Friday, 29 May 2009

What it is or isn't to call yourself a Christian

For me, the basis of religious truth is individual, so what we call the conscience has to be the arbitor for all of us of what we feel to be true. We might start from any spiritual experiences we have had, refined by our life experience, plus however much attention we may choose to pay to what others show us, either by word or by example.

When we have formulated some kind of position for ourselves, we may or may not choose to give it a label, based on whether it approximates to any pre-existing body of religious belief.

And this is where the generalisations end because, when it comes to me, the labelling problem is further complicated by all those who have gone before me, and chosen to call themselves, for example, Christians.

By instinct, as I said, the conscience feels paramount to me, but there is something of the pedant in me which says that, if you're going to apply a label to your beliefs, then it has to have clear meaning or it's pointless. While it is instinct which draws me to the Quakers because of their openness, their approach to the individual nature of the "light" (spirituality) in everyone, and their "love in action", the pedant in me won't let me get away with calling myself a Christian, just because it would be so simple if I did.

To give Christianity any meaning as a label, I think there are some core things you have to believe. Maybe you can get away without some of the theological "must haves" of the major christian churches - Trinity, Atonement, or even Resurrection, taking them as metaphors. Many would have already disqualified me if I don't find those things to "feel true" to me. But, surely the key thing to Christianity has to be Christ himself. He has to be part of it, and he has to be an expression of God in human form. And that's the final sticking point for me.

As I said at the outset, it starts from any spiritual experiences we may have had. Many experience Christ in various ways, often as a real presence, maybe only once, but enough to convince them that he is their saviour and redeemer.
The spiritual experiences I have so far had are much more general; a sense of God, not as a person, but as an infinite, unconditionally loving entity. A vast sense of peace and that, ultimately, everything will be worked out for the best.
A monumental piece of wishful thinking? Possibly; but we have to go on what we feel to be true, and this isn't something of which I managed to convince myself, it's something that came to me and has stayed with me ever since.

So, if Christ is revealed to me, there will be no argument from me, just as I don't argue with Christians who have had such experiences, which are equally as valid as my own. But there has to be some clarity about this labelling business, if only in deference to all the men and women who have gone to their deaths professing Christ as the true lord ETC. To call myself a Christian in such company would be a massive insult to their memory in my opinion.

Let me know what you think.