“No True Christian Would Do That…”

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Sometimes people who call themselves Christians do something morally wrong; even hateful or cruel. And not only do they do this, but they do it ostensibly in the name of Jesus. They will, for example, treat a perceived “sinner” badly while explicitly invoking God, quoting the Bible, and frequently even referencing Jesus’s offer of salvation, etc. When others condemn these putative Christians’ behavior, sometimes others will say something like “Those are not real Christians.” And usually they will explain that Jesus told his followers to love, but these people are not loving, ergo they are not real followers of Jesus and, so, not real Christians.

Of course it is not just Christians who do this. A lot of groups trying to influence others to join them can be found saying similar things as a tactic for distancing themselves from appalling or embarrassing members of their group who do things they don’t approve of. We will just representatively use Christians for specificity and because they’re the ones most often saying this to me and I would like a handy reply I can point them to. (Hello there, Christian reading this because I linked you here! Have a seat! Make yourself comfortable!)

There are some good things I think that Christians are aiming at when they say “That’s not a real Christian” and yet some really problematic things too.

Before we explore both we need to make some huge, important distinctions. With all groups that are built around beliefs and values there is a difference between the real world thoughts and practices, historically, contemporarily, and across the individual members and observable subgroups of the overall group–both historically and contemporarily. According to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, there are presently around 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide. And not only have there been many more Christian sects over the previous 2,000 years of the religion’s existence, but even the denominations that exist today have taken substantially different forms of believing, behaving, worshipping, and judging as they have existed in any number of different times and places. If we are being merely descriptive, the Christian church historically has comprised billions of people. And Christians, even on the account of most forms of Christianity I am familiar with, are imperfect people. And so not only can their beliefs and values differ widely, but their behavior in any given instance might often not even live up to their own standards, according to their own interpretations of their faith.

Maybe some Christians want to claim that Christianity is only for perfect people or people who agree with them perfectly, such that any Christian who, on their perception, does something wrong should not be called a Christian. But that’s not for an outsider to decide. We can, quite fairly, say anyone who believes some minimum constellation of identifiably Christian things and self-identifies as a Christian qualifies to be considered a possible permutation of a Christian.

Now, the other thing someone might be saying when they say someone behaving or thinking immorally is not actually a Christian is that they do not represent the ideal values or beliefs that Christianity should be understood as teaching. This could mean several things, but I think each of them has a claim something like the following at its core: “Christianity, when rightly understood, does not teach people to believe or value in the ways this person does, therefore the faith should not be assessed as false or bad on account of this person’s behavior. Since a right understanding of the faith does not teach people to act in this way, it should not be rejected on account of people who act in this way.”

This claim about the “right” interpretation of the faith might be interpreted one of (at least) two ways. On the one hand, it might be an attempt to say not only that this is the right interpretation of the faith but it is the one usually promulgated or, at least, the one consistently taught by those churches with true claim to be Christian, etc. On the other hand, reformers might acknowledge that something they’re saying should be understood to be a Christian belief or value judgment historically has failed to be recognized by the church but nonetheless clearly can now be seen to be given what we have since learned.

Since traditions are living things, I have no problem in principle with people wanting to argue for better, more humane, more rational understandings of their faith, which take into account modern realities, modern learning, and advances in moral values. While I reject faith-based believing in principle, if someone is going to be a part of a faith, it is always far preferable to me that their beliefs at least be interpreted in a way that is more consistent with reality and with objectively defensible good than not…
 

CONTINUE READING…

Dan Fincke has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and is an adjunct assistant philosophy professor at Hofstra University and an adjunct philosophy professor at City College of New York (CUNY).

Written By: Daniel Fincke
continue to source article at patheos.com

22 COMMENTS

  1. A couple of days ago, out of curiosity, I googled (with quotation marks), “are not true Christians”
    It gave me well over a million hits. This suggests it is a hot topic.
    I define a “Christian” as any person who claims to be a “Christian”, or to act guided by his or her Christian beliefs.

  2. There is a distinction what people do who are Christian and what people do because they are Christian.

    Christians may embezzle, but you can’t blame that on their faith.

