DiaBlogue: What I Hate About Christianity (As We Know It)

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I have finally concluded that my primary DiaBlogue strategy — trying to invent a “common ground” of shared understand — is unlikely to succeed. Virtually none of the various proposals for ontology and divinity I floated have met with Alan’s approval. Worse, even though we managed to agree on a shared epistemology, I fear we still don’t understand it the same way (as evinced by our differing interpretations of how “community” relates to “truth”).

Well, if I can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, I may as well bring the mountain to him! Rather than trying to persuade Alan to adopt my ground, I believe I ought to visit Alan on the ground that he has already staked out.

In particular, I suspect one of Alan’s greatest frustrations is that I don’t seem to fully appreciate his critiques of Christianity. So, while he works on the “reasons that [he] find Christian beliefs untenable“, I may as well join him and summarize the reasons that I find Christianity objectionable. [Read more], to see if we can at last find some overlap…

A few caveats, before we get started:

A. CAWKI

To avoid endless debates about definitions, I propose we explicitly limit the field of our critique to “Christianity As We Know It” (CAWKI), which basically means American Evangelicalism, or more broadly “historic orthodoxy as interpreted through the lens of Western Protestantism.” This partly due to necessity — after all, both Alan and I came out of that tradition. However, it also appropriate, since American Evangelicalism has interacted with modern rationalism far more than, say, Argentinean Pentecostalism or Ugandan Revivalism.

B. Love and Hate

Perhaps even Alan wouldn’t say he hates Christianity; nor do I, for that matter. In fact, it is because I love Christianity that that I hate those things which disfigure it. Unraveling that paradox may ultimately prove crucial to helping Alan understand my position. For now, though, hopefully seeing that I hate many of the same things he dislikes will help provide our sorely-lacking common ground.

With that out of the way, here in no particular order are my Top Ten gripes about Christianity-As-We-Know-It:

1. Non-consequential ethics: defining ‘good’ and ‘right’ by adherence to some abstract intellectual principle or social structure, rather than by how well we love our neighbor.
2. Non-empirical speculation: differentiating theologies on the basis of unobservable assertions about the afterlife and end times.
3. Pseudo-gnosticism: starting from the assumption that “our group” has the unique ability to properly interpret scripture, and thus (alone) surely discover transcendent truth.
4. Impotent evangelism: defining Christianity primarily in terms of nominal (in-name-only) or notional (in-intellectual-belief-only) membership in a club, pretty much as an end in itself.
5. Power politics: defining truth –in practice — in terms of who’s strongest, or at least most adept at wielding the levers of power.
6. Unquestioned authority: placing absolute, uncritical reliance on a particular person, structure, or interpretive method.
7. Exclusionary paradigms: an empirical method that justifies dismissing contradictory evidence using platitudes, rather than directly grappling with them (e.g. “all Buddhist religious experiences are of the devil”).
8. Convenient agnosticism: the attitude that since we can never know inconvenient truths (e.g, the age of the earth) with absolute certainty, we are justified in not believing them
9. Worst-case comparisons: demonstrating our superiority by comparing the best of our tradition with the worst of someone else’s, rather than vice versa.
10. Nostalgia: seeking to recreate an imagined golden age of the past — including those very flaws which led to its downfall in the first place!

With all these problems, one might wonder why I still believe in Christianity at all! The short answer is that these are all human flaws, and not really peculiar to Christianity. The longer answer (which I took pains to make more verbose this time, Alan 🙂 is that I believe there is more to Christianity than this. In fact, it is precisely that “more” which provides the basis for this critique.

In other words, I honor Christianity as being worthy of critique, since it sets forth standards so high it can even judge itself!

So, my questions to Alan are:

* Do you agree that these are legitimate gripes, or do you think some of them are unfair/invalid?
* Would you agree than any proposed replacement for Christianity needs to do better in some or all of these dimensions?
* Where do you feel I did not go far enough? What additional gripes do you have that I may not have sufficiently addressed here?

Even if we can’t agree about Love, perhaps we can at least join in Hate! 🙂

Love,
— Ernie P.

P.S. I should confess that this is largely inspired by Chapter 3 of Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy, and partly for the same reason: I believe our authority to judge others stems directly from our ability to judge ourselves, and our willingness to be similarly judged.

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