Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why I no longer call myself a "Christian"

I no longer call myself a "Christian" after using it for a good 10 years or more. You are probably thinking that I've instead traded it for another phrase like "Christ-follower" to denote that I really follow Jesus and need to disassociate myself with the hypocrites...but no it's not that. It's just a term that I kept using until I finally became confused as to why I still used it.

My main justification for using it up until now was that since the birth of Christianity, there have existed multiple versions of the faith with both small and large differences in belief. Other than perhaps the Apostle's Creed, there has been very little unity regarding Christian beliefs (and even in the creeds, there's so much that can and is debated as far as interpretation goes). So, while I acknowledged that there were often common-held beliefs between Christians, it just seemed silly to me that any one group could truly lay claim to the Christian name. Like music, Christianity was not just a single artist but an ever expanding genre. If all these other groups could call themselves Christians, I didn't see why I couldn't.

However, for the past year or so there hasn't been much in my beliefs that I can say is very similar to other Christians. I still believe in God (though I find it hard to describe him or it), I believe Jesus was a very wise and special teacher and I believe the Bible can be useful from a practical wisdom standpoint -- that pretty much sums up the similarities. I guess I could continue to call myself a Christian even with those few beliefs, but what really would be the point? The only real benefits I see in using the name is to keep my family content and to help me feel like I'm still connected to the culture where I first experienced the Divine. The downside is that it no longer fully describes where I am on my spiritual journey and therefore doesn't feel right to me. I'd rather take flack for what I believe than be dishonest with myself or others. I was that way when I was a devout conservative Christian and I still am now.

That isn't to say I've totally abandoned Christianity. I certainly see the Christian faith as a potential vessel for experiencing God but it is not the only or even primary vessel. God can be known and experienced through many different faiths and ideas -- I can't see God as limited to just one. That's not to say that all people who consider themselves Christians see God as completely exclusive to Christianity but it tends to be the main realm of thought used to define spiritual things. I don't think any human-designed system of belief can solely or mostly define God and on the off-chance that it can I wouldn't know what system to select anyways.

If anything, the only thing I've really abandoned is labels. Labels can sometimes help give a snapshot view of what a person believes without getting into specific details. Labels can also just drum up a individuals preconceived notions about said label and cause them to make all sorts of totally inaccurate assertions -- which happens more often than not when I use the Christian title. I've learned not to care much if people write me off or just think I'm strange for what I believe but I'd rather spend a minute or two clarifying what I believe than continue to blurt out some word that means a billion different things to a billion different people.

So, rather than try to make certain individuals happy, or feel connected to a familiar culture or explain all the reasons I'm different from most Christians, I'm just going to avoid using the label for the most part. From now on if anyone asks me what it is that I am, I may just respond, "a fellow human being" -- anything beyond that is just complicated.