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On Christianity and Christians: Does it Take One to Know One?

One frequent visitor to Irregular Times recently commented to another frequent visitor:

I am telling you that I have more authority on what it means to be a Christian than you do. For as sure as a PhD. Chemist is vastly more qualified to comment on the reactionary properties of chlorine than I, I have more qualifications, as a lifelong Christian, to divulge what a real Christian is than you do, being an atheist. That’s what I’m saying, and I’ll say it again if need be.

Is this true? Does it Take One to Know One? Do you have to be a Christian to know what a Christian is? Do you have to be a Christian to comment knowledgeably on Christians?

Let’s take that question further. Do you have to be a Christian to know a lot about Christianity? Do you have to be a Christian to comment knowledgeably on Christianity?

What are the implications of this statement outside religion? Do you have to be an American to have standing to comment on American politics? Do only the manatees have the bona fides to talk about the experience of endangered manatees?

Tell me what you think. And consider what your answer implies for the state of discourse in our democracy.

18 comments to On Christianity and Christians: Does it Take One to Know One?

  • Tom

    He may be referring to the mysterious “faith” one must have to believe in the ever-popular myth of “God”. It’s all well and good for him and those like him to believe in whatever they want, but to take it to the political arena (an area Jesus stayed away from) and force his beliefs on everyone else. . .well, let’s just say that’s not what the Constitution and our country’s early history was about. If it were about that, we’d all be effing Puritans!

  • Darebrit

    The whole concept of christianity as understood today, was developed by the early followers of the judeo christian sect who came under the influence of the last Roman emperor Constantin. At that time, the basic precepts of christianity were formed. Such things as the Jews Killed Christ. (After all, the leader of the new christian movement could not be a member of the society that actualy crucified him). The concepts of churches and a priesthood were Roman and were specifically not part of Christ’s teaching. In fact, if one studies the history of christianity, it soon becomes apparent that it is an invented religion which supports the status quo of the leadership of the dying Roman empire.

    As to the point that an Atheist cannot have knowledge about christians and the churh, the contrary opinion is, that most Atheists arrive at that point after much research and soul searching into the faith. Unlike Christians who have consistently been murdering non christians since the first crusades, Atheists tend to be peace loving people, who prefer dialectic discussion rather than threats of violence. They are also less likely to have crusades, inquisitions, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who insist that people to believe in mythology and political expediency as fact or suffer violent consequences.

  • What about if you were raised christian but are not any longer? Do you lose your knowledge of what it is to be christian. Can you still tell christian jokes? Or are you now confined to atheist jokes only? Can you dual religion like a dual citizenship. That way you can comment on both sides.

    Seriously though, I think just about any group of people makes comments about other groups. There are plenty of christians out there spewing off things about atheists. If atheists can’t know what it’s like to be christian, than christians can’t know what it’s like to be atheist. So I guess christians will have to shut up about atheists. Yeah right.

    There’s no reason why someone can’t study a group of people without being one of the group. Although being in the group gives you a hands on experience, it also can blind you from things that an outsider would see. So what all this rambling comes down to is that both insiders and outsiders can and should comment on a group.

  • Ralph

    Bad analogy. A Chemistry Ph.D. is not a chlorine atom. Yet she understands chlorine atoms–presumably better than chlorine atoms understand themselves.

  • Stryder

    You can be a Christian from the day you were born and still know next to nothing about what you believe.So many believe things because they were told them by an authority figure that are patently untrue. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Bad translation in the King James edition of the Bible but since King James was afraid of Witches it was let stand, though some have postulated that King James ordered the mistranslation. Today, many Christians think that is the word of God. By their own analogy an anthopology doctor should not be able to write about the Australion Aboriginies unless he was one. I understand that the person who wrote that meant that he, as a Life long Christian knew more than someone whose only exposure to Christianity was a Chick tract but where oh where will you find someone like that in this world today? Certainly that person won’t be using a computer.

  • Sarge

    I was never an xian, but my parents dragged me to chuch and sunday school and all the trimmin’s. Almost every damn night until I could escape it was Sunday with sunday school, church, training union, evening church. Monday was Royal Ambassadors, Tuesday was some bible study thing, Wed. was prayer meeting, Thurs. something else, usually. Oh, yes, and at home it was morning “devotions” and some rambling prayer at every meal, plus sometimes an evening “devotional” if we didn’t have to physically be in church. Yech. But now I often perform in churches, and I read their literature. If you want to know what a group thinks, listen to what they say when their shoes are off, so to speak, when they talk among themselves.

  • Sarge

    Addendum: All this “grace” didn’t stop the mean people from being mean, didn’t keep my father from the bottle, or calm my mother from her perpetual anger. Never saw it do a thing except make big pains in the ass a shade more painful.

