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April 4, 2009 7:02 PM   Subscribe

The End of Christian America. The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades. How that statistic explains who we are now—and what, as a nation, we are about to become.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (223 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
The End Christian America

The end grammar America?
posted by dgaicun at 7:06 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


And yet the ad at the bottom of this page before I logged in was for the Christian Prayer Center. I'm not so sure about this....
posted by waitingtoderail at 7:08 PM on April 4, 2009


After 9/11 may seek spiritual shelter in many Christian churches and of other kind. I am sure that during these hard economical times many people are going to go back again to church (or go for the first time).

The flow of immingrants from Latin America will boost (or have boosted) the type of American Christianity: from Protestan to Catholic.
posted by dov3 at 7:11 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Rather than a an ultra-mega-super-duper majority, they now just have a vastly overwhelming majority.

That said: ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease
posted by DU at 7:12 PM on April 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


The end grammar America?

It be a sad day when I'm copy editing Newsweek.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:16 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also, I'd credit the Internet with this one, at least partly. People, especially outside of big cities, now have a way to form communities around things other than churches. You can connect with people of similar niche interests even if none live within 100 miles of you. Whereas before, you were limited to the lowest common denominator: the church you happened to attend at birth.

(And before you accuse me of having a stereotypical view of rural America, let me tell you that I've been there. We went to the potlucks and ice cream socials and everything, but only from our own church. In a town of about 1500, we had at least a dozen churches and the only families we ever did anything with were ones from our own church.)
posted by DU at 7:22 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Of course, if the "open borders" people win, then that will turn around. Mexicans, after all, are overwhelmingly Catholic (76% according to the CIA World Factbook).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:38 PM on April 4, 2009


Premature, but one can hope. There is an old tradition of free thought in this country, a tradition that we lost during Cold War hysteria when Christianity was presented (and often presented itself) as a bulwark against communism. But back in the 19th century an atheist such as Robert G. Ingersoll could tour the speaking circuit and draw consistent crowds. If we could only get back to the tradition of open, skeptical discussion of religion I would be pleased.
posted by LarryC at 7:40 PM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am just delighted to see this. I don't see any way to get the American church back on track until it is forced to give up any hope of imposing its will through political power. We (in the Christian world) desperately need this cultural shift--the sooner, the better.

I was asked to speak at a ministers' conference a couple of years ago on how the church should respond to these very trends. I don't think I gave them what they were expecting, but I was pleased with the response I got. There are a bunch of us out there still in churches but tired of the "cultural war" nonsense. Here's perhaps the most salient paragraph of my speech, for those interested in some of the conversations going on in my corner of society.

The story of the temptations of Christ is a familiar one. After forty days and nights of fasting, the devil came to Jesus with three temptations. The first was to turn stones into bread, the second, to throw himself off the peak of the temple and have the angels catch him, the third, to have all the kingdoms of the world. We could summarize these as temptations be comfortable, to be impressive, and to be powerful. I am inclined to believe that those are also the three most common temptations of the church. Until recent years, the American church was offered each of those and gladly accepted them. Christianity was the default religion for the world’s greatest superpower—a position that should have made us tremble with concern that we were in danger of sliding off the path of self-denial that leads to the cross—but it seemed to occur to very few people that having such a position could be spiritually problematic. We built impressive structures, including dining facilities, recreation and entertainment centers. We turned praise and worship into a profit and star-making industry, and we gladly took our place in the halls of power. It seems that Satan offered us the same things he offered Christ, but we responded “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I doubt that the contemporary trends that are stripping away the power and prestige of the church are the work of the evil one—more likely it is the work of the Holy One, who is leading us step by step back to the paths of righteousness.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:41 PM on April 4, 2009 [408 favorites]


By the way, that headline is really quite deceptive. If you read the article you find this: "According to the American Religious Identification Survey that got Mohler's attention, the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent."

Yeah, it's down, but it's still three quarters of the country. Not exactly an endgame yet.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:41 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


All this has happened before, and all this will happen again.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:44 PM on April 4, 2009 [16 favorites]


the Northeast, which was the foundation, the home base, of American religion

If you ignore the first 10,000 years and concentrate on the last 400, yeah.

The only problem I have with arguing that America is "post-Christian" is that it sort of depends on the idea that America was once "Christian." It's never been a Christian country, and the article actually does demonstrate that - but complexity doesn't make great cover headlines.

The rising numbers of religiously unaffiliated Americans are people more apt to call themselves "spiritual" rather than "religious." (In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, 30 percent describe themselves this way, up from 24 percent in 2005.)

I think this is an important nugget. I was listening to a special interview broadcast with Krista Tippet today, and she talked a lot about how a quick saying like "Americans are getting less religious" can be misleading. What Americans are getting less of is affiliated to structured religious denominations. She made the point that a majority of people will describe themselves as having a personal spirituality whether or not they are a member of a religious denomination - even agnostic and sometimes athiestic people will identify as having a spiritual aspect of themselves. They are rejecting not thought and discussion about what meaning can be found in or given to life, but oversimplification, inflexible dogmatism, and wilful ignorance.

"Culturally, it was October 2001 for a decade."

Well put.

"The worst fault of evangelicals in terms of politics over the last 30 years has been an incredible naiveté about politics and politicians and parties," says Mohler. "They invested far too much hope in a political solution to what are transpolitical issues and problems....when abortion and a moral understanding of the human good became associated with one party, Christians had few options politically."

Quite true. I do have hope that as the evangelical right realizes that the political right was never serious about the moral agenda, having used it only as a route to power, they will become more solutions-oriented and focused on measurable, common good. That may be naive of me, but I've seen it happen in individuals, and can imagine it happening in broad swaths of the morally conservative, traditionally religious community. In American politics, we've never seen a religious agenda hold for long, and there's no reason to believe one would ever arise and take a permanent grip on the country. We make much better progress in the domain of the majority, where civic values reign; the moral values find their most appropriate home in homes and families and communities outside the political process.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on April 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Mexicans, after all, are overwhelmingly Catholic (76% according to the CIA World Factbook).

Heh. When the Irish and Italians got here, they were nearly 100% Catholic. Three generations later, not so much. (Hi grandma!)
posted by Miko at 7:50 PM on April 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Please, please, PLEASE!
posted by adipocere at 7:50 PM on April 4, 2009


Yeah, dropping 10 points from 86 to 76 is hardly a big deal.

I think a lot of it has to do with the overly political religious right alienating people who weren't religious by thought of themselves as Christians "by default". By politicizing Christianity, the religious right has driven away people who don't agree with them politically.
posted by delmoi at 7:53 PM on April 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think people are rejecting the showy, mega-church, legislating from the pulpit sort of religion that seems so in vogue that requires constant public declaration of your love of Jesus. I know that I find it distasteful and intrusive.

For most people, there will always be a deeply embedded need to believe that life has greater meaning and that death is not the end.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:53 PM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't know why they think the Northeast is some kind of bastion of Christianity that recently fell. I question their statistics-- maybe that was true when the Puritans landed but in the last 30 years at bare minimum we've been clearly way less religious than the South by far. I mean, we've got New York and Massachusetts... please!
posted by Maias at 7:54 PM on April 4, 2009


Well, everything good comes to an end. Just like Detroit.
posted by oddman at 7:56 PM on April 4, 2009


I dunno, Maias...church life in New England is pretty strong. It definitely led the nation at the end of the 19th century in both church population and Christian faith diversity, when in the South Baptists were the only game in town. The rise (blip?) of the new born-again churches and megachurches is pretty recent in church history time.
posted by Miko at 7:58 PM on April 4, 2009


Oh yeah? Come to South Texas.

My inner atheist fears for his life down here.
posted by dopamine at 8:03 PM on April 4, 2009


As exciting as I find this, we're still a long, long ways off from a "post-Christian" society.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:06 PM on April 4, 2009


It's time for a celebratory feast for us Atheists! Try the pickled fetuses on the table over there between the pornography theater and the marijuana room.

Seriously though, the total numbers are only a small part of the overall cultural influence.
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:07 PM on April 4, 2009


By the way, that headline is really quite deceptive.

Eh, that's addressed in the subhead, while the headline itself is about the fall of Christian influence in politics and culture. When religion decided to make so many issues VERY VERY IMPORTANT, it got away from it's core mission: providing guidance and support. The later is extremely worthwhile and represents the very best of what religion can do to help society. The former, not so much.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:14 PM on April 4, 2009


Jesus is just alright with me.
...I'm not religious, but I am a Doobie Brothers fan.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:17 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


For everyone who doesn't think that 10% drop is anything to be happy/concerned/excited about, put it in terms of web browsers and make sure you still have the same reaction ;)

If this means that we will have a similar advance in the majority towards a moderating view that is more considerate of the minorities, that will be A-OK by me.
posted by rubah at 8:37 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pater Alethias, you could be describing America in the 21st century... or Rome in the 14th. The Roman church grasped the secular sword far more vigorously and for far longer than American Evangelicalism has (all you heathens bitching about the influence of Christianity in American culture should read a little early-modern or medieval history; you all have got it made by historical standards), and in no small part due to that hubris, it's taken a spectacular beating in the last five centuries. But even though it's been five centuries since its stranglehold on Western culture was broken, hey, it's still there.

Sadly enough, it's never really gotten over the perspective that it's the center of the culture, the point around which everything revolves. That's part of the reason why the Pope still thinks he can issue proclamations about condoms in Africa and expect people to listen. The outrage such shenanigans provoke has at least as much to do with people reacting against the idea that the Pope retains any modicum of spiritual authority ("Didn't we get past this in 1518? Are you still here?") as it does with the substance of his encyclicals.

Miko, I think we're about to see that the alliance between religious and political conservatives was only skin deep all along. Indeed, Christians and big business have been more or less hostile to each other for most of American history. The Rockefeller Republicans which dominated the GOP before WWII weren't exactly known as inspiring men of faith; indeed, the most prominent pre-war political expression of Christianity were the largely mainline, post-millennial Progressives--until the rise of communism gave Christians and business interests a common enemy. Religious conservatives hated the communists for being atheists. Political conservatives hated the communists for being... well... communists. Thus, for much of the twentieth century, two erstwhile political and cultural... antagonists(?) (not outright enemies, but it wasn't the kind of relationship where you were seen together socially, you know?) made common cause, and did so for long enough that two generations have grown up basically assuming that serious Christianity obviously means conservative politics.

Well, it doesn't. It doesn't mean liberal politics either, but that's another story. Suffice it to say that the generations that have come of age after the end of the Cold War no longer make such assumptions and that Christianity in America is currently undergoing something of a seismic shift. This should be of interest.
posted by valkyryn at 8:43 PM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Parts of this remind me very strongly of a blog entry posted by a kid in a poetry class I took in my second year of college (this young man annoyed me so much I tracked him down on the internet and read his blog, no pun intended, religiously for a while so that I could shriek in outrage to anyone who would listen. I seem to enjoy torturing myself this way which is why I have read Angels and Demons three times despite literally having thrown it across the room in anger).

Anyway, this guy was very religious and in his blog he talked about how in one of his classes they had been discussing how great it was that you could have a moral code that didn't involve God and how repugnant he thought this was (he transferred the next year to a small Christian college -- clearly he had not picked the right school for him). Reading this, as a Christian, I was sort of taken aback. Admittedly I am a New England Episcopalian with pretty liberal opinions (I have a family member in the Episcopal clergy who was at Gene Robinson's confirmation as Bishop and organized an interfaith service after 9/11 with a local rabbi and imam with whom she had worked previously) so I'm not super likely to agree with this kid on most stuff anyway, but I recall thinking that it was amazingly beautiful to me that God would be so generous as to allow a secular morality and provide people with a way to be good and kind people with a strong moral code despite not being religious. I don't really understand the blind dogmatism that says that if you are moral for the WRONG REASONS that this is so terribly bad and I am just overwhelmed by the idea that the God in whom I believe "so loves the world" and is so tolerant and forgiving that he would create pathways towards happiness and kindness for those who choose not to believe in him.

When the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says, "The moral teachings of Christianity have exerted an incalculable influence on Western civilization...As those moral teachings fade into cultural memory, a secularized morality takes their place." I kind of think "so what?". If the issue were that NO morality took the place of Christian morality, that would be a problem, but I don't see why the fact that people have a different basis for their morality is such a problem. Obviously this man and I are coming from very, very different places within Christianity but I do tend to think that being a good person, whatever the motivations may be, is worthwhile in itself.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:43 PM on April 4, 2009 [30 favorites]


Many in the religious community view this downturn as directly related to the rise of the watered-down feel-good Christianity that has gained various levels of popularity in the past few decades. When a belief system is reduced to a series of vague platitudes, then it's no surprise when its adherents begin to wander.

In response to this trend, look for a return to more traditional views of Christian worship to stem the tide. As an example, the growing use of the traditional Tridentine Latin Mass, and its corresponding world-view, in the Catholic Church.

Then again, who knows what the future portends.
posted by jsonic at 8:49 PM on April 4, 2009


I dunno, Maias...church life in New England is pretty strong. It definitely led the nation at the end of the 19th century in both church population and Christian faith diversity, when in the South Baptists were the only game in town

100 years ago New England led the nation in a lot of things it doesn't care about any more. Is there a disused textile mill in your hometown? Mine too! You know how FDR took every state in 1932 except Maine and Vermont? How do you think that would play out now?

Religious diversity? Sure. There are lots of denominations here, most of them wondering where they'll be in 10 years if participation keeps sliding the way it has for the last 20. We live in the most secular part of the country. Embrace it!
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:49 PM on April 4, 2009


Mayor Curley: You have no argument with me. I'm just saying that the religious scholar in the article isn't wrong when he notes that things in the Northeast have changed over the last few decades.
posted by Miko at 8:51 PM on April 4, 2009


(Mrs. Pterodactyl, you should check in with this thread -- seems that you're not the only one who loathed that book.)
posted by Rhaomi at 8:52 PM on April 4, 2009


this man and I are coming from very, very different places within Christianity but I do tend to think that being a good person, whatever the motivations may be, is worthwhile in itself.

One thing I think a lot of people who do believe in Christian faiths are thinking over the last year or so is how nice it is to come out of the closet a little bit. When "Christian" was understood shallowly, in the media and elsewhere, to mean "socially conservative member of an evangelical, literalist fundamentalist and politically aggressive religious denomination," I think that liberal Christians - who are many - were obscured, and also that the environment for them in the public conversation was quite hostile, as they were often shouted down on both sides from argumentative nonbelievers who thought that all believers were the same, as well as from members of other Christian sects who thought that liberal and mainline Christians were just bad, lazy, stupid Christians who didn't mean it.

That, and if you believe personal religious views can inform but should not direct conversation in the public square, you just didn't drag it in with you - but those who did believe that politics was the way to create God's kingdom on earth certainly did, and pulled the mantle over their heads with a quickness. That led to the general impression that there was only one kind of Christian, which has been pretty detrimental in almost all discussions about public policy that have an overt moral dimension. Oddly, if there is a mellowing of rhetoric and drop in numbers on the Christian right, the power of that monolithic idea of Christianity will also diminish, making it more possible for people to express more of the diversity and dimensionality that exists under the enormous banner labelled "Christian."

In other words, the quieter the extremes, the more you can hear the variety of moderated voices, believer and non-, of all persuasions, at the center. Many of which are talking sense.
posted by Miko at 9:03 PM on April 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


I believe--and I think that the author of this Newsweek piece would agree with me--that religious belief in America is cyclical. This, I should clarify, is the cycle of public religious fervor, not personal faith.

Things like the Second Great Awakening and the Temperance/Prohibition movements were tempered with periods of quieter faith (see, for example, this century, which meandered from the hedonistic 1920s to the tightly wound '40s and '50s to the anything goes '60s and '70s and so on).

So, we are merely entering a period of quiet faith, where the church contemplates its mandates and the Emergent Church resonates more strongly with the faithful than Moral Majority does.

America will never, barring something *extremely* catastrophic, be free of religion. It was woven into the makeup of the nation (by addressing the need to constrain it, if nothing else) and persists to this day. Christianity will surge again in the future, and it will subside again in the further future.
posted by librarylis at 9:06 PM on April 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Many in the religious community view this downturn as directly related to the rise of the watered-down feel-good Christianity that has gained various levels of popularity in the past few decades.

Talking about anyone specific? What's the brand that you think is 'feel-good'?
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on April 4, 2009


oh you know, Luthernans...

Guys, the poll INCLUDES mexican immigrants.
posted by stratastar at 9:12 PM on April 4, 2009


This should be of interest.

Eeeeeeeccckkkk. Neo-calvinists kind of terrify me. It's a starkly antiscientific reactionary philosophy. And its adherents are prone to fascistic tendencies.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:14 PM on April 4, 2009


Civilization will not attain to its perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest. ~ Émile Zola
posted by killdevil at 9:56 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


America, then, is not a post-religious society—and cannot be as long as there are people in it, for faith is an intrinsic human impulse. The belief in an order or a reality beyond time and space is ancient and enduring.

And that's where he lost me.
posted by signal at 10:02 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Allahu akbar!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:04 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I think that a lot of people are starting to see the man behind the curtain. I turned away from believing in God and being a christian not only because all of the cases posited for his existence have never made sense to me but also because I have always seen the christian church as a tool of fairly evil people to control those who believe.

When I compare the teachings of Christ as they are given in the bible with the policies of the modern church, it seems obvious to me that many church leaders have perverted those teachings to their own ends over the last two millennia. They started with a teacher who asked those who would believe to give away their earthly riches and follow him. He went into the temple and turned over the tables of the money changers. After he died, the church, in all its incarnations and divisions, turned to gaining as much wealth as possible. This is just one of many examples of where the christian church lost its way.

