July 30, 2022 Wayne Northey

Response To: The backlash to Christianity: Republicans are now panicked — but they only have themselves to blame

It's not lack of school prayer causing people to abandon faith, it's that Christianity has become a toxic religion

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July 29, 2022

By Amanda Marcotte, Senior Writer

image above: rightwingwatch.org

WN: This line in the highlighted article below stands out:

The more both Republicans and the Christian establishment reject these basic rights, the more they can expect to be rejected themselves, especially by younger people.

The article’s author also writes:

As an atheist myself, I really don’t care if large numbers of people give up [that kind of] religion. On the contrary, it seems like a sensible choice to me.

I respond with a hearty Amen!

Theologian Walter Wink wrote:

The God whom Jesus revealed as no longer our rival, no longer threatening and vengeful, but unconditionally loving and forgiving, who needed no satisfaction by blood – this God of infinite mercy was metamorphosed by the church into the image of a wrathful God whose demand for blood atonement leads to God’s requiring of his own Son a death on behalf of us all.  The non-violent God of Jesus comes to be depicted as a God of unequaled violence, since God not only allegedly demands the blood of the victim who is closest and most precious to him, but also holds the whole of humanity accountable for a death that God both anticipated and required.

The writer then adds this stark commentary:

Against such an image of God the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion (Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992, p. 149.)

In Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity, theologian Charles Marsh expresses a similar thought with reference to Franklin Graham, fully sold out to the American flag (in the line and lineage of his famous father, Billy Graham), all the while imagining it is the Cross and the Gospel he is faithful to:

Franklin Graham boasted that the American invasion of Iraq opened up exciting new opportunities for missions to non-Christian Arabs. But this is not what the Hebrew prophets or the Christian teachers mean by righteousness and discipleship. In fact, this grotesque notion—that preemptive war and the destruction of innocent life pave the way for the preaching of the good news—strikes me as a mockery of the cross and a betrayal of the Christian’s baptism into the body of Christ. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” Jesus said in the hour of his greatest agony. To be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means that we are brought into this new reality through this rite of salvation.

On the other hand, if Franklin Graham speaks truthfully of the Christian faith and its mission in the world—as many evangelicals seem to believe—then we should have none of it. We should rather join the ranks of the righteous unbelievers and bighearted humanists who rage against cruelty and oppression with the intensity of people who live fully in this world. I am certain that it would be better for Christians to stand in solidarity with compassionate atheists and agnostics, firmly resolved against injustice and cruelty, than to sing “Amazing Grace” with the heroic masses who cannot tell the difference between the cross and the flag. The Jesus who storms into Baghdad behind the wheels of a Humvee is not the Jesus of the gospel. 1 (p. 14; emphasis added.)

Nor was Jesus an Airborne Ranger! See on this Kristin Kobes du Mez, cited thus in my book review of: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation:

Then John McDougall published Jesus Was an Airborne Ranger: Find your Purpose Following the Warrior Christ. Jesus was also a (Made-in-America) bad-ass. He declared you can’t spell “Ranger” without the word “anger.” Du Mez comments it was claimed that:

Both Christian theology and “this constitutional republic” reserved “a high and honored place for the warrior” (p. 248).

And again: A hearty Amen to dubbing such, tragic, anti-Christ “representations” of the Gospel!

Yet another profound reflection on the current malaise of religious discourse is: Politicians need to stop taking God’s name in vain, by Tish Harrison Warren2, August 14, 2022. We read in it:

Two Sundays ago, my church had a baptismal service. Baptisms at our church are a mixture of solemnity and unbridled glee, often full of laughter and tears of joy. Those who were being baptized, or in the case of infants, their parents, took vows to put their trust in God’s grace and love and to renounce spiritual darkness, evil and “all sinful desires that draw” us from the love of God. After the baptism, the kids in our service ran forward, giggling, trying to get sprayed with the baptismal water that our priest, Ryan, slung over the congregation as he called us to “remember your baptism.”

I have thought of that incandescent Sunday a lot the past couple of weeks because there is a perplexing difference between the way we celebrated God that morning and the way I typically hear God discussed online and in our broader cultural discourse.

