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So How Do We Explain Christendom & Our Place In It?


BillD
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As part of my work (I teach classes in Project Management and Risk Management to government agencies and energy companies) I have started working with a couple of Chinese oil companies. They bring rather senior engineers in for three months of study in Houston about Project Management, English, and American culture. As part of this experience the students normally are evangelized by several local evangelical fundamentalist churches. They then bring some pretty basic questions to me. I thought the questions were really great, partly because they challenge me to find language that is not grounded in Western Christendom in order to explain how we got to where we are and how what I believe fits into that mix.

 

Take it that I am in concurrence with the 8 points.

 

So here are the questions with how I responded - feel free to tell me if you think I fell off the tracks or better points to make:

 

1. Who is God's father?

 

My first response was to ask the student - do you believe you exist? This is probably the best place to start thinking about such a question. Some people think that we don't exist, we are a computer program that is running on a computer. Other people say that we are shadows or reflections of some truth. Other people have said "Cogito ergo sum" - I think therefore I exist. If I am going to presume that I exist I must accept that it is possible that other things exist also. The thing that we call God, it seems to me, is a notion that there is meaning to existence - that there is a fabric of basic goodness that people can rely upon and be challenged by in living their life. Ancient people called this fabric God. In that light God is not something that has a father, God is something that just is. In the Bible story the answer to the question put to God, "Who are you?" was just God's statement "I am who I am." This seems to hint at the same point.

 

2. Was Mary pregnant without a husband?

 

Personally I don't think so. I have been on this planet 50 years and haven't seen magic yet. All the people I have met who claimed magic powers have turned out to be fakes in the end. Though I am willing to listen to people who say they are magic and find out what it is they are saying. To some people the idea that Mary got pregnant without a husband is important, and I don't really want to argue with them about it. But if you ask me what I think my answer is that I don't think the story was central and important enough to put it into every story about what Jesus taught. Jesus's mother doesn't really matter to me, except as an example of what mothers are like. What matters is what he had to say. If I thought I had to believe he was born through a magic process it would get in the way of my energy to pay attention to what he said in his ministry, therefore I really don't think about it.

 

3. Did Jesus really cure people of blindness?

 

Scientifically no. Spiritually yes. I think the importance of the story is that by getting in touch with Jesus's ministry people were profoundly changed. For ancient people this took magic, so the story has magic in it. Personally I have never heard of magic being real, it is always fake - but there are lots of things I don't understand.

 

4. What is the difference between superstition and religion?

 

For some people there doesn't seem to be much difference. But for some of us we use religion as a place in our life, community, and family to ground us and connect us to a bigger set of ideas and rules that challenge us to become better people. Superstition is different in that it is used to repel or attract people to behaviors and ideas with no explanation of the utility of the practice. I need an explanation, for me religion is about learning and studying and improving myself. Without an explanation I can be scared or attracted but I cannot really be improved as a person.

 

What do you think?

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"So here are the questions with how I responded - feel free to tell me if you think I fell off the tracks or better points to make:"

 

I think you did a GREAT job, and I'm glad you posted this! It is good for each of us to have answers to questions about why we believe what we do, and I think it is awesome that the students come to you for clarification and are willing to ask questions! I liked the language you used, too. Very well thought out! I particularly like the question about the difference between superstition and religion, and I'll be thinking more about that while I am driving around this afternoon.

 

Janet

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2. Was Mary pregnant without a husband?

 

 

Bill,

 

First, welcome. Second, you seem to be doing a great job.

 

I would point out to them that Christianity is not monolithic and there are a wide variety of beliefs (centered around the person of Jesus). So, any explanation they get to their questions would represent one point of view (or two, yours and the evangelicals).

 

An anecdote about Mary: At Christmas we attended an African-American church service. The sermon focused on the person of Mary. The preacher found it significant that it was a poor girl "from the projects" -- not a member of the Jerusalem elite -- that God had selected for the important role of mother of Jesus. I thought this was an insightful take on this Biblical character.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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Bill,

 

First, welcome. Second, you seem to be doing a great job.

 

I would point out to them that Christianity is not monolithic and there are a wide variety of beliefs (centered around the person of Jesus). So, any explanation they get to their questions would represent one point of view (or two, yours and the evangelicals).

 

An anecdote about Mary: At Christmas we attended an African-American church service. The sermon focused on the person of Mary. The preacher found it significant that it was a poor girl "from the projects" -- not a member of the Jerusalem elite -- that God had selected for the important role of mother of Jesus. I thought this was an insightful take on this Biblical character.

