Churches In the Hands of an Angry God

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K. William Huitt

K. William Huitt is currently an M.A. student in Western Michigan University’s philosophy program. He graduated from Hillsdale College in 2019 with a B.A. in philosophy and a minor in history. He has spoken at various Christian apologetics events and writes regularly about religious and political issues. His personal blog is shutupandthink.net.

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122 Responses

  1. Avatar veronica d
    Ignored
    says:

    This seems rather ahistorical to me, as Christianity has been oppressive through most of its history, not just the modern era. In fact, it is modernity that has produced pro-LGBT churches.

    The kind of radical love you describe perhaps existed in first and second century churches — I don’t think we really know. But the church since Constantine? When has radical love been anything but fringe?Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to veronica d
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      says:

      Worth noting that Jesus’ main criticism of society was their narrow and self serving focus on the law rather than justice, and in that he was echoing earlier prophets saying similar things.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Chip Daniels
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        says:

        Worth remembering that it’s been repeated again and again throughout history that on the one hand are the teachings of Jesus, and on the other hand are the actions of self-identified Christians.

        If I were to fault the author, which I’m not going to, it would be for implying that this dichotomy were somehow new to the American Christian community (writ large) in the early 21st Century, as opposed to a new verse of a song that has already been sung many times before.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    What do you mean by Christian America and non-Christian America? As far as I can tell, Christian America here is narrow casted to various Evangelical/fundamentalist strains of protestantism and ignores Roman Catholics (who represent I think something like 24 percent of the entire United States population), mainline but non-evangelical Protestant sects (Episcopalians, Quakers, Methodists, Lutherans, etc.), Orthodox churches, African-American churches, etc.

    I’m Jewish but the neat little “trick” of using “Christian” to refer to Evangelicals only and generally right-leaning Evangelicals only is very annoying.

    “In order to find the answer, one must see American Christianity not as a religious institution per se, but as a composition of individuals whose evaluative frameworks have been shaped by a culture irreconcilably at odds with a truly Christian moral foundation.”

    This is pure and absolute bullshit of the highest order.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Co-signed. When Saul and I agree on, well, anything, I think it’s safe to say the universe has spoken and this post is a stinker.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mike Dwyer
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        says:

        I’m seconding my brother to. This is a neat rhetorical trick that I’m not particularly fond of. A friend from high school had a post on Facebook on how Christians have the most abortions out of any religious group in the United States.. Her point was too demonstrate the hypocrisy of Evangelicals opposing reproductive rights but I just that Christians have the most abortions because most Americans identify as Christians. Different Christian churches have different positions on the abortion issue. The entire thing seemed disingenuous. I hate disingenuous arguments and as a lawyer I’m trained to recognize them.Report

    • Avatar K. William Huitt in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      Saul, as someone who has certainly been around the block getting to know various denominations and sects within Christianity, I really don’t understand what it is in the article you think in the article narrows the focus to evangelicals.

      There are exceptions to the generalizations I made in the article. Some denominations/sects tend to be better off than others. But in general, far too many American Christians have failed to internalize Jesus’ own admonishment that a person cannot serve two masters at once.

      That is the foundation for the statement which you called “bullshit.” Unfortunately, saying something is “bullshit” is different from showing why you think it is flawed. Maybe focus more on the latter in the future?Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to K. William Huitt
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        says:

        This is probably the most relevant (and problematic) paragraph:

        ‘Worship services commonly lack only LSD to complement the strobe lights, loud music, and dark smoky rooms to fully immerse congregants in their experience of the “spiritual.” Mission trips and youth ministries focus on the experience above all. Sermons have become messages of prosperity and health promised by God when one lives and prays correctly. Even the ultimate message of heaven is concentrated on the experience and bliss of it.”

        I’m really curious how you get ‘around the block’ with various denominations and come away with that being a valid generalization. Not all Christian churches are Big Box Joel Osteen jams. To the contrary, i would say those are the minority.Report

        • Avatar K. William Huitt in reply to Mike Dwyer
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          says:

          The “prosperity gospel” can be far more subtle than Joel Osteen, and far more pernicious than you’re giving it credit for.

          Of course not all churches have vapid rock and roll worship services or youth ministries similar to the one I described. Those are symptoms in some churches albeit a LOT of them but they’re just some indicators of the real thing I’m describing (faulty evaluative foundations for a good life). Not all churches or Christians will reflect those indicators. That’s fine. I wasn’t trying to give an exhaustive portrait of American Christianity. I wanted to point out some of the noteworthy problematic features.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to K. William Huitt
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            says:

            “Of course not all churches have vapid rock and roll worship services or youth ministries similar to the one I described.”

            I think you mean to say, “Of course most churches [do not] have vapid rock and roll worship services or youth ministries similar to the one I described.”Report

            • Avatar K. William Huitt in reply to Mike Dwyer
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              says:

              It’s getting more and more difficult to find ones that don’tReport

            • Avatar JS in reply to Mike Dwyer
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              says:

              Eh, even our own local and highly moderate Methodist Church has a pretty rock-and-roll youth ministry. It’s not new — trying to connect “to the kids” has always resulted in programs that try to tie into what’s popular, and that’s not even getting into the mammoth money making business of Christian Rock.

              I suspect that the fact that such programs have become more fervent is simply due to the place Christianity, in America, finds itself. They’re having a harder and harder time filling pews, as it were, and inability to attract younger members is a huge problem.

              It was something the more evangelical Churches are just now really seeing. Their rapid growth was in large part due to cannibalism from other Churches, which obscured the basic issue until that particular well ran dry.

              The reasons for declining membership are pretty diverse. I would say it likely started with televangelists, but the increasingly tight relationship between the most vocal and visible Christian churches — sadly the fundamentalist and evangelical ones — with the Republican Party has not helped. Much of the more visible GOP agenda is not particularly “youth friendly” — as noted above — and that taints those elements of Christianity that associate tightly with it.

              The separation of Church and State is there as much to protect the Church as the State, because when they mingle — when one endorses the other, they share the sins of each.

              As someone raised in a quite moderate form of Protestantism, I am quite aware that the Religious Right is not the same as “All Christians” — they certainly do not speak for me, or anyone at any Church I have ever been a member of — but that doesn’t change the fact that those self-same people do claim to speak for all Christians, however falsely, and the sizes of their congregations, the money they bring to bear, and the fact that they are so very active and visible in politics sure makes them seem like it.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to K. William Huitt
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        says:

        I don’t think you captured the Catholic experience at all. Certainly not in worship. Catholic worship is centered on the Mass, and while there’s some wiggle room within its structure, it would rarely be confused with an evangelical service. American Catholicism in particular has been greatly influenced by the dour Irish and German Jesuit traditions. This is bound to change as the church becomes more Hispanic, but we’ll see where it goes.

        Also, the “prosperity gospel” nonsense has failed to make any inroads among Catholics. A part of it may be our long tradition of monks, nuns, and martyrs. You may see an occasional bishop living in luxury, but not parish priests.

        As for your comments on charitable donations and mission work, they deserve a longer reply, but again I’d say that the Catholic experience (and probably that of many mainstream Protestant denominations) is different. I do think there are some real insights in this article, though.Report

        • Avatar K. William Huitt in reply to Pinky
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          says:

          I went to mass more than I went to Protestant services during my time in college. The parish in my college town was very traditional which I appreciated. I have been to some “rock and roll” masses though. They were… interesting. But worship structure and specific heresies aside, I think the main point of the article that American Christians don’t uproot their fundamentally opposed evaluative system which comes from the wider American culture still applies to the Catholic community as a whole.

          The more traditional Catholics I know tend to be a lot more resilient to such things, but even they think they’re in a minority among Catholics.

          For any interested, I was raised Methodist then Nazarene then Baptist. I currently attend a non denom since my wife’s family goes there but personally lean high-church Anglican.

          Do appreciate the comment at the end!Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to K. William Huitt
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            says:

            Sure, it’s a challenge to be a sign of contradiction to society. And I think you may have buried the lede in that regard. What does it mean to be a sign of contradiction? The human instinct is to say: Blessed are the rich. Blessed are the powerful. Blessed are the happy. Blessed are you when the people cheer at everything you say. We kind of know, at a minimum, that that’s not the whole story, but we resist that knowledge. Every society that’s made of humans is going to be inclined to make those mistakes. So every Christian who follows the real beatitudes is going to be a sign of contradiction.

