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The Biggest Challenges to Staying Christian

07 Jun

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Courtesy of Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism:

On Patheos’ evangelical Christian channel, Peter Enns has been soliciting comments from his readers about what the greatest challenges are to remaining Christian. He got hundreds of responses, and he’s compiled a list of five common themes in the answers:

1. The Bible, namely inerrancy. This was the most commonly cited challenge, whether implicitly or explicitly, and it lay behind most of the others mentioned. The pressure many of you expressed was the expectation of holding specifically to an inerrant Bible in the face of such things as biblical criticism, contradictions, implausibilities in the biblical story, irrelevance for life (its ancient context), and the fact that the Bible is just plain confusing.

2. The conflict between the biblical view of the world and scientific models. In addition to biological evolution, mentioned were psychology, social psychology, evolutionary psychology, and anthropology. What seems to fuel this concern is not simply the notion that Scripture and science offer incompatible models for cosmic, geological, and human origins, but that scientific models are verifiable, widely accepted, and likely correct, thus consigning the Bible to something other than a reliable description of reality.

3. Where is God? A number of you, largely in emails, wrote of personal experiences that would tax to the breaking point anyone’s faith in a living God who is just, attentive, and loving. Mentioned were many forms of random/senseless suffering and God’s absence or “random” presence (can’t count on God being there).

4. How Christians behave. Tribalism, insider-outsider thinking; hypocrisy, power; feeling misled, sheltered, lied to by leaders; a history of immoral and unChristian behavior towards others (e.g., Crusades, Jewish pogroms). In short, practically speaking, commenters experienced that Christians too often exhibit the same behaviors as everyone else, which is more than simply an unfortunate situation but is interpreted as evidence that Christianity is not true-more a crutch or a lingering relic of antiquity than a present spiritual reality.

5. The exclusivism of Christianity. Given 1-4 above, and in our ever shrinking world, can Christians claim that their way is the only way?

Adam Lee has his owns thoughts on the significance of this, which are good, but I want to write my own.

Why be concerned about what Christians are struggling with? I don’t have a problem with Christianity per se, but I have a problem with groupthink (which is a much larger problem, one that atheists aren’t immune to). A few years ago I might have said that Christianity is problematic, but this assumes that there is one true version of Christianity. Even though Christian “orthodoxy” tries to paint that picture in history, even though modern Christians might try to promote that idea, there never was one, true version of Christianity, nor will there ever be. Again, the problem is tribal politics, which will cause Christians to act like jerks for the tribe, even if their rationale uses religious wording:

Subject: You and [girlfriend],

Hi [boyfriend],

I see that you and [girlfriend] are ratcheting up your relationship. As I said before, this puts your family in a very difficult situation.

Althought it seems you have made up your mind about this, I want to make sure that you are aware of the scriptures on this.

The most helpful passage about marrying an unbeliever can be found at 2 Cor 6: 14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial[a]? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?

Besides this there are numerous Old Testament passages in which Israelite men married non-believing women from other nations, always to the displeasure of the Lord. For example, in Ezra 10, Israel is rebuked for their marriage to foreign wives: 10 Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have been unfaithful, you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. 11 Now make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.” 12 The whole assembly responded with a loud voice: “You are right! We must do as you say.

When you think about it, it only makes sense. What is more fundamental to a person, their values, their world view, their preferences and convictions than their true religious beliefs?

More to the point for the Christian, how can we justify joining ourselves as one with someone who is opposed to what we believe and hold dear, our relationship to Jesus.

I say all this [boyfriend] because while I love you dearly, I am quickly coming to a point where lines must be drawn. As your relationship picks up, so does my unease with the two of you.

I am sorry it has come to this [boyfriend]. I sincerely hope that I am wrong. But nothing I see in your relationship, nothing in the way [girlfriend] presents herself, gives me any hope. And it grieves me that you do not seem moved by this at all. Quite frankly, this has struck me as one of those times when you set yourself to do what you want, regardless of the truth of the situation.

I suggest that you, [girlfriend], and I meet. Unless and until we hear her beliefs about Christ, this uneasy relationship will continue. In fact, it will become worse

Love,

Dad

If Christianity changed to become a religion that prevented stuff like that, then I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. Unfortunately, because there isn’t a tradition of overcoming bias in Christianity, I don’t know if that’s even possible. We’ll continue to get stories like the above and life threatening instances of misogyny due to the built-in focus on valuing the dogma of the religion instead of the well-being of the very real human beings practicing it. In order for Christianity to become more socially acceptable in the modern world, it has to become more like science. And it seems like that’s impossible while Christianity remains a religion with a mysterious god.

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