  • Mike

    I think that I was fortunate in that, in my sophomore year of high school, I took a class called “Art of Thinking”, a basic philosophy (one of a very few in high schools in those days), The teacher, Mr. Rubin took pains to draw out an individual’s “beliefs”, then interrogated him/her on the specifics of said belief system: “Oh, you’re a Christian, eh? Tell me of the writings and teachings of St Thomas Aquinas. What was the purpose of the Inquisition? How many angels dance on the head of a pin? You don’t know? Then how can you blindly claim affiliation with a philosophy that you obviously know little, if anything, about? Sit down and shut up.” Whereupon we learned about the flip side of the coin. I thoroughly enjoyed his class, even though it did seem that his homework assignments were a bit heavy. I still have fun using the tactics taught to me on those who really don’t have a clue…although it does seeem like having a battle of wits with a completely unarmed person at times. Most of ‘em (preachers included) don’t seem to know their ass from a hole in the ground regarding the “faith” that they profess. I’ve been told on many occasions that I will “burn in Hell”…At least I’ll be in interesting company…It’d beat being bored shitless for eternity.

  • HareTrinity

    Billy Buerger,

    Good point… I didn’t think to bring it up that I WAS a Christian briefly (when I was little, and my mother, who still is Christian, used to go to church each Sunday). I guess I’ve lost knowledge on Christians since I learnt more about them?

    He was claiming that you couldn’t DEFINE a Christian if you weren’t one, though. An odd statement by any measure.

  • Holga

    I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. — Mohandas Gandhi

  • Sarge

    Smart man, Mohandas. He was asked what he thought of “western civilization”. I think he said he though it would be a good idea. Amen, Brother Gandhi!

  • Kevin

    I never said that if you aren’t a Christian you can’t comment on Christianity. What I DID say is the opinion of someone who has been a Christian all their life carries more weight than someone who has never practiced the faith.

    Book learing (and I’m assuming that’s how most Atheists get their information) is no substitute for practical experience. After all, would you let a surgeon with no on-the-job training operate on you?

  • Kevin is assuming that there is anything more than book learning to Christianity – that there is an independent existence of God and Jesus. But, if God and Jesus do not exist, then book learning is all that Christianity really is.

    This is very much like the Ram Bomjon argument (see the column over to the left) in which some people claim that nobody can criticize Ram Bomjon’s claim to have not moved or eaten anything for over seven months without actually entering the Buddhist belief system first. That’s hogwash, and so is the claim that Christians automatically have any more authority than non-Christians in discussing the validity of Christianity.

  • Jim

    Kevin, if you are assuming that most Atheists get their information solely from book learning, you are probably incorrect. Atheists spend every day with Christianity shoved right up against — and sometimes just plain up — their noses. Atheists have a very real, very practical experience with Christianity.

  • Ralph

    Right Jim,

    Non-Christians in America tend to get our information about Christianity from the most vocal of self-identified Christians telling us they’re making funeral arrangements for us, or telling us we’re going to hell, or calling for the assasination of democratically elected presidents in Latin America.

    Kevin says that these people are not Christians, and that we should believe him because he says he’s a Christian. But these people (Robertson, Lusk, etc.) also say they’re Christians, so according to Kevin’s logic we should believe them too…

  • HareTrinity

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian

    I suppose we could make up our own definition, too. So many of the Christian groups don’t consider others proper Christians unless they’re part of their branch of it.

    This’d probably be less of an issue if you’d gone with “they aren’t good Christians” instead, Kevin, which you’d have been mostly agreed with on. We’ve all met good people who are also Christians, and will carry more respect for them just because they’re decent people. The ones who can’t act in a civil way towards their peers (other people), e.g. by giving out death threats, are the ones who’re giving Christianity a bad name these days.

    And there’s a first time for every surgeon.

  • Scott

    I’d like to play the devil’s advocate and try to defend the position of the person who is quoted in the initial article.
    First, some terminology:
    1. Esoterica: a type of knowledge, available only to a few, typically a chosen few, or those initiated into some sort of “inner circle”; esoteric knowledge is also only available by direct (often mystical) experience
    2. Ineffable: a quality of an experience that cannot be communicated. For example, if you are color blind, I cannot convey to you what it is like to experience “yellow” as knowledge of Y exists only in the experience.
    Now, granted I’m reading into the above quote, but I think that what he’s trying to say is that Christians (at least “true believers”) are so because they have had an esoteric experience. Jesus has come into their lives, and affected a change that is ineffable.
    IF that is true, then the author above is correct, anybody who has not had the same experience logically cannot be qualified to speak on Christianity.

    That being said, I have to admit I think the author to be wrong. A simple criteria for identifying Christians is “by their fruits.” Most of the criticisms that I have read on this board have been regarding fruits, and are not usually about the specific beliefs.
    However, again, the author could be right, but for rather sad reasons. In order to be a true believer, one needs to ignore logic and evidence. As non-believers it is very difficult to wrap one’s brain around the kind of mind-set that is willing to reject science and reason. He/She may be right that only a true believer can understand such a way of thinking.

  • Jim

    Scott, thanks for that interesting set of points; I really appreciate them. You’re right when you describe us as more interested in fruits than beliefs. Anyone has the right to believe anything they want to, but when the behavior of an individual acting on a set beliefs impacts another, that behavior is a rightful matter for anyone to question, whether they be Christian or not.

    Again, Scott, thanks.

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