The Moral Decay of Conservative Christianity

Charles_Joseph_Natoire_The_Expulsion_from_Paradise_400Valerie Tarico, a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, has a nice Conservative Christian takedown over at RawStory entitled “Conservative Christians point fingers at atheists to cover growing corruption in church“.

On the surface the claims made by many belief leaders sound both credible to those that believe and are also very much on script, but examine the facts, and it all rapidly fall apart. As explained by Valerie, atheists, the supposedly bastions on all bad morality, are not as described …

  • This summer, photographer and filmmaker Chris Johnson began screening A Better Life: Joy and Meaning in a World Without God. The movie follows a related coffee table book in which prominent atheists (and—full disclosure—a few ordinary nonbelievers like me) discuss the values, loves, dreams and projects that give their lives purpose.
  • New Atheist author Sam Harris, followed his book, The Moral Landscape with Waking Up, an inquiry into the rich human experience of meditation and transcendence—the universal human experience that we are more than just our individual selves and life is deeper than the hedonism of the moment.
  • Small Sunday Assembly congregations around the world are continuing to experiment with building community around a three part motto—Live Better, Help Often, Wonder More.
  • Blogger, Neil Carter, a theology-trained former teacher, has amassed a following of thousands who read his wry, tender morally-grounded musings as he navigates being Godless in Dixie.
  • Humanist chaplaincies like the Harvard Humanist Hub have been springing up on college campuses.
  • Even the Satanic Temple (actually an atheist religion that eschews supernaturalism and embraces Satan as a literary rebel against tyranny a la Milton) has stepped into the public eye with a mission and manifesto affirming broadly held humanistic values.

… and so if there is going to be a moral declaration, then the houses of the supposedly godly need to pause and consider the utter morally bankrupt state of their own houses …

  • Archaic sex and gender scripts drive hypocrisy. As gender roles and intimate relations become more flexible in modern society, the rigid Iron Age sex script gets harder and harder for Bible-believing Christians to impose—not only on society at large but even on themselves. Trying and failing, young Evangelicals vow abstinence until marriage but instead engage in impulsive, high risk sex (because planning and protection would signal premeditation). Pastors, priests and patriarchal men—who often find the old script equally impossible—pay queer prostitutes, exploit their positions to fondle children and female parishioners, and fill the coffers of internet porn providers—all the while loudly condemning the sexual obsessions of gays, women, and youth.
  • Clinging to creationism drives rabbit hole reasoning. As evolutionary theory gets incorporated into computer science and the next wave of engineering and even manufacturing, creationists find themselves backed into a corner, needing to cast aspersions on the whole scientific enterprise (with a peculiar corollary emphasis on undermining climate science). More and more, the only way to preserve and protect a biblical world view is to engage in self-deceptive rabbit hole reasoning—a very bad habit for any individual or group that hopes to be a moral light in the midst of humanity’s darkness.
  • The quest for political power drives corruption. The fusion of conservative Christianity and conservative politics into the Religious Right has corroded Christian values and priorities in America and soiled Christianity’s good name. In the words of Sean Illing, “This unholy union of religion and politics has proven disastrous, particularly in the era of PACs, which allow economic libertarians to manipulate conservative Christians for political purposes.” Politics is a notoriously ruthless no-holds-barred affair in which power corrupts—sometimes absolutely. Right wing candidates and politicians who tout their close relationship with God may baptize their own reputations, but they simultaneously foul the Church.
  • Bibliolatry drives moral stunting. As culture continues to evolve and moral consciousness deepens, the tribal, racistsexist worldview of the Bible writers appears ever more cruel and morally stunted. Bible believers, who insist on treating ancient texts as if they were the literally perfect word of God, and their own interpretation of these texts as if it were the only one possible, end up coming across the same way. As their views become less appealing, young people motivated by an honest search for truth and compassion find the Church less and less appealing, leaving those with other priorities to wave the Christian flag.

The Essence of the message

The foundational idea is that humans are fatally flawed and fallen. A mythological God is supposedly the keeper of all that is moral and so obeying him is the ultimate morality, but because we are cut off by the fall then we are destined to do all that is wrong. This sales pitch, like any good sales pitch, leads to a supposed solution – Jesus.

If indeed any of this was actually true then we should be able to observe that the lives of the religious are more moral and upright than the lives of the non-religious – and yet we observe the complete opposite of that. The reality is that most humans, regardless of their belief or non-belief, are decent honourable people who strive to do what is right, and so what is happening here is that some of the deeply religious face a distinct disadvantage because they embrace fictitious ideas that are bad and that then leads to bad behaviour.

When faced with this rather obvious juxtaposition between belief and personal behaviour, what then flows is the inevitable no-true-scotsman lifting his kilt and declaring, “Ah but your examples are of people who are not really born again”. I write “inevitable” because if you have devoted decades of your life to a belief and poured not only all of your resources but also all of your heart into it all, then it can indeed be almost impossible to come to terms with the fact that none of it is true.

This is not new, we have been here before.

The printing press once challenged and shook the roots of Christianity by exposing religious corruption to such a degree that it initiated a complete re-invention and rebuild from the ground up, we now call that the reformation. OK, that is actually a tad simplistic because the story of Christianity is one that involves many waves of successive reform over the centuries. Today our new information age is exposing the hypocrisy of belief as never before and so the challenge is how do we respond to this. The religious need to come to terms with the fact that it is becoming increasingly apparent that they are residing on the wrong side of both the moral and also the evidence-based scientific line, and the non-religious need to learn how to treat the religious with compassion and sympathy and not simply derision. It is not “them” vs “us” for we are in this together, and share a common humanity.

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