Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The decline and fall of the Christian empire?

Sullivan is right on about this:
61 percent of Nones find evolution convincing, compared with 38 percent of all Americans. And yet they do not dismiss the possibility of a God they do not understand; and refuse to call themselves atheists. This is the fertile ground on which a new Christianity will at some point grow. In the end, the intellectual bankruptcy of the theocon right and Christianist movement counts. Very few people with brains are listening to these people any more. They have discredited Christianity as much as they have tarnished conservatism.
As a Christian myself, I am perversely encouraged by this. I have rejected this form of Christianity as surely as much of Sullivan's "Nones" have, and although I still consider myself a Christian, I think that some creative destruction will do a great deal of good.

What annoys me about the religious right is just how backward their vision of Christianity is. The Bible itself instructs not to put one's faith in princes, which is some pretty wise political commentary if you ask me. Our loyalty should always be to our ideals and not to our leaders, though Christians are supposed to respect authority. The religious right believes none of this. What's more, they seem to be positively eager to note the "cultlike worship" of Obama while ignoring their own Reagan/Bush 43/Palin obsessions. What you see if you dig even moderately deep on the right is a deep and abiding hypocrisy, glossed over with an even deeper layer of pride. The paradox of Christianity is that it seeks to destroy the sin of pride while often stimulating that very sin, and this stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the enterprise. Toss in a loathing of all things modern, and you've more or less got where Christianity is these days. It's depressing, and a good parallel to Umberto Eco's explanation of how the inquisition created more heretics out of hatred for the inquisitors.

Christianity will eventually weather this storm, just as it's weathered any number of prior eras and problems. In fact, considering the decades-long reign of postmodernism in popular culture, a progressive and positive form of faith might well seem an appealing alternative to the seeming breakdown of secular methods of discovery to find ultimate meaning. But if Christianity is to survive, it will have to honor those secular methods to a great extent, to engage with the full extent of the human endeavor to comprehend our purpose and problems (and to recognize the importance of how mutually dependent these things are), and to realize that, with respect to something like evolution, denying the truth is in effect denying God. Believing yourself to be right in the face of overmounting evidence is little more than intellectual vanity--it's just pride, ultimately. It's people afraid of being wrong.

I think the problem here is that Christianity, like Judaism, Islam, and the rest of the ancient religions have had to face modernity, and in all three religions one sees similar fragmenting between a reform (modernist) wing, a fundamentalist wing, and a more moderate wing. With Christianity, though, the reform wing has long since collapsed as the fundamentalist wing seized the center of the Christian field, and the moderate flank is now beginning to buckle as well. We're back to square one when it comes to dealing with modernity. It will be interesting to see how modernization takes form--history, though, suggests it will be inevitable.

The Man, The Myth, The Bio

East Bay, California, United States
Problem: I have lots of opinions on politics and culture that I need to vent. If I do not do this I will wind up muttering to myself, and that's only like one or two steps away from being a hobo. Solution: I write two blogs. A political blog that has some evident sympathies (pro-Obama, mostly liberal though I dissent on some issues, like guns and trade) and a culture blog that does, well, cultural essays in a more long-form manner. My particular thing is taking overrated things (movies, mostly, but other things too) down a peg and putting underrated things up a peg. I'm sort of the court of last resort, and I tend to focus on more obscure cultural phenomena.