 

George

 

Good point.

 

And Bill, I agree those are good answers. I really enjoyed your claim that religion is necessarily about community & study, while superstition is about unfounded belief.

 

Also, I find it fascinating that people asked you about the virgin birth and miraculous healings, but didn't ask you about the Resurrection. For certain types of "New Atheist" who like to rant about how we worship a zombie, that comes up a lot.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet
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  • 2 weeks later...
1. Who is God's father?

 

What happened before the big bang? where did all the energy/matter come from sort of the same question truth is we simply don't know and probably will never know. The church of my forebearers attempted to answer these kinds of questions and even considered it to be part of their call. They have almost always been wrong!

 

2. Was Mary pregnant without a husband? 3. Did Jesus really cure people of blindness?

 

For a faith that is belief based and measured this is important. For me a PC my faith is not dependent on its factuality. Again we will never really know.

 

4. What is the difference between superstition and religion?

 

Hmmmm I think a superstition alters a persons thought processes and actions solely due to stuff we believe to be factual. I think the church of my fore bearers was riddled with superstition. I think PC moves away from superstition by looking for truth based in our lives and less on what we are told. In the end there may be an element of superstition too.

 

For me I have a sense that God exists at some level and I have a better sense of God through the teachings of Jesus. I don't understand it and I don't need proof and don't really go looking for it. If it turns out to be a superstition .... Im ok with that ... my life is still better due to what I have learned. Whether Mary was pregnant w/o a husband is unimportant (tho I bet pre-marital sex was as prevalent as it is now) whether Jesus was bodily raised from the dead is unimportant. The importance of the message is unrelated to what actually happened.

 

steve

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  • 1 month later...

After thought on this question, I realized I haven't even figured out how to explain my perspective on Christendom and our place within it to conservative evangelicals, I sure wouldn't know where to begin with Chinese!

 

Jenell

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1. Who is God's father?

 

The question assumes God is like a human or creature that reproduces. Perhaps the question is flawed?

 

2. Was Mary pregnant without a husband?

 

How should one know? It has been proven possible with some species of life but not yet with humans and if it were true, what relevance does it have to ones life?

 

3. Did Jesus really cure people of blindness?

 

Perhaps? I believe it could be true, and probably what is now considered miracle healings some day will be explained by science. However, i wasn't there to witness and say what Jesus actually did or did not do for certain to answer the question.

 

4. What is the difference between superstition and religion?

 

Very little. I don't know of any major religion that doesn't encompass some elements of superstition.

 

I'll bet you were expecting some long answer.:) BTW BillD, I think you did a great job with your explanation of the questions the Chinese asked.

 

Joseph

 

edited by JosephM 9:07AM

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Guest billmc

When I was very little, perhaps like many of us, I was told of Santa Clause. I didn't really know that much about him, only what my parents and pop culture told me. He was old, fat, had a red suit, a big white beard, a jolly laugh, a sack full of toys, and a sleigh pulled by eight (or nine) flying reindeer. His job, at the North Pole, was to make toys all year long to deliver to good little boys and girls on Christmas Eve. Somehow, I seemed to always fall into the "good" category, even when I messed up, so I often got toys. That was the main thing: getting presents. Although I in some sense loved Santa, I loved him for what I knew or hoped he would bring me. He was the means to an end - toys!

 

Eventually (and much later), I learned the "true story" (or as close as we have it) of Saint Nicholaus. As an adult, I can appreciate why this bishop was mythologized into Saint Nick. We are mortals. Good people, what they do, and what they teach us don't live forever -- unless we find a way of making them, literally, "larger than life." In mythology, the reported facts are not an end in themselves, but support for the meaning of the character. And, it seems to me, unless the character in mythology somehow causes us to want to examine and modify our own character, the myth is lost on us.

 

As a read the gospels, the focus of Jesus' teachings is on transformation, both personal and social. This doesn't mean that he doesn't accept people where they are, for he does. But his purpose, it seems to me, is to offer us the dream of God's kingdom, and we simply can't stay the self-centered creatures that we are if we desire to experience this dream, for, unlike the myths of my youth, it's not about who gets the most presents. ;)

 

The dream is, I believe, real. I've experienced it. Not fully, of course. But I've had a "foretaste of glory divine." But the dream, because it is larger than the life of a young Jewish rabbi, is couched in myth. And the myth is what has carried the dream down to us and will carry it forward.

