Babies and Bath Water
This morning I came across the work of a guy named Abraham Piper. This is what he says: "Is one of my themes attacking Christianity? No. I don't attack Christianity. I berate evangelicalism. Fundamentalism,".
I agree with the first part. Not sure that I think the second half is the most mature stance?
So. Here are my first thoughts on separating the wheat from the chaff? On throwing babies out with bathwater? No entirely sure which metaphor works. Let's find out, shall we?
I fully understand that when we see Christians raising children in a way that seems to fly in the face of everything Jesus said, it's important to call that out.
And when I read stories of people who call themselves "ex-fundamentalists" or "exvangelicals" or ex-fundies" I often shudder. Their childhoods often sound like the opposite of what Jesus preached.
Abraham goes on to say this: "Evangelicalism is a toddler tradition that's cousins with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy and the snot-nosed little sibling of mainline Protestant denominations. So yes, I'm out here saying that fundamentalism is bizarre anti-intellectual bulls--t. But that's not me attacking Christianity. Christianity is a big family. I'm just saying that one of the kids is being kind of a brat. And most of the rest of the family agrees."
To my mind, it's super important to notice that there are many strains of Christianity. And, if you had been raised by that "snot-nosed little sibling" I can imagine that you might have a lot to process.
I also think that, while acknowledging that these horror stories exist and that it is a problem that needs to be openly talked about — so, keep talking, Abraham! — I also think it's important that even within Evangeligal Christianity (not necessarily fundamentalist, which I think by definition strips away too much of the depth in Christianity to be valid) there are lovely humans whose stance is more toward spreading the "good news" in a way that is in line with Jesus' teaching.
I would humbly submit that I might be in that category. Ha! Really struggling with how to "come out" on the side of these people who really are in deep need of correction.
I was suprised to have landed at an Evangelical church, honestly. And I am even more surprised as I learn more and more about Christians in the news how honestly surreal many of the stories are. My best guess is that, because the Bible is a wisdom book, and because one of the most lovely aspects of Christianity is that there is a deep desire for a communal, egalitarian leadership, pretty much anyone is encouraged to pick up that book start learning.
That helps me understand how the Roman Catholic church happened — where, over centuries, what had been a bunch of people sharing this good news became a highly centralized, political, hierarchical institution. Kinda the opposite of fundamentalists, really.
Isn't it interesting that, in those polarities are similar abuses? Similar problems with interpretation of the gospel? Similar stances on women, abortion, LGBTQ+, what "pro-life" means, corporal punishment, child abuse, etc?
There is a lot to unpack in that paragraph and there are many differences between the two institutions, as well. One huge difference is that within the Catholic church there are many degrees of interpretation. Nuns on the Bus, anyone?
But back to the idea that anyone and everyone should just pick up a Bible and start learning. Out of context, in any translation, with no oversight.
It's a pretty wild idea. Especially with Christianity. I see some similarities with popular conceptions of other religious traditions and philosophies. We like things to come in sound bites and we like things that confirm our bias. We want that quote that we think sounds awesome to be from Lincoln or Einstein or Maya Angelou or George Carlin — and we're in fairly good company. The United States Postal Service and Barak Obama have both misquoted Maya Angelou, attributing "The bird doesn't sing because it has the answer. The bird sings because it has a song" to her. Joan Walsh Anglund wrote the line in 1967. It's a lovely line, in a lovely poem book. But it isn't Maya Angelou.
Similarly, I was raised by a mom who misquoted the Bible all the time. Things like — and I am not making this up — "God helps those who help themselves".
Understanding the Bible should be a lifelong pursuit done with a large dose of humility and lots of patience.
At the same time, is it something that should be kept away from lay people and dished out only in highly polished teachings?
There's a reason we had the Protestant reformation. Over the years, that reformation has washed over the Catholic church as well, rendering it more and more open with time.
We are all capable of understanding the core teaching of Christianity. The one law we have to follow is "love God above all else and love your neighbour as yourself".
The second part is basically secular humanism (as far as I understand it). It's that first part "love God above all else" that makes Christianity different to secular humanism. (as far as I understand it).
That is the one rule we are expected to follow, though, in Christianity. The rest of the Bible is there to back up and help us better follow that rule.
When I am confused about how to follow a tenet in the Bible, I just go to that rule and ask how I might follow that tenet to best uphold the one law, the one rule. And then, with contemplation, go from there.
I do understand when people see fallen Christians, fallen Churches, fallen Christianity everywhere, they might respond by falling away themselves.
I understand, in fact, why some people think that Christianity is a thing from the past, and not relevant anymore.
I also understand when people wonder why they "need" Christianity when they can just commit to being "good people".
I also think those people are deeply mistaken. I also disagree with their logic. I look forward to the day where we can have disagreements with respect and where we can agree or disagree about the substance of Christianity (or secular humanism, or what-have-you) regardless of the people or even the institutions failing at following Christianity.
That said, speaking openly and forthrightly about those failings is crucial to a healthy society. And an essay for another day.