Christianity and Dialogue? You tell me.

A couple evenings ago I was catching up on the news via Yahoo! News while trying to watch my usual Grey’s Anatomy. After the usual intense closing shots of the characters in distress I reopened by Apple and started reading a very interesting article about Christians and atheists communicating calmly. Yea thats right, calmly. The article addressed a growing trend of open dialogues between Christians and atheists over the internet and in person. Live discussions and conferences are sprouting up around the country calling for atheists to speak up about what they feel Christians are doing wrong or right. Church leaders like Phil Wyman, pastor of The Gathering, located in Salem, Mass. are inviting atheists to voice their opinion on why they don’t like church. Many pastors like Jim Henderson, a former Evangelical pastor form Seattle, are setting out to learn how the unchurched respond to various kinds of worship services.

Oddly enough, I have been working with my youth pastor on organizing a community wide program that would work with other churches on striking up this open dialogue between atheists and Christians. Instead of holding youth groups inside church walls, where people must come to us, we instead meet them where they are, their communities. Parks, parking lots, malls, whatever we can manage to get, we will go and talk. Simply share the gospel and actively engage with nonbelievers. Along with talking I wanted to just serve. To get out in the community and make it better. Plant, paint, fixing peoples yards, fix anything, meet the needs of the community. My hope is that many churches will join the campaign and come together as one and work together on correcting our communities “ideas” about Christianity. So many people think churches hate each other, or that Christians don’t care about the environment, and the list goes on of generalized myths. By being a presence in the community serving and talking I want our dialogue to pin point these myths and straighten them out so that people see who we represent, Christ.

So now that you know that this whole idea has been on my mind alot lately, I’m going to tie it back into the article. Doing a little investigation I found that most of these groups are affiliated with a movement entitled “the emerging church.” This movement carries along with it a heavy reliance on postmodern beliefs. It seeks to deconstruct and reconstruct Christian beliefs, standards, and methods to fit in the postmodern mold. One of the biggest ideas that this movement pushes is dialogue because it leaves room for a “natural progress” of doctrine as they might call it. Emergents see theology as an “icon” pointing to God rather than as a definition of God. By this they mean that they do not see any doctrinal expositions as definitive. The whole idea is very dangerous and could cause a huge avalanche.
But I think open dialogue, especially including people of other faiths is very beneficial to learning and discovering truth. But by no means do I think that truth is based in the interpretation and experiences of man. Truth does not hinge on a communities experience but only on the word of God. Yes culture has changed and it is far different from that of the Biblical times, but the truth has not. The metaphors may not make total sense at first glance like they may have in centuries past, but that is what dialogue is for. To pick apart the truth weaved into the analogies and to make it more clear. If used properly I think dialogue can strengthen peoples beliefs in the truths of scripture rather than tear it down and rebuild it. Its the motive of dialogue that I think truly matters, to either use it to make truth or to understand truth is what must be decided.
Now I want your opinion, can this work? Do you think this community project will help Christians better understand how to reach nonbelievers and help nonbelievers understand Christ through dialogue?

1 Comment

  1. Well, here’s the problem. At some point, we would have to talk about the Bible. Now, I am sure you are, like most Christians I know, a perfectly wonderful person. Indeed, because so many Christians these days are paying attention to their neighbours, to the environment, to issues of social justice and well, to love, the doctrine that is coming out of Christianity (possibly others, but I am sticking to Christianity for now) is truly admirable. Now that I am thinking about it, the three people I most admire, who are known to me personally, are Christians. I have other role models, who are not Christian, but I don’t know them personally, or I don’t know what they profess as their faith or lack thereof.

    My Christian role models are wise, and gracious. I say with certainty and with gratitude that they make the world an immeasurably better place. They are, simply, outstanding human beings. I love them, I respect them, I aspire to move in the world, and to have the same positive impact, as they do. So, truly, I do not start off with a bias against Christians. If you are interested, I am talking about the chair of my department at University, who is some version of Protestant, a Catholic priest I know who worked for many years amongst poor communities in Africa, and a very cool Catholic nun who once taught me when I was about ten, who was just the most amazing, accomplished–I think she had two PhD.s–and confident woman I have ever met. Again I say, I am overwhelmingly biased in favour of Christian people.

    However. The Bible is a string of lies. That’s just it. Nobody ascended to heaven on a cloud, that’s silly. A lot of Bible stories are just silly. Others are murderous, some are genocidal, many are terrifying and blood-filled, they are misogynist and racist, they accept slavery and subjugation, and so forth. Now, what my Christian friends tell me is not to be literal. Of course they are not about to advocate stoning children for disobedience, or daughers for non-virginity, or killing people for working on Sundays (or Saturdays, depending.) Of course not. They are out there to feed the hungry, to love their neighbours, and to do what it sounds to me like you want to do. I know they do it, I’ve seen them do it. But what about those things in the Bible? Well, they tell me they just ignore it, or they convert “enemies” to mean things like poverty and disease and discrimination and hunger, which of course is an excellent thing. However, why do they need to do this very inventive reading? Why the need to translate “meaning”?

    Surely, if the God who either wrote or caused to be written, the entire Bible, we really shouldn’t be needing to have funky theorising abilities or even rhetorical abilities: he would have said, “when I say enemies, I mean poverty, hunger and disease. When I say poverty hunger and disease, I also mean poverty, hunger and disease. ” God does not say this, in the sacred texts. I mean, where does it say “all these instructions about stoning and so forth are optional when you get to the stage of human development in which they would be considered disgusting. At that point of your society’s development, you can ignore all the horrid bits, and concentrate on the good Jesus bits.” No, where does it say that?

