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Modern Christianity and the Crisis of Contradiction

I’ve written once before about religion and why I don’t have strong feelings on the subject. I feel that there is just too much contradiction in what is supposedly the same religion: how can there be so many different sects of Christianity, some of which are wildly divergent, if they are all really worshiping the same God? It doesn’t make sense to me, and therefore I find it very hard to believe that Christianity is in fact the only true path to heaven or what have you. If it was, I feel like the message would be a little more unified.

I spent the Easter holiday with my father’s family, who are very Christian people. We didn’t talk about God or Jesus very much, probably because me and my siblings are all non-believers with the exception of my youngest sister, but it still got me thinking. I personally am not seeking to make religion a part of my life, and that’s okay; but for my father, and my roommate, and a handful of others, it is a very large part of their life philosophy. It has made them who they are, helped them overcome trials; it dictates how they treat the people around them. I want to respect what faith does for them, and I do when it comes to the people closest to me; yet I’m still not able to respect Christianity as a whole when it contradicts itself as furiously as it does. I’m very conflicted about this religion because the Christian people in my life are not at all like the angry, judgmental, violent Christians I read about and see participating in my government.

Last night I read an article from 2005 about how modern social Christianity has completely turned its back on the teachings of Christ; this morning I read one published a week ago saying the same thing. The biggest difference? The first author, Bill McKibben, calls the situation a paradox. The second, Andrew Sullivan, calls it a crisis.

Even as a non-theist, I’ve always considered the New Testament to be a follow-up to the Old. God sent Jesus to mankind because he needed a new approach in order to sway the people. The wrath and fire of the Old Testament had apparently ceased to compel people to follow God’s laws. So Jesus came and preached love and tolerance, teaching that compassion was the way to win the hearts and loyalty of the congregation. He taught that we should care for the least among us, be not afraid, judge not lest ye be judged and all that. It is the simplest of moral doctrines: love thy neighbor as thyself. And it works. Jesus loved his disciples, and they abandoned everything to follow him.

I don’t necessarily believe in the divinity of the Word of God, but I believe in kindness, and I believe that “do unto others as you would have done unto you” is the most universal and most successful code of ethics in the world. That was what I latched onto during my brief flirtation with church-going. I had such a great experience with my high school youth group because those were the lessons we learned: the lessons of tolerance, kindness, compassion, of leading by example rather than by force. That moment when you consider, “is this something I would want done to me?” is such a profound and humbling thought.

It’s one that isn’t thought enough in America these days. It’s clear in the jump from “paradox” to “crisis” between identical articles written seven years apart that the situation has escalated. Too many prominent Christians are using religion as an excuse to berate, bully, exclude and condemn anyone they label as an “other.” They are judging their neighbors left and right, legislating intolerance, fear and ignorance, and neglecting those who need the most help and guidance. They focus on destruction rather than rebuilding and they are intent on having their way. Where is the selflessness shown by Christ, who according to the Bible died so that the people could be washed clean of their sins? These modern Christians who are living in such opposition to the style exemplified by their founder (Jesus) are giving the entire theology a bad reputation and making it impossible for people like me to take the institution seriously.

The simple fact is that a Christian who doesn’t live by Christ’s example is not a Christian. (Logically, in fact, someone who goes exclusively by the Old Testament scripture is more Jewish than Christian. Let’s not forget that the Jewish and Christian holy books are the same except for the addition of Christ’s story in the New Testament.) Jesus mitigated and in many ways refuted the anger of the Old Testament God and promoted instead a new doctrine of love. Christians, and Christ himself, were persecuted because his ideas of selflessness and acceptance were so radical. They’re counter-intuitive to human instinct, in fact; that’s what’s so admirable about true Christians and all those who adopt a philosophy of compassion and tolerance towards others.

