and charitable ones.

No, there really aren't. Well, perhaps there are religious ones -- I've had fantastic experiences at synagogues, but Christianity just isn't suited for universal acceptance, except meaningless watered-down feel-good brands, and even they can't really handle someone who wants to shag half the congregation.
posted by bonaldi at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2006


I recommend What's So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey and also The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel.
posted by toastchee at 2:14 PM on May 15, 2006


Christ's philosophy of love and acceptance is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, over the centuries it has become tainted by attempts to co-opt or hijack it for political purposes.

As has everything else, including democracy and television. That's irrelevant to whether you want to become a Christian. If you do, your response will be "Yes, and I want to do my part to undo that hijacking and restore it to its original goodness." I'm not a Christian myself, but I know Christians who are good, kind people and atheists who are complete assholes; I don't think religion has much to do with it.

And for all you militant atheists so eager to talk trash, look at Optimus Chyme: he's as atheist as you if not more so, but he gives a polite, helpful, on-topic answer. Go thou and do likewise, if you can.
posted by languagehat at 2:17 PM on May 15, 2006


highly, highly recommended:

mere christianity by c.s. lewis

isbn 0-06-065292-6
posted by quonsar at 2:23 PM on May 15, 2006


oops, i didn't see visual mechanic had already suggested the book. consider it doubleplus highly recommended.
posted by quonsar at 2:27 PM on May 15, 2006


"No, there really aren't. Well, perhaps there are religious ones -- I've had fantastic experiences at synagogues, but Christianity just isn't suited for universal acceptance, except meaningless watered-down feel-good brands, and even they can't really handle someone who wants to shag half the congregation."

I'm sorry, I realize that this is fundamentally unarguable, but you're stating an absolute position that is unmitigated bullshit and bullshit of the most ignorant form. I can't imagine anyone making that statement without prefacing it with "I have no fucking idea what I'm talking about, but here it is anyway."

Really, it's just insanely stupid to say that.
posted by klangklangston at 2:34 PM on May 15, 2006


Christians will bend over backwards to feed you their own 'unified theory,' their own interpretation of the Bible which irons out every internal contradiction, justifies God's condemnation of unsaved children and unproselytized peoples, and supports their cultural ideals.

But an unguided, comprehensive survey of the scriptures reveals that these internal contradictions *do* exist!

Hence the Bible is not a trustworthy foundation upon which to build one's spiritual beliefs.
posted by The Confessor at 2:36 PM on May 15, 2006


If you're in Canada and you really feel the need to join a christian church, join the UCoC, it's the only church I know of that is all-inclusive & truly following Jesus' example. You won't be required to hate anyone or support 2nd class citizenship for gays or anyone else. These folks are truly part of their larger community & do all manner of good works without requiring anyone convert or believe to benefit from their outreach.
posted by zarah at 2:38 PM on May 15, 2006


Not all Christians. Many will happily accept that there are contradictions in the Bible, especially the non-literalists, and many more will contend that those contradictions have nothing to do with the core messages of the Bible.
posted by klangklangston at 2:38 PM on May 15, 2006


I'm coming late to this thread, but would like to give my experience.

I was brought up in the Church of England, which was dry and dusty and was pretty meaningless to me as a kid. After the age of about 13 I never went again.

About two years ago when I was visiting the US I went to church with the family I was staying with, mostly to be polite. A couple of Lutheran services, which reminded me a lot of the C of E, a generally elderly congretation (sorry PinkSuperHero!), and a bit dry.

But the Methodist church was great, a young minister, a lively congregation, great music, good fellowship, a modern-day version of the Bible instead of the King James edition that was so turgid to me. I really liked that church.

When I came back to England I tried to find a similar church, and I started going to one that had all the things I liked about the church I'd been going to in the US. I enjoyed the fellowship, I enjoyed the singing, I liked the feeling of peace and tranquility in the church.

I undertook a programme of instruction to become a member of the church, but ultimately I balked at taking the final step because, well, I just didn't believe - I found the whole story of the Virgin birth, everything right up to the Resurrection and Ascention, well, preposterous (and I mean no offence to people who do believe). It just made no sense to me. I couldn't get past that stumbling block.

Then things happened which led me to question the existence of God altogether, but that's a whole other story.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that if you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins and rose again from the dead after 3 days and ascended into heaven to sit on the right hand of God, then you can call yourself a Christian. I could go to church every Sunday for the rest of my days and yet still not believe.


So for me it was totally a question of faith
posted by essexjan at 2:40 PM on May 15, 2006


...God's condemnation of unsaved children and unproselytized peoples...

you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the topic.
posted by quonsar at 2:43 PM on May 15, 2006


I have to say, I think your whole approach is wrong.

You're asking whether to become a christian and asking logical, intellectual questions and saying you can't get into christianity until you get the right answers.

Faith doesn't work like that. You have to suspend your sense of disbelief and simply believe.

If you're genuninely interested in the intellectual questions, you don't want to become a christian, you want to become a theologian.

