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(Not) Making Sense of Christianity

February 28, 2015

I know that it’s been a long time since my last post, and I’ve kept thinking to myself…I should write a post. But then I feel that it would just take so long to catch everyone up with what I’ve been thinking about. Since I’m lazy, I would probably do a really poor job of that, but I wouldn’t want to post something that I know to be a pretty lazy post. And so I’ve sat around without any new posts.

But I’ll try something out after all.

Recently, I’ve been commenting at LDS & Evangelical Conversations. I used to read the blog a long time ago, but at some point, I just stopped reading as regularly. It wasn’t for any particular reason…it just dropped off my list.

Recently, though, it got back on my list. What intrigued me was a series of posts by Jared C. Without linking to each post that caught my eye, I’ll just say that what intrigued me about Jared was that he is someone who was raised Mormon, who had been an atheist for some time, yet who appears to have come to a very different (…Protestant?) view of Christ. He has written a series of posts attempting to harmonize LDS concepts to traditional Christian concepts (for example, his post that the traditional Christian God is the Light of Christ in Mormonism). I don’t think this is really done to say that Mormons believe the same things as non-LDS Christians — since Jared’s project also about showing that there is something missing in how Mormons understand Jesus or how they understand sin — but I do think it is very much an ecumenical project.

That being said, what I’ve been interested is seeing if perhaps he or the other regulars at LDS Talk can make sense of Christianity for me.

The premise of Christianity doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The idea of a perfect Garden of Eden, a fall from grace, the need for Jesus to die to atone for our sins…that entire setup doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Although I recognize that people do pretty bad stuff to each other, to ourselves, etc., I don’t really see a reason to categorize this as “sin” that needs to be “saved from”.

I guess the disappointing thing from my discussions at LDS Talk has been how it seems that faith or belief are really very particular, unconscious, unchosen sorts of things…this is despite the fact that my interlocutors insist that these things are chosen.

I mean, it really does seem like some people — not a whole lot, not as many people claim to be Christian — have certain experiences that drive them to give up on themselves. In so doing, they submit to God, and ??? Magic happens. That is the transformation of Christianity.

But not everyone is going to hit that rock bottom. Not everyone is going to have that sort of reaction to hitting rock bottom, even. So Christianity will elude those people.

I think I’m doing pretty well. I think I’m a pretty lucky, fortunate person. I haven’t had any real traumas. I haven’t had any serious trials. So maybe I haven’t had the sort of experiences that would cause me to give up on myself?

At the same time, I don’t see religion as much of an improvement. I see a lot of the ills in the world as being amplified by religion (although I resist saying that they are caused by religion. I wouldn’t say homophobia or sexism are caused by religion, but that these are natural human issues. But what I would say is that it doesn’t seem that religion has a great track record on helping people rise above human nature on these issues.)

So even when I see problems, I don’t think that that implies the need for a divine solution. I just don’t see it.

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42 Comments
  1. It didn’t make sense to me either. I wasn’t just lost and unbelieving, in my disbelief I could not grasp how a loving God could allow horrible things to happen in the world around me and to my family. I also struggled to grasp that He could have allowed “original sin” to occur.

    Wouldn’t it have just been easier for God to stop the temptation of Eve?

    How could a God that so loved the world that he would send his only son to die for us but at the same time we only have one chance to hear the message and get it right?

    Those kinds of things just didn’t make sense! I found my answers which are amazing and I made the connections for me through Missionary discussions and with some amazing Gospel Doctrine teachers. What I also learned is that kernel of truth that caused that “aha!!” Moment for me isn’t necessarily the same one that will cause things to click for others.

    What I do know is that I am unconditionally loved, His grace is enough for me, and that I pray for continued Aha moments throughout the rest of my life so that I don’t experience a loss of sight and perspective as to where I am, who I am and who I am becoming.

    I’m trying to make sense but I fear I am only babbling.

  2. The best way to make sense of Christianity is through history. I highly recommend Professor Bart D. Ehrman. He has written many books and has many Youtube videos. Once you understand how Christianity really developed–who actually wrote the gospels, how the cannon was selected, how Jesus became God, the blatant discrepancies in the scriptures that we miss because we read ‘devotionally’ not critically–it’s a little bit of study but on a subject of great interest. I highly recommend looking to history for your answers.

  3. whatthegiggle,

    Thanks for commenting! But what you say certainly seems to be what I have gotten from others — the thing that makes one person go “aha” will not be the same for another person.

    But I can’t really say that I even know what unconditional love from a deity would feel like, much less say I have felt that.

    JustJudy4,

    I get that the history of Christianity is messy (as is the case of many religions), but I don’t really know if that historical messiness explains Christianity from the experiential sense.that I’m misunderstanding/not grasping. One of the things I know is that even when people understand the messiness, there are plenty who still claim to have a transformational experience.

    P.S., I don’t know if you listen to Mormon Matters, but Dan Wotherspoon had an episode recently going through the Gospels. The participants made sure to call out the desire to “harmonize” by pointing out that the different gospels were saying different things…and yet, all of the participants to that podcast were people who would consider themselves believers — even after having studied all that they have.

    I think that Dan himself is an interesting case study — he has apparently had some pretty big experiences that have gotten him on the spiritual path that he’s on.

    • I had my own whopper subjective experience in the past as well. One Mormon and one Christian. To understand these things I now go to Oliver Sacks, a well known writer and neurologist. Now I understand that all of us can have hallucinations (even when we are not crazy) and that there is a spot in the brain called a ‘God Connection’ and that when people have their heads wired and this spot is stimulated they experience God, or heaven. There is a Discovery channel episode on this and also several magazine articles. This is science.
      Also, I feel that some of why people believe in the face of truth is because it is hard to believe that we have been deliberately deceived. Bart Ehrman’s lectures will clear up a lot of untruths you haven’t heard of before. For example: The gospels were written anonymously by men who lived decades after JC, spoke a different language, lived in a another country, and never walked with Jesus, yet you will hear preachers get nostalgic over one of the Apostles walking with Jesus.
      The gospels were attributed to “according to” Mark,Matthew, Luke, and John around 130-150 c.e.first by Iraneus, avid heresy hunter. But then, how can preachers say what they know to be true (for they teach this in seminary): “We don’t really know who wrote the gospels.” How far would that go?
      Another of many insights: 1 Thessolians by Paul states that Jesus will come quickly (soon) like a thief in the night, while 2 Thessolians says that Paul did not say that–it was a forgery. Why did leaders write a different version from Paul and call Paul’s story a forgery? Because people had quit their jobs and quit living and they needed to get back to work. So now, “The time is not soon and there will be a warning.” (parapharase)
      Check out ehrmanblog.org, Christianity in Antiquity. I know it will give you many answers.
      Also, people believe because they want to believe. They set aside logic and reason. I say, let them have their fantasy world, but don’t try to make sense of fantasy. Turn to history.
      Also, 7% of the population are sociopaths (not psychopaths) and have some sort of a personality disorder. These people need to maintain their fantasy world. Without it they are lost.
      I think I once reasoned, when things did not make sense, that I must be wrong because really smart people believed. They must know something I don’t. Now, I have armed myself with knowledge and I know why things don’t make sense,.
      I really hope you at least take a peek at the topics on ‘Christianity for Antiquity’. I know it will help you understand how it is so many can be so wrong.

      • I am basically familiar with a lot of Bart Ehrman indirectly, so maybe I’ll add him to my list. I mean, again, I certainly understand the problems with the formation of the Christian canon.

        But still, i don’t think that it’s easy enough to dismiss belief as something that happens because people want to believe. I don’t think it’s easy enough to say that people set aside reason and logic. Certainly, I think that most people aren’t driven by rigid logic and all, but I don’t think I could feel OK with dismissing every believer that way.

        I guess the difficulty is that belief isn’t so clear-cut. I mean, I know a lot of people who claim to believe who seem utterly unchanged by that belief. They are just as petty as anyone else. So, it seems easy to point to the sociopaths and the users and the abusers and those who are ignorant or misinformed as if that’s all that there is.

        …but I don’t really think that.

        • Of course not. I think there are many well-balanced people with a faith. It is part of their culture. As my Jewish veterinarian once said, “It all depends on who your mother is.” That’s true. And, not all religious leaders are sociopathic, or even neurotic.
          I probably should not have entered the conversation but I wanted to introduce you to Professor Ehrman, if you didn’t know him already. I guess I got kinda worked up. In my life, I weaved my way through Lutheranism (my heritage) to Mormonism (my rebellion) and then to the Baptist (my salvation). I came through it all with a sense of balance because I delved into history and science. Mostly I let people believe what they believe, but I take two large steps back if they get radical. I’m calming myself down now and going on to other things. Keep posting.

    • Andrew, I always enjoy your posts whether I respond or not.

  4. I agree that the history of Christianity is utterly fascinating…as well as eye opening. In addition, it seems important to keep in mind that “Believing” is in fact a multi billion dollar per year industry, as well as a top ten career choice for smooth talking sociopaths who would rather live on donations than work for a living.

