Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Objections 11–12

(The first post in this series of my responses to the pamphlet by Chaz Bufe called 20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity. The text in blue is from Mr. Bufe’s pamphlet. I have used ellipses to show where I have condensed the original.)

11. Christianity has an exceedingly narrow, legalistic view of morality. Christianity not only reduces, for all practical purposes, the question of morality to that of sexual behavior, but by listing its prohibitions, it encourages an "everything not prohibited is permitted" mentality. So, for instance, medieval inquisitors tortured their victims, while at the same time they went to lengths to avoid spilling the blood of those they tortured—though they thought nothing of burning them alive.

I can understand why some might react to Christianity with the superficial opinion that it is narrow-minded and legalistic. There certainly have been many people throughout history who have used the label "Christian" who fit that description.

But a serious critique of Christianity must address what it actually teaches.

Here is objection 11 in list form:
  • Christian morality is legalistic.
  • It does not take into account the full range of real life.
  • The only thing that Christian morality is really concerned about is sexual behavior.
  • Christianity is a rule-based morality.
  • There is inherent in Christianity a tendency to hypocrisy.
I want to take Mr. Bufe's objections seriously. But these kinds of statements make that difficult. There have been many people who call themselves Christians who have been legalistic and hypocritical. And there have also been some who have acted as if sexuality were an embarrassment to God.

But anyone who invests a minimal effort in understanding Christianity would know that these are abberations. They are, in fact, the opposite of what Jesus taught.

The church must take charges of hypocrisy seriously. But these tendencies are not inherent in Christianity. They are an expression of the human condition. They are an illustration of the truth of Christian teaching, that there is something fundamentally wrong with all humans, something that can only be corrected by the grace and power of God himself.

The first mistake here is to reduce Christianity to a system of morality.

Christianity is not a guide for better living. It is the instrument through which God transforms broken, twisted people into whole, authentic human beings. It is how God remakes us into the people we were created to be. When some behave in a way that inconsistent with truth and justice, it does not invalidate the Christian enterprise. It simply demonstrates how much it is needed.

Christianity is exactly the opposite of a rule-based morality. A careful reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) should make that clear. Christianity is more even than a principle-based morality. Christianity is a character-based morality.

The strategy of Christianity is to make people good and then to let them do what they want.

Anyone who sees loopholes in the requirements of Christianity completely misses the point. Jesus systematically closed all the loopholes in the Sermon on the Mount. He said that it is not enough to keep from killing others. Now we must also avoid wishing bad things to happen happen to them.

But even this is not a new system of moral guidelines. Jesus said that a bad tree can only produce bad fruit and that a good tree can only bear good fruit. The goal is to make the tree good and to let the fruit take care of itself. (And this is a job that can only be accomplished by divine power.)

12. Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils. Organized Christianity is a skillful apologist for the status quo and all the evils that go along with it. It diverts attention from real problems by focusing attention on sexual issues, and when confronted with social evils such as poverty glibly dismisses them with platitudes such as, "The poor ye have always with you." When confronted with the problems of militarism and war, most Christians shrug and say, "That’s human nature. It’s always been that way, and it always will."

Again with the talk about sex. I wonder who it is that is obsessed about this topic. With the exception of his favorite objection, Mr. Bufe makes some valid points in this section.

Much of what he says is true. But even here we must distinguish between Christianity and Christendom.

Christendom is the conflagration of Christian teaching with human power and politics. And the official Church has been guilty of many of the things Mr. Bufe mentions. The Church has often become a champion of the status quo. But Christianity is at its heart, and has been from its inception, a revolutionary enterprise.

When the Church "sells out" to the "powers that be" it violates its charter and renounces its founder.

That's what I think. What do you think?

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


daniel the smith said...

I've been thinking for some time now that when Constantine legitimized the church, it was one of the worst things that could have happened to Christianity.

daniel the smith said...

Hmmm... By constantly making a Christianity/Christendom divide, aren't you opening yourself up to the criticism that Christianity is like communism (i.e. it's a good idea in theory but it never works out in practice)? In other words, does Christianity exist in practice apart from Christendom? Or is it just a good theory?

(I think you hinted at this in an earlier comment, actually...)