Who is Christian?

Following the horrific events in Oslo, Norway, and the ensuing rhetoric about it, this question came to me. Who indeed is Christian?

As you will recall, long before much in the way of facts were uncovered, a shocking number of pundits and “journalists” speculated freely that Al Qaeda had struck innocents once again. Once the alleged perpetrator began to talk, all this changed, and we learned that the actor was a self-proclaimed Christian and fundamentalist. His written screed backed this up, with illusions to the Crusades.

As we have now come to expect, the Right was furious. How dare this madman do his evil deeds in the name of Christianity? In fact, some of these misguided folks claimed that they were the “true victims” since the Left now would use this crime to attack the far-right cause. Indeed the terrorist named several anti-Muslim activists in this country as being an inspiration to him. So the extreme right had reason to be concerned.

Other’s unbelievably, still wanting to put a Muslim face on this tragedy, said that the actor “had a point” in suggesting that multiculturalism was a disaster for Europe, and by inference for America as well. This tactic was rather soundly condemned: how can you uphold anything that comes from a crazed killer?

But perhaps the most profound result was people like Bill O’Reilly, pundit for Fox “News” who proclaimed that the Norwegian killer was “no Christian”. He claimed that one was not entitled to that title merely by saying it, especially when one’s actions belied any real understanding of the teachings of Jesus.

Of course, Mr. O’Reilly has never had any problem with calling Middle Eastern terrorists, “Islamic Terrorists” simply because they were of the Muslim faith or claimed to be. One begins to smell a lack a rat here.

But the question remains. What constitutes a Christian? The question of course can equally be asked of Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and any other faith tradition.

Who gets to decide when one is acting or talking or thinking within the acceptable parameters of one’s tradition?

I, for instance, would argue that The Westboro “Christians” aren’t Christians at all, or one’s whose understanding of Christianity is deeply flawed.  I and many others sometimes refer to fundamentalist Christians as Christianists, to signify that they use and distort biblical passages in order to serve their personal views of the way the world “ought to be.”

Other’s argue that Mormons are not “true” Christians. And the list goes on and on.

The point is, that the majority of Muslims throughout the world might well argue that those who engage in terrorism are misguided and self-serving in their interpretation of the Qur’an, and are not “true” Muslims. Perhaps that is said by some portions of the Jewish community. There are Buddhists who engage or have engaged in violence. Are there Buddhists who would argue that they are not “true” Buddhists?

So the question remains, who decides?

There is no human answer here of course. The ultimately satisfying answer can only be, that God will and does determine this issue, if it is of any importance at all. We, individually or in community cannot know the mind and spirit of any other person. We cannot judge what faith means to them, or how they interpret it.

Is the man who killed Dr. Tiller a Christian? He would certainly, and does claim that he acted to defend God’s word. Were the Inquisitionists Christians? Were the Crusaders? The KKK?  White Militias?  All have killed in the name of God.

Again, we mere mortals do best to leave that alone. Nothing is served by trying to “protect” one’s sect of Christianity by claiming that this or that one “doesn’t belong to us.” The truth is that fundamentalism is not a Christian thing, nor a Muslim thing, nor even necessarily a religious thing. It is a state of being, in which the believer thinks that he/she has the answers to whatever issues matter to them. They have interpreted correctly and those that disagree must be defeated. The manner of their defeat can be many things, but for a fringe it can and will include violence.

It is this that is opposed, and not the thinking itself. I am well able to accept your self-serving interpretations as long as they remain yours and not ones you seek to impose upon me by force.

If the Norway shooter believes he is Christian, then he is entitled to do so. He’s not my vision of one, but I am not the decider. And neither is anybody else.

Amen.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Jul 31, 2011 @ 13:00:06

    Sherry, there is in Fundamentalism this concept of “condoning.” I’ve been hit with it a number of times when a Facebook post ruffled the feathers of friends from my childhood. They can’t resist the compulsion to inform me they love me, but “don’t condone” my “lifestyle” or how I read God’s Word.

    I don’t say it, but I always think it: “And whether or not you ‘condone’ affects me how?” Our assessments of one another’s faith are, at best, shots in the dark, for none of us has the mind of God. These lines we’ve drawn are imaginary. Personal boundaries dividing right from wrong are exactly that–personal. And what grieves me most about this is, if it were possible to clear away the prejudices, misbegotten notions, and false pride, we’re all striving for the same thing: finding God and finding God’s place in our lives. Is it not enough that we’re doing that? Must we–from the most extreme cases, like those you cite, to the most benign–get so wrapped up in who is or isn’t doing it “right” that we actually remove godliness from our thoughts and behaviors?

    And, OK, I’ll confess that often my response to being “not condoned” isn’t as measured as I’d prefer it to be. Often it’s, “Who died and made you God?” But that really is the question, isn’t it? It would take the death of God to give our opinions any real weight.

    You provoke serious thought here and with it, give us a much-needed warning that “our way or the highway” is never God’s way. Thanks for this.

    Blessings,
    Tim

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Aug 01, 2011 @ 11:07:07

      Tim, I was just so disheartened over the Norway tragedy. We have been taught by the right that when you hear the word terrorism or terrorist, we only think of Muslims. When they were proven wrong, they just decided to spin it to their anti-Muslim agenda anyway. You’re response to those who don’t accept your being you, is perfectly right. It affects you not at all. Except to add but another name to a prayer list of those who need God’s grace and help.

      Blessings, my friend.

      Reply

      • Tim
        Aug 01, 2011 @ 16:15:43

        I too was disheartened. But it got me thinking. Terrorism is all about fear–committing a heinous act not against the victims but to terrify the survivors. Physical violence isn’t necessary, either. Is not telling people they have to believe exactly as we do or else not also terrorism? The world is full of people who have no relationship with God whatsoever because they refuse to be terrorized by fear. (Which, as 1 John says, has no part in love, as “fear has to do with punishment.”) It profoundly saddens me to know we’re surrounded by spiritual terrorist cells of every kind, which heightens our sense of duty to become ministers of love, doesn’t it?

      • Sherry
        Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:16:28

        Amen to that.

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