Or, to put it another way, if you can only become a christian if you get answers to your questions which satisfy you, then there is such a wide variety of christian doctrines that you can almost certainly find one which matches your preferred answers.

If you need a "gay people go to hell" church, or conversely a "gay people are just fine with Jesus" church, I can point you to either kind of church in my town to suit you. The more subtle questions, I'd need to ask a christian, but I'm sure they exist.

I'm an "angry atheist" (© Joss Whedon) by the way, but for me, it's not about thoughts, it's about actions. Jesus helped people. If I wanted to try being a christian, I wouldn't do it by thinking about abstruse philosophical issues, because that's not, for the most part, what he did.

I'd do it by figuring out what I could do to help feed the hungry, house the homeless and save the weak from injustice. Stuff like that.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:44 PM on May 15, 2006


I would also recommend the cs lewis book ....

in terms of doing good works ...i'm not a good works person , nobody genuinely does good works.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:45 PM on May 15, 2006


If you want a thorough, if exhaustive, intellectual justification for Christian belief in the modern context, I suggest the following two books:

For a historical justification of Christian belief, read N.T. Wright's series on Christian Origins and the Question of God, notably The Ressurection of the Son of God. Wright is both a former professor of New Testament Studies at Oxford and the current Bishop of Durham. He's one of the most distinguished new testament scholars in the world today.

For a philosophical justification of religious belief in general, and Christian belief in particular, from a liberal perspective, I recommend Hans Kung, Does God Exist: An Answer for Today.
posted by gd779 at 2:50 PM on May 15, 2006


Faith doesn't work like that. You have to suspend your sense of disbelief and simply believe.

I vehemently disagree. The idea that simply "believing" (whatever that means, public declaration? private affirmation? provisional acceptance?) the proper set of propositions is the key to eternal salvation is a fundamentalist doctrine.

"Faith" as understood by traditional theologians (say, medieval Thomists) would be more of a recognition of the fundamental consonance of being and a commitment to it than an unconditional affirmation of some theological proposition.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:53 PM on May 15, 2006


Seconding what AmbroseChapel said. Faith transcends, apparently. Faith is not a choice, not something learned, not something had by wanting. It is the undeniable certainty that gives peace and spawns compassion.

IANAC, but I called myself one once, and was raised Lutheran. And I have, in the last year, in the final days of his life, the example of the simple Christian faith of my father. He watched my mother die in the spring of 2005, and the week after her funeral, he found out that he himself had lung cancer. He died 6 weeks later. And while he had his bad nights in that last month, the closer he came to the end, the less worried he seemed. He spoke of looking forward to seeing his Lord, with a simplicity and surety that shushed all questions. He didn't need any reassurance, he was reassuring.

I've never felt a prayer of mine was anything but empty words. Long ago, I quit speculating about whether I actually possess whatever others call a soul, but doubt I do, and I've had no reason to change. I've read C.S. Lewis, and Bertrand Russell, and I've walked in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Rome. I've sought, but my heart doesn't believe, no matter how quiet I try to make it.

I think maybe my Dad was right, and that so am I. He believed, and was saved. I don't, and so I'm not. And that's OK with me, and I'm glad for him. At his end, I could hold my father's hand, and say the words of favorite prayers he couldn't squeeze breath for any longer, and not mind that if they were somewhere heard, it wasn't on my account, but his. And know, through the faith of the dying man whose hand I held that he would have said, if he could, that if the words were heard at all, it was not on his account, but His.
posted by paulsc at 3:17 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]



I'm sorry, I realize that this is fundamentally unarguable


You could at least have tried. Let me expand on my last answer anyway:

ibmmcginty wants nothing to do with the anti-love communities that get so much attention. I think there's no avoiding them, because Christianity is morally prescriptive through and through.

Show me the community you can join that believes sex outside marriage, with multiple partners over a lifetime, is acceptable; that has no problem with recreational drug use; that wouldn't shrink from recommending/supporting someone through an abortion; that's fine with gays; that believes in fundamental human rights; that believes other people have a right to their religion; one where "to find out more about God and meet hot girl-next-door chicks" is an acceptable motive to come to church. I doubt that you can. You might find one who "accepted" people like that, but one where members could openly hold and share those beliefs, and find them consistent with scripture? No chance.

Even if you could, in some corner of NYC probably, is it going to be round the corner from ibmcginty? No. Even if it were, would they be accepted into the larger church? Nope.

I don't believe any of the things I asked for are inconsistent with scripture; I'm not saying there never could be such a church, or that it couldn't have evolved that way. I'm saying that it hasn't, and that the vast, vast majority of Christian communities today are intolerant and unaccommodating and thrive on various guises of hate of today's morally repugnant world.

ibmginty could have a personal Jesus that wasn't anti-love, but find a community? I think not.
posted by bonaldi at 3:17 PM on May 15, 2006


The problem with this question is that there are so many ways of being Christian.

"...God's condemnation of unsaved children and unproselytized peoples..."

you have a fundamental misunderstanding of the topic.