 

Where Christianity has erred, IMO, is in trying to factualize the myth. When that is done, if the "facts" behind the myth are demonstrated to be false, the dream is lost. I.e. if we know that virgins don't give birth, we dismiss the notion of the kingdom of God. The solid foundation that Jesus talks about in the gospels are not the "facts" of the later Nicene and Apostle's Creeds. He didn't even mention his birth in his teachings, not even one time. The solid foundation is the fellowship, forgiveness, and compassion (all hallmarks of character) that he demonstrated. To me, it is these things that are foundational to the kingdom of God, not whether or not the events in the Bible "really happened." Despite what some Christians may say, I don't think we have to choose to accept the Bible as a historical chronology or reject it as rubbish. There is, I believe, a middle way. That way is not best described by what we "believe," but in how we live, in our character. The point of Christendom, it seems to me, is not to believe in Christianity, but for our character to become Christ-like.

 

I still enjoy the Jesus story. But it seems to me that the point of the story is not to try to get us to believe in the historicity of the events of Jesus' life or "post-life," but to allow the story to shape our own character.

Edited by billmc
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Billmc said....

 

The solid foundation that Jesus talks about in the gospels are not the "facts" of the later Nicene and Apostle's Creeds. He didn't even mention his birth in his teachings, not even one time. The solid foundation is the fellowship, forgiveness, and compassion (all hallmarks of character) that he demonstrated. To me, it is these things that are foundational to the kingdom of God, not whether or not the events in the Bible "really happened." Despite what some Christians may say, I don't think we have to choose to accept the Bible as a historical chronology or reject it as rubbish. There is, I believe, a middle way. That way is not best described by what we "believe," but in how we live, in our character. The point of Christendom, it seems to me, is not to believe in Christianity, but for our character to become Christ-like.

 

I still enjoy the Jesus story. But it seems to me that the point of the story is not to try to get us to believe in the historicity of the events of Jesus' life or "post-life," but to allow the story to shape our own character.

 

 

I think Bill's post above actually addresses the real question of the thread "How do we explain Christendom & our place in it." most excellently. Kudos Billmc

 

Joseph

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The question assumes God is like a human or creature that reproduces. Perhaps the question is flawed?

edited by JosephM 9:07AM

Joseph,

 

There is a verse in the Qur'an that says about God, "lam yalid walam yulad" which translates, 'He doesn't beget nor is he begotten.'

 

George

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George,

 

And i might add in Hebrew....

או האם הוא הוא‎

אלוהים הוא ללא מין, או צורת

:)

I'll leave you to translate my poor speech,

Joseph

 

'God has no sex or form.' A similar idea. Where is this from, I couldn't find it in the Bible?

 

George

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BillD,

 

I would have made their eyes glaze over if I tried rational explanations for their questions. It would be rude to avoid their questions although that would be my preference, which I will explain below.

 

Some "I wonder what would happen ifs ... "

 

God's Father.

Perhaps to describe your concept/experience rather than a proof. On another thread someone suggested "God pregnant with the universe" as an image. God in and through the universe but not limited by the universe.

 

Virgin

rather than questions of facts one could talk about how this is a metaphor for core Christian beliefs. GeorgeW's "girl in the projects" is a beginning. Ideas of innocence, vulnerablility, openness, of no class, of no status, of no wealth or power. - how much strength one has if one is like Mary, waiting, full of potential.

Blindness

Can't think of a better answer. I wouldn't talk about magic unless asked because, as you point out, it's a spiritual story.

 

Superstition is

While leading the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during his legendary career, the five-time MVP wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform in every game.

 

Religion is

But for some of us we use religion as a place in our life, community, and family to ground us and connect us to a bigger set of ideas and rules that challenge us to become better people.

or

come to my church I will show you.

 

There is a verse in the Qur'an that says about God, "lam yalid walam yulad" which translates, 'He doesn't beget nor is he begotten"

"...the Arabic word for existence (wujud) derives from the root wajada: "he found." ...Therefore wujud means "that which is findable"

One does not have to prove that God exists but only "that he could be found." History of God, Armstrong

 

Experience of God in our lives is subjective. We know it when we find it. We tell stories about it. Stories which give us life and meaning and accompany us in death.

 

as Billmc said

I still enjoy the Jesus story. But it seems to me that the point of the story is not to try to get us to believe in the historicity of the events of Jesus' life or "post-life," but to allow the story to shape our own character.

 

Tell your own story. Ask for theirs.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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