Sunday, June 21, 2009

Change from within

I agree with my friend, Cobus, who argues that the New Atheists grossly simplify reality by ignoring the fact that many theists are not fundamentalists. I've offered a similar critique of the New Atheists in an earlier post.

So it's no surprise that the New Atheist literature – that which I've read so far – is totally silent on the way in which Christian thinking has changed over the last five years or so. One only has to read a book by Brian McLaren, or sit in on discussions amongst those who consider themselves part of the emerging movement, to realise that there are many Christians who are actively rethinking traditional ideas around spirituality, homosexuality, creationism, hell, and the role of religion in politics and society. I am honoured to know some of these Christians as friends.

It seems to me as if traditional Christianity – the type that emphasises vengeful justice above love and acceptance; advocates patriarchy; and places the defence of 'Truth' over and above the well-being of people – is slowly on the way out. But the fundamentalist is misguided when she claims that secularism and atheism are fully to blame for this change. Rather, it seems to me as if transformation is being spurred on by Christians themselves.

And this point is lost on the New Atheists: they are misguided in thinking that they, as outsiders, are the only ones who can lead lasting change by simply telling people how to think. Positive, sustainable transformation in any social system can only occur if it starts within itself. I believe Christianity is changing from within, and changing for the better.


Anonymous said...

It occurs to me to wonder why these welcome developments in Christianity are happening now, rather than (say) a thousand years ago. Could it be that secular ideas are now much more freely and widely expressed, and, and that the Church no long has the power to suppress them? (the last execution for blasphemy in the UK was, I believe, in 1759). It is not clear to me that a theocracy unchallenged by secular ideas has any motive to reform.

desiderius said...

I wouldn't sleep too easy, if I were you. Emerging (submerging?)Christianity is a minority movement largely confined to middle class whites yammering away in cyber-space and in books. Its influence on Christianity is negligble.

"Traditional" Christianity, the type that tells people about a sovereign God who reaches down to rescue people from themselves and from death is the only part of Christianity that is growing, in leaps and bounds and despite persecution, in Africa, Asia and South America. And it still commands majority support in North America.

Emerging Christianity is just another in a very long line of attempts to create a god in the image of the dominant culture. And the track record of previous attempts is not very inspiring: the Catholic-Greek philosophy synthesis of the High Middle Ages? Dead. Christian Nationalism? Dead and discredited. Liberal Protestantism: Dying churches throughout Europe and North America.

The names change, but heresies stay the same, whether in AD100 or AD2009.

Sarah said...

I agree with desiderius' observation on the growing of Traditional Christianity. Although there is an emergence of more liberal Christianity, unfortunately it is very far from the majority.

However, it is also not appropriate to see Traditional Christianity as something that has never gone through changes. It has gone through tremendous changes through the last 2000 years and especially in the last 100. Traditional can hardly be defined anymore, although Evangelicals like to hold on to the idea that they are the majority. But even they have changed and are changing.

" and places the defence of 'Truth' over and above the well-being of people – is slowly on the way out. "

This is true in that most are opening their eyes more to how their hard dealing's with "sinners" has hurt more than helped. More are realizing that we are all humans and getting more out of their church exclusive bubble.

Your observations Kevin are humble ones, and deserve respect.

I know many Christians (family included) who see atheists as pious, self-righteous, stubborn people who think they have the answers. They ask questions like "where are Atheists as a community when things go wrong." And although in a small way, it is true, the attitude behind it is a poor one. Hopefully there will come a day when we can all respect individuals for who they are, and not because of the label they choose to bear.

Anonymous said...

This is true in that most are opening their eyes more to how their hard dealing's with "sinners" has hurt more than helped.

Well spoken, Sarah. I couldn't agree more. I believe this goes for "hard dealing" beliefs of all sorts. Rigid thinking in general is seemingly becoming a worldwide turn-off, a symbol of ignorance. I even see this in business, not just religion.

Atheists may want to claim responsibility for this "movement", but perhaps radical Islam also plays a part in showing the world how unproductive and/or destructive rigidity can be.


Anonymous said...

I do not think the emergent movement can be so blithely dismissed.

One of the things it is doing well with is its response to the great cultural shift we have been experiencing in the last 40 years: for want of better terms, the move from modernity to post-modernity.

In contrast, the current "revival" of evangelicalism (eg the megachurch prosperity gospel or "neo-calvinism") is more of a backlash to the the postmodern reappraisal of culture.

It is sustainable only inasfar as it keeps adhering to the outgoing Modernist storyline: individualist salvation, an unbridled capitalist paradigm, patriarchy, dominion theology, neocolonialism, exclusivism, rationalism, and fundamentalism.

In other words, it is NOT sustainable. My prediction is that the growth christianty of the future will be part western postmodern, part African, and part Eastern.

Josiah said...

I think you misunderstand. Supernatural beliefs lend themselves to dangerous thinking. It happens over and over again, and it's why every religion will have benign moderates, and dangerous fanatics. The fanatics have every right to their beliefs, which come from the same texts, because they are living in a world where supernatural beings exist and are telling them what to do, and anyone who disagrees is not a true believer. This cultish mentality is built into supernatural belief systems by the fact that to question it is to question God Himself. Reform is slow and painful for these theologies, and often comes kicking and screaming, forced to accept the latest reality discovered by rational thinkers and scientists, and then quickly finding the next hidden niche to preach about. The opportunities for corruption in a system where the leaders 'know' what God wants are obvious.

Point is, Religion is a harmful drug, and some may enjoy the high, and some may not harm others, but there will always be overdosing and the supposed benefits can be achieved elsewhere for less cost, though it requires some ego deflation to realize that we are not special creations.

So while I will never support a legal restriction on religion, I will speak out against it in the same way I speak out against tobacco use.

I am all for Christians changing for the better, what humanist wouldn't be, but there is a difference between reducing a tumor and removing a tumor.

Hopefully that explains a little better about the new athiests, or antitheists.