Did you pass by the wager argument? an argument made by Blaise Pascal... A bet on God's existence... hmmm... just a thought to ponder. DOES GOD EXIST? YES -> if not exist, finite loss, if exist, infinite gain. NO -> if not exist, finite gain, if exist, infinite loss.
(although i don't really accept his argument, just want to hear some comments)
Well, I just had a very lengthy reply about half finished and suddenly lost it. Okay, to start again, in answer to your first comment, regarding meeting a 'fundamental definition of Christian' the biggest problem is that there is no one agreed upon fundamental definition. To some, Catholics aren't Christian, to some, Mormons aren't Christian, to some Protestants aren't Christian. Even in the Early church, there were countless debates about what it meant to be Christian (hence the need for the Council of Nicea).
As to your second question, on how do liberal Christians decide whether a passage is literal or non-literal, the short answer is not randomly and not based on personal preference. It's not like we would look at say Isaiah 40:22 and decide that it is both literal and non-literal, depending on what better suits my argument (fundamentalists do, however argue that it is both literal and non-literal). What we do is look at who wrote the passage, when they wrote the passage, who they were writing for and why the wrote it. Take, for instance, the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes. In it's oldest account (Mark 6:31-44) it echoes two old testament accounts (Exodus 16 and 2 Kings 4:42-44). This passage is meant as a message to a Jewish audience saying that Jesus is Messiah. In the context of the entire Gospel of Mark, we can see that repeatedly, Jesus is being presented as either the Son of Man or the Messiah. By understanding the passage this way, it doesn't really matter if they literally happened (although they most likely didn't) because the message is still the same, that Jesus is here to teach us a new covenant, a new way of relating to God.
As to why I call myself a Christian. Because I believe that Jesus was the Messiah. As for liberal Christianity, it's hardly my own unique invention. This form of theology is present in just about all of the mainstream churches, and guess what! My views are not even the most radical. If you want to see some radical views, I would suggest reading Tom Harper's "The Pagan Christ".
Just to give you a bit of a perspective on what's happening within the Church today. For just over a century, the mainstream churches have been undergoing a radical transformation, which is as big, if not bigger than the reformation.
By the way, I think we would both agree that Pope John Paul II would be classified as a Christian, yet even he acknowledged that it was possible for those outside of the church to obtain salvation.
i'm sure when you were writing your response you thought it was perfectly reasonable and addressed my critiques. here's why you were wrong to think so.
you know as well as i do that while Catholics, Protestants, Mormons and the rest- those typically grouped under the name "Christians"- no doubt disagree that outsiders are actually Christians they still all believe that Jesus was crucified, raised, and ascended and that his sacrifice on the cross was a sacrifice committed for our redemption. redemption from what? sin. what are the wages of sin? hell. their disagreement about what constitutes a Christian has to do with doctrinal and theological issues quite apart from their shared belief in Jesus' death, resurrection, ascension, and the redemptive nature of his sacrifice on the cross.
therefore, despite your attempt to cloud the issue by pointing out that different sects of Christians disagree that other sects meet with their definition of what it means to be a Christian they still all meet a basic definition based on the events at the end of and (they assert) after Jesus' life and what those events mean for us; a definition that you yourself, while calling yourself a Christian, don't seem to be able to meet given that you apparently don't believe that Jesus' sacrifice was redemptive or, i don't know, perhaps that he wasn't resurrected or that he ascended (that's not completely rhetorical actually; i'd like to hear an answer to that question). you've concocted a definition of "Christian" where all it takes to be a Christian is to believe that the author of Mark would have us believe that Jesus was the messiah! by that definition I'M A CHRISTIAN!
