When I was a Christian, one of the things that bothered me immensely was figuring out what the “Christian response” would be to things happening around me and in society. For example, what is the Christian response to premarital sex, or capital punishment, or the political circus going on in the country?
There would always be different points of view coming from different Christian leaders even if they are all quoting from the same Bible. Sometimes, they would differ in minor points while other times there would be irreconcilable contradictions. Boxing legend and Philippine senator Manny Pacquiao recently tried to prove the rightfulness of the death penalty by using Biblical references.
The only thing he proved was that he should have stayed in the boxing ring instead of muddling things in the political arena.
But I digress.
The point is that it was very difficult to get a Christian response to anything that all Christians would be in agreement about. There would always be someone or some group somewhere with a dissenting opinion. Even when I got out of Christianity and got into arguments and discussions with Christians, I often found out that I had to explain what “flavor” of Christianity I grew up with, and why I believed in certain things. Other Christians grew up believing other things, I found out, and so my arguments with them didn’t quite hit the mark, because they didn’t believe the things I supposed they would believe in.
I read a couple of articles discussing this very phenomenon — the first is by anthropologist Dr. David Eller, who argues that Christianity is not just a religion, not just a set of arguments and beliefs, but an entire culture. It is a “worldview, a way of life, and a learned and shared and produced and reproduced regimen of experience.”
Eller asserts that “Christians are not easily argued out of their religion because, since it is culture, they are not ordinarily argued into it in the first place.”
He also says that there is “no such thing as Christian culture but rather Christian cultures; indeed no such thing as Christianity but rather Christianities.”
Neil Carter, author of the Godless in Dixie blog, seems to agree with this as he writes “There isn’t one single, monolithic thing called ‘Christianity.’ That’s an abstraction, and history bears witness to the fragmentation and differentiation of a thousand different subcultures over the centuries laying claim to that label, each one arguing that a number of the others aren’t even legitimate, and shouldn’t use that label to describe themselves at all…Christians have never spoken with one voice about social issues like slavery, racism, or any number of other complex political problems.”
The plethora of Christianities make it almost impossible to say what Christianity is really all about. In my four decades, I have had conversations with different types of Christians with dissenting opinions on almost any topic you can think of. I have met Christians who believe in reincarnation — there was this one woman vehemently claiming that the original Christians taught it but were suppressed. I have met Christians who believe in a literal heaven and hell (as described in the Bible), while others think those are merely symbolic or metaphorical places. There are even Christians who don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus but rather say that it is (again) symbolic.
And don’t get me started on their other views — political, social, cultural — as the differences become more and more divergent.
So the next time you hear a Christian say, “Oh that’s not really what Christians believe” or “That’s not really what that verse means,” remember that whatever that person says isn’t necessarily what Christians really believe or interpret that bible verse to be. The possibilities are as numerous as the Christianities that spawned them, and most of them claim to be the one, true Christianity, but we won’t be able to tell anyway unless the heavens suddenly open and a divine finger points us to the right path.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.