You're both wrong and right, q. For many Christians, this is spot on. For many others, it's a fundamental misunderstanding. If you follow Brennan Manning's version as presented in The Ragamuffin Gospel, it's about grace. If you follow LaHaye/Jenkins' Left Behind series, it's about condemnation.

I grew up evangelical, dabbled a bit in charismatic Christianity, came back to evangelical Christianity, and then lost my faith and became an agnostic atheist. I have a ton of Christian friends, both evangelical (Christian Reformed, Baptist, Congregational, etc.) and liberal (emergent, Anglican, Presbyterian, Unitarian, etc.).

Based on my own experiences with evangelicalism, I would not recommend it. I found that Jesus's and Paul's doctrines of original sin and the idea that thoughts and emotions can be sin (it is sin to murder, but also to hate, sin to cheat and also to lust) made me paranoid and incredibly self-critical. I have seen it cause people to cut off contact with their children, and have had friends cut off our friendship since my deconversion.

Now, I have other friends whose Christianity in no way impedes our friendship, and who find inspiration in it for social justice. You may find the more liberal ("high church") variants more to your liking. There seems to be more of a focus on social justice and the wider community there, but as with everything else, it is completely dependent on who your pastor/priest is and the social politics of your particular congregation. If you do decide to pursue it, I'd encourage you to shop around a lot. See if the pastor is willing to go for coffee and answer questions, go to a few potlucks and bible studies. It can be very time-consuming, but a bad church can be very very bad, and a good church can be the best thing ever.
posted by heatherann at 3:23 PM on May 15, 2006


bonaldi: Oh, I wouldn't say that.
posted by jtron at 3:49 PM on May 15, 2006


You're both wrong and right, q. For many Christians, this is spot on. For many others, it's a fundamental misunderstanding. If you follow Brennan Manning's version as presented in The Ragamuffin Gospel, it's about grace. If you follow LaHaye/Jenkins' Left Behind series, it's about condemnation.

my personal feelings are that it is all about grace, and the lehaye "left behinders" are whackjobs. in my humble opinion that whole rapture thing was constructed quite imaginitively out of a few references to being "changed in the wink of an eye" in the new testament. i believe it to be a human construct, "added to" scripture in precisely the way scripture says not to do.

as for condemnation, to me clearly all men are condemned: permanently and irrevocably afflicted by pride, lust, greed, envy, sloth and anger. it's not a matter of trying to be a nice person. nice people have been slaughtering other nice people since the dawn of time in the grips of pride, lust, greed, envy, sloth and anger. from my perspective, it's got to be about grace. christ reconciling man with god across the chasm of sin.
posted by quonsar at 3:53 PM on May 15, 2006


Yep jtron, but I lump them in with "religious communities", of which I think there are many wonderful ones. Christians? Only by streeee-etching the term.
posted by bonaldi at 3:55 PM on May 15, 2006


i forgot gluttony.
posted by quonsar at 3:55 PM on May 15, 2006


Ambrose Chapel had an excellent comment, one that I would recommend rereading.
For extra reading, Paul Tillich's Dynamics of Faith is excellent, as is Kierkegaard's Fear And Trembling. (I once heard it held that Nietszche advocated an impossible atheism and Kierkegaard advocated and impossible theism. While I might disagree on the Nietszche tip, I think that it's pretty valid on ol' Soren).

Bonaldi— The reason why it's inarguable is that you're trying to prove a negative. And "trying to score" != Love.
posted by klangklangston at 4:05 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm not trying to say that there are "no" communities like I describe, which would be arguing the negative. I'm saying that christianity as it has evolved in our world is not conducive to their existence, as it's too morally prescriptive for true tolerance.

And hey, did i say trying to score was love? But what about some love for christians exercising their god-given sex drives?
posted by bonaldi at 4:08 PM on May 15, 2006


"I'm saying that christianity as it has evolved in our world is not conducive to their existence, as it's too morally prescriptive for true tolerance."

And I'm saying that unless you're describing "true tolerance" in a totally meaningless absolute relativistic way, that's unalloyed bullshit.

"But what about some love for christians exercising their god-given sex drives?"

You mean like the campus church that passes out condoms under the premise that it's better to play the field until you are mature enough to decide to settle down? Or are they condemning the poor polygamists?
There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.
posted by klangklangston at 4:13 PM on May 15, 2006


My question is, are you interested in truth, and the pursuit of reason? If so, you should not become a Christian, because it is an inherently and profoundly unreasonable belief system which - in common with all other religions, of course - quite unjustifiably lays claim to truth.

Love, selflessness, community, tradition - fine. But you can have those things without sacrificing your reason too. So why do it?
posted by Decani at 4:13 PM on May 15, 2006


How can you have selflessness without sacrificing reason?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:16 PM on May 15, 2006


Yeah, there's really nothing in Christianity (that I know of) about a giant invisible wizard in the sky

See, this will be the kind of deluded bullshit you'll be dealing with if you become a Christian. Of course there's something about a "giant invisible wizard in the sky" in Christianity. It's name is God the father, and Jesus makes numerous references to it. Vhristian hymns celebrate it as "Immortal, invisible, God only wise".