    I’m not citing religion, in any form, as invalid. Rather, I’m only suggesting that some people, a lot of people, over the last thousand years have been making a very good living by alternating between scaring people about hell and wooing them with heavenly promises. Good post. You should do so more often.

  5. Sociopaths. Yes. And we need to be aware that they are out there. They are smooth talkers, have a great deal of charm, appear perfectly normal, but they do not process information the same as the rest of us do. And, they think nothing of deceiving. They lie like the rest of us breath. They have their own little ‘magic kingdom’ going on inside of their head and they cling to it for life in the face of truth or history because without it they are lost. This is a sad story. I’m not hating these people. I see them as ill. Their brains do not work as ours do. But we need to recognize them or we will be caught in their web.

  6. Jason,

    I certainly am aware that a lot of people use religion to make a profit. I am certainly aware that religion seems to be a very powerful tool for this.

    But I just don’t think religion can be drilled down solely to people scared by hell (or scaring others with hell) — even if, admittedly, this happens a lot.

  7. justjudy4,

    (haha, sorry to break the nested comment back and forth…I dislike nested comments a lot, but since I can’t figure out how to do comment numbering, I tolerate it).

    Anyway, I get that there are well-balanced people in any faith, but that too is not quite what I’m talking about. I’m talking about people who are transformed by their religion in a genuinely positive way. I mean, I get that it doesn’t happen as often as religions imply it should, but I still hesitate to say that it never happens. Even if it’s just a psychological hiccup, I think, “Well, why does it happen to some but not to others?” And for the people it happens to, it seems to be pretty beneficial, so why not seek it out (even if it’s just a matter of psychology.)

    There’s no need to apologize, btw! I appreciate all comments. I am just guessing that this is probably not something that can be answered in a single blog post conversation, so i’ll have to read plenty more from a variety of sources.

    • Okay. I said I’d quit this but I can’t.
      Re: the validity of change in a religious experience, I have experienced those outward beneficial changes myself. Inwardly, I had a lot of conflict because things didn’t really add up so neatly.
      Should we seek a religious conversion for the benefits. Personally, I will always have to seek after truth, and truth does not exist in ANY religion. Maybe a personal truth, but it’s a personal truth based on misinformation and lack of awareness of historical truth. I can’t believe in something because it feels good even if it doesn’t make sense. If so, I’d still be a Mormon, or Lutheran, or Baptist.
      Why does religious experience happen to some people and not others? Why are there accountants, comedians, artists, etc. There is so much variety in ways of being. And, life sends some of us more challenges than others. You probably know that the Mormon elders have the most luck with people who are under going a crises.
      I know that you are a very smart man. But, I think you are asking questions for which there are no pat answers. Life is simply too complex.

  8. I would recommend this article: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/04/religion-without-god/ as a good introduction to “good” religion as opposed to simple “God” religion. My view is that to be religious is to accept God (at least in the sense explained in the book of Job) as a fact, even if there is no obvious way to determine what is good or define the good life.

  9. justjudy4,

    I can’t believe in something because it feels good even if it doesn’t make sense. If so, I’d still be a Mormon, or Lutheran, or Baptist.

    I agree with this part. But I think that for some people, they do believe because to them, in some experiential way, it still makes sense. It’s not just that it makes them feel good (or even that it makes the feel good at all…I mean, I have heard a lot of people who point out how religion for them is trying and a struggle…but still, they perceive it as a benefit for them?), but that it makes sense.

    I mean, admittedly, to me “making sense” is a basically subjective task. We like to think we are doing it for objective reasons, but I think what matters more is our perceptions and understandings, whether they align with any objective reality or not.

    And a lot of these people are just as read up on Bart Ehrman and others. So I mean, it’s not that they are all misinformed. It’s definitely an experiential difference.

    I mean, maybe it’s just as you say: as there are accountants and architects and comedians and artists, there are just people with different experiences. Still, I feel like asking even if there aren’t simple answers, haha.

    • I understand. Keep asking.

  10. Jared,

    great link. I’ll have to keep going through it, but from my first read-through, I just get the sense that I’m just not a religious atheist. And so that makes all the difference.

  11. “At the same time, I don’t see religion as much of an improvement. I see a lot of the ills in the world as being amplified by religion…”

    One thing to keep in mind is that you were raised in a culture that has been deeply influenced by Christianity. All other cultures have been influenced by other religions. You don’t really have a “neutral” culture to compare a religion-influenced culture with and draw an objective conclusion that religion has or has not added anything good to the world’s cultures.

    Of course it’s true that religious cultures have gone to war with one another. But I suspect it’s also true that peoples of the same religion have gone to war with each other at least as often, if not more often, than peoples of differing religions (i.e. count the number of Christian-Muslim wars, compared with the number of wars between Christians), which would indicate causes other than religion in probably the majority of cases.

    Further, the most destructive wars in history, WWI and WWII, were not over religion, and the most destructive regimes in history had non-religious ideologies.

    In my opinion, people attribute the cause of most wars in history to religion, mainly because most wars took place in the past, and in the past most people were religious (as they still are). They think it follows that if most people were irreligious then we would have fewer wars. This of course is fallacious reasoning.

    It occurs to me just now, that it’s ironic that many modern American liberals tend to attribute the aggressive tactics of ISIS to non-religious motives, when this is probably one of the few clear-cut cases of a war actually being caused and carried out due to religious motives.

  12. Agellius,

    It seems to me that the best sorts of places to be are places that used to have a religious background, but which have moved beyond that background to an extent (e.g., western Europe).

    But recognizing that religion is probably not the source of most of these wars, the conclusion is that at the very least, religion does very little to stop humans from being human. All we can say is that the world’s getting better and better (as it assuredly has been doing over this century) correlates with various parts of the world getting less and less religious. Certainly, there are better ways of doing this (western Europe) and worse ways of doing this (Communist China, Communist Russia), which make it seem like religion is not as relevant as politics and government structure. But we can definitely say that we wouldn’t want to live in a theocracy (e.g., ISIS).

  13. And I know that’s probably not super fair. I mean, the benefits of a western European system are probably due to non-religious factors, like economics, politics, more homogeneous demographics, etc.,

    But at best, the non-religiosity seems to help. At worst, it suggests religion is kinda irrelevant to the entire calculation.

  14. Agellius permalink

    But notice that the countries that are “getting better and better” in a “better” way are those that are formerly Christian, and those that are doing it in a worse way are not. In fact, it could be argued that the latter are getting better by imitating European-style technology, politics and economics.

    This is what I meant when I said that you have no experience of a culture that is not influenced by one religion or another, in order to compare it with those that are. It’s no coincidence that those cultures that are most liberal, in the classical sense — those which most value liberty, equality, respect for women and minorities, etc. — are those which have been influenced by Christianity.

  15. Agellius,

    But what we can say is “It’s better to have been Christian and moved past it than to be Christian and stay Christian or to have never been Christian.” This is not to say that we have experience of a completely uninfluenced culture, but that we know cultures at different stages of religiosity, of post-religiosity, etc., and we can still see differences, and these differences don’t speak so great to religiosity.

    In other words, post-Christian Europe is better for liberty, equality, respect for women and minorities* than strongly Christian America. And part of the reason why America is worse for liberty, equality, etc., is stated in religious terms.

    It’s as if religion is good for high school, but the goal should be to graduate from high school.

    *This one is a little trickier because of more homogeneous demographics…and immigration from mostly Islamic minorities is causing some definite issues here.

  16. Agellius permalink

    As you know, correlation is not causation. From the fact that some aspects of our culture are better now than they were when our country was more religious, it doesn’t follow that these things were made better by losing religion. I would argue that we have been continuing on a trajectory started centuries ago. For example we can trace modern American egalitarian values back to the Enlightenment. But Enlightenment values didn’t just pop up out of nowhere, they were a development of values held previously.

    They were, in fact, a result of pulling some values out of the existing Christian culture (e.g. everyone being equal before God) while rejecting others (e.g. that the Church has the authority to bind consciences).

    Modern liberalism seems to think that things got better merely by society coming to “believe nothing” rather than something. But if that were true then the most atheistic societies should have the best record on civil rights. Which, obviously, isn’t true. Rather, the countries with the best record on civil rights tend to be those that were influenced by Christianity.

    We are living off the leftover moral capital of the past. I realize that when you look back at the Middle Ages, it seems as though society was thorougly Christian, and also thoroughly barbaric by today’s standards; and people tend to relate those things in a cause-and-effect way. But bear in mind that, just as our society still bears the imprint of Christianity to an extent, the society of the Middle Ages still bore the imprint of ancient Roman and pagan culture. It took a long time for Christian ideas to permeate the culture of Europe, and when they started to permeate that culture thoroughly, is when European culture started moving away from Christianity. I submit that this was precisely due to those ideals themselves — when people had thoroughly absorbed the idea, for example, that all men are equal before God, was when they started to assert their right to decide things for themselves rather than have things decided for them by the Church. Thus, the Enlightenment was not a rejection of Christian ideals in favor of something better, but rather, taking some (but not all) Christian ideals to their logical conclusions; and a lot of what we see today is a result of that process.