I'm not surprised that people are identifing themselves as spiritual rather than religious. What else is one supposed to do when one believes in Christ but is sickened by the perversion of the church?
posted by double block and bleed at 10:10 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The religious right downplayed global climate change. They spend their weekends preaching destruction from sin, but these vices apparently don't include the waste and gluttony encouraged by conservative sponsors, and so they deny the imminent danger that scientists are warning of. They have made themselves irrelevant at best.
posted by Brian B. at 10:13 PM on April 4, 2009


They have made themselves irrelevant at best.
And relevant at worst.
posted by Flunkie at 10:28 PM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Talking about anyone specific? What's the brand that you think is 'feel-good'?

Those brands who conflate their religious tenants with popular opinion. If you're going to believe something, then at least be consistent about it. Otherwise don't be surprised if your flock strays when the current fad wears out.
posted by jsonic at 10:37 PM on April 4, 2009


Those brands who conflate their religious tenants with popular opinion.

Like who, specifically?
posted by Miko at 10:43 PM on April 4, 2009


"The End of Christian America"?

Wow, I've not seen such a misleading, ludicrous headline in quite a while. Still, I can see how it would rev up the evangelical fundraising base to have people fed the illusion that Christianity as the chief American religion is somehow -- as farcical as the assertion is -- endangered.
posted by blucevalo at 10:51 PM on April 4, 2009


I ask because I honestly can't think of a religion whose dogma is "Our tenets are based on popular opinion." This seems like an eye-of-the-beholder thing.

I also can't think of a single Christian religion which has not developed and changed its dogma based on the popular opinion of members of its congregation, or on the schisms they were willing to create to follow their beliefs. There has never been a time, since the beginning of Christianity, that there wasn't change and variety in Christian belief. Christian denominations don't arrive at some fully developed point and stop moving. Even if we list the denominations we consider most conservative and unchanging today, it only takes a backward glance of 100 years or so to understand that they have changed a great deal in just that short time, and a glance at current theological debates within denominations indicates that they are changing still.
posted by Miko at 10:54 PM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Actually, the last most misleading headline was probably for Newsweek's 1986 article claiming that single women over 40 had a greater chance of being killed in a terrorist attack than they had of getting married.
posted by blucevalo at 10:58 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see the Christians never tire of imagining themselves, and their churches, to be in constant danger of the cross.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:09 PM on April 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet
posted by vronsky at 11:15 PM on April 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


That is going to give me nightmares, vronsky.
posted by Miko at 11:20 PM on April 4, 2009


I also can't think of a single Christian religion which has not developed and changed its dogma based on the popular opinion of members of its congregation

What dogma has the Roman Catholic Church changed based on popular opinion?
posted by jsonic at 11:29 PM on April 4, 2009


Have you heard of Vatican II? One of many instances at which decisions have been made at the below-divine level.
posted by Miko at 11:31 PM on April 4, 2009


Vatican II isn't dogma. The link I gave you actually mentions that.
posted by jsonic at 11:39 PM on April 4, 2009


Also, Vatican II didn't change any existing dogmas.
posted by jsonic at 11:39 PM on April 4, 2009


Whoa, awesome link Brandon Blatcher, thanks.

I'm an atheist, always have been, but after reading that article I for some reason feel a desire to gush about how incredible it's been over the years to study Judeo-Christianity. Both the good stuff and the bad stuff, it's kind of like scanning through a fractal browser - no matter how much you zoom in there's always infinitely more detail, y'know?

And it seems as though it all resonates with the Western culture in me; I just grok it more and I feel as though I can understand the mindset of someone from a Christian or Jewish, or to a lesser degree Islamic background and how they would view religious topics or stories. I mean I wish I could get as much out of studying other religions but if you're reading the Upanishads or from the Pali Canon or the Analects of Confucius it feels like there's a context or a foundation that's missing and things in the text are sometimes searching for connections in you that they aren't finding. It often seems to me that an uneducated person from 20th century China, completely cut off from Classical Chinese culture by Maoist revisionism and the culling of the bourgeoisie et cetera, would get more out of reading the Analects or other Confucian works than I do despite my efforts to study the contemporary history and other contextual things.

So, er, I guess I'm saying, let's keep a few in captivity after they're all gone. But I could definitely be comfortable with a much lower percentage than 76%.
posted by XMLicious at 11:41 PM on April 4, 2009


In ''A Church That Can and Cannot Change,'' Noonan drives home the point that some Catholic moral doctrines have changed radically. History, he concludes, does not support the comforting notion that the church simply elaborates on or expands previous teachings without contradicting them.

His exhibit A is slavery. John Paul II included slavery among matters that are ''intrinsically evil'' -- prohibited ''always and forever'' and ''without any exception'' -- a violation of a universal, immutable norm. Yet slavery in some form was accepted as a fact of life in both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, in much Christian theology and in Catholic teaching well into the 19th century.
[Noonan] undertakes a rapid historical survey of Catholic doctrine on lending money at interest (usury), marriage, slavery, and religious freedom, showing in each case how the Vatican's position changed and explaining the principles that produced the change.

For instance, lending money at interest was once regarded as a mortal sin, contrary to natural law ("money is barren") and contrary to the Gospel ("Lend freely, expecting nothing in return").

But today no one, not even the Vatican, disapproves of putting money is a savings account to earn interest.

For nearly two millennia, the Vatican taught that it was not sinful to own slaves. After all, the Apostle Paul approved of slavery ("slaves, stay with your masters") and actually returned a runaway slave named Onesimus to his master.

Barely a century ago, in 1890, Pope Leo XIII for the first time denounced slavery as immoral and incompatible "with the brotherhood that unites all men," a brotherhood that had previously escaped notice in Rome.

Similarly, the Vatican long taught that heretics had no religious liberty and governments should execute them, a position supported by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and words attributed to Jesus himself.

Only in 1964 was this position finally repudiated by the Second Vatican Council which announced that the freedom to believe was a sacred human right. A previously undetected right, apparently.
More - audio link
posted by Miko at 11:41 PM on April 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Also, Vatican II didn't change any existing dogmas.

That's what they say in Catholicism, but it can also be seen as a bit of verbal sleight-of-hand. If it changes, it can't be dogma. However, dogma can be "developed" because it wasn't as well understood in the earlier days.

If you want to deal in only the precise use of the term "dogma" as understood in the Catholic Church only, then you're probably right in a narrow sense that a conservative Catholic would argue with me that the "dogma" hasn't changed. However, let's back up to my larger point: has the Catholic Church changed in response to changing culture, including popular opinion? It's impossible to say that it has not. A historical examination demonstrates that it has changed, early and often. That it has not modernized enough to match the most common mores of our time is sad to some, but that doesn't mean it hasn't changed. It has.
posted by Miko at 11:45 PM on April 4, 2009


For everyone who doesn't think that 10% drop is anything to be happy/concerned/excited about, put it in terms of web browsers and make sure you still have the same reaction ;)

I think that to declare the end of Christianity in America as a result of a drop from 86% self-professed Christian to 76% is waaaaaay premature.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:51 PM on April 4, 2009


Let me clarify and apologize so we can get beyond this point: I was mistaken in using the term "dogma" too loosely, mixing up 'dogma' with 'doctrine' and 'belief,' and I should have said there are no churches whose doctrines have not changed. Otherwise we are stuck in a semantic argument.

Coming from a Catholic family myself, I shoulda known someone would be along to correct me speedily.
posted by Miko at 11:54 PM on April 4, 2009


That's what they say in Catholicism, but it can also be seen as a bit of verbal sleight-of-hand. If it changes, it can't be dogma.

Wat? You seem to have some kind of axe to grind here. The Vatican doesn't decide after-the-fact that something isn't dogma.

This tangent we're on about which church is the most unchanging seem quixotic and unrelated to my original comment in this thread which you responded to. That when a belief system is reduced to a series of vague feel-good platitudes, then it's no surprise when its adherents begin to wander.
posted by jsonic at 11:59 PM on April 4, 2009


Otherwise we are stuck in a semantic argument.

Understood. My goal in commenting in this thread was certainly not to try and claim that Catholicism hasn't changed at all.
posted by jsonic at 12:02 AM on April 5, 2009


No axe to grind at all, just taking a historical perspective.

That when a belief system is reduced to a series of vague feel-good platitudes, then it's no surprise when its adherents begin to wander.


So back to my original question to you, what belief system has been "reduced to a series of vague feel-good platitudes?"
posted by Miko at 12:03 AM on April 5, 2009


Then there's also the furor about our very own era's Pope Benedict XVI and his posse's temerity in edging closer and closer to saying, "Oh, wait, maybe it doesn't really make any sense at all that unbaptized infants would go to hell."

(Nothing official on that yet I don't think, just theological musings and ecclesiastical memos, though perhaps someone more in the know could enlighten us. But lookit em' go! Anti-Vatican-II Catholics are so feisty.)
posted by XMLicious at 12:03 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase Ghandi: “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of America would be Christian today"

I think the blame for the current slide in the number of self-identified Christians falls largely on the Religious Right. They did their utmost (and with no small amount of success) to make Jesus and Republicanism virtually synonymous.

When the two most prominent Evangelicals blame liberals for the 9/11 attacks, while the dust clouds at the WTC were still settling, you're bound to turn people off.

When you make Christianity synonymous with the Bush administration, the Republican party, corruption, deceit, incompetence, and brutality (including the invasion of Iraq, torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo) you're bound to turn people off.

When Republicans frame the "War on Terror", abortion, gay marriage, and other political issues as Christian causes, you're bound to turn people off.

When you portray your fellow citizens/fellow Christians as immoral, un-Christian, and anti-American whenever they deviate even one issue from the Republican platform, you're bound to turn people off.

When you shove fliers in peoples faces on college campuses and on peoples own doorsteps that list all of the reasons "you are going to hell, if" (and that list includes "being a good and charitable person" who has not accepted the Lord JC as their personal savior), you're a hateful f*ck-tard.

When you're convinced the world is only 6,000 years old and are trying to drive science from the classrooms and replace it with Creationism, it's hard to distinguish your mentality from the one that predominated during the Dark Ages.

When you're more concerned upset about gay people marrying than the polar caps melting, you're a danger to the planet and everybody on it.

When the majority of your members are convinced there can be no laws or morality without a belief in Christianity, it's clear the term 'flock of sheep' is far more appropriate than your narrow-minded, brainwashed mind realizes.

Yeah, funny how fewer and fewer people want to be identified with that.
posted by Davenhill at 12:13 AM on April 5, 2009 [32 favorites]


Wikipedia's article on Limbo is a good summary of the history of the idea in the Catholic Church.
posted by jsonic at 12:20 AM on April 5, 2009


For most people, there will always be a deeply embedded need to believe that life has greater meaning and that death is not the end.

#1: Why? Why do people need this belief? I'm totally cool with my transient meaningless existence in an amazing, huge, wonderful, awe-inspiring universe that doesn't need me.

#2: Christianity? Really? Out of all the fables you can construct that could make a near-anonymous individual feel special, why this particular brand of myth? Make up whatever you want! Go nuts! You could easily go one of two tracks: Make all followers subservient and pentatent, and by their humble piousness they become holy OR claim to empower all believers, so everyone feels like a prophet or near-god.
posted by sourwookie at 12:30 AM on April 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


I've been thinking about this since the results came out and all I can come up with is: This doesn't excite me.

People who were immoral, community-ruining or advocates of community-ruining policies, who were small-minded, judgmental, takers-away of womens gay and transexual rights, who keep Plan B behind a pharmacist counter, stood by as pharmacies allow pharmacists to not fill BC prescriptions, don't agitate for responsibility and risk reduction in regard to sex ed, who'd step on the necks of the poor to get to church (but now step on them on the way to a Sunday matinee instead) as Christians can't be trusted to be moral, kind, world and community-aware (spiritual) non-believers.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a non-proselytizing religion so I've never known the knee-jerk need to want some people or group of peoples to be part of my belief system. As such, I carry that over to my current non-belief and it remains that my goals are to live among the giving, compassionate, morally responsible, and community supporting. I am unconvinced that a label shift has coincided with a kindness shift.

To summarize: I probably still prefer the Quakers, Amish (and anabaptistry), Buddhists, and reform Jews to a majority that's kept the bullshit culture war alive seemingly as they changed what they label themselves as.
posted by birdie birdington at 12:54 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


You probably also have to credit the internet which has made it a lot easier for people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, et. al. gain notoriety. The Unofficial Richard Dawkins YouTube page (better than the official site), and The Official Ricahrd Dawkins page (which is decent).

In part I see this as a continuing struggle between the Dark Ages of Christianity and the Humanism of the Renaissance.

Given the choice (and obviously if Christianity had it's way there wouldn't be a choice), I'll choose science, reason, and the dignity of the individual. It is Humanism and not Christianity that gave rise to the notion of equality under the law, and it is Humanism that continues to drive the expansion of these ideals to include men and women regardless of wealth, race, religion, disability or sexual orientation. It is Humanism's desire for truth through logic and examination that was the driving force behind scientific knowledge, while Christianity has been fighting against it (fortunately they can no longer burn people at the stake, as was their habit for so very many centuries).
#2: Christianity? Really? Out of all the fables you can construct that could make a near-anonymous individual feel special, why this particular brand of myth? Make up whatever you want! Go nuts! You could easily go one of two tracks: Make all followers subservient and pentatent, and by their humble piousness they become holy OR claim to empower all believers, so everyone feels like a prophet or near-god.
One wonders why the God in the Bible, who created and controls the entire universe, was so fixated on such a geographically limited area of this planet, and only during a very brief window of time.

People want to live their lives according to what a bunch of crazy, middle-eastern religious zealots said 2000 years ago? I don't even trust the crazy, middle-eastern religious zealots of today.
posted by Davenhill at 12:59 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


#1: Why? Why do people need this belief? I'm totally cool with my transient meaningless existence in an amazing, huge, wonderful, awe-inspiring universe that doesn't need me.

Exhilarating when life's going great and you're feeling philosophical.

Cold comfort when you've lost a loved you've maybe spent your life with or brought into the world. Or when you feel death's shadow on you yourself.
posted by codswallop at 1:09 AM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


'The belief in an order or a reality beyond time and space is ancient and enduring.'
And that's where he lost me.


Might not like it, but it is. We spend 1/3 of our lives in an altered and altering state of consciousness where bursts of electrical activity go through the brain stem and our eyes move rapidly causing a variety of effects that are sometimes useful. Clearly something is going on in the universe other than just particles moving about. Consciousness is a pretty interesting facet of being, and time and space and how we perceive reality is something humans have been exploring for a long time.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:19 AM on April 5, 2009


Cold comfort when you've lost a loved you've maybe spent your life with or brought into the world. Or when you feel death's shadow on you yourself.

Or so one would think, but apparently believers seek more aggressive treatments when they are dying. You'd think they would go more willingly than the less religious do.
posted by Brian B. at 1:31 AM on April 5, 2009


Cold comfort when you've lost a loved you've maybe spent your life with or brought into the world. Or when you feel death's shadow on you yourself.

I'm sorry. I truly am. I am also human. Like almost all other humans I've lived a life punctuated with the loss of those who are close--some through suicide, some illness, and some accidentally. That's what it means to have a healthy social and familial network--you're close to many people, and they die.

I won't belittle grief here. It is FUCKING CRUSHING. I hear you. That whole paralysis mixed with deafness and an inability to move--we all know it. But I have never been tempted to embrace an arbitrary belief system to make sense of it. Friends and family have, but not me.

At this point, I'm just willing to say we're wired differently.
posted by sourwookie at 1:35 AM on April 5, 2009 [10 favorites]


WTF! Three quarters of the population of the most powerful county on earth (complete with nuclear weapons) believes in fairies at the end of the garden? Jesus Christ!
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:06 AM on April 5, 2009


Brian B. Or so one would think, but apparently believers seek more aggressive treatments when they are dying. You'd think they would go more willingly than the less religious do.

I don't know about that. If someone's religious faith adds meaning to life, hanging on to it is that much more important. OTOH, I've known of one very religious person who shrugged off cancer diagnoses and died for it. Just prayer, juice, and eventually a funeral.

sourwookie That whole paralysis mixed with deafness and an inability to move--we all know it. But I have never been tempted to embrace an arbitrary belief system to make sense of it. Friends and family have, but not me.

Totally cool. You asked why people (and I took it to mean in general) need it, so my answer was meant in general.

I haven't embraced it but I wish it was true sometimes, that there was a point to any of this. That someone kept score. That there was something eternal other than oblivion.

Think I'd better stop staring into the abyss now. :)
posted by codswallop at 2:09 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I find it fascinating that nobody (including the survey) has mentioned the New Apostolic Reformation, the "post-denominational" movement made infamous by Sarah Palin. With its emphasis on Spiritual Warfare, the salvation of geographic regions as well as individuals, the elevation of its leaders to the status of Apostles empowered to alter Scripture and possibly most radically employing a network structure as opposed to the traditional ministerial hierarchy and congregation, I don't think it's exaggeration to say the NAR's estimated 387 million members worldwide represent the most significant change in Christianity since the first Reformation 500 years ago.
posted by scalefree at 2:16 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was kinda hoping all 10% were represented by the folding of the Mars Hill cult, but apparently their god has forsaken me and that's not the case.
posted by maxwelton at 3:21 AM on April 5, 2009


All five (5!) of the churches in my small hometown in Maine have closed over the past ten years: Their congregations simply died off.

Still, I really had no idea how jumping-jesus-religious the US was until I went to study abroad in Austria and the Americans from other parts of the States would pray at dinner and didn't like me saying 'damn'. I think that was the worst part of culture shock.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:42 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Perhaps this drop in religious belief accounts for our current decline as a nation and specifically our economic mess? a warning of things to come?
posted by Postroad at 4:47 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


The End Christian America

I accidentally the whole Jesus?
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:41 AM on April 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


But you haven’t tasted Jesus!
- He tastes like chicken.
posted by hooptycritter at 6:13 AM on April 5, 2009


"Wow, I've not seen such a misleading, ludicrous headline in quite a while."