    Christians discriminate against gays because they are Christian.
    Christians murder abortion doctors because they are Christians (though not that all Christians would do this).
    All clergy con the flock out of money by telling them Christian lies.
    Christians beat children sometimes because of their faith, sometimes just out of impatience.

    Then there are the things they do in the name of Christianity, most notably kill Jews and Muslims and fight wars. It was once popular to keep slaves and discriminate against blacks in the name of Christianity. This habit is waning.

    • In reply to #2 by Roedy:

      There is a distinction what people do who are Christian and what people do because they are Christian.

      Christians may embezzle, but you can’t blame that on their faith.

      Christians discriminate against gays because they are Christian.
      Christians murder abortion doctors because they are Christians (…

      Excellent, well defined.

  3. I would assume that Christians feel justified in carrying out any act or practice that their god permits, authorizes or commands in their holy book. Of course, it may be against secular law, depending on where they live, but many will still take the chance, I’m sure, in permeating hatred, bigotry and discrimination wherever the law allows it, or where they feel they will get away with it.

    “Christian” to me does not convey warm, fluffy and cuddly.

  4. We atheists seem clear that religious people generally use their own standards when it comes to what is right or wrong, picking and choosing from the bible. This could be the explanation of why a given religion breaks up over time into thousands of sects.

    Is the natural outcome an individual sect for each individual and the eventual death of that religion, because every member has their own unique outlook? Of course during those hundreds of years of breaking up another new religion has come along to gather in the masses.

  5. Xtians are totally unaware of the very serious defects in the character of Christ.

    Anyone who believes and preaches the idea of Hell cannot be truly moral, merciful or humane. Christ was such a person who rants on about the fire that never quencheth and where the worm dieth not and the wailing and gnashing of teeth, verse after verse of it. This eternal damnation is the punishment and threat to those who won’t believe in him or who dislike his preaching. The he says, “Ye serpents ye vipers how can ye escape the fire of eternal damnation”. Hardly the attitude you expect from a loving god but common enough among preachers from all the Abrahamic persuasions.

    Not a true xtian? The notion of hell among the real faithful have provided 100s of years of inhumane and cruel torturers. I have no doubt this influence is actually Hellenic. The ancient greeks entertained this notion of gods eternally punishing people such as Tantalus and Phineas for wrongdoing and monstrous people like Procustes. When they picked up the early ancient xtian church they piled into it with their own ideas. No matter, if xtians consider this notion to apply to Jesus ben Joseph then they need to rethink what it is true xtians get up to and then they will know why some of them persecute, blacks, jews, homosexuals, muslims, women and the like.

  6. The wonderful thing about this fallacy is that it allows Christians to believe that only good Christians exist and that any wrongdoing means that they are not true Christians. Of course this is no more than self confirming bollocks and allows us atheists to show them the error of their ways

  7. The people who say no true Christians fail in certain ways are the same people who use this reliability of Christians as a justification for indoctrinating children in Christianity. The only trouble is the failings they allegedly seek to avoid do occur frequently in the products of this effort. Even if it were really true that these perpetrators are “false Christians”, what good is the method if no-one who comes out of it is really known to be a true convert? At any moment they might refute that idea with their acts. Similarly, no theodicy, no matter how convincing it may sound to someone listening to it, gets away from the question: if all these bad things often happen with an “omnipotent”, “omniscient”, “omnibenevolent” deity active, what is the good of that deity having those properties?

  8. The problem I have with the notion of trying to update Christianity to steer it away from, say, bad values is that it fails to recognize that Christianity itself is built on bad values, such as unquestioningly accepting some form of divine authority to tell you what to do (even if those commandments overlap with secular ones). True, most mainstream Christians are probably more secular than they realize, while falsely giving their religion some credit for the secular morality that makes up the current zeitgeist.

    However, while that can make it harmless, it still leaves the root of the problem untouched (faith-based thinking), and it comes down to getting the right answers for the wrong reasons. This leaves followers of faith to piggyback on the work done by other people not using faith, like a kid who passes a test by copying his neighbour’s answers. Combine this with an undeserved reverence for religion or spirituality, and a refusal to acknowledge this debt to secular thinking, and you’ve at least got a recipe for such people to start straying again.

