That Semantics Thing

Today’s blog subject has the potential of shunting me off on many tangents because my “flight of ideas” disorder, (recognized to following generations as “attention deficit disorder”) often compels me to explore all the forks in the roads. I will try to stay on point.

The other night the husband and I discussed the meaning of the word “Christian”. As with many of our discussions—more like loud debates about our individual convictions and opinions—this one became mildly heated. However, I wouldn’t have married the guy if I didn’t like arguing with him.

I mentioned a group that I follow called The Christian Left. Their mission is to bring the message of progressive, left-leaning people of faith into the political war waged by the Christian right. I thought it sounded pretty cool.

I don’t recall the reason the husband took umbrage, but soon we were battling it out over the meaning of the word “Christian.”

Having the unique status of being raised as a Christian Scientist, I maintained the point that I could, whether I wanted to or not, call myself a Christian. The husband, a child of the Episcopalian church—altar boy and all—was of the opinion that unless there is a liturgy, eucharist, and the belief in the idea of Christ; that is, the son of God taken into heaven and resurrected, and whose body and blood are consumed every Sunday, and to whom we are beholden for dying for our sins, I couldn’t call Christian Science believers “Christians”.

No, we didn’t have wine and wafers. We had what was called testimony. The Practitioner—no reverends, pastors, priests—would open with a discussion of the Lesson, a weekly assignment of Bible passages and segments from Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. After that there would be testaments from the flock.

The husband’s argument was that we followed Mrs. Eddy’s direction, not that of Jesus. True, the word “Christ” was not emphasized. But I dug Mary’s interpretation of who Jesus was and how we could apply his example to our way of living.

I staunchly tried to defend my freedom to identify as a Christian. Why not, I argued? Mrs. Eddy was a Methodist before she developed her theories inspired by mid nineteenth-century Massachusetts spiritualism. Methodists don’t have a eucharist, and neither did Presbyterians, or at least the church I had visited a time or two as a teenager.

I’ve been in Lutheran services, too. They’re pretty heavy with ritual.

The husband did, of course, raise the specter of faith healing, the bane of Christian Scientists—at least the devout ones. “They kill people!” I had a hard time with that one too—I became a nurse, for goddess’s sake. Sitting in Sunday School, I didn’t buy that matter didn’t exist. To a nine-year-old, everything has to be proven via observation.

A generalist, I applied the loose theory of believing in one God, and in a guy (some call the Messiah) who pissed off both the Judean ruling classes and the Romans and said a lot of cool things, allowed me to call myself a Christian. Meaning I’m not Muslim (one God and Mohammed), or Jewish (one God and his law), or any other belief from the thousands of faiths around the world.

But I don’t believe in that Christ figure. I never got the meaning of “he died for our sins”—what, because we killed him, and so many of the other martyrs of the world? The idea of sin was a special target of Mrs Eddy, anyway. We are Children of God, and all that.

After the husband, frustrated that I wasn’t budging from my argument, went to bed, I thought about what he had said. Our disagreement was based on how we define terms. The husband, who studied linguistics in college, applies strict semantics to meaning. It’s something I’ve always admired about him. My defining method falls into the category of gestalt—I’d rather look at a whole, rather than parts.

In the morning, I told him I agreed with him, understanding now the history of the word, “Christian”. I wouldn’t know what to call Christian Scientists, the Society of Friends, or even the Latter Day Saints, because the roots of all these come from Christianity.

That’s why I like The Christian Left. I like the idea of humanitarian Christian-based opposition. I may be what one could call optimistically agnostic—that is I celebrate the miracle of life in the universe—but my roots are in Christianity. I do not like or agree with hardline Christian policy and the assault on/erosion of division of church and state. I do not like or agree with evangelicalism of any kind, whether you are anti-abortion or a vegan.

Jesus might have said “turn the other cheek”, but he did throw the money-lenders out of the temple. Time to do it again.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


That Semantics Thing — 4 Comments

  1. If you want to do WhatWouldJesusDo, remember his values (according to the Bible). He cured the sick (for free) & fed the hungry (for free). He welcomed the outsiders & sinners & unclean. He warned how hard it was for a rich man to be saved.

    He tossed money changers out of the temples. He argued against the Righteous. He’s the epitome of self-sacrificing for the good of others.

    Some evangelicals have the values of Jesus Christ. Others have the values of Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson or Joel Osteen.

  2. Like your husband, I was raised Episcopalian, though since I grew up in a town called Friensdwood, I also spent a lot of time with Quakers. On the whole, I am willing to call anyone who believes in the teaching of Jesus Christ a Christian, regardless of the structure of their church or even whether they have one. In that frame of mind, I might well argue that those who claim the “prosperity gospel” have no right to the name, since I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t preaching about getting rich. I don’t call myself a Christian anymore, though, because I don’t believe in any gods even though I find the teachings of a diversity of religious people valuable and illuminating. I suspect believing in the Christian idea of god is a prerequisite for being Christian.

  3. I was raised, religiously speaking, by wolves: my father was raised Jewish but parted from the religious part of his background pretty early. My mother was Episcopalian, and retained a fondness for the ritual long past the point where she ceased believing any of the precepts. Me… I’m making it up as I go along, in complete reverse of my brother, who is an evangelical Christian.

    I think you’re Christian. And whatever-the-hell-I-am, I totally embrace “humanitarian Christian-based opposition”.

  4. The term has a long history – the christians sacrificed to the lions back in the days of the Roman Empire were the early adherents of what was to become the Catholic church, after all – but seems to have very specific connotations in an American context.