How to Start Over With Christianity
Welcome to this first installment of “Starting Over With Christianity.” There are many different reasons why someone would want to start over with Christianity. Could be due to any number of things, but in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter why you want to start over, it only matters that you do. And that’s who this series is for—people from whatever background who for whatever reasons want to start over with Christianity.
Starting over with Christianity is not something that can be done in 15 minutes. If you seriously want to start over, it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to happen just by listening to one or two episodes. You’ll have to invest time. You’ll also need to be willing to think—really think. We’re going to spend time looking at different Christian beliefs and seeing where they make sense, and where they don’t make sense. And also, realize this is not a feel-good series where I give you a sweet little thought-for-the-day. It’s not a devotional-type thing. It has more substance than that.
In order to start over, you have to first understand how things got to be the way they are and where things might have gone off track. And so in this series, we’ll examine the basic beliefs of Christianity as it is today and see where they came from. As we see where they came from, we’ll talk about ways they could have been different. And then we’ll begin to be able to look at Christianity differently, in a completely different light.
Christianity has been around for almost 2000 years. Sometimes it’s had a sordid history, but people have never given up on it. There’s a reason people haven’t given up on it—there’s something within Christianity that just won’t let people go. People realize that beneath all the mess that sometimes exists in organized Christianity, there is a grain of something that is what we need and that we can’t get anywhere else.
In this series we’re going to take Christianity apart, see where it went wrong, throw out some of that, and then reinterpret it. I believe when we do that, you’ll see a very different Christianity from what you’ve seen before.
So let’s start at the beginning, with the very basics.
What Is a Deity?
Christianity believes in the existence of a deity. What is a deity? Well, a deity has several characteristics. A deity is a supernatural being. That means it exists outside the physical universe. If you got in some kind of space vehicle and traveled all through the universe, you’d never get to where the deity is, because it exists outside the physical universe. Another way to put it is to say that a deity exists in another dimension.
The second characteristic of a deity is that people worship it or pay homage to it. That means people reverence it, respect it, honor it, admire it. Why do they do that? Well, that leads to the third characteristic of a deity—people feel it exerts some kind of influence or control over their life and their destiny. In other words, a deity does things that affect people.
So, there are three characteristics of a deity—it exists outside the physical universe, it exerts some kind of influence over the lives of people, and because of that, people worship it.
Why, in the final analysis, do people worship a deity? Because they feel the deity exerts influence and control over their lives, and they want it to act favorably toward them. If you worship a deity, that will hopefully favorably dispose the deity toward you, and it will then exert its influence and control over your life in ways that are good for you. That, in a nutshell, is the whole purpose of worshipping a deity—so that it will act favorably toward you. I mean, after all, if the deity couldn’t do anything, there would be no use in paying it any attention. It’s only because people believe a deity does things that influence their lives that the deity is important.
Where Is God?
Christians believe in a deity they call God. This God exists outside the physical universe in another realm, another dimension. Christians sometimes refer to the realm where God exists as “heaven.” Where is heaven? That’s not defined in Christianity. It’s in another realm. It’s somewhere else. But although God exists in heaven, Christians believe God exerts influence, or control, here in the physical universe. God does things that affect peoples’ lives.
God as Creator
Christians believe God is the source of the physical universe. Some Christians believe God created the physical universe, including the earth and everything on the earth, as told in the first part of the book of Genesis. Other Christians don’t accept the Genesis account of creation but believe God is in some way responsible for things coming into being, through the Big Bang and evolution or through some other process. This is actually the most common Christian belief today. Most Christians no longer believe God created the world as outlined in Genesis; they accept science’s account instead. But, some Christians still believe God created the world as Genesis says. So, Christians don’t necessarily agree on exactly how God brought all things in the physical universe into being, only that however it happened, God was in some way the power behind it.
As part of that, Christians believe God is responsible for the existence of human beings. Again, Christians don’t agree on exactly how God brought human beings into existence. Some still believe God created Adam and Eve like Genesis says, but others think God worked through some process like evolution. Christians do agree that however it happened, God was in some way the power behind it.
So, Christians believe God is the source of everything that exists in the physical universe, including human beings, either through creation as told in the book of Genesis or through some other process.
Christianity as Human-Centered Religion
Christianity is a human-centered religion. That means that what Christianity primarily concerns itself with is human beings. Christianity does not place a lot of emphasis on plant life, animal life, nature, or the earth in general. The emphasis of Christianity is on human beings, and the specific thing Christianity concentrates on is on the relation of human beings to God and God’s relation to human beings.
Why Are We Here?
Christians believe we human beings are here because God in some way put us here. That means we owe our existence to God. Without God, we wouldn’t exist. That’s why our relation to God is seen as so important in Christianity—we owe our existence to God. God is the one who put us here.
Our Primary Relation to God Is that We Are Sinners
So what does Christianity see as the primary fact about our relation to God and God’s relation to us? Well, in Western Christianity, which is Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity, our relation to God and God’s relation to us is characterized primarily by one thing—we do not live our lives the way God wants us to live them. God is dissatisfied with how we live our lives.
Because of that, our position before God, our status before God, is characterized primarily by the fact that we do not live our lives the way God wants us to. In other words, we stand before God primarily as people with whom God is displeased. That, according to Western Christianity, is our primary identity—we do not live the way God wants us to, and as a result, God is displeased with us.
Above everything else that Western Christianity says about our relation to God and God’s relation to us, this is the one overriding thing—God is displeased with us because we do not live as He wants us to.
And so, according to Western Christianity, our approach to God, first of all, should be with shame and guilt because we have not lived as God wants us to. When we think of how God looks at us, we should think, first of all, that God is displeased with us because we have not lived the way He wants us to.
