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Betraying Jesus
November 9, 2005 6:51 PM   Subscribe

American Christianity has distorted the gospel and become spiritually bankrupt.... “Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are materialists with no experience of the Spirit. Regardless of what the New Testament says, most Christians are individualists with no real experience of community.” He paused for a moment and then continued: “Let’s pretend that you were all Christians. If you were Christians, you would no longer accumulate. You would share everything you had. You would actually love one another. And you would treat each other as if you were family.” His eyes were piercing as he asked, “Why don’t you do that? Why don’t you live that way?”
posted by publius (95 comments total)

 
I'm sure this will end well.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:52 PM on November 9, 2005


Must the rest of the world endure America's tedious soul searching? If you are a member of popular community weblog Metafilter the answer would appear to be yes. Trisha Takanawa with more..
posted by fire&wings at 6:54 PM on November 9, 2005


They are all just bandwagoneers.
posted by Mr_Zero at 6:57 PM on November 9, 2005


Must the rest of the world endure America's tedious soul searching?

it's either that or endure our tedious flaming sword of fire up your ass. take your pick.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:07 PM on November 9, 2005 [1 favorite]


Let’s pretend that you were all Christians

Isn't pretending how this whole problem got started in the first place?
posted by jsonic at 7:09 PM on November 9, 2005


Not just a Gringo issue, IMO. Lived most of my life in a supposed Christian nation (the frakking constitution says so, though is president is, thank God, an avowed atheist), and I have yet to meet a single person who acts like a Christian, ever. Not one.
posted by signal at 7:12 PM on November 9, 2005


I blame Russell H. Conwell.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:13 PM on November 9, 2005


Thanks for mediating, fire&wings. Do you get paid a commission?

I think the link raises an interesting question - why do you not practice what you preach? - though it's too easy to ask that question of a group of people rather than individuals. When I think of the people I knew growing up that were active in local churches, including people in my family, I remember people that were very giving, very kind, and humble. If they were wealthy, they shared their wealth - not completely and openly to everyone, but more than people who were not religious. Those that weren't wealthy also shared, both money and their time. Churches are actually great communities whose primary function, 90% of the time, is helping other people.

The problem as I see it is that these people are either feeling empowered by what has happened in politics lately or feeling victimized and threatened by the culture as a whole and are exerting their power and opinions in too many places.

There are a lot of Democrats and non-Christians (including myself) who have lately found themselves lecturing actual Christians on what it means to be a Christian. Well, if we're so interested and care so much about Christianity, why aren't we Christians? Shouldn't we either tell them it's all bullshit or let them interpret it how they want? Ultimately, the "why do you not practice what you preach" question cuts both ways. Christians can learn from the liberals how to accept other people's way of life and shut up when they disagree, and liberals and Democrats can learn from a lot of Christians what it means to actually put your money where your mouth is and volunteer a couple hours a week helping other people.

*runs out of the room*
posted by billysumday at 7:22 PM on November 9, 2005


My take? Christianity, as it is preached today, is fundamentally a selfish religion. Strip away everything and what you have at its core is "Be good and be rewarded; be bad and get punished."

That's it.

You can not have a robust moral system built on a punishment / reward system such as one would use to train a child.

Jesus was TRYING to get them away from that. He was trying to strip away all the BS that the Rabbis had built up. But what he was trying to say got immediately perverted by Paul, who took things RIGHT BACK to the toddler level they had been at before.

And thus another good life was lost for nothing.
posted by InnocentBystander at 7:23 PM on November 9, 2005


I have yet to meet a single person who acts like a Christian, ever. Not one.

this was my first tedious comment after joining mefi.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:23 PM on November 9, 2005


How about the (Air America) Mel Gibson answer: well, I didn't say I was a good Christian.
posted by dreamsign at 7:23 PM on November 9, 2005


"this was my first tedious comment after joining mefi."

Hopefully you've gotten the small tag out of your system.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:33 PM on November 9, 2005


"Potential converts are told that Jesus can make them happier, more self-satisfied, better adjusted, and more prosperous. Jesus quickly becomes the supreme product, attractively packaged and aggressively sold to a consuming public. Complete with billboards, buttons, and bumper stickers, modern evangelistic campaigns advertise Jesus in a competitive market. Even better than Coca-Cola, Jesus is 'the Real Thing.'"

This rings true to me, and reminds me of when Adbusters released their little shoe, and a bunch of communists bought it up, essentially finding a superior product at a minimum price, the essence of a capitalist consumer - an ironic reversal in both cases, not that I have anything against any of these beliefs.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:45 PM on November 9, 2005


There was a Michigan state senator, wish I could remember the name, that had a very good quote on this ca. 2001-2002. He was an honest conservative Christian, and when justifying his pro-homo position wrt civil unions in his state he said something about how it was awfully convenient to use Christianity to judge other people but not judge one's self (e.g. wrt divorce laws).

It's my opinion that Christianity has become a highly productized religion over the centuries; with difficult doctrine being stripped out (eg. jewish dietary laws, circumcision) and feel-good explanatory dogmas like heaven, hell, purgatory, original sin, immaculate conception, virgin birth, etc etc tacked on to bring a more fulfilling worldview and "story" for the religion.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:59 PM on November 9, 2005


To answer the last question: capitalism!
posted by j-urb at 8:15 PM on November 9, 2005


Of course this is true. Modern Christianity has nothing to do with real theology, really. Christianity was simply the best available group of traditional images the current power structure could find. Actual scripture is challenging, both in what it asks of its readers and in the sense that it is full of paradoxes. Evangellism (TM) is the current party line as expressed through the tried and true symbolism of the Bible.

The Jesus of the "moral majority" is nothing more than a mascot. When the metaphors fit, we where them, when they don't, we stretch them till they do. It is silly to expect these people to act like Christians, as it would be silly to expect that the Dallas Cowboys go work on a ranch.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:22 PM on November 9, 2005


Good post.

