One very fascinating phenomenon I have noticed is that many American Christians* seem to think that their own brand of Christianity is either the only one or the only correct one. It seems to be only a very small minority of believers who approach the matter of religious belief with an attitude of openness toward others’ beliefs. Here are the three trends I’ve identified so far, in order of least to most frequent (YMMV):
- “Yes, someone who believes something else is still a Christian, and their religion is still valid for them, but I disagree with their position on X. Instead, I believe Y.“
- “No, people who believe X are misinterpreting the Bible. Their beliefs are wrong. A true Christian knows that Y is true, not X.“
- “Christians believe exactly what I believe.”
This third group is especially perplexing because it seems the least defensible position. I usually encounter this in the following way:
Me: “What do you mean when you say that?”
Me: “That’s interesting. I’ve known other Christians who believe Y.”
Them: “Oh no, Christians believe X.“
Now I’m not just making stuff up when I tell them that other Christians believe Y. When I say something like this, it’s only ever because I have heard people claim Y to be their interpretation. A response similar to 1 or 2 I could understand (not necessarily accept, as I’ll explain shortly), but this? It smacks of pure ignorance. This is the naïve assumption that “I am the average Christian. Most Christians believe exactly what I believe.”
Have these people never even heard of other denominations? Are we saved through works or through faith? Is confession necessary? What books comprise the Bible? Is the Bible inerrant? What is the nature of God (e.g., trinitarian, unitarian)? What is Jesus Christ’s relationship with God? What is the Holy Spirit? What are angels/demons/nephilim/Elohim? What’s the deal with Mary? Is there original sin, and if so, what does it mean? What is the nature of free will? Can salvation be “lost?” What are the “end times?” What the hell is hell?
Each of the above questions is answered differently by different denominations, and this is only a sampling of the dramatic differences between sects. No matter what your answer to any one of those questions is, there is another significantly populated church that expressly disagrees with you!
Someone who answers my questions about the differences between denominations with example 1 is fine in my book. I usually genuinely like these people. Aside from their implicit enabling of the more fundamentalist types by creating the atmosphere in which batshit thrives, I have no problems with these people (okay, that’s a pretty big aside—still, I’m ready and willing to overlook this obstacle in favor of appreciating the larger person—a character trait that many denominations expressly state their god lacks).
Someone who answers my questions with example 3 are clearly ignorant about the world. I don’t really know how to handle being in a position to teach people about their own religion. As an atheist, this strikes me as deeply ironic.
Finally, someone who answers my questions with example 2 is clearly an ignorant asshole who needs to read up on the No True Scotsman fallacy. “Christian” is an umbrella term that denotes a wide range of denominations. The only unchanging central tenet to Christianity is a belief in Jesus Christ—all the rest is denominational. All of it. Every other detail. You don’t get to rename your own denomination to “Christian” and then unilaterally declare all adherents to other denominations “non-Christian” for not belonging to your own personal church. Nope. Sorry. You can’t do that, your priest can’t do that, and the fucking Pope himself can’t do that. Fundamentalist douchebags keep trying this, and it really pisses me off.
And I’m not even a Christian. I’d be doubly pissed if I were.
* Yes, I'm aware there are fundamentalist asshats in other countries, but I've encountered far fewer of those.