I was once a Christian minister. I’m sometimes asked if I’m still a Christian? In my usual, irritating way, I say that it depends on what’s meant by “a Christian”.
A problem for me is an insistence that a Christian is primarily someone who believes certain things. That’s a ‘checklist’ model in my way of thinking, and it’s not one I’m now comfortable with.
Here are five things I can no longer honestly say I believe :
* that Jesus is God ‘made flesh’, unless such language is figurative rather than literal. It’s the admirable humanity of Jesus that gives him relevance for me.
* that his mother was a virgin, which is a Greek mistranslation of a verse in the Hebrew Bible which, in any case, had a contemporary, not a future, reference.
* that he ‘died for my sins’. In the Hebrew Bible, God, like any decent father, forgave those who regretted their ‘wrongdoings’ and mended their ways. His forgiveness didn’t depend on a proxy, who had first to suffer a humiliating and agonising death.
* that his dead body was restored to life, and “taken up into heaven”, unless again that language is figurative. Jesus is ‘alive’ for me whenever I read the Gospels.
* that he will ‘come again’, in a sudden, dramatic, supernatural, cosmic intervention to establish a utopia in which there will be no more sorrow, pain, conflict or death.
Not a problem for me is an insistence that a Christian can be someone who lives in a certain way. That’s a ‘practical’ model in my way of thinking, and one that I can be comfortable with.
Here are five things about Jesus which I regard as targets to aim for :
* his opposition to the idea of ‘them and us’, demonstrated in his sharing ‘open table’ with others, irrespective of their religious, political, social or other status.
* his opposition to a ‘third class’ status for women and children. Women were joint followers along with men; children were a model for genuineness and trust.
* his championing of the poor, the disabled, the bereft, the oppressed and the written-off, and his condemnation of selfishness, luxury, greed, and indifference to the distress and suffering of others.
* his upholding of the law – not its letter when that leads to self-righteousness and censoriousness, but its spirit which leaves room for understanding and compassion.
* his embodiment of love. He lost his life in serving others, and the hellishness of his crucifixion is made bearable only by the unconditional love it symbolises.
So am I still a Christian? I don’t usually say that I am, and there are plenty who’d say that I’m not. What matters most to me is not what people say they believe, but what their attitudes and actions are towards others. For myself, I think of Jesus, (apart from some ways in which he was, necessarily, a man of his own time), as someone in whose teachings, values, lifestyle and relationships with others, I can find much to agree with, to admire, and to be a standard worthy of trying as well as I can to reach.
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