Finally, each branch of Christianity decides which books to include in the Bible, which can greatly alter meaning and intent. That does not mean that the Bible lacks authority. One need only see how societies have generally incorporated the tenets of the Ten Commandments into codified laws to see that the Bible has weight and authority. However, it does mean that a Christian must consult his own thoughts and beliefs and do some outside study, not just rely on information in the Bible.
I understand that my conclusions differ from the conclusions reached by many Christians. Some people simply cannot conceive of Christianity where Marys virginity is irrelevant, good works are part of being Christian, and the Bible is not the ultimate authority.
This is largely due to the emphasis that Christianity places on Jesus and Christian authority, and the fact that so many Christian denominations minimize the role of critical thinking. However, in my belief, Jesus died so that humans would no longer have to sacrifice for their sins. His death was not meant to signify the end of independent thought and reflection. The whole miracle of humanity, the blessing and the burden received in the garden, was the ability to know good from evil. What being a Christian means is that one tries to pick good over.