Many years ago in my early years in the Church of Christ, we looked upon some people who were called “holy rollers” as primitive, uneducated people who were more “country” than we were. We also looked with distrust on the more sophisticated Episcopalians and Presbyterians who lived in town. I did not know any Catholics until I moved to town. As I got older, and maybe wiser, I became more tolerant and abandoned our tradition of believing we alone “rightly divided the word of God,” whatever that meant. As I have distanced myself from “religion” I feel more deeply spiritual now than I did in my days of teaching Sunday school, and contemplating the ministry as a profession.
On a typical day, I sit in front of my computer and I see videos and articles about: (1) a Baptist Church in Kentucky giving away shotguns to attract “un-churched men to find Jesus.” (2) the snake-handler who died of a snakebite and his son planning to follow the family religion, (3) Ken Ham and the Creation Museum, (4) state legislatures who pass legislation to include Creationism in the science classroom, (5) televangelists who prey upon sincere Christians to support lavish life styles, (6) sexual abuse of children by Priests, youth directors, and predators within the religious community, (7) members of the religious right who glean verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy to validate prejudice, hatred, and corporate religion, (8) Westboro Baptists and similar hate groups, (9) the effort to transfer public school funds to sectarian schools, (10) political prayer breakfasts that lay claim to God’s favor in only one political party, (11) the misunderstanding and fallacious depiction of education in public schools coming from those who would privatize education, (12) those who insist we were established as a Christian nation and the Bible is our Constitution, (13) those who insist President Obama is the Anti-Christ and we are living in the end times, and hope for the return of Jesus to deliver us from liberals, humanists, and secularists, (14) the trend toward patriarchal family structure and disciplinary child and spousal abuse. And the list goes on.
It is tragic that world history is marked with wars and persecution between Protestant and Catholic; between Muslim and Christian; between Christians and Communists or Fascists; and between Christian nations killing each other and dying in the name of the same God.
I see early Christianity established in the backdrop of Judaic theocratic nationalism, the Roman Empire, and a world of Greek and Roman mythology. I see Christians mauled by lions as part of the bloody Roman entertainment with chariot races and gladiators. This was followed by centuries of oppression in the wilderness of Papal architectural and economic splendor, and a liturgy of creed and edict of theocratic oppression.
On the human side of Christianity, many years ago a group of Churches of Christ responded to a famine-stricken Ethiopia with a delegation of Christians who took food, which they cooked and served to starving people. Our Church at Fourth Avenue joined the effort. Someone at the small Church at Boston, Tennessee called me and asked if I would deliver a check to Fourth Avenue. An elder brought it to me in an unsealed envelop. The check was for one thousand dollars, from a small rural, white, fundamentalist congregation. We are still blessed with congregational fellowship, the support system of Sunday school classes, comforting local ministers, food pantries, clothing rooms, and the large or small spiritual welcoming community for a migrant population. Church is the quintessential comfort zone for many of God’s children.
The early Christians were not an arrogant and combative people, even though Jesus cursed a fig tree and overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. I have images of early Christianity of Jesus speaking to a multitude about the poor in spirit, the mournful, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted. I see Jesus weeping at the death of a friend, mingling with sinners, healing the sick-and-afflicted, and feeding the hungry.
The perception of a war on Christianity is not an attack from the left, or the secular, or the government, or academia. It is a potential self-inflicted destruction of the innocence and compassion of its former self. It includes a return of superstition, mythology, anti-intellectual literalism, and a potential low point in the historical cycle of enlightenment. I am reluctant to use the phrase “Old Testament Christianity” but these are the voices I think I am hearing.
Most of my writing is an effort to cling to and defend a more humanistic Christianity, and to advocate a harmony of faith and reason. The more I learn from the fields of science, philosophy, history, and literature the more I am convinced of the existence of God, and find a lesser attraction to systemic worship and ritual. The more I observe human behavior of saint and sinner, of believer and agnostic, I am convinced that organized religion in its present form is no more or no less conducive to ideal moral behavior than secular morality based on reason, on moral conscience, altruistic love, and more humanely-driven ethical theories.