    I submit that the more Christianity is abandoned, the harder it will be to continue supporting ideals such as liberty, equality and individual rights. This is a matter of prediction and opinion, but as I see it, moving away from Christian societal values is to move back to the values of pre-Christian cultures such as the Roman. Personally, I don’t expect it to be pretty.

  17. Agellius,

    From the fact that some aspects of our culture are better now than they were when our country was more religious, it doesn’t follow that these things were made better by losing religion.

    Yeah, but that suggest another possibility — that religiosity is orthogonal/irrelevant to the question of societal progress.

    I mean, I see your argument that the benefits of our current societies are because those societies were steeped in the ideals of the religions of yesteryear (and so, likewise, medieval societies were steeped in the ideals of yesteryear), so I guess it will certainly be interesting to see what happens in the societies after the “post-Christian” societies of today.

    My personal money is on the idea that religiosity doesn’t really matter that much at all, but that other factors such as politics or economics are bigger drivers that people tend to channel through religion, and that we are going to have more problems because of, say, demographic crisis, pension crisis, climate change, etc., And those won’t be pretty. But whether people are religious or not will not matter for all of that.

  18. Agellius permalink

    I appreciate you seeing my point of view even if you don’t agree with it. And I think I see your point as well about economics, etc., being bigger drivers than religion. But where I get stuck is that all those things you describe are value-neutral: economics, demographics, climate change, etc. What religion provides is values by which to judge right and wrong courses of action in the face of economics, demographics, climate change, etc. Do we just let these things run their course scientifically? Or are their reasons why we need to steer their effects in one direction or another? If the latter, what values will determine those reasons? Will it be merely a matter of majority rule? How does that differ from “might makes right”?

  19. Agellius,

    While I could agree with the demographics and climate change point on value neutrality, I don’t really see economics as value-neutral. No, capitalism is laden with values. Socialism is laden with values. I mean, if I were to give religion a bone, I would say that a lot of problems with conservative American Christianity is that it’s too capitalist whereas Jesus preached something very different. But of course, that argues that people lead with economics (or lead with politics) and religion follows. So I would probably make a separation between man-made or man-driven things (e.g., religion, economics, politics) from indirectly driven things (e.g., climate change probably has human causes, but let’s just put that in the nature box because it’s more of a feedback from our stimuli than something wholly created by people.)

    I don’t think there really is such a thing as “things running their course scientifically.” I mean, I think that everyone is going to have some sort of value system. (We have philosophy of science because it’s important to note that science has its own values.) I just don’t know if religion is anything special or different, or if it is even anything primary, when we compare/contrast to other manmade things (e.g., economics, politics.) And I don’t really think that religion provides anything different than anything else — whether “might makes right” or anything else — in the values department. I think that most religions are a huge appeal to authority — where theists say, “And you can’t appeal to a higher authority than God, so we win!”

    I mean, there really is no attempt to show why God makes sense, or why God is right or good. I think a lot of theists try, but at the end of the day, y’all say, “Well, if you don’t see it, that’s your fault. God is good and that’s that!”

    I mean, how much more “might makes right” can you go other than an eternal damnation in hell?

  20. Agellius permalink

    I think you may have misconstrued my meaning.

    Of course different economic systems value different things. The question is, why do people value one economic system over another? You may be too young to remember this, but Christians in this country embraced capitalism primarily because the major alternative, communism, was officially atheistic. Therefore capitalism was considered friendly to religion and communism — rightly so — was considered the enemy of religion.

    Undoubtedly Christians allowed themselves to get too tied up with capitalism, as if it were part-and-parcel of Christianity. But the essential point of favoring capitalism over communism was always the fact that it stood for freedom from the atheistic oppression of communism. If there were no communism, or if communism were not essentially atheistic, I don’t think we would have seen this sort of “marriage” of Christianity with capitalism. And in fact, I submit that nowadays you see more and more Christians (such as myself) distancing themselves from the idea that capitalism per se is somehow inherently congenial to Christianity, largely — but not solely — because capitalism has been one of the driving forces behind the sexual revolution. Sex sells, indeed.

    As an example of what I did mean, take the abolition and civil rights movements. If voting things democratically makes things right, then legal discrimination was right. This follows simply, because the majority of Americans were white, and most of them favored discrimination. But this was not the end of the story. Recall that at the time when the abolition and civil rights movements got underway, the U.S. was still primarily culturally Christian, and ministers and churches played prominent roles in leading these movements, again based on the Christian concept that all men are God’s children and are equal in his sight. Christian-influenced societies are the only ones that gave up slavery as a result of internal struggles with themselves, and not as a result of outside economic, political or military pressure.

    In other words, it takes something in addition to politics and economics BY WHICH political and economic systems are judged.

    You may be right that “everyone is going to have some sort of value system”. But in pre-Christian times that value system often consisted of the belief that might made right; that the poor had no right to be treated the same as the rich; that the weak had no expectation of any right to be treated fairly under the law; that women could be treated as property and collected in harems; that the victors in war had the right to ransack and pillage, rape and enslave their defeated enemies.

    Yes, there will always be value systems. But what will they consist of, and what will they be based on?

  21. Agellius,

    The question is, why do people value one economic system over another?

    I feel like we’re going to get to an impasse eventually — I think our values are not consciously chosen, and they are parts of our personalities, affected by our experiences, upbringings, etc., I don’t think that we can say “Christians value x, and non-Christians value y.” I’m thinking that at best, value systems don’t really track well with religion. Just from what I’ve seen, it seems that track better with political or economic views.

    You may be too young to remember this, but Christians in this country embraced capitalism primarily because the major alternative, communism, was officially atheistic. Therefore capitalism was considered friendly to religion and communism — rightly so — was considered the enemy of religion.

    Yeah, I think you’re overstating this…Why didn’t Christians in America develop a democratic socialism or Christian socialism (e.g., see western European/northern European nations) instead of going capitalist then? Contrasting Soviet-style communism to American-style capitalism ignores that there are other options.

    I think you point it out well:

    Undoubtedly Christians allowed themselves to get too tied up with capitalism, as if it were part-and-parcel of Christianity.

    In other words, religion is interpreted under an economic lens. You’ve got people who would argue that Jesus is a capitalist. That there’s no way Jesus could be aligned with anything looking close to socialism or communism. I mean, I would imagine Jesus shouldn’t align cleanly along any of our modern political or economic fault lines, but the fact that American Christians think Jesus is obviously a capitalist Republican suggests to me that they think politics and economics first, and religion conforms to that.

    But the essential point of favoring capitalism over communism was always the fact that it stood for freedom from the atheistic oppression of communism. If there were no communism, or if communism were not essentially atheistic, I don’t think we would have seen this sort of “marriage” of Christianity with capitalism.

    In other words, Christians are not powerful enough or creative enough or do not have such strong values to come up with a system other than Soviet communism or American capitalism?

    No, you’re saying that communism is essentially atheistic as if the economics lead first in values. But where did they get their values? And if they get their values from somewhere else…couldn’t someone have values that had some sort of communal ownership of property or a social safety net backed up with theology about God? What was it about people who were for communal property ownership that put them off about God? i’ll try to get to that later on…

    (Of course, these things do exist. It’s just in America that Christianity is wedded to capitalism under the presumption that the only alternative is atheistic communism.)

    If voting things democratically makes things right, then legal discrimination was right. This follows simply, because the majority of Americans were white, and most of them favored discrimination.

    But you have to realize that not only did many people argue this, but many people argued this from a Christian perspective.

    But this was not the end of the story. Recall that at the time when the abolition and civil rights movements got underway, the U.S. was still primarily culturally Christian, and ministers and churches played prominent roles in leading these movements, again based on the Christian concept that all men are God’s children and are equal in his sight.

    Christians were on both sides of civil rights. Christians were on both sides of slavery. Etc., Christians used the bible to justify slavery and to argue for abolition. So, what does that say about Christian values? They are flexible enough to fit whatever anyone actually believes. You can’t use Jesus to argue that you can’t own people because slaves should follow their masters. You can’t use Jesus to argue for women’s equality because women should keep their heads covered. I mean, the KKK was a Christian society.

    Christian-influenced societies are the only ones that gave up slavery as a result of internal struggles with themselves, and not as a result of outside economic, political or military pressure.

    Yeah, I don’t know so much about this. It’s not so purely or even primarily theological. Rather, most places realized that slaves were really bad for technological advancement. They were bad economics. In an industrializing (read: capitalist) society, they needed more of an educated workforce to keep up. The North (US-wise) was keeping up; the south (US-wise) wasn’t. But similar sorts of things happened elsewhere.

