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I posted Two Christianities in several Newsgroups (alt.christnet.christianlife, alt.christnet, alt.atheism, and talk.religion.newage). I received quite a flurry of responses, especially from the atheists. Below is a compilation of some of my replies to these responses.
I have revised my comments somewhat to give an indication of the contents of the responses I am replying to. To make for easier reading, my replies have been grouped by topic and parenthetical remarks have been placed in footnotes.
But since this article is a compilation of several posts, it may still be somewhat "jumpy" at times. But it shouldn't be too hard to follow.
Several people have mentioned the "No True Scotsman" fallacy. As best as I understand this idea, if someone claims to be a member of a particular group then they are one. So the "evil" actions of a person who claims to be a member of a particular group cannot be written off by saying he was not a "true" member of the group.
But I have reservations abut the validity of this idea, especially in regards to the Christian faith. Becoming a Christian is something someone must choose. And to claim to be a Christian would entail accepting its basic precepts. If someone makes much such a claim but doesn't really believe its precepts then he is a hypocrite, not a true believer.
Moreover, Jesus and the Apostles warned repeatedly and emphatically that there will be people that claim to be Christians but are not really followers of Christ. I quoted one such verse in my initial post.
Further, someone elsewhere posted a list of statistics that indicated there was over 2 billion people in the world that claim to be Christians. Now, is every Christian responsible, or the Christian faith itself, for every criminal action any one of these 2 billion people commit?
In addition, with 2 billion people all claiming to be Christians, just as with atheists, Christians are a diverse lot. To lump them all together to me is illogical.
Or to look at it another way, recently I saw a post from an atheist in which he (or she) was upset when one atheist made a snide remark and someone responded by saying something like the remark showed the true character of atheists.
The atheists responded by saying it wasn't correct to judge all atheists by the improper actions of one atheist. I responded to the post by agreeing with him.(1) A belief system should be judged by what are consistent actions in light of its basic presuppositions and epistemologies; not by someone who claims to adhere to a belief system who doesn't act consistently with it.
For instance, if someone claims to be an atheist, but spends time praying, then is he a true atheist? Or is he denying his basic belief by his actions? Or more to the point, if someone who claims to be an humanist murders someone, should it be concluded that all humanists are murders? Or would other humanists claim that the murderer was acting contrary to his humanist ideals?
Even further, a part of the communists belief system is atheism. Should I therefore conclude that all atheists are communists and agree with all the atrocities that have been committed in the name of communism? Or should I recognize that atheists are a diverse lot and that many would disagree with the belief and actions of communists?
What I am saying is that Christ Himself said that there would be people who would claim to be His followers but would not really be. He told us, "by their fruits you will know them" (Matt 7:20). And "fruits" would refer to their beliefs and their actions. I explain in detail on my ministry's Web site what I believe the Christian faith entails.
To those atheists who have told me that they "used" to be Christians, just because you said you were a Christian do you believe that made you one? If so, then you misunderstand the teachings of the Christian faith. And maybe that's my point here. Claiming to be a Christian does not make a person one.
IMHO, a Christian is someone who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, repented of his sins, believes the essentials doctrines of the faith, and lives accordingly. I outline on my ministry's Web site what I believe these essential doctrines are (see Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith).
I'm not saying a "true" Christian is perfect; I most definitely am not. But a Christian's life should be one of ever increasing holiness as God continues to transform him or her.
The Christian Worldview
As for you next point, you are correct in saying that either a person is a Christian or is not one. But how does one decide who is a "true" Christian? Please let me clarify some points before proceeding.
I personally will not judge whether any individual person is a Christian or not. I will leave that up to God. However, I do define what I believe the Christian faith entails on my Web site.(2)
I use that definition in evaluating a person's or group's beliefs as to whether they are consistent with the Christian faith. I do so as I am commanded by the Bible that I believe in to "... contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).
If someone disagrees with my definition of the essentials of the faith, that is their prerogative, but at least I have provided a definition to work with. And defining terms is very necessary in discussions like this.
Among those who agree with my list of essentials, there will be disagreements on secondary matters. But an agreement on the essentials is, well, essential.
Moreover, these doctrines logically lead to an overall worldview. And how a person acts day-to-day is affected by his or her worldview. The main question he then, is a person's actions consistent with his stated beliefs?
I'm not saying that members of other belief systems do not do "good" acts. My main point is that the basic presuppositions of the Bible should logically lead to someone engaging in such actions.
Defending the Faith
Why do I feel an urgency to defend the doctrines of the Christian faith? The Bible commands, "... always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Pet 3:15).
Since I claim to believe the Bible and to try to live by its precepts, if I didn't try to defend the Christian faith, then I would be a hypocrite; i.e. I would not be acting according to my stated beliefs.
I do not believe Christians should be physically fighting to convert people to the Christian faith. However, as indicated above, I do believe a Christian should "fight" through intellectual persuasion to present the Christian worldview.
