Christianity: The one with the stuff that contradicts the other stuff.
You’re right, it is an excellent slogan which merits more than the cursory dismissals I received from all the bishops and archbishops I submitted it to, or the torrent of abusive language which I can only hope is not representative of the diocese of Lincoln as a whole.
But the complete unreasonableness and inability of the Church of England to recognise the chance for a re-branding campaign when it’s staring them in the face is not the subject of this particular rant.
No, I’m here to talk to you today about Jesus.
In particular, about that religion he started, Christy-something, and the never-ending debate as to whether it’s supposed to be about being nice to each other or conquering the world.
The Bible contains, as Ned Flanders so cleverly pointed out, a lot of contradictory stuff. Sometimes it disagrees with itself on simple facts, and sometimes it espouses universal principles which just don’t seem to mesh: love everyone, but murder your children if they don’t do what they’re told, that kind of thing. You’ve got no chance of holding true to all of it, even if you are an especially devout animated yellow caricature.
Anyone following the Bible, then, must necessarily pick and choose which bits to treat as the inviolate word of God, and which to rationalise away as not being that important. Some people think it’s all about being nice, and that stuff about slavery and stoning adulterers may have made sense in a more primitive age. Some are much more into the wrathful bits with all the smiting, and dismiss any idea that God might not want them to be a complete dick to other people as liberal propaganda.
And if they’re going to pick and choose anyway, we might as well let them decide which bits are important and worth choosing. It’s their fantasy, after all.
What this means, then, is that people sensible enough not to believe any of this rubbish probably shouldn’t fret over trying to decide what’s “true” Christianity and what isn’t.
Richard Dawkins wrote about this some time back, and was very damning of so-called “moderate” Christians. In particular, he had no truck with their criticisms of the more extremist Christian spokespeople, such as Pat Robertson, who reads the same Bible they do but chooses to take to heart its passages espousing bigotry and intolerance.
And it’s true that there’s often something a little unconvincing about any Christian telling another that they’re not doing it right, on the grounds that they’re ignoring the wrong part of the divinely inspired word of God. But it’s not irrelevant which parts they choose. Some people are obnoxious dicks, and their god tends to turn out the same way. Some people are generally nice and compassionate, and they also usually imagine a creator pretty much like them.
The part of Dawkins’s conclusion that I disagree with is the idea that the ones being dicks are the ones being the most true to what Christianity is really about.
Yes, the Bible is littered with atrocity and injustice, and we shouldn’t stop pointing out the barbarism that’s being glossed over by the nice, “moderate” religious types. All that appallingly immoral guidance really is in their holy book, and it’s for them to rationalise if they choose to disregard it.
But the nice stuff about love and charity and forgiveness and compassion? That’s in there too. And I don’t really think that focusing exclusively on the nice stuff is any further from a “true” practice of Christianity than ignoring it completely.
It’s still completely fictitious either way, obviously.