    I mean, I’m going to have to call major BS that it was “not as a result of outside economic, political, or military pressure,” especially for the US. We kinda had a war about it. The south needed to trade with Europe on this, because they couldn’t industrialize themselves, so there’s the outside economic pressure.

    (But as you know, those capitalist overlords in the factories weren’t really all that more benevolent, even though they had Christian background. And so you had Marxism as a response to all of that. Why were labor movements so often secular or downright atheistic in the first place? Hmmmmmm. These labor movements and communist movements were *responding* to something they found rotten about Christianity and religion. Namely, the argument was that Christianity doesn’t actually improve things or inspire people to improve things, but says, “Hey, this world sucks, but there will be an afterlife where things will get better.” And so, instead of improving things, it is, to quote, an opiate of the masses.)

    I will totally recognize that it’s pretty complicated and murky. And I imagine you may profoundly disagree with the framings of secularists or atheists or Marxists or whomever else. But I don’t think you’re doing a good job of showing that politics and economics FOLLOW religion or other values. I don’t think that you show that “it takes something in addition to politics and economics BY WHICH political and economic systems are judged” when you can (as Christians have) use the same religion to argue both for and against a political system such as slavery. When Christians aren’t really on board in 2015 with the equality of women. When Christians aren’t really on board with the equality of LGBT people.

    You may be right that “everyone is going to have some sort of value system”. But in pre-Christian times that value system often consisted of the belief that might made right; that the poor had no right to be treated the same as the rich; that the weak had no expectation of any right to be treated fairly under the law; that women could be treated as property and collected in harems; that the victors in war had the right to ransack and pillage, rape and enslave their defeated enemies.

    I don’t think we disagree that we would prefer certain value systems over others. But I guess my problem is that you’re attributing a lot of stuff to Christianity that doesn’t seem to be consistently reinforced or promulgated by Christianity. If you look at Christianity today, especially in America, I mean, I absolutely think most American Christians would agree that the poor have (not had) no right to be treated the same as the rich (the poor deserve their lots because they are lazy, per American Christianity), that the weak have no expectation of any right to be treated fairly under the law, that women should submit to their husbands (but congratulations — we don’t really do the harem thing anymore, so I guess that’s a point in favor?), that the victors in war (Iraq…Afghanistan) have the right to ransack and pillage (Abu Ghraib anyone?)

    I mean, absolutely, I guess living in America is better because we don’t Abu Ghraib ourselves. (No, that’s a lie. That’s something middle class white people can say to themselves, because y’all don’t have the same police brutality rates as Latino, black, LGBT, or women.) But no, seriously, living in America is better because we at least have some level of economic comfort and our streets aren’t typically warzones. Better to US police than ISIS, right?

    But…seriously…I mean, are you going to argue it’s because America is insufficiently Christian? Are you going to make a No-True Scotsman argument? Or maybe will you say that it’s because people are still fallen, sinful beings, and even Christianity can’t fix that in this life???

    I would say it’s because religion follows politics and economics. That we can’t speak of Christianity in a vacuum. Christianity is invented and reinvented and reinvented, remade by each adherent. But there is nothing intrinsic in the Christian value system that really prevents people from being bad humans. And there is nothing intrinsic in non-Christian value systems that precludes them from being good humans. People just are going to be people, man.

    [I mean, part of the reason Pope Francis is so refreshing (but so infuriating to many conservative Christians) is because he’s saying something different — but let’s be clear…not everyone is in line with what the Pope is saying. ]

  22. Agellius permalink

    Again you are misconstruing me (and I’m not saying it’s necessarily your fault). Yes, you can use Christian teachings to argue for and against the same economic system. You can argue in favor of communism by saying that it fulfills the Christian ideal of providing for everyone’s needs, and preventing people from having excess while others are starving. You can also argue in favor of capitalism by saying that it fulfills the Christian ideal of providing for everyone’s needs, by making society as a whole richer and more prosperous and providing a larger variety of opportunities.

    But the point is, in both cases you are arguing based on the ideal of providing for everyone’s needs. The fact that people in our society frame the argument in this way at all, is an effect of the influence of millennia of Judeo-Christianity. Not all cultures think of things in this way, and especially most pre-Christian cultures didn’t think of things in this way.

    You write, “Why didn’t Christians in America develop a democratic socialism or Christian socialism (e.g., see western European/northern European nations) instead of going capitalist then?”

    Western/Northern European socialist nations were historically and culturally influenced by Christianity too. Christians are not monolithic, economically or politically.

    You write, “Christians were on both sides of civil rights. Christians were on both sides of slavery. Etc., Christians used the bible to justify slavery and to argue for abolition. So, what does that say about Christian values?”

    I agree with you. Christians were on both sides. Of course that would be the case, since the vast majority of Americans called themselves Christians during those times. But my point is, the side that won out is indicative of which side held the majority.

    “I mean, I’m going to have to call major BS that it was “not as a result of outside economic, political, or military pressure,” especially for the US. We kinda had a war about it.”

    Of course we only gave up slavery after a war. But the war was WITH OURSELVES. This is what I said originally: That we gave up slavery after an INTERNAL struggle, and were not forced to give it up by outside powers. And after giving up slavery, proceeded to eliminate legal discrimination, again after INTERNAL struggles with ourselves, which began long before the 1960s.

    I never argued that everyone who calls himself a Christian is a good person, or that Christians always arrive at the right conclusions, or at the same conclusions based on their Christianity. What I’m arguing is that the the *premises* (social justice, equality, dignity for the poor, etc.) from which modern Americans and Europeans (whther Christian or not) tend to argue their various political and economic opinions, have their basis in Christian values.

    You write, “I mean, part of the reason Pope Francis is so refreshing (but so infuriating to many conservative Christians) is because he’s saying something different — but let’s be clear…not everyone is in line with what the Pope is saying. ”

    The things that Francis is saying that people find refreshing are not anything that previous popes weren’t saying as well. For example, what has he said about homosexuality that people find refreshing? As far as I know, just one comment where he said “Who am I to judge?” But being non-judgmental is a concept found in the New Testament (Mt. 7:1), and neither John Paul nor Benedict ever advocated judging homosexuals. (By the way, non-judgmentalism is another Christian concept that we take for granted in our culture.)

    The main difference between Francis and previous popes is the media exposure that he is getting because he tends to say things in a careless, off-the-cuff way that surprises people, and which later on often has to be clarified and corrected (which you don’t hear so much about). You hear less about his conservative-leaning comments, for example about the existence of the devil and hell and the evil of gay marriage. See this [ http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2015/01/16/pope-francis-criticizes-gay-marriage-backs-contraception-ban/ ] as an example. I’m guessing you didn’t hear about these recent comments of his on the mainstream news?

  23. Agellius,

    Yeah, I just don’t think I’m seeing your point that Christian framing is why people argue for providing for everyone’s needs, etc., Because if a Christian framing can be used both to argue for a system to provide for everyone’s needs and against it, then we can’t really attribute things to Christianity. I think that the non-monolithic aspect of Christianity means that it’s not so simply to start attributing things to it as a separation from non-Christian or pre-Christian cultures…It seems more to me like Christianity is “noise” covering up real sources.

    But my point is, the side that won out is indicative of which side held the majority.

    …so, might makes right? Majority rules?

    I never argued that everyone who calls himself a Christian is a good person, or that Christians always arrive at the right conclusions, or at the same conclusions based on their Christianity. What I’m arguing is that the the *premises* (social justice, equality, dignity for the poor, etc.) from which modern Americans and Europeans (whther Christian or not) tend to argue their various political and economic opinions, have their basis in Christian values.

    I think that your former statements that you have “never argued” cut against your latter statements. Since Christians do not always arrive at the same conclusions, how can we say x conclusions (social justice, equality, dignity for the poor, etc.,) have their basis in Christian values?

    P.s. re Pope Francis, I have definitely noticed a pattern of mainstream media gushing about the way he says something, and then shortly thereafter someone pointing out that basically the mainstream media doesn’t understand Catholicism enough to understand what Francis is saying. As a result, people who get the latter are not necessarily as impressed. So I am aware of that — but maybe that’s just because I know about the latter sources?

    Anyway, my awareness is that conservative Catholics are still not happy — regardless of the clarifications and the Catholic nuances that don’t make it out to the mainstream. Regardless of the Pope’s conservative statements

    I mean, you talk about non-judgmentalism being in the Bible, but I assure you that many Christians wouldn’t believe that that is a Christian value. There are PLENTY of articles that ask about Matthew 7:1: “Does this mean we should never judge?” and answer, “Nope. It just means we should judge righteously.” Where righteous judgment just happens to agree with their political, social, or economic views.

    You can’t really say that the Bible has consistent values on this. It’s a mirror where people can read into or read out of whatever they want. Which they will do based on other commitments.

