News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Background to a Critique of Xtianism

Friday, August 03, 2007

Background to a Critique of Xtianism

The following was first posted at Kotsko's Weblog:

I have found in my own teaching experience on these issues that strictly evangelical students are very open to the critiques of religion--Xtianity in particular. Of course, that might be because I lay the basis for a common understanding using texts that are open to diverse interpretations, or that I do not try to impose a solution on them.

I think Adam has made some interesting comments and I hope to address them below. The first question I have though is whether Adam's criticism's cannot be seen as applying to the leadership of the right-wing evangelicals. In this sense, we might want to say that it's the leadership that tends to steer the church-goers into a more conservative direction, perhaps by skewing the information they use to propagate that message.

This latter point is something I have seen, again, in my experience with evangelical students. The information and readings I provide are distinctly different from the ones they get in sermons and bible studies. Yet, the readings I use are ostensibly "authentically" religious. That is, they call on a religious experiential base that students can align within their own lives. Yet the direction that that experiential hermeneutic is often distinctly different from the one that they hear at church.

Second, I wonder whether some liberal evangelicals try to differentiate the diverse liberal Christian traditions from the religious right. Even within evangelicalism, there is found a distinctly liberal wing. Jimmy Carter, Jim Wallis, and the Baptist Bill Moyers ate the more publicly visible members of this wing.

Then again, there's a third movement within Christian denominations that often gets the brunt of evangelical wrath: the liberation theologians. Using a Marxist hermeneutic, this movement was effectively squashed in Catholicism by John Paul II. Its effectiveness has declined in other places as well.

The success of evangelicalism worldwide is a phenomenon that the liberal Christians have found difficult to explain. From a sociological standpoint, the explanation often revolves around the emotional versus the intellectual approach of the evangelicals versus the more traditional denominations.

I don't think that this completely explains the phenomenon. There's something inherently conservative within fundamentalism that appeals to those who are trying to withstand the onslaught of modernism and secularism. Traditional Christian teaching provides that type of stable value system in a world that seems to many to verge on the abyss of chaos.

Be these introductory remarks as they may, I only mention them to Adam to perhaps help me clarify his argument. I imagine that the majority of people who fear the so-called thecon/neocon alliance often make the mistake of jumbling all Christians together, thereby making it more monolithic than it is.

Even given this context, however, I still wonder whether Adam's remarks stand up to scrutiny. I suggest that the evangelical movement--in its right-wing incarnation--is very strong. It has shown its political clout several times in recent elections. Its leaders have shown that they are open to advocating the most extreme social and cultural prescriptions for society's ills.

It is this fact that I think many on the left--and right by the way--find disturbing when they look at the influence of right-wing religion in US politics.

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