It is far more pleasing for a modern journalist to write "The End of Anything Else" rather than the "The End of Print Journalism" which is much more immediate, inevitable, and of much greater concern to the author and his peers.

I'd seen earlier discussion of the ARIS 2008 report which although well designed and executed, measures "self-identification of belonging to a formal church" as the questionnaire within the report clearly shows. A more reasonable interpretation of the results is that people are saying, "whatever I am, I'm not that". Which seems to show a disaffection with organized churches; somewhat unsurprising in this US era.
posted by fydfyd at 6:17 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


if the concept of a christian heaven turns out to be true, there wouldn't be any americans there anyway
posted by kitchenrat at 6:26 AM on April 5, 2009


Death to cultural Christianity.

I don't care about numbers. I care about reality. And no survey will give us the answer to that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:39 AM on April 5, 2009


What kind of fucked up world is it where Sarah Palin's religious views get wall-to-wall coverage by every major American news outlet, and Pater Aletheias has to leave comments on MeFi?
posted by jdfalk at 6:41 AM on April 5, 2009 [16 favorites]


Shhh. "The end of Christian America" is precisely what the wackos for Jeebus are worried about.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:48 AM on April 5, 2009


There are obviously great herds of self-identified Christians, and I guess most of them probably do at least nominally believe in some vague "Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins and rose again" general stuff, but what I'd like to see is a survey that just presents people with unidentified actual Christian teaching and see how many actually buy it.

Totally unscientific anecdotal crap: I used to teach this course occasionally about themes of justice in literature, and so we'd cover all sorts of stuff related to different conceptions of what's just, punishment vs. redemption, yadda yadda. And you would just not believe how pissed off the students got when confronted with a text like, oh, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. And this was undoubtedly as nominally Christian a sample as any other group of lower-middle-class middle Americans would be. There are a whole lot of Christians who seem to be totally unaware of many fundamental precepts and practice.

It'd be even more fascinating to see the results of a survey where people indicated their level of belief in major tenets of their specific denomination of Christianity. Catholics would probably score fairly strongly because they almost all get at least some standardized religious instruction, but Protestants?

In Early American Lit., we do a quick rundown of the five points of Calvinism (aka TULIP) as context for stuff like Mary Rowlandson, Jonathan Edwards, Emerson, Thoreau -- and the students are almost uniformly horrified, especially when they learn that these are not just things that Cotton Mather believed 400 years ago but are still right there, some of them, in the fine or not-so-fine-print of modern-day Protestant denominations.

So this "self-identified Christian," "self-identified Presbyterian" hooey seems for many mainly to be about a place you go on Sunday and a group of people you eat pancakes with and a nice man who let people torture him to death because we're so very, very special.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:52 AM on April 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


> "Still, I really had no idea how jumping-jesus-religious the US was until I went to study abroad in Austria and the Americans from other parts of the States would pray at dinner and didn't like me saying 'damn'. I think that was the worst part of culture shock."

<nerdalert>
I've always thought that the Star Trek novel Uhura's Song was a great preparation for studying abroad. A significant part of the book is about First Contact, and there are all kinds of great quips about group cultural immersion. My favorites include There is no 'of course' when it comes to custom and -- more pertinent in your case -- You'll learn as much about yourselves as you will about them
</nerdalert>
posted by jock@law at 6:52 AM on April 5, 2009


"Rather than a an ultra-mega-super-duper majority, they now just have a vastly overwhelming majority.

That said: ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease"

LOL!!

I'm going to have a hard time topping that one.

We are moving steadily and relatively rapidly toward secularism here. Despite how it feels and sounds, they really are not so overwhelming. They're losing believers. We really are headed in the same direction as Europe.

All those cathedrals in Italy - ask an Italian if they go to mass. So far, I've not met one who said he did.
posted by Tena at 7:15 AM on April 5, 2009


To paraphrase Ghandi: “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of America would be Christian today"
Baloney. If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, Christianity would be virtually extinct today, virtually all Christians having died of hunger, thirst, or exposure.
posted by Flunkie at 7:20 AM on April 5, 2009


Ebb, flow, ebb, flow, ebb, flow, ebb, flow...

Just last night I was reading about how some really smart folks predicted the "end of Judaism" circa 1910. Evidence: assimilation, falling rates of self-identification, and (especially) radical drops in synagogue attendance in the largest concentrated Jewish community in the World (NYC). Pretty much everyone "in the know" (e.g., Freud) said the jig was up for the religion of Moses and perhaps religion in general.

Things, of course, didn't work out that way.
posted by MarshallPoe at 7:22 AM on April 5, 2009


It is Humanism and not Christianity that gave rise to the notion of equality under the law

Well, I don't know about that. Quakers were preaching the personal equality of each individual long before that idea existed anywhere as law.

what I'd like to see is a survey that just presents people with unidentified actual Christian teaching and see how many actually buy it.

The difficulty there is that there isn't a single 'Christian teaching.' There isn't even a single Bible - and even when you agree on the same version of the Bible, there are so many textual problems in the book that the first thing a demonimation, with its denominational agenda, has to do is filter and re-interpret text to 'explain' things to its understandably struggling and confused believers.

It'd be even more fascinating to see the results of a survey where people indicated their level of belief in major tenets of their specific denomination of Christianity. Catholics would probably score fairly strongly because they almost all get at least some standardized religious instruction, but Protestants?

I do totally agree with this. I find that an enormous number of self-identified Christians of one sort or another are not all that familiar with their own tenets or even their basic text. In fact, Beliefnet has this Belief-o-Matic quiz which sort of aims to do this - it begins by asking you what you believe about individual points of faith, and in the end gives you results that show a percentage match with the beliefs of major denominations. My only beef with it is that it's not very finely diced. If I remember rightly it can split the major denominations apart pretty well (Roman Catholic vs. Mormon vs. Mainline Protestant etc) but it doesn't get into the very specific and tightly defined theological divides that cause those denominations to differ from one another. It's more of a basic 'hey, looka this' thing.

I do agree that a lot of people would be really surprised at what the theologians in their faith expect them to believe, and that most people are not particularly well informed about the process by which those beliefs were arrived at within their churches.
posted by Miko at 7:32 AM on April 5, 2009


Just last night I was reading about how some really smart folks predicted the "end of Judaism" circa 1910.

Yeah, in doing some research for my job I found there was this whole gallop of recently arrived Jews to the celebration of Christmas. They were adopting it as an American holiday, much as they did Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, and in response Jewish leaders mounted very direct campaigns encouraging Jews to re-fashion Hannukah instead of celebrating Christmas. It's an understandable mistake, since Christmas was possibly even less religious a holiday around the turn of the 20th century than it is now.
posted by Miko at 7:38 AM on April 5, 2009


jsonic: Many in the religious community view this downturn as directly related to the rise of the watered-down feel-good Christianity that has gained various levels of popularity in the past few decades.

Miko: Talking about anyone specific? What's the brand that you think is 'feel-good'?


I don't think it's a specific brand as much as various branches of brands going for the fee-good Christianity.

Example: My wife attended a large Methodist church for several. Over time, the church began pushing it's "Praise and Worship" services (lots of music playing and call and response, less listening to sermons and thinking) instead of regular church. It also attempted to gut various volunteer and outreach programs. All of this came about with the arrival of a new pastor. When long time members, who were all volunteers in the various programs, voiced respectful dissent on an individual level to the pastor or deacons, they were ALL told "Maybe this isn't the church for you." I imagine this and similar attitudes of "Our way or the highway" turned off a lot of people on local levels.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:40 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


What better way to spend Sunday morning than hearing about the decline of the church? The excerpt from Pater Alethias' speech was probably the best thing I have read on metafilter in a week.

I have little to add, save that I recently learned that as a teenager, Josef Ratzinger was drafted into an anti-aircraft brigade outside Munich, This suggests the Pope is not only anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-Muslim, but also anti-aircraft.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:44 AM on April 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


I actually hope the change in self-identified Christians is due to people like Pater Aletheias: the refusal to be called "Christian" in a world where churches demand political control simply because they're ordained by God, with little regard for Jesus' trust that good people will be drawn to God by performing and receiving good acts in the name of faith. The change seems less to do with people becoming atheists or converting to Judaism or Bahai or whatever, but rather people wanting to distance themselves from a church where you're expected to declare your neighbors are evil and sinners, when much of America is realizing that the libertarian ideals of respecting personal morals is kinda nice. The resurgence of a progressivism which promotes health, education, security, and a livelihood for the most underprivileged citizen is the most Jesus-like thing a country like the U.S. could do, but it's sadly opposed by those who protest their position as Jesus' mouthpiece. It would certainly be nice if the Christians take the progressive position, since it is so much more in line with the New Testament than anything else going on in christianity.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:48 AM on April 5, 2009


"if the Christians take the progressive position, since it is so much more in line with the New Testament than anything else going on in christianity."

Many do - it just so happens that Christian Liberation Theology is what is practiced in the UCC - the church the Obamas belong to.

Thing is, Mormons are .4% of the population - think how much noise is made by and about Mormons considering how very few of them there actually are.

You have to separate the noise from the reality.
posted by Tena at 7:52 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Miko: Talking about anyone specific? What's the brand that you think is 'feel-good'?

I don't think it's a specific brand as much as various branches of brands going for the fee-good Christianity.


Maybe, but it seems that in the survey in the article, and in the Pew survey on Religion in American Life, the decrease in affiliation wasn't due to religions not being strict enough, but due to traditional denominations being unable to contain the full spiritual life of an individual, being unresponsive (other than stonewalling) to skeptical critique, and holding doctrines that seem contradictory to the central tenets of the religion (being anti-gay, for example). Even if you thought that the increase in non-affiliation was due to people who felt their religion was too "feel-good" and not structured enough, that's not enough to account for the drop in affiliation, as the Pew survey shows:
.Like the other major groups, people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (16.1%) also exhibit remarkable internal diversity. Although one-quarter of this group consists of those who describe themselves as either atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively), the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as "nothing in particular." This group, in turn, is fairly evenly divided between the "secular unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and the "religious unaffiliated," that is, those who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population).
So at best, you could say that some people (some unknown portion of that 5.8%) can't find a church structured enough for them. But the others have left traditional, structured faiths for non-affiliation.

Definitely take a look at the numbers in the Pew survey; it's more finely grained and it's fascinating. Among the major findings:

  • 44% of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.
  • The survey finds that the number of people who say they are unaffiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with any particular religion as children
  • the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country; the number of Americans who report that they are members of Protestant denominations now stands at barely 51%.
  • Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.

    If people in general wanted more structure and less change in their faith, Catholics wouldn't be leaving Catholicism in such numbers. I think what would be really telling is whether as Catholics leave, there's been a concomitant rise in Episcopalianism - because in that faith you can get nearly all the same faith structure without some of the teachings that drive people from Catholicism.

    People who are really interested in religion in America should definitely listen to the public radio show Speaking of Faith. I'm consisently blown away by the intelligence, broad-mindedness, and knowledge that this program approaches questions of religion with.

  • posted by Miko at 8:10 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    holding doctrines that seem contradictory to the central tenets of the religion (being anti-gay, for example)
    The Bible is full of anti-gayness. Both the Old and the New Testament make this explicit, multiple times each, including both explicitly calling for the death of gays.

    I don't deny that this is contradictory to certain other tenets of the Bible, but "central tenets"? It's contradictory to the decent tenets of the Bible. I don't see why the decent tenets are more "central" than the abhorrent tenets.
    posted by Flunkie at 8:15 AM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Both the Old and the New Testament make this explicit, multiple times each, including both explicitly calling for the death of gays.


    Can your provide your citations and versions you're using?

    but "central tenets"?

    Sure. The Golden Rule and Ten Commandments are probably the most central tenets, and being anti-gay goes against those.
    posted by Miko at 8:27 AM on April 5, 2009


    (also, the idea of Jesus' divinity is as commonly held, as central, a tenet as you can find in Christianity. So the texts that contain his teachings can legitimately be read as more significant than the glosses of the other writers in the Old and New Testaments. The primacy of the Gospels is pretty widely accepted. Ditto the 10 Commandments, seeing as they are said to come have come directly from the horse's mouth.)
    posted by Miko at 8:34 AM on April 5, 2009


    I think a lot of it has to do with the overly political religious right alienating people who weren't religious by thought of themselves as Christians "by default". By politicizing Christianity, the religious right has driven away people who don't agree with them politically.
    posted by Ironmouth at 8:38 AM on April 5, 2009


    Tena: You have to separate the noise from the reality.

    But the other side is so damn noisy! I realize I fell into the trap of assuming that most vocal speak for everyone. Our saving grace is that the U.S. is, in the most optimistic sense, founded on the idea that the loudest isn't always right, but the most numerous aren't always right either: the Constitution is the aweseomest thing ever. I sure hope the progressivist thread in Christianity continues to grow: how cool would that be to be as open, supportive, and tolerant a country as those "socialist" Europeans, under the banner of Jesus' Christianity?
    posted by AzraelBrown at 8:38 AM on April 5, 2009


    Sorry, meant to add "Delmoi's right."
    posted by Ironmouth at 8:39 AM on April 5, 2009


    Both the Old and the New Testament make this explicit, multiple times each, including both explicitly calling for the death of gays.

    I'd like to hear the New Testament commentary of gays; I was under the impression that it had a more live-and-let-live attitude towards homosexuality. While I'm no Biblical scholar (IANABS?), Mosaic law is a bit different than "god's law" - Moses came up with those, they weren't given directly by God. Also, the non-Jesus-direct books of the New Testament are also the interpretation of people speaking their own mind, not directly from God, either. Moses and the authors of the Epistles were generally far more conservative and anti-homosexual (and anti-women, and anti-lobster, and anti....) than God or Jesus were directly, and it seems a lot of modern Conservativism derive their power from those books of the Bible.
    posted by AzraelBrown at 8:45 AM on April 5, 2009


    As soon as the concept of America existing as a "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" country comes up, my eyes glaze over. Anyone who can read can see that the founding fathers were aiming for the ascendancy of liberalism and free thought over the straitjacket and political machinations of organized religion. While most hoped for a peaceful coexistence, many (Thomas Jefferson, anyone?) were openly hostile to organized religion.

    Christianity as a political exercise demeans both the church and politics. They are inherently at odds with each other. Why on earth would Jesus have to say "render unto Caesar ..." if it were otherwise? It's also telling that, primarily, religiosity is used in politics in an attempt to reduce freedoms, not increase them. Freedom of choice is a "bad" thing, because man is incapable of making the "good" choice.

    Occasionally, some churches have pushed for increased freedoms - abolition, civil rights, workers' rights - but they have usually been ostracized from the "mainstream" church.

    Don't get me wrong here, though. I think religion can be a powerful force for good on an individual basis. Some people really do talk the talk and walk the walk. But, in America, especially in America, religion leads someone to promote hate or the curtailing of individual liberties, they deserve to be called-out and mocked for the pretenders they are.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:49 AM on April 5, 2009


    Yes, of course I can provide citations. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to spend time doing so, except for the one that I assume you would find most surprising - i.e. that the New Testament says gays deserve death. Romans 1. As for version, I would be surprised to see any version of Romans 1 that didn't say so.

    Other portions of the New Testament explicitly say that gays will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and there are several places in which it lumps them in with things like murderers and thieves. And, of course, the Old Testament can't restrain itself from saying they should be stoned to death.

    To preempt the standard excuses:

    "Oh, but it's just saying not to be immoral, and not to sin". No, it's saying they deserve death. And why is being gay immoral in the first place? Why is it a sin?

    "Oh, but it says lots of people deserve death." Yes, correct, the New Testament says lots of people deserve death. Including gays. Whom it lumps in with murderers. In multiple places.
    The Golden Rule and Ten Commandments are probably the most central tenets
    No, the Golden Rule is probably the most decent tenet. "Central"? Again, I don't see why. Just because you like it doesn't negate the fact that the god of the Bible is a hardcore homophobe.

    As for the Ten Commandments, I fail to see how any of them contradict anti-gayness. Which one, specifically, are you claiming does?

    In any case, I would suggest that you might perhaps want to familiarize yourself with the Bible -- for example, learning what it says about gays -- before taking it upon yourself to proclaim which portions of it are "central".
    posted by Flunkie at 8:55 AM on April 5, 2009


    I don't really understand the blind dogmatism that says that if you are moral for the WRONG REASONS that this is so terribly bad.
    As others have mentioned, this is the 'T' in Calvinism's TULIP. In essence, all humans are "Totally depraved" -- corrupted by sin to the point that they are incapable of being morally good without the intervention of God.

    Milder interpretations of this doctrine make the distinction between a person's individual, discrete actions (like helping an old lady across the street or killing a bunch of puppies) and their "moral state" before God. Roughly, "all the good things you do don't make up for the fundamental stain of moral badness that only God can remove." This "gentler" interpretation acknowledges that people can do objectively good things even if they are not "saved from sin" by direct connection with God.

    The hardcore folks, though -- the ones you'll hear defending "Reform theology" against the evils of "the modern church" -- seem to consider that approach fluffy, namby-pamby compromise. Did an "unbeliever" help an old lady across the street? Screw that -- his heart was evil, and that's what's matters. In their view, there is no such thing as a good deed, only a deed done by a good person. IMO, that rationale turns scary very quickly; it's the same sort of "We're the good guys, so we do good things" ideology that we see writ large in American foreign policy.