Billy: in response to the disconnect between how christians experience themselves and their community in America vs how non-christian Americans perceive them -- people on the outside aren't exposed to the positive aspects of community that created at the local level by and through churches. I've seen it a little bit, through my wife's family (which is pretty mainline Presb). But before then, it wasn't present for me.

On the other hand, what is present for me is the huge projection of power and indignant vain pride in their on their own supposed clutch on the keys of salvation. And they do this in a way that is blind to any real questioning (at least that is visible from the outside) or introspection that to me, is at the heart of the gospel texts.

The alignment of the most publicly visible churches with the anti-social business community via the Republican Party further compromises any hope that Christianity will be identified, in America, with social goodwill and humility.

As for why this matters and whose business is it anyway how Christians express their faith? Two reasons: 1 is that the Gospel texts are so amazing, it is frustrating that they are so poorly used (or underused) as tools for self-development; and 2, because Christianity's current bumbling manifestation in the United States (and to some extent elsewhere) is having a strong negative impact on our society as a whole, through its obtuse focus on avoiding any possible engagement with empirical truth, so as to be able to better further its own narcissistic endeavor.

They should be able to do better than that, given their starting point.
posted by alms at 8:34 PM on November 9, 2005


But it ain't like any other religion is any better. They're all crap. It's tautological!
posted by davy at 9:06 PM on November 9, 2005


There are a lot of Democrats and non-Christians (including myself) who have lately found themselves lecturing actual Christians on what it means to be a Christian.

Reckon we should lecture them on what it means to be an American instead.
posted by stet at 9:06 PM on November 9, 2005


Alan Watts touched on this too. His comment was something along the lines of: if people really believed that Satan and his legions were out there right now, working diligently to defeat God and Christianity and harvest the souls of all humankind for eternal damnation, then surely they'd be out in the streets in sackcloth frantically trying to save everyone and fight the Evil before it triumphs, right?

Folks are right in this thread who point out that Christianity is one of the things a certain type of person might cloak themselves in for other reasons, though. Even Jesus had harsh words for those who like to dress in their finest clothes and be seen in church by others. He made it a more personal thing, "pray to your Father who is in secret" and all that.
posted by First Post at 9:07 PM on November 9, 2005


InnocentBystander: "Be good and be rewarded; be bad and get punished."

This is the Catholic view which is not held by the majority of Christians in America today. The majority believe the only thing you need to do to go to heaven is to believe that Jesus died for your sins.

I believe the majority of true christians are extremely caring. I believe they do love sinners. You hear about abortion bombers and homophobia, but those are the extremes. The vast majority of Christains don't engage in this.

Many actions percieved as evil stem from their love of God and what they believe is his will. For example, many Christians want to "convert" homosexuals, but not because they hate homosexuals, they just believe it's wrong in the eyes of God and they want the homosexual to be able to go to heaven. If they didn't care, if they didn't love, they wouldn't give a damn.

Disagree with them all you want, but real Christians are principled, stand by their principles and only want the "unsaved" to not burn in hell. I respect that and hope I can hold to my own principles as well.
posted by null terminated at 9:08 PM on November 9, 2005


*as well as they do theirs.
posted by null terminated at 9:09 PM on November 9, 2005


I recently did some work for the head pastor of a megachurch. He drove a brand-new Audi and his wife had a fucking huge diamond ring. He didn't bat an eye at an outrageous, unnecessary expense being charged to the church's card when he could have used those funds to help people.

Apparently Leviticus 18:22 is to be taken literally, but not Matthew 16:26.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:12 PM on November 9, 2005


I think that modern American Christians do try to practice what they preach. They simply preach a message of Christianity that is not in line with what I read in the New Testament. They focus on being born again and saved and declaring Jesus to be their personal savior. I do not hear them mention helping the poor, blessing the peacemakers, turning the other cheek, loving their neighbor, etc.

So to practice what they preach and be a good Christian, the only thing they really have to do is say that Jesus is their personal savior. They do not have to do any societal good to be good Christians because they are saved just by saying so.

Faith versus deeds is an argument that goes back a long way in the Catholic church. Salvation through faith seems to do so much less good for society than salvation through deeds.
posted by flarbuse at 9:15 PM on November 9, 2005


Jesus, save me from your followers.
posted by nightchrome at 9:28 PM on November 9, 2005


I have been of the opinion for many years that spirituality and religion aren't just different, but diametrically opposed to one another.

Religion, by and large, is about Answers... and the answers inevitably result in the accrual of wealth and power by those doing the answering. (this is ALWAYS true, because religions without this trait do not long survive.)

Spirituality is much more about questions.
posted by Malor at 9:29 PM on November 9, 2005


Malor, that's not a bad way of looking at it.
posted by nightchrome at 9:32 PM on November 9, 2005


Of course divorce is totally against the teachings of the Bible too but I don't see anyone trying to outlaw that. Maybe we should start?
posted by fshgrl at 10:00 PM on November 9, 2005


I have been of the opinion for many years that spirituality and religion aren't just different, but diametrically opposed to one another.

I think there's some real truth to that.
posted by callmejay at 10:01 PM on November 9, 2005


Of all the posts, es_de_bah struck it most squarely.

