Stuff They Should Know
I am a HUGE fan of a podcast called Stuff You Should Know, from www.HowStuffWorks.com. Josh and Chuck, the hosts, podcast twice a week on all manner of interesting subjects. I highly recommend checking it out.
Josh and Chuck sometimes talk religion, and sometimes Christianity gets mentioned. They were both brought up in church, though I don't know exactly where they are with their childhood faiths at this point. Nevertheless, they say interesting things and I like to listen to them. Unfortunately, they also get it wrong from time to time. So, tonight I wrote them a letter. It might be helpful to you, beloved reader, as it may spark some thoughts in your own life. Here is what I wrote:
LOVE the podcast. Thank you so much for it. I've been listening for a long time, and have e-mailed a couple of times. This past Christmas, I gave away KIVA gift certificates because of your good influence. So, thank you.
I just listened to your podcast about reincarnation, after listening to the Jefferson Bible podcast just a couple of weeks ago. I'm an Anglican priest, and so every time you talk about religion my ears perk up, because this is my field. I've spent basically my entire life studying religion, both my own and others. I am especially well versed in Christian theology.
I'm not sure exactly how to say this, because I know that both of you were brought up in church (one Catholic, the other Baptist). I also know that you are very bright, well read, and intelligent people. But, I think you both have a fundamental misunderstanding of some of the key tenets of Christianity, at least of "orthodox" (with a small 'o') Christianity. I know that there are many different understandings of and within the world's largest religion, but the core doctrines of the Bible, the Fathers, and the Creeds don't seem to have been fully understood at some point.
Here is what I mean. In your podcast about reincarnation, you said that Christians believe in the immortality of the soul, over against the reincarnation cycle which (hopefully) leads to Nirvana. Christians actually believe in the resurrection of the body, not the immortality of the soul. In other words, we don't believe we die and our souls go to an eternal heaven or hell. Rather, at the Last Day we are raised in bodies that are both spiritual and physical, and in these bodies live on forever. The location of this eternal physical life is in question. I would refer to you the last couple of lines of the Nicene Creed, or to the last couple of chapters of Revelation, or to N.T. Wright's book "Surprised by Hope."
Possibly more importantly, you said that Christians believe that your afterlife is dependent on doing good or bad things in this life. This is fundamentally untrue on a basic level, but does have some truth on a secondary level. Christians believe that salvation is entirely dependent upon Christ alone who saves by grace alone through faith alone. This doctrine, with somewhat different language, can be found across the board from Orthodox to Catholic to Reformed to Evangelical churches. There may be some reward in the Eternal City once someone is saved that is based on good works, but this is a theory which is debated. The saving grace of Christ is not.
In other words, orthodox Christians do not believe that we go to heaven because we do enough good things. Rather, we believe that we will be judged "saved" totally because of what Christ has done for us. Our actions, good or bad, do not influence His judgment. This we consider a good thing, because we believe none of us are good enough to earn salvation, no matter how good we are. In this we differ from the Muslims, and from other belief systems.
Contrary to Jefferson, and to some statements that you all seemed to make in your podcast about Jefferson's Bible, Christians do not believe that Jesus was primarily a moral philosopher. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg - or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us."
I entirely appreciate your "to each his/her own" motto. And I know that there are a minority of world Christians and historic theologians who might support your assertions that Christianity is basically a system of ethics or morals (as Jefferson believed, and as you pointed out). However, the vast majority of Christian theologians and ministers, around the world and throughout time, would not agree with your assertions. We do not believe that Christianity is mainly about ethics. It is about the person and work of Christ, in trusting Him. So, while this may be your personal belief system, it is not reflective of most Christian theology. In this, when you claim that this is what Christianity is, I believe you are sometimes UNINTENTIONALLY misleading.
Once again, I love the show and have great respect for what you are doing. I also respect your belief systems, and your right to conjecture about things like the origin of religion, the meaning of life, etc. Keep it up, by all means. But I do wish you would be more precise when you speak of my religion and not mischaracterize it.
If you are reading this as a note on facebook, may I recommend you visit www.ThomasMcKenzie.com for the full service version?