I’ve wrestled a great deal over whether or not the label “Christian” is worth keeping. I haven’t identified closely with that term in two years, since before I left Philadelphia. As a label, I have always thought of it as intrinsically divisive; to be a Christian is to follow Christ, and to follow Christ is one, particular, biblically-identifiable pattern among many possible ones. Whether someone is a Christian is able to be judged by whether or not they are living in a Christ-like fashion, as dictated by the stories in the gospels. When I was particularly conservative, anyone who had not accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior was not a Christian. As I became much more liberal in Philly, I thought that unless you cared for the poor and the indigent, and fought against the oppressions of classism, racism, and sexism, you were not a true Christian. I think I probably thought that unless you tried to keep your focus on God as much as you consciously could, as I did during my time practicing God’s presence, you probably weren’t much of a Christian either. If you can’t tell, I’m a very judgmental person.
In the interpretation of Christ that follows, you will not find a Jesus like whom you should be; you will find a Jesus who came to remind us that we bear the sacred, creative image of God. “Christian” at this point begins to blur into “human.” The difference could be that the former actively realizes and cultivates their creative power, while the latter doesn’t realize it, has forgotten, or fears it. Within this judgment of difference would be yet another recourse to the idea that there is a right way to live your life and a wrong way to live it. And I’ll be honest: I think that. What I don’t think, however, is that that’s God’s perspective, or that God somehow set down in stone the right way to live. I think you’re valuable, I think that you are and should be free to create the vision of your life that will make you happiest. I’ve used the bible so far to articulate that, but I do not think that I have somehow gotten its one true meaning, ordained by God. So perhaps “right” and “wrong” aren’t quite accurate here. A better way to put it is, there is a self-affirming interpretive lens through which we can interact with the bible, and define divine and human nature. And there are others. Which one we choose is simply up to us, and what we want.
We can interpret “God” or “Jesus” or the bible in multiple ways, with multiple meanings, and there is no surefire, objective way to determine their “true” meanings. This doesn’t mean that those of us with different viewpoints on shared phenomena (the bible, western civilization, music, whatever) have nothing to say to each other – all we can do is offer each other our different viewpoints, try to see it from the others viewpoint, and ultimate decide for ourselves which viewpoint we’ll continue to endorse. Trying to see the viewpoint of another is largely a lost art in American politics and religion in my experience, but there are places where it remains a sought after practice. Perhaps all we can say for the veracity of a given interpretation (following philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre), is that it has survived, that enough people have endorsed it for themselves to keep it afloat as a practice.My preference to retain the word “Christian” comes from my desire to remain a part of that discourse on interpretation. I do not find the distinction between “Christian” and “human” particularly helpful in actual practice, and when asked “are you a Christian?” I can only answer, “well, that depends on what you mean by ‘Christian.’” Still, the word itself remains important to me, because it signifies a group of people committed to some sort of belief system of which I have been a part for as long as I can remember. At the end of the day, that word simply signifies me as a part of an interpretive community of which I want to be a part. For now.