Greetings/The Church

Hi! As stated, I’m using this blog to help me refine my thoughts on faith and life as a skeptic in seminary. Comments are encouraged – in fact, I believe hearing the thoughts of others is the only way I will grow and learn to think better.

I don’t mean to bash religion or religious belief in this blog. I grew up in the Church and many of my closest friends and role models call themselves Christians (generally Protestants). Furthermore, I would like to call myself a Christian again; only, I want to do so for the right reasons.

These things said, I thought I would kick off the blog with a critique of the Church. This is it:

I see now that the Church is what the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day: merely a purported broker of power over life and death. It uses fear – the fear of eternal torment – to make converts and it uses fear to keep them. It exists as a means to wield power over others, dissidents or the disenfranchised, and its chief activity is judging others. It’s little more than a giant party of whistle-blowers, but it’s worse. It is ridden with hypocrisy: its sexual repression has led to sexual obsessions and the widespread pursuit of non-consensual and perverted sex, with adults and minors. And it breeds hate and death. It is guilty of killings and hatred and terror just like the other religious groups of the world.

Surely the Church does good things as well, and Christians are aware of its problems. Augustine said though the Church was his mother it was also a whore (paraphrase). It could be said Jesus came to denounce many of these practices and his words continue to denounce them. If it is true that the “founder” of Christianity preached against these problems and Christians own up to them, “whenceforth cometh evil”?

Few would deny that people are flawed, but I wonder if the problems are rooted in the religion itself: deep-seated desires for judgment and distinction from “others”, desires for control. Freud might have categorized these desires with the desire for immortality when he posited that religion served as a transcendent “wish-fulfillment”.

My questions: A) Since the Church commits as much evil as it does, are its claims about God valid? B) Other than the fundamental flaws mentioned immediately above, what viable alternatives can explain the evils of the Church? C) What alternatives do humans have for pursuing moral lives outside of Christian teaching (or outside of other appeals to divinely-authoritative commands)?

Thanks for reading. Please speak to my questions (and blog in general)!

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2 thoughts on “Greetings/The Church

  1. Q

    First: great post. Lots going on here.

    I guess, we can start here: unless we think religious/apologetic issues are simply of a different kind such that we have good reasons for treating the Church differently than we might other epistemic sources, I would say that evil in the Church is not evidence of the error of whatever beliefs it propounds.

    Second, I’m not even sure what to think when we talk about the relationship between The Church and the many churches that exist. I think it might be something like this: if an alien race came to visit earth, it would see us as all terribly similar (in some ways accurate, in some not so much). So while we as humanity may have a collective “blindspot” the aliens would have little-to-no conception of the political, religious, social, or linguistic nuances of humans and how some of us, in many ways, have NOTHING to do with others of us inasmuch as we can in any way be approached or conceived of as a unified body or entity.

    In the same way, I really wonder (perhaps sadly) how we can really concieve of everyone on earth who calls themselves a Christian “The Church” such that we can really make any kind of claim that would even approach (>90%) universality among the intended referents. I think the commonality in “who the Church is” lies perhaps only in our destiny as individuals: the Church consists of individuals that have truly (I know “truly” is problematic, but it doesn’t matter for my purposes here.) dedicated their lives to furthering Christ’s mission on earth. But, the whys, how’s, who’s, when’s, and where’s vary, and they vary for various reasons (insightful, I know. Ha ha).

    Because the commonality at bonds Christians, and thus the referents of the term “Church,” lies in something (in theory) that transcends this world, it’s going to be difficult if not impossible to use concepts or paradigms created, maintained, or perfected in this world to identify this Body and what it is or isn’t doing.

    A consequence of this is convenient for the apologist, yes, but I think nonetheless true: everyone claiming to speak for Christ certainly doesn’t. It’s the nature of the beast. To be sure, this is not to say that Christians don’t make mistakes, but surely there’s conceptual room between the “mistakes” I intend, and the “evil” you reference? Just as power, honor, and fame can act as a kind of social currency, so can any ideology or belief: it just so happens to be the case that the Christianity has frequently been in a position such that aligning oneself with its values also makes one (on the balance) more like able and able to, say, run for political office. Surely it is no accident that every single American president is a professed Protestant (with the exception of JFK, who was a Catholic). As long as a belief is percieved of as popular it be ones currency, and currency doesn’t discriminate among good or bad intentions.