Christians frequently ignore or play down the more obviously deranged elements of their faith in this way. Especially if they sniff a chance of getting their hooks into fresh meat. Beware.
posted by Decani at 4:16 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


How can you have selflessness without sacrificing reason?

Oh, about as easily as you can ask an empty question like that.
posted by Decani at 4:17 PM on May 15, 2006


1. Are non-Christians condemned?

if we have scripture to go by then we must conclude that everyone is condemned. That's the whole point of the biblical scriptural narrative, i think; everyone's corrupt, everyone falls short of god's standard. so the answer to your question is: yes. but so am i, so are we all.


1a. If I understand right, there were about 11 people in the world who realized what Jesus was up to when he was alive. Why would God create one path to Himself, and then hide it so well? I'm willing to believe that His ways are not our ways, but that seems to be pushing it a bit.

actually, i think a careful reading of the gospels seems to indicate that almost no one, including the apostles, really got christ's message or meaning correctly while he was alive. from peter's denials, to the stream of disciples leaving jerusalem after the crucifixion, these folks seem plagued with confusion, doubt, fear, and disappointment during their sojourns with christ. to me it's the behavior of these men and women and what they attest to have witnessed subsequent to the resurrection that seems to vindicate them, and, evidently, clear up their confusion.


2. Jesus didn't seem to do a great job fufilling Old Testament prophecies. Jerusalem wasn't liberated, no new temple was built. At least some of the prophecies cited in the New Testament seem to selectively quote the OT.


there's neither time nor space here to attempt to answer such a broad question in this fourm. but much has been written on the subject, begining with the observations of the writers of the gospels themselves; they seem to have been quite careful to observe when and where they believed christ was speaking or acting in fulfilment of old testament scripture. but i think that it should be pointed out that people who believe such things tend to believe that prophecy need not be fulfilled sequentially or in any predictable pattern. as validation i submit: christ in luke 4:18 reads from isaiah 61:1-2a in the synagog, closes the scroll, and proclaims that prophecy fulfilled; but note: when he he closes the scroll, he closes it midsentence; it seems a likely conclusion that he believed that the rest of that prophecy would have to wait to be fulfilled. if you can believe prophecy, then it should be easy to believe that not all prophecy is fulfilled... yet.
posted by RockyChrysler at 4:20 PM on May 15, 2006


You mean like the campus church that passes out condoms under the premise that it's better to play the field until you are mature enough to decide to settle down?

For every campus church pastor who takes E with his live-in girlfriend, there are a million quonsars yelling about saving us from gluttony and lust.

There are fewer things in heaven and many more on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, I fear.
posted by bonaldi at 4:23 PM on May 15, 2006


ibmcginty

You have my sincere thanks for posing this question, since it finally gave me sufficient impetus to finish a similarly-themed composition (MP3, one swear word) I'd tabled some time ago...

Quonsar

If I remember correctly:

"There is no other name in heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved."

Which would tend to imply that those who die never hearing so much as Jesus' name are pretty much screwed.

I've forgotten the specific verse for the "condemnation of babies" doctrine, but I remember it being similarly well-supported.
posted by The Confessor at 4:25 PM on May 15, 2006


Decani, if, according to christianity, God is invisible, how is it that the Bible gives accounts of people seeing God?

How can you have selflessness without sacrificing reason?
Oh, about as easily as you can ask an empty question like that.


Empty? It's full of the implication that selflessness is not reasonable. Do you disagree?
posted by JekPorkins at 4:30 PM on May 15, 2006


You can't have anything without sacrificing reason. Selflessness is not reasonable, but then, neither is selfishness.
posted by atrazine at 4:52 PM on May 15, 2006


But an unguided, comprehensive survey of the scriptures reveals that these internal contradictions *do* exist!

Guided surveys reveal these contradictions as well. Many Christians actually study the Bible.

See, this will be the kind of deluded bullshit you'll be dealing with if you become a Christian. Of course there's something about a "giant invisible wizard in the sky" in Christianity. It's name is God the father, and Jesus makes numerous references to it. Vhristian hymns celebrate it as "Immortal, invisible, God only wise".

Which part of that describes a "giant invisible wizard in the sky"?! This is a flip, erroneous description of the Christian understanding of God. If this is meant to be metaphorical, it's also erroneous.

Christians frequently ignore or play down the more obviously deranged elements of their faith in this way. Especially if they sniff a chance of getting their hooks into fresh meat. Beware.

Huh, who in this thread has been trying to get their hooks into the OP? Sheesh, I'm devoutly agnostic and I find this offensive.
posted by desuetude at 5:12 PM on May 15, 2006


JekPorkins writes "Decani, if, according to christianity, God is invisible, how is it that the Bible gives accounts of people seeing God?"

