Christianity is not dead


An evangelical Christian declares that the death of Christianity in the U.S.

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I wish Christianity were dying. It’s not. It’s merely reverting to its roots. The Christianity he’s pining for — a beautiful faith of “love, of peace and of fraternity” — only existed briefly in the minds of a tiny fraction of wishful thinkers. It’s as if he thinks that benign Christianity is the eternal truth of the religion, and that this recent controlling, selfish, faith of indignant sanctimony is a recent innovation.

Just go back to the 19th century. Christianity was used to justify colonialism, slavery, the extermination of Indians, manifest destiny (oh, man, Christianity is so tangled up in the very idea of manifest destiny), the whole European expansion. Christianity sailed into China aboard gunboats selling opium. Christian missions were planted in Africa to justify invasion. In North America, Christian schools were tools to destroy Indian culture. Yet now we’re supposed to pretend the bigotry and sleaziness of Roy Moore are an aberration doing great harm to the reputation of the faith? Only if you’re shortsighted and have no appreciation of history at all.

If you insist on more recent examples, though, remember that it was the good Christians of the South who lynched black men for imagined or trivial slights against the propriety of Christian white women, or that even today the Southern Baptist Convention opposes gay rights. These are not exceptions. It’s built right into the bones of Christianity.

I think it’s wonderful that some Christians have struggled against the grain of Christian history to try to build a better, more egalitarian religion. I would wish that they could succeed. But let’s be honest here: you’re trying to do so on a foundation of patriarchal authoritarianism, with 1700+ years of persecution and corruption as a tradition. If you really want to get rid of the hatred and sectarianism and obsolete sexual mores, the first thing you have to dump is the Bible, and then you’re not Christian anymore.

You also have to admit that Roy Moore isn’t anti-Christian at all — he’s following the Bible with more fidelity than someone who accepts modern ideals of tolerance and pacifism and the acceptance of love in all its forms. You just have to recognize that Moore’s religion is a bad thing.

Comments

  1. says

    A priest murdered a woman in 1960, when he was 27 years old. He’s been convicted, at the age of 85.

    Prosecutors also presented evidence that Catholic Church officials pressured local officials not to pursue Feit as a suspect in the initial investigation, partly because of fears that it could jeopardize John Kennedy’s run for president at the time. Kennedy’s Catholic faith was an issue in the campaign.An August 1960 letter from a Texas priest to another church official, which was entered into evidence, warned that bringing a lurid murder case against a Catholic priest “could make this a juicy scandal for the opposition to Kennedy.”

    https://www.rawstory.com/2017/12/priest-gets-life-sentence-in-cold-case-murder-of-texas-beauty-queen-who-came-to-confession/

  2. DLC says

    One of the biggest problems with religion is that it can be used to promote any set of values you wish. All you need is a convincing message and enough gullible people, and you’re home free. You can tell them God told you it’s mandatory to wear hats on Sunday, and some percentage of people will run out and buy some hats. If your audience is large enough, you can get a bunch of people all wearing hats every Sunday, and from there it is but a step to voting for whatever horrid meatbag that will do your bidding. Thanks to 30-odd years of no civics classes, lunatic religious indoctrination and just plain damnfool wongheadedness, we now will be living through the undoing of the entire New Deal, and the Great Society to boot.

  3. says

    I guess you don’t consider Quakers Christian as they, from the start, de-emphasize the Bible to the point that they don’t consider it the foundational source of faith/knowledge. I don’t recall every hearing a biblical reference when I’ve attended meetings for six months in my early 20’s.

  4. cag says

    You just have to recognize that Moore’s religion is a bad thing.

    This would read better generalized as “You just have to recognize that Moore’s religion is a bad thing”.

  5. unclefrogy says

    well said and simply put! the real history of christian west is very far from the idealized version most people believe in. the defense is often that that were some bad apples some individuals or some such crap when all there is is a endless list of bad apples, bad individuals and general mistakes and “sins” of fallible people just as far back as you can go, all in the name of some illusory idea rarely ever even attempted.
    when I was young and went to church the preaching would hit on the phrase “whited sepulchre” it struck me then and even more so now that the church is mostly just that a white washed container of corruption with the odd honest and good person from time to time.
    uncle frogy

  6. Artor says

    @Mike Smith
    The Nampa, Idaho “Quakers” my sister tried to join were just as bigoted and narrow-minded as your garden-variety fundagelical. Clearly their kinder, gentler version of Xianity has not had an effect on the greater whole. Quite the opposite it seems.

  7. chrislawson says

    Mike Smith — firstly the Quakers are a very small sect with only 3-400,000 members worldwide so they’re hardly representative of the vast bulk of Christianity; secondly, most Quakers believe in the divinity of Jesus and pursue a personal and direct religious relationship with Christ and most Quaker worship meetings involve readings from the Bible. Sure there are a small number of Quaker groups that de-emphasise the Bible. These make up an even tinier subset of their already small sect, and they call themselves Nontheist Quakers…in other words, they are not Christian in the traditional sense.