The God of that baptismal service is one of joy, kindness and peace. The God I often hear about in American politics, in the news and on Twitter is one of cultural division and bickering. The God of that Sunday service seemed powerful and holy, yet gentle and beautiful. The God in our cultural discourse seems impotent and irrelevant, a mostly sociological phenomenon related to political posturing and power plays.

In the news and on social media, God usually shows up when we are fighting about something. The subject of faith seems most often discussed in conversations about voting patterns and campaigning. God appears in our public discourse when Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, calls for Christian nationalism. Or in Twitter debates about whether a coach should publicly pray on the 50-yard line. Or when the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor painted “Jesus, Guns, Babies” on the side of her campaign bus.

I’ve seen God flattened into an amalgam of hot takes and personal branding, in ways that seem to track with the increasingly performative nature of politics writ large. Algorithms and mediums that reward shallowness, rage and spectacle inevitably shape how we, as a culture and as individuals, discuss faith. And the ways we habitually hear God discussed inevitably shape who we understand God to be.

I often quote the fifth-century ascetic Diadochos of Photiki, who seems shockingly contemporary in our time of smartphones and social media.

When the door of the steam baths is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it,” he wrote. “Likewise the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech.”

Against such a [violent] image of God the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion.Walter Wink

You may also find instructive this excellent article, July 30, 2022, by Monsignor Eric Barr, STL. We read:

Perhaps one of the least liked of Jesus’s parables is that of the wealthy man who reaps a great harvest, puts up extra barns, believes he should eat, drink and be merry, and finds himself dead that night. What a downer. I’m reminded of Peggy Lee’s fabulous song “Is That All There Is?” thinking that those would be the last words of the wealthy man.

Except… an awful lot of people think that is enough. They are satisfied with whatever the world can give; if they die, they die. Such is the nihilism afflicting the ‘nones’, the disaffiliated from religion folks. Statistics tell of a catastrophic decline in religious faith among those in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, but particularly among those who are younger. Each generation is less religious, and that fact is radically changing society. Most observers throw up their hands in confusion and despair, unsure why this is happening. However, the fact is we know why it is occurring. It’s complicated, but we can understand.

Why?

Just a few factors in this decline include lack of religious practice in childhood, disaffiliation in high school and decline of the two-parent family, pluralism in religious belief, a politically conservative identification with religion, the absence of religious experience, and the inability of religion to answer big questions.  There are other reasons, but these are the most important.

In fact, this grotesque notion—that preemptive war and the destruction of innocent life pave the way for the preaching of the good news—strikes me as a mockery of the cross and a betrayal of the Christian’s baptism into the body of Christ.Charles Marsh

We read of the song and its inspiration here:

Is That All There Is?,” a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s, became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album of the same title in November 1969.

Lyrics

The lyrics of this song are written from the point of view of a person who is disillusioned with events in life that are supposedly unique experiences. The singer tells of witnessing her family’s house on fire when she was a little girl, seeing the circus, and falling in love for the first time. After each recital, she expresses her disappointment in the experience. She suggests that we “break out the booze and have a ball—if that’s all there is,” instead of worrying about life. She explains that she’ll never kill herself either because she knows that death will be a disappointment as well. The verses of the song are spoken, rather than sung. Only the refrain of the song is sung.

Inspiration

The song was inspired by the 1896 story “Disillusionment” by Thomas Mann. Jerry Leiber’s wife Gaby Rodgers (née Gabrielle Rosenberg) was born in Germany and lived in the Netherlands. She escaped ahead of the Nazis, settling in Hollywood where she had a brief film career. Rodgers introduced Leiber to the works of Thomas Mann.[5] The lines “Is that all there is to a fire?/Is that all there is/is that all there is?” and three of the events in the song (the fire, failed love, imagined death) are based on the narrator’s words in Mann’s story; the central idea of both the short story and the song are the same.[6]

The Jesus who storms into Baghdad behind the wheels of a Humvee is not the Jesus of the gospel . . . Charles Marsh; Nor is Jesus an Airborne Ranger!Kristin Kobes du Mez

Thomas Mann, whose novels like Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) I studied in German Literature, was indeed disillusioned, along the lines of Jean-Paul Sartre, (also studied at University in French Literature) and whose secular Existentialism was dark and nihilistic as well,3 and was perhaps most brilliantly–and tragically!– shown in Huis Clos (usually translated as No Exit–literally Closed Doors).

What a sad way to live–and die!

