Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with certain common terms used in Christian circles. For the un-heathen readers, you may have grown up familiar with phrases and jargon but not completely understand them beyond what you learned from your parents in church. And so I present to you Everything You Wanted To Know About Christianity.
"Some people in America are scared silly of Christianity, but many of the most frightened know very little about it. They throw around terms like fundamentalist and evangelical with very little knowledge of their meaning, and this is before they enter the dark thicket of Preterists, Amillennialists, Prelapsarian Arminian Claims Adjusters, etc."
Here, then, is a handy reference guide to some of the key terms, concepts and groups.
Premillennialism: This is the belief among some Christians that ever since January 1, 2000, it has no longer been possible, in the words of the Prince song, "to party like it's 1999." Postmillennialists are those Christians who believe that it will always be possible to do so, while amillennialists believe that in this context "1999" cannot be understood literally, but must be read as an allegorical term roughly meaning "a time at which it is especially appropriate to party."
Rapture: This was a No. 1 hit in 1980 for Blondie (No. 5 in the UK), from the otherwise underwhelming Autoamerican album. Many Christians now concede that the then-pioneering use of rap in the song sounds a little lame in retrospect. In their bestselling series of books about the song, Left Behind (Parallel Lines), Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye defend the rap verse's hip references to Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy, and maintain that when Jesus returns, all believers will be united in accepting that Blondie's cover of "The Tide Is High" is better than the original.
Pope: The pope is the president of Christianity. He is elected every four years by the Congress of Cardinals, which is divided into the Senate and the Holy House of Representatives. As president, the pope can veto important pieces of legislation, which he tends to do. The pope is also magical and cannot be seen with the naked eye except for one hour on Christmas Eve every year.
Bible: The Bible was written by God as a merchandising tie-in to his blockbuster film The Ten Commandments: Each book of the Bible is named after a person who features prominently in it--for example, the book of Numbers is named after Herschel Nmnbers, who invented numerals. The Bible was so successful that God wrote a sequel, Bible II: On to Rome, now generally called the New Testament. Protestants believe that the Bible is literally true in every detail except the description of the Eucharist, while Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible.
Catholics: Catholics are the New York Yankees of Christianity. They are the biggest and wealthiest team, and their owner is intensely controversial (this makes St. Francis of Assisi the Derek Jeter of Catholicism: discuss). Catholics all wear matching uniforms and are divided into "parishes" or "squadrons" to make choosing softball teams easier. Catholics are rigidly controlled by a hidebound hierarchy that starts with priests on the bottom and priests' housekeepers on the top. Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible, eat meat or refrain from worshiping statues.
Orthodox: For many years, American scholars believed that the Orthodox were--like leprechauns, unicorns and liberal Republicans--purely the product of the fanciful imaginations of medieval writers. Recent evidence leads us to tentatively conclude, however, that Eastern Orthodoxy may have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million adherents. Protestants tend to see the Orthodox as "Catholics with beards," while Catholics confess to a haunting sense that they themselves are simply "Orthodox without beards."
Protestant Reformation: This is the name historians give to a major labor dispute that erupted in Germany in 1517 when a group of monks hammered a proposed union contract to the door of the pope's house, requesting a 95 percent pay raise. The pope refused to negotiate with the monks union until it agreed to pay to have the door fixed, and the result was the world's longest-running strike. For nearly 500 years, a huge number of Christians have been on strike from being Catholic, saying they are "justified" in their work stoppage because the pope won't expand the number of indulgences they get per year. Currently, the matter is in arbitration.
Calvinism: This theory was worked out by the French theologian and fashion designer John Calvin Klein, who argued that some people are predestined to be glamorous while others are doomed to be plain. America was founded by Calvinists, who sought to establish a country where they could pursue their belief that buckled hats were fashionable.
Fundamentalism: The belief that basic elements of play--like passing, ball handling and defense--are the essential building blocks of a winning basketball team. The fundamentalists formulated their doctrine in the 1980s against the showy, heretical play of Magic Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers. Leading fundamentalist institutions include Bob Jones University and Syracuse. Larry Brown's failure to get the Knicks into the playoffs has been seen as a major setback for the cause of fundamentalism.