Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Birth of the True Scotsman

Some of my earliest memories of Christianity, before I knew much about its teachings, or knew anyone who explicitly considered themselves Christian, involve wondering why the term  "Christian" is used as if it were synonym for the word "good".   I think I understand more clearly why it is done today.  Despite not being rooted in the arrogance that I originally assumed it to be when I first heard a religious affiliation being used as a term of merit, the implications of that particular usage of the word still are quite entertaining (and frustrating....really the same thing for me).

I present the definitions of the word "Christian" here for reference:
  1.  Professing belief in Jesus as Christ or following the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
  2. Relating to or derived from Jesus or Jesus's teachings.
  3. Manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus; Christlike.
  4. Relating to or characteristic of Christianity or its adherents.
  5. Showing a loving concern for others; humane.
Now, for all practical intents, definition 1 is the only that can serve to accurately define a group. And definition 4 is simply "person who is like a person who fits one of the other definitions".  Definition 3, and the related definition 5, are those that are relevant to the usage of the term as a form of acknowledging merit; as a word that is used in a similar to manner to "good".  Of course, this isn't because of any assumptions that the Christians represented by definition 1 are inherently better people than others, but because it is entirely different usage of the word "Christian", in that it is referring to those who act "Christlike", and are being compared to Jesus, rather than simply being among the adherents of the religion Christianity.  But, unfortunately, this distinction is rarely made clear, especially by those who like to equivocate in order to gain a false veneer of credibility.

And what fertile grounds for such equivocation!  The only term describing a member of your religion is also the same term used to describe one who behaves like the idealized man-god that the religion worships, and all of the virtues that go along with that.  You would have to be Jesus himself to be able to resist using that fact to your advantage when trying to claim that those who are not "Christlike" are not "Christian" [*cough* by one definition of the word *cough*].  And therefore, Hitler was a Scientologist.  Completely disregard the fact that your entire religion is based upon the idea that even the most heartless and wicked human being alive can attain salvation by calling upon Jesus for help.  Completely ignore that all humans are imperfect and inherently NOT "Christian" [by that same definition] according to your religion, hence the need for Jesus in the first place.   Anything to win an argument.


Stacy said...

"Hitler was a Scientologist"
LoL :-) Welcome Back!!

#5 irritates me - I guess Christians are the only ones that have those traits.

It seems rather exclusive.

Asylum Seeker said...

It is irritating, but I see it as simply a description of what definition 3 means. Basically, it is just a summary of the qualities that they attribute with "Christ", meaning that that definition is just another one that means "Christlike" as compared to "adherent to Christianity". It is not annoying in of itself due to that. What is annoying is that it gives the people who like to play around with word meanings ample grounds for trying to claim exactly what came to your mind when seeing that definition: that being "Christian" [in the sense of being a believer] makes you have a loving concern and be humane, and that the two qualities have some sort of relationship that, implicitly, other religions do not.

mac said...

Like you I get entertainment and frustration when someone is referred as a "christian", in the sense that he is good because of this.
WTF ??
Kind of narcissistic, isn't it? " you can't be good if you don't believe as I do!"

I think reality tells me differently....most christians are neither good nor Christlike. They're just people, like the rest of better, no worse. Well.... not because of their christianess.

AND Hitler was a Scientologist?
Kind of explains why he hated the Jews so much....only a scientologist could hate a jew so much...or maybe a muslim..... or a...CATHOLIC !

Asylum Seeker said...

Didn't know Scientologists were anti-Semitic. I thought they just hated psychiatry, the poor, and common sense.

And, yes, many Christians fall short of any non-trivial definition of "good". But, then again, many also fall short of being called "bad" as well. Pretty much like, I dunno, a random sampling of human beings, regardless of religious affiliation, would result in. That's what they are: human beings, no better, no worse (maybe a tad crazier...) Well, unless almost all of them do actually think that they are better just for being Christian. Then...that is a wee bit problematic. Evil is never done so thoroughly than by those who think that they are pure and righteous enough to be entitled to do it.

Mandar Malum said...

I dislike when people consider themselves "Good Christians" Because like Mac said, Most christans are neither good nor christ-like.

All the people i've met that consider themselves "good christian people" are arrogant self righteous pricks that tend to use their religion to justify everything they do. they tend to be the most hateful and judgeful people I've ever met.