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Monday, April 22, 2024

Defending Christianity

It's awful, this thing called Christianity, many are saying today, and my disagreement with that judgment has at least something to do with the kinds of sermons I hear on Sunday mornings in a 139-year-old church in a small Colorado town. Just recently, for instance, the rector talked to the congregation about living the Christian life not only by summoning up extraordinary moral courage to do large and difficult things on those rare occasions when circumstances might demand that of us, but through constant efforts to be kind.

It’s awful, this thing called Christianity, many are saying today, and my disagreement with that judgment has at least something to do with the kinds of sermons I hear on Sunday mornings in a 139-year-old church in a small Colorado town.

Just recently, for instance, the rector talked to the congregation about living the Christian life not only by summoning up extraordinary moral courage to do large and difficult things on those rare occasions when circumstances might demand that of us, but through constant efforts to be kind.

His contention was that if we consistently treat those we encounter with good deeds even of the smallest variety, we may thereby uplift their lives in all sorts of unexpected ways while growing in God’s love ourselves.

Preachments of this nature are hardly atypical in America’s churches, I would guess — the overall tenor of the faith is to love your neighbor — and yet the anti-religion diatribes keep coming at us, as if the opposite were somehow the case, as if average Christians were happily plotting ugliness toward others, as if their beliefs were malicious. The diatribes are getting an audience, a recent survey indicates.

A press report tells us that The Barna Group out of California found that a majority of 867 sampled people from 16 to 29 years old said Christianity is “judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay,” and would themselves flee from the Christian designation because of the images it connotes.

Is the inevitable hypocrisy argument true? This much is: Most of us will sometimes act contrary to our principles, whether Christian or not. The first thing Christians recognize is that we all have our lapses, but what they also get is that there’s rescue through repentance that aims to avoid future lapses.

Judgmental? Well, making judgments about bad behavior is not just OK; it is that without which civilization crumbles.

Anti-gay? Some of those calling themselves Christians no doubt have hateful attitudes about gays, and that’s execrable. But it’s not hate at work when some conservative Christians argue that we should not recklessly tinker with one of the most fundamental of all institutions, marriage, that in all ages and all cultures has been between a man and a woman. And don’t forget, either, that many gays themselves embrace Christianity.

“Jesus’ message is the strongest thing that gay people have going for us, I think, in terms of asserting our right to be ourselves,” Bruce Bawer said to Bill Moyers on a Moyers TV show that I saw, later finding the quote on the Internet.

Bawer, author of a book called “While Europe Slept,” fled America to Europe to escape anti-gay bigotry, only to run into something worse.

“I wasn’t fond of the hypocritical conservative-Christian line about hating the sin but loving the sinner, but it was preferable to the forthright fundamentalist Muslim view that homosexuals merited death,” he is quoted as saying. His book is about a fanatical, fundamentalist Muslim faith he believes threatens European nations.

Christians can and have been fatally fanatical themselves, but the large-scale examples usually cited go back hundreds of years and, as others have noted, don’t begin to compare with the atrocities of such atheistic fanatics as Stalin or Mao Tse Tung. It’s fanaticism that’s the enemy.

The critics of Christianity — the gifted journalist Christopher Hitchens is one — almost invariably give us hopelessly crude and therefore basically mistaken caricatures of Christian beliefs. They also often incorrectly assert that the faith has been a barrier to science overall, despite convincing scholarly investigation suggesting the opposite, and frequently manage to skip over the great infrastructure of moral understanding, art and thought that comes from the faith and underlies much of what’s most valuable in our society.

The idea of some popular writers that the universe is wholly material is itself the superstition that religion is often said to be; look at one small piece of the universe, a book, and then make the claim that it is simply ink and paper with nothing immaterial proffered on its pages. That would be an absurdity, in my view, but a greater absurdity would be to say that, as imperfectly practiced as it certainly is, Christianity is essentially an instrument of either cruelty or dangerous beliefs that block human progress. One reason I know that to be untrue is a Sunday sermon encouraging kindness.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

12 thoughts on “Defending Christianity”

  1. Freedom of religion includes freedom FROM religion.

    Morals should play a part in our lawmaking, to be sure, but only the morals upon which we can ALL agree. Morality is not the exclusive province of religion. If it were, that would only create the problem of which religion. As a nation, we draw upon differentiated sources to inspire our laws and it’s no coincidence that many religious ideals are, also, enforceable law. However, any one religion cannot be the guiding influence in government and the decisions that affect ALL members of a society. Because we are such a diverse nation, there are certain issues that must be left to a more subjective nature when dealing with morals. Our laws must be made in an objective manner, discriminating against no one, and only serving as rules and establishing punishment if those rules are broken.