  24. Let me try to summarize how I’m reading you, and you can say if I’m still misconstruing.

    I read you as saying that Christianity has certain values (e.g. providing for all) and that different Christians interpret how to implement these differently (e.g. Capitalist rising tide raises all boats vs socialism).

    But my disagreement starts earlier. I don’t think Christians necessarily care about providing for all. I don’t think that Christian capitalists necessarily believe that because a rising tide raises all ships. I believe that many Christians believe in meritocracy, and so believe that the poor and oppressed have gotten that way because they deserve it. There is no need to help these people because they are getting their just deserts.

    If I understand you correctly, it seems your response would be that these are Christians who came up with wrong answers. But my response is that you can’t simply attribute the answer you like to Christianity and not the ones you don’t… Or if you do, you have to recognize the possibility that Christianity wasn’t the primary source of values in someone’s life in the first place.

  25. Agellius permalink

    My comments started in response to your statement in the OP that “I don’t see religion as much of an improvement. I see a lot of the ills in the world as being amplified by religion (although I resist saying that they are caused by religion. I wouldn’t say homophobia or sexism are caused by religion, but that these are natural human issues. But what I would say is that it doesn’t seem that religion has a great track record on helping people rise above human nature on these issues.)”

    I think that the very fact that you criticize religion for not helping with these issues is a reflection of the influence of Christianity on the culture in which you were raised, i.e. Western culture. Many non-Christian and pre-Christian cultures wouldn’t even consider homophobia or sexism problems to begin with. The very idea of “sexism” required a Christian-influenced culture in order to arise at all, beause it depends on the notion of treating women with respect, as equals, which in the totality of human history is not a terribly common idea.

    You seem to be arguing against this point, basically on the ground that individual Christians don’t care about people, or don’t agree on the best economic system, and so forth. In other words, since Christians act in a non-Christian way, therefore Christianity has no effect on them. But if that were the case, then Christian-influenced cultures should be no different from non-Christian or pre-Christian cultures. But they’re not. There are definite differences. And although a lot of modern Westerners criticize and condemn Western civilization for various faults, the vast majority of them still would not trade it for any other (as evidenced by the fact that they stay here), in large part because this very self-criticism (“examination of conscience” or acknowledging our own “sins” in Christian parlance) is one of the traits that make it what it is.

  26. Agellius,

    Yeah, while I’m open to the suggestion that my position is based on a Christian upbringing or being raised in a society inculcated in Christian values, I think that the examples you have are just really bad examples of that, and they speak against your point. like, you can’t mention feminist or LGBT rights as something that has happened because of people steeped in Christian values. We are living through these fights *today* and you can’t pull that one over on me. I know the enemies are conservative Christians and conservative religious people. (The olive branch, I think, is recognizing that religion is not the primary decider of their values, but saying that what they have in common is conservatism.)

    I strongly disagree that ideas of sexism, homophobia, etc., (and the ideas that these are bad, should be fought against, etc.,) required a Christian culture to even arise. What sexism, homophobia, etc., required were LGBT people and women to *experience* the unfairness of their treatment. This lived experience phenomenology occurs regardless of what the outside cultural system theorizes about it (whether from a pre-Christian, non-Christian, Christian, or post-Christian perspective.) The fact is some social systems chafe against people regardless of their upbringing in a Christian or pre-Christian environment. As such, there would always be agitation for change. This agitation for change would always cause at least some folks to question or react against whatever culture they were part of. Christianity may at best be a tool that people use to get the agitation through, but it is not the thing that makes agitation possible. It is not the thing that makes one’s lived experience seems dissonant with what society says about the lived experience.

    I mean, I really have to reiterate that your reference for homophobia is just a really bad example, because Christians are bad on LGBT issues. I have to reiterate that in a Christian society, homophobia is not seen as a problem because homosexuality is seen as a sin or as a choice or etc., It takes a non-Christian perspective, or a post-Christian perspective to react against that. So, no, homophobia (and reactions to homophobia) are not only possible from a Christian worldview about respect, equality, etc.,because from a Christian worldview, sin should not be respected or treated equally and homosexuality is relegated to sin. It’s not that from being steeped in Christianity, we advocate for LGBT equality. It’s that as a reaction against Christian injustice, we react against Christian injustice even though from a Christian worldview, it’s totally just. If we were bound to our cultural worldview, we wouldn’t be able to see LGBT inequality as unjust because we would all just recognize it as a sin and a choice, etc., But lived experience goes against even that cultural or theological system.

    Given that Christianity teaches the subjugation of women, the role of patriarchy, the sinfulness of Eve, etc., I would say the same thing also applies to feminist concerns.

    You seem to be arguing against this point, basically on the ground that individual Christians don’t care about people, or don’t agree on the best economic system, and so forth. In other words, since Christians act in a non-Christian way, therefore Christianity has no effect on them.

    What I am noting is that you want to take all the bad stuff that Christians do and believe and call it “a non-Christian way.” You want to take bad Christian behavior and call it stuff that “individual Christians” do or believe. And I’m arguing that if you want to note that, then that suggests that Christianity is not so very strong in motivating people. (The people who care most about LGBT issues don’t seem to want to identify as Christian, and the people who most want to identify as Christian don’t care about LGBT issues.)

    But your alternative, IMO, and what I’m suggesting you should strongly consider is to recognize that these people really are Christian, really are motivated by Christianity, really are acting in a Christian way, are not just individuals behaving badly but individuals *institutionally motivated by Christianity* to behave badly because what it means to act in a Christian way includes excluding certain people, treating certain people unfairly, judging certain people, etc.,

    In other words, consider that the things you call good (equality, respect, etc.,) and attribute to Christianity are not fundamental Christian values.

    In other, other words, dominionist chauvinist patriarchal evangelical Christians are just as Christian as your feminist, pro-LGBT Christians. Or maybe they are even moreso. That’s the thing to consider. Because that’s what non-Christians see. That’s why people become post-Christians. That’s why people disaffect.

    But if that were the case, then Christian-influenced cultures should be no different from non-Christian or pre-Christian cultures. But they’re not. There are definite differences.

    But what I am also saying is that of course there are other variables…social, political, economic, etc. See, my thought simply is that religion is probably not the primary variable here, but that people lead with social, political, and economic values. Like, you want to say, “the difference is a Christian influence vs a lack of Christian influence.” And I say, “But Christian influence seems murky.” That doesn’t mean that there is no difference, just that Christian influence doesn’t explain it. Some people are more conservative, close-minded, tribal, while others are more liberal, open-minded, accepting, empathetic. Some people on either side are Christian, and some people on either side are non-Christian.

    And seeing the diversity of Christian behavior, thought, etc., and the diversity of non-Christian thought, behavior, etc., suggests that is the case.

    And although a lot of modern Westerners criticize and condemn Western civilization for various faults, the vast majority of them still would not trade it for any other (as evidenced by the fact that they stay here), in large part because this very self-criticism (“examination of conscience” or acknowledging our own “sins” in Christian parlance) is one of the traits that make it what it is.

    A lot of people stay where they are because leaving is cost-prohibitive. A lot of people stay where they are because they want to change and improve things where they are. BUT even if we concede your argument here, what is it that people are not trading for any other civilization/society? It is not a believing Christianity. No, it is a post-Christianity.

    I mean, all your comments really argue is that Christianity is best as something one has graduated some. It is best as something to form as scaffolding but which is not actively practiced (because when people actively practice it, you get America rather than Europe.) What your comments ultimately argue is that people are leaving Christianity because of their being steeped in Christian values. That because of Christian values that people have internalized of equality, respect, people are rejecting Christian institutions that seem to teach inequality, disrespect.

  27. Agellius permalink

    You write, “I mean, you talk about non-judgmentalism being in the Bible, but I assure you that many Christians wouldn’t believe that that is a Christian value. There are PLENTY of articles that ask about Matthew 7:1: “Does this mean we should never judge?” and answer, “Nope. It just means we should judge righteously.” Where righteous judgment just happens to agree with their political, social, or economic views.”

    Specifically, the Bible says “Judge not lest ye be judged,” but also, “The standard by which you judge is the standard by which you will be judged.” Mt. 7:2. So you can judge others, but if you do then you’ll be judged by the same standard. And since every Christian knows that he’s a sinner, he should be cautious about that. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jn. 8:7.

    This doesn’t mean that you can’t judge actions to be good or bad. If you see someone robbing a bank, you’re free to judge that that’s a bad thing to do. What you have to be careful about is judging whether the bank robber is an evil person who deserves hell, because you don’t want God to judge you what way in the light of your own sins.

    In that sense, Pope Francis judges people all the time; he judges that conservatives are sometimes too rigid and calls them “sourfaced Christians”. By the same token, I can judge that in my opinion, the Pope is emphasizing the wrong thing: He thinks rigidity is the biggest problem in the Church, whereas I think laxity is a bigger problem. But neither of us judges the other as evil and deserving of hell.

