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Define "Christian"

One thing I can't stand, and my man C.S. Lewis can back me up on the misuse of the word "Christian."
"People ask: "Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?": or "May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?" Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.
The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone "a gentleman" you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not "a gentleman" you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said - so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully - "Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?" They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man "a gentleman" in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is "a gentleman" becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A 'nice' meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose. 
Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served."
Now in this day and age, the term seems to be misused in every sense of the world (just as I am sure some of my Hebrew brothers and sisters can attest to the misuse of the terms "kosher" and "orthodox"). This term is now  used to describe people who wear certain clothes, have certain political views, are affiliated with a particular political party, etc. As a result, I have found that most people have forgotten (or never learned) the true meaning of "Christian" over time. Christian means more than having a cross tattooed on your wrist. It means more than wearing a cross or rosary around your neck. It means more than going to church every Sunday. It means more than handing out pamphlets outside of subway stations. "Christian" is not a hierarchy...and certainly not an excuse to deem yourself any better than your Muslim neighbor, your Jewish relatives, your Hindu classmates, etc. Being a "Christian" isn't an automatic ticket to heaven. "Christian" isn't an excuse you use when you want to bring someone else down in order to flatter yourself.

Yet, people use Christian as an excuse to kill or bring others down all the time. People use "Christian"  to say it's okay to burn a Koran and forget the fact that they worship the same God as the people they're trying to offend. They also forget that their actions will certainly set off a chain of events that leads to the senseless murder of people on another side of the world. Every time someone uses the term "Christian" as an excuse to burn a Koran in the US, it is our Coptic Christian brothers and sisters are threatened or killed....and many others. And then they wonder why people like me condemn their actions.

I know what you're thinking....
"Well, Barbara....if you're so smart, you tell us what "Christian" means?

I don't know 100% because I am not exactly a biblical scholar or Doctor of the Church. I think in this case, I know what "Christian" isn't more than I know what "Christian" is.

My truest, simplest definition of "Christian:"
Christian- (noun) a follower of Christ and his teachings

So let's assume that this is the correct definition. Does simply calling yourself a "Christian" make you a Christian if you pick and choose how to follow Christ? Nope. Don't believe me? Check out these passages.

Matthew 7:21-23 
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Luke 6:46 
And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?

You can call yourself a Christian even when you sleep throughout mass. You can call yourself a Christian if you threaten others needlessly in His name. You can threaten your neighbors in the name of Christ. You can kill in the name of Christ. You can hate in the name of Christ. You use Christ as an excuse to propagate sin. You can use Christ to promote senseless violence against your fellow man.  You can call yourself a Christian and do all sorts of crazy things...charge people a fortune to expel demons from their homes, picket at the funerals of America's fallen heroes, burn crosses, you name it.  You can do all sorts of things as a "Christian." However, calling yourself Christian and actually being Christian are two different things.

"You can take the C train or the A train...or even the E train if you want to be creative."
Christianity is not a one-way ticket to heaven. You can hold on to your ticket as closely as you can, but it won't stop you from getting on the wrong train. You can call yourself a Christian and still go to hell. On the other hand, you can go to heaven without necessarily being a Christian. The way I think about it, there's multiple trains to heaven and each one takes a variety of tickets. Christ doesn't care what you call yourself or what ticket you happen to carry if you follow His teachings and God's laws.

This past week, far too many people were injured or killed needlessly during the protesting that took place in Kandahar, Afghanistan. This protesting was the result of some "crazy Christian" fools burning a Koran after making a show of it and holding some type of mock trials...etc. etc. etc. They did not prove anything in this action besides their own lack of understanding. They did it in the name of Christ, but I seriously doubt that Christ had this in mind when he called on us to evangelize (this is one word that DEFINITELY looks bad these days considering the actions of some "evangelizers").

People may cite the passage in the New Testament where Christ drives out the market-dealers from the temple as an excuse to burn the Koran. They may argue that this action, though extreme, is ultimately necessary in order to preserve God's words and demonstrate to the world that some people aren't afraid of doing the "Christian" thing when it comes to Islam. I, however, disagree.

Christ drove out these people from the temple because they were turning a place of worship into a circus. They were selling goods rather than worshiping. Even if animal sacrifices were necessary for different services those days, these vendors were dealing their wares out of avarice rather than piety and the needs of the worshipers. Think about it....If these vendors were here today, they would essentially be hawking Oxy-clean at an Ash Wednesday the middle of the service. Yeah, Oxy-clean may help get ash smudges off your clothing....but that's still no excuse for disrupting the sanctity of a church, drowning out the sermon with a :"call right now" deal, and turning a mass into nothing but a business venture.

If the present world was somehow transported to Christ's time 2000 years ago, I can imagine that things would go differently. You see, in my mind, the Koran-burning pastors of today are not the Christ that stormed through the temple overturning the tables of the thieving vendors. These pastors ARE the thieving vendors. They don't preach in Christ's name. They preach in their own name and do whatever they can to garner the attention of the media and promote their own misinterpretations of the bible. They consider themselves Christian...but Christ did not spend his time on earth seeking people to condemn. He sought our salvation. He did not pick and choose who he would save. He sought the lowliest men and women. This is why I cannot fathom how some "Christians" feel the need to use Christ as a reason to hate people of other religions. How can they use Christ as an excuse to incite protests that lead to the deaths of people halfway around the world?

They knew...THEY KNEW what type of reaction they would cause. They KNOW that they will incite angry mobs every time they pull a publicity stunt like this. They know that they put innocent civilians at risky by causing these riots. They know that no good will come of their actions. So why do they do it? Why do they burn someone else's holy book? Why do they use the term "Christian" as an excuse to tempt others to sin, injure, and kill? The Portuguese have a saying about people like this. They say that people like this only live to tempt others and ruin souls.

Do I think Christ wants us to hate our Muslim neighbors? No.
Do I think Christ wants us to hate our Jewish sister from another mister? No.
Do I think Christ wants us to hate our Buddhist brother from another mother? No.
Do I think Christ wants us to hate our Hindu laboratory partners? No. 

He wanted us to LOVE them. He wants us to make sure that as many people as possible follow God's wishes and achieve a place in heaven. Do they have read our holy book to hear Christ's words? No. If we live by Christ's words, our example will speak volumes. "Preach the Gospel at all timesUse words if necessary." Our everyday actions should be more than enough to teach others about how to properly follow Christ. If they want to convert one day, they will. It's not up to us to force their will. Not even God forces what gives us the right to do so?!?!  Hating other religious groups and condemning them through actions or words won't lead to anyone's salvation....especially when you don't even know what it means to be "Christian."

Pax Vobiscum


  1. Great post, Barbara!
    In today's homily, the priest mentioned these book burners. He gave a great meditation about today's readings but, especially, the epistole - "walk as children of light".
    I think it fits with what you are saying.
    By the way, have you ever read "The Four Loves"? It's blowing my mind!

  2. Thank you for the comment.

    I haven't read "The Four Loves" yet, but I did start listening to the "books on tape" version of it. It really is pretty good (at least what I have heard thus far). I'd listen to it on my mp3 player during my daily commute...but I can only hear certain music over the rumble of the subway and train. I will try to read it once I have some more time on my hands...and once my sister finishes the book version!

  3. "On the other hand, you can go to heaven without necessarily being a Christian". Nope, not since Pentecost. "You can call yourself a Christian and still go to hell." Yup.

    1. I would highly recommend you check out this commentary by Father Robert Barron:

    2. I would highly recommend you check out this commentary by Father Robert Barron: