I read some of the content in your emails about Kierkegaard and Schaeffer, and I intend to continue reading and trying to absorb that more thoroughly.
Below are my answers to your questions. I'm not surprised by the different answers that you have received and that there are so many beliefs, branches, denominations, etc. in "Christianity". My views have changed somewhat over the years in that I place more emphasis on spirituality than on religion and really try to keep an open mind about religious teachings outside of Christianity and to learn from them too. I imagine that may be a concern to some Christians, especially those who were taught to never question anything.
(Ray, I am curious as to what brought you to this group if you don't define yourself as a Christian.)
Should the word 'Christian' refer to anything specific in religious or metaphysical beliefs?
Religious - Very simply, a Christian believes in the teachings of Christ--and hopefully follows Him. (Being a member of a Christian church does not make one a Christian, in my opinion. Atheists can be members of Christian churches.) The Bible is the instruction book. That manual is not easy for everyone to read, and I keep in mind that men chose which books to put in the Bible. There is probably a lot that we don't know about Jesus. I supplement what I learn with my own gut feeling, prayer,--and the help of the Holy Spirit, of course.
Metaphysical - Heavens, yes! Although it seems that maybe God left us here to flounder to some extent, I also think that He probably suffers with us and that there is some divine intervention. It is easier for me to believe that God causes the sun to come up and go down each day than for me to try to believe an explanation that doesn't involve a higher power. I am one of those people, however, who believe in both creation and evolution. (I imagine I'll get some feedback on that.)
Does the word 'Christian' refer to anything about God?
For me, being Christian means believing that Christ is God's son who died for us. I have thought of God as the judge and Christ as the attorney who pleads our cases. (Yes, folks, I don't think that ALL lawyers are........well, you've heard the jokes.) Being a Christian has not left me with all answered questions, however. I see only dimly now.
Does the word 'Christian' refer to anything about the historical Jesus?
The historical Jesus was a good man and teacher. The Christian Jesus goes beyond that and is God's son who died for us and was resurrected.
Does the word 'Christian' refer to anything about the meaning of life?
Yes, Christ taught us to love God and others. If we truly loved God and all beings and were perfect, we wouldn't be breaking any Christian-based commandments. Although love may sound simple, everything that God desires of us should come from that love. I personally don't find a lot of value in doing things purely out of a sense of duty. However, I think that a "should" or "have to" motive can turn into "feeling good inside" and prompt someone to do more. I don't like putting an emphasis on personal rewards in this life or the next. I believe that we are tested in this life, and God's way is the one that actually works.
Does the word 'Christian' refer to anything about a Power over history that promises a certain future - even if it's beyond history?
My belief as a Christian is that God already knows what the future holds. That future includes a beautiful afterlife that is in line with God's original creation.
Does the word 'Christian' refer to anything about the moral status of animals? If so, how? To persons as such? or only to humans? If so, 'where does it say that'?
I have no doubt that God's/Christian love extends to all beings. My belief is that we are to be good stewards of God's magnificent creation, and I don't see Christ condoning cruelty toward animals. Unfortunately the word "dominion" means something different to different people--even those who call themselves Christians. Animals have social lives and feel pain. Therefore, they deserve moral consideration. Even many atheists--with a sense of morality--support that. In answer to your question, it "says that" in one's heart, in one's sense of right and wrong, and in the example of Jesus' mercy.
The link below contains many of my sentiments. After finding it through a search and reading it, I noticed that Stephen Kaufman was quoted. Many of you probably know him through the Christian Vegetarian Association, their website, and online discussion group. Some of you, like I, also may have done leafletting (or tabling) for that organization. http://vegsoc.org.au/religion_jesus_and_animals.asp
What makes something 'Christian'? How does something become 'Christian'? Can one be (like Mike in Canada) BOTH 'Christian' and non-Christian at the same time?
Someone is Christian by believing what the Bible tells us about Christ--and typically tries to follow Christ's teachings. I don't know exactly what Mike believes or how he labels himself, but I think there is great value in examining other teachings in addition to the Bible. I am sorry if that sounds non-Christian.
And does REASON have anything to do with anything religiously important (as Evangelicals seem to be saying these days, but others have already ruled out in the way they have developed their epistemologies). Maynard, could you give an example of these differences in belief about reason among Evangelicals vs. others?
I personally think that we were given REASONING skills for a REASON. I believe that one practicing a religion should still use God-given reasoning. I find it very scary that I was raised in a Christian environment where animals were killed and eaten, and I just continued eating them for years without a lot of questioning about it.
While reasoning skills are important, I also believe that there are people with very low intellect who sense the difference between right and wrong and perhaps in some cases even more so than more "intelligent" people.
I feel that religious beliefs generally start in the head but are nothing without the heart (or spirituality). You may have heard that the longest (spiritual) journey is the 12 inches from the head to the heart.
What I find unfortunate about how Christianity has often been practiced since the beginning is that people have pulled something out of the Bible to make it fit and warrant whatever harm they want to inflict on themselves or others. Of course, God's forgiveness is available, but many of those acts don't reflect well on Christians and the Christian faith.
As far as complaining, I would venture to guess that social change generally begins with complaints.
When I think about atheist vs. Christian vegetarians, there are things that I wonder about. Are many people atheists because they see no God in all the suffering? Do many atheists concentrate on the here and now more than some Christians and therefore actually become more energetic about doing something about the suffering? I know that what keeps me going is my belief that animals too will be in "heaven", but could that belief actually cause some Christians to think it's okay to kill animals now because those animals will get to heaven sooner?
I'm just "sayin'".