Does it? I thought that God the Father, Yahweh, always appeared manifest in some lesser form (a burning bush, a pillar of fire), without revealing His actual face. Which accounts are you thinking of? It is part of English-speaking Christian tradition to refer to God the Father as "The Invisible"; heck it's even in the definition of the word "invisible" (B.1.b. in the OED).
posted by mr_roboto at 5:17 PM on May 15, 2006


Which accounts are you thinking of?

see, e.g., Exodus 24.
posted by JekPorkins at 5:20 PM on May 15, 2006


I think maybe my Dad was right, and that so am I. He believed, and was saved. I don't, and so I'm not. And that's OK with me, and I'm glad for him. At his end, I could hold my father's hand, and say the words of favorite prayers he couldn't squeeze breath for any longer, and not mind that if they were somewhere heard, it wasn't on my account, but his. And know, through the faith of the dying man whose hand I held that he would have said, if he could, that if the words were heard at all, it was not on his account, but His.

Great comment, paulsc. Thanks for posting it. I wish more non-Christians could think and feel like that.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 PM on May 15, 2006


mr_roboto

If I remember my Old Testament correctly, Moses caught a glimpse of God's ass once.
posted by The Confessor at 5:21 PM on May 15, 2006


godse.cx ?
posted by WinnipegDragon at 5:45 PM on May 15, 2006


I read about half the responses in this thread, so forgive me if I repeat what anyone else has said.

To start I'm not an expert in theology, so I can't recommend any important theological works you should read, or suggest what philosophical questions you should ask yourself. I can only tell you about my experience. About eight years ago, I became a "born-again" christian while I was in college. I won't go into the whole long story of how, but I will tell you that for the first year or so, it was wonderful. Things I liked included the things that apparently attract you, the love and selflessness part. The community. It seemed I had a built in "family" all of a sudden. Very appealing to a lonely soul. But slowly over time, things began to go wrong. For one thing, any questioning of commonly held ideas was voraciously and sometimes viciously squashed. Not everyone was like this, but enough that I would call it pretty much endemic to Christianity. There was a lot of backbiting. People at my church (and the one I went to was fairly liberal) got into fights about the most amazing things, who got to do the music, Harry Potter, etc. My point is that Christians are no more successful at implementing that "love and selflessness" than anyone else, and they might be even less so.

As for your question about whether non-believers are condemned, I'm afraid I have to say that yes, according to most Christians they are. There are some who don't believe that, but for the most part they are on the fringe and shunned by the mainstream. To your question as to why god would go to the trouble of creating a one way ticket to himself and then seemingly hopelessly obscure it, well, I've asked myself the same question. Unable to come up with a satisfactory answer, I no longer identify myself as a Christian. The typical Christian answer would be that it isn't hidden, or that most of the people of Jesus' time had misinterpreted the OT. Believe what you will, but those answers seemed flat and more than a little arrogant to me. The same goes for the OT stuff. More "the jews were dense" answers. (No wonder that so many christians have a sort of patronizing, poor-bastard-child attitude towards Jewish people).

I would wholeheartedly agree with you, that Jesus was a lot less interested in "gay-bashing" or any other kind of bashing, than his followers seem to be. However, you need to be aware that when you become a Christian you inherit these people as companions, whether you like it or not.

I now consider myself an agnostic. I don't know whether there is a god or not, or even if he is knowable. But it is obvious that Jesus did exist, at least as a historical person. He said many great things, and if you can implement some of them into your life, more power to you. I just don't believe that he ever intended for there to be an entire religion in his name, or that it would serve to become a political machine for the purpose of advancing agendas that aren't even proven to be biblical (ie. prohibitions against homosexuality, abortion, etc.), and which he never even addressed. Obviously, if he didn't find it important to speak about them, they weren't that pressing as spiritual matters.

Ultimately, this is your deal. No one can tell you what to believe, especially as religious belief requires faith, which is by definition a willing suspension of disbelief, skepticism, and sometimes even reason in order to believe. If you're willing or able to do this, then you can probably be successful at Christianity. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on who you talk to, it was a course I personally was unable to chart.
posted by katyggls at 6:17 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Please read "The End of Faith" by Sam Harris. It will do you more good than any ideology that is designed to grab people by the reins in "times of need" like this.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 6:38 PM on May 15, 2006


Please help convince me to become a Christian. Or not.

Dude, for me, it comes down to how do you want to feel from day to day? What are you missing that you think christianity might give you?

Do you not feel enough love from the external world? Can you not get enough joy from watching the world and all its imperfections? Do you need to believe there's something after death because no-consciousness is too much to get your head round?

I was called a christian yet do not consider myself one. I have seen the happiness and contentedness that christians can exhibit and I can't deny it one bit. As far as I can see, some christians are genuinely happy. What I do wonder about though is where there happiness really originates from, mostly because it can only really come from themselves.

They believe god loves them, and that's reassuring. They believe all their sins are forgiven, and that lets you move on. That's awesome! If that's how you want to learn that lesson, go for it. What I would ask you to wonder about, is that these beliefs are just that - beliefs - and that really they are separate to any 'proof of God'. They come from you. All they can ever prove is that one person believes in God, not that God exists.