"The Jesus of the "moral majority" is nothing more than a mascot"
While over 65% of americans when polled will profess to some form or brand of Christianity, far fewer can quote a scripture, or give a correct example of biblical truth.
For most (apparently) the trappings and 'socialization' of a church are all they need, want or desire.
From those folks I rarely see any 'good deeds'
And I would submit that it occurs as an inverse relationship to the size of the church.
I will also suggest to those who are 'unchurched' - don't draw to many conclusions from the gibbering goofballs on tv.
And if you want to know what is the fuss all about, find a church with fewer than a hundred people in it, then sit, listen and watch.
posted by garficher at 10:14 PM on November 9, 2005


i don't know...my southern baptist surroundings growing up in georgia didn't seem to even go as far as personal salvation, but seemed more rooted in a vindictive drive to make sure others' sins did not go unnoticed or unpunished...the argument against abortion had less to do with sanctity of life, more to do with making sure people who had premarital sex paid the price...within my own family, and with anyone we knew having to do with the church, salvation was a mask and a claim to superiority, not a spiritual practice...

as i stand outside of it, never having the ability to believe any element of truth to it, i wouldn't presume to preach to christianity...i'm more in favor of throwing baby jesus out with the bathwater myself...as much as i despise my own participation in what this guy calls "social rationalization of personal selfishness," i think christianity in particular has demonstrated itself as untrustworthy as any kind of viable solution; these days it seems that the personal leap of faith is merely a precursor to test one's willingness to sacrifice one's cultural proxy to any of a number of even dangerous idiots who exercise it, as long as one gets to claim membership on the winning team...
posted by troybob at 10:24 PM on November 9, 2005


I say whenever you get more than three people to agree on religion you are in trouble.
posted by pointilist at 10:34 PM on November 9, 2005


Excellent post and lots of good comments of the "here's what I believe" as opposed to the "you're an idiot" variety.

surely they'd be out in the streets in sackcloth frantically trying to save everyone and fight the Evil before it triumphs, right?


Ah but Mr Watts, if they did that they wouldn't be taken seriously, true?.

If you believed something supernatural, wanted to pass it along, and had a clue about human nature you'd live your life normally for whatever society you found yourself in, even American society. Any other behavior, as an individual, makes it all about you and not about what you'd like to pass along. You yourself would become the story, the remarkable thing, a distraction, self-defeating.
posted by scheptech at 11:19 PM on November 9, 2005


Malor, that's an excellent perspective, but a bit too charitable. That first bullshit artist may have been surprised that s/he suddenly had all this cachet just for saying "I happen to know that there's this invisible powerful guy, and the wind is His Farts", but ever since then, it's been entirely about the power. The answers are just the bait.

Saying that religion is about the answers is like saying that Influenza is about the coughing.
posted by ulotrichous at 11:21 PM on November 9, 2005


...can learn from a lot of Christians what it means to actually put your money where your mouth is and volunteer a couple hours a week helping other people.

Y'know, I don't think there's a whole lotta need for my volunteerism. Seems to me that most of my town's needy are very well-served by various charities that are funded by my tax dollar. There are people paid -- and paid well -- to provide this social support.

Simultaneously, I live where Christian Supremacy isn't a threat to my freedom. I wonder ... is this perhaps because the Christians here are as little involved with charity as I, and so feel no need to shift the burden to the government?

'cause that's where this is leading: the US government is going to pay churches to do what my government pays social agencies to do.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:27 PM on November 9, 2005


Love for one another is all there is. Seriously. Anything else is madness and all religion tends to eventually generate pharasees.
I think there is a difference between someone who knows this and fails to live that path and someone who just pays lip service to it and is trying to get away with something. But not everyone has the kind of epiphany (whether through megadoses of LSD, or stress, or genuine mystic experiance) that brings that realization.
And of course you have to be a genius in the field to communicate it. Buddha twirled a flower, only one guy got it. Jesus had 12 guys, but it looks like Matthew walked away with most of the learning.
Every time I drive by a church I think of the Skunk Anansie tune: "Selling Jesus"
posted by Smedleyman at 11:31 PM on November 9, 2005


This has been some very interesting discussion. Some very good thoughts have been posted, some very interesting perspectives on the whole thing.

I am also one who differentiates between spirituality and religion.

Religion is spiritual serfdom: giving up one's labour freely to a rich asshole who's going to put you on the front line in a war.

Spirituality is squatting a land claim: heading into the wild, clearing the brush, building a farm and living close to the land.

Me, I don't think there's anything more than what we have in physical reality. No gods, spirits, universal love, nada. I am, however, deeply appreciative of this opportunity of conscious experience, for whatever worth it has in any implausible, not-to-be-known hypothetical mysticism, which I figure puts me in the "spirituality" camp at least in lifestyle, though not afterlifestyle.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:44 PM on November 9, 2005


I hope my bias against commercial religion didn't show there...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:47 PM on November 9, 2005


The exact reason I quit being a Christian. When I was a Christian, those very basic techings of Jesus were what spoke to me:

- Throwing the money changers out of the temple
- Praying in secret
- Giving to charity in modesty and secret
- Never judging others - only God is allowed to judge
- Let those who are without sin cast the first stone...
- The meek shall inherit the earth
- It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God
- Turn the other cheek
- The parable of the good samaritan - a parable that, above all else, teaches that deeds are more important than any kind of professed religion
- The emphasis on forgiveness
- The emphasis on respecting the outsiders and sinners, not the religous authorities

These I consider the very basic teachings of Jesus. And yet, I saw none of them in the "Christians" around me, so I gave up. It was interesting, the ask.metafilter question that came up the other day, asking where athiests derive their morals from. Well, this athiest here hopes he can say he derives his morals from the teachings of Jesus. Pity about his fan club.
posted by Jimbob at 11:53 PM on November 9, 2005


Oh I forgot on - the bit about "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's..." That verse sounds an awful lot like Jesus was telling his follows not to get involved in government. He appears, to me, to be advocating a separation of church and state. He was saying, essentially, keep God to yourselves, don't get him mixed up with the laws of the country. And this makes sense. Religious laws imposed by the state, under the punishment of the state, can't be good for religion. Your moral values should be based on trying not to offend your god, rather than trying to avoid going to jail.
posted by Jimbob at 12:04 AM on November 10, 2005



Testify, Brother Jimbob!

The New Testament is a great text in that respect.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:19 AM on November 10, 2005



FWIW, my fave parable is the parable of the worker in the vinyard.

Seen it in all the workplaces I've ever been in.