    The connection between their views of themselves as a faithful remnant under seige in an apostate America is curiously (and impossibly) mirrored by their view of America as a faithful remnant adrift in an apostate world. The actions of those outside the magic circle of salvation are evil, categorically. This leads to pretty strong group cohesion, but also a pretty intense and disillusioning separation for anyone who starts to poke at the uncomfortable edges of the ideology. That's what happened to me; now I'm part of that 24%.
    posted by verb at 8:59 AM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Miko: Well, I don't know about that. Quakers were preaching the personal equality of each individual long before that idea existed anywhere as law.

    To be fair, there were many different rivers of spiritual and humanistic thought that were advocating for exactly that prior to the founding of the Religious Society of Friends back in the 1600s. What Quakers were doing, though, was advocating for it when and where it wasn't an exactly popular notion in Western Civilization.

    This is splitting hairs perhaps, but Friends are simply one of many streams of human belief, both religious and secular, that make up the confluence of equality and give that river force. At points throughout history, humanistic belief has been at the wavefront while at others (perhaps more rare) theistic thought has led.

    So, while I have no wish to belittle my own faith's past and present efforts toward egalitarianism, it must be noted that, in general, religious belief hasn't always been as progressive in this as perhaps it should have been.
    posted by quakerjono at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    I'd like to hear the New Testament commentary of gays; I was under the impression that it had a more live-and-let-live attitude towards homosexuality.

    Paul doesn't. He's pretty down on it. The difficulty arises because Paul also set forth a lot of other prohibitions that don't appear in Jesus' teachings, and many are in conflict with not only Jesus' teachings but modern religious practice. When literalists quote Paul as evidence that God hates gays, they omit the other prohibitions Paul offered which they feel free to ignore, particularly those against women: that women should wear head covering when praying, that they shouldn't braid their hair or wear gold jewelry, that they shouldn't ever speak in church. Paul also tells his readers it's a sin to settle disagreements in civil court using civil law, to get divorced, and to remarry if you are already divorced. He also says that Christians have to judge other Christians, something Christ explicity preaches against.

    So there are embedded problems when comparing Paul (and to some extent John and Timothy) to the Gospel. You can resolve this in two ways: if you're a literalist, working very hard to develop settled interpretations that process this disagreement into doctrine, or by not being a literalist. Most modern Christians are not literalists. When you're not a literalist, you do engage in an interrogation of the texts and some are neccessarily regarded as more significant than others; some are seen as historically significant but no longer relevant to contemporary culture.
    posted by Miko at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    also, the idea of Jesus' divinity is as commonly held, as central, a tenet as you can find in Christianity. So the texts that contain his teachings can legitimately be read as more significant than the glosses of the other writers in the Old and New Testaments
    One of the things that he supposedly taught was that "the Law" will never change, not one jot, not one tittle.

    That "law" included, among other things, "stone gays to death". This was widely understood among the people that he would have been speaking to.

    Preempting standard excuses:

    "Oh, but he only said it wouldn't change until all is fulfilled, not that it would never change, and then he got resurrected, so now it's changed": First, I fail to see why his resurrection fulfilled "all", as opposed to "some"; there's still more prophecy from the Bible supposedly to come. Second, and more importantly, no, he didn't say "until all is fulfilled". He said "until all is fulfilled and heaven and earth pass". Earth is still here. I'm guessing that Christians think heaven still is, too.

    "Oh, but remember 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'": That's a great story. Unfortunately, it isn't part of any of the earliest known Bibles. Somebody made it up and stuck it in, many, many years after it purportedly happened.
    posted by Flunkie at 9:00 AM on April 5, 2009


    (also, the idea of Jesus' divinity is as commonly held, as central, a tenet as you can find in Christianity. So the texts that contain his teachings can legitimately be read as more significant than the glosses of the other writers in the Old and New Testaments. The primacy of the Gospels is pretty widely accepted. Ditto the 10 Commandments, seeing as they are said to come have come directly from the horse's mouth.)
    I think you might want to check out three ideas called "The Canon," "Divine Inspiration," and "Inerrancy."

    In Real True Christian culture, they roughly translate to, "It's all 100% equally true because God Himself wrote it by proxy, and if you think there is a contradiction, you're not smart enough and should go read a Josh McDowell book."
    posted by verb at 9:05 AM on April 5, 2009


    In any case, I would suggest that you might perhaps want to familiarize yourself with the Bible

    Don't presume I haven't. I'm all set with that, thanks. What I'm saying is that there disagreements about the importance of the texts that preach against homosexuality. Any useful definition of "central" would include the most commonly held tenets across Christian faiths. The gospels are unarguable more "central" in this way than Paul or Timothy. I expected you would draw on Paul or Timothy, which is why I asked.

    Again, if you're not a literalist, saying the Bible is "anti-gay" doesn't make sense. Some texts contain explicit prohibitions and punishments on the homosexual activities that occurred in those societies in those times - activities and social agreements that are very foreign to us. They aren't central to Christianity in that many, perhaps most, members of Christian denominations no longer accept those tenets.
    posted by Miko at 9:06 AM on April 5, 2009


    Don't presume I haven't
    If you didn't want me to presume that, you probably shouldn't have asked me for a cite.

    And again, you're just going with what you wish to be central. That Fred Phelps thinks something else is central means that you're decent and he's not; it doesn't mean that you're right and he's wrong.
    posted by Flunkie at 9:10 AM on April 5, 2009


    Paul doesn't. He's pretty down on it. The difficulty arises because Paul also set forth a lot of other prohibitions that don't appear in Jesus' teachings, and many are in conflict with not only Jesus' teachings but modern religious practice.

    This is the part that really gets my goat. The overwhelming Christian doctrine today is Paulist. And if anyone in the Bible had a political and personal agenda, Paul is, by far, the most suspect.
    posted by Benny Andajetz at 9:10 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Inerrancy isn't universal.

    And Flunkie, your 'standard excuses' are someone else's theology. I understand that you have a particular view on the Bible, but in constructing it as narrowly as you do, you have more in common with fundamentalist literalists than with mainline Protestants.

    These are some of the inherent contradictions Biblical theology has to deal with.
    posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on April 5, 2009


    it doesn't mean that you're right and he's wrong

    I don't think I've actually said what I believe to be right. I'm talking about what positions are most commonly held.
    posted by Miko at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2009


    My "standard excuses" are excuses that people often give to defend their idea that their god is not a homophobe. If you personally don't give those excuses, fine, but believe me, those excuses are all extremely common.
    posted by Flunkie at 9:12 AM on April 5, 2009


    I don't think I've actually said what I believe to be right. I'm talking about what positions are most commonly held.
    Let me get this straight.

    You're saying that people are leaving Christianity because their churches have beliefs that are not among those beliefs that Christian churches commonly have.
    posted by Flunkie at 9:18 AM on April 5, 2009


    Here's the short list that I would argue are central to Christian faiths:

    Belief that there is a single God
    Jesus as both divine bring and mortal son of God
    Salvation and eternal life available through following teachings of Christ (not all Christians say through Christ alone)
    Bible as primary text (attitudes toward what text is vary among denominations)
    posted by Miko at 9:18 AM on April 5, 2009


    In any case, I would suggest that you might perhaps want to familiarize yourself with the Bible -- for example, learning what it says about gays -- before taking it upon yourself to proclaim which portions of it are "central".

    Flunkie, I find this line of reasoning surprising for many reasons and always have. Namely, it seems a rather large jump in logic to say that primitive Christianity felt one way or the other about homosexuality as the concept as we understand it today simply didn't exist. While we're dealing with a divine text so it could be argued that indeed God meant just these things and was saying, "Oh, by the way, in 2000 years or so, men are going to want to do men and they're going to want to be accepted for it and have it looked at as normal so they can get wills and medical benefits for their partners from large corporations and possibly adopt children, and I'd just like to tell you now that I'm rather against that and don't even get me started on the lesbians," it seems like a rather large conceptual jump even for divinity. I mean, wouldn't a pertinent prophesy be more helpful?

    However, granting such a prophetic jump, one has to then ask the question, "Well, it's now 2000 years later, does He still mean it?" Prognosticating the emergence of a whole sexual identity certainly implies that God understands the concept of change and, in a way, is even subject to it Himself. So why is a God, who's generally regarded by His adherents as a Living God, assumed to have dropped a single bestseller 2000 years ago and never come up with a sequel?

    Is it not possible that God, or at least our understanding of a fractional portion of divinity, changes as we change?

    To believe in a Living, relevant God with whom direct communion is possible would seem to suggest that, while the Bible may be a great point of embarkation, it is not necessarily the whole of the story. Thus, an attitude held 2000 years ago (or 400 years ago or 200 years ago or sometime last week if one accepts that all those different versions of the Bible came through man's hand, not God's) and, perhaps, appropriate for the day, is not necessarily the same today.

    The Bible does indeed say many things. Instead of using that as a way to dilute it or any one particular message, I suggest that is part of its power. For whatever storm, it can offer a port. The interpretation of those things, however, the primacy of them, is still an issue and, in many cases, an art, because for whatever prejudice, support can be found. To claim black and white judgment while acknowledging contradictions, therefore, seems agenda-driven at best.
    posted by quakerjono at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2009 [6 favorites]


    You're saying that people are leaving Christianity because their churches have beliefs that are not among those beliefs that Christian churches commonly have.

    You're being silly. I'm not sure why you're being so combative here.

    I'm saying that people are having experiences in following Christian faiths that their churches are not able to contain or reconcile. I'm saying that Christians are finding their churches and their church theologies unresponsive to their own understandings of God and Christ.
    posted by Miko at 9:20 AM on April 5, 2009


    Belief that there is a single God
    How does anti-gayness contradict that?
    Jesus as both divine bring and mortal son of God
    How does anti-gayness contradict that?
    Salvation and eternal life available through following teachings of Christ (not all Christians say through Christ alone)
    How does anti-gayness contradict that?
    Bible as primary text (attitudes toward what text is vary among denominations)
    Certainly some portions of the Bible, at least in certain interpretations, contradict anti-gayness, but, as noted, other portions are quite explicitly and stridently anti-gay. So how does anti-gayness necessarily contradict this?

    And, after you answer those questions, just to remind you, I'm also still waiting on an answer as to how anti-gayness contradicts the Ten Commandments.
    posted by Flunkie at 9:22 AM on April 5, 2009


    Paul doesn't. He's pretty down on it.

    That's why I specifically pointed out that the Epistles and the references to Mosaic Law need to be viewed differently than even Genesis or Job. They're one or two steps away from actual Word of God, and a grain of salt should be taken when calling them "Christianity."
    posted by AzraelBrown at 9:24 AM on April 5, 2009


    Is it not possible that God, or at least our understanding of a fractional portion of divinity, changes as we change?

    Exactly. Most Christians I know believe in some version of the doctrine of "continuing revelation," which basically states "It ain't over till it's over, so pay attention 'cuz there's more good news comin'." A very reasonable position, I think, given that things are always changing.
    posted by MarshallPoe at 9:37 AM on April 5, 2009


    Jesus as both divine bring and mortal son of God

    How does anti-gayness contradict that?


    If you believe Jesus is divine and that salvation is through following his teachings, then a contradiction lies in any attempt to condemn another human being based upon their behavior. He preaches against judgement of others and describes universal acceptance for all who seek salvation through him. There are any number of verses I could bring forward for this too (I'm not talking about casting the first stone, but even if I was, the whole Bible was constructed that way!), which I'm sure you know. My point is that the significance of the Gospels derives from Jesus' divinity, and weighing them more heavily than other Biblical texts is a perfectly legitimate approach which many Christians use.

    I'm also still waiting on an answer as to how anti-gayness contradicts the Ten Commandments.

    I'll drop it; I'm having trouble with the varying enumerations and translations. I'd be drawing on a modern transliteration, not on ancient text.

    It's definitely not the one about boiling a kid in its mother's milk, though.
    posted by Miko at 9:39 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    That's why I specifically pointed out that the Epistles and the references to Mosaic Law need to be viewed differently than even Genesis or Job. They're one or two steps away from actual Word of God
    Job? Job is the one to take seriously? A belief-neutral ancient version of waiting for Godot with morality play bookends tacked on by later authors? That's the one to take seriously?

    Yeah, this is turning into canonfilter. I'd best shuffle off.
    posted by verb at 9:41 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    They're one or two steps away from actual Word of God

    In fairness, as a text written by humans, not everyone's in agreement that any of it is the actual word of God.
    posted by Miko at 9:45 AM on April 5, 2009


    Salvation and eternal life available through following teachings of Christ

    Since the still hotly ongoing "salvation by grace vs. by faith vs. by works vs. by all of the above" debate is the prime reason why there are eleventy-zillion Christian denominations, I think you need to scratch this one off the central tenets list.
    posted by FelliniBlank at 9:51 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Although I'd bet the ranch that most rank-and-file Christians think it's salvation by works. Boy have they got a rude awakening coming at the Pearly Gates.
    posted by FelliniBlank at 9:54 AM on April 5, 2009


    Pater Aletheias, will you marry me? And by that I mean, if I ever get married, will you preside over the ceremony?

    But seriously, that was a wonderfully insightful sentiment. I thought you did a great job of making the scriptural passage come alive and have real meaning for believers in a way that so many contemporary Christian leaders simply don't do. There was even a touch of midrashic creativity in your reading. I for one would love to read the rest of the speech if you've got it posted somewhere.
    posted by Saxon Kane at 9:55 AM on April 5, 2009


    I dunno, this seems like a silly exercise, Flunkie. If your approach is "Here's how I construct Christianity and read the Bible and any other reading is wrong!" then we really haven't left the realm of of intrafaith debate. It seems you reject the entire Christian enterprise as corrupt, which is fine. I see it as a constantly evolving conversation within a Western tradition, and my point in the thread is that church affiliation may be falling off because so many churches themselves are opting out of the conversation, and retreating into the same sorts of narrow constructions that you identify with Christianity as a whole. Yet I think there are many possible constructions of Christianity which are still identifiably Christian in their basic premises yet which continue to change shape in response to society, as quakerjono put very well. Not all Christianity is your Christianity, and the problems of ethical interpration based on a Christian Bible can be treated in many ways without leaving the realm of Christianity.

    Since the still hotly ongoing "salvation by grace vs. by faith vs. by works vs. by all of the above" debate is the prime reason why there are eleventy-zillion Christian denominations, I think you need to scratch this one off the central tenets list.

    I'm not sure about that. By works or faith, either way, most denominations say "through" Christ. So maybe you could strike "teachings" and still cover the same amount of ground, perhaps more.
    posted by Miko at 9:58 AM on April 5, 2009


    I was kinda hoping all 10% were represented by the folding of the Mars Hill cult, but apparently their god has forsaken me and that's not the case.

    Any clarification on this? I just did a quickie search and couldn't find anything related to Mars Hill's demise.
    posted by Roach at 10:04 AM on April 5, 2009


    If you believe Jesus is divine and that salvation is through following his teachings, then a contradiction lies in any attempt to condemn another human being based upon their behavior.
    Again, Jesus supposedly said that the law shall not change, not one jot, not one tittle. If you want to say that Jesus is pro-gay, it seems to me that you necessarily must also say that Jesus contradicts himself. Which would be fine with me. Or, alternatively, you must give one of the standard excuses listed above, which you seemed to object to.

    Incidentally, Jesus is also quoted (twice) referring to Greeks in general as dogs, so "condemn because of behavior", yeah, maybe not so much, but "condemn for asinine reasons", hey, go for it.
    I'm also still waiting on an answer as to how anti-gayness contradicts the Ten Commandments.
    I'll drop it; I'm having trouble with the varying enumerations and translations. I'd be drawing on a modern transliteration, not on ancient text.
    Seriously? You're unwilling to come out and say that you were wrong that the Ten Commandments contradict anti-gay behavior? And instead you want to hang on to a shred of it by claiming you can't quite find it, and hey, you wouldn't be relying on the original ancient text in a different language anyway?

    Are you relying on the original ancient text in a different language when you make your other proclamations about what the Bible says?
    posted by Flunkie at 10:05 AM on April 5, 2009


    If your approach is "Here's how I construct Christianity and read the Bible and any other reading is wrong!"
    Actually, that strikes me more as your approach.

    You're the one picking and choosing and saying some tenets are "central" and others are not, despite the fact that (clearly) there are a lot of people who think that those supposedly non-central tenets are fundamental to their religion.
    posted by Flunkie at 10:07 AM on April 5, 2009


    You're the one picking and choosing and saying some tenets are "central" and others are not, despite the fact that (clearly) there are a lot of people who think that those supposedly non-central tenets are fundamental to their religion.

    Right, but I'm trying to talk about more than one religion - not one Christian faith, but ideas common to all Christian faiths.

    Seriously? You're unwilling to come out and say that you were wrong that the Ten Commandments contradict anti-gay behavior?


    Yeah, I thought I was saying I was wrong. The "love thy neighbor" thing doesn't hold up in the various texts. Like I said, you'd have to lean on a transliteration to get that language. So I dropped it.

    As far as the arguments about Jesus and the Law, you can counter with Matthew 22:36, which I was confusing with the ten commandments.

    What is your point?
    posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on April 5, 2009


    all Christian faiths.

    make that "most Christian faiths," because there are definitely outliers.
    posted by Miko at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2009


    Unfortunately, it isn't part of any of the earliest known Bibles. Somebody made it up and stuck it in, many, many years after it purportedly happened



    um....you just described the bible. the whole thing. if anything else were true, what purpose would constantinople have had for the council of nicea?
    posted by CitizenD at 10:21 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Matthew 22:36-40 is something that I should have listed as a "standard excuse". People often point to it in an attempt to throw away parts of the "law" that they find reprehensible. Unfortunately, it doesn't say that (as is often claimed) that is the entirety of the law; it says that it's the most important part, and all other parts are based upon it.