            Today at Mass we had a reading about Jeremiah being tossed down a well for the crime of not making the people feel good about themselves.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      I was going to say pretty much the same thing, but you beat me to it. The post is using “American Christianity” to mean “White American Evangelical Protestantism.” This in fact constitutes about one third of American Christendom. Roman Catholicism is another third, and the remaining third is divided roughly 60/40 between mainline Protestant and traditionally black Protestant churches.

      In fairness to the author, the use of “Christian” when what is really meant is “White American Evangelical Protestant” is a Big Lie that we have been hearing for about forty years now. Many people with no connection to Christianity believe it. I routinely see discussions of what “Christians” believe or do that follow this rubric, regardless of the source. I have had curious conversations where I describe what is bog standard Lutheran doctrine, and has been for a half millennium, only to be met with astounded disbelief, and even the accusation that I am making it up.Report

      • Avatar JS in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        says:

        “In fairness to the author, the use of “Christian” when what is really meant is “White American Evangelical Protestant” is a Big Lie that we have been hearing for about forty years now.”

        White American Evangelical Protestantism is quite visible for two reasons. First, evangelicalism as a whole needs to be visible and public — so as to bring the Word of God — but mostly because they made a devil’s bargain with the GOP. I mean it all dates back to the moral majority and the rise of the religious right, and frankly the death knell was the first televangelist, but they’re the ones playing highly visible, high-stakes politics these days.

        It’s hard not to see them as the face of Christianity — even to those of us who know better! — when they seek out the cameras, proclaim themselves the true face of Christianity, and wed themselves to high visibility politics — and their counterparts by and large do not, rendering them quite invisible.

        And I cannot blame the mode moderate churches for not interjecting themselves into politics. If nothing else, WAEP have clearly shown the downsides of it.Report

        • Avatar George Turner in reply to JS
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          says:

          Southern WASPs would be another big Venn grouping. They were evangelical and highly political back when they’d rather die than vote GOP, but in the Appalachians the reverse was often true.

          The PTL Club, 700 Club, and many other early televangelists put an emphasis on defending Israel and rejecting sinful Marxist hippie culture.Report

          • Avatar JS in reply to George Turner
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            says:

            “The PTL Club, 700 Club, and many other early televangelists put an emphasis on defending Israel and rejecting sinful Marxist hippie culture.”

            And raising money. American Christianity died when Oral Roberts demanded money or God Would Call him home, and Christians sent it to him.

            What you see now is just a zombie, propelled by bad actors as it lurches across the landscape, as it slowly rots.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to JS
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              says:

              I think that’s more to do with the economics of mass communication than religion. Preachers were probably asking their congregations for lots of money for centuries before we came up with a way for one to reach vastly larger audiences via radio and TV, filling the role of an celebrity entertainer with a loyal fan base. From there, marketing takes over and you end up with Reverend Wayne’s Pearly Gates, the Pentecostal church franchise in Neal Stephenson’s “Snowcrash”.Report

              • Avatar JS in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                ” Preachers were probably asking their congregations for lots of money for centuries”

                Yeah, the ones that enriched themselves with it were, generally, tossed out or shunned.

                Now? Now it’s a career. There’s an entire theology built on it — the mere existence of prosperity doctrine is so heretical that it, and it’s adherents, should literally be shunned from any Church that calls itself Christian. And to their credit, many do.

                But not those big ones. Not the ones on TV, with the preachers in their million-dollar homes and private jets, telling their parishioners to just give a little more, and ignore that every year they buy a new Mercedes.

                Christianity is dying in America, and there are two reasons why — first their entanglement in politics and second the fact that very prominent, very visible Christian leaders get away with openly enriching themselves and not God, year after year, decade after decade.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to JS
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                says:

                Well I’m pretty sure God isn’t short of cash, since he owns an entire universe, so why would he need money?

                No, the money should go to those who need Gulfstream IV’s to do God’s work.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to JS
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                says:

                Yeah, the ones that enriched themselves with it were, generally, tossed out or shunned.