"Shut ya whining gobs ya morons and do the job you agreed to do when you started!"
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:24 AM on November 10, 2005


I think a lot of people who dismiss Christianity outright for any of the countless valid reasons there are, would be surprised and/or interested if they actually read the majority of things Jesus was reported to have said. And I say that as a non-Christian myself. Real or not, he had a good way of viewing a number of things.
posted by nightchrome at 12:32 AM on November 10, 2005


I was in a church recently where the congregation were almost entirely white , middle class and english (this is in scotland btw)
and you were asked what kind of job you had the minute you walked in the door ....this lassie told me she was a 'buyer' for a bank , i think she actually thought i would give a flying fuck about that sort of thing and other people were telling me about there status in he church and i was like "ooooh , we'll all have to respect you then eh ?"
They were having a drumming class for people , it cost £150 fucking quid to join it , i said to one of the pastors that would exclude poor people from joining it .....he didnt agree ......he doesnt look too happy when i see him now.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:21 AM on November 10, 2005


I think a lot of people who dismiss Christianity outright for any of the countless valid reasons there are, would be surprised and/or interested if they actually read the majority of things Jesus was reported to have said. And I say that as a non-Christian myself. Real or not, he had a good way of viewing a number of things.
posted by nightchrome at 12:32 AM PST on November 10


Don't forget that 95% of Jesus's moral teachings were a) already present in the Jewish religious tradition or b) part of another religion's morality. Jesus was a lot of things, but he certainly wasn't original.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:33 AM on November 10, 2005


the bit about "Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's..." That verse sounds an awful lot like Jesus was telling his follows not to get involved in government.

That's my interpretation as well, but most Fundies will tell you differently. Similarly, the part about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle then into my father's kingdom. I have heard some real bending over backwards bullshit about that one too. People making all sorts of apologies for the rich and powerful.

The problem with the New Testament is that most Fundies will tell you that it's too ambiguous to know. I have heard as many people tell me that the part about casting the mote out of thine own eye before you judge the splinter in someone else's meant that you SHOULD judge other people, as long as you yourself were clean. I had always taken it to mean that you shouldn't judge other people: period.

This is generally why such people overlook the NT in favor of the less ambiguous pro death, pro vengeance and pro conformity OT. They also enjoy the addled imagery in the Book of the Revelations of St. John the Divine, where most mainline denominations (and Catholics, too, I think) interpret it metaphorically... a dark account written in a dark time.
posted by psmealey at 3:43 AM on November 10, 2005


A priest once told me "If you find the perfect religion, for God's sake, please don't join it. You'll just ruin it." I'm pretty sure he wasn't just admonishing me, but meant it in the general sense.
posted by klarck at 4:02 AM on November 10, 2005


> Must the rest of the world endure America's tedious soul searching?

If it's so boring, why are you paying attention? There are uncountable other things in the world to occupy your attention. Why are you so helplessly fascinated by what Americans do?
posted by jfuller at 4:06 AM on November 10, 2005


The highly respected Bishop John Shelby Spong's Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism was published in 1991 and given when it was published, was almost a sort of mile marker for this current movement. In 10 years, instead of getting a more even head, the fundamentalists have expanded their ranks and become more aggressive. Some selected quotes, stolen from one of the Amazon reviews:

- My purpose in this volume is first to resuce the Bible from the exclusive hands of those who demand that it be literal truth and second to open that sacred story to levels of insight and beauty that, in my experience, literalism has never produced.

- I honor fundamentalism's demand that the Bible be taken seriously.

- To traffic in guilt as the church has done, to take the beauty and life-giving quality of sexual love and distort it with layer after layer of sexual guilt is simply no longer defensible, if it ever was.

- When the love of God is contained inside human barriers, it dies. It ceases to be the demanding, searing, opening love of God. It has become instead the perfume of human respectability, sprinkled on the cesspools of human negativity.

- Religion almost inevitably tries to take our anxiety away from us by claiming that which religion can never deliver - absolute certainty.

posted by VulcanMike at 4:28 AM on November 10, 2005


The Lutheran church I grew up in was a lot like the rest of y'all's churchs, I see. While it was full of very lovely people, and at one point we had a truly amazing pastor, I never saw the teachings really, truly represented among the people - everyone was very kind, but there was no sense of fellowship or family, which I'm finding I really need.

Fast forward several years, and I'm now a serviteur in a voudoun house. My house is so much like my family, especially as more and more time passes, and because of how vodoun works I have a direct connection to higher powers. Our house is fairly small, compared to what you would find in Haiti - maybe ten people? A few more. But we're all required to be active learners, active participants. Everyone serves, from the Mambo and Hougan on down, both serving the lwa and serving each other, which I swear is a new and wondrous concept that you'd think the church would really look into.

Interesting that I find Jesus' lovingkindness in a vodoun house, and a leadership with strong witchcraft roots.
posted by kalimac at 4:34 AM on November 10, 2005


jfuller: because they're so goddam loud. The fascination really is helpless.
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 AM on November 10, 2005


"Testing a massive bomb" is tedious soul-searching? Who knew?
posted by jfuller at 4:51 AM on November 10, 2005


The highly respected Bishop John Shelby Spong

I like Spong's message, as he really seems to "get" how to reinterpret Christianity's message for our times. Seems to me that his view is much closer to the vision of Christianity laid out in the gospels than the hateful rhetoric which continues to spew forth daily from groups like Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America. But, let's not kid ourselves, his views are far from mainstream. While Spong may be respected among groups that are liberally inclined , he's considered very much apostate by other groups. To call him a respected figure is a bit like saying the same about Noam Chomsky or Antonin Scalia; there are as many people who respect them as detest them.
posted by psmealey at 4:52 AM on November 10, 2005


Spong has every characteristic of an atheist except that he won't stand up and say he is one, because then he would have to leave the church and lose his soapbox as an Anglican bishop. That is corrupt, and consequently he is corrupt.
posted by jfuller at 4:59 AM on November 10, 2005


I'm sure this will end well.

It's going okay so far, eh?

JimBob - it doesn't sound to me like you gave up being a Christian, it sounds like you gave up on the Church and became a Christian. I sometimes describe myself as an atheist Christian, mostly to irk religous folk, admittedly, but it's pretty much true - Jesus had a nice line in pacifist socialism.

But what he was trying to say got immediately perverted by Paul, who took things RIGHT BACK to the toddler level they had been at before.

Yip. Paul really did balls it all up for everyone. But I doubt Jesus' actual teachings would've spread far without being twisted beyond all recognition.
posted by jack_mo at 5:08 AM on November 10, 2005


Spong has every characteristic of an atheist except that he won't stand up and say he is one

Wow, there's no mistaking which camp you belong to, jfuller. It's funny that practically everyone that disagrees with him calls him an atheist. So much for honest theological debate when name-calling is just so much easier.

lose his soapbox as an Anglican bishop

Spong is retired and no longer speaks for his archdiocese, the ECUSA or the Anglican Communion.
posted by psmealey at 5:08 AM on November 10, 2005


> Spong is retired and no longer speaks for his archdiocese, the ECUSA or the Anglican Communion.

When did I say that "atheist" was a bad word? For all you know I'm an atheist, outraged at someone trying to keep a foot each in two rowboats.

If he doesn't speak as a churchman, let him take of that dogcollar. Google images of him. You'll see him wearing it quite recently--and long after he made his position on theism quite clear.
posted by jfuller at 5:14 AM on November 10, 2005


I've read some of Spong. The man is not really disingenuous - he seems to have honestly followed liberal theology right into virtual atheism. The question is whether there is a meaningful theistic place for liberal theology to go; Spong's thesis is that there isn't, and when fundamentalism dries up it will mean the end of Christianity unless the church is re-founded on liberal principles. It's an interesting idea.
posted by graymouser at 5:42 AM on November 10, 2005


Don't forget that 95% of Jesus's moral teachings were a) already present in the Jewish religious tradition or b) part of another religion's morality. Jesus was a lot of things, but he certainly wasn't original.

Optimus, I think that is partially true, but the reason that Jesus' message (or the Jesus mythos) stuck was because it was a rejection of the status quo and really purely a rebellion against orthodoxy. Jesus was against religion as a tool of social control and a top down feudal type relationship with god.* That message might not have been origional in the sense that there are no new things under the sun, but how it was delivered and the appeal of the ideas was pretty unique. I mean if it wasn't all that new and challenging why did they kill him?

One thing that tickles me (and I agree 100% that modern mailnline christianity seems to be mainly about the joining and the rules rather than any kind of way of right living) is that christianity is built around this noble, humble, rebellious and powerful set of ideas that are mainly totally ignored, but they are still there, in every bible, they can't be hidden or taken away, so the potential for people to make good use of them is always there. It's sort of how I feel about the constitution and the bill of rights and the direction of modern America.



Jimbob, I was going to say something very close to what you said in that askme thread, you said it better.


I should have been in this tread the whole time. Good stuff.


*Now THAT is irony.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:56 AM on November 10, 2005


churchsign.jpg
posted by Jikido at 7:12 AM on November 10, 2005


- Throwing the money changers out of the temple
- Praying in secret
- Giving to charity in modesty and secret
- Never judging others - only God is allowed to judge
- Let those who are without sin cast the first stone...
- The meek shall inherit the earth
- It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God
- Turn the other cheek
- The parable of the good samaritan - a parable that, above all else, teaches that deeds are more important than any kind of professed religion
- The emphasis on forgiveness
- The emphasis on respecting the outsiders and sinners, not the religous authorities


Now those are some Christian values that need more emphasis these days. Thanks Jimbob.
posted by caddis at 7:25 AM on November 10, 2005


Thanks. I was wondering when Metafilter was going to be bring up how bad Christianity is. It's such an important topic that I can't believe it's never been brought up here before.
posted by dios at 7:25 AM on November 10, 2005


Bullshit, dios: there are plenty of people supporting what they think are the core values of christianity in this thread. The specific issue is the direction that a certain strand of American christianity has taken. That's hardly a backslapping discussion of "how bad christianity is".
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:32 AM on November 10, 2005


Thanks. I was wondering when Metafilter was going to be bring up how bad Christianity is. It's such an important topic that I can't believe it's never been brought up here before.
posted by dios at 7:25 AM PST on November 10


Read the thread before posting, dios.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:33 AM on November 10, 2005


Oh I see you're doing performance art and shitting in other threads with the same basic boilerplate comment. For an encore, can you do the Karen Finley thing with the yams?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:34 AM on November 10, 2005


Divine_Wino wrote: One thing that tickles me (and I agree 100% that modern mailnline christianity seems to be mainly about the joining and the rules rather than any kind of way of right living) is...

As a 'mainline' Christian myself (United Methodist), I think that within the 'mainline' denominations there is more emphasis on the values mentioned above (feeding the poor, turn the other cheek, welcoming outsiders, etc.) than within the more conservative, literalist churches.
posted by tippiedog at 8:05 AM on November 10, 2005


Sorry tippiedog, Mainline was the wrong word. Those of us who are not church goers (no matter how well intentioned) tend to forget the large body of American christians who are not a threat to our well being, way of life or values. I apologize for my misuse of the word mainline. The conservative, literalist churches just get so much screen and rage and controvery time. "Local Christian turns other cheek, helps poor doesn't play" well with us freaked out urban types.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:42 AM on November 10, 2005


I DID read all the threads and dios is right. There is a trend to knee-jerk Jesus hatin' at MeFi. Who would deny it? Nevertheless, some very thoughtful insights as well. Certainly the link is very challenging and makes outstanding points about failures of American Christianity. But "Throw Baby Jesus out with the bathwater?" That's the unenlightened extremism dios correctly condemns. Here's a test, and it may backfire on me: Are you the best person you know, i.e. most charitable, honest, loving, fair-minded? I have to answer the question that I am not. When I cast among my aquaintances for who is, I find Christians. Despite the obvious shortcomings of American Christianity, there are many thousands of Christians who walk the walk.
posted by offmylawn at 9:02 AM on November 10, 2005


offmylawn:

I agree with what you're saying, and I tried to say something similar in my previous post. The people who are quick to lump all Christians together and condemn them for not living up to the teachings of Jesus (who ever fucking could?) are just as ignorant of the people they're criticizing as Christians who lump all gays (as one example) together and condemn them for living sinful lives.