Even if god doesn't really exist, your belief and its benefits still exist, so it doesn't matter if there is a God or not. You can believe that you have the power to be happy RIGHT NOW by choosing to be happy. It's a choice. You can think positive because God cares about you, or you can think positive because we have so many things to be happy about.

Always know however, I may be completely full of shit.
posted by 6am at 7:08 PM on May 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


I was raised Christian -- have since left it by the wayside. Recenlty, while trying to plan a get-together with a friend and her family, I was told "Sunday would not work because of Church". I noted, "you could skip church for one week". She noted that she needed to go to be reenergized. Since, I thought how insulting this sounds to me -- who is not reenergized by seeing good friends -- never mind that she would be with her own family! The point? You might find solace in the church or you might find comfort elsewhere -- but it is yours to find, loose, discover and rediscover. Find a particular church/service style which makes you confortable and which does not interfere with other beliefs you might hold dear. For those (like me) who will think you a crackpot? -- find strength in the church such that it balances this.
posted by Dick Paris at 7:18 PM on May 15, 2006


1. Are non-Christians condemned?

Depends on who you ask. Some say yes. Some say no. Some say yes, unless they never got a real opportunity to convert.

1a. If I understand right, there were about 11 people in the world who realized what Jesus was up to when he was alive. Why would God create one path to Himself, and then hide it so well? I'm willing to believe that His ways are not our ways, but that seems to be pushing it a bit.


Every message has to start somewhere. And I think very few Christians believe that you can be damned for not believing in Christ when you've never heard of Christ. Moses, for example, lived before Christ, and I doubt that you could find any Christian who believes that Moses went to Hell. It's generally believed that God has some solution to those who didn't get an opportunity to know Christ, although opinions vary as to what that solution is. Here and now, however, we have the opportunity to know Christ.

2. Jesus didn't seem to do a great job fufilling Old Testament prophecies.

He actually filled a lot of them. If you read a study Bible, it'll often cross-reference Jesus's words and deeds with the appropriate Old Testament passage.

Jerusalem wasn't liberated, no new temple was built.

Most Christians believe that the new temple comes later, probably after the second coming. We do, however, believe that Jesus did bring the promised freedom, namely freedom from sin and death. It's generally believed that that is one of the reasons why the people rejected Christ. They wanted a worldly salvation, but he provided a spiritual one.


As to your conversion, or lack thereof, I honestly don't think you're going to find your answer here. Try reading some of the New Testament, preferably with some kind of study guide. Try attending some moderate churches. Churches don't generally require any kind of membership to attend a service, so you can attend different churches and learn some things that way. Try reading some of the more accessible theology. CS Lewis is an excellent start. Try praying too, if you like. There is one thing I would say, however, and that is that there is no such thing as half a Christian. You can't really simply "plug into the tradition". At the end of the day, you must decide whether to believe in and put your faith in God, or not. But if you try some of the stuff I mentioned, you'll probably discover for yourself which path to follow. Good luck!
posted by unreason at 8:21 PM on May 15, 2006


Nice, paulsc. I struggle every day with my parents' deep faith and my own lack of it.

I (like you) can see and respect very much what their faith means to them, how it gives them the strength and peace to live good lives. The thing is, I firmly believe that very few Christians are willing to grant my beliefs the same consideration and respect, and this is the source of much suffering in the world today.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:54 PM on May 15, 2006


The only real way to find out if Christianity (or any other religion) is the "right" one is to study it out and then ask God. If you don't believe in God enough to ask him/her/it, then there's your answer.

Best part of the whole thread.
posted by namespan at 9:22 PM on May 15, 2006


"For every campus church pastor who takes E with his live-in girlfriend, there are a million quonsars yelling about saving us from gluttony and lust.

There are fewer things in heaven and many more on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, I fear."

So... We've gone from "There's something in Christianity that makes those things impossible" to "Well, there aren't a whole lot of them, at least." And what would be he best way to assure more of them? It sure wouldn't be likeminded people joining these churches, no siree!
Maybe you should bow out of the thread if that's all you have to offer.
posted by klangklangston at 5:07 AM on May 16, 2006


Yeah, namespan, that was the most essential way of putting it, but I'd add a more pragmatic version of that:

The only real way to find out if Christianity (or any other religion) is the "right" one is to study it out and then talk to a pastor/minister/priest. If you don't believe in the authority of pastors/ministers/priests enough to ask them, then there's your answer.
posted by funambulist at 5:20 AM on May 16, 2006


Maybe you should bow out of the thread if that's all you have to offer.

Hang on, for three comments, all you've offered is variations on "this is bullshit because I say" and I should bow out?

I've never once said it's impossible, or that there are no such communities. We've "gone" from me saying ibmmcginty is not going to find a community that is like the one being sought (and by the way, asinine implications that serial monogamy is inherently immature is exactly what I'm talking about) to -- ooh! -- exactly the same position.

If you don't realise the difference between 0 parts per million and 1 part per million is effectively nothing for someone who faces drowning in the million, we're going to struggle here. Especially since my contention is that Christianity lends itself to creating the million, not the one. In fact, it already has.