I simply explain and defend the Christian faith as best as I can on the Internet and through my hardcopy newsletter. Whoever wants to read my writings is welcome to do so.(3)
If you don't care to read what I say, then simply don't' check out my Web site, and ignore my posts. It's your choice. I simply do the best I can and leave the results in the hands of God.
I expend such effort in my ministry as I do not believe that God's existence or non-existence is a "moot point" as you say. As I already mentioned, a person's basic presuppositions will affect what he believes on other topics leading to an overall worldview. And this worldview will greatly affect how he lives his life. My life has changed greatly because of my change in beliefs since becoming a Christian.
More importantly, when I appear before the God of the Bible I will not be trying to "rationalize" anything. He will do the speaking and I will listen. However, I will be confident in the belief that my sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ.
Though your are correct in saying that facing ourselves can be difficult, without the confidence I have in what Christ has done for me, facing the infinitely holy God would be far worse.
Yes, professing Christians have persecuted others at times; but Christians have been persecuted greatly themselves, throughout history and around the world today. "US News" even mentions this is a couple of short articles formerly posted on its Web site.(4)
So what's the point? It seems that whenever one group comes to power, it begins to persecute a group with lesser power. So once again, the dictum, "power corrupts" is demonstrated. This again, is consistent with the Christian doctrine of the fallen nature of humans.
Further, as you indicate, it is true people have both a good and a "bad" nature. This is perfectly consistent with the Christian doctrine that we are all created in the image of God (and hence capable of great good); but that we are "fallen (and hence capable of great evil).
It is true that I can't change history. In fact, I have read quite a bit of Church history. Years ago, before I became a Christian I read through Philip Schaff's eight volume Church History series. It was like a roller-coaster ride, being gladdened by all the great things done in the name of Christ, followed by being saddened by the evils done in His Name.
In any case, reading about these evils in no way prevented me from becoming a Christian. If the world was in fact fallen as the Christian faith taught, then it would be expected that good things would be twisted to evil ends. In fact, the idea of a good thing gone bad seems to me to be rather prevalent throughout humanity.
Love, sex, friendship, and dare I say, even the Internet, can bring great joy, but they can also be "twisted" to bring great evil. For the same to have happened with the Christian faith would not be surprising; but expected in light of these presuppositions.
Moreover, I guess I had never heard of this "NTS fallacy" thing. But even way back then (I'm talking about fifteen years ago) it seemed to me that if someone who claimed to be a Christian but didn't act like it, he wasn't really one. Likewise, hearing about terroristic acts by Muslims, for instance, in no way affected my decision to become or not to become a Muslim.
What matter to me at the time was what the basic worldview of the Christian faith was as compared to that of other worldviews. If anyone is interested (which I doubt it, but just in case) more of my testimony is posted on my ministry's Web site.(5)
As for your next claim, there was not a "mighty long gap" between the time of the teaching of Jesus and the formulation of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. The basic tenets of the Christian faith have been around since the days of the Jesus and Apostles and the days of the Church Fathers. I document these points in articles on DTL's Web site.(6)
But you are right, the early church was not "pretty happy" - the early Christians were persecuted greatly. A couple of articles my ministry's Web site also discuss this topic.(7)
Further, by "two Christianities" I was talking in general terms about the viewpoint of whether the Christian faith makes someone "good" or "bad." I wasn't referring to doctrinal differences.
There have been some basic doctrines that have defined what the Christian faith is for 2000 years. Yes, there are differences between groups; but on the essentials there is a basic unity. I discuss this idea at length on my ministry's Web site.(8)
As for the "incredible good" that I claim the Christian faith has brought about, I gave a whole list of such good effects in my original post. So I won't repeat myself here; but I will elaborate on one point by looking at the practical implications basic presuppositions can have.
In the Protestant view of the Christian faith, much emphasis is placed on the reading of the Bible. It is believed that each person should be able to read the Bible and decide for himself what it means. As such, Protestants have spent much time teaching people how to read.
Catholicism does place emphasis on the Bible, but not as greatly as Protestant. Moreover, until recently, there was not a strong emphasis on the need for the average person to read it. So Catholics have put emphasis on teaching people to read, but not as much as Protestants.
Animists, on the other hand, have no written Scriptures. So historically, they have not put an emphasis on reading.
The results of these differing attitudes can be seen in the literacy rates of different to countries. I remember seeing awhile back statistics that showed that countries that have been historically Protestant, like much of western Europe and the USA, have literacy rates of 70% or greater. Countries that were historically Catholic, like Latin America, have literacy rates of about 40-70%. Meanwhile, animistic c countries, like much of Africa, generally have less than 40% literacy rates.
I have no desire to debate the exact stats. But overall I believe the above is actuate: the literacy rates of Protestant countries is greater than that of Catholic countries which is greater than that of animistic countries. The point is, that differing attitudes toward the Bible have had a very great effect of a very important subject: literacy.
