Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What is strange about Christianity?

Saint Matthew, from the 9th-century Ebbo Gospels.Image via Wikipedia

I was sitting in a recent church service on the topic of 1 Peter titled "What is strange about Christianity?" 1 Peter is littered with encouragement to act strange with regard to Christian living. Earlier this week I was sitting in a lecture at Rhodes College given by Bart Ehrman on the topic of New Testament forgeries. Ehrman revealed the reasons why 1 Peter is probably a forgery. During the lesson at church, this tidbit kept nagging me.

The preacher opened the up the question to the congregation. What is strange about Christianity? Imagine my complete lack of surprise when all of the responses were good things about Christianity: They care for the poor; they love their enemies; they are the "salt and light in the world." Not a single response thrown out by the congregation was self-critical in any way. One point the preacher made was that "we still follow an ancient text". The fact that a set of teachings is old or new does not really matter to me. I care about what is being taught. To his credit, he mentioned that his faith "rest in an empty tomb," which is strange indeed.

What is strange about Christianity? Christianity is supported by a book that says our universe is only 6000 years old, a single man lived over 900 years, God willfully killed everyone except for 8 people, snakes talked, God speaks through burning bushes, a fish swallowed a man whole then spit him back up, God made planet Earth stop revolving to prolong a battle, and God invented multiple languages because he didn't like a construction project. This is just a quick summary of the strange parts. We don't have to stop there. There are books devoted to the strange, the contradictions, the invented histories, and the down right unpleasant aspects of the Bible.

In my view, the strangest aspect of Christianity is that the earliest written accounts of Jesus' life come 40 years after the time of his death and in a language which he did not speak. Of course, the fundamentalist will say, it was the Holy Spirit who guided the writers to record their gospels. I suppose, but that only adds to the strangeness. Think of the thousands of people that benefited from the miracles that Jesus performed. Indeed, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew boasts of over nine thousand people who were feed by a miracle. Nobody thought to write this down. 9000 witnesses and not a drop of ink was spilled for at least 40 years. Strange indeed. If just 1% of those in attendance were literate and realized what they were witnessing, we should have roughly 90 independent accounts. Instead the Holy Spirit had to find a literate Greek writer to finally get this stuff on paper. To make things stranger, Jesus even comes back from the dead and appears before another 500 people and the only account of this comes from Paul (who wasn't even among the 500).

I want to turn this preacher's question over to you, since many Mississippians are either Christian, Christian and doubting, or non-believers: What is strange about Christianity?