Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are You a Christian?

“I believe in one god, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy; and endeavouring (sic) to make our fellow-creatures happy.
But . . . I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church.”

John Payne, American Founding Father

I have always had trouble with the question, “are you a Christian?” In California, if anyone were to ask it of you, they would probably mean “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” or “have you been born again?” These are “Evangelical Christians,” as opposed to members of the Catholic Church or one of the mainline Protestant religions, like Methodists, or Presbyterians, or, my favorites, the Episcopalians. In California, I always answer “yes” to the question, although really I am in complete agreement with the statement of John Payne at the head of this chapter. I answer, “yes” because I am certain that at least in the cultural-historical sense I am indeed a Christian.

Religion is all levels of metaphor, and I simply answer truthfully and let the metaphors fall where they may. “Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” Sure, he is. The historical Jesus is the great teacher with whom I have the greatest cultural affinity. “Do you believe that almighty god created the universe?” Sure, who else? Some mysterious something set in motion the great happenstantial continuum that became life-as-we-know-it. Once you get past all hope of understanding what actually happened, “god” is as good a name as any for the residual mystery.

That’s what god is to me: a mystery, the big mystery, the mystery with no name, the mystery whose plans and schemes are so remote from mere men that in comparison men become like ants attempting mathematics. God is a very personal concept. We all perceive our own universe in our own heads and our own god is in charge. It is shameless pride to think that you understand the ways and means of god. Did god create the universe? Well I suppose so since god is the wall beyond which there is no breaking through, the mystery where all lines of questioning must be abandoned. To argue over how or when god created the universe is not only pretentious and stupid, but also is an affront to god. Leave god’s business to god.

So it really puts me in a quandary when Thais ask me, “are you a Christian?” I’m never sure if it’s a serious god question or whether they’ve just had dubious experiences with prostilatzing Farang. Are they afraid that I’ll start bothering them, you know, you ought to dump that Buddha stuff and find Christ? I usually respond to the question by lowering my head a little and making a serious face, saying something like, “well, I just try to be a good man.” Almost always, the Thai is thrilled with this answer.

Thais have the most wonderful understanding of the essential nature of religion. All religions, all religions worth their salt anyway, have the same goals: to make their adherents better people, to provide a framework for community, to calm people’s fears about the unknown. As Payne put it, love mercy, do justice, make things better.

I'm with Payne on this one. Oh, and on the America thing too.


Anonymous said...

Fucking A I'm a Christian! And a damned devout one too! Today's churches are a far cry from that boring little ol' white church that I attended when I was a kid, thank God! The pastor was obsessed with Jesus and the Bible. Other than the choir and the hymns, that's all I heard about every Sunday: Jesus and the Bible! Jesus the Bible! Thank God that many Christian churches, nowadays, have thrown off the anachronistic yoke and have become "sophisticated". Elaborate Sound Stages, Youth Ministries, Rock Concerts(not to mention lot's of nice clean/white fresh smelling tits and ass),and networking opportunities up the wazoo! I don't know about you, but I would much rather do business with a Christian, that attends church on a regular basis, than some non-Christian or atheist. Have you ever known a devout Christian to be unscrupulous or deceptive in his or her business and personal dealings?


fred c said...

Well, yes. I have, that is, known "devout" Christians to be unsrupulous and deceptive. Lots of disingenuously devout Christian lawyers in L.A., and lets not forget all those phoney Christian politicians.

Anonymous said...

Mr. C Fred: I'm a big fan of Jesus. Always have been! And in my opinion, Jesus was (and is) the coolest dude that ever walked the earth. And there is alot of hard/factual evidence out there, nowadays, that supports my assertion that Jesus is the coolest dude that ever walked the earth. Why are those that attend church, on a regular basis, not "cool" like Jesus? And why is it that many athiests and agnostics conduct their lives in a manner akin to the teachings of Jesus while many of the organized religionist don't? If one has to attend "organized" religious services in order to be reminded of God, then one has no faith in God.


fred c said...

I agree that Mr. Jesus was cool, way cool like Joe D. against the background of about the year thirty of the Augustinian calendar.

You pose a great question about atheists and agnostics, but the labels are so slippery that it's not so surprising.

I may be technically an atheist, but I have a deeper belief in god than most people; and I may be an agnostic from my birth religion, but I retain a deep sense of right and wrong that I admit may have something to do with my early education. (Not necessarily at school or church, maybe from my family or just paying attention.)

Anonymous said...

It's BS that shit about a sense of right & wrong. You have a sense that you'll get punished for being bad. That's what it all boils down to.

fred c said...

I admit to being controlled largely by a fear of being punished, but there's more to it. Another dynamic is that my that my desperate need for approval leads me to a lot of good behavior.

Right and wrong affect us too though. It's right to try to help people and make them feel better about things; it's wrong to take advantage of people and ruin their day. I follow these rules because I want to, no bullshit involved.

Anonymous said...

How refreshing and unique that the author of this blog has the courage and introspective capacity to confront his conscience and perform tune-ups on a periodic basis and, thereby, allow the chips to fall where they may. If every blogger out there in blogger-land follows Mr. Fred's tact, who knows? Maybe something good will come out of this God-awful shitty mess!


Rory Cripps said...

FRED: From the bottom of my heart; I wish you and your family a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year. I've thoroughly (well almost thoroughly, HA!) enjoyed your blog throughout the past few months! I think that I know the type of person that you are as a result of your blog . . . and I can honestly say that I'm thankful for the opportunity of getting to know you via your blog. I've been blessed in that I've had many true friends throughout my life: Real friends that stuck by me and never lost faith in me through the thick and the thin and the bad and the good and all the times in between. And I did the same for them and I will continue to do the same for them . . . and that is a solemn and never-to-be-broken promise on my part. Indeed, it is a matter of honor. The older that I get, the more I realize that true friends are hard to come by and that "true friends" should always and forever be cherished. Virtually all of my "true friends" grew up in the town that you and I grew up in. Perhaps our lives could have turned out better. . . however, our lives could have turned out much worse. In retrospect, I'm thankful for the cards that were dealt to me.