Why I am (apparently) not a Christian

In 2004, I had the following conversation in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket.

WOMAN: Jesus loves you, you know.

ME: That’s great. I love Jesus too.

WOMAN (pointing to my car’s bumper sticker): Then how could you be voting for John Kerry?

At the time, I wanted to reply with something like, “Because Jesus isn’t on the ballot,” but I’d already seen this type of person — the kind who equates voting Democratic with being anti-Christian — in the wild, and I knew that engaging would have been a mistake.

That wasn’t the first time that I have found my faith being called into question by people with similar inclinations. It’s come in various forms over the years:

“You have gay friends? But you’re a Christian!”

“You believe in evolution? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re voting for John Kerry? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re taking a philosophy class? But you’re a Christian!”

“You’re reading a Harry Potter book? But you’re a Christian!”

“You play role-playing games? But you’re a Christian!”

And, of course, my favorite of all time (from my college days):

“You go to an Episcopalian church? But you’re a Christian!”

Sigh.

Normally I don’t feel the need to rant on about this topic. In 2004, I found that conversation with the woman in the Safeway parking lot a source of amusement and pointed to it as an example of everything that I thought was wrong with politics in the 21st century. It was annoying, but also kind of funny.

What really brought my annoyance to a boiling point though was a sign I saw outside of Dixon, California last night. It read, “Prop 8 = Religious Freedom”. This has demonstrated, to me, the very sad marriage of “Christ-speak” and Orwellian linguistics that passes for popular religious discourse in America these days. “Removing the right of gays to marry is a victory for religious freedom” doesn’t make sense, unless you accept a really unusual definition of religious freedom which doesn’t apply to people who, for religious reasons, believe that gay marriage can be sanctioned by god. I really want to track down the people who made this sign and hung it up and ask them what in the world they really mean by it, and perhaps even demonstrate to them that they’ve hung up a sign which is essentially linguistic nonsense.

It wouldn’t do any good, though. If, to them, religious freedom means removing rights from others, then they’ve already bought into a slew of accompanying myths. The myth of the persecuted Christian, for example, or the myth of America as a country founded upon Christian principles, or the myth of the literal interpretation of the Bible (a myth I particularly love, especially when you start getting into the various literal interpretations of the Bible which all contradict one another). It’s a very complicated structure of mythology which rests, ultimately, on a foundation which is essentially a need to control in order to remove fear.

As a Christian who believes that same sex marriage should be legal and doesn’t pose any sort of threat whatsoever to traditional marriage (however you choose to interpret that loaded phrase), I find this sort of thing reprehensible. I’ve already made my political reasons for voting No on 8 plain (because in a democracy, you don’t get to vote on who gets what rights), but my spiritual and religious beliefs also tell me that voting no on 8 is a bad idea. Even if I believed that homosexuality was a sin, a lifestyle choice rather than a biological attunement set before birth, it wouldn’t be upon my shoulders to judge the people who are gay. I’m not qualified to make that judgement. Neither is anyone else. The Bible tells me that I am not God, much as I want to be, and that trying to be God or even to try to be like God is a sin, and that my call as a Christian is to accept and love others as they are (I have much more to say about this, a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to, but I won’t go into it here).

The point is, I don’t buy into the overarching myth of the persecuted Christian, or the myth of America as a Christian nation. I don’t buy into any of it. God can take care of Himself. What we are called to do as Christians is to demonstrate God’s love for us in our love to our neighbors, which usually means service to others. But not buying into these myths allows me to free up my mind, to vote for Barack Obama or vote no on Proposition 8, or accept that God has chosen a process (evolution through natural selection) that looks random to our human intellect to grow our universe.

I’d go on, but sadly I fear I’m falling into incoherence. Suffice to say that despite my refusal to buy into any interpretation of Christianity which calls me to act based on irrational fears of the unknown or a fear of losing control over anything, I may simply not be a Christian at all.

0 thoughts on “Why I am (apparently) not a Christian”

  1. Unfortunately, so many Christ-based faiths have embraced a narrow perspective in interpreting the world around them (doctrines have done this, not individuals necessarily).

    As such, I end up telling my friends that their religious intellect is Jewish. 😉

    The heart loves Jesus, and believes his teachings and the entire spiritual framework that explains G-d, sin, and Man’s place in this life…. but when looking at life on Earth and engaging in discourse with others there seems to be very little room for a discussion, period.

    In my view, all it means is that you are Christian, but not part of the “establishment”. Then again, coming from a faith that does not require buildings or even leaders to worship, I figure one could do a lot worse than lacking that institution. 🙂

  2. “The Bible tells me that I am not God, much as I want to be, and that trying to be God or even to try to be like God is a sin, and that my call as a Christian is to accept and love others as they are.”

    I wish there were more Christians who believe and practice this. Or, equivalently, I wish that there were more people in the world just like you.

    Bravo.

  3. Sorry I got to this one late. Nice blog, and a message that needs to be repeated and reinforced. I think it’s pretty hard to do the simple stuff that Christianity calls us to do. Love our neighbor, forgive, take care of those in need. In fact, it’s exhausting. It leaves me so little time to do the things I love, like telling someone who is a Christian that they really aren’t, revoking salvation, and yes, accosting shoppers at Safeway. But, you can’t have it all.

    As to the woman who corrected you at Safeway. Well, following logic, if you were not Christian if you voted for Kerry, would it mean that you were a Christian if you voted for Bush? Yikes. Well, I hope she saves a lot of souls with that message. And I hope the new converts go to her church, and not mine.

    Wally

  4. Now that the politicking is over, I wanted to share my crazy view on the whole thing re gay marriage / prop 8.

    I don’t believe the government should be involved in who we want to share our lives with, at ALL. I’m pretty sure that the Bill of Rights doesn’t list marriage anywhere, and rightly so, because marriage is an inherently religious institution. Not allowing gays to marry isn’t infringing upon anyone’s RIGHTS, but it does illustrate the asinininity of having our government recognize religious ceremonies.

    I don’t want the government telling churches that they have to recognize the marriages of people they don’t believe should be married, but I also don’t want the government involved at all.

    So much of our culture hinges on the expectation that we should “just get married,” and it drives me nuts. I don’t want things like insurance benefits, visitation rights, inheritance, child custody, etc. to be hinged upon marriage. I don’t want there to be tax breaks for marriage.

    In short, I don’t think marriage ought to provide any rights or privileges whatsoever, which, in my view, ought to solve the problem nicely.

    It is no one’s business who I want to love and spend my life with, and I shouldn’t have to “do it their way” to get some sort of perceived benefits from it.

    Arg. I’m really groggy, so this might not be making any sense. Short summary: I’m against gay marriage, not because I don’t want gay people to be married, but because I don’t want marriage to be recognized by the government at all. It’s unfair that straight people get some sort of benefits from their union while gay people don’t, but to me the solution is not to give those benefits to the straight people. Keep government out of religion, keep them out of our lives, and keep them out of who we want to spend our lives with.

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