Your (hypothetical) campus is an aberration in Christianity. If it wasn't, the condoms would be given out in Africa where they're needed, not on US campuses.

And as for "changing the church", well, surely God's got it the way he likes? Intolerant and judgemental, just like him.
posted by bonaldi at 5:47 AM on May 16, 2006


"We've "gone" from me saying ibmmcginty is not going to find a community that is like the one being sought (and by the way, asinine implications that serial monogamy is inherently immature is exactly what I'm talking about) to -- ooh! -- exactly the same position."

"I've never once said it's impossible, or that there are no such communities."
"The others just aren't there."

Well, you have said that there are no such communities (unless "not being there" isn't a synonym for "not existing").

And every time I mention that there are kind, compassionate and non-judgemental churches out there (and around here there are quite a few to chose from), you've simply covered your ears and said "No there aren't, no there aren't!" So, yeah, that's bullshit. And yeah, you have nothing else to offer. And yeah, you should probably shut the fuck up because of it.
posted by klangklangston at 6:05 AM on May 16, 2006


:) I was going to charge you with covering your ears.

Which you're still doing. You aren't "mentioning that there are kind churches", you're just saying "hey bullshit, unmitigated bullshit, flat-out bullshit" and telling me to "shut the fuck up", on top of which you tried to quip me as immature for believing in serial monogamy.

In fact, you're *exactly* the sort of person I expected ibmcginty to find in a Christian church. Belligerent, intolerant, unable to articulate a logical argument. You are what is found in "kind" churches, which is, I suspect, why you keep arguing that they exist. You really believe they do.
posted by bonaldi at 6:18 AM on May 16, 2006


"Belligerent, intolerant, unable to articulate a logical argument."

Because, again, you're attempting to prove a negative, then playing the No True Scotsman card against the rebuttal. Tack in a straw man about how condoms should be going to Africa rather than congregations, and you've hit the fallacious argument Triple Crown.
Your assertions are groundless, and to say that is not "intolerant," no matter how you might whine. And your continued assertion of my beliefs is laughable, especially when most of my beliefs are spelled out upthread.
Again, you're the one that came to this thread with an unsupportable premise (that the original poster will be unable to find a loving church), and have tossed out nothing but, again, unvarnished bullshit to support it. While I realize that bullshit is a term that may raise your ire, since you've been totally unable to support your negative premise with anything besides ignorant assertions borne from an obvious lack of experience (especially in that you assert an absolute, which would require infinite experience), "bullshit" is the TECHNICAL AND ACCURATE TERM FOR YOUR ARGUMENTS.
You may go back to presenting your swiss cheese arguments for your moronic position now (and please remember that calling bullshit bullshit is only intolerant if a meaningless standard for tolerance is held).
posted by klangklangston at 6:53 AM on May 16, 2006


(Though I did notice that you didn't bother to respond to where I pointed out that you did say that no such church exists, and then denied it later. If you can't even keep up with your own arguments, I suppose you can't be tasked with seeing why what you're asserting is so stupid.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:54 AM on May 16, 2006


Ok, now you're just being a fucking moron. Have you read this thread?

1. I wasn't trying to prove a negative. The point I've been trying to make all along is that Christianity results in exactly the kind of church that ibmcginty fears. It's easy to prove -- just look at the Christian community and its works!

2. Your continual attempt to recast the argument as "I bet I can prove there is one church where everyone is nice" is, in itself, a straw man rebuttal.

3. The premise is not that the OP will be unable to find a loving church, it's that the things he fears -- the anti-love -- are the public perception and face of the religion for a reason ... and that reason is that the religion is hateful.

4. Given that I don't need infinite experience to argue from the vast majority, and that anecdotes don't justify any argument, I'm not even going to bother explaining my extensive experience with the religion.

5. You haven't raised any ire with "bullshit", though you do love empty rhetoric. It's almost all you have here, pretension aside. What's more, your beliefs are irrelevant to the charge that you're going to be the sort of person found in a church. Because, frankly, you are.

6. Though I did notice that you didn't bother to respond
OK here's how it evolves:
  • Don't be a Christian. There are no churches that aren't in some way anti-love
  • -- But you can't prove that without going to every church!
  • Well, true. But you can certainly say that the religion isn't conducive to their existence, which is what matters.
  • Therefore it doesn't matter if there are one, or maybe even two such congregations, because the religion is intrinsically anti-love
  • If ibmcginty wants to steer clear of anti-love, best steer clear of the whole shebang, than waste time trying to find a truly liberal sect in the weeds.

posted by bonaldi at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2006


"# Well, true. But you can certainly say that the religion isn't conducive to their existence, which is what matters.

