The mainstream media addresses Christianityby Gordon Houser
For decades the mainstream media generally ignored religion. Now we see articles on religion, which is a major factor in American society, with some regularity. For example, the April 9 issue of Newsweek proclaimed on its cover, “Forget the Church; Follow Jesus,” while the April 16 cover of Time ran the headline “Rethinking Heaven.” Even more notable than the prevalence of articles on religion is that many are written with some understanding of religion.
Even though I don’t agree with everything in the two articles I’ve mentioned, they are worth reading and discussing.
Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic, writes in Newsweek about “The Forgotten Jesus.” He laments how in America faith has become too politicized. Early in the article he asks two questions: “What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself?”
He refers to Thomas Jefferson’s Bible, from which he removed all but those passages he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus. Jefferson (and Sullivan, apparently) considered this “a simpler, purer, apolitical Christianity.” That’s naïve, to say the least.
Sullivan goes on to point out that organized religion is in decline, largely because churches have pursued power rather than faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings. He notes the Catholic hierarchy being exposed as “enabling, and then covering up, an international conspiracy to abuse and rape countless youths and children.” Mainline Protestant churches have declined rapidly, he writes, while Evangelical Protestants, to give one example, is the group that American pollsters have found to be most supportive of torturing terror suspects. He writes: “This version of Christianity could not contrast more strongly with Jesus’ constant refrain: ‘Be not afraid.’ ”
Sullivan claims that Christianity (and he means in America; he ignores Christianity in other parts of the globe) is in crisis. He notes that “many Christians now embrace materialist self-help rather than ascetic self-denial,” that “the fastest-growing segment of belief among the young is atheism” and that “many have turned away from organized Christianity and toward ‘spirituality.’ ”
His solution? Christianity needs to go back to Jesus by emulating Francis of Assisi, who did not seek power but lived nonviolently.
Sullivan says this does not imply a privatization of faith, which has been a typical American response to religion. He writes that great injustices, such as slavery, imperialism, totalitarianism and segregation, “require spiritual mobilization and public witness.” But the greatest examples of such movements renounce power and embrace nonviolence.
He almost sounds like a Mennonite.
In the Time article, “Heaven Can’t Wait,” Jon Meacham, also a Christian, notes that while 85 percent of Americans believe in heaven, “we don’t necessarily agree on what heaven is.”
Meacham writes that many now argue that “the alleviation of the evident pain and injustice of the world is the ongoing work that Jesus began and the means of bringing into being what the New Testament authors meant when they spoke of heaven.”
Others, such as Erik Thoennes of Biola University, think this focus “tends to come from white dudes wearing skinny jeans who live in the suburbs and not poor, suffering people.”
Meacham seems to agree with this as the work of religion: “bringing reality closer to conformity with theocentric aspirations in a world in which loving one another as we would be loved is a sacred act and a way of expanding the dominion of God—or heaven—in the world.”
Again, it’s worth pondering.
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