Two thought-provoking articles I have read recently, and I’d like to share. Later, I’ll post my own thoughts on them, but for now I just want to preserve the links.
First is an article entitled The Christian Paradox that appeared in Harper’s that discusses the contradiction between what Americans profess to believe, i.e. Christianity (per the article, America is the most religiously homogenous of all the rich nations), and what Americans think that belief means. America is the most Christian nation, by professed belief, and the least Christian nation, by their actions. The contrast is startling.
Asking Christians what Christ taught isn’t a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation—and, overwhelmingly, we do—it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons; increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher, he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.
And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox—more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and cheese—illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.
Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity.
But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers. What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable proxy for Christian behavior? After all, in the days before his crucifixion, when Jesus summed up his message for his disciples, he said the way you could tell the righteous from the damned was by whether they’d fed the hungry, slaked the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, and visited the prisoner. What would we find then?
Second is a post by Sam Harris that speaks directly about atheism as a rational response to and observation of the world, and the damage that non-atheist beliefs do to the social fabric.
As Sam says:
There is another possibility, of course, and it is both the most reasonable and least odious: the biblical God is a fiction. As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor. Only the atheist has realized that the biblical god is no different.
To paraphrase Sam, no one ever needs to state that they are non-Zeusians or anti-Thorians – that would be silly. But somehow, seeing clearly that none of these supposedly-powerful beings exists puts me and others on the fringes of human society. I am immensely sad that this is so.
Both of these thoughts are heavy on my mind lately, as I watch the leadership in this country, well, fail to provide leadership, all the while firmly avowing their supposed “faith” in the teachings of a certain Jesus of Nazareth, as handed down by his followers over the past 1800+ years and as selectively redacted, amended, and translated over the ensuing centuries.
I know that, since religious faith is so strongly irrational and contra-logical, that none of this will discredit Christianity or religion in most people’s minds. And that makes me saddest of all.
In discussing this last night with a (theist) friend, I was challenged about what I have done or do to justify my bitterness towards fundamentalist religion (indeed, I’m bitter lately towards all religion). I expand my answer slightly from my conversation with my friend:
I try to educate others about the damage religion has done and continues to do.
I vote and donate to and eventually will campaign for the politicians that promote rational thought over faith-based “solutions”.
I try not to directly support, patronize or purchase from companies or organizations that directly promote religious-based ideologies – but I realize that that’s a near-impossibility in a nation and a world that’s overwhelmingly theistic.
I know I could do more. I know my answer is inadequate. But hopefully it’s a start.