Myths about Christianity
There seems to be a great deal of misinformation about Christianity going on around here, so I thought I'd address a few of the more prevalent myths that seem to abound:
- Sinners/unbelievers will experience unending torment in hell.
First of all, we have to define what is meant by 'sinners' or 'unbelievers'. There are different schools of thought. However, original Christianity's thought on this matter is that we are all fallible beings who, to some extent or another, have been unfaithful to God and have, unwittingly or no, cut off connection to him. There is a sense in which this is accidental, and this is relegated more to the level of consciousness. For instance, it is perfectly understandable that many do not believe in God according to Christianity, but there is another sense at a deeper subconscious level in which this there is intentional conflict. This should clear up some of the confusion that might occur from reading Romans 1.
There is a further definition of sin here which involves social conflict. Those who coldly reject, hate or do damage on any level to others are violating God's universal law. When determining a person's punishment, this is the criteria used - the state of their heart. Ultimately a person is sentenced to experience what we would call the psychological state of their being. In other words, hell is an outward manifestation of what's going on within and therefore just recompense for any actions suffered towards others. Jesus said that with the measure you use, it will be measured unto you. The coldness, fierce heat or various conditions of hell are dependent upon your internal state of being.
However, there is the message of grace which says that God extends love and reconciliation to everyone and their reception of it is based on their willingness (and ability) to recieve it. There then seems to be conflict when you bring in the idea that God wants to punish and torment people who do not believe in Him before the appropriate time. However, this idea is false.
For, if their reception of grace is dependent upon grace as well (as Ephesians 2:8-9 clearly says) then the eternal damnation and torment of those who did not recieve God's love as a result of grace would have to be merely a matter of harsh, cold circumstance. It would either imply that God was not truly love (if he were all-powerful), or that he were not all-powerful, or that those who accepted were not only predestined to but are a special class of beings (as some have claimed).
But none of these are correct, by virtue of the fact that the bible doesn't speak of unending torment for those who do not believe. In fact, Romans 9 states that all will eventually be saved and experience reconciliation with God and his love. It clearly states that the same force by which everyone experienced sin, separation from God and death, they will experience reconciliation with God and life. Paul even goes so far as to call Jesus the second Adam, implying that the Jewish thought of dischord and death being inherited by the actions of the first man also implied to the firstborn among many brethren. (The word eternity is given for the Greek word 'aion' which means an 'eon' or a specific age with unique characteristics.)
However, alot must happen before then, according to Christian theology. Humankind must be separated into two camps for the purpose of distinguishing between love and hate, life and death, God's nature and corruption. Without this the importance of knowing God and the integrity of love and good could not be established and therefore acknowledged as they should be in order for love and peace to reign.
Lastly, Christianity admits that there are many good people outside of the faith. Even though direct experience with God inevitably changes a person's personality, character and traits, Christianity has always recognized that there are various ways to encounter God and that people can go on being good without having an understanding of God. There are a few examples to illustrate this. Abraham found God in the midst of a pagan nation; Jesus said that he had sheep that were not of the Jewish fold; Paul said in the second chapter of Romans that there are those who do right who do not have the external law but have the law written on their hearts; he also attributed the Athenians' altar to an unknown god to the One True God which he claimed to serve.
The conclusion is that Christianity is much more open-ended than either many of the fundamentalists or its critics are aware of or perhaps would like to admit. It does not exclude others or threaten them with the ultimate form of punishment. The kind of Christianity which would do this is a faux faith intended to press fear and control upon the masses for motivations of power or greed which feed the institution.
- Faith in God is not hinged upon logic but upon a blind irrational leap of emotion
This is a rather recent thought (recent as in last couple of centuries or so). The original Christians did not believe this by a long-shot. They realized how important it was to have as much proof as possible. In their world, the evidence of several witnesses (in fact all that was needed was two or three men) was enough. As such, they had more than enough proof. Whether or not that would constitute enough proof for some people in our day is not the point. The point is that they did not believe that their faith hinged upon a blind leap of faith. Their claims were based upon the fact that they had seen a literal, physical, resurrected body and he had interacted with them. They did not have the disconnected sense of faith which seems to be so popular among postmodern and pop culture faith of our day.
Furthermore, Christianity is a faith that is able to be experimented with, if done right. In the original churches there were no pulpits, pews, passive audiences, structured liturgy or church buildings. Everything was very basic and centered around what was percieved as God's presence. This presence was percieved as being able to instruct the members how to conduct the meetings without a visible leader. According to the records, they were able to successfully prophesy to each other and function as a single unit. If you go to a church such as this today you can see this process at work. You will find people functioning together as if with one mind, giving prophecies to each other and successfully solving problems together. And it can all be conducted like an experiment. One can set out to attempt to establish God's existence by the activities that go on there and draw conclusions as a result.