  8. says

    @9

    I have no doubt that various Monthly Meetings can be as bigoted and narrow minded as other groups. Most Monthly Meetings I attended were some of the most liberal (in all senses) people I have met. However, my point wasn’t that the Society of Friends was a bastion of progressive values.

    My point was Quakers basically don’t use the Bible for anything and it’s frankly bizarre to imply that to be Christian you have to follow only your interpretation of the Bible. Most Christians actually don’t place that much stock in the Bible. Catholic opposition to gay rights, to use an example, has more to do with Aristotle’s influence on canonical law than the half dozen or so alleged biblical prohibitions on homosexual conduct. In short, the Catholic Church could dump the Bible entirely and they still would be bigoted in this way.

  9. jacksprocket says

    For years since, I’ve thought that it’s not what religion/ non- religion you believe in, it’s what are the consequences of that belief. A christian/muslim/buddhist/ effective Socialist is fine in my book. A fascist expert in evolutionary facts is still a fascist.

  10. says

    @10

    I’m aware of that it’s a tiny sect. I wasn’t arguing that they are representative. I’m arguing they belong in the set. I get annoyed when people define any religious group outside of the standard of “this group says they are x religion”.

    I’m afraid you have somethings wrong. First, the vast bulk of the Society in the USA and England are the unprogrammed variety. This group doesn’t have biblical readings because they don’t have anything planned. They sit quietly for an hour. (Of course it’s possible a member could quote the Bible but in my experience it never happened). Now, programmed Meetings (ala Friends Church USA) probably do have biblical readings. I don’t know directly because I’ve never attended one. But the programmed branch is the smaller one

    Setting that to the side, the biblical text is held by every Quacker ever at best a secondary source for God’s guidance. The experience of the Inner Light (or Christ) always takes precedence for them. This means if a biblical texts feels wrong experiential it is to be dropped. This isn’t some new thing either both George Fox and Barclay write about this in the 1600’s and in Barclay’s case he explicitly argues that the Bible is to be held at arm’s length. It’s this feature that allowed the Society to be one of the first religious groups to oppose slavery and the recorded debates around that time have the abolitionist faction flatly arguing the Bible is wrong on slavery. Not that the interpretation of the text, the text itself.

    I’m not saying Quakers are traditional or usual. I’m saying they belong in the set of Christian despite that they largely don’t use the Bible. The Bible is just one of many, many secondary sources for guidance for them. A Faith and Practice book probably has more impact on the Society than the Bible.

  11. chrislawson says

    Mike Smith@13 — I’m happy to let people apply their own labels to themselves except where the label is deceptive or harmful to others (eg. deceptive: “creation scientist”; harmful to others: “true patriot”; both: “constitutional originalist”). So I’m certainly not going to argue against you calling yourself Christian…but surely you can also see that if someone considers the Bible an important but not particularly prescriptive book and rejects the divinity of Jesus, then that is not what most people mean when they call themselves Christian — and indeed most Christians would reject your use of the label, especially those who are about to try to elect Roy Moore to the Senate.

  12. consciousness razor says

    My point was Quakers basically don’t use the Bible for anything and it’s frankly bizarre to imply that to be Christian you have to follow only your interpretation of the Bible.

    They’re either interpreting it or not. It’s not clear what it would mean for someone to follow an interpretation other than their own. If they think it’s an appropriate interpretation, no matter its original source, that is what would make it “theirs” in the relevant sense.

    But even I have an interpretation of the Bible and in some sense “use” it, simply because I know about it and have read it. I’m an atheist and don’t believe most of the content, but there isn’t a way for me to read anything without interpretation.

    I’m not saying Quakers are traditional or usual. I’m saying they belong in the set of Christian despite that they largely don’t use the Bible. The Bible is just one of many, many secondary sources for guidance for them. A Faith and Practice book probably has more impact on the Society than the Bible.

    To “dump” the Bible (in the sense that one isn’t Christian anymore, as PZ claimed) isn’t equivalent to “they largely don’t use” it.

    I take it that a Christian is basically someone who believes they’re following Christ. That’s obviously not a precise formulation, and what “following” entails varies a great deal from one believer to another. It’s essential to believe more or less that Jesus is/was in some way divine, perhaps that his intervention allows a follower to somehow tap into divinity or become divine. One regards his teachings/etc. as expressed in the Bible, or alternatively more direct mystical experiences understood to be interactions with this same entity, as a source of wisdom or redemption or whatever. JC is supposed to have something important to offer to believers, morally, politically, theologically, scientifically, etc.

    Historically, the Bible is the primary early source material upon which all of this is based. If someone is Muslim, let’s say, they may not have a very important place for the Bible in their worldview, but even they would some place for it. If your claim is that some Quakers are as different from typical Christians as Muslims are (or even more different than they are), then that’s a little hard to believe. But it’s also definitely not helping to make the case that they’re genuinely Christians.

