Today I’d like to talk about what it means to be culturally Christian.
Christianity affected where my family lived, where we vacationed, what we did on the weekends, what we listened to, read and watched, how we dressed, with whom we were friends, and which holidays we celebrated and how we observed them. Yes, much of this was due to the fact that Dad was a pastor. There were many other families who lived as strictly as we did, though. Some families were even more strict.
When I was a Christian I took it all very seriously. If the Bible taught X according to my spiritual leaders (even if X was only one of many interpretations, even if what we think of as X today was not what the original authors were thinking about when they wrote what they wrote), I believed it at that time.
No one in my immediate family ever went to seminary, but we studied and discussed the Bible on a regular basis. I knew all but the most obscure stories in the Old and New Testament before I learned to read them for myself.
In other words, our faith wasn’t just something we did once a year (or even a few times a week.) It permeated every part of our daily lives, as much so as us being Caucasian or living in a succession of primarily working-class neighbourhoods. It was part of who were were as a family and as individuals in a bone-deep way.
In the last few years I’ve become friends with various people who identify as Christian. They are wonderful, kind, amazing, intelligent, witty people who just don’t happen to seem all that interested in the particulars of their faith.
It puzzles me that they don’t appear to follow many of the rules that most of the Christians I grew up with knew almost intuitively. They drink alcohol (although not in a destructive manner), attend church sporadically, watch secular movies and television shows, read secular books and dress, talk and behave just like us non-believers.
I realize that there are many different degrees and expressions of the Christian faith out there and that the churches I grew up in came from a small sliver of Christendom. Part of my confusion is no doubt related to the different sets of rules that different denominations adopt, especially when one compares Christians living in a small, rural, midwestern town in the United States to Christians living in a large urban area in southern Canada. I’m going to assume that these are cultural (or even just family/individual) differences.
There’s something else going on, though: these friends don’t seem to know the Bible or church history that intimately. Sometimes Drew will make what I think of as a fairly common Bible reference or joke and they seem to don’t understand what we’re talking about. Spending time with them is no different than hanging out with our friends who are spiritual but not religious or atheist in the sense that their faith doesn’t come up as a topic of conversation.
This is all highly unusual to someone who grew up in churches that heavily promoted ideas like friendship evangelism and the importance of fellowshipping with other believers, to say the least!
I fully acknowledge that I grew up in a family that encouraged us to read the Bible and ask intellectual questions and that not all Christians were raised in a similar environment or even are interested in the minutia of faith. Belief cannot be limited to what one reads in a book but this all still puzzles me.
How does one believe in God and identify as a Christian without wanting to know more about what it is that he or she is agreed to when he or she became a Christian? From my point of view this is like accepting a job (or moving in with someone you just met, or signing consent forms for elective surgery, or agreeing to any sort of business contract) without reading the fine print first to see what it is exactly that you are agreeing to do except that in this case one is deciding the fate of his or her soul for all eternity (assuming a traditional, Christian view of the afterlife.)
If there is anyone reading this who has ever identified with this way of thinking about one’s religious beliefs, can you explain it?