Monday, April 07, 2008

The Wrong Sort

So, while you walked up and down and wondered if it would rain, Winnie-the-Pooh sang this song:

How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!
Every little cloud
Always sings aloud.
"How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!"
It makes him very proud
To be a little cloud.

The bees were still buzzing as suspiciously as ever. Some of them, indeed, left their nests and flew all round the cloud as it began the second verse of this song, and one bee sat down on the nose of the cloud for a moment, and then got up again.

"Christopher -- ow! -- Robin," called out the cloud.

"I have just been thinking, and I have come to a very important decision. These are the wrong sort of bees."
“Are they?"

"Quite the wrong sort. So I should think they would make the wrong sort of honey, shouldn't you?"
"Would they?"

"Yes. So I think I shall come down."
From “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

We deconverts are told a variety of reasons why we a)failed to continue to be Christians or b)were not Christians in the first place. These reasons range from not having enough faith, to having the wrong sort of faith, to having the wrong belief, to being too focused on religion, too focused on church, too focused on other Christians, and so on and so on and so on. Our belief (as firmly held as any believer) we were actually Christians is stripped away by definition.

Simple, really. Define a “Christian” as a person who always believes Jesus is God (amongst other requirements), and since we did not “always” believe—Voila! We could not (by definition) have ever been a Christian. But rather than stick with that, the Christian often takes another step to dive into what sort of “Christianity” it was that we thought we believed in, and to further explain how it was the wrong sort of Christianity.

Which leads us directly to the question: Where does one determine the right sort of Christianity?

I can’t look to other Christians. Whenever we point out the moral failings in Christians we are assured this is all expected. Christians sin, too. (Rom. 7:19) When we point out the moral accomplishments of non-believers, we are assured this, too, is expected. Even the Samaritan can stumble upon Loving his neighbor.

Morally, we cannot tell the difference between believers and non-believers; let alone the difference between the “right sort” and the “wrong sort.”

Intellectually, we are informed there will be those who profess to know Jesus as Lord, and even manage to do great works in Jesus’ name, yet are not saved. Matt. 7:21-23. A person who claims to be Christian and demonstrates prophesy and casting out demons is insufficient to be certain they have the “right sort” of Christianity. People who are very persuasive, with golden tongues and silver voices and woo entire audiences into being convinced of their Christianity may not make it. 1 Cor. 13:1

So using other people as our determinative for the right sort is out.

Perhaps the Bible? Yet in looking at the various authors, they present differing views as to what qualifies for Christianity. Romans 10:9 indicates it is a matter of belief. Yet Matt. 7:24 indicates it is a matter of action—actually implementing the words of Jesus—not just believing them. “By your fruits you shall know them.” Matt. 7:20. The book of James clearly states works will be the evident result of faith. James 2:20;26. Not to mention John 13:35; “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Now we are back to looking at people! And back to Christians giving excuses as to why this is not the way to look for the right sort of Christianity.

Perhaps look to Jesus for the right sort of Christianity? Fair enough, but which Jesus? The one who loved sinners or insulted sinners? The one who gave sight or the one who blinded? And for me to “look at Jesus” requires a determination as to the reliability of the historicity of the Gospels. Or am I being told to act like a myth? Am I being told to believe in a phantom?

We are informed the Bible is not a biology book, so we shouldn’t expect it to be accurate when it comes to biology. We are told the Bible is not a mathematics book—can’t expect it to be accurate regarding mathematics. It is not a book on cosmology, astrology, climatology, geology, chemistry—can’t expect it to be accurate regarding those fields.

News flash—the Gospels aren’t histories! If the Bible, not being a science text is unsurprisingly inaccurate when it comes to science; then isn’t it equally expected to be inaccurate when it comes to history? Not being a history text?

See, the constant problem in saying, “Don’t look to the Bible; look to Jesus” is that the Bible is the primary source for our information about Jesus! Tell me what you know about Jesus without using an anecdote from the Bible, and you will see what I mean.

We also have the problem of determining canonicity, Textual criticism, translation issues, not to mention the Synoptic Problem, the inaccuracies, and the contradictions. While a Christian may be able to overlook these problems, remember the person you are asking to “look” (i.e.-me!) cannot.

Finally, we are told to “Look to God.” While this is a pleasant phrase—does it practically do us any good? I have a friend who, whenever we part, says, “Drive Safe!” Pleasant words, but in the end no practical value. Does this mean drive the speed limit? Less than the speed limit? Pass a slow car? Take a right on red?