    Something about Quakers’ views makes them Christian, at least on standard assumptions about what Quakers are. (But of course, if they’re not Christian and call themselves Quakers, that’s another story.) Whatever that may be, it’s presumably expressed in the Bible in one way or another, whether or not Quakers themselves care much about its expression in the Bible, since they may use means other than Biblical exegesis to derive it, like mystical experiences and so forth.

    That’s probably the sort of thing PZ had in mind, when he said it ought to be dumped and would result in leaving the religion — that whole package ought to go, including all of the beliefs/practices based on it, not just an interpretation of a text (which by itself isn’t too much of a problem). I think it’s a little pedantic to go into all of this; just referring to “the Bible” is generally fine, rather than trying to spell out all of these things in detail, to cover all of these unusual edge cases every time it’s discussed. Sometimes it is misleading to brush all of that to the side, but I don’t see how it is in this instance.

  13. rietpluim says

    This reminds me of how Christianity invented science. And democracy and human rights and all.

  14. bryanfeir says

    Regarding Quakers and tolerance:

    Richard Nixon was a Quaker.

    (Granted, Quakers are like Baptists in the sense that there isn’t really a hierarchical enforcement of belief from the top, like there is with Catholics. Southern Baptists tend to have the enforcement while actively pretending they don’t have it.)

  15. Rich Zebro says

    I believe there is a difference between being a follower of Jesus and being a follower of organized-religion. It’s organized-religion that pollutes the teaching of Jesus and His Church. I believe the difference can be summed up as – organized religion killed Jesus.

  16. John Morales says

    Rich Zebro:

    It’s organized-religion that pollutes the teaching of Jesus and His Church.

    Um, you’re just contradicted yourself — and you don’t even realise it.

    (Hint: “His Church”)

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    John @20: Because everyone has to mean exactly what you mean by the word “church”? My guess is that he meant the body of believers, without any reference to an organization.

  18. John Morales says

    Sure, Rob. Rich probably meant disorganised body of believers who congregate somewhere for a shared worship session. Not like a real church or anything.

    <snicker>

    (As to the putative Jesus’ teachings, well, the less said the better. Utterly contrary to human nature, but hey! We can see them in action in every single Christian who abandons all worldly things and serves others instead!)

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    No John, just “body of believers”. In other words, the people, not the places in which they may or may not congregate, or the organized religions they may or may not belong to.

    That sound you’re making isn’t snickering, it’s pedantic braying.

  20. chigau (違う) says

    The Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church established by Jesus.
    Just ask them.

  21. Owlmirror says

    The problem with “body of believers” is the question of what, exactly is believed. If one group believes sincerely and wholeheartedly that Jesus is the adopted son of God, and another group believes sincerely and wholeheartedly that Jesus is the begotten son of God, are the two groups of the same body of believers? Especially if each group thinks that not only is the distinction important, but that those of the other group are so wrong as to be anathema?

    I kind of suspect that Rich Zebro would agree that of course those who don’t believe that Jesus is the begotten son of God are not truly members of his Church (of course Rich could return and prove me wrong). You need enough organization to reject those who believe the wrong things about Jesus!

    Which brings us back to John Morales’ snarky response.

  22. Rob Grigjanis says

    Owlmirror @25: I kind of suspect that Rich Zebro doesn’t need the aggro of talking to people who of course reflexively dismiss him as an idiot.

    Which brings us back to John Morales’ snarky response.

    No it doesn’t. What you wrote are legitimate questions one might pose to Rich. John’s not interested in asking questions. Just cheap little gotchas with accompanying snickers.

  23. Owlmirror says

    @Rob Grigjanis: Given that the only one to actually use the term “idiot” is yourself, I can only conclude that you object to the tone of the comments. Is this a correct inference?

    With respect to the rest — the only way that I can see anyone being consistent on the point of “organized” religion not being the same as the “body of believers” is if they think that the faith doctrines of Christianity literally don’t matter at all. Thus, one can then conclude that all of the bodies of believers that came together — organized — in various councils and synods to condemn the faith doctrines of other bodies of believers were wrong to do so.

    This would be a very unusual but admittedly not impossible position to take.

    (You say “homoiousia”, I say “homoousia”, let’s call the whole thing off!)

    However, if Rich Zebro does think that the faith doctrines of the Church actually matter, I don’t see how he can with consistency condemn the bodies of believers that he believes were correct for organising to condemn the faith doctrines of other bodies of believers. But that leaves him being inconsistent on the point of the Church not being organised religion!

  24. John Morales says

    [ Rob, I snickered at you (or, more precisely, your comment), not at Rich. I would have liked it if they had responded. But yeah. Sorry.
    Anyway. This personal stuff pisses PZ off — with good reason. ]

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