Friday, October 20, 2006
The Superiority of Christianity
I'm here to call for proof. I want to see numbers. I want to see actual, verifiable evidence.
Here's what I do know:
Somewhere between 75% and 80% of all Americans self-identify as Christians.
The vast majority of crimes in the US are committed by Christians (hereafter meant as a direct reference to self-identify as Christians).
The vast majority of our political office-holders, judicial appointees, law enforcement professionals and legislators are Christians.
The vast majority of all places of worship are Christian.
100% of the men involved with the sex scandal in the Roman Catholic Church are Christian.
What I want to know is the actual foundation in observable fact that being Christian will make my society better than it is. And to those who choose to answer, I give fair warning: vaguely worded statements, vague references to holy text, and assertions made without direct citations will be rejected out of hand. The "promise" of salvation is not evidence; indeed, believers in Jesus Christ seem to me to be the bulk of the problem up to now.
Statistics in this area are far more confusing than they at first appear. For instance, the oft-cited 80% has inherent problems, not the least of which being that sects are included that are considered cults by the majority and tradition of Christianity and that people will claim to be 'Christian' merely because they were born and baptized in a church, or even just because they agree with some of the things that Jesus taught. So how can we find out what percentage of this country are actually Christians? There's no good single number, but here are a few little tidbits:
The percentage of Americans who actually attend a religious service (any service, Christian or not) varies from 25% to 44% depending on the poll. (I got this one from religioustolerance.org, who cites its sources)
The same article cites the director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, Robert Wuthnow, as saying that 25% (one in four) of Americans say that they are "deeply religious". Again, this is not Christianity only.
The same site estimates 35% of those who fit the description of "born again", which might be a better indicator of people who believe that they have a mission in life to apply Jesus's teachings in their own lives. Granted, this site appears to be hostile to any limitation of the definition of Christianity.
Of course, that presents another problem. To those who define "Christian" as anyone who claims the label, it seems as if the country is full of them and only getting worse. To those who identify as "Christian" those who have claimed identity as a son or daughter of God, cleansed of their sins and desiring to become holy by following Jesus's teachings, the percentage is far smaller. It very well may disqualify the majority of politicians and priests involved in pedophilia. (Though I would not say for sure that such actions in and of themselves disqualify them. That's a long story.) However, people who abhor the idea of limiting the definition of Christianity will not accept this as a valid explanation of the chasm between Jesus's behavior and many of those who claim to be God's.
I'll leave you with one more statistic: In a Newsweek poll that pegged a high percentage of Americans believing in a God and in the Virgin Birth, only 11 percent claimed that American society closely follows true Christian values and the spirit of Jesus. The opinion among the majority of those who self-identify as Christians appears to indicate that the direction of this country is not an adequate representation of a country following Christian values.
I don't know any better answer for this whole dilemma than to just live what I believe the best I can, so that even if dedicated Christians are truly going this badly astray in large numbers, at least I am not. Because at its heart, Christianity is not about transforming society through rigid law, but through transforming people through grace. When the individuals are treating each other with charity, society transforms from the inside out.
1) What is a Christian?
2) How do you answer the inherent hypocrisy of a group of major sects all disagreeing on the answer to the first question?
I don't mean to make you answer, as this amounts to a trick question and a catch-22. I do mean to disagree with you on one major point.
If you (general) cannot accept a person self-identifying with Christianity, and you (specific) cannot come to agreement on the defintions thereof, then you (personally) really cannot answer my original challenge.
Perhaps I have unconscious bias that I have to answer for, making the question as stated problematic. I'd be willing to explore that. I look to the example of Judaism because there is a direct correlation inherent in my question.
Christians will claim that the US is founded on Christian values (or whatever) and that this is a Christian culture. I can actually buy that so far as it goes (face value). Jews make a strong and tolerant distinction between religious and cultural. I see the validity of Christians doing the same.