Also, I know the above is changing do to many factors in recent decades, and I am not saying there are not other motives to teach people to read. But this is just one example of how a basic presupposition, in this case the nature of revelation, has "practical" implications for a person and a society as a whole.
Next, the "harping" that atheists make on the "evils the Christianity" may not happen in a vacuum as you say; but neither does my belief of the incredible good that the Christian faith can bring. With my position of publishing a Christian newsletter and a Christian Web site, I receive quite a bit of mail ("snail mail" and e-mail). And what I hear over and over again is about how the Christian faith has changed someone's life for the better.
And this leads to something that I was going to mention in my original post but didn't so I will here. If the only "Christianity" someone has heard about is the first one on my initial post (i.e. the "Christianity" of the crusades, the inquisition, etc.) then I can understand why such a person would be resistant towards the presentation of the Christian Gospel.
But for someone like myself who has been surrounded by the second Christianity I mentioned, the one that has done much good and that has radically changed lives, then one would be much more receptive to the Christian Gospel.
Next, others may have said that atheists are "evil" or "satan's minions" (whatever that means). But I don't believe I have. However I will say that atheists are sinners, but only in the sense that I believe all people are sinners, myself included. So please, don't "stereotype me with those of whom you have had bad experiences with and I won't stereotype you with the atheists that I have had bad experiences with.
Does the Christian faith make people better? C.S. Lewis discusses this in, I believe it was, Mere Christianity. Basically his argument was: we shouldn't compare Mr. Christian with Mr. Non-Christian; but rather what would the first be like if he wasn't a Christian and what would the second be like if he became a Christian?
I can only say that I know how much Christ has changed me; and I have seen great changes in others when they became Christians. The atheist may claim that I and the others would have changed anyhow. I can only say what I believe.
I know it was my faith in Christ that turned my life around. How do I know? Because I was there! And many other Christians will give you similar testimonies.
I know atheists will write off such ideas as "psychological nonsense" or the like. But it is hard to argue with someone's experience. I know what happened to me. And I have I seen the incredible change in other people when they have place their faith in Christ.
Now, you are correct - to deny that "religion" has never lead to evil acts would be to "put blinders on." However, to say that the Christian faith never has changed people's lives for the better would also be to put blinders on.(9)
Why My Post?
To close, why did I make my original post? In reading atheist hardcopy literature and reading posts by atheists on the 'Net there is a constant reference to "atrocities" committed by Christians. But I don't see the publications or posters mentioning all the good Christians have done. The obvious rebuttal to the deluge about the "evil-ness" of the Christian faith would be to outline the incredible good that it has done.
My point wasn't to say the Christian faith "was a good idea" or even that the ability of faith in Christ to change lives for the better necessarily "proves" the Christian faith is true. My point was, as indicated, there is another side to the Christian faith that seemed not be noticed and I wanted to point that out.
Atheists simply seem to have a rather myopic view of the Christian faith. Everything that I know about the incredible good that has resulted from the Christian faith seems to be missing in their knowledge of Christianity.
Please excuse my own generalizing here. But I am responding to those on the 'Net who are consistently harping about the "bad" behavior of Christians without any acknowledgment of the incredible good the Christian faith has brought about in the lives of so many.
To those atheists who at least acknowledge there are many who believe their lives have been turned around by faith in Christ and with the help of Christians, my apologies.
In any case, since it was consistently atheists, and a few New Agers, that I have seen make repeated posts about the "evil-ness" of the Christian faith, I felt it was appropriate to cross-post my rebuttal to that idea in one Newsgroup each that dealt with these two belief systems. People in these Newsgroups, especially the atheist one, have responded to my post, so I thought it prudent for me to reply back.
But since I have received complaints about this thread being in "alt.atheism" and "talk.religion.newage" this will be my last post in these Newsgroups. I don't like to unnecessarily upset people. So if someone posts a response to either of these replies, please don't be upset if I don't reply. I can't please everyone.
I didn't think my little post would cause such a stir! Oh well.
><> Reepicheep <><
For another discussion on Two Christianities see More on Two Christiainities.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
1) Please excuse my use of masculine language throughout; but to say "he or she" repeatedly would have simply been too tedious.
2) See Darkness to Light's Confession of Faith.
3) I always welcome comments on the articles on this Web site; though I don't always have the time or energy to respond to everyone in detail.
4) The articles were at: www.usnews.com/usnews/issue/970331/31OUT3.HTM on US News' Web site, but they hav enow been removed.
5) See Who Am I?
6) See Scripture Studies and The Post-Apostolic Church, respectively.
7) See Demonic Activity - In the World of the Early Christians and Persecution: A Double-Edged Sword.
8) See Essentials of "the Faith."
9) I don't particularly like the term "religion" because of the many connotations it has; but that would be an entire discussion in itself.
Two Christianities: Replies to Responses. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article was posted on this Web site
and in the above indicated Newsgroups in June 1997.
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