How to produce knowledge about “Who is a Christian”—S.N.Balagangadhara

Imagine that I were to say the following: Christ and Ganesha are manifestations of the same divinity; Christ came about 2000 years ago in the Middle East, whereas Ganesha is how he has appeared in India some 4000 years ago. Now no one can forbid me from saying this and calling myself a Christian. Question: what should a theory about Christianity do? Show how anyone who decides to call himself a ‘Christian’ is, in fact, also a Christian? In that case, all such a ‘theory’ can do is say something like the following: anyone who calls himself some name (‘Christian’, ‘Democrat’, ‘Marxist’, etc) is also whatever he calls himself. Such an attitude simply ends up making any knowledge of society and human beings impossible.

The second possibility is to ‘norm’ the discussion. Someone, anyone, is a Christian if and only if he has the following properties: X, Y, Z. Such a discussion has been conducted during the two millennia that Christianity has been in existence by the different Christian sects. Each has called itself the ‘true’ Christianity and stipulated conditions for being a “true Christian”. This discussion is an internal problem within Christianity and their answers do not interest me, except in one particular way.

What I need to understand is why each sect within Christianity (from the Catholics through the Orthodox to the Protestants) finds it an important problem. That is to say, as a scientist, these facts constitute the problem-situation that I need to understand, assuming I want to produce knowledge about the phenomenon that Christianity is.

Even here, we know that Christianity is simultaneously several things: it is a movement of people, it is a landlord and share holder, it is a marketing bureau and a political force… and it is also what it is to its believers, namely, the revelation of the biblical god in Jesus of Nazareth. I am primarily interested in understanding Christianity in its last aspect, namely, as a specific religion. I do not want to claim that their beliefs are either illusions or are true: my primary facts are their self-descriptions, which not only change from one sect to another but also over time.

Consequently, I set up a hypothesis about what religion is and how Christianity is also a religion. I locate its dynamics of expansion in what is called the Christological dilemma. Using this hypothesis, I explain certain other features that are empirically observable in history.

If one has to criticize me, one has to follow the rules of the scientific game: come up with an alternative hypothesis that not only explains everything I explain, but also more. In all honesty, I have not yet come across such a hypothesis. But I do fervently hope that I will come across such an explanation in the future.