Meaninglessness in life is tragic and deadly. You may wish to see on this, my post:

In response to finding a way to meaningfulness and joy, please have a listen to:

For a joyful church experience, where these songs from Good Shepherd Collective are showcased, please visit: Good Shepherd New York. (Below is the service of today: July 31, 2022. It reflects joy. And the sermon has an ironic joke at televangelists’ expense early on . . .) You just may find meaning and discover joy . . . As Saint Paul put it in Romans 5:

Peace and Hope4

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.3Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Disillusionment may be read about by clicking on it.

Now the worship service:

excerpts:

There can be no doubt about it: Religion, especially Christianity — while still powerful in American culture — is in decline. Fewer than half of Americans even belong to a church or other house of worship. Rates of church attendance are in a freefall, as younger Americans would rather do anything with their precious free time than go to church. As religion researcher Ryan Burge recently tweeted, “Among those born in the early 1930s, 60% attend church weekly. 17% never attend. Among those born in the early 1950s, 32% attend weekly. 29% never attend. Among those born in the early 1990s, 18% attend weekly. 42% never attend.”

In response to Americans losing interest in faith, Republicans are in a full-blown panic, lashing out and accusing everyone else — liberals, schools, immigrants, pop culture, you name it — for this shift in religious sentiment. Worse, more are advocating the use of force to counter this decline. If people don’t want religion, well, too bad. More Republicans are arguing that Christianity should not be optional — First Amendment be damned.

As Jack Jenkins of Religion News Service reported, increasing numbers of Republicans are ignoring the plain text of the First Amendment — which says the government shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion” — in favor of the tortured myth that there’s no separation of church and state. Former Ohio treasurer and failed Senate candidate Josh Mandel, Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and, most troublingly, Justice Neil Gorsuch have all dismissed the idea that such a separation is mandated by the Constitution.

Christian nationalism, the idea both that the U.S. should be an explicitly Christian nation and that the laws should enforce fundamentalist Christian beliefs, used to be an unthinkable idea in American politics. Now it’s normal among the Trumpist branch of the GOP. As Heather “Digby” Parton writes, the GOP candidate in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, Doug Mastriano, barely hides his Christian nationalist views. Instead, he pals around with Gab CEO Andrew Torba, who openly says things like, “We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish,” because this is supposedly “an explicitly Christian country.”

And, of course, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has made this crystal clear, recently declaring: “We should be Christian nationalists.”

This term, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a high school football coach who wants to lead Christian prayers from the 50-yard line during games, which is a direct reversal of decades of jurisprudence against coerced religious displays in public schools. Gorsuch defended the ruling by claiming that the prayer was merely a private act, despite being held in public and done in a way to make players feel they would be penalized for not joining. But right-wing groups understand fully that the ruling was meant as an open invitation to forced Christian prayer in schools. As the Washington Post reported this week, “activists are preparing to push religious worship into public schools nationwide.” Your kid may be Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or otherwise non-Christian, but too bad. They better recite the Lord’s Prayer in class or risk being punished or ostracized.

As blogger Roy Edroso documents, Republicans are justifying this turn towards compelled religious performance by whining about the empty pews in their church. He points to an op-ed by David Marcus at Fox News in which Marcus complains about declining faith and argues that the recent Supreme Court ruling will turn things around. “[I]t will be a new day for prayer in public schools. And God will operate a bit more openly,” Marcus gushes.

Mandated faith is morally reprehensible and in direct violation of human rights. But it’s also wrong to pin this decline in religious fervor to laws and customs protecting religious minorities from such coercion. On the contrary, if Republicans want to know who is to blame for young people abandoning the church in droves, they should look in the mirror.

As Robert Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute told Salon in 2017, there’s “a culture clash between particularly conservative white churches and denominations and younger Americans” over issues like science, education, and gender equality. Younger people brought up in these churches increasingly reject the sexism, homophobia, and anti-science views of their elders. Since the churches won’t reform to be more egalitarian and pro-science, they find that these younger people are walking away altogether.

These trends will likely only accelerate in the wake of the Roe overturn, especially as Republicans grow more fanatical in their efforts to punish Americans for having sex. All but eight Republicans in the House voted against the legal right to use contraception. Fewer than a quarter of them voted to support same-sex marriage rights. Both of these rights are wildly popular. Eighty-four percent of Americans believe in the right to use contraception (and over 99% of those who have had heterosexual sex have used it). Over 70% of Americans believe in the right to same-sex marriage.

