With tongue planted firmly in cheek, I like to call atheism “the true faith”: the faith that faith is pointless.
Point of reference: one thing you never see atheists do is call atheists with whom they disagree “heretics” or “traitors to the faith”. That’s one of the luxuries of having no faith. One’s life (where faith is concerned) remains dogma-free.
That’s always the yardstick by which people of faith measure each other — adherence to dogma — to the rules and regulations that spell out how one “practices” a faith. Churches, by their nature, codify spirituality. They articulate a “how to do it” — how to “be spiritual” their way. They lay out a very particular path and insist that the only way to practice their faith is to travel that path.
Atheism has no path per se. Atheism is liberation from a path. It’s liberation from the dogma one must adhere to in order to stay on the path.
Another point of reference: mainstream Jews are dogma-free too. I don’t count Chassids as mainstream; they’re a whole other “tribe” within the tribe — and they are dogmatic and they do call out heresy. I was raised in the conservative school of Judaism — a middle ground between the ritual-attentiveness of orthodox Jews and the freedom-from-ritual of reform Jews. Though my branch of Judaism saw the orthodox as crazy and the reformed as wannabe Christians, we got along with them. We didn’t go to war with them the way Protestants did against Catholics in Europe. Or the way Protestants and Catholics did against Mormons in this country. Plenty of Mormon blood was spilled during Mormonism’s formative years because of what they believed. Point of reference — the people killing them because of their faith were ALL other Christians.
When I turn on my TV, I see sincere, earnest Christians insist that soulless evangelicals who support Donald Trump aren’t real Christians. Those Trump-supporting Evangelicals tell everyone that THEY are the real Christians and all those saying otherwise are apostates.
What’s a non-Christian to think? It’s not for us to judge, of course. We have no skin in this game. I have no idea who the real Christians are and, frankly, I don’t care — except when your sectarian violence consumes the rest of us which it has historically.
Point of reference: no non-Christian has ever declared America “a Christian nation”.
In part, that’s because no non-Christian has any idea what you’re talking about. Correction — we know exactly what you’re talking about and it terrifies us. If Christians meant America is a nation that follows Jesus’s teaching to “Do unto others”, that would be one thing except it’s never that thing. By “America is a Christian nation”, those Christians mean “America is THEIR kind of Christian nation subject to THEIR brand of dogma”.
And anyone not playing along is a heretic who deserves everything terrible that heretics get.
Point of reference: many of the Christians who founded this nation were not Christian in the way contemporary American Christians understand Christianity. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, was a Deist who wrote his own bible. Is it Jefferson’s version of Christianity that makes America a “Christian nation” or is Jerry Falwell, Jr’s version of Christianity which — just saying as an outsider making an outsider’s observation — seems to contradict itself every which way?
Maybe, non-Christian that I am, I’ve got this wrong. I always thought “Christians” were followers of Jesus. Isn’t it Jesus who’s hanging on that cross? Isn’t the whole point of being Christian to follow Jesus’s teaching?
See, I think that’s part of the problem. There’s a huge difference between the simple (very Jewish) message that Jesus pitched — “Do unto others” — and the far more complicated, dogma-heavy, here’s-how-to-practice-the-faith message Paul ended up pitching to all the burgeoning, far-flung Christian communities he was writing to via his letters and epistles — you know, most of the text that makes up the New Testament.
The NT, don’t forget, was (by design) an updating & improvement upon the “Old Testament”. The NT insists that an OT prophecy about a messiah is true. But then, the NT goes on to say a lot of things that the OT did not say. It goes on — Paul does — to say a lot of things that JESUS never said. That’s just according to The Jesus Seminar — a group of biblical scholars (real, respectable, academic ones not bargain basement bible college ones).
Point of reference — and this is from the Westar Institute’s website (Westar created the Jesus Seminar which was dedicated to communicating cutting-edge scholarship on the history and evolution of the Christian tradition to the public, raising the level of public discourse about questions that matter in society and culture.) ” —
Jesus of Nazareth did not refer to himself as the Messiah, nor did he claim to be a divine being who descended to earth from heaven in order to die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. These are claims that some people in the early church made about Jesus, not claims he made about himself.
At the heart of Jesus’ teaching and actions was a vision of a life under the reign of God (or, in the empire of God) in which God’s generosity and goodness is regarded as the model and measure of human life; everyone is accepted as a child of God and thus liberated both from the ethnocentric confines of traditional Judaism and from the secularizing servitude and meagerness of their lives under the rule of the empire of Rome.
Jesus did not hold an apocalyptic view of the reign (or kingdom) of God—that by direct intervention God was about to bring history to an end and bring a new, perfect order of life into being. Rather, in Jesus’ teaching the reign of God is a vision of what life in this world could be, not a vision of life in a future world that would soon be brought into being by a miraculous act of god.
Hmmmmm… Maybe I need to tweak my headline. Jesus clearly said one thing while the church Paul invented (very, very, VERY loosely based on Jesus it seems) said something else entirely.
We shouldn’t be asking “Who’s the real Christian?” We know how cruel you can be to each other. We know how cruel you can be to the rest of us.
All us non-Christians should be asking who “the followers of Jesus” are.
The rest of you are crazy.