Relinquishing control is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do. It’s obvious, for example, that Republican politicians are having a terrible time giving up their choke-hold on the rights of their wives and daughters, and desperately grasping for those of the women they have no right to control. They demand a theocratic government so that they can control all the citizens of a country that was founded on secularism. They have forgotten, in fact, that secularism is not synonymous with atheism. They put words in the mouths of our Founding Fathers because the truth would undermine their claims to power. These people are the world’s most obsessive micro-managers. It’s no wonder that they think the world is crumbling before them. In their minds, it is, and it’s because they cannot relinquish control.

Did Jesus rule his disciples with aggression and an iron fist? Did he shun, slander and ridicule anyone who had ever made a mistake? Did he prove his authority with harsh and humiliating punishment? Was he all about slut-shaming and victim-blaming and pulling the holier-than-thou card?

Nope. Quite the contrary.

6 thoughts on “Modern Christianity and the Crisis of Contradiction

  1. Hey great post! It’s great to see your interested. And you’re right how the New Testament is a follow up of the Old. The more i read the Old, the more it amazes me how it points to Jesus. The more I read the bible as a whole, the more I see the apparent contradictions, aren’t actually contradictions. Particularly for the fundamentals- the basic important points of salvation are very simple.

    There may be disagreements on less important things, but that’s us humans for you! One more thing, you say ‘Jesus came and preached love and tolerance’ … Jesus also said things like ‘I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ … Just like that you have yourself a contradiction. What was the message Jesus really came to bring?

    Good read though- have a nice day!

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’m glad you’re sharing your thoughts. 🙂

      I will allow that I am very far from a Biblical scholar, and the only book I’ve read in full was the Book of Ruth. I’m certainly not an expert on what the Bible actually says. However, my Christian roommate and I have talked about how the “sword” mentioned in the Bible doesn’t actually refer to a weapon; Jesus is referencing the Word of God as a metaphorical sword.

      I connect this to “the pen is mightier than the sword” and therefore take your referenced line, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” to mean that the lessons are more potent in and of themselves than violence and domination. Jesus was selfless and preached love, but he was also there to spread his radical ministry. Obviously, his teachings evoked some unpeaceful reactions; but his lessons persist despite violent opposition, therefore my interpretation of the Word of God as a metaphoric sword mightier than the real thing.

      But that’s just a thought, haha. More theoretical than anything.

  2. I am an Episcopal priest retired from parish ministry. I found your article challenging and well worth reading, as I always do. In my estimation, most of American Christianity is civic religion and is mostly heretical. Followers of Jesus are called to care more for the external needs of people than worry if they have been saved. If Christians simply invited people into a circle or community of love and caring, Christ would be served and God would be adequately worshiped. Jesus’ gift of his life and service to others has already saved the world. That is the meaning of John 3:16. All the world has to do is believe that gift makes a difference.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing, and I think you’re right. This focus on the self in religion seems contradictory, and it’s something the faithful have rebelled against before. The outrage against indulgences sold by Catholic priests in the Middle Ages, which guaranteed salvation for a price, were part of what inspired the Protestant Reformation.

      Getting into religion only to save yourself makes it incredibly cutthroat, which I don’t think was the point.

  3. Caitlin, this is really well-said. You sound more Christ-like in your interpretation than most “Christian” pundits, especially the ones on Fox news! I was recently talking with a non-theist friend like yourself who asked me how I could believe something and not hold on it it being an “I’m right, you’re wrong” thing. I just said, “Well, that’s faith. Knowing that I’m right is not a meaningful part of my spirituality at all.” Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful investigation of modern Christianity — I am also an Episcopalian, like the commenter above, and we are a church who welcomes everyone, regardless of where they are on their faith journey or what they do for birth control (and thank God/Goddess for that, or I’d be kicked out for sure)!

    1. Thanks, Rhea! It’s so refreshing to get friendly civilized comments to posts like this, haha. I was expecting a bit more backlash. I think it’s great that you and others like you don’t feel a need to prove how “right” you are. It seems to me that’s not what faith is about, and if a person needs everyone to agree with them in order to feel comfortable with their beliefs, then there are definitely other things going on.

      I also have to say that I know virtually nothing about what differentiates different Christian sects, but if all Episocpals are like you two then I’d like to know more of them!

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