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Does Christianity have an intellectual basis?

You do not have to check your brain at the door to be a Christian.

If you were to watch the debate the other night between Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and self-appointed fundamentalist Christian authority Bill Ham, you would think that the entire debate about faith is based on faith's refusal to accept any knowledge other than that which we can puzzle over in the Old Testament. I consider this a travesty on the Christian faith to begin with. The entire creationism scenario was originally done by a priest named John Nelson Darby, who used his scientific knowledge to attempt the framing of a timeline for creation; his work is preserved in the Darby Bible, which he created to pass along to his followers.

Darby is considered the originator of the theory of the Rapture as it is believed today, and he also associated with the theology called Dispensationalism, or the belief in predestination. This was no wild-eyed radical. He did his best with the knowledge and belief he had, and although I completely disagree with him, he was considered sincere by his friends.

Still, Christianity did not arise out of the Old Testament; Judaism did. And not only did Judaism exist as a faith based on a revelation from God in antiquity, but it also evolved and grew into a faith that exists today in three denominations, so to speak: Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. There is also a sprinkling of Jewish sects here and there that are referred to as Ultra-Orthodox. Until years after Jesus lived and died there was no Christianity; even John the Baptist was an old-fashioned reformer-prophet.

But even today's Ultra-Orthodox Jews do not practice Judaism as it was documented in the Book of Leviticus; indeed, American civil law will not allow them to buy and sell their children into slavery or own slaves who are not Jewish, or perform executions by stoning in the streets of New York or anywhere else they live. That set of dictates that are called the Law in the Old Testament is simply obsolete.

Predictably, there is one set of people who consider themselves Ultra-Orthodox Christians. They actually call themselves Levitical Christians and their beliefs were created when they reverse-engineered the Old Testament on the basis that it is unchanging and literally true. Therefore, from that assumption, they became terrified that if they do not carry out the dictates such as putting homosexual people to death, they will be punished by God for letting them live; this is as bizarre a belief as I can think of, considering that those who believe it consider themselves Christians in some weird way.

Such people do not believe in the Christian faith, in that they do not believe that God is merciful, compassionate or understanding. They do not believe that, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay." They think they must assume judgment and then become executioners, or they will be punished by an angry, vengeful deity who has all the power and none of the morality that we understand in today's ethical climate.

So if Christianity has an intellectual basis, it must arise from the concepts that the followers of Jesus learned from him. It is not difficult to find them: they are enshrined in the New Testament, frequently in Jesus' own words, such as:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Matthew 5:43-48]

If that does not convince you, try this:

"Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.

"Then the disciples came to him and asked, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?' He replied, 'Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch.'

"Peter said, 'Explain the parable to us.'

“'Are you still so dull?' Jesus asked them. 'Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts-—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.'” [Matthew 15:10-20]

The loudest preachers on television and at political conventions are quick to display two things: judgment and ignorance. The recent self-humiliation of Preacher Mike Huckabee illustrates this with his combination of moral judgment of young women who cannot "control their libido" and his ignorance of birth control, to the point where he seems unaware that doctors write prescriptions, and not Uncle Sugar (his veiled reference to Uncle Sam, or the government). Just which branch of government does Huckabee expect to be writing prescriptions--perhaps the Department of Health and Human Services? I'm sure they have nothing else to do. Pay no attention to the contaminated water in West Virginia.

Meanwhile, serious scholars like Bishop John Shelby Spong and Dr. Bart Ehrman have left bodies of work that would be a revelation to unchurched people who are looking for an intellectual proposition that might draw them to faith. But the general public doesn't know where to find some information on the agreement between science and liberal Christianity.

You have a choice: adjust your beliefs to reality, or try to force reality to conform to your beliefs. The former is a path to spiritual and intellectual growth, and the latter will make an atheist out of you. And ironically, the loss of faith can be the most important spiritual experience you ever have, if you keep on looking with an open mind.

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