    Which (again unless you want to say Jesus contradicts himself) implies that "stone gays to death" is based upon "love god and love your neighbor". Especially given that (again) Jesus explicitly said that the law shall never change.
    What is your point?
    My point is that it strikes me as silly to proclaim parts of the Bible as "central" and others not. I thought this was clear. It's certainly not silly to proclaim parts "decent" and others not, but that's a different matter entirely.
    posted by Flunkie at 10:22 AM on April 5, 2009


    um....you just described the bible. the whole thing. if anything else were true, what purpose would constantinople have had for the council of nicea?
    Oh come on. The story of the woman taken in adultery was never part of the earliest known copies of the Gospel of John, or any other gospel, or any other book that eventually was proclaimed part of "the Bible" by the Council of Nicea, or any other book that was rejected by Nicea.

    I'm so sorry that I said "Bible", but the point that you're bringing up is fundamentally unrelated to what I was saying.
    posted by Flunkie at 10:24 AM on April 5, 2009


    My point is that it strikes me as silly to proclaim parts of the Bible as "central" and others not

    Well, I totally disagree, but I don't see us getting anywhere on that. In practice, Christians can generally come to a lot of agreement about more and less broadly shared beliefs. It happens all the time, and I have no problem with people engaging in that pursuit, which can result in some positive social ends - for instance, my local interfaith council operates a homeless shelter and food service. They do this because they have identified shared beliefs which are more central than their specific denominational beliefs. You seem to think this is somehow an impossibility, but it's evidentiary.

    Matthew 22:36-40 is something that I should have listed as a "standard excuse". People often point to it in an attempt to throw away parts of the "law" that they find reprehensible.

    To which my response is: so? There's no reason not to do that if you're engaged in an individual study and use of Biblical texts. This is what people do when they read religious texts. As I started out noting, the text is inherently contradictory all over the place. The entire practice of using the text is one of selection and relative valuation. The only people who seem obsessed with making it all iron out flat are hardcore religious literslists. For those who don't take that approach to the Bible, this isn't a huge issue.
    posted by Miko at 10:30 AM on April 5, 2009


    Casting Jesus as this guy who wasn't big on judgment and was all about acceptance sure sounds nice. Then I look up Jesus and divorce.

    The contrast of Jesus against the Old Testament's endless litany of abominations and things for which you must be put to death sure makes it sound like he's all fuzzy-wuzzy, doesn't it? Then I look at divorce and think, "Not so much." And then you look at Romans 1 and while he's not calling for death, he's pretty clear: No Kingdom of God for you!

    Christianity, two millennia later, is all about trying to retcon our modern values with the uncomfortable fact that we're talking about a bunch of people in tribes who were pretty cool with little genocides here and there and pre-enacting "The Lottery" if someone got their gay on. For some non-zero fraction of the Bible, it must be literal truth, or you have no religion at all. Thus, you're left with your choice of axioms: what bits can I pick out that are both self-consistent and semi-comfortable to me?

    This sounds like a nice compromise until you realize that the possible combinations are nearly endless, and that you might be guilty of selecting a Jesus too congenial to you. What tenets do you decide must stay and must go? Aren't you just tailoring it to suit you, rather than adhering to what is, after all, supposed to be the Word of God?

    That, I think, is part of Flunkie's point — buffet Christianity makes it fairly hard to decide what is right and wrong, and, as such, means that as a set of guidelines for making moral choices, breaks down entirely.
    posted by adipocere at 10:30 AM on April 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


    Brian B. Or so one would think, but apparently believers seek more aggressive treatments when they are dying. You'd think they would go more willingly than the less religious do.

    Codswallop. I don't know about that. If someone's religious faith adds meaning to life, hanging on to it is that much more important. OTOH, I've known of one very religious person who shrugged off cancer diagnoses and died for it. Just prayer, juice, and eventually a funeral.


    But their faith downplays the desire for this life and adds far more expected meaning to their afterlife, should they deserve it. I'm thinking most people are scared to meet the tsunami king himself. He's a pretty random God and they know they aren't perfect. Therefore they have no guarantees and they understand this, and indecision follows. They obviously seek to buy time.
    posted by Brian B. at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2009


    uffet Christianity makes it fairly hard to decide what is right and wrong, and, as such, means that as a set of guidelines for making moral choices, breaks down entirely.

    And what's wrong with that? Are we to believe that morality is located solely within the religious beliefs of a single denomination? The only thing that breaks down entirely are justification systems designed to concentrate power within denominational leadership. What you say about the Bible is true - and about the individual believer - "what bits can I pick out that are both self-consistent and semi-comfortable to me?" But this has always been the question among people who interpret the texts, whether they were priests, Popes, or television evangelizers. Why should their opinions about the texts be considered the authoritative ones? Who says the Bible is "supposed to be" the Word of God? Is it useless to me if I believe it to be a historical and extremely influential collection of spiritual writings? If I don't believe it's wrong to use the Bible differently, is it wrong to use the Bible differently? What are the starting assumptions, and can they be questioned?

    I don't see this as "buffet Christianity" but authentic engagement with texts and faith traditions. It's possible to regard Christianity as a path rather than a set of prescriptions.

    If spiritual inquiry isn't an active process on the part of the believer, then it's simple an exercise in obedience to (earthly) authority.
    posted by Miko at 10:41 AM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    To which my response is: so?
    So why did you give it as a defense, like people often do?
    posted by Flunkie at 10:43 AM on April 5, 2009


    Give what as a defense?
    posted by Miko at 10:44 AM on April 5, 2009


    I don't disagree, Miko. Christianity (or any other religion) in that sense can become just a dimly-lit reflecting pool, wherein people see what they want to see. An elaborate way of getting in touch with your conscience, using Tarot cards as a setting wherein you can discuss your problems. It certainly could be useful that way.

    However, the adherents to said religion immediately whip around and make their very private conversation into matter of public law and proclaim that their interpretation is the correct one. Because, hey, GOD'S WORD.

    This is endlessly amusing, because it takes a profound lack of humility to do this.
    posted by adipocere at 10:49 AM on April 5, 2009


    However, the adherents to said religion immediately whip around

    whoa whoa whoa, because that's the problem I'm trying to talk about here. You're speaking of a subset of people under the umbrella of Christian (or, elsewhere, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu - substitute dominant religion here). It's not a problem of Christianity, it's a problem of religious believers seeking to control the civic world. And definitely, not all Christians behave this way.
    posted by Miko at 10:52 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Give what as a defense?
    You attempted to give Matthew 22 as a defense for the idea that anti-gayness is contradicted by the "central" tenets of the Bible. You claimed that it contradicts anti-gayness because it says to love thy neighbor; you implicitly claimed that it is a central tenet because Jesus said it, and believing the teachings of Jesus is, to you, a "central" tenet of Christianity. Hence, you attempted to use it to defend your claim that anti-gayness is contradicted by central tenets of Christianity.

    I pointed out that it does no such thing. It does not say that "love thy neighbor" is the entirety of the law; it says it is the second most important part of the law, and that other parts of the law are based upon it and the supposedly more important "love god". "Kill gays" is indisputably part of "the law" being referred to; that law which Jesus directly said (and therefore which fits your definition of a "central" tenet, but which you seem to be ignoring) will never change in the slightest way, ever.

    So "stone gays" is built upon either "love they neighbor" or "love god" or both. I'm guessing "love god" (which, again, is listed as more important than "love thy neighbor"), because "stone gays" is clearly not out of line with a whole lot of what the Bible says god thinks, in a whole bunch of places, both New and Old Testament.

    You then said, "So?" So what if the defense I made doesn't defend what I'm trying to defend? And hey, what did I try to give as a defense? Defend what? What am I trying to defend? What's your point? Blah blah blah.

    Sorry, but I'm done in this thread. Goodbye.
    posted by Flunkie at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2009


    I know I'm late to the discussion but I wanted to say, great link and thank you. A very intelligent read.
    posted by agregoli at 10:58 AM on April 5, 2009


    Not all, no.

    I don't see the people in the "not all" trying to stop their buddies, though.

    I don't see the people in the "not all" discounting themselves when the moral majority counts them in their ranks.

    My favorite example, proposition 8. What was it, 82%? 88% of self-described evangelical Christians were all about it?

    Now, sure, you can say that there's some holdouts, and we shouldn't treat them as a group. That's a pretty cheap tactic, though. We stand together as a mighty force ... except when someone wants to say we're naughty! It was those guys, not us! You can't treat us as a group! Sure, we'll vote as a group, and we'll push for legislation as a group, and we'll present ourselves as a group, but you don't get to do that when you criticize us!

    Please. Not buying it. At all.
    posted by adipocere at 10:59 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Now, sure, you can say that there's some holdouts, and we shouldn't treat them as a group. That's a pretty cheap tactic, though. We stand together as a mighty force ... except when someone wants to say we're naughty! It was those guys, not us!

    But isn't that one of the fundamental points of American secular society, that there is power and nobility in the individual and that it is wrong to treat the individual as anything other than an individual? Indeed, in a very real way, wasn't that exactly what the Founding Fathers inscribed into the sacred secular documents that we've been trying to, if not profane, at least radically reinterpret since?

    Much like a bailout, it seems to me as if different levels of rigor are being applied here. One can claim to be a part of a thing and celebrate its strengths while still honestly acknowledging its faults, or at least the all too human issues of its claimants. Is that a cheap tactic or simply being self-aware?
    posted by quakerjono at 11:11 AM on April 5, 2009


    The religious right has a fissure?

    It's worth noting that both sides of the fissure believe the culture war has effectively been lost, but they differ wildly on the diagnosis. For religious right leaders, the culture war flopped because they faced too many enemies (popular culture, changing norms, progressive interest groups) with too few allies (no Republican follow-through). For those like Deace and Thomas, the war never should have been fought in the first place, because it required principled Christians to effectively become political lobbyists.
    posted by Brian B. at 11:40 AM on April 5, 2009


    Quiet Christians can blame their own complacency in allowing vulgar people to claim Christianity as their own.
    posted by five fresh fish at 11:42 AM on April 5, 2009


    Yes, of course I can provide citations. I'm sorry, but I'm not going to spend time doing so, except for the one that I assume you would find most surprising - i.e. that the New Testament says gays deserve death. Romans 1.

    This is a little late, but I'm pretty sure Romans 1:26-7 doesn't say that. To be sure, I'm no expert in biblical Greek, but here's my rough fairly literal rendition of the relevant passage:

    For this reason [namely, the Gentiles' rejection of the Judaic god] God handed them over to shameful passions. For their women exchanged their natural function for one contrary to nature, and in the same way the men also, abandoning their natural function for a woman, burned in their longing for one another, men doing the indecorum among men and receiving in themselves the reward which was necessary for their wandering.

    This passage, I guess, is "anti-gay," if you want to apply such an anachronistic term. Certainly Paul presents homosexual behavior as a vice, and furthermore expects his audience to agree with him whole-heartedly. It *is* interesting that this passage at least appears to find all forms of homosexual behavior blameworthy. Normally ancient views on homosexual behavior only condemn the passive partner to the male homosexual act, particularly if the passive partner is an adult ("catamite"). I wonder if that is in fact the meaning here: the men are being faulted not for wanting to sleep with males, but for wanting to be penetrated. And likewise with women: their fault is wanting to be the penetrator. For that kind of argument you might point to "exchanged their natural function for one contrary to nature" - to an ancient perspective I think "the natural function" would mean for men penetrating and for women being penetrated, *not* men sleeping with women and vice versa.

    Also, I don't think this passage calls for death for those who partake of this behavior. They receive the necessary (or perhaps inevitable - edei can have that sense) penalty. The passage leaves it unclear what that penalty is. You might be tempted to think death, based on verse 32, which parallel faults are called "worthy of death," but it's not explicit, and I'm not sure what sense that would make. It's not as though those partaking of homosexual behavior in Rome just went around and dropped dead. They receive some sort of punishment from God, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's death.

    And *certainly* it does not say that one should kill gays. Not in any way. This passage alone says that (punishment comes from god), and this whole passage leads into the beginning of chapter 2, which says you shouldn't judge. To go to this passage as evidence for "stone gays" is either disingenuous or ignorant.

    So:

    1) I don't think this passage condemns all acts we'd label today as homosexual behavior
    2) The unclear punishment for these acts comes from god, not man.
    posted by dd42 at 11:43 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I recall thinking that it was amazingly beautiful to me that God would be so generous as to allow a secular morality and provide people with a way to be good and kind people with a strong moral code despite not being religious

    Do you understand that you have defined "secular morality" as something God has granted, i.e. as something that is not secular? What you have written here makes no sense at all. It's self-contradictory. It is rendered meaningless.
    posted by five fresh fish at 11:55 AM on April 5, 2009


    "My favorite example, proposition 8. What was it, 82%? 88% of self-described evangelical Christians were all about it?"

    It is emphatically wrong of you to be so dishonest. Evangelical Christians are a very small, though growing, subset of American Christians.

    Furthermore, you should take care not to conflate the gay marriage debate, on which reasonable people can and do differ (it is a new, contentious issue, and lots of people haven't been convinced yet but will be in time) with actual extreme moral majority issues like abstinence-only education and outlawing sodomy.

    Your particular brand of lies adds nothing to the discussion.
    posted by jock@law at 11:55 AM on April 5, 2009


    "Quiet Christians can blame their own complacency in allowing vulgar people to claim Christianity as their own."

    No, we can blame lying shouters like yourself who intentionally conflate things without even a basic seventh-grade social-studies understanding of the tradition's long and complex history.
    posted by jock@law at 11:57 AM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I'm back.

    Speaking of disingenuous, you might want to point out where I said that Romans 1:26-27 says that gays deserve death.

    I can see where I said that Romans 1 says that gays deserve death. In fact, I can even see where you said that Romans 1 says that gays deserve death. Sure, you say, it doesn't really mean gays deserve death when it says that gays deserve death. Sure.

    But, in any case, I can't seem to find where I said that Romans 1:26-27 says that gays deserve death.

    Goodbye again.
    posted by Flunkie at 11:59 AM on April 5, 2009


    Flunkie, you can't say "Romans 1 says that gays deserve death" and refuse to give a proper citation, then play dumb when someone addresses the most obvious verse. Either tell us what you ARE talking about, or shut up.
    posted by jock@law at 12:01 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    dd42-- can't you go a little further than that? The real sin isn't the homosexuality, it's that they replaced God's love with 'shameful passions', no?
    posted by empath at 12:03 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    You attempted to give Matthew 22 as a defense

    No, I said one "could counter" with that. I didn't offer it as a defense, because I am not defending anything.

    You seem to be exhausting yourself battling something that I am not saying or even trying to represent. You are welcome to your viewpoint, but I don't think you have much to offer the discussion of whether contemporary Christians have felt alienated from Christian churches because the churches have been unresponsive to their moral and spiritual concerns. Which is what I've been talking about.
    posted by Miko at 12:13 PM on April 5, 2009


    "Quiet Christians can blame their own complacency in allowing vulgar people to claim Christianity as their own."

    No, we can blame lying shouters like yourself who intentionally conflate things without even a basic seventh-grade social-studies understanding of the tradition's long and complex history.


    Is the latter an example of quiet Christianity, or the vulgar kind?
    posted by Brian B. at 12:14 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    He must be talking about Romans 1:32, but that's the end of the same sentence that 26 and 27 are also in..
    posted by Miko at 12:17 PM on April 5, 2009


    Thing is, Mormons are .4% of the population - think how much noise is made by and about Mormons considering how very few of them there actually are. You have to separate the noise from the reality.

    The noise is the reality. It was noise, not reality, that put the US into the Iraq War. It was noise, not reality, that made California a state that discriminates against gays. It is the noise that is putting Creationism into the schools.

    Quiet Christians need to understand that their silence is killing them. Christianity is what the media tells us it is. By allowing the vulgar religionuts to claim Christianity for their own, quiet Christians have allowed the wrong noises to create reality.

    Christianity is not what you, a mere individual, says it is. Christianity is what the majority believe Christianity to be: a loud-mouthed, sex-hating, money-grubbing, violence-promoting cult of televangelists and media-whoring nutjobs.

    If you think Christianity should be something else, you're going to have to make noise.
    posted by five fresh fish at 12:17 PM on April 5, 2009


    See, though, I don't think "quiet Christians" are responsible for educating the public about other kinds of Christians, any more than Orthodox Jews are responsible for educating the public about Reform Jews, or Arkansans responsible for educating the public about Californians. Members of denominations are their own best representatives of those denominations. The problem of conflation is in widespread ignorance of religious diversity, not in the idea that people in religious traditions don't spend enough time on PR.
    posted by Miko at 12:21 PM on April 5, 2009


    The noisiest of evangelicals and the most ignorant of atheists are fundamentally incapable, by the mere loudness or numerosity of their nonsense, of altering the nature of my millennia-old religious tradition. But thanks for trying anyway.
    posted by jock@law at 12:21 PM on April 5, 2009


    Moses came up with those, they weren't given directly by God.

    Moses got em from God then presented them to the people. It's in the Book.

    BTW the whole point of Romans 1 and 2 and so on is that....hey, we ALL deserve death. Jesus came and died and rose again to cleanse us from our sins-sins of all types-and then to sanctify us-in other words enable us to overcome that sin nature by His power. Instant salvation but continual working out of that salvation, in other words. He does expect us to not sin but (if you go to 1 John -not the gospel but the letter) we can go to Him if we stumble.

    Now, sin does not quit being sin, but because of Jesus, we are able to escape from its wages-which is death. He took what we deserved.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:23 PM on April 5, 2009


    I don't see the people in the "not all" trying to stop their buddies, though.

