If one listens to the media coverage of anything from women’s reproductive issues to LGBT equality to the ongoing problems in the Middle East to the interpretations of scientific reason one might assume all Christianity is the same. It is not the media’s fault, as certain Christian denominations do a very good job at subjugitating the conversation of conventional Christianity. The tenor of conversation is driven as much by political and social ideology as it is by actual religious belief.
This leads to any number of interpretations of what being Christian means in the United States. The faith is interpreted as sometimes the attacker and sometimes the persecuted. Sometimes the influencer of cultural change while sometimes the being the bastion of conservative status quo. Sometimes it is the belief of the majority while other times it represents a minority of a minority.
It is interesting to note that Christianity is now, and for nearly all of its existence has been, a broad category of interrelated faiths all tied loosely together under a common belief of Christ as the savior of humanity. There is a simultaneous desire for both unification and denominatization of beliefs pulling at the core of Christianity and thus, society as a whole interacting with Christianity.
Thus, when the conversation of what it means to be Christian comes up it often resembles the acrid approach to what being “American” often looks like, pitting commonalities against one another based on interpretative evidence.
It is because of this I tend to stay away from conversations about how Christian values should be applied. The First Amendment of the Constitution strictly forbids the government from attributing laws to a faith and yet politicians use religion as a plank in their platform. Different religious viewpoints fuel many a conversation about the enactment of law, decisions of the judiciary and even the secular interactions of religious organizations in society.
The problem is and always has been not only do over-arching religious concepts not agree with one another but the underlying denominational differences are often just as much in disagreement with one another. Thus, not all Christians actually believe the same thing and we should stop treating the idea of Christianity as a single belief system in the context of secular law and social interaction.
I am personally tired of hearing that the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, that creationalism defines history and hormonal birth control is akin to breaking the murder commandment and the person quoting the the Bible neglects to properly cite which version they are deriving the belief from. The Bible is a collection of texts sacred in Judaism and Christianity and not a single, unified publication. Apart from the obvious differentiation between the Jewish Tanakh and the Christian Scriptures even inside of each collection of texts there is great variety.
The unifying property of the Tanakh is the books the Torah, the Nevi’im and the Ketuvim are predominately originally written in Hebrew and have a largely agreed upon origin. Generally, the establishment of the versus included is agreed upon, however, the interpretation of the text themselves from a socio-cultural point of view does vary from sect to sect so that one following the Orthodoxy might read a verse with one application while one following the Reformist belief interprets it different application and a Conservative or even a Reconstructionist or Karaite would view it different still.
Christian Bibles range from the sixty-six books of the traditional Protestant canon to the eighty-one books of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church canon.
The traditional Christian Old Testament features 24 of the books of the original Hebrew Bible but in a different order. Denominationally the inclusion or exclusion of the original books varies along with the inclusion or exclusion of supplementing materials such that over time there is no unified version of the Hebrew Scriptures as they exist in the Christian Bible. This, of course, means that there is great divergence in the interpretation of the texts themselves depending on the denominational context.
The “New Testament” features some combination of the Canonical gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles or didactic letters, and the Book of Revelation. While the oldest known version of the Christian Bible dates to the 4th century, much of the modern sequencing is due to the work of Stephen Langton in the 13th century and the citation into verses in the 16th century by French printer Robert Estienne, although the inclusion of any given text as well as in some cases the sequences of the texts varies from denomination to denomination and translation to translation.
Again, as with Judaism, the interpretation of the Christian texts varies greatly. For example, most Christian denominations follow trinatarianism, but not all, and even within trinatarianism there’s a split based on the Filioque clause on how to interpret the Holy Spirit. With such basic principles at question in the core of Christian faith it is no wonder the early Church split at the Council of Ephesus and later at the Council Chalcedon and later still in the 11th century during the great schism between Rome and Constantinople and again in the 16th Century during the Protestant Reformation and again through the revolutions of the British Kingdom yet again several times in the Americas.
