Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Christianity's Failure to Change is Killing It

The death of a religion doesn't come as a result of a violent murder by outsiders. Proof of this is in religions like Tibetan Buddhism, which suffered greatly under the tyranny of Communist oppression and yet still flourishes today; Catharism, which was wiped out by the Catholic Church and which still inspires pride in the residents of Montsegur; and, of course, Gnosticism, with its many iterations throughout history, suppressed so widely, even today, by mainstream Christianity, and yet its allure is as strong as ever.

No, the death of a religion doesn't come from without. It comes from within. Death of religion results when proponents of that religion fail to evolve it as human understanding of the universe evolves. It is when those proponents point to a specific point in time and say, "That's the only time God revealed himself to humanity, and there can be no other time when that happened because that's what I believe, and what I believe is all true. Anything that goes against what I believe is heresy or blasphemy or Satan's work." It is when that religion becomes an inflexible, absolute, and closed system that it begins to suffocate itself.

You need no other evidence that this mindset exists within modern Christianity than the recent Digg article, "100 Greatest Quotes from fundamentalist christian chat rooms." While most of the quotes are quite hilarious in their absurdity, like JohnR7's statement, "I can sum it all up in three words: Evolution is a lie," there is a sadness that overwhelms me when I read them. These people have given up their ability to think logically in exchange for a comfortable belief system, where they don't have to think, ask questions, or make decisions on their own. A good example of this is the following quote:

"What does a functioning brain have to do with the Bible?" LittleLambofJesus

"Make sure your answer uses Scripture, not logic." cdevidal

Gnostics will love this,

"To say the Bible was written by men and may contain inaccuracies completely contradicts the word of the Bible." Ia Orana

"The only thing I don't like about them is they sell foreign language versions of the KJB ["King James Bible," I assume -- it should be KJV for "King James Version"]. I don't think that's right. We know the only true translation is the 1600's version in English. ... It's too risky for anybody to translate into other languages. Mistakes can creep in ... and that can lead to heresy. True Christians should only read English." leyenda

If you've never been in a fundamentalist Christian church, you may not recognize a lot of these arguments as coming directly from the pulpit. I briefly attended a Baptist church in a rural area of North Carolina. One Sunday, the preacher lamented how he prayed so hard for his in-laws, because they were Methodists. "And as we all know, the Methodists are going to Hell because they don't fully submerse themselves in baptism," he said. And the congregation nodded their heads in agreement.

This is the kind of attitude that casts such a dim light on Christianity. It is as Dr. Stephan Hoeller said once in a lecture. The label of "Christianity" has been taken over by a radical group of fundamentalists who see the Bible as infallible, inerrant, and the only source of truth. While more moderate and even liberal groups are technically Christian, they've been cast out and labeled as lukewarm.
"You are banned. You are not a Christian for Christians don't accuse brothers and sisters in Christ of being non-Christian." Troy
This type of behavior doesn't endear them to many people. The love that Jesus taught us to have for one another isn't present in any of these statements. "Love thy enemy" has been replaced by "I honestly don't care about your rights. If it were up to me, all Atheists would be burnt at the stake and or cast into a river with weights tied to their ankles and or placed before a firing squad, etc etc etc," as AV1611VET so eloquently put it.

Unfortunately, ignorance breeds ignorance. And instead of good seed, as in the parable of the sower, weeds are being propagated, and the fools are speaking as if they're enlightened. What they're doing is dogmatically reciting what they've been taught by preachers who are no better than used car salesmen, who use simple mind-control techniques, like nodding their heads when they say something they want their listeners to agree with, speaking loudly and passionately to inspire an emotional response, etc. The ability to use the brain that their God supposedly gave them is diminished, and blind belief, sometimes called faith, takes hold.

"I often debate with evolutionists because I believe that they are narrow mindedly and dogmatically accepting evolution without questioning it. I don't really care how God did what He did. I know He did it." TexasSky

The problem is that these people feel like they're truly speaking on behalf of the rest of the Christian faith, just like radical Islamic terrorists feel they are speaking on behalf of the whole of Islam. What they're really inspiring is a deep distrust and hatred in the general public for what should be a beautiful religion. I overheard someone I know the other day saying, "We all know that Christians are the Devil." I'd be interested in know exactly why he felt that way, but I would assume that it has to do with the fundamentalists' constant attempts to force their beliefs on others.

It's doubtful that society will ever rise up against Christianity, as it did during Roman times, and as the Christians themselves rose up against other religions. And I hope it never does. But what will likely happen is that the people who are trying so rabidly to force it on others will end up killing it.

For an interesting take on this, check out John Shelby Spong's book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile.

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