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HONOLULU (RNS) When people ask "Are you a Christian?", is that all they mean, or is there more to it?


  1. Earold D. Gunter

    Although I feel that religion is a bad thing, I only do so because of the effect it has on humanity. I don’t feel it is mentally healthy for someone to believe in something that has no basis in reality. However if they do, and keep that belief to themselves and take no actions to force either the belief, or the tenets of the belief upon others, then it just harms them.

    Unfortunately this is usually not the case with religious people. The tenets of most religions is that it is a good thing, usually mandatory, to try and convert others to believe as you do, since they believe it is what the creator of all wants.

    They usually try to force others through various actions that range from non-violent acts like putting religious icons in public locations in America, to the subtly violent, like teaching uneducated third world peoples that condom use is bad, even though the country is being ravaged by disease spread through sexual contact, to outright obviously violent, like beheading non-believers of their faith, as is being done in Iraq.

    All religious do so with the intent of having everyone believe and behave in a manner that is according to their belief, because they have the arrogance to believe that their religion is the “true” religion, and the supreme ruler of all wants them to do so.

    So Kevin, when they ask you these questions, they are really trying to asses if they should fear you or not, and if so to what degree.

    • AMEN to Mr. Gunter. In my experience, religion does nothing but divide human beings, encourages arrogance and entitlement and judgment of anyone different. Not only Muslim extremism threatens the world, but Christian extremism.

  2. The problem with the question is the intentionally misleading efforts of Christian Fundamentalists to equate their views with all of Christendom. When fundamentalists say “Christian” they mean their form of the religion, not the entire faith in general. But they attempt to take credit for the entire faith when it is an issue of numbers or to pretend their views have a wider acceptance than reality permits.

    Usually as a matter of course I try to distinguish between “Christian” (meaning fundamentalists) and “christian” (meaning anyone who believes in the teachings of Jesus)

    • Chaplain Martin

      Good comment. To bad that Journalist seem to go with quotes from fundamentalist just because they are the most controversial.

    • Fundamentalists refer to themselves as the “real” Christians because they believe that Catholics and those who believe certain things about the Eucharist to have gotten Christ’s teachings wrong. They are not being deceptive. They believe that they alone are the real Christians and others calling themselves Christians fall into idolatry or other grave errors.

  3. This is such a helpful and interesting article!
    I like the suggestion of responding with “what your faith is and where you worship” because anyone with Internet access could at least Google that information later and get a more thorough understanding about what you believe. Of course, there is always the possibility for continued misunderstanding when your personal theology does not quite align with the more specific tenets of the church you attend. For instance, I go to a PC(USA) church and am fairly comfortable with being labeled a “Presbyterian Christian”, but a more accurate description of my theology would be a “Liberal Christian”.

  4. Unfortunately, this question “What kind of religious believer are you?” will be necessary so long as folks like Earold are beaten up by bad 5th grade theology, spewed by under-educated religious leaders, until they actually believe that this is what religious adherents actually believe. I understand Earold’s misunderstanding. There are lots of loud ignorant religious leaders who gladly contribute to his misunderstanding. But that’s what it is: A misunderstanding.

    For instance, if one gauged what “average American life” is like by looking at daytime talk shows and newscasts, you would come up with a horribly skewed view that in no way reflects the average daily experience of 95% of Americans. Why? Because such media sources choose the loudest, most outrageous examples of American life in order to sell ad time. Religious news often functions the same way, although RNS does a particularly good job of NOT falling into this stereotype. But if you listen to religious news coverage on most outlets, and you add to it the jaded eye of someone like Earold who obviously has been hurt by ignorant religion, it would be easy to make statements that all religion is toxic, and all religious adherents want to either convert people or oppress the unconverted.

    Truth is that most religious believers aren’t like that. And a great many religious leaders claim their metaphysical religious beliefs as the foundation for advocating a radically pluralist, egalitarian, democratic society. For instance, Earold demands that religious adherents “keep [their] belief to themselves and take no actions to force either the belief, or the tenets of the belief upon others”. But where would our Democratic society be if religiously motivated 19th century abolitionists or suffragettes did this? Or Gandhi, or MLK, or Malcolm X, or even Stephen Colbert? Or religiously motivated modern advocates of LGBTQ rights, or the dignity of immigrants?

    The fact is that there is a way of being religious that see pluralism and equality under the law as the direct result of being made in God’s image, inherent in dignity, worthy of protection and freedom of conscience and freedom from coercion. Such moral assumptions derive from metaphysical beliefs about the nature of Reality. They cannot be gained by mere empirical observation and description of “the way things are” in the natural world. Such moral assumptions must be embraced– by well reasoned faith– as prescriptions about “the way things should be”.

    So, when we say that society should be democratic, people should be equal under the law, no one should be coerced against their conscience, we are all making non-empirical metaphysical moral statements. In this we are all in the same boat: Religious or Secular or Secularly Religious. We are all hoping for something better for society as embraced by well reasoned faith. And ALL of us who hold such pluralist, egalitarian moral assumptions need to band together, no matter where we got our moral assumptions from, no matter if we hold them on religious or secular grounds. Because there are loud and proud folks across the world who want to turn society back 500 years, and if those of us who hold democratic faith don’t stand up, they could well be successful.

    So religion or lack thereof is not the determinative factor in making the world a better place. The determinative factor is how one conceives of coercive political power in relation to the personal liberty of one’s conscience. Should power be used to coerce everyone to be “like me” or else? Or should power be used to protect persons from being coerced and oppressed into things they do not agree with? Both religious AND secular ways of organizing public life can be used to validate either totalitarianism or pluralism. I think Earold’s (and Hitchens’ and Dawkins’ and Pat Robertson’s and Bill O’Reilly’s) binary assumption of “Religious vs. Secular” blinds us to the complexity of the issues. The line cannot be drawn between Religious and Secular people, but is drawn right through the middle of us all.

  5. In the US, especially the South, Christian often does not include Catholics. But most people in the world would not get that distinction. They might get “I’m a Christian who recognizes the Pope as our leader,” and “I’m a Christian but we do not recognize the pope as our leader.” Most people know who the pope is, and many non-Christians think he is the Christian leader. I have met people from India who had only the vaguest idea of “this Jesus person,” but they knew something about the pope as a Christian leader. The pope is in the news more often than Jesus.