Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How to fix Christianity

Okay, so, I was going to build up to this, but since my readership is fairly low, I thought I’d just jump to it. Part of the reason for this blog is for me to organize my own thoughts. You get to observe that and comment as I go. I will make several broad statements this time that require considerable substantiation. If this were a book, that would come first, but it’s a blog, so here goes.

Ultimately, Christianity needs to redefine what it is to be a Christian. That is, accepting Christ as your saviour. Currently, the requirement is too strict, and not relevant to 21st century culture. Understanding Christ as the Jewish Messiah was a mistake of history. It made sense to the people who needed to make sense of what they experienced in the 1st century. It then quickly became something that needed to be explained. Within in a few hundred years, it was irrelevant but ritualized.

People who go to church today understand that the teachings of Jesus have value. They don’t need to first be told that they will go to heaven if they accept Christ in their heart. As an entry point, this is problematic, because the immediate question is, “is that it?” The answer is, “Yes, but, you should follow the teachings too.” Following the teachings is really where we wanted to get in the first, but now this entry point has been artificially added on. The entry point could be, “here are some teachings, let’s learn together.”

Getting churches to change that requirement is probably not going to happen anytime soon. A more likely starting point for change is in the area of tribalism. The Christian cultures and the Jewish cultures before them are based on defining a group of people as special. When that group of people is a family looking to find its own spiritual path, or a race of slaves looking to form its own egalitarian country, I can back that. When it is a small nation looking to conquer other nations to gain power, I can’t. The Old Testament has all of these stories.

I find very little real dialog in the Christian world about the battles in the book of Joshua, or the severe punishments for minor crimes in Leviticus. I find plenty of yelling about it, but not much dialog. The most common responses are defensive and poorly supported, along the lines of, “God says he will punish people for breaking some arbitrary rule, then he does it, that seems fair.” These are rules that defined and controlled a certain culture in a certain time, and they should be viewed only in that context.

That does not mean they are not useful. Parts of the ten commandments for example, are very useful. They are not legislation, but they are good starting points for discussion. The Bible has many stories of a new generation looking back at what earlier generations did, discussing it and deciding to keep some of the ideas, update some others, and toss the rest. It would be nice if it was calm discussion, but its not. Calm doesn’t make a very good story anyway, so it probably happened, we just aren’t reading about it. In those stories, there are usually some who say the only correct thing to do is to keep all of the old traditions. With 6,000 years of traditions in one book, that is pretty much impossible, but there are still people who say it today.

The rules that were once entry points, are now barriers. Many of them are dropping away, but when that happens, there are always those that dig in their heals and scream louder than anyone else. This gives the appearance that these are actually the important issues, and the barrier is strengthened. The opportunity for calm discussion becomes increasingly difficult. One place to look for help on that is to read about cultures that have been through this before, ironically, in the Bible.

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