While we have every intention (with or without this phrase) of driving safe, the saying itself holds no practical meaning. It is the same with “Look to God.” For the theist this is easy—they mean “Look to my God. The one I believe in.” But remember—belief is not enough. And I have all those other theists…you know… the wrong “sort” of Christians all saying to look to their Gods, too.

It has struck me how I have heard this accusation a LOT when discussing on-line. How I was the wrong sort of Christian. And almost every time, it causes me to contemplate, “Why have I never heard this from my family? Or my friends? Or my former acquaintances?” Only recently did I realize why (and yes, this makes me slow.)

Because they have the same sort of Christianity as I did. If mine was “wrong”—so is theirs!

They have the same intellectual understanding of Christianity. The same moral beliefs. We shared the same prayer life. The same convictions. The same “fruits” working on the same projects at the same times. We cried together, laughed together, and fought the Christian fight together.

They dare not tell me I had an inaccurate picture of Jesus—it is the same picture they hold to now. They cannot say I was incorrect in my comprehension of the Canon, or inspiration or inerrancy—it is their same view. They cannot fault my morals, my beliefs or my knowledge. It would be an indictment against their own beliefs.

I wonder if all those people who accuse me of having the wrong sort of Christianity realize just how many others, standing behind me, they are also accusing? Is my entire family practicing the wrong sort of Christianity? I can assure you, they would be quite surprised to discover due to one itty-bitty deconversion (mine) we had discovered a belief held by dozens of people, across four generations (on many sides) was completely wrong.

Is my family doomed to hell because of me? Or my friends and church associates—1000’s, maybe 10’s of 1000’s when I consider all the sister/daughter churches of the places which I attended—these people would be shocked to discover one small deconversion was the hole which broke the dam, revealing their entire belief system is the wrong sort.

I wonder if they realize how many people they are condemning to hell because of the accusation one deconvert held the wrong belief? I know my family and friends understand this quite well!

Does one little bee-sting on the nose determine the whole hive must be the wrong sort of bees?


  1. It drives me nuts when people accuse others of "wrong Christianity," for reasons you've already mentioned. It's hard to know what's exactly right and what's not, but it seems like the state of the heart is what God cares about (i.e. is the heart oriented towards God or not), and this can't be measured by us. A lot of other ways of "measuring" "Christian-ness" smacks of legalism to me. I think people who do so (measure + judge, as those who judged you) ultimately forget that Jesus came to give us abundant joy (the parable of water into wine), not all this fuss and fight.

    Anyway, thanks for the fodder for thought.

  2. Oh and of course, am I now judging those who judge other Christians? The circle goes round and round! :)


  3. Hmm, perhaps this is my favourite post of yours. I wrote about this myself maybe a year or so ago (I can't keep up with myself either.)

    I could see how those associated with me (here in real life, not online) were speechless. I was one of them and what could they say? We were in essence "one in belief," and all that meant. Shared joy, suffering, prayer, mentoring, evangelism and the list goes on and on. Looking straight into the face of a deconverter is too much to bear and rather then look into our eyes/heart/mind, rather then listen, they must look away. If they don't, then they have to face themselves. If they do, all may crumble. If "one" of the bees among the many ends up being the wrong bee, yes, imagine the anxiety associated with them being the wrong sort of bee, as well.

  4. FWIW, I am a Christian who also finds the "measurements of Christian-ness" appalling. I realize I'm in a vast minority here and regularly get called "un-Christian" by conservative evangelicals. That having been said, I've had Southern Baptists try to "save" me since Presbyterianism apparently doesn't count (we baptize infants but don't do altar calls or sinners' prayers).

    I think that faith is a deeply personal thing, and that just I cannot really know whether someone else is "saved" (Calvin's term is "Elect"), I cannot really pretend to know how deeply someone's faith is, though I can make a guess.

    I don't doubt the sincerity of Dagoods' belief. I don't doubt that through a very intense process (which we were privileged to be able to read about) his beliefs changed. As I mentioned during his "deconversion" series, I myself went through much of the same, but the result was different.

    It's just one of the things that continually baffles me--I can often have a more meaningful and respectful conversation with an atheist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu or a Buddhist than I can with a lot of Christians.

  5. Caroline,

    Thanks for stopping by. I am afraid the phrase “look at one’s state of heart” has no meaning to me. Similar to “look to God” or “Drive Safe.”

    Oh, I understand the poetic sentiment utilized by the word “heart.” Like “from the bottom of my heart” or “Achy-breaky heart” or even bumper stickers which say “I {heart} my Cocker Spaniel.”