This idea also characterizes how we see ourselves. According to Western Christianity, who we are, at the most fundamental level, is people who do not live as God wants us to.
What is the main fact about me, at the deepest level? That I do not live as God wants me to. According to Western Christianity, this is the overriding truth about each one of us. Each one of us falls short. Each one of us is a failure in the sight of God. And, each one of us remains a failure in the sight of God our whole life, because our whole life we fail to live as God wants us to. That is what each one of us is at the deepest level—an utter failure.
Christianity calls this “sin.” When we do not do as God wants, we “sin.” So, what each of us primarily is, in the sight of God, is a sinner. That is The Main Fact about all of us—we are sinners. At the deepest, most fundamental level, who each one of us is, is a sinner. That’s the one thing about me that overrides everything else—I’m a sinner. My whole relation to God is characterized first of all by the fact that I’m a sinner, and God’s whole relation to me is characterized first of all by the fact that I’m a sinner.
The Most Basic Belief of Western Christianity
This belief—that each one of us, primarily, is a sinner with whom God is displeased—is the single most important foundational belief of Western Christianity. It determines all other beliefs, because everything else in Western Christianity is built on this one foundational belief.
It is of course expressed differently in the different versions of Western Christianity, but in one way or another, it is The Foundational Belief upon which all other beliefs are based.
This is the first thing we need to look at if we truly want to start over again with Christianity. Is it true that the primary fact about our relation to God and God’s relation to us is that we don’t live as God wants us to live? That is the interpretation Western Christianity has put on things, but is it the only interpretation possible?
No, it’s not. We don’t have to see the primary thing about our relation to God and God’s relation to us as being that we don’t live our lives the way God wants us to. We don’t have to see our primary identity as being sinners. There are other possible interpretations. But before we get to that, we have to understand how it got to be that way in Western Christianity.
Augustine and Original Sin
It’s because of something called the doctrine of original sin. That belief was developed almost 400 years after the time of Jesus by a man named Augustine, and it was almost immediately accepted in Western Christianity.
According to Augustine, back when God first made the world, everything was perfect. God created a man and a woman—Adam and Eve—and they lived in the Garden of Eden, which was paradise. Every day was total joy. There was no sickness, pain, or suffering. There was no bad weather, no hot or cold weather. There was no death. Adam and Eve would never age. They would live forever. Even animals didn’t kill and eat each other. Everything lived in harmony in the Garden of Eden. It was pure paradise.
Back when God first put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He warned them about a certain tree there. He told them not to eat the fruit of that one tree. They could eat the fruit of anything else, but not that one tree.
But one day, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of that tree. According to Augustine, when then did that, they committed a “sin.” They disobeyed God. They did something God told them not to do.
And God was not happy about it. In fact God was so upset about it that in response to it, He completely changed how the entire universe works. God introduced pain and suffering and sickness into the world. He introduced bad weather and storms. He introduced sadness and sorrow and trouble into the world. And worst of all, God introduced death. Animals now started killing and eating each other.
But that was not all. God changed the biology of all living things, so that now all living things would one day die, including Adam and Eve. One day they would get old, or they would get sick, and die.
But even that was not all. The book of Genesis said that originally, when God made Adam and Eve, He made then good—100% good. But now, God completely changed human nature so that Adam and Eve were no longer good. Now they were 100% evil. God changed them so that they had no good in them whatsoever. They were incapable of any good. They were only capable of evil. They couldn’t even think about anything good.
And since God changed basic human nature, Adam and Eve would pass that down through inheritance to all human beings who came after them—forever. The result was that every human being who would ever be born would be, from the moment of their birth, 100% evil, incapable of any good whatsoever. From that point on, every action that any human being did, and even every thought that any human being had, was 100% evil.
But even that wasn’t all. It wasn’t just that now Adam and Eve would one day die. A spiritual part of them, their soul, would live on after their body died, and that soul would go to a place outside the physical universe where it would live forever and be tortured and tormented horribly for all eternity. This is what Western Christians call “hell.”
All that, because they did one thing God told them not to do.
So according to Augustine, every human being that was ever born is born 100% evil—a sinner. That’s all we can be. We can’t do any good, because there is no good in us. We can’t even think about doing good. Everything we do and everything we think, from the moment of our birth, is evil through and through.
And that’s how it came to be that Western Christianity would see the main characteristic about our relation to God and God’s relation to us as being that we are sinners.
God Makes Us Sin But Still Hold Us Responsible
There’s a kicker in this. Even though we’re born 100% evil with no good at all, even though we’re totally unable to do anything but sin, we’re still held responsible for it. Even though we’re born so that from the moment of our birth we can’t do anything but sin, God still holds us responsible for sinning. We can’t help it, but we’re still held responsible for it. Because we sin, we will spend eternity in hell, being tortured with unimaginable torments for all eternity.
Of course, over the years this idea was modified here and there, and especially today, people have problems with the idea of original sin. Some are no longer willing to say God condemns people to hell for eternity, and some are no longer willing to say that there’s no good whatsoever in people. But even still, no matter how different groups of Christians have modified the idea of original sin, the belief is still virtually universal within Western Christianity that all people are born with a tendency to sin, and the primary thing about our relation to God, and God’s relation to us, is still seen as being that we do not live the way God wants us to—that whatever else we might be, we are first and foremost sinners in the sight of God. So the doctrine of original sin is still, one way or another, the foundational belief of Western Christianity.
Does this make sense to you? Probably not. What’s important to realize is that this belief was developed by human beings 400 years after the time of Jesus. It is a human idea. It is an interpretation, and there are other interpretations possible. It was a fork in the road, and we can take another direction. We don’t have to build a Christianity based on Augustine’s interpretation.
But first we need to understand why Western Christianity was so ripe for that belief, why they chose that interpretation above other possible interpretations.
That will be the topic of our next segment.