    Think of it like this: a person wants to round down 16/64, so he asks two people for help. The first person reasons that the ratio is identical to 1/4, and shows this using a geometric representation and comparison. The second person lops off the two sixes and gets the same answer. Based on results, one might be tempted to think they both have a point, but their methodologies are wildly different, and it’s clearer the first person knows what they’re doing. So why try and preserve the “lop off the two sixes” method if it can only get the right answer by accident?

    The analogy extends to religious and secular thinking because it points out that, even if religion’s conclusions are in line with secular ones (e.g. give money to the poor, do not kill etc.), their methods of coming to those conclusions are transparently useless (do what God says versus reason about individual people’s welfare). Intellectually speaking, faith, and by extension religious thinking, is superfluous, irrelevant, and either accidentally right or reliant on stealing credit from other modes of thought at best.

  9. @OP – Now, the other thing someone might be saying when they say someone behaving or thinking immorally is not actually a Christian is that they do not represent the ideal values or beliefs that Christianity should be understood as teaching. This could mean several things, but I think each of them has a claim something like the following at its core: “Christianity, when rightly understood, does not teach people to believe or value in the ways this person does, therefore the faith should not be assessed as false or bad on account of this person’s behavior. Since a right understanding of the faith does not teach people to act in this way, it should not be rejected on account of people who act in this way.”

    The “No True Scotsman” fallacy is well known!

    The basic flaw in trying to reform most religions, and Abrahamic religions in particular, is that an effective design code, does not start with a motley collection of sow’s ears and try to modify them into a silk purses!

  10. They sometimes have a point though. As Bill O’Reilly says here, talking about Anders Behring Breivik’s killing spree in Norway, which O’Reilly helpfully informs us is a Scandinavian country:

    …Now, on Sunday, the “New York Times” headlined “As Horrors Emerged, Norway Charges Christian extremist”. A number of other news organizations like the “LA Times” and Reuters also played up the Christian angle. But Breivik is not a Christian. That’s impossible. No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. The man might have called himself a Christian on the net, but he is certainly not of that faith.

    O’Reilly Shreds Media for Calling Norway Terrorist ‘Christian’

    • In reply to #12 by Katy Cordeth:
      >

      As Bill O’Reilly says here, talking about Anders Behring Breivik’s killing spree in Norway, which O’Reilly helpfully informs us is a Scandinavian country:

      …Now, on Sunday, the “New York Times” headlined “As Horrors Emerged, Norway Charges Christian extremist”. A number of other news organizations like the “LA Times” and Reuters also played up the Christian angle. But Breivik is not a Christian. That’s impossible. No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. The man might have called himself a Christian on the net, but he is certainly not of that faith.

      If O’Reilley studied history instead of making it up, he might have spotted that Breivik is a right-wing nutty Christian – just like O’Reilley – and a Christian fascist – just like Hitler, Mussolini and Franco!

      I wonder why O’Reilley is sooooo keen to disown him???? I suppose to the trrrrooo believer, fantasy and denial are the tools of the trade!

  11. Wordy to the point of losing his audience…

    “According to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project, there are presently around 41,000 different Christian denominations worldwide.”

    With maybe 40,750 of them in the USA, because if you own your church you get to keep the tax-free proceeds.

  12. The top christian value = the ability to believe and act on the basis of a false duty to a non existent being and actually think you are any different to most decent humans on the planet….
    The shared values of human beings – know no religion….most people want similar things in life….

  13. this is basically a long-winded discussion of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. Granted, I can see how it got that way.

    Yes, an absolute statement is disproved by one counterexample and some people try to stick to the absolute statement anyway.

    Then you face the challenge of making accurate non-absolute statements. Whether one’s a Christian is less obvious than whether one’s a Scotsman, so it may be possible to say “no true Christian” without being fallacious. However, that can be difficult, especially for religious skeptics that are outsiders to theological debates (although it’s quite possible for us to understand the material without believing it, we may be less interested in the minutiae)

  14. The only thing that all of the members of the viral multitude of ‘Christian’ groups have in common is that they are wrong.

    And that is the definition of any Christian, whether they be ‘true’ or not.

  15. Many have said that faith is a personal thing, and there are more sects/sub-groups than you can count. So if a person defines themself as christian, no-one else has any say in the matter, really. It’s a very vague, all-encompassing label.

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