    But whenever I start to actually define the term, I see that people are all over the place in the theistic debate, trying to define what “heart” or “state of heart” means. ‘Bout as difficult as defining “faith.”

    Does it include intellect? Logic? Rational? Emotions? Depth of feeling? Inner conviction? At times—yes; at others—no. I see a lack of consistency in this definition.

    So to say “God looks at your heart” I kinda get the sentiment that God looks at a person’s intentions, but I kinda don’t. What ARE the right intentions? Is calling a person I consider a Pharisee a name a “right intention”? What “state of heart” does a person who does that have? Is it the right one?

    Further, our “state of heart” is dependent on our culture, our time and our society. One’s state of heart in the slavery south of the 1700’s is much different than the state of heart of a Mesoamerican of the 100’s. Which is God looking at?

    And I don’t mind judging. Judge me (or others) all ya want. We just have to make sure we are consistent or it comes back to bite us on the butt!

  6. acomplicatedsalvationreborn,

    Thanks. And hugs.

  7. Flycandler,

    It is amazingly simple and basic—you have empathy. You could be a Baptist, a Presbyterian, an atheist, agnostic or Wicca—wouldn’t make a difference. Regardless of your theistic belief, or belief in the supernatural, as a human you have empathy which causes you to have the ability to communicate with a variety of people on a variety of levels.

    What I mean by “empathy” is the ability to carefully consider what another says, even if they disagree with you, and then either frame a reasonable response while respecting their belief or modify your own if you are convinced.

    If I said I thought I was kidnapped by aliens, you would not immediately reject what I say, even though you don’t believe in aliens. (Do you?) You would listen to what I had to say, the reasons why, and may even go away thinking I am a crackpot, but could be respectful while doing so.

    Nope—doesn’t matter what church you landed in—that would still be you.

  8. Dagoods,
    You have got to be kidding with these comments to Flycandler.

    Dag---It is amazingly simple and basic—you have empathy.

    Dag to Fly---What I mean by “empathy” is the ability to carefully consider what another says, even if they disagree with you, and then either frame a reasonable response while respecting their belief or modify your own if you are convinced.

    Sorry, but, judging that you know Flycandler, that is the biggest load of BS I have ever read here. It's so ridiculous that I laughed harder each time I re-read it.

    Just yesterday, in response to a footnote on my report on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's campaign to ensure foster and adoptive services to all children in need in the county Fly wrote...
    Flycandler said...
    I think it's obvious that an endorsement from James Dobson is a clue that rational people should run from it like the plague.
    But then, if you like hating Jews and Muslims and Gays and Women, Dobson's your man!

    You would have to be blind to read my blog and say that this person is even mentally stable.

    Now about James Dobson, I don't always agree with what he says, but his efforts have helped many people. He is looking to take Calvary's blueprint for foster children to the national level. But, no, Mr. Empathy could care less about that. Dobson's the "wrong kind of bee".

  9. Jim Jordan,

    Please keep your personal squabble with Flycandler on your own blog.

  10. Nope—doesn’t matter what church you landed in—that would still be you.

    Dagoods, I certainly take your point, and there's certainly some truth to it.

    However, I do think that because so much of my formative years was spent in a particular faith tradition (especially one that was often ridiculed by the fundies in town), that left an impression on the man I am now. I may tend toward empathy in general, but learning about faith in an environment where people were not automatically hell-bound if they fail to answer an altar call, make the sinner's prayer, get dunked as an adult and Make A Conscious Choice to Accept Jesus Christ as Personal Lord & Savior (whew) allowed me to explore and learn about other faiths without thinking that my Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist classmates were all in danger of hellfire. Growing up in a tradition that places a very high value on scholarship and study, it made it easier for my own intellectual curiosity about different faiths to flourish. It's not for everyone--we're not called "God's frozen chosen" for nothing. The deeply emotionally satisfying times come in "hearing God in the silence" as it were and those glorious "ah ha!" moments.

    Whether one believes in no god or one God or Zeus, I will try to listen with an open mind, since while I may not agree, I have an appreciation for matters relating to faith and spirituality.

    I may be skeptical about someone claiming to have been abducted by aliens, but I'll nod politely and give the benefit of the doubt.

    To quote Thomas Jefferson (in a slightly different context), "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

    I draw the line at fundamentalists of any stripe (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or anyone else), mainly because they more often than not ARE out to pick my pocket or break my leg (or strip me or my loved ones of our civil rights). I have been beat up by fundies enough times that I will listen, but know that there's nothing I can do to convince a zealot.