Wait, Which Christianity?

October 22, 2014 at 1:55 am 2 comments

One of the things that drives me nuts that Christians, atheists, Pagans and Pastafarians alike seem to do is to make statements like “Christians believe….”, “Christians think…” “X is a Christian movie/book/musical album/chicken restaurant” “That was very Christian (nice/generous/hospitable) of you” or conversely “Sheesh, now you sound like a Christian (mean, close-minded, prudish), eww”.

Take a step away from that, and remember you are talking about billions of people around the world, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of formal sects and churches, and well as individual people’s idiosyncratic theologies, ethics, and religious and ethical practices.

There is no Generic or Typical Christian, any more than there’s a Generic Human. There’s a huge spectrum of beliefs, practices, cultures, languages included here.  The problem is that everyone seems to have a pre-conceived archetypal “Christian” that they are imagining when they talk about Christianity, whatever form they happen to be most familiar with, raised with etc.

When I lived in Iowa, people who sometimes ask me, “Are you Christian or Catholic?” which I found rather baffling. “Uh, last time I checked Catholics were Christians. But I’m Protestant, Methodist to be specific to answer your question.” I later realized that these questioners were some variety of evangelical who didn’t view Roman Catholics as genuine Christians. Chances are, they didn’t consider me a legit Christian either. Oddly enough, the people who most often come to my door to tell me about God, Jesus and the Bible are either Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, who often aren’t considered Christians because their beliefs aren’t in line with the Nicene Creed, or whatever other yardstick you’re using.

Since I’m not Christian, it’s not my job to worry about watering down the definition of Christian. To me it’s more of a cultural identifier than a matter of theology.  (Heck, I could say the same of “Pagan”!) What matters me to is determining whether they are the sort of Christian I can have a civil but honest discussion about religion, or the sort of Christian with which I have to keep myself on guard so I don’t set them off like a trigger-happy car alarm. Come to think of it, a lot of Christians actually have to deal with this as well, deciding whether it’s worth it to tell cousin Shelly that in fact, they are not Her Kind of Christian.  I also just can’t relate socially to, and frankly have a lot of trouble respecting on an intellectual level people who never question anything they are taught. Or heck, people who never read or seek out information since they graduated from high school. This is not a class thing- poor people can go to the library!  I politely tolerate them, but that’s as far as it can really go.

What I commonly do is what feels like coming halfway out of the “broom closet” by explaining that I’m Unitarian, without mentioning Paganism, and I talk about that if the person seems open-minded enough and has a long enough attention span (it’s already pushing it by explaining UUism!) Most people tend to think UUism is “Christian enough” for them to not be scared away (though they may not be aware that we let in riff-raff like atheists and pagans!) I wonder if it’s dishonest and cowardly, or if it’s just being pragmatic.


Entry filed under: Christianity, Interfaith, Sociology. Tags: , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Harrison K. Hall  |  October 29, 2014 at 1:58 am

    One of my best friends and closest theological discussion buddies is a devout Christian, who is studying to be a missionary with the intent to travel to Norway. This friendship was built on an position of mutual respect, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to learn.

    If only so many of my fellow Pagans and Polytheists could do as well as she! What a better world this would be!

    I think so much of this comes from the perceived battle lines that end up getting drawn from people’s personally experienced trauma concerning religion. So many people refute Christianity, even as they cling to the trappings that damaged them. Some get these rigid views because it was that rigid interpretations that hurt them…so now it’s all they can see.

    As for defusing the situation by offering soft explanation of religious practice, cowardice or pragmatism depends on the reason. My in-laws are very, very fundamentalist Christians. I am familiar enough with Christian theology that I seem like a benign, Easter/Christmas Christian to them and I’ve done nothing to challenge that perception. If they ask, I’ll reply that I’m agnostic…because my view of Heathenry is (by definition) Agnostic in nature. I don’t do that out of fear; I do that because being direct and honest would cause my family no end of problems…and there are ways I can be truthful without being forthcoming.

    Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I look at it. 🙂

    • 2. caelesti  |  October 29, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Well, the Norwegians already act like Unitarians, even if that’s not how they identify. They ought to come here and convert fundamentalists 🙂
      Yes, I consider myself an agnostic with a polytheistic worldview. I’m too whimsical to be an atheist!
      Being open about one’s religion is one of those tricky things where values/virtues come into conflict on the one hand, we value honesty, on the other hand we value family. My “common-in-laws” are conservative Lutherans, Unitarianism is already beyond the pale for them, paganism/heathenry is just unnecessary cultural weirdness. When we have kids, it will probably come up, because I don’t expect kids to keep secrets, it would send them the message that the ir religion was something to be ashamed of, though they can learn that some things are better talk to some people than others. In any case, if they’re getting grandbabies that Mom & Dad doing a good job of raising, they can’t complain too much, esp. since my in-laws are local. Both of our brothers are “confirmed bachelors” not as in “code for gay” but as in “girls? what are those?”


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