History is Written by the Victors


I have a confession to make:  I’ve been reading a book.  Yes, it’s true.

Right around Palm Sunday, I read/heard some interviews with Bart Ehrman, a religious scholar out of the University of North Carolina.  He was talking about his most recent book, “Did Jesus Exist?”  Hearing the interview reminded me that I actually own another book by Ehrman, “Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew.”  I picked it up a few years ago after seeing the interview above (on another book…”Misquoting Jesus“) on The Daily Show.  I actually tried reading it back in 2006, but one thing led to another and I stopped.  What can I say…

Regardless, I picked it back up again and am about halfway through.  Part of what intrigued me about Ehrman’s books, in general, is that they are not only discussing the content of the Bible and other historical documents, but also the context in which they came into existence, how and when they were discovered, and how accurate their translations were.  I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of the idea that the Bible should be taken literally, and books like these make it clear that there was quite a bit of politics involved in which books made it in and which ones didn’t.

This book, specifically, is talking about different, early forms of Christianity that were “snuffed out” by what he terms the “proto-orthodox” church.  That is to say, the earliest version of what we have today.  He points to the Gnostics, the Ebionites and the Marcionites (thus far) as examples of competing views on how Christianity should be viewed.  The nature of Christ, Himself.  How much the Old Testament (and Judaism) should figure in to what eventually becomes “Christianity.”

Reading through it, two things come to mind:

1). The Early Christians didn’t know everything, either.  Barnabus, for example, traveled with Paul and shows up in Acts and a few Epistles.  He wrote a document, “Epistle to the Hebrews,” that suggests that Jewish Law (e.g. Leviticus, the Ten Commandments, etc.) was not meant to be taken literally and that things like “don’t eat pork” really meant “don’t eat like a pig.”  This guy knew and traveled with Paul and even he disputed the meaning of ancient texts…and he was around at the time of the writing of many of our “ancient texts.”  And these discussions between Paul and Barnabus (and others) were going on while they were writing what got into our Bible.

2). It’s easy to look at “Christianity” as a mish-mash of different belief systems today when you look at Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists, and so on and so forth.  Each one has their own “quirks,” traditions, hierarchies, et cetera.  And there are definitely individuals within each group that thinks that they have it “right” and that they are “saved” and the others are not.  Strangely enough, it seems like this is the way it has been since the beginning.  The only difference is that one group (the one inspired by the writings of Paul) won out 2000 years ago and effectively stamped out the others.

Crazy to think about what that would mean if the same thing happened today, eh?

Regardless, it’s a pretty fascinating book, and brings up many interesting ideas that help out in my various discussions.  We’ve been reading through the Gospels in our small group, so the things this book presents really gives me a different perspective than what the others in the group are bringing to the table.  At the very least, it certainly highlights the fact that the Bible is an important document to many, but as with anything historically-based, it’s shaped by those who came out on top.

Don’t Hate The Band, Hate The Fans

I don't think these guys get it...

I’ve heard this argument before: “I don’t hate Dave Matthews Band, but their fans are so annoying!”  As in, the music isn’t beyond the realm of their enjoyment, but the people they have to enjoy it with are so terrible that it detracts from the intended experience.  The same could be said for a variety of other acts, I’m sure.

Except in the case of Coldplay.  Both their fans, and the band, are terrible.  But this should go without saying.

Increasingly, I find myself seeing a connection between this feeling toward music and toward religion, especially in the case of Christianity.  All too often in today’s culture, I feel ashamed by what seems to be the impression that Christianity sometimes portrays to the world at large.  Folks like those above, admittedly from the fringe group, the Westboro Baptist Church.  Do all Christians feel this way?  Absolutely not.  Yet any time they get attention, there are folks out there that think this is what Christianity is all about.  Much of the same can be said of Islam, where a few bad apples end up making the rest of the world fear a largely peaceful and just faith tradition.

There are examples like this guy, too:

...neither does he...

Again, I’m sure he’s in the minority, but when pictures and videos of this nature hit the internet or television, the message being spread isn’t “Love” and “Acceptance:” it’s “Retribution” and “Intolerance.”

I think I’m most sensitive to this issue when it comes to homosexuality and the Church.  I know a few folks who are gay, and they’re really good people.  Personally, I’d love for them to be able to go to church.  And I know some of them would like to.  But, their impression, based on images like those above, and from conversations they’ve had with other Christians, means they’ll probably never go.  These are people that want to learn more and want to get the same experiences that I’ve had throughout my life, but feel like they can’t, because they’ll either be turned away, or at least told that their lifestyle is going to send them to Hell.

Since when are the Christians the ones doing the persecuting, eh?

I’m tired of these folks above representing me.  Of having some bearing on how my faith and traditions are perceived by the world at large.  These people do not represent the whole of Christianity.  Nor does the feeling that homosexuals are evil.  Nor does the feeling that women who have an abortion are going directly to Hell.  These feelings are indicative of unacceptance, of intolerance, and of hate.  In my opinion, they are inherently unchristian beliefs.

To those people that want to quote Old Testament scripture or the Letters of Paul (neither of which are words of Jesus, for the record…), I give you this:

12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.     — Matthew 7:12; NIV

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  — Matthew 22: 36-40; NIV 

That is the Christian message, as I see it, straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ.  Treat others as you want to be treated.  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  These are the important aspects of Christianity, and if you follow these tenets, then you are not only a good Christian, but you’re also a good human being.  Unsurprisingly, the Golden Rule transcends Christianity and applies to other world religions, as well.  It’s just one of those things you should do.  Christians included!

These feelings always get stirred up around election season, when I see self-righteous “family candidates” like Rick Santorum up on a stage, talking about “family values” while denouncing pro-choice women and homosexuality, among other things, all the while representing Christianity on the world scene.  I’m appalled by the things this guy says, in the name of Jesus Christ and in the name of the Christian faith, as a whole.  I just hope that people around the world don’t think he, and others like him, are representative of all Christianity.

They’re not.

To anyone reading this that has been wronged by people in the name of Christianity, then I sincerely apologize.  I just hope anyone that knows me, or Brooke, knows that we’re Christians and we don’t feel the same way as those that seem to represent us.

And we aren’t alone.