Am I a Christian? I honestly don't know. In the past months I've begun and abandoned multiple posts attempting to answer the question so today I'm just going to recount a story from my girlhood to see where it leads.
My father was a Congregationalist minister. His library was full of bibles and concordances, histories, philosophies, and theological treatises. As a teenager I took to pouring over some of these texts. I must have been reading a book that took a more skeptical approach to Christianity because I found myself in a conversation with my father about whether or not Jesus was real.
He told me that the first thing they told him at seminary was that there was insufficient evidence to indicate the historical reality of Jesus and that even if he did exist, it was almost certainly not in the form now familiar to us through tradition. I remember he used the phrase, "they pulled the rug out from underneath us." Why would they do that, I wondered?
He told me that it was to help the students, who had committed themselves to a life of Christian service, find what they really believed beyond the literalistic idolatry of fundamentalist belief. My father, who always said that doubt was as important as faith, said that a literalistic faith is weak. Because it demands a literal truth, it is easily destroyed by evidence to the contrary. And then he told me that in the end, it did not matter to him whether or not Christ ever lived. The story and the Truth it contained was enough. It is enough to believe that Tenderness, Joy, Mercy, Humility, Passion, and Peace will save the world.
So what if Jesus did not exist? Or what if he did live and teach but his message was not so uncompromisingly beautiful? What if it was all just a hopeful story dreamed up by his sorrowing people long after his death? Dad said it just didn't matter. He said the hope in that story was worth living.
Since that conversation there have been many injuries and disappointments for us within the Church. We came to find in our Protestant tradition a dysfunctional home in which too often a literalist interpretation of the bible led people toward arrogance, intolerance, and even hatred- all in the name of Christ. Twenty years after that conversation, neither Dad nor I call ourselves Christian. I call myself a Pagan and he calls himself an atheist, but when we talk about love, and justice, and joy, the word we most often use to mean all those things is still "Christ-like."
And we still believe.