Across the web, in bookstores, and recently the theater, criticism of religion broadly and Christianity specifically is ubiquitous. It’s not just the Four Horsemen , or Bill Maher—anti-religious articles appear regularly on political and social blogs. Material that used to be published only at Talk2Action or ExChristian.net now finds a wider audience. Michelle Goldberg offers one explanation:
In some ways, there’s a symbiotic relationship between evangelicals and secularists. The religious right emerged in response to a widespread sense of cultural grievance stemming from the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. Today’s newly organised atheists and agnostics were mobilised by the theocratic bombast of Bush-era Republicans. More than ever, one’s religion is tied up with one’s political choices rather than family history.
To illustrate, let’s let one of these mobilized nonbelievers speak for himself. This is from “Foetusnail” at BoingBoing (Comment #46):
First, everyone needs to get this straight: Atheists wouldn’t give a tinkers damn about any of these religions if they would mind their own business; if they could mind their own business, they would be forgotten overnight. But they won’t, they can’t. Their holy books demand they interfere with the lives of those around them.
Secondly, Christians are a target in the Western World, because they are the largest and most powerful religion in the Western World. They have been struggling to control the lives of the people and their governments for almost two thousand years.
Now, let me tell you the truth in four words; we are at war. This is an ideological war for freedom from religion and superstition. We are fighting off the last shackles of the Dark Ages. We are fighting for knowledge and against fear and ignorance. These people don’t deserve any more respect than if they were trying to shutdown hospitals, think stem cell research.
Think of the pope and the recent condom/AIDS controversy. Millions of people are dead because these whack jobs don’t believe in passing out condoms; a position supported by my government and financed with my tax dollars. F*** Them.
As part of the “Quiverfull” movement, women are encouraged to open their wombs to God, who apparently wants to repopulate this country with devoted Christians and so produces family sizes of up to 14 children. Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist flagship seminary, having booted females out of teaching positions and out of the clergy, has now begun speaking out in favor of this movement. “The New Calvinism”, recently profiled by Time Magazine teaches that all humans are “utterly depraved” until they confess Jesus as savior and are bathed in his blood.
I think that a huge factor on both sides of this fight is the reluctance of Christians to speak out passionately and publically against fundamentalist excesses. Where are the moderate Christians who cry out, not only against the social outrages perpetrated by fundamentalists, but also against the ugly, ignorant, self-serving theologies that drive those outrages? These voices are conspicuously absent in the public square—as rare as moderate Muslims who passionately and publically condemn Wahabism, shariah, burkas, or jihad.
There are exceptions. Anglican John Shelby Spong has been unflinching: Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile & The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love . But in my experience, Spong’s courage and passion on the topic are rare. Modernist Christians have been painted with the same brush as fundamentalists because of their reluctance to say loudly what they know to be true based on a century of inquiry: that the Bible has human handprints all over it, that the sins of scripture are real, that we know the historical lineage of fundamentalist theologies and of the Bible itself, that biblical creationism is ludicrous, and that fundamentalist ideas are not only wrongheaded, they are evil.
The cost of this silence is enormous—not only in the form of “open season on Christians”. Mainline denominations, perhaps the ones who understand this battle best, are losing adherents to both sides in part because even their own members don’t know what they stand for. To stand for something, you have to be willing to stand against something. And if you’re a church, you can’t just stand against social ills like poverty, war, homophobia, or abstinence only education. One job of religions and secular philosophies is to offer a rationale for why those things matter. In religion, that means theology.
Open inquiring Christians may be loathe to take on theological battles because they are not sure yet what set of theological agreements can replace the fundamentals that have defined Christian orthodoxy since the Fourth Century. Well, also, because they prize being open and inquiring. But open inquiry isn’t worth much unless it helps us to see through false assumptions and get closer to what’s real. As to the uncertainties, science progresses by ruling out wrong hypotheses; theology can too. Modernist Christians may not be able to assert in unison who Jesus was and what Christianity should become, but they can assert with confidence that our Bronze Age ancestors put God’s name on a whole bunch of archaic moralities and superstitions and misunderstandings about the word around us. Unearthing an imbedded falsehood can be as powerful and life saving as discovering a hidden truth.
As the middle falls out of the U.S. religious spectrum, fundamentalists and freethinkers are left with no bridges, nowhere to go but the trenches. The alternative to revolution is evolution. That’s what modernist people of faith have to offer. It is the option that is missing when they go silent. Is it open season on Christians? Only if thoughtful believers continue to let fundamentalists speak for their God in the public square.