    Christians have no more basis to stop other kinds of Christians doing what they want to do than you do. They're not necessarily "buddies." Whoever's telling you they stand as a "mighty force" might have a bunch of alliances, but it's a mistake to think that all Christians agree that this is the representation they've elected. Nothing of the sort.
    posted by Miko at 12:24 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Christianity is not what you, a mere individual, says it is. Christianity is what the majority believe Christianity to be: a loud-mouthed, sex-hating, money-grubbing, violence-promoting cult of televangelists and media-whoring nutjobs.

    It astounds me that you're willing to write such illogical things. Substitute "black people," "gays," "the handicapped," "vegetarians," "transsexuals," for "Christian." Does the majority belief still describe them accurately?
    posted by Miko at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Flunkie, I admit, I assumed that when you meant Romans 1 you meant Romans 1:26-7. Did you not? Either way, I think my basic argument stands: that the use of the term "gay" is overinclusive for the passage, and that God's penalty for some homosexual behavior is not necessarily death.

    Your criticism of my post, I assume, means you want to read v. 32 into these earlier verses. I don't think that's fair. I think Paul is dividing faults into two sorts: those of the body (24-27) and those of the mind (28-32). The phrase "worthy of death" is only applied to "these kinds of things" (ta toiauta), which reasonably applies to the long list of faults of the mind found in 29-32. I think it's an open question what exactly Paul has in mind as the punishment for some kinds of homosexual behavior, but I don't think it has to be death. I think it's plausible that faults of the mind might be held to be worse than faults of the body, although I don't have a good parallel for that at hand.

    And yes, Empath, I think that's right - the underlying sin is that they rejected God (not necc. his love, though; I think simply refusing to worship him). I don't think that changes the fact, though, that homosexuality is held to be a fault - the key is v. 27, where men "perform the indecorum" and then "receive the penalty."
    posted by dd42 at 12:34 PM on April 5, 2009


    If you quiet Christians want to let the hate-promoting, society-destroying, politically-active religionut Christians to have the media's eyes and ears — and, by extension, the nation's mind — then just continue to sit back and let them have it all. The results speak for themselves.
    posted by five fresh fish at 12:41 PM on April 5, 2009


    It astounds me that you're willing to write such illogical things. Substitute "black people," "gays," "the handicapped," "vegetarians," "transsexuals," for "Christian." Does the majority belief still describe them accurately?

    Progress toward equality did not occur when quiet civil rights supporters sat on their asses and allowed the batshitinsane racists dominate the media.

    But you know what? It probably serves my desires better if all y'all quiet Christians remain quiet. The more the batshitinsane religionuts are dominating the media, putting their greed and hate-filled ideology into the headlines, the quicker religion will become a minority aspect of civilized society.
    posted by five fresh fish at 12:53 PM on April 5, 2009


    It's also pretty uncontroversial that the verses in Romans 1 talking about "burning with lust for one another" just might talking about burning with lust for one another. Such a thing is emphatically different from a stable, loving relationship conceived of, at least by some, in the current paradigm of long-term gay relationships.
    posted by jock@law at 12:53 PM on April 5, 2009


    "Progress toward equality did not occur when quiet civil rights supporters sat on their asses"

    Oh how ignorant you are.
    posted by jock@law at 12:55 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Alright, jock@law, let's hit that CNN Exit Poll on Proposition 8. Ready?

    84% of weekly churchgoers – (32% of those polled)
    81% of white evangelicals – (17% of those polled)

    Hrm. Ouch.

    "Evangelical Christians are a very small, though growing, subset of American Christians." Yeah, about 17% of the voters on that issue. Tiny. Hrm. No, not really. One-sixth does not count as "very small."

    But, wow, 84% of weekly churchgoers, who compose about a third of that population. So, where am I being dishonest?

    And while it is true that Romans does not call for the death of homosexuals, it does indicate that they will not receive the Kingdom of Heaven. Which means, wait for it, Hell. For eternity. If you believe Dante, we're talking about a desert where fire rains down from the sky. Yeah, so that is probably worse than calling for death.
    posted by adipocere at 1:39 PM on April 5, 2009


    Flunkie, I'm very confused by what you wrote about Matthew 22:36-40. The passage in my copy of the Bible reads:

    "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him, " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all you mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

    Now, I read this as saying that the second commandment is just as great as the first -- the "second like it" -- therefore clearly bashing gays is just as bad as not loving God. However, I could be reading this wrong or have a faulty translation, so I accept your interpretation as a matter of opinion.

    But then I start to think on the implications of your reading, and am still puzzled. You say that to love God is to follow all of his commandments. Well and good. One of his commandments (the second greatest, as you say) is to love thy meighbor. Thus, to love God, one must love thy neighbor.

    But if, as you say, stoning gays is to love God, then that would contradict the second commandment, which means that loving God is an inherent impossibility.

    Two answers arise to this problem. Either God is impossible to love and thus is impossible to worship, or stoning the gays goes against God's teachings. And if I were a Christian (which I'm not) I would happily go with the second answer.

    Regardless of which answer we use, it's clear that this passage is a definite counter against inherent homophobia. Yet you seem to think otherwise. Why?
    posted by Pope Gustafson I at 1:47 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    In my experience, all debates come down to "this particular perspective about the provenance or history or source of the text permits me to believe what I want to believe, therefore I find it persuasive."
    posted by Pope Guilty at 2:07 PM on April 5, 2009


    "Progress toward equality did not occur when quiet civil rights supporters sat on their asses"
    Oh how ignorant you are.

    I'd take that as a demonstration of witty irony, except that your use of the word "ignorant" would seem to indicate you think you are proving me wrong. But rather, you have proved my point: the gentlemen in the photograph are doing something and their actions captured media attention. They did not quietly demur to allow the haters and fanaticists to control the message.

    I do not think you good, quiet Christians can claim to be winning any battles for mindshare. I do not think you can claim that your passivity toward the nutjobs is doing your religion any favours.

    But, hey, if this present state of affairs is what you prefer, just keep doing what you're doing. In a dozen years time, let's reconvene and we can see how well that works out for you. I'll lay cash money on the table that those who dominate the media message will come out the winners.
    posted by five fresh fish at 2:24 PM on April 5, 2009


    Whoops, I misplaced the closing italics tag. The "Oh how ignorant of you" was supposed to also be in italics.
    posted by five fresh fish at 2:25 PM on April 5, 2009


    I'll lay cash money on the table that those who dominate the media message will come out the winners.

    How much money are you putting up?
    posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:14 PM on April 5, 2009


    We don't stone sinners in the New Covenant. We call them to repentance, but we love them. Doesn't matter what kind of sin-no stoning, no bashing. Now, that is not the same as approving of sin-we do NOT do that.

    And fwiw part of real love is loving someone enough not to lie to them.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:48 PM on April 5, 2009


    You'll understand if your credibility isn't all that strong, Alia.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 3:51 PM on April 5, 2009


    "Well, it's now 2000 years later, does He still mean it?"

    This is not how God relates to time.
    posted by oddman at 4:35 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I'll have to check the change dish, but I figure it's about thirty dollars worth of "Canadian currency." Weird how the value of my change dish has been changed by the greedy actions of reprobates on Wall Street.

    Anyhoo, sure, let's check back in a decade. I say that those who gain the most mindshare through the use of communications mediums — which is to say the news media, the false news media, the entertainment media, the print media, the network media: all those things which attract eyeballs and ears, and thus mindshare — will have formed the dominant culture. Many of the laws will represent the mindset of this dominant culture.

    Which is to say same as it ever was, same as it ever was.

    If good Christians want to take back their good name, they need to get smart about the media. They are allowing shitbags like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter to say that Christianity is "[stereotypical batshitinsane antiChristian bullshit]". The longer they are allowed to hijack the name, the more they own it.

    First law of branding.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:18 PM on April 5, 2009


    There are obviously great herds of self-identified Christians, and I guess most of them probably do at least nominally believe in some vague "Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins and rose again" general stuff, but what I'd like to see is a survey that just presents people with unidentified actual Christian teaching and see how many actually buy it.

    In a series of history/philosophy lectures I was recently listening to, the (American) professor told an anecdote about how he begins many of his freshman courses by asking how many people consider themselves to be Christian, and how many believe the Christian Bible to be the word of god. Invariably, as he told it, the majority -- probably around the 80% or so mentioned in the linked article -- raise their hands. (I can't recall exactly how this went, so I'll just give you the gist of it.) He asks them how many have read whatever book is top of the charts that year -- Harry Potter, or The Davinci Code, or whatever. A similar number raise their hands. At some point, I assume long enough later that it's not totally obvious what he's doing, he asks how many of them have read the Bible. The number of hands always drop to 10 or 20% of the assembled students.

    After which he raises the question to them that if they believe that the Bible is divine, if it actually reflects or even inerrantly expresses the word of the god in which they believe, wouldn't it be the single most important thing in their lives to read it? Wouldn't actually knowing the words of their deity, the ruler of the universe and all that, be higher on their list than it would seem to be judging by his informal survey?

    It's a gotcha, to some extent, sure, but I think it's a pretty telling one. I suspect that it's pretty close to reality -- that there are a lot of people who tick off the 'Christian' box by default, but have not examined their own beliefs to the extent that they can actually be said to 'believe' in much.

    Present company excepted, of course.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:34 PM on April 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


    The longer they are allowed to hijack the name, the more they own it.
    This is easy to forget. Remember that the gnostics and the Montanists were just different flavors of Christianity until the Council of Nicea. The Protestant church in the US is particularly vulnerable to this kind of hijacking, as it has no real ecclesiastical structure in which an idea or doctrine can be declared "aberrant" or "heretical." Book sales and number of viewers effectively simulate the ecclesiastical structure, and as the inmates seize control of the cultural megaphones...
    posted by verb at 6:41 PM on April 5, 2009


    There are obviously great herds of self-identified Christians, and I guess most of them probably do at least nominally believe in some vague "Jesus is the Son of God who died for my sins and rose again" general stuff, but what I'd like to see is a survey that just presents people with unidentified actual Christian teaching and see how many actually buy it.
    George Barna and his Barna Research Group do a lot of this. They take flack inside the church for being the bearers of bad news, and they take flack from outside the church for, well, treating lots of interesting sociological data as an evangelism battle plan. But they do gather that kind of stuff.

    One of their landmark surveys a number of years back determined that a stupidly large percentage of the population self-identifies as 'christian' and even 'born-again'. But when asked about specific doctrines ('Does Satan exist?' 'Have all people committed sins?' 'Does doing good deads earn access to Heaven?') associated with orthodox christian belief, the numbers started dropping rapidly. IIRC, he was left with numbers hovering around 7% of the population believing what is generally considered orthodox Christian doctrine.

    The real issue, I think, is that the huge swath of people who self-identify but don't hold to the doctrine speaks the language of the hardline core. So when issues are framed as 'attacks on faith' or 'attacks on Christianity' or something along those lines, it's easy to pull larger numbers.
    posted by verb at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Deeds. Doing good deeds. Ahem.
    posted by verb at 6:51 PM on April 5, 2009


    This is not how God relates to time.

    Possibly, but how do you know for certain?
    posted by quakerjono at 7:12 PM on April 5, 2009


    Awesome thoughts, stavros.
    posted by five fresh fish at 7:22 PM on April 5, 2009


    If good Christians want to take back their good name, they need to get smart about the media. They are allowing shitbags like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson and Ann Coulter to say that Christianity is "[stereotypical batshitinsane antiChristian bullshit]". The longer they are allowed to hijack the name, the more they own it.

    Forgive me, but these are the whole of Christian theology's options? Convert or Die? Reduce the search for answers to ineffable questions down to a competition between members of the same family to see who can package and deliver the more sexed up sound byte in a war to win the hearts and minds of a heartless, mindless populace who's only coherent opinion appears to be whatever one they heard on the T.V. five minutes ago during a commercial break of Lost?

    That seems a very bleak, cynical view of mankind, let alone any sort of theism.

    It occurs to me that this is also a very perilous route to take. It's just cutting off the hydra's head to substitute in one's own. That's not satisfactory. This revolution, if it is to be meaningful, must be different.

    Perhaps it's not about noise, but about silence? Possibly, this time, shouting louder is not the key, but encouraging introspection through example; promoting calm dialogue over fiery diatribe. Silence can be very effective when one depends on bluster for momentum, which seems to be the corner evangelical Christianity and, perhaps, Christianity as a whole has painted itself into.

    No, if the time for a quiet, deed-focused, contemplative Christianity has passed, then it is perhaps better to let it pass for good out of existence altogether rather than take up the crown of the thing that has caused such pain and sadness for so many. It is not the place of the "good Christian" to proselytize more or better than the "loud Christian" because both of those paths lead to the same yoke. Deciding the future of this theology by market saturation just begs for the cycle to begin again.

    There must be something better or there must be oblivion.
    posted by quakerjono at 7:48 PM on April 5, 2009 [3 favorites]


    This is not how God relates to time.

    Possibly, but how do you know for certain?


    Definitions.
    posted by oddman at 7:57 PM on April 5, 2009


    Definitions.

    Oh, well, glad we settled that, then...
    posted by quakerjono at 8:00 PM on April 5, 2009


    there are a lot of people who tick off the 'Christian' box by default, but have not examined their own beliefs to the extent that they can actually be said to 'believe' in much.

    I personally have known three people, my father being the most prominent, who lost their faith quite vehemently in adulthood after finally sitting down and really reading the Bible.
    posted by CunningLinguist at 9:57 PM on April 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Perhaps it's not about noise, but about silence? [etc]

    Well, good luck with that. I'm sure you'll note that the Pentacostals and Evangels — the media-dominant faiths — are growing like topsy. Read about it here.
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:16 PM on April 5, 2009


    The noisiest of evangelicals and the most ignorant of atheists are fundamentally incapable, by the mere loudness or numerosity of their nonsense, of altering the nature of my millennia-old religious tradition. But thanks for trying anyway.

    The evangelical missions movement has been doing exactly that to millions of people in the world for centuries. Nigeria didn't just wake up one morning and decide it was going to be a hotbed of evangelical fundamentalism and neither did Texas.

    Those numerous and noisy evangelicals have had quite an influence not only on the debate, but also on the way many folks perceive those very millennia-old traditions of which you speak.
    posted by darkstar at 1:09 AM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Oh, well, glad we settled that, then...

    Well when deciding how one concept relates to another, definitions is all we've got.
    posted by oddman at 6:33 AM on April 6, 2009


    "People who are really interested in religion in America should definitely listen to the public radio show Speaking of Faith. I'm consisently blown away by the intelligence, broad-mindedness, and knowledge that this program approaches questions of religion with."

    I think broad-mindedness and religion, at least most kinds, are antithetical. I don't mean that in the pejorative. Only that in religion, for the most part, there are very specific beliefs. I would argue that atheism mirrors this (whereas agnosticism doesn't). Very few tenets have the "I dunno" clause as part of their precepts. Similarly, very few allow for vague definition or abstract conceptualization. For the most part (at least I've found) even atheism (or at least atheists - and I'll caveat that by saying in certain respects) are dogmatic. It goes without saying Christianity, and especially Catholicism, are dogmatic.
    But most other religions are as well. Whether this is a function of ritual, religions or social - say giving gifts at Christmas vs. treating it as a less secular day - is a matter of degree, not kind.
    Most folks treat religious holidays like most others - most Jewish holidays boil down to "they tried to kill us, so let's eat." (Passover being a variation - God didn't kill our kids, so let's eat). Most folks aren't that dogmatic, since ritual doesn't have the meaning it once did. We don't live life as close to the bone anymore and we're awash in communication and information so we don't need the level of group cohesion and anticipation and predictability in human affairs that we once did.

    So I think most people are willing to operate on that 'on the fly' level. People prefer the dynamic when they can get it instead of the static because it allows for greater latitude in their lives. More liberty to relax or take care of other business or whatever. Who wants to not operate any electrical devices in the modern age?
    And yet, there are very specific reasons for this. So if one does adhere, more closely, to a belief, one can allow a certain broadmindedness in perspective, but not in one's own affairs.
    And of course then we have to allow for the demands those beliefs make on society.
    And in some cases those beliefs can reduce, or threaten to reduce, the amount of latitude we have in our own affairs. Being homosexual for example.

    IMHO that belief is the result of an outmoded system of thinking. I can see the reasons (practically speaking) for proscriptions against homosexuality in certain societies with certain stresses, but the ones that come to mind are at least a thousand years old. So what's left is the dogma. Which, again, could be in many ways positive (doing charity work for example). But is, again, because of it's specific basis, antithetical to a more liberal conceptual framework - by it's nature.
    And, again, people, you can for the most part, deal with. Orthodoxy, no dice.

    And the beliefs themselves are generally innocuous since they don't have much practical impact (which is in part why I'm a non-theist). One can believe Christ was the one true Son of God - or not - and it doesn't much matter in and of itself. Extrapolations of that belief vary of course, but the belief or non-belief in God or how one defines deity or the divine ground of being or the universe in the abstract isn't really relevant to human affairs outside a limited metaphysical conversation.
    What matters is how one acts if based on such beliefs. If such beliefs are specific, as they are in religion, they are naturally opposed to open discussion, and there so too are the acts upon which they are based.
    There are some folks for whom the question of abortion is completely closed.
    Divorcing this idea from the argument itself - looking at it just as a belief - it's a logical position if one believes in a soul and the sanctity of life, all that, to do whatever it takes to save an unborn life.
    Again, that's not based on morality or justice per se - just on the nature of the originating belief as specific and exclusionary to other possibilities.
    One can argue religion should have no place in government, but the nature of the belief doesn't allow for any exceptions. So too - if one believes Christ was the only Son of God and everyone who doesn't is damned, you can't really allow for a Taoist or a Buddhist or a Hindu POV - even though one might be receptive to these positions socially. And vice versa.