# Therefore it doesn't matter if there are one, or maybe even two such congregations, because the religion is intrinsically anti-love"

And I say: Prove it. And you say: Well, a lot of 'em are... but I don't really have any proof...
And I say: Shut up then. And you say: See, that's the sort of intolerance I expected from someone who's in a Christian church.
And I say: I'm not in a Christian church, and also you still haven't proven anything aside from just asserting it. Noting both the breadth of interpretations of Christianity and the fact that there are quite a few that are explicitly PRO-LOVE, where's your proof?
And you say: I don't have to prove anything. Why can't you give me an argument?
And I say: Because you're just asserting bullshit.
And you say: It's not bullshit! It's true!
And I say: Then prove it!
And you say: You're intolerant!
And I say: That's stupid.
And you say: Calling me stupid is anti-love! QED!
And I say: Not when you say something stupid, stupid.
And you say: Prove that it's stupid!
And I say: That you can't support it does prove that it's stupid. You're arguing that something inherent in the religion makes it anti-love, and then defining refusing to define love except as sex.
And you say: They're anti-sex! All of 'em! And they make me feel bad when I'm stupid! That's anti-love!
And I say: How about the Unitarian Universalists? They're Christian, favor the most liberal theology possible, and are explicitly pro-love.
And you say: Nope! All of 'em are anti-love! And even if they're not, that doesn't make me wrong!
And I say: That's stupid.
And you say: Calling me stupid is anti-love!
And I say: Strap on your helmet if you're going to ride the short bus.
And you say: That's not an argument! I WIN!
And I say: All the way to Special Ed, retard.
And you say: I WIN WIN WIN! I HAVE PR0V3D R3L1610N B4D!!!
posted by klangklangston at 7:46 AM on May 16, 2006


See, that's the sort of intolerance I expected from someone who's in a Christian church.

And you say: You're intolerant!
Where? Oh, right, you're just making up what I say, carry on. I especially didn't try to present you countering me as intolerance, though you dearly wish I did.

The only time I've mentioned intolerance with regard to you was when I said you're the type I'd expect to find in a church. And that came from your "wanting sex is immature" charge.

And I say: How about the Unitarian Universalists? They're Christian, favor the most liberal theology possible, and are explicitly pro-love.

Oh wait, you're making up what you said now too? Where did you say that? In fact, your only reference to UU was to admit that most people wouldn't even call them Christian. Pass the cheese.

But hey, if you want to sit having your own internal argument who am I to stop you? You'll have more fun in church though, believe me.

Really, though, this one pisses me off:
And I say: Prove it. And you say: Well, a lot of 'em are... but I don't really have any proof...
Because you didn't ask me to prove that the religion is intrisically anti-love, you just got indignant about arguing a negative.

You want proof? OK:

Take John 3:16:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Right, so the primary motivation of this religion is about saving your self from perishing. Believe in the Son, live forever. Right out the gate we're looking after number one.

So what did the Son say was the most important thing? Love thy Neighbour. Well, I don't want my neighbour to perish either, so I'd better tell them about the Son, so they can live forever. What's that? They're muslim? o dere. They'll be perishing then.

Two choices:
1. I don't love them enough to make them change their minds, and live forever.
2. I love them enough to force them to be saved.

Where is the love?
posted by bonaldi at 8:04 AM on May 16, 2006


Oh sorry, I forgot how this is done:

I say: Start with John 3.16
You say: But some Christians don't believe that's literally true! There are many ways to God. Smelly bullshit!
I say: But the primary Christian text is the bible, and it's very explicit on this point.
And you say: Don't call me intolerant! There are Christians who don't agree with the literal bible
And I say: Now you're 'One True Scotsman'ing Christianity. Sure, they wear the name tag, but if they don't have the primary text, or the belief in Christ as the path to salvation, in what respect are they Christian?
And you say: Bullshit! They are if they call themselves Christian
And I say: Great, so Christianity can define itself without external reference. So the scientologists could be Christian, only by changing their name? Nice religion.
And you say: I have to go for my bus now. Where's my helmet?
posted by bonaldi at 8:12 AM on May 16, 2006


This is one of the most infuriatingly useless exchanges I have ever seen on AskMe. You two should have taken it to email Monday afternoon, and you both damned well know it.
posted by cortex at 8:24 AM on May 16, 2006


Yes, you're right. Sorry.
posted by bonaldi at 8:28 AM on May 16, 2006


Feel free to pick it up in the MeTa thread.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 9:17 AM on May 16, 2006


Unitarian Universalists do not define themselves as a Christian denomination, even though their roots historically were Christian. It varies wildly from congregation to congregation. Some are pretty strictly secular humanists, and some have crucifixes on the wall (although, I grew up as a UU, and I found it surprising and startling when I first saw a UU sanctuary with a cross displayed).
posted by raedyn at 9:24 AM on May 16, 2006


The only real way to find out if Christianity (or any other religion) is the "right" one is to study it out and then talk to a pastor/minister/priest. If you don't believe in the authority of pastors/ministers/priests enough to ask them, then there's your answer.

I don't get this. The idea of potentially getting an actual answer from God seems so different from talking out theology with a pastor or minister or priest that the anology doesn't work for me. A personal experience with God sounds compelling and as genuinely authoritative as it gets when it comes to making decisions regarding religious faith. Another priest talking theology doesn't.
posted by namespan at 7:27 PM on May 30, 2006


« Older Church Ladies Gone Wild!   |   How do I learn to identify and deal with garden... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.