    I’ve read the Bible myself, several times. I know all the good things that are in it. I also know the vastly larger number of horrible, unreasonable and objectionable sets of prescriptions it contains. What I CANNOT find in the Bible is any reason, permission, or even acknowledgement of the right of “believers” to edit and cherrypick from the Bible in this way. Which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that many of my Christian friends are only able to call themselves Christian by ignoring those parts of the Bible that horrify them, or which they reject. This is a large part of the Bible. Where, exactly, is the multiple-choice option in Bible interpretation to be found? If you organise your understanding of Christianity according to what you like in the Bible, it doesn’t take a genius to see that you will find a lot of motivation to do good. It also don’t take a genius to see that a basically good person will choose all the bits that are telling us to be good. So, the Bible says be good, you are good, you are confirmed by the Bible, excellent. However, be aware that whilst this means that you are an outstanding person, it also means that you are a bad Christian. I will say it again. Given how much of the Bible you have to ignore, re-interpret, or just completely repudiate to behave in a moral fashion in the world, if Christianity is measured (how else?) by how closely your behaviour conforms to the Christian Bible, you would suck. You would be really really bad at it. The people who would score really high on the “Christian Bible concordance with Behaviour test” would be, yup, the fundamentalists. They, with all due respect, are the good Christians, where Christianity is measured by its own standard, which is the Bible. I mean, this is hardly surprising. That’s why they are called “fundamentalists.” They could as easily and accurately be called “exactists”, or “literalists” or the Completely Christian Christians. They just do more Bible-derived and Bible-approved things than you do. Sorry.

    The problem comes when the not-so-good, or the outstandingly evil, use the very same book and the very same methods as you, but read different parts of the Bible. This same book, and that same method of picking out the bits you like, is used to justify killing me, or your kids, or just some random collection of strangers down the road, for having committed “theological” crimes i.e. blaspheming, or apostasy, or building graven images, or etc. This is the thing, my generous good-hearted Christian friends, that has all the rest of us worked up and frankly frightened. There is JUST AS MUCH vindication, validation, affirmation for the fundamentalist, woman-hating, apocalyptic-cheering, bigoted violent fanatics to do their thing and be confident that they are following the word of God, as there is for you to go about painting your neighbour’s house for her, or shopping for the old lady down the street, or collecting money for victims of the tsunami. Just as much, and probably more. And they can point to the Bible (which you defend) and say, with reason, that God told them to.

    Fundamentalists read the same Bible you read. It allows them to do what they do. I have no way of knowing, before the fact, which bits they will decide to pick out to support their actions. In any case, it doesn’t matter, because no one, not one Christian, has gone through the Bible and said “Here are the parts which are abominable and should be demoted from being the word of God.” None of you Christians have done that. None of you Christians have taken a hard look at your Bible and said, in public, to thers, in uncertain terms that you condemn the parts of the Bible which can be used to cause harm and suffering to others. Better yet, how about coming up with a new Bible and just leaving out all the bad parts altogether? You would then have a text that you could respect and fully support.

    But here’s the clincher. If you took out all the bad parts, you would be admitting that the Bible has harmful parts, mistakes, contradictions and all sorts of other undesirable aspects (it cannot then, be sacred.) You would also have to admit that in reading the Bible, you use a sort of selective function to screen you against the bits you don’t want. Where does this selective function come from? It comes from your OWN moral sense, which then allows you to select the Bible-bits which are appropriate. But then, if this moral sense is independent of the Bible (logically, it has to be, since it is used to make judgements about the Bible) then you don’t need the Bible to know what is good and what is evil. You already know this. You already do what is good and charitable and gracious. So why go on being implicated and complicit and an accessory to the spread of a text that is firstly a)historically and scientifically inaccurate b)full of injunctions to do evil or at least permission to do evil c)responsible for creating some of the worst human conflicts we have experienced and d)UN-NECESSARY??

    You don’t need the Bible. Also, it is full of lies. Also, it is permissive of atrocities. In order to take away the “sacred permission” for discrimination, hatred, bigotry, violence, etc. (and no, I don’t think these come from the Bible, necessarily, nor that removing the Bible would end them: I am merely making the case that contined support of the Bible gives such things a legitimacy and a longevity they would not otherwise have.), then some of you are going to have to be brave enough to stand up and actively, positively reject those parts of the Bible. The catch-22 is that you cannot reject (out loud) just a part of the Bible, since it is all ALL sacred. If you admit that even one verse in it is not sacred, well then, the sacred status is up for grabs, isn’t it? If the sacred status of one verse can be declared unilaterally non-sacred, that means all of it is non-sacred. You see?

    So we cannot really talk about religion unless we agree to leave the whole matter of the Bible aside. Yet, without talking about your Bible, in what sense would we be discussing your faith? Thus, our conversational possibilities involve my pretending that I haven’t noticed what a blood-filled document the Bible is (which would be condescending to you) or your attempting to explain to me in what way the fourth commandment does not actually involve the death penalty for the crime of disrespecting your parents (which would make us both ridiculous), just as an example. I mean, this is a Commandment. it is one of the Big Ten. And yes–it gives the death penalty as the punishment for the transgression.

    In what sense is such a directive allegorical, or metaphorical, or illustrative, or any of the other things Christians have told me the Bible actually is? The language is fairly clear and not in the least ambiguous.

    The mental acrobatics required to preserve the sanctity of the Bible whilst also not becoming locked into crazy beliefs and violent behaviour require so much effort that it seems to me, as it has to many people, obviously, just not worth the effort. It is (Ockham’s Razor) much easier simply to suscribe to a guiding morality and skip the Bible as an intermediary between goodness and good acts. You do it anyway. Just make it official.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s