I saw a particularly ignorant comment on Digg today in regards to Christianity (blaming evangelical Christianity for G. W. Bush’s misguided tortue policies). I know I really shouldn’t dignify ignorant comments on Digg with a response, but this time I have to. I responded there, and I’ll respond with more detail here.Here’s the quote:
Evangelicals love torture, they are taught it in spectacular detail in the Bible, and they are taught from a young age to abhor nudity and sex, but crave blood and sacrifice, any form of violence really, as it signifies the “end times”. So, the logical extension is, a state where torture is encouraged. The real problem is, like a cult being lead by a twisted, violent leader, Evangelical christianity needs to be treated as a sickness in society.
I (somewhat reluctantly) fit the definition of an evangelical Christian and I take issue with this comment. I say reluctantly, because I don’t like being associated with this stereotype.
Bloody, old-testament-style sacrifices have no place in evangelical Christianity, or any Christianity. The ritual of sacrifice pointed toward Christ. It was replaced by Holy Communion (aka the Eucharist, if you come from a Roman Catholic background). The whole idea of Christianity is that GOD shed blood (HIS OWN blood) and suffered himself, so that we wouldn’t have to. Substitution. Period. Ritual sacrifice was just a ritual, because animal blood cannot attone for human sin, any more than cheap wine can. Both the animal blood and the cheap wine remind us of the blood of Christ. (If you’re Lutheran or Roman Catholic, it goes even further and you’re taught that the wine is the blood of Christ.)
A central point in the Bible is this: I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. It appears in the Old Testament in Hosea 6:6, and in Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7, Jesus quotes it when the scholars of his day lose sight of it. I would agree with the statement that many people today have also lost sight of these verses.
Few evangelicals I know look forward to the End Times, because if you actually read the Bible (and I have read it cover-to-cover), there’s nothing pleasant happening in the End Times. It’ll be nice when it’s over, but if we had a choice, most of us would choose for our lives to occur entirely before the End Times happen. Those who would like to live in the End Times generally crave it just because they believe there may be some position of honor in heaven for having lived through the End Times and survived it.
The Bible actually spends more time talking about money than it spends talking about what’s going to happen in the future. But that isn’t its main premise either. Most of what the Bible is talking about is the dual idea of “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The bad things that happen in the Bible are illustrations of what happens when people don’t do those two things.
The Old Testament started with Adam and Eve having paradise and losing it because they got greedy. And it goes on down the line, telling the stories of people who did good and bad things and what happened to them. Read the newspapers today, and you’ll see that human nature hasn’t changed much since the time these books were written.
Do I believe that God punishes people, or uses other people as agents of his wrath? Yes, sometimes. But I believe usually there’s no need. The natural consequences of our actions are usually enough. If anything, I think God in his mercy often intervenes and lessens the blow of those consequences. You see it in the Old Testament, and I certainly see it happening today.
I believe the Left Behind books are partially responsible for the stereotype of evangelical Christians as blood-craving, eschatologically obsessed fanatics. But “Left Behind” is based on questionable theology, and the concept of a Rapture originiated in the United States and started to take hold roughly in 1837. It makes for much better sci-fi than traditional interpretations of scripture.
The ads for those books promote co-author Tim LaHaye as a Bible scholar, but he is not universally regarded as such. Sales of his books should not be interpreted as an endorsement for his belief system. From what I understand, Roman Catholics won’t buy them, period. Some Lutherans will buy them, but regard them strictly as fiction, as they would a Tom Clancy novel. Lutheran scholars vigorously oppose the theology.
I won’t get into the details here, because I’m not qualified, but I’ll sum up the problem. Most “End Times”-obsessed theology is based on overemphasizing the books of Revelation and Daniel. Revelation and Daniel are probably the two most difficult books of the Bible to understand. When Jesus was trying to make a point, he generally tried to make it very easy to understand. And when he didn’t, he took the inner circle aside and explained it to them, and the Gospels include that explanation.
The Bible isn’t the only book that’s fuzzy on some details. And what you do when, say, Shakespeare, is unclear is you read the unclear parts in light of the things that are clear.
And this is the reason I left evangelical Christianity for an evangelical-minded Lutheran church. I got tired of having a pastor whose college degree was in math, who had no formal training in theology and who would have difficulty picking out the finer points of Romeo and Juliet, telling me how to read the Bible. I hate to say this, but many evangelical preachers are in over their head, teaching on subjects that they have limited understanding of themselves.
It’s interesting to me that the most evangelical-minded denominations have too many pastors, so their ordained pastors have to have another full-time job. Meanwhile, the Lutherans and Catholics don’t have enough. One reason for this is that it’s really hard to get through Lutheran and Catholic seminary. While I’m painfully aware that the ability to pass all the tests doesn’t mean you have any people skills (and I’ll risk enraging some people by saying many people who make it through Lutheran seminary have no business whatsoever running churches), the fact is that if you manage to make it through a Lutheran or Catholic seminary, in the end you really do have a thorough understanding of the Bible.
I believe some of the backlash against Christianity is due to the unpopular wars that this country is waging. Most Christians I know oppose this war too. We don’t necessarily talk about it a lot. But it’s about as easy to find a Christian who thinks this war is illegal as it is a non-Christian. I know some evangelical Christians who were bailing on Bush in 2004, voting for third-party candidates who had some of the same ideas as Ron Paul. My pastor certainly distanced himself from Bush, and any presidential candidate who ran on Christianity. He said that when things go wrong (and it will, because something goes wrong with every presidency), people will blame it on Christianity. And for that reason alone, it’s not a good idea to vote for a presidential candidate based solely on the faith he or she professes.
That’s obviously what’s happening here–noting that an unpopular president professes to be an evangelical Christian, and blaming the failings of his administration on his religious beliefs.
I’ll buy the argument that there are people in Arab states who dislike the United States because the majority religion in the United States is Christianity. Maybe they’re fighting an Islam-vs.-Christianity war. But we’re not. If it weren’t for the oil equation, we wouldn’t be in these wars.
Bush is more than happy to trade with China and Japan. They have things we want, and they’re happy to take our money. Neither of them are Christian nations.
Most South American countries don’t think too highly of the United States either. The majority religion in those countries happens to be Roman Catholicism, a form of Christianity. But they also happen to be willing to sell us the coffee and metals that we want at prices that we’re willing to pay. We aren’t actively waging war with them, but that has nothing to do with religion. It has everything to do with trade.