03 December 2016

The Red Letter Christian Pipe Dream

Christianity is what Christians do, and that is something that few people of good will can be proud of these days. I know the history that brought us to the place we are today. I can even see some psychological and sociological logic to it.  But, in my gut, I am still baffled at how Christianity became such a predominantly evil institution, in the United States and to a lesser extent, in Europe as well, as least.  But, it did.

New York Times Op-Ed writer Tony Campolo is struggling with this as well on behalf of a huge demographic, fecklessly hoping for a new movement of Christians who believe in good, but the evil in Christianity has instead driven a grass roots surge of ernest and far more moral secular humanism.
Evangelicalism was closely associated with the campaign of Donald J. Trump, and more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for the president-elect. . . . much of the good that went by the name “evangelicalism” has been clouded over; now a new movement is needed to replace it. 
When it comes to religious identity in America, the fastest-growing group is the “nones.” Nearly a quarter of all Americans, and over 35 percent of millennials, report no religious affiliation. Nones, many of whom grew up within evangelicalism, often still affirm faith in God. They left the church because they gave up on evangelical leadership. Nothing sums up their objections more clearly than evangelicals’ embrace of Mr. Trump. . . .

[T]he old guard, like the Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, were ardent Trump supporters . . . At Liberty University, the largest evangelical college in the country, thousands of students signed a petition denouncing the support of its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for Mr. Trump and insisting that they were more interested in being Christian than in being Republican. 
Andy Crouch, the executive editor of Christianity Today, criticized both candidates, writing that enthusiasm for Mr. Trump “gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.” He added, “They see that some of us are so self-interested, and so self-protective, that we will ally ourselves with someone who violates all that is sacred to us.”. . .

Jesus-centered faith needs a new name. Christians have retired outdated labels before. During the late 19th century, when scientific rationalism fueled the questioning of Scripture, “fundamentalism” arose as an intelligent defense of Christianity. By the 1930s, however, fundamentalism was seen as anti-intellectual and judgmental. It was then that the term “evangelicalism” was put forward by Christianity Today’s first editor, Carl F. H. Henry, as a new banner under which a broad coalition of Jesus followers could unite. 
But beginning with the culture wars of the 1980s, the religious right made a concerted effort to align evangelicalism with the Republican Party. By the mid-’90s, the word had lost its positive connotations with many Americans. They came to see Christians — and evangelicals in particular — as anti-women, anti-gay, anti-environment and anti-immigrant and as the champions of guns and war. . . . 
Perhaps we need a new reformation — one that invites Christians to return to the teachings of Jesus and offers our neighbors a truer vision of how he lived and moved in the world. . . . Maybe this is a moment in our history for evangelicals to repent and be “born again” again as Red Letter Christians.
The trouble is that there is no such movement. Not any movement with a prayer of becoming relevant, at any rate. People in the United States and indeed, in Europe as well, who give a damn about the values that the Gospel's moral messages emphasize have overwhelmingly abandoned the superstitious and anti-scientific nonsense of religion in favor of secular humanism.

Getting your morality from a source telling the story of an exorcist demigod and his exorcist followers who embrace the demon possession theory of mental and physical health is not way to live in the 21st century. Neither is putting your faith in a God who a few volumes earlier was urging his chosen people on in repeated campaigns of ruthless genocide.

Also, historically, Campolo is wrong in suggesting that Trump marks anything new. At most, Trump, whose new appointed chief of strategy offers up Hitler and Satan as positive role models for President Trump, simply made the long standing truth a bit more obvious. Evangelical Christians and many Catholics as well (although certainly not all) have firmly embraced evil and rejected any message that is remotely recognizable from the Gospel for at least a generation. And, during that time, they have come to dominate Christianity as more sane denominations with gentler, more human messages have withered in one of the most dramatic cases of institutional collapse in peacetime history.

There is no reason to imagine that this will change for the better in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my children. The rats are abandoning the ship because it is sinking and has found a less precarious place to ground themselves that is connected to reality and not half-fictional myths.

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