Most people I know who don't believe gays should get married don't know many gay people, and the people I know who think all Christians are petty, close-minded people don't know many Christians.

Of course, you can't understand the people you don't understand until you do understand them, and by then your understanding of them will have changed.
posted by billysumday at 9:23 AM on November 10, 2005


the point of what i said was that those who 'walk the walk,' and i've never had doubt they are out there, seem conspicously content to allow their beliefs to be represented by the sleazier elements of their organizations...where are all the jesus-like examples of people speaking up in their churches, in their denominations, in their country, to reclaim the heart of a message that has been so severely perverted? the guy who wrote this article is one example, but if that kind of voice can't take hold, then christianity has failed according to its own supposed ideals--it is not a failure of christianity; it is the failure of christianity.

again, i wouldn't approach it from the point of trying to tell christians how to exercise their beliefs, but as an outsider it seems to me that if what they had was worth protecting, they would never have allowed it to be pimped out for the aims of money and power.
posted by troybob at 9:26 AM on November 10, 2005


What offmylawn said.

Criticizing a particular religion has two pitfalls. One, it tends to lump people into undifferentiated groups. Two, it often exposes hypocrisy in the critic of trying to hold other people to a higher standard. The act of criticizing Christianity is certainly valid; it is not exempt. But I have to wonder why criticism needs its own FPP... every. single. day.

It is not necessary to have exceedingly regular posts for people to flex their atheist credentials and look down on and bad mouth the beliefs of at least 100 million Americans. It is no necessary to have exceedingly regular posts to remake the same points made over and over and over and over. There is nothing new every time.

We already has one post just a few threads down talking about the faults of Christianity. Did we really need another one?

I'm sure no one would want this to become a website where we bash Islam daily (in fact, when a rare thread does that, people are quick to jump all over it). I'm sure no one would want this website to become a website where we bash gays daily, or women, or fat people, or people who support standards in web design. Such repetitive expressions of hostility is wrong in all regards and are ridiculously tiring.

Yet for some reason, Christianity gets regular threads and people never get tired of belittling the beliefs of the majority of the country as if they are all the same.

That fact is a discredit to this website.
posted by dios at 9:27 AM on November 10, 2005


i agree that we could do with a little less Christian bashing, but its also good to see some positive discussion on this thread for the most part. I think Wallis's writings speak for themselves in showing that there are some genuine Christians out there who are seeing the problems and trying to lead to change. Rather than just complaining and whining from the sidelines, Wallis honestly is making a difference in the hearts and minds and lives of a lot of people.

I personally found Wallis's words both provoking and convicting, but I have to admit that I am still in process and not there yet. I am following Christ, but still struggling to give up the trappings of the world. Its not easy. But, I think that's the point. Its really sad that there are people who have never met a Christian that really lives out their faith (and good to hear of those who have), and I think that really does make a statement about the state of the church today. But I also appreciate that Wallis recognizes that there is hope for change when Christians genuinely seek to follow Christ and and that we needn't give up on the church just yet.
posted by roaring beast at 9:43 AM on November 10, 2005


...the community is what it is...if faithless-based posting comes up a lot, it's because it's on the minds of the people here...particularly in light of the role religion is playing and is trying to play in how the rest of us live our lives...and these threads are populated by people who argue both sides...i would have to say that the ones who more eloquently argue in favor of christian faith don't do so by trying to shame us into suppressing discussion...

...you seem to imply that there is some inconsistency in that we don't bash gays, women, or fat people and yet we bash christians...did you stop to think that it might be perfectly consistent? it seems to me that we are a tolerant community, but we have little patience for intolerance...just as we would bash Nazis if they were a threat to us these days...
posted by troybob at 9:44 AM on November 10, 2005


dios: I think the reason you see so much interest in putting down Christianity is because it is becoming increasingly politicized, and therefore increasingly powerful. It's much more part of the national discussion than Islam is or any of the other things you mentioned. The more prevalent Christianity becomes, the more fair game it is for people to discuss and criticize and belittle.

Sorry you think people are so mean :(
posted by billysumday at 9:45 AM on November 10, 2005


It is not necessary to have exceedingly regular posts for people to flex their atheist credentials and look down on and bad mouth the beliefs of at least 100 million Americans. It is no necessary to have exceedingly regular posts to remake the same points made over and over and over and over. There is nothing new every time.

Again, you read neither the article nor the comments in this post. You saw the word Christian, skimmed one or two shitty comments, then Ctrl-V'd your classic "why do we have posts about this and why am I too lazy to make a MeTa thread?" bullshit.

The article linked to is written by a Christian author. Most of the comments in here say positive things about Christianity, and express sadness that so few vocal Christians are progressive. That's not "look[ing] down on and bad mouth[ing] the beliefs of at least 100 million Americans," it's an honest point of discussion.

Just admit that you phoned in that comment and got called on it. It wouldn't be the first time.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:52 AM on November 10, 2005


it occurs to me that somebody is bound to think i was trying to equate nazis with christians, but it was just an attempt at an example

one thing i don't get, dios: what is with putting the stress on how christians are in the majority and yet putting them in the victim role? it's reminiscent of the old "disadvantaged white male" and "liberal media bias" canards, and the first time i can recall seeing it injected into a discussion of religion.

