July 18, 2006

Few "Christians" Appear to Be Christians

English: Resurrection of Christ
Resurrection of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What does it mean to be a Christian? Is telling people you are a Christian sufficient? Is believing in church dogma regarding Jesus sufficient? Can one be a Christian without attempting to follow what Jesus allegedly taught? Nobody is expecting perfection, but doesn't one at least need to try?

We atheists are fond of criticizing the Christian bible. We highlight the contradictions, the irrational superstitions, and the numerous examples of intolerance and cruelty. And yet, many of us agree with much of what Jesus supposedly taught. One of the most often repeated messages throughout the bible was that a society can be judged based on how it treats its poor. I agree with this. The bible is filled with calls to look out for the least fortunate among us. I agree with this too.

When I listen to those in the U.S. who speak the loudest about their Christianity (i.e., the Christian right), I see little compassion for the poor. Unless I am severely mistaken about what it means to be Christian, this seems to be blatant hypocrisy. When George W. Bush, a self-proclaimed Christian, institutes tax cuts for the wealthy while cutting programs to aid the poor, I don't see the teachings attributed to Jesus. When he chooses preemptive war and the steep cost that comes with it over domestic programs to improve education, health care, etc., this seems to be a serious departure from what are supposed to be the central messages of Christianity.

In my local paper, an article recently appeared about Mississippi's "castle doctrine." This is a new law which states that I am permitted to use lethal force to defend my home, automobile, or business. If I shoot someone who I perceive to be threatening my home, car, or business, this law says that I "shall be presumed to have reasonable feared imminent death or great bodily harm" and that I have "no duty to retreat" before using lethal force. In other words, this law allows deadly force as a first resort, even in public places such as a city street or parking lot. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Oklahoma have similar laws.

The people who are the most vocal in their support for this law overwhelmingly identify themselves as Christian. And yet, if their bible was clear about anything, it was that we should not be overly attached to things. Wasn't Jesus supposed to have said something about turning the other cheek?

I see at least two possibilities here and suspect that there are many more. First, among those who call themselves Christians, most are hypocrites. If this is the case, I wonder why we so rarely hear from those in the minority when it comes to defining what it means to be a Christian and exposing the hypocrites in their midst. Shouldn't we expect to hear at least as much from these Christians as we do from atheists? Don't they have even more of an interest in defending Christianity than we do? The second possibility is that being a Christian has little to do with following the alleged teachings of Jesus. Perhaps it is little more than a label one uses to identify oneself as a member of the tribe and reap the benefits that come with membership (i.e., Christian privilege). In this case, it seems to be a hollow claim with little to do with morality.

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