  28. Agellius permalink

    You write, ” I strongly disagree that ideas of sexism, homophobia, etc., (and the ideas that these are bad, should be fought against, etc.,) required a Christian culture to even arise. What sexism, homophobia, etc., required were LGBT people and women to *experience* the unfairness of their treatment.”

    And I’m saying that it’s only in a Christian-influenced culture that women and LGBT people were able to perceive their situation as unjust. People in other cultures just accept it and live with it as being the way life is. Or can you name a non-Christian-influenced culture in which there has been an ongoing fight against homophobia and sexism over the past century or two?

  29. Agellius,

    With respect to judging, the explanation that i’ve most often heard is that Christians don’t believe their judgment to be out of alignment with scriptures because their argument is that, “Well, as a Christian, I am repenting. I only judge those people who are not repenting. They deserve what they get as a result of their nonrepentance.”

    The bank robber is an evil person who deserves hell on the basis of his nonrepentance, whereas the Christian is not because of his repentance. Again, you can find plenty of articles that discuss this.

    Your message sidesteps a lot of this, but this is how a lot of Christians I know think and talk.

    With respect to your later message on homophobia, sexism, etc.,

    And I’m saying that it’s only in a Christian-influenced culture that women and LGBT people were able to perceive their situation as unjust. People in other cultures just accept it and live with it as being the way life is.

    This is a fundamental disagreement then. Maybe it’s only in a Christian-influenced culture that clueless white people were able to perceive slavery as unjust, or that heteronormative straight people were able to perceive homophobia as unjust, but minorities who experience that injustice are always aware. (but I don’t really buy that either because you still have racist and racialist white people, and you still have homophobia straight people, and these people use Christianity as a foundation for their views.) People protest sexism and homophobia in *every* society. The *price* of fighting may be different in other countries, and as a result, the way that the fighting occurs may look different in other countries, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t fight. I mean, this kinda gets to your earlier point, “People must like Christian-influenced societies because they don’t leave.” No, a lot of people don’t leave because the cost is prohibitive, and because they have other ways of changing and coping. that doesn’t mean they like everything about their society — and they can fight against it in other ways.

    I mean, do you want to argue that Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s protests against Islam’s treatment of women/female genital mutilation is as a result of Christian influence? Or that she doesn’t exist? Or is her protest a function of being “post-Islam” and wouldn’t be possible in a “pre-Islamic society”?

    I mean, this makes me wonder a lot about what you think about certain histories regarding oppressed and marginalized peoples. So, when do you think that LGBT perceived their situation as unjust exactly? Do you think that when a lot of LGB people mostly married heterosexually and had gay affairs on the downlow or went to bathhouses or whatever that they were “accepting it and living with it as being the way life is”? Do you think that movements to “come out” and movements to “publicly advocate” are the only “real” responses to injustice? That if you don’t have anything as visible as that, then they are just “accepting it” and “living with it as being the way life is”?

    Because that’s how I feel your views have to be taken. That the only way you can say that in non-Christian influenced cultures (or pre-Christian cultures) that women and LGBT people accepted their lives as “the way life is” is if you say that quieter forms of rebelling (e.g., anything done underground out of safety or to preserve image/save face) aren’t actually rebelling. So, that a closeted gay man who has a wife and kids, but has affairs on the side is not actually rebelling, etc., etc., etc.,

    No, man, there have always been people going outside of whatever the cultural mores or norms were. You might not have seen it, but it was still there. But nevertheless, I would argue that today, there are people fighting all over the world.

  30. Agellius permalink

    You write, “The bank robber is an evil person who deserves hell on the basis of his nonrepentance, whereas the Christian is not because of his repentance. Again, you can find plenty of articles that discuss this. Your message sidesteps a lot of this, but this is how a lot of Christians I know think and talk.”

    I was giving you my understanding of the doctrine based on my multiple readings of the scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers, the saints, the teachings of the popes, etc. What you’re describing I suspect is a fundamentalist Protestant understanding. Fundamentalism is one branch of Protestantism, which in turn is one branch of Christianity, and not the largest either. Whereas I’m Catholic, which could account for the difference; although I know a lot of Protestants agree with me as well.

    You write, “Maybe it’s only in a Christian-influenced culture that clueless white people were able to perceive slavery as unjust, or that heteronormative straight people were able to perceive homophobia as unjust, but minorities who experience that injustice are always aware.”

    I think you may be taking your own understanding of just and unjust, and of how people have a right to be treated and not treated, and assuming that all human beings everywhere have had the same understanding. As a fish lives its whole life in water without realizing it’s wet, it seems you have lived your whole life in a Christian-influenced culture and don’t realize its influence, and instead assume that everyone in all times and places has always had the same understanding of justice and right and wrong that you were raised with. But they haven’t.

    Of course, people who were enslaved or discriminated against suffered as a result of those things, and probably resented those who inflicted such things on them. The question is, did slaves of every time and culture always have an expectation or feeling of a universal human *right* to be treated otherwise? When a Roman slave was freed or escaped, did he resolve for the rest of his life never to inflict such things on others because of recognizing their “right” to freedom; or did his cultural conditioning rather cause him to work and hope for a time when he could be the slaveowner rather than the slave, the inflicter of suffering rather than the inflictee? The Israelites, as another example, were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, yet when they were freed, they still maintained slaves of their own for centuries afterwards. There was not this sense that slavery per se was wrong, but only that it was better and more fortunate to be the enslaver rather than the enslaved. This attitude is not at all uncommon in human history, in fact it’s probably the rule rather than the exception.

    Did you know that in ancient Rome, it was considered respectable to be the “male” in a homosexual relationship, but shameful to be the “female”? This was because the “male” was considered to be in a position of power, whereas the “female” was being dominated and subjugated. Therefore your fear was not being found to have engaged in homosexual acts, but rather, being found to have played a particular role in those acts. There was no concern that the “female” had a “right” to be considered as respectable as the “male”, no mass movement on behalf of the rights and dignity of such persons. If you were in that position, it just meant that fortune had not smiled on you, but in the future maybe it would, and then you could be the “male” and inflict humiliation on someone else. Just another example of people in different cultures viewing “good” and “bad” very differently.

    I’ll grant that Christianity was the cause of homophobia in a sense: If it never taught that homosexual sex is disordered and immoral, then there might be no basis for homophobia in Christian-influenced cultures. But Christianity is also the cause of the impulse in our culture to treat homosexuals humanely. In other words, once the teaching against homosexual acts was explicitly rejected, along with the rest of the Christian faith, what remained was the culturally-conditioned impulse to not judge, to treat humanely, to provide equal rights to, etc. Explicit Christian doctrines were dropped, but the Christian influence on the culture is not so easy to erase.

    By the way, it should hardly need saying but I’ll say it anyway: Progressives and liberals are in no wise immune from the impulse to judge, they just use standards other than explicitly Christian ones by which to judge and condemn people; though the standards they use still are not free of Christian influence, despite not being consciously and explicitly Christian.

  31. Agellius,

    I get that you’re describing your own understanding based on your own reading. But what I’m saying is that different Christians read very different things from the same sources (albeit, the evangelical protestants probably wouldn’t be reading from the Catholic canon, the Catholic church fathers, etc.,). But I would add as well that there are conservative Catholics as well who believe similarly to how conservative evangelical protestants believe. So this isn’t a clear-cut difference between

    I think you may be taking your own understanding of just and unjust, and of how people have a right to be treated and not treated, and assuming that all human beings everywhere have had the same understanding. As a fish lives its whole life in water without realizing it’s wet, it seems you have lived your whole life in a Christian-influenced culture and don’t realize its influence, and instead assume that everyone in all times and places has always had the same understanding of justice and right and wrong that you were raised with. But they haven’t.

    What I’m doing is speaking about phenomenology. If I’m assuming anything at all, I’m assuming that people have similar enough phenomenological responses to certain things: for example, if I put my hand on a burning iron, the burn to my hand is going to hurt, and I’m going to say, “yeowch!” and pull my hand back. All I’m assuming is that if someone else put their hand on a burning iron, the burn to their hand would hurt them just the same.

    This is not something that you needed to live in a certain culture to get. Pain is pain is pain. The response to pull away from pain is the same everywhere.

    So, when you argue that it’s like a fish living its whole life in water…it seems that what you’re arguing instead is that someone would only feel pain from a hot iron if they lived in certain culture that had inculcated certain ideas about feeling pain in those situations.

    Look, I know that we are influenced by the cultures that we are raised in. I get that. But I also know that we are not entirely pitch perfect products of the cultures that we are raised in as well. If that were true, I would be a true believing Mormon with no doubts. If that were true, then I would be heterosexual on top of that. I’ve already done way too much thinking about this because if I could just “fit it” to the surrounding society, be a good Christian or a good Mormon or a good straight white person or whatever, that would certainly be easier to just go with the flow and fit in with society rather than sticking out. But you know, this is not something that is chosen. Being a good Christian is not a choice, because your beliefs are not a choice. Being a good Mormon is not a choice, because your beliefs are not a choice. Being a straight person or being a white person is not a choice, because your sexual orientation and your race are not choices. So even if you are raised in a Christian society or a Mormon society or a white privileging society or a heteronormative society, these will not change who a person is. And as long as that is the case, they will be able to know their difference, know that the water around them is stifling, and seek to change their environment.