...belittling the beliefs of the majority of the country as if they are all the same

are you denying that the political use of christianity does not depend upon the wide assumption that christians are all the same? it strikes me as disingenuous to require us to view christians as a unified front when it comes to claiming majority status, particularly in professing the values of the majority, and yet expect us to consider beliefs on an individual basis whenever we criticize that effort. it's schizophrenic: sometimes i feel like a religious nut, sometimes i don't.

maybe i'm wrong about this, but my impression is that generally the arguments around christianity around here have less to do with what people think of someone's personal spiritual practice and beliefs, and more to do with the imposition of those beliefs on a part of the culture that does not share them, and the hypocrisy with which that effort is exercised.
posted by troybob at 10:31 AM on November 10, 2005


Gee...this excellent thread has turned into the Dios show. Well, I guess there can be no discussion of religion without rancor and acrimony. Always was, always will be.

Anyway....back to the subject at hand...

I can only really compare Wallis's article to my own path...I agree with what he says, and feel I was derailed from the life he describes years ago. . I was raised as a Catholic, and lost my faith in God for a time. I found it again about ten years later, accompanied by a feeling of starting from square one.

My ten years in the spiritual wilderness strengthened my relationship with God immeasurably. It has allowed to me to comprehend the message of Jesus in ways I never could before, by understanding what it meant to live without them (and occassionally in discordance with them.) It also has allowed me to view religion objectively, and see the wide gap between what I read in the Bible and it's manifestations in modern organized religion and it's adherents.

It was a tremendous leap in my life's journey to realize that the apparent gulf left by leaving my church was an illusion all along. I went from "mourning my faith" to celebrating it. I no longer allow a gatekeeper between myself and my God.

And I'm infintely more suspicious of those who claim a monopoly on salvation, from any faith or discipline. This exclusionary dogma is in my opinion the grand shortcoming of the "great faiths" of the world. Unlike many fanatical devotees, I feel that the deeper my faith goes, the more humble my faith becomes.

When I look at the world's most vocal "religionists" (my own word for them), I see those who claim to have a monopoly on truth, a monopoly on God, a monopoly on salvation, and I'm reminded of Nietzshe -- "A God understood is no God at all." I can't imagine faith with such bombast anymore.

The bulk of Christians may quietly and humbly practice their faith, that's true. But like anything...the loud ones get all the press. It's never the humble ones, but people like Pat Robertson who have a TV show. As such...it's no wonder some people think many Christians have perverted the Gospel and live a life of selfish, selective interpretation. Like Vonnegut said -- they're never agitating to put the Beatitudes on courthouse steps, are they?
posted by edverb at 10:39 AM on November 10, 2005


Many of you acknowledge that there are many Christians who try to live out Jesus' teachings as best we can, but you lament the fact that so few of those types of Christians who are seen as the spokespersons for Christianity.

I think Divine_Wino had the reason above: "Local Christian turns other cheek, helps poor" doesn't play well in our 'if it bleeds, it leads' media.

In fact, Jesus taught that you should go about your business and NOT try to attract attention to yourself. Makes for tough PR.

P.S. I'm glad to see such a productive discussion of Christianity on MeFi for once (dios' comments notwithstanding)
posted by tippiedog at 11:20 AM on November 10, 2005


Well stated, edverb!
posted by tippiedog at 11:22 AM on November 10, 2005


"religionists"

ah, that reminds me, perhaps the radical right christians could more accurately be labelled "christianists".

the loud ones get all the press

And the power. I'd love to see Christians organizing and heading to the polls for eg. national health insurance or soaking the rich. Instead, they're going to the polls over public "morals", abortion, and civil unions. pffft.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:47 AM on November 10, 2005


Ok, I have now read the thread again from the beginning and find I agree with both the dios (typicial MeFI Christ bashing) and anti-dios (there are well-reasoned arguments being made here) positions. Let's forget the ad hominem attacks (also occur too often and not worthy of the site) for moment. I think dios is reacting to the terse, unenlightened, reductionist statements that while not in any way the majority of the posts have an arresting weight when you read through the thread in its entirety. Here are some examples:

{Isn't pretending how this whole problem got started in the first place?/But it ain't like any other religion is any better. They're all crap. It's tautological!/Strip away everything and what you have at its core is "Be good and be rewarded; be bad and get punished."That's it.}

I could add more, though they are far from a majority. Neverthless, I join dios (as I think we all should) in condemning these quick, ignorant, close-minded, malotov cocktail posts whether it's on the subject of religion or politics or whatever.
posted by offmylawn at 12:40 PM on November 10, 2005


Christians - as they call themselves - have a serious PR problem. There may be many good things in between the covers of the Bible, but, as this article points out, they seem rarely to surface in public.

Here's something I wrote about my most recent - and last - experience with the "Christian" church, and since that time I have not identified myself as "Christian." Because as far as I know Christ never named his little troupe of believers, and the name they have given themselves has devolved into a parody of every good admonition that Christ brought forward. To be brutally frank, I look down on Christians as being low-moraled, slippery cowards who hide in the grey areas of ethics and twist absolutes when they are clearly in opposition to their own views.

It's impossible to talk about Christianity without remembering that much-heralded harridan spotlit on yesterday's "Trading Spouses." Intolerant, objurate, self-involved and righteously indignant. While ignoring her own personal failings aggressively. "You are not a CHRISSSSSSS-TIONNNNAAAH!!!"

Heck no. Not if she and her friends are.
posted by Perigee at 1:17 PM on November 10, 2005


If y'all love Jesus so much, why dontcha *marry* him?

Oh, right...

Having got the atheist snark out of my system, for now, can I merely express surprise that JC's anti organisational approach has gotten so little time over the years, as it seems quite blatantly the point of distinction over what came before.