As far as faith in the more subtle elements of God's nature and so forth, and the possibility of existence, there is another field of investigation which may overlap the other. This is located in the realm of philosophy, and may be applied where empirical investigations prove impossible. By using the Socratic method one can come to conclusions about the possibility of God's existence and whether he is logically feasible and possibly provide proof one way or another.
There are elements of emotion and so forth, but these are to be given only as complementary to the establishing reason of faith. Faith does not have to be blind or irrational. If God truly wants to be loved and known then he can and will reveal himself to those he wants to be recognized and loved by.
- God is a spirit and spirit is immaterial
I'm not sure how prevalent this concept of Christianity is here but it is fairly widespread so I thought I'd address it. The idea that spirit is immaterial and the world was created from nothing goes back to a man named Basilides, who was a gnostic. Gnosticism has historically been at odds with Christianity, so its incorporation into it is nothing short of ironic. The gnostics believed that the physical world is unreal and basically equates to nothing, while the supernatural world is the real world. However they also (at least some of them) believed that the snake in the garden of Eden served the true God who was above the evil creator god. This sounds nothing like Christianity.
True Christianity does not make a dichotomy between physical/spiritual. To be sure there are degrees of distinction but they are not fundamentally divided. The spirit was known by the Hebrews to be the breath of wind in the lungs. This is a metaphor, of course, but does illustrate the concept quite well. It was to them the literal life in the body experienced by humans. To say that the earliest Christians, thoroughly Jewish, suddenly simply abandoned this idea and decided that the spirit is immaterial is ludicrous, especially when considering the nature of their experiences. They continually had very literal experiences with God as a spirit able to be actually encountered as an energetic presence.
We know in science that there are all kinds of forces in the universe, many of them undetectable to the human eye. It is not beyond reason to say that there is a force which can be called a spirit which is yet invisible to us. The range of the detection of our senses is very small compared to the scale of light and sound, etc, there is to experience, therefore spirits do not have to be immaterial in order to not be immediately detectable.
- God is a man/person located somewhere in the wild blue yonder or out in space
This is a childish version of God. Almost every serious Christian or person of faith has described God as a metaphysical being of some type. A God whose existence is love, or who is outside of space and time altogether, etc. It is almost too easy to set this strawman up as the stock theistic belief and then tear it down just as effortlessly. But to do this is not only unfair but dishonest. If you really investigate matters of faith you will find that this is not what the majority of believers think at all. And even if they do they will object to your assertion that God is merely a person like us or some man floating in the clouds overhead.
The flying spaghetti monster has been cooked up as an attempt to satirize the Christian God by some, but this also fails by the same reasoning. It may be because some cannot comprehend how a personality could exist apart from a human body, but the Christian belief is that the body is merely a vessel for a personality, and not its projector, so to speak. One may object to this on the grounds that the brain contains all the necessary functioning for thought and emotion, but again the reply could be given that the brain is merely an interface for these attributes and that they have a much more basic substance than that.
As for God's location, it would be both ludicrous and meaningless to faith to say that He is somewhere out in space. It would be just about the same to give the same location for heaven. However, something like 94% of the universe is unknown to us and quantum physics allows for multiple dimensions and universes. In other words, there is the possibility of alternate states of being and so forth, leaving the question of the state of existence open-ended. There could possibly be a higher state of being called heaven, or a God who exists outside of space and time. The real answer is that we don't really know what's going on for sure.
The Big Bang theory, when first proposed, was opposed by scientists of various ilk who did not want to believe that a Creator God existed and that the universe we live in is finite. It was actually put forth as evidence for God. This further allows for a God outside of space and time who sparked the universe into being outside of himself rather than a human-like person who made the cosmos come to being all around him. In that case, all the energy and matter of the universe would originally have come from him, giving further room for spirit and matter being seen in unity with each other.
The bible speaks of God as a being whom is both outside of the universe and yet present in everything at the same time (Acts 17:24-28, Colossians 1:15-19). The big bang explains this very well - if the substance of the universe is derived from the great mass of energy which makes up God, then it could be said to still somehow be a part of him, and could be said that he still exists all throughout it as energy (allowing for it to still be connected to him, of course).
More myths may be refuted later with time, however this seems to be enough for now. Hopefully some major misconceptions can be broken apart with this post.
Feel free to post your thoughts.