The label of Christian is of little value when seeking to understand what it means about the person taking on that label. It doesn’t tell us what that persons moral values or outlook are nor does it really tell us what they believe.
The label itself is an umbrella term or superset of a wide variety of beliefs. Take some examples to highlight this.
Fred Phelps, that hateful bigot of the Westbro Baptist Church who spends his days spewing his hatred of gay people and anyone else who can think of in the name of a tyrant god. This man represents everything that is twisted and cruel about modern Christianity. Is he a Christian? Of course.
John Shelby Spong is a liberal theologian, an academic who talks of compassion and reform. He seeks a move away from theism and an embrace of a shared system of values across all faiths and none. His religion is a hope rather than a certainty and, as far as I know, he doesn’t use his Christianity as the blunt tool to bludgeon others into supporting it. Is he a Christian? Of course.
Joseph Alois Ratzinger, Bishop of Rome and current Pope is another academic. While Spong is liberal and open, Ratzinger is conservative and insular. The recent child rape scandals that have rocked Catholicism have turned his policies into protection of the church. In my view he is a criminal responsible for the continued protection of child molesters from secular justice and he should be tried in a court of human rights. Is he a Christian? Of course.
Rowan Williams is Archbishop of Canterbury and is currently presiding over a near schism within the Church of England. He seems to be a decent enough fellow with liberal views regarding the ordination of women and with the open acceptance of gay clergy but he plays a game of internal politics against other bishops who want the opposite. He is undoubtedly intelligent and articulate and he believes in a literal God rather than Spong’s conceptual god. Is he a Christian? Of course.
When someone announces that they are a Christian which of these models do we most closely associate with them? Are they liberal or conservative? Are they pro-gay or anti-gay? Are they feminist or misogynist? Are they pro-life or pro-choice? Are they hateful bigots or compassionate advocates for equality? Who knows? All we can tell about them from the label is that they believe in some sort of god in a loosely Christians tradition. We don’t know anything more about them than that.
So when someone introduces themselves as a Christian it tells us very little about their views and so cannot, in all fairness, be judged on those views because we don’t know what they are.
The same applies for those who judge atheists based on nothing more than pre-conceived notions.
Filed under Atheist, Debate
I’m reading C S Lewis’ Mere Christianity at the moment and found myself ranting (in my head) before I’d even finished the first chapter. Most distracting, I had to kept shutting me up and going back to read what I’d missed. With that in mind I’d like to examine the points raised in each chapter to see if there is any merit to what he’s written. Fortunately he writes very well with some excellent examples so there are few distinct points in each chapter to confuse thing.
In chapter one Lewis argues that there are things he calls Laws of Nature that are universal for all people. This is essentially a default moral standard enjoyed by all of humanity that included compunctions against killing, stealing, rape, deceit, etc. He argues that these are not learned traits but inherent in the human condition.
There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Creeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to–whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put Yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.
I disagree. Although he does follow up with some neat examples that I do agree with I think he is too sweeping in his assumptions.
There are many different characteristics that human beings could be said to have. I can indeed think of a country where aggression in war is frowned upon and pacifism is considered a positive trait or even where cowardice is excused. I think that we live in societies where exploiting those weaker than us is permissible and even encouraged. Selfishness and self dependence are certainly considered to be traits of value although we do not think of self promotion in such terms.
Are there really universal human characteristics or is Lewis just making a huge assumption? Even if he’s right what does this prove?
Filed under Atheist, Debate