    “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
    *George Washington*

    The separation of church and state doctrine is emphatic in our law. Our founding fathers were determined to keep holy wars from enslaving this continent. They declared their independence not only from a cruel and stupid king, but also from centuries of religious warfare. Christian hierarchs and their prelates had turned Europe into a battleground. They fought against knowledge and free expression of ideas, persecuted nonconformists, and justified the oppression that spawned the exodus to the new world and the American Revolution. America was to be a land of freedom, not religious turf wars. The rights of citizens were to be kept separate from religion’s self-serving claims of certainty and sanctity. Now it is our time to take up their noble cause.

    The Holy War in America — Onward Christian Soldiers!

    Christian demagogues have declared a holy war that they claim to be for the soul of America, the sanctity of life, and the future of Christian faith as synonymic with patriotism, democracy, and family values. They stifle intelligent discourse by badgering us into fixation on two issues — Scripture and sex — as if only those two issues will determine the future of all civilization.

    The mission of the segregationists who enlist religious morality is to handcuff the judiciary and override the separation of powers, the system of checks and balances so wisely built into our Constitution. Through voter referendums, legislation, and amendments they seek to restrict the courts ability to enforce our constitutional protections. On November 2, 2004 lynch mob voting succeeded in writing segregation into law in eleven more states by denying homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals. Legislatures are allowing medical doctors to refuse treatment to people on moral grounds alone. And, pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions (such as birth control) if their moral ideology conflicts with the purpose of the prescribed medication. If allowed to continue and be successful, they will re-create the very conditions that caused Europeans to flee their homes and send America back into a pre-Constitution Puritan age where simply being different is not only a sin, but a CRIME. If we don’t wake up, our nation will be legislatively segregated according to Puritan morality with moral outlaws in a very short period of time.

    CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964, SEC. 202. “All persons shall be entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin, if such discrimination or segregation is or purports to be required by any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, rule, or order of a State or any agency or political subdivision thereof.”

    Sex and gender identification and marriage and abortion and pornography are issues that certainly require objectivity, but in the eyes of the law — not in the eyes of a religion. Law must protect free thought and equality — both of which religion denies by demanding a strict obediance to faith and then defining marriage as a holy sacrament and anything procreative a restricted entitlement instead of the individual right of free choice.

    We don’t need any one “religious body politic” re-defining or re-interpreting anything for our own good or for the good of society or its values, as expressed by a few chosen ones we should listen to. We don’t need laws requiring judges to turn out court decisions limiting our personal freedoms or an administration that wishes to introduce a moral or religious compass for all to follow.

    Civil rights are insular and may not be abdicated to the preference of a moral majority if we are truly to have individual liberty.

    Today’s Bible warriors are only engaged in the pursuit of power. They play to prejudices and fears. They trespass on people’s yearnings. They distort goodness and magnanimity. They make common cause with greed and privilege. But it’s nothing but a power grab cloaked as religion and as politicians exploit this holy war for campaign funds, membership lists and votes, they are playing with the divisive fire that has destroyed civilizations.

    It is time for people and politics to stop being bullied by religious demagogues. There is no basis whatsoever for thinking that our morality is exclusively a religious concern or that any one religious ideology should set the standards for all of humanity. Morality may be a human concern – even an obsession — but it cannot be foisted off onto any God if we are to truly have freedom of thought and expression because religion relies on obedience to faith, e.g. denial of free thought or expression. And, it’s especially dangerous when arguments about morals provide safe cover for denying the rights of the individual by paradoxically seeking special consideration in law for any one moral ideology.

    Religion and law are two separate entities and must be treated as such by the people and their government, not allowing one to influence the other. Not every American owns a Bible or believes in the teachings of Judeo-Christian religions, so it is not fair and equitable to impose those beliefs upon members of a society who don’t share the same beliefs. It is, in fact, constitutionally prohibited in the United States of America.

  2. The words, “Christian” and “Christianity” have come to mean something far, far away from the simple Gospel of Love and Service that was preached and lived by The Master..

    Nowadays, I call myself, “A follower of Jesus of Nazareth.” What I need to do is love God with all my mind, all my heart and all my soul..
    And love the person in front of me, right here, right now, the same way, as I myself am loved by Him..

    That is all the Law, and all the Prophets, He said..

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