Mine is the only true Christian denomination:
Incoming Email: "You are wrong when you state that Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc. are Christian. They are not because they hold unbiblical beliefs."
Our response: Your Email is the most common single complaint that we receive.
There is an enormous diversity of definitions of the
term "Christian." You use one, which we can only guess at. We have
a different one which we describe in the above
essay. There are many dozens of other definitions -- all different.
By now, the pattern is clear. There are over 1,000 faith groups in the U.S.
alone that consider themselves to be Christian. Many, perhaps most, regard
themselves to be the "true" Christian church. They look upon other denominations
as being at least partly in a state of error; they can only be regarded as near
Christian, quasi-Christian, part-Christian, or perhaps even unchristian.
Incoming Email: "...There can only be one Type Of Christian. There was only one Christ, thus there is only one type of Christian."
Our response: Your logic sounds neat, but it may contain a logical error. People who consider themselves Christians approach the Bible and 1st/2nd century historical documents with very different pre-conceptions. For example:
So there is not a single version of Christianity; there are literally thousands. Many of these faith groups believe that they alone are following Jesus' teachings; they are the "true" church. The Roman Catholic Church issued a formal statement to that effect in 2000-SEP. Although many ecumenical efforts are active today, the Christian religion remains split into thousands of denominations -- in essence thousands of varieties of Christians.
Group prayer with an Atheist:
Incoming Email: "I am a public school student. I asked my group whether they would like to pray together before each meeting. They all seemed to agree, but I asked anyone who wasn't comfortable with the idea to see me privately. Nobody did. Before the next meeting, I asked the group again to pray, and mentioned that anyone who didn't want to pray could simply not join the group, or could stand with us and remain silent. Before the next meeting one of the group came to me and said that they were an Atheist, that what I was doing was wrong, and that it shamed our group and organization.
Did I do wrong? What do I do now?"
Our response: Some people might tell you that what you did is illegal because it violates the principle of separation of church and state. The U.S. Supreme Court has read this concept into the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Some people believe that public schools should be religion-free zones. But they are wrong. Students can pray, carry their Bible, read their Bible, talk about religion, wear religious T-shirts, etc. They can do these things on the school bus, by the flagpole, in the school corridors, in the classroom before and after a class, in the cafeteria, etc. If the school allows as few as one extra-curricular student-led club, then it must allow students to organize and advertise a Bible club. Since you are a student, you have every right to pray before a non-classroom student meeting, and to invite others to join with you in prayer. In fact, there are relatively few forms of religious expression that are forbidden students in public schools before, between and after classes.
You showed a great deal of sensitivity to the other group members. Religion is a hot topic. There is always the possibility that in your group, there is one or more students who are members of a non-Christian faith. To them, a Christian prayer would be very offensive. Imagine how you would feel if the majority of your group were Hindus and wanted to pray to a Goddess before every meeting. Also, there is the possibility that one of the students is an Atheist, Humanist or other non-theist to whom a prayer to a personal God would be stupid -- as as ridiculous as a prayer to Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Some Atheists might consider prayer to be as disgusting as a racist, sexist or homophobic statement.
But perhaps a better way to implement a prayer might have been to contact each member of the group individually and in confidence to see if any objected to the prayer. By asking them as a group, there is always the possibility that one team member felt awkward about public prayer but was reluctant to come out and say so due to peer pressure.
What you did is certainly not "wrong" in the legal sense. A student can pray; a group of students can pray; a student can suggest that other students pray. If you were a staff member of the school, then you could not pray out loud or gather students around to pray because this would be promoting religion over a secular lifestyle; that would be unconstitutional.
So your question becomes:
Which religion should I choose?
Incoming Email: I was brought up as a fundamentalist Christian, but became an agnostic during my teenage years. I'm older now and am interested in finding a new religious path. Christianity is not an option; I can't believe that everyone who is not a born-again Christian will go to Hell. Eastern religions don't appeal to me. I am considering Judaism.
Our response: It is important to realize that the definitions of the word "Christianity" found in most dictionaries cover a wide variety of beliefs and practices. The religion is composed of fundamentalist, other conservative, mainline and liberal wings. They differ greatly over the existence of Hell, and its inhabitants:
Non-fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and many religions may still be options for you to consider. See our religious menu for links to essays on many dozens of Christian faith groups and other religious traditions.
You might wish to try the Belief System Selector by SelectSmart.com and SpeakOut.com. It tries to link individuals to religions that meet their beliefs.
