Most rational people can agree that Conservative/Fundamentalist/Whatever Christianity is a plight on humanity. That level of dogmaticism isn’t good for anyone since it is immune to dialog or ever admitting to being wrong. But what about Liberal Christianity? I think that Liberal Christianity is ultimately as doomed as Conservative.
The problem is modern Christianity itself. Modern Christianity is a very historical religion. It claims that certain events happened in history. If these events didn’t happen (like the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus), then modern Christianity is simply false. A religion like Buddhism, however, is not a historical religion. The teachings of Buddhism, whether you agree with them or not, are simply a tool used to improve your life. Whether the First Buddha lived is unimportant to the message of Buddhism. Unfortunately, Christians have combined “true” with “useful”.
In Christianity, the tool, or the message, is Jesus himself. And it says so in the first line of what was probably the first gospel written: “αρχη του ευαγγελια ιησου χριστου::[the] beginning of [the] good news [of] Jesus Christ“. In the Greek, Jesus isn’t preaching any good news, or it isn’t the good news according to Jesus, he is the good news. This same sentiment is expressed in Paul’s authentic letters. Jesus never preached any gospel according to Paul, Jesus was the gospel according to Paul.
But what if Jesus never existed?
I’m an agnostic on the issue of the historicity of Jesus the Nazarene (or maybe the Nazarite?). However, modern Christianity hinges on this one belief. This dogma. There’s still the dogmatic clinging towards certain historical uncertainties: the existence, death, resurrection, and ascention of Jesus. If someone doesn’t believe in those particular dogmas, then are they a Christian? Would any other modern Christian consider someone who didn’t believe in those things to be a Christian?
Early Christianity was more fluid though. The gospel of Thomas, for example, opens with “whoever interperets these sayings will not taste death”. This good news has nothing to do with the resurrection of Jesus, his death on the cross, or any other historical detail about him. It’s the interpretation of sayings that brings salvation. And these sayings are calls to some sort of action (like verse 48). I’d sum up Thomas as being a Gnostic gospel, or one where knowledge of the true, inner spark is what leads to salvation (verse 3). Other Christians simply said they were Christians because they were anointed with the oil of God.
Gnostic Christianity, like I’ve written before, is more like Buddhism. It’s about correct action and not correct belief. If Christianity is to survive, then it has to get rid of dogmas. Focus more on being “Christ-like” instead of being “Christ-believers”. If Christians were more about some sort of Ebionite Christianity (striving to help the poor, humility, and other “action” traits), and not simply about correct beliefs, then it might survive. But is that liberal Christianity? Can a Christian be a Christian and, for example, be an atheist as well (thus Christian Atheists)?
This is why I secretly call myself a Christian Gnostic, but in public I’m now an atheist. Not because I believe Jesus existed, but because I follow teachings, like many of the early Gnostics did. The message is important, not the messenger. And on the internet, I debate against the validity of modern Christianity, because that dogma has to go; I’ve personally been seared by that dogmaticism one too many times. Karen Armstrong, for example, thinks that modern Christians have become too literal in their beliefs, and that mythos was (or is) the way religions should work. Myths used stories (not necessarily true stories) to provoke emotions, or to teach a moral lesson. If we allowed Christianity to be the myth that it’s supposed to be, it might not have done (or continue to do) the damage that it has done. If the world was filled with Karen Armstrongs instead of Rick Warrens, then it would be a better place.
The gospel of Mark being read as history makes no sense. There are glaring historical inaccuracies. But when I read it in what might be its original context – mythos – it is actually a pretty good story.