you began this exchange by saying that you hold to a historical perspective on the bible; you're now saying that you don't decide which passages are to be taken literally and which metaphorically; then you go on to say that despite the fact that you admit that the passages in Mark where Jesus is described as the messiah didn't necessarily, indeed, probably didn't, happen, it doesn't matter that they didn't necessarily happen only that the message is there? but if it didn't happen then you have no reason to value the message as anything other than theological propaganda! moreover, despite your saying that you determine what is to be taken literally and what is not to be taken literally based on who wrote the passage in question, etc., you can't even determine, because no one can, who wrote Mark, for who they wrote it for (beyond that it was written for a community of Jesus followers the author was a part of), and what their motivation for writing it was (other than that it was written to bolster the faith of current members and as a tool for bringing new converts to the faith; something that calls into question the veracity of the text entirely!), questions that are critical to determining just how to value the statements therein, to say nothing of the probabilistic nature of the answer to the question of whether or not those passages in Mark are original to the text, were modified substantively at some point, or were added in their entirety at a later date (textual criticism)! finally, the whole notion of a messiah is of course derived from the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew Bible having it's own extraordinary problems. it too is socio-political-theological propaganda. there's no evidence for, and, in certain instances of the examples that follow, actually evidence against, the existence of the patriarchs, for the reality of the land-promise, for the slavery in Egypt, for the exodus, for the conquest of Canaan, and on and on and on! Jews of the 1st century CE couldn't even agree amongst themselves on just who the messiah would be and what sort of actions they could expect from him and yet you seem to be fine with accepting Mark's understanding of the messiah! therefore the whole notion of the messiah is undermined to such an extent that to try to say that you're not being arbitrary and that you're truly historical-minded is downright absurd.
let us also consider that there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the "Son of Man" was understood to be an apocalyptic destroyer of the current age, one who would usher in the new age of god's kingdom and who would come before the messiah. despite this evidence you choose all too hastily to lump the two concepts of the son of man and the messiah together as if it's a foregone conclusion that they were the same person.
you say that you don't arbitrarily decide what to take literally and what to take metaphorically but what could be more arbitrary than your process?!
a new covenant and a new way of relating to god? there you go arbitrarily picking and choosing which verses to cling to as "the message" and which to casually discard. after all, do not multiple NT verses convey a similar message to Matthew 5:17-20. and certainly if you believe your god is omniscient (and obviously that's questionable as though Christianity holds that god is omniscient you've already established that you're perfectly willing to abandon fundamental tenants of Christianity when it suits you. lol) you would have to believe that he would have known he was going to usher in a new covenant and teach a new way to relate to him; certainly then we wouldn't expect him to have peppered the Hebrew Bible with verses that make it clear that The Law- the "old" covenant and way of relating to him- was eternal. and yet a perusal of the Hebrew Bible finds just that- Lev. 23:14, 21, 31, Gen. 17:19, Deut. 4:8-9, Deut. 11:1, Deut. 11:26-28, Psalm 119:151-152, Psalm 119:160, and more!
i hardly said that liberal Christianity as a concept was your invention. what i said was that your particular brand of liberal Christianity is your own and is unrecognizable from what the term "Christian" traditionally conveys on a fundamental level. (btw, i've read Harper's book; his assertions are ridiculous and have been exposed for what they are already. i would point out, though, that someone believing that Jesus was a "pagan christ" would be committing just as egregious an error if they were to call themselves a Christian as you are in calling yourself one.)
i would acknowledge that JP II thought he was a Christian and that most Catholics thought he was too (as you may well know, a significant number of Catholics rejected his liberalization of the church), sure. i wouldn't at all acknowledge that his belief that those outside the Christian faith could obtain salvation has anything to do with Christianity at its most fundamental. i couldn't possibly acknowledge such a thing because it just isn't true.
you believe that Jesus was the messiah. what makes you think so? what sort of evidence can you muster to be so sure that he was the messiah that you're willing to live your life on the assumption that he was?
you should also be ready to answer the question of why, because the authority of the bible rests on its status as divinely inspired, the other books of the bible see things differently from Mark's author. you will also need to answer the question of why the concept of the messiah makes any sense at all given that the basis of the Hebrew Bible- the patriarchs, the land-promise, etc.- is without any evidence and has evidence against it. please answer why it is that you're ready to accept the author of Mark's understanding of who the messiah was to be, such that he believed Jesus was a fulfillment of the messiah prophecy, when 1st century Jews had several different understandings of who the messiah was to be.
