July 18, 2006

Few "Christians" Appear to Be Christians

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 the spirit of what Jesus allegedly taught?

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, and I agree with this.

However, when I look at those Americans 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, can this be anything other than hypocrisy? When he chooses preemptive war and the steep cost that comes with it over domestic programs to improve education, health care, etc., can this be reconciled with 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. First, among those who call themselves Christians, most are hypocrites and only a tiny minority can rightly be called Christian. If this is the case, then I hold the minority of real Christians responsible for failing to define what it means to be a Christian and for holding the hypocrites accountable. The second possibility is that being a Christian has little to nothing to do with following the alleged teachings of Jesus. In this case, I'm not sure that the term has any valid meaning and is simply misleading, especially when applied to morality.

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