There is a small but vocal group of Jews who have always rejected that distinction, just as you imply a rejection of it as well. I submit that the state of Israel proves that the distinction not only exists, but is mandatory if that nation is to survive. My bias is that I apply those same sensibilities and sensitivities to my question/challenge.
So, just as I am not a religious Jew, but have no difficulty claiming Jewish heritage, I am a non-Christian member of a Christian culture.
I absolutely honor your position. I must remind you, though, that you are a very rare person Christian or otherwise, and I must live in a real world where those who've appropriated that label would, in fact, and are currently attempting to, transform our society using laws. That ultimately is what we must all face, and find answers for.
I've actually said in the past that I am willing to live in any country founded on the tenets of any religion that truly believes that you can only convert of your own free will. I still mean it!
I live in a "blue state" and attended a state college. That's given me my own bias in this area. As early as elementary school, during my couple of years in the public school system, the other students told me point-blank that I was not allowed to bring my Bible and read it during free breaks, and the teachers did not correct them. From people forcibly tearing down small prayer meeting signs put up by our little college group to angry speakers on local television saying that Christians should have no right to express faith-based opinions in the public square, I've gained a perhaps unique opinion of the way Christianity is tolerated in present-day America.
My situation as it involves Jewish heritage/religion is, as I may have said before, somewhat unique. I'm 1/4 Jewish through my father's side, and we celebrated some of the holidays when I was growing up. I know what to do with a dreidel, and I've made hamentashen. From what I've heard, I also tend to give more consideration to Old Testament writings in my doctrine than many mainstream denominations. Since the blood and heritage comes from my father's side, I'm not considered Jewish among traditional Jewish law. According to the Third Reich, I'd have been a mischlinge in the second degree, and my mother warned me about white supremacy groups when I was quite young.
I'm not going to argue with the monotheist(s), that got old long ago. lol.
In response to your two questions, it's pretty easy to identify a Christian. A Christian is a person that gives mental assent to Nicene and Apostle's Creeds (and all that they imply about the nature of the Divine and of sin) *and* who attempts to live by what Christ calls the sum of the law and the prophets, namely loving the Lord our God with all one's heart and loving one's neighbor as one's self, *and* who acknowledges Jesus is Lord.
Every orthodox Christian will have these three aspects to their belief and practice, although they may emphasize different parts. And here's where the disagreement is. The disagreement isn't, what is a Christian, but rather how do we *know* the person is a Christian. And here you will find a lot of disagreement and sectarian rhetoric.
I grew up in a Fundamentalist Independent Baptist (always to be kept in capitals) church, and there was a lot of Jack Chick-style Catholic bashing. Heck, even the Methodists down the road were suspect. But the problem they had wasn't that these groups didn't believe enough, but rather that they believed too much. It wasn't about what they took away from "mere Christianity," but rather what they added to it.
Anyway, I disagree with you in many ways, but could see us having a civil discussion over a cup of coffee and that to me is a breath of fresh air.
So, let's see. It looks like you've identified the difference between "orthodox Christians" and "Christians". But your opening statement then sounds like "A Christian is an orthodox Christian." Would you not say then that Clovis converted to Catholic Christianity in contrast to the Arian Christianity of the Ostrogoths? Would you rather we identify it as a conversion to "Christianity" (the Catholic/orthodox part assumed) as opposed to the Arianism of his neighbors?
Where do Mormons fit in?
In the first sentence of your post you hit the nail on the head. The only way to correct the problems in a country of nominal Christians is for them to act like Christians. In other words, political programs may reduce crime, decrease poverty, and improve the environment, but those problems will remain while too many Americans refuse to love their neighbors, honor their mothers and fathers, regard all human beings as created in the image and likeness of God, treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and not as instruments of transitory pleasure, and remember their duties to the weakest of their brethren.
You talk about the collapse of marriage - the result of Christians not heeding Jesus' teachings about divorce.
So your latter points do not invalidate the call embracing Jesus Christ but rather strengthen it.