The other thing I wanted to touch on was that since Christianity is so deeply embedded in the fabric of all that is around me, I've mainly, in self-defense, gotten to know the religion well. I have experienced my notion and my relationship with what I'll call Shekhinah, or She Who Dwells Among Us, which is somewhat different from God and is more anthromorphized than I like, but less vague than That Which Is. I may have to make up my own word from some useful bases to express this concept later, but, for now, what I have experienced has been something I was able to make fit the words that the congregationalist church used. It's also something that was fairly translatable to Biblically based thought.
However, in the meantime, I've studied the Law, and the Bible and the branch that grew into the New Testament. Mostly to find out for myself what those words really were and what they could meant and I've had some good teachers who taught me much about the context of those words and what those words, in those times, meant to the people who wrote them. And, rather than simply sit in the seat of scoffers or lie in the couch of idlers, I've studied the words from the Word and found much enlightenment, entertainment, and solid lessons which, since they are the mythological heart of this society, are easy to communicate with.
A few random bits of thought based on the Bible. Note that none of this is in any way a judgment if the book is good or bad. This is more like the analysis of a tool and usage. A lot of it has been in self-defense, Rescuing the Bible from Fundimentalism: A Bishoop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture is a great resource for those that want to know more about the Bible and authoritative readings that are as valid or even more historically valid than what you hear spouted by those the media chooses to highlight. For those that wish to find a useful alternative to 'belief' as the staple to Christian religion, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time offers a number of really useful and keen insights as to why the Jesus and God most children were introduced to cannot work for adults. What's really interesting is that most of the objections I've heard to Christianity as a whole by nearly every adult agnostic I've run into is addressed by the latter book and it's short and to the point. As this page is not.
A good place to start, for self-defense is that, Biblically, for the Christian Faith, all people are Children of God. The parable of the prodigal son is very clear that even if someone turns away from God for a while, they are not disowned by Her. Note, in these notes, the word 'sin' is to be taken without the Western world weighting on the word. It's just a Greek word that means, "To Miss the Mark." Be it a target you've set up, or if the target is Biblical Law, to miss either is to sin. Whether or not they're sinners, wheither or not they're saved, whether or not they're even baptised, we are all Children of God and must be allowed the chance at redemption. That no one is turned away from Jesus' side. You can only walk away yourself, the body of Christ is built to receive anyone and everyone and Jesus himself said that he was made for those who needed him most. For it isn't the healthy who need a physician, it's the sick.
In Matthew, there is an entire section (chapter 25, verses 31-46) that speaks of Jesus seperating the sheep and the goats when he is to judge all mortal souls. The thing is that he seperates them by whether or not, when they saw need, if they acted to fill the need. Did they feed the hungry, cloth the naked, or give shelter to strangers, visit the prisoner in their prison? As they acted for the lost and the forsaken, so did they act for him. And as they did not act for them, so they did not act for him. It says nothing about a seperation along the lines of 'Christian' and 'non-Christian'. Only along the lines of those who acted in compassion and those who did not. So if someone says that all Christians automatically get in and all non's will no-show in Heaven (which, in my parlace means some closer relationship with That Which Is) point 'em at this passage.
When the prostitute was hunted by others out into the field and about to be stoned, and they asked Jesus to approve the action, he refused to. In fact, he challanged all those that wanted to hunt her down to look at themselves. Which of you have never failed? He asked. None of them could say they had never failed, never broken the Laws. So he said that only those who were without sin could cast the first rock. In the same way one could counter any use of physical violence, by going back to that specific lesson of Christ. See if they actually respect the words, actions, and lessons of the one who is supposed to be their Leader.
If you come across someone who says that some illness is God's retribution, point them at the book of Job. That bad things can happen to really great people, people that God stands by, listens to, and loves. Whom God supports and is simply there for even in the midst of anguish and loss and pain. It's funny, but in the book of Job, Elihu, which is Job's friend goes through all the arguments as to why he thinks Job's hated by God because of his affliction, that Job must have done something horrible to have all this happen to him, this is through chapters 35-37. Before this Job's wife and other friend say pretty much the same thing. Job doesn't say a thing, but God suddenly bursts out and answers him with a flood of all the marvelous things he's done... and then in chapter 42 Job finally just says that just having seen God is enough. God then gets mad at all the friends who have spoken ill of Job or tried to get him to admit to wrong doing. Job's prayers are all that save them. It's kinda useful to read the whole book, but the context of the last seven chapters is enough to set up that Job's friend was pretty much saying the same thing the person you're trying to defend yourself against was saying and God really does get pissed at that. If they take the Bible literally, it's a great way to make the point.
Yes, I also understand that most thinking people kinda read the book of Job as an example of God's pettiness, but given who wrote it and their writing style, much of that can be written off to the accepted style of that day. In that it sounds really bombastic to us, today, but in those times, those were the necessary credentials of a God.
Okay... and if they say that AIDS, specifically, is a scourge of God, then you can answer right back that that must make lesbians the Chosen of God because that's the portion of the population with the least incidense. I know, that won't make 'em happy.
One of the reasons folks of his day were so upset with Jesus was because he called God by the word 'Abba' which is the familiar form of Father, and more accurately translates to Daddy, what a young child would call their father. It's an intimate, familiar term, rather than the remote, fearsome One Whose Name Cannot Be Said, connotating a familiar relationship with God rather than a relationship that was far-off worship/fear. Which rather sounds like something that would upset various forms of clergy in this day and age as well. Though, from Jesus' actions, Christians should have an intimate relationship with God.
If you're feeling threatened or being abused by Christians, ask 'em what Jesus said their two commandments are. The two he named were 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, ability and soul and Love your neighbor as you would yourself.' That's it. Those are the most important, and he said that they were encompass all else. Are they actually acting in love? Do they love you? Know you as they would believe God knows you? You can also ask what Jesus told the group of people who came to stone a prostitute. Do they have no sin? Can they advocate the damage of another, if they have sin, without coming into direct conflict with their Lord's teachings? Most of the lists of punishments are in later books or in the Old Testament. None of them were given by Jesus himself.
Note also that Jesus himself never said anything about homosexuality. Paul was a noted homophobe, but then he's the one that also advocated that women never be allowed in a church, much less speak, and if they believe they must take all the laws literally, then why do they allow women in their church? The lesson of Sodem and Ghamorrah has been cited by many as being solely against homosexuality. If you actually read the passages, the crimes that the people commit are actually lack of hospitality for travellers, an unwillingness to listen to or act according a prophet of God, and beyond that, the desire to rape the strangers, and an actual rape of the daughters of the patriarch in question. The sex of the intended victims have very little to do with the actual crimes offered up by the citizens of those cities. It is a tale whose main point is obedience to God and the precipts of the time for interaction with strangers.
For those who know that other people have driven them away from the church, Jesus himself said, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will not drive away." John 6:37. So, never believe anyone that ways that it's the will of God that has kicked you out, it's always the people.
As you can probably tell, by now, I often feel that the Church, today, serves, in many ways, the same role as the Temple of Jesus' day. I keep wanting to rewrite the lesson of the Samaritan with an archbishop, a minister, a Baptist preacher, and a gay man, but we'll see if I ever find the time.