While the Bible may be the “word of God” the words themselves vary greatly. The effects of everything from denominational interpretation to translation to outside cultural influence affected the result of what we have today, in the United States – more than 100 different versions of the book in English available from the King James Version (KJV) to the New King James (NJKV), from the New Living Translation (NLT) to the New International Version (NIV), from the English Standard (ESV) to the Contemporary English (CEV), from the Holman Christian (HCSB) to the Gideons (GV) to the Oxford Annotated (NOAB) and many, many more sanctioned for use from everyone from Polish Roman Catholics to New World Irish Catholics, from Russian Orthodox to Greek Orthodox, from Adventists, to Anglicans, to Baptists, to Calvinists, to Lutherans, to Methodists, to Pentecostals to Nondenominational evangelical and whomever else wanted to share in a common belief but skew from an existing interpretation of the text.
So, which one are you quoting from when you thump your bible at a new law or a judicial decision or even among friends calling the higher power to help your football team win Sunday afternoon?
It makes a difference because none of the versions in complete agreement with one another and furthermore even when two denominations do share an agreed upon translation their interpretation of the words themselves vary greatly.
There is no way Christianity is under attack because of the passage of secular marriage equality because Christians themselves don’t agree on the definition of marriage. The bible explains marriage in different ways depending on the book one is reading from even if it’s under a unified binding. The “sacrament” of marriage is administered different from denomination to denomination and even in some case from Church to Church inside a given denominational structure. So, to imply that somehow the idea of lesbians or gays getting married is against Christian beliefs is to thus create an artificial hierarchy of Christian beliefs whereby some are granted greater weight in society than others. If that social weight were to gain legal ground it would certainly then run afoul to the First Amendment which is why no religious argument can ever be made in relation to secular marriage and any attempt to define marriage in the Christian point of view necessitates the caveat that it is of a specific denominational interpretation of the faith and not an underpinning of the faith itself.
Similarly, the understanding of science and in particular evolution varies greatly from Christian to Christian, from denomination to denomination. Thus, while some cling to specific passages from specific versions in a very literal sense others view the broader scope of a number of texts being read together in a more figurate approach. Neither is necessarily right or wrong in the viewpoint of what the words on the page say as much as the difference in how to interpret those words within the context of human understanding that has changed over the millenia. Grouping all Christians into the anti-evolution sect is disrespectful to both groups of beliefs as well as demonstrating a lack of understanding of the true breath and depth of Christianity both in a historical and modern sense.
There are a lot of forces at play which dictate why once group of Christians comes to one understanding of the exact same words which another group of Christians comes to a different understanding of. We should never lose sight to the fact that all believe they are being given the unique viewpoint to the intention of god.
Furthermore, because the “god” of the Bible granted humans Free Will there is always the possibility that in the process of transcribing the word of god or translating the word of god from language to language the effects of free will and the inherent nature of both human imperfection and sin could have influenced the outcome of the word itself. Since the deity described has never come to Earth in the first person and physically corrected all the variations of the word of god to unify them it’s quite possible that the deity itself is either not caring enough about getting it correct for the sake of factual accuracy in which the idea that it’s more of a story by example (parable) and less a statement of definitive fact, or of course, there is no deity controlling the text in the first place and the fallacy of man made the whole thing up based on the limited knowledge man possessed at the time.
Thus, anyone may chose to believe whatever version of the Bible suits their personal idyllic view of the world, of course, but because there is no single, unified version of the bible and based on many of the teachings of the bible that do intersect from version to version one shoul not not shove one’s interpretation of whatever version they happen to be reading on everyone else who reads the Bible and choses to translation it individually, denominationally, inter-faithly differently, or, even those who don’t necessarily believe it but are still in the knowledge of it.
The point being is when referencing Christian belief it is an all important caveat to remember whatever it is it is never all Christians believing it.