    The slack then is in the people, not in their belief system.
    Which I think is why more people are turning away, in general. I mean, hell, schools are training kids for jobs that don't exist yet. Mental flexibility is a huge asset and given the vast resources most working folks, at least in the U.S. have at their fingertips there's less and less focus on authoritarian style systems anyway. We're moving away from one person having all the info and disseminating it to people.
    That in itself is entirely anti-Christian in form.
    posted by Smedleyman at 5:29 PM on April 6, 2009


    I think broad-mindedness and religion, at least most kinds, are antithetical.

    I think people mix up terms like "religion," "denomination," "orthodoxy," and "spirituality" a whole lot. It's certainly possible to be both religious and broadminded.

    I'm with quakerjono here. I can't wrap myself in a banner labelled "Christian" and go fighting against all the evils that people want to attribute to Christianity. The reason I can't is that I oppose doing that in and of itself. I don't believe in proselytization. I don't believe that religion has a place in public discourse. Therefore, if I see a religious group trying to assert that it deserves a place in public discourse for its religious stances, I oppose that - as a secular citizen. I don't oppose it - it's useless to oppose it - as someone saying "your brand of Christianity isn't the right one!" That's just silly, when I don't believe any brand of Christianity should have a hand on the tiller when it comes to civil law.

    I'm sorry - it's not my problem to defend organizations that are diametrically opposed to my value system. I don't identify with them, I'm not one of them, and it's not my business to counter their representation of Christianity with my own. It's yours. If you're in the business of opposing a mindset or a way of thinking, then find out what it is you're opposing. It's up to individuals to become informed about the world they're going to be active in. I'm sure most of us would oppose the idea of hating all Muslims because of what happened on 9/11 and in similar extremist attacks. Well, isn't it up to us to use the resources at our disposal - easily accessible and basic as they are - to learn about what Islam is and educate ourselves as to how various thought streams within this faith are differentiated? Isn't the same true concerning Jewish Zionism and non-Zionist Judaism?

    It's my responsibility to live by my values. They don't include educating others about sects I deplore. If you want to know about the world, it's up to you to learn. The various denominations have already met you halfway, providing abundant resources about who they are and what they believe. If you choose not to use those resources, blame yourself for your laziness. Don't blame the person standing two or three removes away from that denomination for not explaining things clearly enough for you.
    posted by Miko at 7:04 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


    But you know what? It probably serves my desires better if all y'all quiet Christians remain quiet. The more the batshitinsane religionuts are dominating the media, putting their greed and hate-filled ideology into the headlines, the quicker religion will become a minority aspect of civilized society.

    Here's the thing: that's okay with me. That's probably why I don't accept the responsibility you want the people you consider "good Christians" to have. I don't think Christianity needs to be a majority aspect of civilized society. I don't think it needs to dominate the media. I don't think it belongs in civil discourse. I don't care if "hate-filled ideology" arouses enough ire to self-destruct; I think that would be a good thing.

    None of that would change my personal spiritual life one iota. Nor would it change yours. It's perfectly fine. As long as people who believe in whatever their faith is or no faith at all have the same basic freedoms and protections as anyone else under the law, there are no further issues with me.

    I don't feel called to defend anything much but basic principles like freedom of speech and religion, progressive social values and maximum individual freedom that creates social good under the law. That's where you'll find me - not with the picketing Christians who want to take personal freedoms away. Why I'm there - what values and beliefs brought me to that point - is simply none of your business. You want to deal in the realm of civics? Good, let's deal. Religion stays out of it. I join you in opposing media attention to loud Christians. I have no more responsibility than you, though, to turn off the channel and write the editors when it gets repulsive. We're in that one together.
    posted by Miko at 7:13 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Well when deciding how one concept relates to another, definitions is all we've got.

    Again, perhaps, but my question revolves more around the seemingly axiomatic certainty that those offered are the right ones.

    For example, to say that God doesn't relate to time that way or, indeed, to say God does or doesn't do anything sort of then calls into question a widely-held definition of God and divinity as omnipotent.

    So we're back to the initial question: How do you know for certain? Are these definitions or are they personal assumptions?
    posted by quakerjono at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2009


    Smedlyman: Only that in religion, for the most part, there are very specific beliefs.

    While I see your point, and indeed, it's something modern Friends are having to seek clarity on (why claim to be a member of something if no one can succinctly define exactly what that something is), I feel you're making a fistful of assumptions about religion as its been intertwined with human passion.

    Certainly one can make the argument that, at the base of any religion, is a set of codified beliefs that give the religion its character. So, for as far as that statement goes, I would agree. However, people are not simple. Rarely, then, are their gods.

    In most longstanding religious traditions, while you may indeed find a healthy dose of dogma, you'll also find an equally healthy dose of questioning that dogma and redefinition, at least in a practical sense. For example, I know many Catholics who believe in their religion, yet use birth control. At a basic level, this is questioning of dogma and a practical application of broad-mindedness in religion. While this questioning may not be accepted by those currently in the religion's driver's seat, that doesn't mean it can be discounted.

    Perhaps it is better to say that religion, applied unwisely, can lead to a loss of broad-mindedness, not that it is inherently antithetical to it?
    posted by quakerjono at 7:44 PM on April 6, 2009


    why claim to be a member of something if no one can succinctly define exactly what that something is

    Look at Wikipedia's definition of "religion":

    A religion is an organized approach to human spirituality which usually encompasses a set of narratives, symbols, beliefs and practices, often with a supernatural or transcendent quality, that give meaning to the practitioner's experiences of life through reference to a higher power or truth.

    This captures my understanding of what religion is quite well. I don't now, and never have, believed that a "religion" is a set codified beliefs. That is more accurately connoted by words like "dogma" and "doctrine' and "teaching" that got me in trouble up earlier in the thread. The word "religion" cuts a huge swath, but is not entirely prescriptive. If it were so, denominations would never evolve in their doctrines nor people in their practices. Instead, it's quite possible - indeed, common - to conceive of religion as a package of rituals, stories, practices, habits, traditions, and beliefs which one can use as tools. Those tools can be picked up and discarded even while remaining well within the package that is the religion.

    If we understand religion as the imprecise term that it really is, there is no logical conflict whatsoever with broadmindedness.

    If we instead accepted the idea that religion is always a prescriptive and codifed set of beliefs, we are already ruling out the vast majority of spiritual practice in the world even within most religious denominations. If we define religion that way, then we define most religious people right out of it, even over their objections that they are, in fact, on a religious path. That definition is too narrow to be useful.
    posted by Miko at 7:56 PM on April 6, 2009


    I think part of the confusion is ascribing a pejorative to my perspective. I use dogma because certain churches use(d) dogma. I'm just describing systems of doing things. I'd say every military system on Earth is directly opposed to broadmindedness, but in a variety of different ways. So too, religion. And not just for reasons of hierarchy (in certain cases).

    "However, people are not simple. Rarely, then, are their gods. "

    Well, that's sort of what I'm saying. The broadmindedness lay in people, not in their religion.
    It's possible, as a person, to be broadminded and religious. It's not possible for a religion to be broadminded.
    If I'm Catholic, your believing in the ten Sikh gurus doesn't do me any harm really. As a person, I can say there's no big deal in you believing as you do. However I believe some very specific things, and you believe some very specific things, and those beliefs are in conflict no matter what we say or do.
    So - brass tacks. Catholic: Jesus Christ is the son of God and if you don't believe that you will go to hell. Sikh: That's not possible, God (Vāhigurū) is formless and beyond time and beyond the understanding of human beings. Heaven and hell doesn't exist, you're reincarnated on a cycle towards union with God.
    Catholic: Ok...want to get some lunch? Sikh: Sure, let's go eat.

    There can be broadmindedness there - but the two beliefs are at irreconcilable odds. This doesn't make anyone a bad guy, it's simply that there are specific beliefs that translate into specific practices that are essentially worthless if they become too watered down.
    Are you a Catholic if you accept the ten Sikh gurus teachings, start attending a gurdwara and celebrate Vaisakhi (it's coming up)?
    At some point you pass a sort of thermocline. I'm not saying there's no relation - certainly there are groupings. But you can only spend so much time on certain things. Where you devote your resources depends on your core beliefs. Those core beliefs won't match up with someone else's. Therefore you are at odds.
    This doesn't mean the situation must be acrimonious or indeed, can't even be harmonious or symbiotic. I think the quakers depend, to a degree, on a broader culture which does not espouse their belief system.
    This isn't to cast judgment as to right and wrong. Nor say there is intolerance there. But rather to point to the specificity of belief and the loss of coherence.
    You either believe Christ is the Son of God, or you don't. Or you believe in the ten gurus, or you don't. And practice will reflect that.
    People can be broadminded, but even if you live next door to Sikhs, you might send your kid to Catholic school to learn some very specific things that strongly conflict with what the Sikhs next door believe.
    That doesn't mean you're intolerant. Just means you have some specific ideas about your spiritual world. And the Sikhs next door have some as well.
    Hell, you can barbecue together. But I doubt anyone's going to pull their kid out of their respective religious schools because someone makes a good point about J.C. and the boys or Nanak Dev's thoughts on mercy.
    They might appreciate the fundamental thought, and indeed, agree, but they're certainly going to differ about method of expression and the core ideas behind it.
    Again, it need not be acrimonious, but it is a difference. And an irreconcilable one.
    Certainly there is latitude within the teaching. Anyone who believes in mercy can't be all bad, yeah?
    But again - using birth control and denying Christ was the only son of God - big big difference. At some point most people lose religion when they've ceded enough of their belief system. 'Lapsed' Catholics and so forth.
    At some point, if you take away enough of the rules, you're not playing Monopoly anymore.
    Sure you can add house rules, you can cut someone slack on rent to keep the game going, or use kiddie rules to keep young ones in the game, but stop selling properties, throw out the bank, remove the dice or use the board from Risk and you're not going to be able to play and realistically call it Monopoly.
    Churches and religions schism all the time - precisely because people believe certain very substantial and fundamental things - differently.
    These are not, I'm saying, insignificant or simple and airy things.
    Martin Luther didn't break from the church over petty matters. And indeed - he didn't substantially differ from the core ideas. Just how things were being done. Protestants still believe in Christ. All the same things really. Except for some few - yet very fundamental - differences. Eastern Orthodox churches, f'rinstance, strongly resist ecumenism.

    I happen to focus on the wikipedia definition that says "Religion is often described as a communal system for the coherence of belief focusing on a system of thought" - without that coherence, what is it you have? Or indeed - without the organization of the organized approach to spirituality you have what? Chaos? It's certainly not a set of practices.
    I'm speaking of organization here as coherent paradigm, not the organization of a church or other body in execution.
    I could say the same thing about any other set of disciplines. What separates Karate from Kung Fu and further iterations down those two paths - Shotokan Karate, say, and Wu Shu? Well, there are some very fundimental differences. And indeed, even in MMA there are codified practices which define it as MMA as opposed to some sort of goulash of moves.
    Military practice - what separates what a sniper does from what an infantryman does? What's the difference between a Marine and an airman? There are some very fundamental differences that stem from core beliefs. Granted, those are preceded by practical effect - but so is, at least ostensibly - religious practice.
    In that there is a specific spiritual function involved. Growth certainly. Mercy, other qualities - but encompassed by a fundamental method.

    What seems to be argued in counterpoint here is that an airman can learn from a Marine, a judo practitioner can learn from a muy thai stylist - etc. And that's certainly true. And that can lead to spiritual growth.
    But - either the karate stylist will continue in karate as or will go on to other forms. If he takes up judo and in practice uses throws and holds over strikes - he is no longer a karate stylist.
    So too - if you're a Jew and one day you think the divinity of Christ is a swell idea and hey, yeah, he IS the messiah and you start going to a Christian church - you're now a Christian. And you'll have to do the work to prove it.
    Because there are specific beliefs involved, there are practices involved. In any religion there is a way. I'm not arguing that that's a good or bad thing. Hell, I don't eat pork myself so I can empathize with a good chunk of humanity. But because it's not out of some core belief (other than health and personal taste) I'm not a Jew or Muslim.
    Nothing wrong with certain beliefs as long as they don't impact modern social systems - which is where there is often friction (as I said above).

    Indeed, having lived much of my life within certain systems with very proscribed bounds I can empathize and attest to the value of such focused thinking. But coherence does not reconcile itself with open mindedness. It is by its nature exclusionary. This is by design.
    Humans can most certainly see over these, as said, they're just tools, and be broadminded. But you can't not join the Marines and just do a lot of push-ups and go around calling yourself a Marine.
    posted by Smedleyman at 9:26 PM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


    "For example, to say that God doesn't relate to time that way or, indeed, to say God does or doesn't do anything sort of then calls into question a widely-held definition of God and divinity as omnipotent.

    So we're back to the initial question: How do you know for certain? Are these definitions or are they personal assumptions?
    "

    Look we just agree on a definition of God. Thus, we don't need to ask further questions about certainty. It's a lot like agreeing on the definition of a triangle. You don't then ask "sure but how do you know for certain that a triangle is three sided?" That's not how conceptual analysis works.

    Accorting to the Christian concept of God, He has no body, no location, nor any other properties that would allow him to interact with spacetime. He simply doesn't. Furthermore, since God is perfect he can't change. If we think he has changed his mind or anything else, it's merely do to our inability to fully grasp his essential nature. So, even he could, per impossible, interact with spacetime, he still wouldn't change his mind "after 2000 years."

    No amount of skepticism is going to change that. Just like no amount of skepticism would convince a mathematician that he could squre the circle.

    Now if you'd like to suggest that omnipotence makes a hash out of logic, be my guest. However, we are then beyond the bounds of reason and there's little point in discussing the point any further.
    posted by oddman at 10:51 PM on April 6, 2009


    adipocere: ...Christianity (or any other religion) in that sense can become just a dimly-lit reflecting pool, wherein people see what they want to see.

    I had to stick my head back in to comment on this one because I think this happens all the time, with everything: by no means is it only religion that people use for this. They do it with SCIENCE!, with politics and nationalism, with just about any aspect of human nature, the list goes on and on. Heck, a good example for MeFi is that people do this with outrage: "how dare you!" ends up with meaning in and of itself, practically disconnected from whatever one is ostensibly reacting to, and people define themselves and sometimes even appear to be attempting to discover father, mother, and lover and every aspect of their identity in their quality of and activity of outrage, like a Christian would do with Christ or a Sufi with Allah.

    Predictably whatever's the focus gets distorted waaay out of line with reality or any sort of rationality, just as happens when this is done with religion.

    I think it's a bad development in modern intellectual thought that many people seem to perceive that this is an exclusive foible of religion, and appear to think that if you aren't religious you aren't prey to it.
    posted by XMLicious at 7:17 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I'd say every military system on Earth is directly opposed to broadmindedness, but in a variety of different ways. So too, religion.

    My response to that is that you just don't know about enough religions. At best, you can say that some religious paths oppose broadmindedness. But in making such a sweeping statement, you're merely reacting to your own assumptions about religions.

    It's not possible for a religion to be broadminded.

    it's not possible for it to be any such characteristic; it has no mind, it has no agency, it's not an individual with a will. Religions are human institutions and they change as their participants change.

    I think many people would enjoy it if there were a simple checklist or litmus test that could tell you whether you were a member of a religious denomination, or not. But there is no such situation happening. People and their churches are constantly negotiating their relationships. Individuals often object to precepts in churches, and yet retain their membership. Heck, priests and pastors even do that. Sometimes churches reject their would-be adherents, excommunicating or shunning them, and yet the adherents can still say they, at heart, consider themselves still to be a follower of that denomination.

    At some point, if you take away enough of the rules, you're not playing Monopoly anymore.

    No? You might not be playing Orthodox Monopoly, so sure someone could play that. But when I play Monopoly, I notice that most people don't actually play by the rules at all. They like to do the Free Parking lottery, which is made up, and they ignore the requirement that when you land on a property and don't buy it, it's supposed to be auctioned off to the highest bidder by the banker. Are you still playing Monopoly when you play using these common adaptations? Because those aren't the rules. I'd argue that anyone who says they're playing Monopoly - who is using the tools and/or ideas of Monopoly in pursuit of an entertaining game or instructive excercise in economics or whatever - is probably playing Monopoly. They want to reference Monopoly as an influence on what they're doing.

    In any case, our wish for codified beliefs is what gives rise to people's desire for clear-cut religious structures. But notice that in reality, few people actually live those structures. And unlike the Marines, you don't generally sign legal contracts when you follow a church; religous denominations have far different criteria for participation and membership than an entity like the Marines, and as thought traditions, they also generally offer many ways to accommodate people on a continuum of participation - that is, you can attend services, you can read books and opinions by thinkers in the tradition, you can become a believer in certain precepts, you can engage in questioning others, you can have conversations with others about the precepts, you can challenge, you can get deeper and deeper into the thought and philosophy, you can undertake formal religious study, you can be ordained, etc. But that is not to say that if you're not ordained, you're not "in" the religion.

    It also confuses me that it's often people outside religious communities that want to think religions are more structured than they are, and accuse people of some sort of failing if they aren't perfect adherents or if they do a lot of individual thinking about their religious traditions. So what if it doesn't look like Monopoly to you? Does it matter how it looks to you? If you're not participating in the faith and don't know that much about it, why do you care whether or not someone adheres to the teachings you presume are part of the faith? It really is a strange thing to have people who, in theory, espouse humanism critique other people for not being rigidly adherent enough. I think there's a lack of understanding there about the range of ways people can participate in religious life.

    People who participate in a religious tradition generally understand that their thinking about their own relationship to the faith is utterly personal and is always changing. Religion is an interaction between an individual and a set of practices, beliefs, historical documents, social structures, and rituals. That interaction is complicated and constantly shifting. There is far less conformity within religion than people think. Perhaps this is because many people encounter formal religious traditions as children, when they're exposed to didactic and simplistic religious instruction in the form of Sunday School programs, Hebrew schools, catechisms, etc. Those systems perhaps give the illusion that all religious questions are cut and dried, already processed and served up for you as neatly as a school lunch. And in fact that might be one intended outcome of religious instruction, and some people inevitably choose to continue living with unexamined believership and accepted wisdom (as of course non-religious people do about their own beliefs as well).

