Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Definitions

Since I began hanging with Quakers, I've found myself wonder whether or not I am a Christian.

So I found a whole mess of definitions. Here's the first:

–adjective 1. of, pertaining to, or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings: a Christian faith.

Um...actually, this one isn't particularly helpful since it is a wee bit vague. Let's move on to definiton #2


2. of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ: Spain is a Christian country.


Let's look at the evidence. I was born into a Christian family. I was baptized by my clergyman father. My family history includes several other Christian ministers including my Great Uncle George and my cousin Emily (a pioneering woman ordained as a Methodist at the turn of the century), and even Jonathan-Sinners-in-the-Hands-of-an-Angry-God-Edwards. I went to a Christian seminary (where I had a 4.0 average btw) and I have a personal library chock full of bibles, biblical commentaries, concordances, ecclesiastical histories etc. I went to Sunday School. I taught Sunday school. My mother and sister taught Sunday school too. I studied Christian theology and history in my spare time as a teenager. I studied it formally as an undergrad and in graduate school. I attended church at least once a week and sometimes as often as three times a week. I even married a man whose middle name is Christian, one of the prettiest masculine names ever if you ask me. I read my children bible stories and buy them images of Christ and Mary and take them frequently to places of Christian worship.

So maybe I am a Christian. Certainly I would maintain that I am culturally Christian. Let's move on. Here's definition #3.

3. of or pertaining to Christians: many Christian deaths in the Crusades.

OK. Distinctly unhelpful. #4,5,and 6 may be more helpful:

4. exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ; Christlike: She displayed true Christian charity.
5. decent; respectable: They gave him a good Christian burial.
6. human; not brutal; humane: Such behavior isn't Christian.
–noun


I still frequently use the term "Christian" to refer to behavior that I consider especially merciful, gentle, compassionate, peaceful and loving. In this sense, I try not to behave in a manner that is "unchristian." I try to imitate Christ as I understand him. This is why I am a pacifist. It is why I refuse to work in any endeavor that I cannot square with the notion that humans are meant to be servants to one another. Does this make me a Christian? Let's move on to definition #7.


7. a person who believes in Jesus Christ; adherent of Christianity.

Ah. This is where we run into problems. I do not believe in the special divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. But then neither did many of the first generations of Christians. I do not like to conflate the historical Jesus with the mythological/metaphorical Christ. I am much more likely to embrace an interpretation of Christ as an energy in which all human beings may partake which was exemplifed rather nicely by the "historical" Jesus (and then the historical Jesus is really a literary Jesus really but that's a whole 'nother issue for a whole 'nother blog entry).

So do I believe in Jesus Christ? Sort of. My belief lies somewhere in the range between liberal and radical interpretation. If you were to ask me to say that this metaphor has to be my primary metaphor of deep meaning, then all bets would be off.

How about this definition?
8. a person who exemplifies in his or her life the teachings of Christ: He died like a true Christian.

Couldn't a person who had never even heard of Jesus fit this definition? As I understand it, humility, compassion, and profound love for humanity are all very Christ-like. Very few Christians I have met are Christian according to this particular definition whereas a good many people who don't identify as Christian truly do fit under this category. I'm not sure I qualify for this definition. I think my recurring passionate desire to punch Sarah Palin in the face may exclude me.

And I'm a pagan. Surprise!

1. one of a people or community observing a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romans and Greeks.
2. a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim.
3. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
–adjective
4. pertaining to the worship or worshipers of any religion that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Muslim.
5. of, pertaining to, or characteristic of pagans.
6. irreligious or hedonistic.
One who is not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew, especially a worshiper of a polytheistic religion.
One who has no religion.
A non-Christian.
A hedonist.
A Neo-Pagan.

Huh. Interesting.
I am not a polytheist nor do I belong to any community of polytheists. I am not hedonistic. Do I have a religion? That's difficult. I don't suppose I do. I have a spirituality which is not, perhaps, the same thing. I'm not a Christian, Muslim, or Jew but on the other hand, I've established that I may be at least marginally and nominally Christian given my strong cultural background in Christianity. I would have a hard time justifying myself as a Pagan based on this definition but then this is not a definition written by Neo-Pagans.

Turns out that these days, definitions are not very helpful for describing where a soul belongs. Maybe they've never been very helpful.

2 comments:

Lone Star Ma said...

Word. (or perhaps it is words that are inadequate...)

Norea from NTF said...

So, now would be a place to mention this speech. :-)