    Let’s really go back to your analogy. You assume too much with your fish in water analogy. But what I know instead is that it doesn’t matter if you live your whole life in water — if you are not a fish but really…a bird?…you will not breathe, but you will drown in water. You have to be a *fish* in *water* to be at home in the water. I agree that a fish born and raised in water will not be aware of how the water has impacted them. But for a bird born and raised in water, they will be aware — every second of their life, that it’s not right, it’s not a good fit for them.

    Regarding slaveowners and slaves: you act as if modern Christian culture has changed. But it hasn’t. Just because we don’t have literal slaves any more doesn’t mean that the hierarchical system hasn’t changed. People would still rather be managers than worker bees. They would rather own property than not own anything.

    But absolutely, when someone finds themselves on the bottom of the totem pole, they do think that they want to get out of that situation. Your argument is that they would not. That they would think their status in life being at the totem pole is “just how life is.” But that’s not true. Even your example of the Israelites goes against that. They wanted to be the enslaver, not the enslaved. The same is true of western capitalist Christians.

    Regarding Roman homosexuality: did you know that femmephobia, and the fear of being perceived as passive, or being seen as too feminine or whatever, still exists in 2015? So much for being steeped in a Christian culture. Do you know that feminism has to fight in 2015 and their opponents are mostly religious folks?

    But Christianity is also the cause of the impulse in our culture to treat homosexuals humanely.

    No, it is not. Christianity is the cause of the impulse to try to exterminate homosexuals through reparative therapy. Christianity is the cause of the impulse to try to kick out LGBT teenagers from their houses because they just won’t repent and become straight.

    You want to say that Christian upbringing has caused people to fight for a better way, but you have to come to grips that no, it’s explicit Christian doctrines that were dropped.

    In other words, Christianity is just ANOTHER way for there to be slaves and slaveowners. It just changes the calculation of who will be considered what. EXPLICIT CHRISTIAN DOCTRINES set the stage. It’s not equality. That’s why you have post-Christians fighting for equal treatment and Christians fighting for unequal treatment.

    There is this really annoying, frustrating rhetorical move from Christians that I see a lot (and you’re doing it too) to claim all of these good things in the name of Christianity, when to a lot of us, Christianity appears to be the biggest opponents of these things today and historically. And this rhetorical move works by claiming that anytime non-Christians do “good things”, then that is imputed to Christianity. As you say, post-Christianity relies on Christian influence while rejecting explicit Christian doctrines. Or to say that post-Christian sentiment only came about because of Christian influence.

    And you have this entire worldview that presumes that no one else is able to feel pain and feel something about that pain because that in itself is a Christian ideal.

    Let’s look at the end of the day: At the end of the day, people leave Christianity because it is unjust. So even if you want to argue that people can only argue that injustice because they have absorbed Christian values, the fact you really, truly, crucially have to get to is why Christianity today is doing so much stuff that causes people to walk away from it when you think it is the source of their thoughts about good. At the end of the day, suppose that I conceded everything you say (which I don’t, as I’ve been trying to get at). AT the end of the day, that would say, “Well, then where can I sign up for the Christianity that is pro-women’s equality, pro-LGBT rights, pro-atheism, etc.,” And you’d have to point me to liberal/mainline denominations that are bleeding members or you’d have to say, “Actually, Christianity isn’t about that. Christianity really is against LGBT people, really is against atheism, really does demand different roles for men and women.

  32. Agellius permalink

    You write, “different Christians read very different things from the same sources (albeit, the evangelical protestants probably wouldn’t be reading from the Catholic canon, the Catholic church fathers, etc.,). But I would add as well that there are conservative Catholics as well who believe similarly to how conservative evangelical protestants believe. So this isn’t a clear-cut difference between “

    As I said, Christians are not a monolith. Not even Catholics. : )

    You write, “This is not something that you needed to live in a certain culture to get. Pain is pain is pain. The response to pull away from pain is the same everywhere.”

    I understand that. And I said in my prior comment, “Of course, people who were enslaved or discriminated against suffered as a result of those things, and probably resented those who inflicted such things on them.” My point was that suffering from something is not the same as believing that it’s a violation of a thing that everyone has a right to. The former is a natural human reaction, the latter is an abstract concept that not every culture in history has shared. It’s a part of the water in which you have always swum, but it hasn’t always been in everyone’s water.

    You write, “But absolutely, when someone finds themselves on the bottom of the totem pole, they do think that they want to get out of that situation. Your argument is that they would not. That they would think their status in life being at the totem pole is “just how life is.” But that’s not true.”

    I don’t think I said that people would not want to get out of that kind of a situation. What I said specifically was this: “And I’m saying that it’s only in a Christian-influenced culture that women and LGBT people were able to perceive their situation as unjust. People in other cultures just accept it and live with it as being the way life is.” Apologies for being unclear, but what I meant was similar to what I just explained: That people might suffer from such situations, and might try to get out of them. But that’s not the same thing as perceiving the situation as unjust, in the sense of being a violation of something which they had a right to expect.

    The current “fight” or “struggle” against homophobia and sexism is an assertion of rights and a demand that these rights be recognized by the whole society. And those rights are argued in favor of, on the basis of concepts which would have been foreign to most cultures throughout history. Yes, individual people would have struggled to get out of unpleasant situations, but it would not have occurred to them to start a “movement” to eliminate such situations on the ground that they were an unjust violation of “rights”. That concept only arose in the context of Christian-derived cultures. (Granted, it has now spread to other cultures in contemporary times, as have many other Western concepts and practices, but it originated in ours.)

    You write, “There is this really annoying, frustrating rhetorical move from Christians that I see a lot (and you’re doing it too) to claim all of these good things in the name of Christianity, when to a lot of us, Christianity appears to be the biggest opponents of these things today and historically. And this rhetorical move works by claiming that anytime non-Christians do “good things”, then that is imputed to Christianity.”

    I’m sorry you’re frustrated. But no, I do not and have not said that “anytime non-Christians do ‘good things’, then that is imputed to Christianity”. What I have said is that our culture is steeped in Christian values which we take for granted, and which affect everyone whether they realize it or not. This has happened despite the fact that many, many Christians have not lived in accord with those values. The reason this can happen is that there is a difference between standards and actions: Most Christians admit the correctness of Christian moral standards even while violating them. So the standards are able to endure even while being widely disregarded or disobeyed.

    You write, “And you have this entire worldview that presumes that no one else is able to feel pain and feel something about that pain because that in itself is a Christian ideal.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an accurate reflection of anything I have said.

    Hey, I appreciate you being willing to go round after round, while keeping it friendly and civil and reasonable.

  33. Agellius,

    The latest comment was clarifying. I think I still disagree, but I can see that part of it was a difference in how you are defining “justice” vs “injustice” as being tied in with rights for everyone. I have also heard of a form of that argument, so that seems less disagreeable than suggesting that people would not fight against mistreatment.

    But I guess I would argue a couple of things:

    1) I don’t think justice/injustice need be tied to a sense of “rights everyone is owed”. I think that anyone fighting against their mistreatment can perceive that as a fight against injustice at any time, so I don’t think it’s legitimate to distinguish between the “natural human reaction” to fight against one’s suffering and the “violation of a thing that everyone has a right to”. This is not something that required Christianity, and is not even something that Christianity has developed as an idea.

    2a) The reason I don’t think this is tied to a sense of “rights everyone is owed” is because I think that a lot of justice/injustice issues really do involve people wanting to be the enslaver rather than the enslaved. So, I think that the enslaved Israels who hope to enslave others still perceive their struggle as a struggle for justice. Their sense of justice comes from a subjective or intersubjective evaluation of merits.

    2b) I don’t think that Christianity actually establishes an idea of justice being about “things everyone is owed” because I think Christianity still represents the enslaver/enslaved dynamic. Christianity just proposes a different schema of who is meritorious and who is not…who should be subjugated and who should not be. Christianity still involves the wicked going to hell and the righteous to heaven, but even when Christians say, “But you know, we’re all sinners and we’re all wicked,” this doesn’t establish an equality, because there is an inequality based on who has repented and converted vs who has not. There is a sense that God decides who is right and who is wrong, but since God is on my side, I will oppress as I wish.

    So, I disagree with your statements that

    1)

    That people might suffer from such situations, and might try to get out of them. But that’s not the same thing as perceiving the situation as unjust, in the sense of being a violation of something which they had a right to expect.