    However, for those who keep participating, or who come to a faith or to religious instruction as an adult, it's absolutely clear that the more you know about a religion, the less you know about that religion. Each individual is always in a negotiation with the thought systems that are religions, and few people swallow them whole. Just as with Kung Fu or Karate - the thought system exists, the behaviors and rituals exist, but chances are that no two people's karate practice is exactly the same, despite being built on a shared set of basic principles and tools (that, on closer examination, may disintegrate themselves and turn out not to be universally shared at all).

    Anyway, if you doubt me that religious people can be broadminded, then definitely listen to the radio show. Tippett started the show because she found so much discussion of religion, from both believers and nonbelievers, to be regrettably shallow and uninformed. I've been listening to it for over a year, as she interviews scientists, philosophers, people of a huge vareity of faiths, artists, rebels, etc, and I only learned whether or not she considered herself religious last week in a special interview. You can't tell, because the discussion is pitched so inclusively. So yes, it's possible.
    posted by Miko at 7:53 AM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Ugh. Free Parking lottery. That is such heresy.
    posted by XMLicious at 9:35 AM on April 7, 2009


    "Anyway, if you doubt me that religious people can be broadminded, then definitely listen to the radio show."

    You've completely misunderstood everything I said. But that's ok. We totally agree anyway, yeah? The specifics don't really matter. We're broadminded people.
    posted by Smedleyman at 10:54 AM on April 7, 2009



    You either believe Christ is the Son of God, or you don't. Or you believe in the ten gurus, or you don't. And practice will reflect that.


    I don't think beliefs are always as strongly seated among all the religious as you think they are. I understand the idea that religions create repositories for cohering ideas, but individual practitioners cohere much less.

    You've completely misunderstood everything I said.

    No, I understand what you said. I just don't agree with you about this. So

    We totally agree anyway, yeah?


    No. Listening and conversation aren't the same thing as agreement.
    posted by Miko at 11:06 AM on April 7, 2009


    'Lapsed' Catholics and so forth. At some point, if you take away enough of the rules, you're not playing Monopoly anymore.

    I'm not sure whether you know this, but in both Catholicism and Judaism and in some forms of Protestant Christianity, it doesn't matter how many rules you take away - you retain your religious identity in the eyes of the church's theological leadership. So if you asked the priest at my Catholic Church:

    Are you a Catholic if you accept the ten Sikh gurus teachings, start attending a gurdwara and celebrate Vaisakhi (it's coming up)?


    The answer would be yes; if you were baptized Catholic, then you're a Catholic if you attend Sikh services for the rest of your life, you're a Catholic if you convert to Judaism, you're a Catholic if you paint yourself blue and worship oak trees. Still Catholic - and only one confession away from being in good standing with the Church.

    Who's in charge of who's Catholic, then? The Church? What if you are lapsed and don't believe they have the authority to claim your soul any longer? Does your belief about that matter, or does Church leadership get to say who's in and who's out of the religion? If individal professions of faith don't mean anything, how do you have any coherence of belief?
    posted by Miko at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2009


    I'm not sure whether you know this, but in both Catholicism and Judaism and in some forms of Protestant Christianity, it doesn't matter how many rules you take away - you retain your religious identity in the eyes of the church's theological leadership.

    This is true. It's like a gym membership that cannot be canceled.
    posted by XMLicious at 3:03 PM on April 7, 2009


    "No, I understand what you said. I just don't agree with you about this. So"

    No, I understand what I said. I read and understand what you're saying. I'm saying you are missing my point. Want to call that my fault, ok. I'm a bad communicator. So
    posted by Smedleyman at 5:09 PM on April 7, 2009


    Look we just agree on a definition of God.

    No, clearly, we don't, which is rather what I'm driving at here.

    You've agreed with yourself on a concept of God, it would seem, and I'm constantly elucidating my own revelation of divinity and a Christian God. But as for a meeting of the minds between us, I don't see that being present and divinity by fiat is a rather sere place to begin discussion of personal belief.

    So, perhaps if I rephrase: Why should I accept your definition?
    posted by quakerjono at 5:47 PM on April 7, 2009


    I'm saying you are missing my point.

    Could you try restating it, then? There was quite a bit in your long comment and perhaps if I haven't addressed your point, I missed it. I did read it carefully and you seemed to be constructing an argument leading up to this point:

    coherence does not reconcile itself with open mindedness. It is by its nature exclusionary

    With which I disagree and described why. If there is another point, then I did miss it.
    posted by Miko at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2009


    "Look at Wikipedia's definition of "religion"

    While I'm skeptical of anything that comes after the word "Wikipedia", it is possible I misstated the issue.

    Although I still think there's validity to the question and Smedleyman's point that, regardless of any imprecision of terminology, there must be fundamental ties that bind any group together and promote a focus, or locus, perhaps, of viewpoint; that for a thing to be itself it has to fundamentally BE itself. A hammer can't be a flower and why should it want to be if it's perfectly happy being a hammer.

    However, where I believe I disagree with Smedley and perhaps yourself, Miko, is in the immutable quantization of religion. It certainly seems possible for a religion to not be broadminded (assuming we're all operating with the same understanding of that word). I'd wager, however, that if a religion is open to interpretation on some level and possibly reinvention, then it is possible for that religion to be broadminded while still maintaining its own uniqueness. While the Jewish faith can certainly be looked at in terms of the laws and dictates that govern a Jewish life, at the same time it has a rich tradition of discussion and debate regarding those laws and the meaning of holy writs in general. That, to me, indicates a broadmindedness; not necessarily a overly liberal permissive openness and pat acceptance of all things, but certainly a willingness to listen to viewpoints.

    Now that I think of it, though, perhaps the issue lies more in use of words rather than in fundamentals. Religion versus faith.
    posted by quakerjono at 6:07 PM on April 7, 2009


    While I'm skeptical of anything that comes after the word "Wikipedia", it is possible I misstated the issue.

    I was surprised at how good that definition was.

    there must be fundamental ties that bind any group together and promote a focus, or locus, perhaps, of viewpoint;


    I agree that this is what one tends to find in religions. However, I don't agree that those ties are always fully agreed upon, prescribed, or required. A religion is a collection of cultural information. Though there is a very high degree of overlap in what the majority of self-identifying members of any religion might say is within the collection, I think it's much more rare that any two members will prioritize the items in the collection in the same way. It's likely that some members will want to throw things out of the collection, while others will want the collection to be more inclusive. There may be two members whose Venn diagram sets containign things they believe or value that are within the larger collection overlap significantly with the collection but actually not at all with one another's set.

    This is not an issue only in religion - it is the same problem one deals in when trying to create a useful anthropological characterization of "culture" or "group". These entities are social creations, and they are prone to the complexities and variations and exceptions that all human institutions are prone to - in fact, as I noted above, even less so than many because religious service attendance, practice, and even membership is most often not very strictly regulated.

    it is possible for that religion to be broadminded while still maintaining its own uniqueness.


    With one small quibble (it is not religions, but individuals, that have the power of being broadminded) I agree with this entirely and don't think I've ever said otherwise. What I mean by "broadminded" is giving consideration to theological views not your own, while also considering and weighing your own, allowing that any one spiritual path is not likely to contain all the universe's truths, and being willing and able to engage in a discussion with members of other faiths and no faith. I don't see any conflict between being even very religious and being broadminded. The only potential conflict would be if a believer were a complete absolutist who refused to consider the possibility that other faiths contain value.
    posted by Miko at 7:06 PM on April 7, 2009


    …giving consideration to theological views not your own, while also considering and weighing your own, allowing that any one spiritual path is not likely to contain all the universe's truths, and being willing and able to engage in a discussion with members of other faiths and no faith. I don't see any conflict between being even very religious and being broadminded.

    Atheists could do well to be broad-minded as well. There is nothing inherently wrong with people finding moral guidance and comfort and support through faith: the core tenents of most mainstream religions is reasonably compatible with having a diverse, healthy society. So long as the faith stuff isn't crossing into politics and the law, it can be pretty cool to hypothesize the unknowable. Sure, anything is possible in an infinite universe: let us conjecture and hold forth.
    posted by five fresh fish at 8:50 PM on April 7, 2009


    "With which I disagree and described why. If there is another point, then I did miss it."

    The specific nature of the belief. I don't think our positions are mutually exclusive. One can believe differently and still be open to other ideas, certainly. And your point on the human factor is one I accept. I'm saying within the specific - ness? Specificity? Been up 36 hours so I'm not that coherent. In any event your point is predicated on humans being able to use other tools, which I have no disagreement with. And indeed, I suppose one could use a wrench as a hammer. But it's still a wrench with a specific kind of purpose. Some folks are quite pointed about it. Some aren't. An additional point of yours is that people vary in the degree to which they are serious about their tools. I agree. In fact your point augments mine. It's only when one gets a good hammer that one sees how poorly a wrench is as a substitute. I'm just arguing the 'wrenchness' of certain concepts and the sometimes usefulness of that thinking. Not their pliability in human hands.
    posted by Smedleyman at 10:04 PM on April 7, 2009


    Actually - let me further elaborate. Optics. You can take a broad focus or a narrow focus. With a narrow focus you can see in further depth but with less wide range. This is very useful if you're making a rifle shot. Not very useful if you have to be aware of what's happening peripherally. Wide angle lens vs. scope. Certainly one can alternate, choose between them, so forth. But there's lasers and flashlights and lanterns.
    posted by Smedleyman at 10:07 PM on April 7, 2009


    Hey, guys:

    I haven't been able to participate in the ongoing conversation, but I've been gratified by the positive response to my comment up toward the beginning. Several folks have asked for the rest of my speech, and I thought it might be appropriate just to post it here. It wasn't terribly long.

    I was asked to respond to a paper by Tom Williams, an acquaintance of mine who is a wonderful, irenic man but much more conservative than I am theologically (he has co-authored books with Josh McDowell). That's why you'll see occasion references to him.

    I don't mean to overwhelm the thread with this--it just seemed the easiest way to get it to everyone who wants to see it, and the thread was winding down anyway. Speech follows in the next posts.
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:19 PM on April 7, 2009


    The Kingdom Must Be: A Response
    I read Tom’s paper with great interest, and with great appreciation for his analysis. I am in complete agreement that we are undergoing a significant cultural shift, and I would point to some of the same phenomena that Tom mentioned in order to help us get a grasp on it. The old Constantinian arrangement in which church and state lent mutual support to one another seems to be coming to an end. We can see that already in Europe, and America is rapidly following suit. Christians who have come to rely on the appreciative regard of princes and their armies will find themselves disoriented in this new era. We can feel this disorientation already in churches all across the country, in every denomination, which are struggling to find stable landmarks to navigate an ever-changing cultural landscape.
    But I am not troubled by these changes. Rather, I am excited about what will happen with the people of God when the kingdoms of the world are no longer on their side. Freed from the illusion that worldly powers can accomplish kingdom aims, will the church find greater appreciation for the subtle workings of the Holy Spirit? Will we come to remember that God’s best work is done through those vessels that the world regards as weak and foolish? Will we discover anew that the world can be turned upside down when we give up position and privilege and answer the simple call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus?
    Already it will come as no surprise how I am reading our current landscape. It seems to me that God is taking away from the Western church the very things that we should have willingly chosen to deny ourselves. It is no compliment to God to act as though the power of his Spirit is insufficient to bring people under the Lordship of Christ, and to therefore add to it the power of presidents and political action committees. The might of the King of Kings is more than enough.
    But the truth is, we have grown accustomed to having political power and influence. The more apparent it is that our influence is waning, the more desperately some American churches and religious organizations attempt to cling to and consolidate such power. And, many people would argue, there are good reasons for such vigorous efforts. Shouldn’t we care for society as a whole? Shouldn’t we, in a democratic society, campaign for godly candidates who will use their influence for the cause of Christ? For a long time that has been the common stance of the evangelical church in America, especially in the last three decades, which witnessed the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. It would be foolish to deny that some genuine good was not done through political power, but it is past time to consider whether this is how God intended his Church to function.
    I confess that I have not done the study myself, but I was told once by an Old Testament scholar that there is not a single verse from Genesis to Malachi in which God refers to any specific human person as “king.” The highest title God will give a human is “prince.” (This is unclear in the English translations.) The reason for that is clear—God alone is King. It is inherently idolatrous to forget that and begin to trust in humans. The shout of the crowd during the crucifixion of Christ—“We have no king but Caesar!”—is among the most blasphemous statements that a Jew can make. They should have no king but the Lord, and therefore consider Caesar no real king at all.
    It is important to remember that in Biblical history, Israel was the last of the nations to have a king. God had given Moses the Law on Mount Sinai, and a series of judges was raised up by God to lead Israel through various crises. The idea of an ongoing unified government came not from the Lord, but from Israelites who were discontented with God’s design, and clamored to be like other nations. When the prophet Samuel was angered by their request, the Lord replied "they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them" (1 Samuel 8:7, NRSV). It is surely no coincidence that the prophetic tradition arose at the same time that the monarchy was in development—strong voices to remind the people that there was a power higher than the courts of Jerusalem. In the closing words of the first recorded song of praise, “The Lord will reign forever and ever” (Exodus 15:18).
    The story of the temptations of Christ is a familiar one. After forty days and nights of fasting, the devil came to Jesus with three temptations. The first was to turn stones into bread, the second, to throw himself off the peak of the temple and have the angels catch him, the third, to have all the kingdoms of the world. We could summarize these as temptations be comfortable, to be impressive, and to be powerful. I am inclined to believe that those are also the three most common temptations of the church. Until recent years, the American church was offered each of those and gladly accepted them. Christianity was the default religion for the world’s greatest superpower—a position that should have made us tremble with concern that we were in danger of sliding off the path of self-denial that leads to the cross—but it seemed to occur to very few people that having such a position could be spiritually problematic. We built impressive structures, including dining facilities, recreation and entertainment centers. We turned praise and worship into a profit and star-making industry, and we gladly took our place in the halls of power. I am not a prophet or a prophet’s son either, but I am getting the strong sense that Satan offered us the same things he offered Christ, but we responded “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I doubt that the contemporary trends that are stripping away the power and prestige of the church are the work of the evil one—more likely it is the work of the Holy One, who is leading us step by step back to the paths of righteousness.
    The first words of John that Baptist recorded by Matthew are “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 3:2). The first words of Jesus’ ministry, spoken just after the temptation, are identical (Matt 4:17). Sometimes I am very slow to pick up on things, but even I can see the importance of this theme. We are called to reject the kingdoms of the world and accept the call of the kingdom of heaven. The language chosen by the Baptist and the Christ is important. They could have said something like “Change your ways and join this new religious movement.” No doubt to some extent that is a necessary response to their call. But it was framed in the language of kingdom and power. Reject worldly powers, live in the reality of the reign and rule of God. He is exercising his Lordship. The kingdom is at hand. We aren’t simply called to change our behaviors or our doctrine, we are called to a fundamentally different way of existing in the world, the way of Christ.
    The Lord has all power and authority, but he exercises it so gently. The primary symbols of the ministry of Christ are the towel and the basin, the bread and the fish, the crown of thorns and the rugged cross. He served, fed, and then died on behalf of others—and warned us along the way not to “lord it over others” like the Gentiles do. As the church follows its Messiah we, too, learn to lay down our crowns and pick up our crosses.
    If I understood Tom’s paper correctly—and there is no guarantee that I did!—he is likely to agree with much or all of what I have written so far. Certainly we see the same positive potential for the church in America to let go of false idols of mega-growth, and to break down walls of division—in short, to return to a community much more like the early church. Perhaps in some ways the church in the West will become more like the early church than we have been for centuries! That will be a shock, but a blessed one, I think.
    Now, on a related but different note: I am increasingly distrustful of the red vs. blue, evangelical vs. liberal, us vs. them rhetoric in our culture. For every example Tom gave of secular forces running roughshod over believers, I could list a corresponding instance of Christians selfishly imposing their power on others who disagree. I probably spend more time reading liberal political and theological writing than anyone else in this forum, and I can report with certainty that out-of-control religious power is as great a concern to our skeptical neighbors as out-of-control secular power is for us. You know and I know that many, many Christians spent their lives in selfless service day after day, but the reputation of the church, particularly the Protestant evangelical church, in the eyes of the outside world is one of selfishness and insistence on control. Openly, willingly, rejecting worldly forms of power is the only way forward I see for us. When no American can think of Christians without acknowledging the service that believers offer for the poor, the lonely and the rejected, then we will truly be in a new era.
    If one is allowed to have a favorite book of the Bible, mine is rapidly becoming Revelation. I think it speaks a clear word to us in this transition. I will leave you with two images from John’s great vision. The first is from chapter five. On the throne in heaven is a figure who is beyond description, but then another joins him in the center of the throne. He is announced as a lion, but John turns and sees him as the slain Lamb. It was Christ’s willingness to lay down the power of tooth and claw to become a meek sacrifice that opened up the way of victory for us, and the heavens cry out “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!” The second image is from chapter 12. It is an image of Satan and his angels thrown down in defeat. A voice from heaven explains how this happened: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death" (Revelation 12:10-11, NRSV). No prayerful president, no conservative court, no righteous legislature can have nearly the impact on the world that the church can when she stops clinging to life and embraces even death for the cause of Christ. That is the way of life in the kingdom that must be, under the rule of the king who was, and is, and is to come.
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:20 PM on April 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


    Oh, look, it all fit in one post. Good for me!
    posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:24 PM on April 7, 2009


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