JimBob's list is interesting in that it really doesn't offer much for the not particularly meek, or the non-outsiders. And those could well be the ones causing all the trouble today, during the apparent Rise of the BlowHards and the Villification of the Other. Rather than address each point on the list (which I have done, but it got wayyyy long winded and dull) I'll try and some it up with a few sentences:

-If you're going to pray in secret, why have a temple for money changers to pollute?

-The rich will always be with us (any upcoming singularities notwithstanding)

-Life seems to go better for everyone by focussing on similarities rather than differences, though it's harder work because people's brains are hardwired to judge all the time. Wise folk realise our intuitions lie to us for all sorts of reasons, the most pervasive being unconsciously creating narratives out of insufficient data.
posted by Sparx at 2:25 PM on November 10, 2005


Televangelist Robertson warns town of God's wrath:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them on Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck. [...]

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.
I wasn't aware God was on the ballot.
posted by edverb at 4:21 PM on November 10, 2005


haha...yeah, because 'his help' is so consistently implemented!

seriously, if any city had a ballot measure to vote god out of it, i would move there right away...for now i'll stay in San Francisco, the next best thing...
posted by troybob at 4:24 PM on November 10, 2005


-If you're going to pray in secret, why have a temple for money changers to pollute?

Didn't JC say something about "wherever two of you meet together, I am there"? I don't think he was big on temples, either.

The rich will always be with us (any upcoming singularities notwithstanding)

They will hang from the lamp posts, soon come the day </commie snark>

JimBob's list is interesting in that it really doesn't offer much for the not particularly meek

Isn't the idea to be meek and peaceful? " Meekdom" is not an inherited condition, anymore than the Buddist philosophy of avoidance of attachment to impermanence is something that some people have and other people don't. It is an aim, not a born condition.

or the non-outsiders

Again, the philosophy that Jesus taught seemed to tell people they should be outsiders - be outside the established religious order, be outside and other than the world (again, parallels with Buddha). It's not a case of the religion offering something to both jocks and geeks, it's about everyone needing to try and be a geek.
posted by Jimbob at 4:42 PM on November 10, 2005


Jimbob: I saw that, that's what I found interesting about it. It contains the seeds of its own doom. If everyone's an outsider, how do you respect the outsiders (those temple-going FREAKS)? If everyone's meek, do you aim for meeker still? Meeker-than-thou? What happens if you're just naturally good at football? Are there more camels in needle eyes than Beckhams in heaven? Won't somebody think of the alpha-males?

:-)

But I respect your thought provoking attempt to find the good and useful in ol' JC's bumper book of mysterious sayings. Seems a good way to approach any religion (so long as you are free to disagree with it without sanction).
posted by Sparx at 6:16 PM on November 10, 2005


The rich will always be with us

So will the poor... pathetically struggling, look at the good things you've got! Think while you still have me, move while you still see me ... you'll be lost, you'll be so, so sorry ... when I'm gone!!

-- Tim 1:10.

Meekness is the bomb!
posted by mrgrimm at 6:21 PM on November 10, 2005


Jim Wallis is not without sin.
posted by troutfishing at 9:53 PM on November 10, 2005


I'm afraid I have to state for the public record: Fuck Robertson. Fuck him good.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 PM on November 10, 2005


Double
posted by caddis at 9:03 AM on November 11, 2005


oops, wrong thread, belay that double.
posted by caddis at 9:04 AM on November 11, 2005


Don't forget that 95% of Jesus's moral teachings were a) already present in the Jewish religious tradition or b) part of another religion's morality. Jesus was a lot of things, but he certainly wasn't original.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:33 AM PST on November 10 [!]


An interesting observation. God sent His Son to earth to correct a perversion of doctrine by the Jewish leaders of that day. 95% of what Jesus taught was what God had taught originally. There were some new things though. Read Hebrews, a new Covenant, a new Priesthood, and a new way of covering sins.

A lot of the criticisms offered by the thread are valid. I'm a "fundamentalist" and a Christian, and the truth is we often fail severely to demonstrate the Love of Christ.

That said, the objection to any kind of doctrine beyond that of social charity isn't grounded in accurate scriptural exegesis.

Political issues like Abortion are fought over precisly because Christians see the death of the unborn as tragic, and feel that Love demands that those with power accept responsibility to help those who are helpless. Granted, unchristian attitudes often get in the way in such battles, and I make no excuse for them, but you can't dismiss the responsibility that is demanded by someone who adhears to Christ's teaching on love and brotherhood.

Also, I did want to mention that Paul in no way "screwed up" the doctrines first introduced by Christ. Paul spent a large portion of his letters exhorting Christians towards Unity. He was constantly addressing problems that stemmed from selfishness and encouraging the brethren to give, pray and love one another. The legalism is often seen in Christians isn't taught by Paul, nor by any of the other NT writers.
posted by walljm at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2005


I did want to mention that Paul in no way "screwed up" the doctrines first introduced by Christ.

I'd love to hear how you figure Christ's teachings are compatible with Paul's letters.

Further, I'd like to hear your interpretation of the how the conferences (in Jerusalem and Antioch, where he met with James, Peter and John -- men that had walked with Christ, whereas Paul never met the fellow.

The historical record reads pretty clearly to me: Paul started his own church over the protests of those people who had directly learned from Jesus. Most of Paul's writings are unsupported by Jesus' recorded words, and... oh, so on and so forth. You get the picture.

Anyway, I'm curious how you make it all jive, 'cause to my eyes, it's literally impossible to reconcile Paul's doctrine with Christ's message.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:19 PM on November 11, 2005


For the record, my real name is remarkably similar to Jim Wallis's. I'm a writer too. Some of my books, fantasy novels, have titles like 'Mark of Damnation' and 'Mark of Heresy'. My existence probably exasperates Jim Wallis no end. But despite this, and despite the fact that I'm an atheist, every time I read one of his articles I find myself nodding my head a lot and smiling. He rocks.
posted by Hogshead at 8:00 PM on November 12, 2005


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