    Because I think that perceiving the injustice is tied to trying to get out of suffering, and not the whole “violation of something which they had a right to expect.”

    and

    2)

    What I have said is that our culture is steeped in Christian values which we take for granted, and which affect everyone whether they realize it or not. This has happened despite the fact that many, many Christians have not lived in accord with those values. The reason this can happen is that there is a difference between standards and actions: Most Christians admit the correctness of Christian moral standards even while violating them. So the standards are able to endure even while being widely disregarded or disobeyed.

    No, it’s not a matter of Christian hypocrisy. It’s that if you ask a Christian what Christian values are, they are pretty sure that some people are better than others based on whether they have repented, converted to Christ, etc., The diversity of Christian thought isn’t just about some people being bad at living Christianity — it’s about the fact that Christianity really does mean different things to different people, and we can’t just say that Christianity means “equality and rights for everyone” alone, when throughout history and even today, it also means, “Let’s just establish a new hierarchy of oppressor and oppressed.”

    I mean, if it’s non-Christians, not Christians, who are able to make the standards endure, then you can’t then say, “Well, it was Christianity which came up with the standards.” And that’s basically where we are at.

    FWIW, I don’t think Christianity has a model of universal rights. But I do think that as humanity has evolved, what has been a change in societies over time is who we see as part of our ingroup or outgroup. We have learned to expand our ingroup and decrease our outgroup, and as a result there is more “us” than there is “them”. But we have always treated “us” well and “them” poorly. So, as we move to expand “us” (which isn’t a uniquely Christian thing to do, and which Christianity certainly does not universally do), we move forward socially.

  34. Agellius permalink

    Andrew:

    You write, “I mean, if it’s non-Christians, not Christians, who are able to make the standards endure, then you can’t then say, ‘Well, it was Christianity which came up with the standards.’ And that’s basically where we are at.”

    I don’t see why I can’t say that it’s Christianity which came up with the standards. The Romans came up with many of our legal standards, and the Founding Fathers our political standards. We may be “making them endure” but I think we still have to give them credit for having the insight in the first place.

    In any case, it remains to be seen how long they will endure in the absence of their Christian underpinnings. In my estimation, it’s only been 50 years or so since this country turned the corner into being no longer an expressly Christian country. Check back with me in 500 years or so. : )

    You write, “I do think that as humanity has evolved, what has been a change in societies over time is who we see as part of our ingroup or outgroup. We have learned to expand our ingroup and decrease our outgroup, and as a result there is more “us” than there is “them”. But we have always treated “us” well and “them” poorly. So, as we move to expand “us” (which isn’t a uniquely Christian thing to do, and which Christianity certainly does not universally do), we move forward socially.”

    Just as I said previously that liberals/progressives do their fair share of judging, they also do their fair share of excluding people from their in-group. I don’t share your apparent confidence that things are going to get more and more lovey-dovey as our culture moves away from explicitly Christian values.

  35. Agellius,

    I don’t see why I can’t say that it’s Christianity which came up with the standards. The Romans came up with many of our legal standards, and the Founding Fathers our political standards. We may be “making them endure” but I think we still have to give them credit for having the insight in the first place.

    Because I think it distorts who is really driving certain changes. If you wanted to impute the changes to LGBT rights to Christians, that would be a vast distortion of what is actually occurring — mostly non-religious and secular folks are in favor of LGBT rights, and actual Christians are fighting it tooth and nail.

    You can’t say, “Well, Christians believe in equality for everyone, and this is a subset of that, so really, this is because of Christianity.”

    Like, even if you were to say, “Romans came up with many of our legal standards,” to the extent that those changed, or were redeveloped, or improved, you could not pin that on the Romans.

    We can use the Founding Fathers as an example. Like if we point at the Declaration of Independence’s preamble:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    We know, despite the bare meaning of these words, that the Founding Fathers believed

    a) “all men” doesn’t really include all men (see: slaves)
    and
    b) “all men” is definitely exclusive of non-men (see: women)

    So it would be incorrect to pin feminism, civil rights, etc., to the Founding Fathers. They may be an improvement upon what they did, or a movement on top of what they did, but we know that they got those issues wrong. (And pinning further to Christianity or theism because of their mention of “Creator” is similarly problematic. We know that God isn’t really a fan of women, gays.)

    The problem here is that if we pin these things on Christianity, on the Founding Fathers, on the Romans, we miss the things that they got wrong (or that they are getting wrong). After all, plenty of people think that a gay-hating, women-subjugating Christianity is utterly correct. So, we need to distinguish that equality is something different.

    In my estimation, it’s only been 50 years or so since this country turned the corner into being no longer an expressly Christian country.

    It has not turned the corner. Try Europe instead.

    Check back with me in 500 years or so. : )

    IMO (and now we’re starting to come full circle again), I’m not saying that there aren’t things that could happen in the future. But I don’t think that those things will happen because the country became less Christian. They’ll happen because of economic disasters, political disasters, natural disasters, demographic crisis, etc., To say, “Yeah, and in the year 2150 everything went to hell and a handbasket, the seas rose, governments went bankrupt, etc.,…….because in 2015, people were becoming less Christian” is just not appropriate.

    Just as I said previously that liberals/progressives do their fair share of judging, they also do their fair share of excluding people from their in-group. I don’t share your apparent confidence that things are going to get more and more lovey-dovey as our culture moves away from explicitly Christian values.

    Well, I want to say two things:

    1) Progress is always, always, always a fight. I’m not implying that things will just naturally get better. It’s always a fight. So, no, don’t take it as “my apparent confidence”…and worse yet, don’t say optimism (although so far, you haven’t, so that’s good.) Throughout all of this, I am ever pessimistic that every civil right I have ever been given could get clawed back. I mean, in 2015, we are still debating contraception…and Hobby Lobby is winning.

    2) Everyone’s going to have a different view of progress entails, and I imagine that as a religious person, you see your ingroup of religion losing sway. But I see this: I see bigots being called out on their bigotry. You’re right that that isn’t lovey-dovey. But per 1, I also see this as tenuous. I see people preparing what they will prepare to strike back.

  36. Agellius permalink

    You write, “If you wanted to impute the changes to LGBT rights to Christians, that would be a vast distortion of what is actually occurring — mostly non-religious and secular folks are in favor of LGBT rights, and actual Christians are fighting it tooth and nail.”

    No, what I attribute to *Christianity* (not to Christians) are the underlying premises on the basis of which people argue in favor of LGBT rights — “LGBT rights” meaning the idea that LGBT persons deserve the same rights as everyone else — which again points to something I brought up earlier, that “it would not have occurred to them to start a ‘movement’ to eliminate such situations on the ground that they were an unjust violation of ‘rights’. That concept only arose in the context of Christian-derived cultures.”

    The fact that individual Christians today are “fighting tooth and nail” against LGBT rights (though I’m not certain what that means) doesn’t change this fact.

    You write, “it would be incorrect to pin feminism, civil rights, etc., to the Founding Fathers”.

    You’ve misconstrued my point. I wasn’t giving credit to the Founding Fathers for favoring LGBT rights, let alone civil rights for blacks and other minorities. I was saying that if we appreciate our democratic system, the fact that it allows for such things as civil rights laws to change without having to overthrow the government, a system in which changes in popular opinion have concrete effects that are reflected in changes to our laws, then the Founding Fathers deserve some credit for creating that system. (In actual fact I think the Founding Fathers made grave errors in setting up our republic, on different grounds.)

    And the same goes for the Romans in regard to our legal system: My point was not that the Romans were wonderful people and deserve credit for favoring LGBT rights. In reality, Roman society was brutal in many ways – as were virtually all societies up until that time (and as societies may become again in the future as the Christian influence wanes over the coming centuries). But that shouldn’t stop us from giving credit where credit is due for the ways in which they contributed to the structures and systems which have enabled our civilization to operate in a more-or-less efficient manner, from which we all benefit on practically a daily basis.

    You write, “2) Everyone’s going to have a different view of progress entails, and I imagine that as a religious person, you see your ingroup of religion losing sway. But I see this: I see bigots being called out on their bigotry. You’re right that that isn’t lovey-dovey. But per 1, I also see this as tenuous. I see people preparing what they will prepare to strike back.”

    My point was that you seem to be assuming that your enemies will always be towards the right. What I’m saying is that as progressives continue to progress they will continue to create new enemies, because even as things get better and better, to hold onto power they must be continually portraying things as worse and worse. Because if we ever reach a point where everything is basically fine, where everyone has the right to do as he pleases and no one is hated and no one is ever picked on or feels oppressed for one reason or another, then progressivism will become moot, and then what will the progressives do for a living? Thus the good will forever be the enemy of the best; the progressive ideal will always be something we don’t have yet, and those purportedly holding us back from complete perfection will become the new “oppressors”. At some point people will realize that the oppressors can’t possibly be Christians any more, or even white people for that matter, because there will be fewer and fewer of those, and more and more atheists and minorities (who won’t be the minority any more), and so new enemies and oppressors, and new “rights” to be demanded, will have to be continually manufactured. Thus, people who now consider themselves on the left, will one day find themselves labeled the new “right”.

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