    Finally, as an aside for your last question, I think the answer is many and none: I think the moral laws are built like our iniverse’s physical laws: physical laws (by and large) operate in a fixed way that is regular and non-discriminatory, no matter if you think they exist or your formulation is incomplete, they operate in the same way. If another moral system accesses moral truth, it’s is there just the same…but we should be careful here to distinguish between “truth” and “salvation”. Ha ha.

    Reply
  2. Peter

    Hey, just now getting to this, but I’ll just start reading from your very first post and comment along the way. And just to through this out there, I won’t be using nearly as many big words or philosophical concepts as you’re dropping in these entries (I don’t even know some of them), but I hope that won’t get in the way of my thoughts being taken seriously.

    As I read through this first one, personally, I see a lot of stereotypes used to support the points. I think my two questions would be this 1) What is your definition of the church? 2) How does that link up with what the Scriptures (that which “The Church” uses as it’s foundation) describe the church as? I’m reading through Acts right now, so a lot of this stuff is pretty fresh on the brain.

    To me, the Church is The Body of Christ here on Earth after His Ascension. So my question/challenge to you, then, would be: how can Christ practice evil? He cannot. The only option left is those who claim to be Christians, yet continue to PRACTICE evil, are not truly Christians. I do make the distinction between practicing evil and committing an act that is evil/sinful. The latter happens to all of us because we are broken and the world is yet to have been restored, but no true Christian, who has submitted their life to Christ, His kingdom, its way of life, and has received the Holy Spirit, can practice evil. It is like saying a horse can be a goldfish….it simply doesn’t make sense. We have been FUNDAMENTALLY changed, not merely morally elevated. (An aside: because we have been fundamentally changed, we are no longer sinners [a state of existence and an identity], even though we do still sin [an act]. That is a hugely important difference even if it only seems like playing the semantics game)

    So I don’t think it is really fair to those of us who are truly the Church, like you and I, to support the news-cycle stereotype that “anyone who claims to be a Christian is and therefore is the Church”. There are many of those people who very obviously practice evil and live evil lifestyles while touting the name of God and Christianity. They obviously aren’t Christians nor are they a part of the Church, so why do we let them damage the true Church’s credibility and reputation? I am a Christian, but I am very offended when people assume because of that I must be like the stereotypical Republican party, Fred Phelps, Joel Osteen, characters from the movie “Saved”, etc, etc. That is exactly the same mindset as someone who says all Muslims are flag-burning terrorists.

    So my answers to your specific questions are as follows:

    A) The Church does not commit evil, so therefore, its claims about God are indeed valid. The verse on one of Paul’s letters comes to mind where he speaking about people who are teaching about Jesus and the Kingdom of God for their own end. He says something to the effect of, “I don’t really care what motive they have as long as Jesus is preached. If they preach out of selfish ambition, they have received all that they will ever get (i.e. the praise of men and not eternal life)”. He is speaking to the power of God, in that God is powerful enough to use even the most manipulative and self-seeking person’s words to lead someone else to Himself. That doesn’t justify the motives of the speaker by any means and they will get what is coming to them on Judgement Day, but God isn’t so weak that someone’s selfish motives can prevent Him from reaching those who are seeking Him.

    B) Those evils aren’t “of the Church”. They are the evils of “wolves in sheepskin” the Bible speaks so frequently about…masquerading as those they are not, i.e. Christians and the Church.

    C) To assume that the ultimate goal of “being a Christian” is to live a moral life is to miss the point, I believe. A moral life is a natural byproduct of what the ultimate goal of a Christian is: living in communion with God. He then breathes his holy life into us through the Holy Spirit. All actions and lifestyles are byproducts of that, not the end goals. Also, when I use the word “holy”, it is not synonymous with moral, ethical, or righteous. I believe that holiness is a quality of life and/or state of existence attained through communion with God, which is made possible by the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of Christians. Holiness is the state of existence that God himself has and that He gave to humanity in the beginning (By that, I am NOT saying that we are omnipotent or omnipresent). Righteousness, moral and ethical uprightness are, again, natural byproducts of a holy life, but they are not the reason or goal of said life. And to tie this back around, there are not alternatives, nor possibilities for a truly moral life outside of true Christianity. Only Christians have the power and energy of the Holy Spirit working in them to allow their actions and words to be truly selfless. Any other attempt at a moral life outside of a Spirit-filled effort is fundamentally selfish because it ultimately comes down to “me being better for MY OWN better-ness” and usually involves being better in highly visible ways to receive “praise” for their own “better-ness”.

    Reply

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