Thursday, November 27, 2008

And I need more grace than I thought

Sometimes the wheels of my mind turn exceedingly slowly. I'm sitting here listening to The Congos- Heart of the Congos and Tan Dun's Water Passion after Saint Matthew and thinking about Geds' post, This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours. Do I agree that "by allowing and even celebrating the gates around Christian culture we have diminished ourselves"?

Knowledge of the history of the Christian religion is certainly essential to any attempt at genuine understanding of the world as it is today. I couldn't truly understand The Congos if I didn't understand both the religious and political influences on their music, and the Water Passion would probably be unlistenable if I didn't appreciate the story behind it- I try to be open-minded, but opera is really not my thing. A great deal of art in the modern world draws on a history rich in Christian themes; perhaps all art does these days. Even bands like Modest Mouse, as cynical and atheistic as they come, play songs like Bukowski, songs that would be meaningless in a world without Christ.

So while I agree with Geds that evangelical culture has drawn a wall around itself, the non-evangelical world doesn't seem to be affected. These gates are one-way, I guess.

There are Christians who ignore the gates, too. I recently read The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne, a young evangelical who lives in a commune in Philadelphia. My brother aspires to living in a similar house in Seattle; he and my sister, who recently applied for Mission Year, take the failure of Christian pop culture very seriously. There is a small but genuine evangelical youth movement that is tending toward hippie issues like pacifism, poverty, racism and social justice instead of focusing on banning gay marriage, and there is a part of me that thinks this is great. Religion doesn't have to be about othering people who believe differently and condemning harmless behavior. It could be a force for goodness in the world, even if the motivation is love for a God who doesn't exist.

I'm not convinced, though, that a civilized Christianity is more true to the core beliefs of the historical church. The Christians I know are convinced that their religion is all about beauty and truth, love and sweetness and light, but the core truths of Christianity don't lead to happiness. The idea that morality comes from a central authority, the idea that people are innately evil, the idea that blood is the only adequate payment for sin, and so many other doctrines have caused so much misery in the past two thousand years. Christianity divides the world into sinners and saved, and if heaven and hell are all that matters, any cruelty in the name of saving souls is justifiable. The history of Christianity bears this out. A truly moral religion would be forced to apologize not only for the Crusades, the subjugation of women, the justifications for slavery, and the genocide of the natives in the Americas, but also for the doctrine that led to these horrible events.

A truly moral Christianity would require repudiation of much of what is Christian. Of course I would prefer people to choose what is right over what their religion tells them, and as an atheist I believe that they can, but unfortunately I don't think it likely that most believers would be willing to make that choice. I think that many Christians, if forced to choose between what is right and historical church doctrine, would choose doctrine. They might do so apologetically; I've heard it before, "well of course I believe that women should be respected and treated well, but 1 Timothy 2: 11-15 says 'A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety' so I'm sorry but women can't lead men, that's just what the Bible says so it must be right."

To me the epitome of a mainstream music worthy Christian band is mewithoutYou. They're really good musically, and their lyrics aren't even that pretentious. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear them on the local alternative rock radio station, and their band members are even cool and indie and run their tour bus on vegetable oil. The thing is, though, they're still a Christian band. Their sweet indie music is full of the effacement of self in favor of loving God that amounts to living suicide. The problem is not how Christian doctrine is being sold; they're doing that very well. The problem is the doctrine itself.

Maybe what Christianity really needs is a break from the past, a willingness to forget how things are supposed to be according to church tradition. The benefit of remembering the past is supposed to be that you learn from it and don't repeat mistakes in the future, but when it comes to religion, you're not always allowed to learn and change. When doctrine forbids deliberate change, maybe it's better to just forget.


yanub said...

Bibliolotry--the idolization of scripture--is a problem for all the "peoples of the book," it seems to me. Because someone in a time when literacy was widespread but not accessible to the masses, wrote something down and other people then read what was written to the masses, does not make what was written to be divine. Considering the Bible, or the Koran, or the Talmud to be holy is on a par with the ancients who thought runes were magic symbols because only a select few could decipher them. You have Jesus reportedly telling off his fellow Jews for venerating scripture over good sense and humanity, yet that caveat about the written word continues to just fly write past the believers.

So, yes, I agree that what they need to do is break with their written doctrines, to see them as historical documents rather than daily instructions. Unless they do, their faiths will continue to demand that they be either doubleminded or reactionaries against humanistic progress.

Tayi said...

Well the problem is that the Bible specifically says that Scripture is inspired by God. I mean, if God is this omniscient being who never changes, and the Bible is straight from his mouth, then I don't see how Christians can come to any other conclusion but to think that the Bible is infallible- as long as they're aware of what the Bible says. In the church I grew up in, the pastor would always exort people to read their Bibles regularly so they could know how to live, but the world could use a few more Christians who never read their Bibles. As long as they don't know that it's sinful to allow women authority over men, they might be persuaded to respect what women have to say. I'm convinced that a Christian who has never read Paul's epistles is much more likely to be a good person.