Saturday, December 08, 2007

Brian McLaren on Christianity as a Global Threat

I've had the Friendly Atheist on my bloglines ever since finishing I Sold My Soul On eBay. For the most part it seems to be a little like a fundamentalist Christian blog, except from an atheist's POV. Occasionally however they do have interesting posts, especially by Christian contributor Mike Clawson:

By MikeClawson on Friendly Atheist

Pastor Mike here again:

Many of you may already know that I consider myself part of the “emerging church” - a movement within Christianity that is fed up with many of the same problems that you all have often pointed out regarding religion, and that wants to re-imagine “a new kind of Christianity”.

That phrase, “a new kind of Christian” was coined by my friend Brian McLaren, who is one of central influencers of the emerging church movement and was listed by Time magazine as one of the “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America.” Brian was recently asked to guest blog at the progressive political site TPM Cafe. His opening post was entitled “Christianity as a Global Threat” and he starts by referencing the “new atheists”.

There’s a lot of talk nearly everywhere these days about the dangers of radical Islam. In some settings, people express similar concerns about Christianity, especially the dangers of a right-wing theocracy here in America. Whether the warnings come from “the new atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens or from secular-political voices on the left, the prospective villains are usually described as the Religious Right, Evangelicals, Christian Fundamentalists, and so on.

But largely under the radar, there’s something else going on in the Christian community in the US and world-wide, and it’s a change worth knowing about. Many of us who are involved with this emergence of a new thing would describe it as a deep shift (don’t forget the “f”), even a kind of repentance. Growing numbers of us Christians are ashamed of the ways that we Christians have behaved in recent decades – from Evangelicals backing unjust and unwise wars to Catholics covering up priestly abuse, from Prosperity Gospel televangelists getting rich by ripping off the poor to institutional religious bureaucracies fiddling around in carpet-color-committee meetings while the world is burning, or at least warming dangerously.

We have been arguing about the origin of species while an unprecedented extinction of species occurs on our watch; we’ve been fighting endlessly (and unproductively) about unborn children while achieving precious little for the already-born children in Darfur or Congo or Malawi or downtown Cincinnati. These stale expressions of bad faith have left many of us gasping for the fresh air of good faith.

So along with facing up to our current and historic failures and atrocities, we’re engaging in a hopeful re-imagining of what Christian faith can be, become, and do in the future.

Brian’s has both harsh and hopeful words for religious people. He continues:

Our world’s religions are failing to provide a story strong enough to inspire enough of us to deal effectively with the first three crises [of dysfunctional systems of prosperity, security and equity]. In fact, all too often our religions provide destructive narratives – I call them framing stories – which reinforce our solution deadlock and drive our social machinery all the more recklessly and passionately toward suicide. To put it starkly, there are figurative religious suicide bombers as well as literal ones, and they are armed with stories.

It’s at this level of framing stories that I see both the ugliness and hope of our religions, including my own Christian faith, which currently counts about a third of the world’s population as its adherents.

On the one hand, our religions can fan the flames of holy-war narratives –whether expressed in terms of terrorism or counter-terrorism, jihad or crusade. On the other, our religions can inspire us with framing stories of reconciliation and peace. On the one hand, our religions can foment stories of scapegoating and vilification, but on the other, they can inspire us toward compassion and understanding through stories of reconciliation and grace.

In this Brian is echoing an argument that I have made here on several occasions: that the best remedy for bad faith is not no faith but good faith. I offer this not as an argument for or against the truth of religion in general, but simply as a pragmatic reality. Let’s face it, despite their best efforts, it is unlikely that atheists will ever convince the majority of religious people around the world to de-convert. So if we really are concerned about making this world a better place, and putting an end to all the evils and injustices caused by religion (a goal which Brian and I both share with many atheist friends) then we must seek to transform the world’s religions into forces for good rather than simply opposing all believers (even the moderate and progressive ones, as Sam Harris would have it) simply on principle . As Brian suggests:

A new kind of Christianity fueled by this kind of story could turn out to be a global threat after all – but not a threat to progressive values like democracy and otherness and diversity and sustainability. Instead, it could pose a powerful challenge to injustice, greed, war-mongering, environmental plundering, vilification, cold-heartedness, racism, bigotry, violence, torture, and fear.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Brian also follows up with several more articles that I think will also be of special interest to atheists. His next one is on “Finding Common Ground” between progressive, emerging Christians and skeptical secularists who view religion with suspicion, in which he also explains his personal reasons for not giving up on religion altogether yet.

He then has a two part post on “Faith in the Public Sphere” (Part 1 & Part 2), as well as an imaginative transcipt of a speech that President Bush could have given following 9/11 (but unfortunately didn’t), which hopefully illustrates a more positive way that faith can engage with public life.

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