finally, do you believe in the miracle stories and that Jesus was resurrected or that he ascended? assuming for the sake of the continued discussion that the answer is yes, what evidence do you have for believing these things?
please, in answering, be actually historical-minded and leave the arbitrary processes aside.
you can't cling white knuckled to the things that offer your faith support while ignoring the mountains of evidence from ancient history and biblical criticism- those same disciplines that you use to justify your delusion- that show your faith to be without any grounding in objective reality and hope not to be called out for being arbitrary.
First, let's address the issue of faith, because I believe that it's at the very heart of the matter. Let's look at how fundamentalists reach their conclusions about the world, and why they claim to know what is essentially the unknowable.
Fundamentalists start by putting their faith in their preachers. Their preachers then tell them that this is the correct interpretation of the Bible, and that through that correct interpretation of the Bible they can prove that Jesus is their saviour, that God exists, that they are saved etc. But here's where the problem comes in. Their interpretations of the Bible are contradicted by science, and so the fundamentalists faith in their preacher is tested. Either they continue to have faith in the preacher, in which case they can continue to believe the their interpretation of the Bible, and that they have a 100% watertight case for believing that they are saved etc, or they loose faith in their preacher, in which case they have to reason to believe in any of what's in the Bible. That's because their reason for believing what is in the Bible was relevant came from their faith in the preacher.
Now, you are quite a bit like the fundamentalists in that you think that one must first have faith in the preacher, then faith in the interpretation of the Bible in order to have evidence which then leads one one to the conclusion that God is real. The difference being that you lack faith in the preachers and the dogma, so you have no reason or evidence to believe in God.
Now, I'm not like the fundamentalists at all. You see, I have faith in a Creator God who created the universe and everything within it, and that what we do matters. It's because I have faith in God that I don't believe the Bible to be mere propaganda, or that the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are merely the rantings of a suicidal mad-man.
Now, as to your suggesting that I'm clinging white knuckled to anything, well, that would very clearly imply that you are under some impression that I fear not having faith. What exactly is it you think I fear?
The question I would have, Janice, is why do you believe in a Creator God who created the universe and everything within it? What evidence/reasoning do you have to support that belief? What is the impetus for your faith?
Pascal dismisses all the other God and afterlife concepts without a thought... His wager is flawed from the beginning. IF he's wrong about the hindu trinity for instance then he could come back as a tick on the ass of a skunk for a couple hundred lifetimes because of all the people he misled with this stupid wager.
What if there's nothing to gain? This wager assumes the Christain god, and assumes that people have souls to go to an (assumed) afterlife. So what if there's a god but no souls? I've been whating to throw that in some theists face.
The problem I have with Christianity that I didn't recognize when I was a Christian myself is this whole nonsense idea of "get out of hell" free card. Well it's not really free. The price is single-mindedness and the fate of everybody else not like you. But no matter which way you slice it, it folds under the weight of its own absurdities. Do you get to heaven by faith alone and by believing in Christ as the savior? Great. God is a dick to non-Christians of the world just for their beliefs, and you can be a terrible person and still get to heaven as long as you're "honestly repentant." Do you get to heaven by being a good person? Then what was the purpose of the sacrifice if a Buddhist or an atheist or a pagan can get to heaven or indeed, what is the point of religion?
The whole story of Jesus hinges on the Genesis story of humans being utterly terrible because the first humans were tricked by a talking snake into eating a magical apple. Without this stipulation, the Jesus story becomes meaningless, as does the sacrifice, which becomes a pointless death. I don't think any sane person believes most of what's in the OT and certainly not the Genesis story anymore. The more you pick apart the Bible, the more it falls apart except to those who buy into the blurry interpretations by "the proper authorities".