Christ: Lord, liar or lunatic:
Incoming Email: I read about the "Trilemma" in Josh McDowell's book "The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict." He argues that the New Testament record permits only three logical choices: that Jesus is either Lord, or is a liar or lunatic. He then proceeds to show that the second and third alternatives are unreasonable, and that the only conclusion one can reach is that Jesus is Lord. Is this a valid approach?
Our response: C.S. Lewis created a slightly different trilemma. He wrote in Mere Christianity that Jesus was either Lord, a lunatic or "the Devil of Hell."
As with almost every other question in Christianity, one must first decide whether the the Bible authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write text that is inerrant -- free of errors. There are many passages in the Gospels in which Jesus claims to be Lord. This is particularly true of John. If the Bible is without error, then Jesus must be Lord; the other two options in both trilemmas are impossible.
However, other alternatives exists. A liberal Christian might start with the assumption that the Bible is not inerrant. They might view the Christian Scriptures as a religious text like many others in the world -- written by authors who were motivated to promote their own faith group's evolving belief systems. Most theologians recognize Mark to be the first of the gospels which became part of the official canon of the Bible. Luke and Matthew are largely based on Mark, a lost Gospel of Q, and some material unique to Luke and Matthew. Mark presents Jesus as a 1st century CE charismatic rabbi, prophet and healer, some of whose sayings can be traced back to a liberal tradition within Judaism and in particular to Hillel, the great Jewish rabbi from the 1st century BCE. Others of his sayings can be traced back to a Pagan Greek "cynic" philosophy. The other synoptic gospels, Matthew and Luke, also mainly present Jesus as a human; however, since they were written a decade or two after Mark, they include more of the evolving tradition within the Christian movement and less of Jesus' actual life. Meanwhile, the Gospel of John represents an entirely different Christian tradition -- one which was written about 70 years after Jesus' execution. It treats Jesus as Lord. The differences between John and the synoptic gospels are immense. If one accepts the Gospel of John as being an accurate picture of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, then Jesus must be considered to be Lord -- one of the options in both Lewis' and McDowell's trilemma. But if one assumes that the Bible is errant and selects the synoptic Gospels as much closer to the historical Jesus, then the trilemma needs to be expanded to a quadlemma. The fourth option is that Jesus was a charismatic prophet, a teacher and healer.
I am being harassed. What do I do?
Incoming Email: Help! I am a Humanist who has a good friend who recently became a Baptist. She is sincerely and heavily involved in her faith, and is trying to save me. She believes that repenting of my sins and trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior is the my route to salvation and to Heaven. I'd like to keep her as a friend.
Our response: I suggest that your first step would be to try to get into the mind of your friend. She sincerely believes that God has created two destinations in which people will spend all eternity: Heaven, where a small minority of people will receive immense rewards, and Hell where the vast majority will be eternally tortured. To imagine her motivation, suppose you were at a hotel at the top of a mountain and you saw a crowd of people loading onto a large bus. You know for a fact that the bus has no brakes, that the road from the hotel has a steep grade downwards, and that the bus would undoubtedly crash and kill everyone on board. Imagine how anxious you would be to inform the bus driver of the defective brakes, and save all those people who otherwise are headed to total destruction. She is experiencing some of these same feelings. She may well be absolutely convinced that of the six billion people in the world, only the one billion or so Protestants have a chance to avoid Hell, and most of them are not saved and are headed away from Heaven.
Your second step is to realize that it is probably impossible to change her beliefs to the point where she will accept the possibility that her concepts of Heaven, Hell and salvation may be wrong.
I would recommend that you explain to her that:
If she insists on promoting salvation, you might have to terminate the friendship.
The cause of religiously motivated conflicts and genocides:
Incoming Email: Civil conflicts, mass murders and genocides are
caused by "dark religions" that promote hatred. These are the ones to look
My personal belief is that almost all religions teach that one's primary
responsibility is towards God -- viewed in different ways as a single
dual divinity, trinity, pantheon, etc. Although they do teach some form of
Ethic of Reciprocity like the Golden Rule, this is often interpreted as
applying mainly to fellow believers, and not to believers in other
religions. This is a fatal flaw. It is too easy to discount the rights of
non-believers; to treat them as sub-human because they deny the "true"
Until the religions of the world realize that they are a main cause of hatred, strife, and genocide, the slaughters will continue.
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