Thursday, May 3, 2012

Christianity and Angry Critics

I’ve been reading various blog comments regarding Christianity on a number of sites. I find myself perplexed and bothered by the vitriolic responses by some non-religious folks who find the Christian faith to be stupid, violent, evil, repulsive, and dangerous (one commenter even offered the hope that a certain high-profile TV preacher would be “taken out” by some disillusioned parishioner).

One thing I notice is that much of the angry comments are crafted around a lot of popular distortions of Christian faith—including some distortions maintained by Christians themselves. On occasion I read critiques against Christians by atheists and am somewhat disturbed that I don’t entirely disagree with them.

It is rare to see a religious skeptic taking issue with legitimate biblical scholars or theologians. The kind of reasonable reflection that comes from some of those Christians in the academic world is not typically the fuel that lights up the commentator’s fires. Most of the attack is on popular religion and too much of it reeks of deep hatred and even violence.

I worry about this. I don’t mind that some people find Christians to be irrelevant or mistaken—that’s been going on for a couple of thousand years. But I am concerned when the blogosphere carries comments and declarations suggesting that a purging of Christianity from society would be the balm that soothes the wounds of the nation (although people like the Emperor Nero and Adolf Hitler thought the same thing).

I wonder if there aren’t two things going on here:

1. Through the angry words of the critics, should we who follow Jesus take an honest look at ourselves and see if the critiques are, in any way, warranted? Is it possible that God could be speaking through some of the more thoughtful critics, and even through the ones who are rageful?

2. Could much of the anger that we hear be grounded in the perception that Christianity—at least in America—is not so much a description of the movement of faithful people who follow Jesus, but instead is a dominant political and social force that is viewed as an oppressor of freedom? Is the fury that we witness a tool for unseating the perceived power of Christendom?

This is disturbing stuff and we ignore it to our peril. Strategizing ways to retain or gain power is not, in my view, the answer. But I think the answer might be found in revisiting our identity as followers of the humble king who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We may truly end up being pushed to the margins of society (as has happened elsewhere in the history of the world), but it may be that we meet Jesus anew at those places at the edge.

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