[T]hese days it seems the people most likely to identify themselves as Christians tend to be Republicans as well the most vicious, hateful, un-Christian sons of bitches you’d ever want to meet,” Edroso writes. Sure, some people respond by seeking liberal churches. But it’s simpler and easier to just give up on being a Christian altogether, to drop all that baggage.

Please click on: The backlash to Christianity

Hits: 15

Footnotes
  1. The author continues:

    And while we are on the subject, may I please ask a favor of the decent men and women who edit the magazine Christianity Today? The next time Franklin Graham utters a remark so completely contrary to the spirit of Christ, please denounce it with the same clarity that your columnists have brought to their criticisms of Bishop Spong’s heterodox views, Bill Clinton’s lechery, or Mark Felt’s deathbed revelation that he was Watergate’s Deep Throat. Please denounce it with the same clarity that the Latin American churches brought to their “Communicado de la Fraternidad Teológica Latinoaméricana sobre la guerra,” when they resolved that “the havoc wreaked by two ‘Christian’ nations [the United States and England] would invalidate the proclamation of the gospel in cultures whose voices and contributions we have not yet listened to nor appreciated.”(15: C. René Padilla and Lindy Scott, Terrorism and the War in Iraq: A Christian Word from Latin America (Buenos Aires: Kairos Ediciones, 2004), 14.)

    As we shall see, this was one of the many global evangelical statements against the [Gulf] war—declarations against the war by evangelicals outside the United States—ignored by the mainline American and religious media. (16: Ibid.)

    If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter. We would then be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dare claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into sweltering, subterranean ghettos. The demands of scripture and tradition, the study of Christian doctrine, and the catechisms of the faith have been abandoned for pleasurable technologies and relevant guidebooks. No wonder we have no qualms about mining the faith for sound bites. (p. 15.) []

  2. Have feedback? Send me a note at HarrisonWarren-newsletter@nytimes.com.[]
  3. We read in Wikipedia:

    Existentialism (/ˌɛɡzɪˈstɛnʃəlɪzəm/[1] /ˌɛksəˈstɛntʃəˌlɪzəm/[2]) is a form of philosophical inquiry that explores the problem of human existence and centers on the subjective experience of thinking, feeling, and acting.[3][4] For example, in the view of an existentialist, the individual’s starting point has been called “the existential angst“, a sense of dread, disorientation, confusion, or anxiety in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world.[5] Existentialist thinkers frequently explore issues related to the meaning, purpose, and value of human existence.

    Existentialism is associated with several 19th- and 20th-century European philosophers who shared an emphasis on the human subject, despite often profound differences in thought.[6][4][7] Among the earliest figures associated with existentialism are philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, all of whom critiqued rationalism and concerned themselves with the problem of meaning. In the 20th century, prominent existentialist thinkers included Jean-Paul SartreAlbert CamusMartin HeideggerSimone de BeauvoirKarl JaspersGabriel Marcel, and Paul Tillich.

    Jesus was also a (Made-in-America) bad-ass. He declared you can’t spell “Ranger” without the word “anger.”Kristin Kobes du Mez

    Many existentialists considered traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in style and content, to be too abstract and removed from concrete human experience.[8][9] A primary virtue in existentialist thought is authenticity.[10] Existentialism would influence many disciplines outside of philosophy, including theology, drama, art, literature, and psychology.[11][]
  4. Over against a Hope that is a trickster and deceptive, the last found in Hesiod‘s Pandora’s Box, Saint Paul says one may find in life a Hope (one of the three Great Theological Virtues) that never lets us down. We read:

    In mythology

    Main article: Pandora

    According to Hesiod, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus, the king of the gods, took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a jar left in her care containing sickness, death and many other unspecified evils which were then released into the world.[4] Though she hastened to close the container, only one thing was left behind – usually translated as Hope, though it could also have the pessimistic meaning of “deceptive expectation”.[5]

    From this story has grown the idiom “to open a Pandora’s box”, meaning to do or start something that will cause many unforeseen problems.[6] A modern, more colloquial equivalent is “to open a can of worms“.[7][]

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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