Titles and Descriptions
by: Paul W. Sharkey
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The other day while searching for something on eBay I discovered that I was not being very successful. I then clicked on the tab to include both titles and descriptions in my search and was much more successful in finding the kind of thing I was looking for. This reminded me that in more than just eBay shopping, titles can sometimes not only not be very informative but even misleading — no more so than when it comes to “believers” and/or “Christians.”
I have found that there are a lot of people who call themselves “believers” — and who want to label me as an “unbeliever” — for whom I have wondered just what those titles imply.
Some of the distinctions that can be made about kinds of beliefs include whether a given belief is a belief about, that, or in something. In my experience I have found that while there seem to be an awful lot of religious “believers” of the first two sorts, there are damned few of the third except for those who hold to some sort of superstition or other.
As far as I can tell, “creationists,” [and especially “intelligent designers” — an oxymoron if there ever was one] are believers about something, who in propounding those views make claims that certain things are the case all in the hope of achieving certain superstitiously held ends. As “believers,” for the most part they may pretty well be described as prejudiced, ignorant, arrogant, fear driven and frequently fear-mongering, self-centered and selfish and I for one am therefore honored to be called an “unbeliever” by them.
When it comes to the title “Christian” things can be and usually are pretty much the same, although I do have a belief about a certain way of “being Christian” that at least allows for the possibility of it being otherwise, but it is one in which as a title “being Christian” is meaningless.
How can one know whether one (oneself or another) is “Christian?” Is it by having certain beliefs about Jesus et al. or does it consist in having beliefs in certain kinds of things or even whether one can have belief in those things unless one also has certain beliefs about Jesus? These questions have raged from even before “Christianity’s” inception up to the very present. It seems the majority opinion has taken the position that what is all and ultimately important is what one believes about Jesus and not so much whether one believes in what he is supposed to have taught – not about himself, but about what one should value most, trust in, and be committed to.
It is perhaps quite awkward and ironic for an agnostic (apathetic or otherwise) to refer to “scripture” but it has always seemed to me that an awful lot of “Christians” conveniently avoid paying much attention to certain passages of their own texts. For example, Jesus reportedly taught that it is not those who worship him who are his true followers but rather those who “hear and do” the “word” and that his “word” is to “love one another.”
Many among those who call themselves Christian (as well as those who don’t) know the song: “They will know we are Christian’s by our love” (a sentiment it seems kept more in its breach than in its fulfillment) which very nicely draws attention to the description rather than the title of what it is to be a “Christian.” Who cares what someone calls themselves? Isn’t it what we do that really counts — and makes us who and what we are!
- Though they are sometimes related, they need not be. To have a belief about something is to entertain or hold some sort of view or theory about it; to have a belief that something is the case is to make an at least personal claim about its truth while to believe in something is to place one’s trust or commitment in it.
- Not “a - Christian,” implying a title, but just “Christian,” meaning a description.
- See for example Matthew 7:21
- Possible citations are too numerous to list but see John 13:34-35 if you must.
- It seems to me that apathy about names and titles is always functionally appropriate unless they somehow tell us something actually descriptive about the thing or person in question.