                Hardly. The Priests were the 1% of centuries past. That tends to get white washed now days, not only because it’s been a few centuries but also because by modern standards a lot of what happened would be viewed as deeply corrupt and self serving.

                The Catholic Church of Germany, by itself, currently has about 25 Billion in assets. Go back a few centuries and the church(es) were controlling who was King, fighting wars over which set of Priests would be in charge, and deciding what science was “appropriate” for distribution.

                They were superheroes. The guys with a direct line to God with miracles on tap. Even the Bible talks about Christ having problems with the Priests of his day.

                “Self enriching” was true from day one.

                Christianity is dying in America…

                I think about 75% of the country is currently Christian so it’s got a ways to go. Granted, that’s down from 85% in 1990 but I expect mostly that loss is from the “nominal” crowd. Atheists in the closet or whatever.

                Big picture, religion is probably a genetic urge. Some of my kids will do logical backflips on why they believe, others simply don’t because it doesn’t make sense. In a good percentage of the population it’s not going away and in a lot of the rest they don’t care enough to oppose it.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        says:

        One might say that no true Christians act as described in this post…Report

  3. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    says:

    I’m not really sure what the intent of the post is other than to criticize Christians. The post makes some pretty lowbrow generalizations about Christians. I don’t even understand the terminology of ‘the Church’. Christianity is made up of dozens of denominations that are very different and even within those denominations, culture and attitudes can differ greatly from congregation to congregation. Even the call to action (if it can be called that), is so vague and generic that it really offers nothing in the way of prescriptive suggestions. Honestly, given the author’s credentials, I’m kind of shocked that this is the post he offered up to OT.Report

    • Avatar K. William Huitt in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      The purpose is obviously to criticize Christians as a collective whole.

      There are exceptions to every generality. The fact that I have to acknowledge that, though, means people aren’t thinking very carefully about what I actually said. There are fantastic individuals, of course. Devoted congregations exist. Some denominations are better off than others. But, in general, American Christians are swept up in the broader cultural trend of living for first-person experiences as the end of a life-well-lived. There are some things that transcend denominational differences, and this is currently one of them.

      Not terribly certain what you’re hoping for in the way of a call to action. This post was about outlining a problem and nodding in the direction of where the Church should be. How exactly it should get there is a question deserving of its own post. It’s not a question I even tried to answer here.

      “The Church” just means the collection of people who adhere to the core orthodox tenets of Christianity and includes Catholics and Protestants.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to K. William Huitt
        Ignored
        says:

        You’re talking about exceptions as though they are this slim thing. I would say they are the broader feature and you’re criticizing the margins.

        “But, in general, American Christians are swept up in the broader cultural trend of living for first-person experiences as the end of a life-well-lived.”.

        This isn’t a feature of Christianity. it’s a feature of Western Civilization. You should watch ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ . They do a very good job of explaining the differences between East & West in that regard. You’re suggesting American churches adopt a more Eastern approach, while existing in a Western value system. I would counter that you can’t un-link the two.Report

        • Avatar K. William Huitt in reply to Mike Dwyer
          Ignored
          says:

          Mike you’re speaking out of two sides of your mouth. In the first half you’re saying that not very many people fall prey to an aesthetic (experience focused) evaluative system in the Church, then you say it’s a very broad Western issue. I agree with that second statement, mostly. It’s just I narrowed it from “Western” to “American.” All I’m suggesting is that a lot of people as byproducts of American culture carry cultural baggage into their churches with them, and that cultural baggage is incommensurable with the Christian doctrine to which they give lip service or even sincerely aspire to uphold.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to K. William Huitt
            Ignored
            says:

            I think you’re conflating two separate points. Let me help:

            1) The types of churches you describe are the minority. most churches are stuffy old protestant and catholic affairs where an acoustic guitar seems edgy.

            2) I don’t think Western values cause people to somehow ruin Christianity. It’s just something that has to be dealt with and at times, mitigated. I just don’t think it’s quite the existential crisis you make it out to be, since Western churches have been this way at various times for hundreds of years now. I mean, Protestantism was founded on elevating the personal relationship with God. Did anyone really think individualism wouldn’t follow?Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mike Dwyer
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              says:

              When I was young, there was one Sunday that my church allowed two members to play an acoustic guitar and a banjo during services. When my mom told my dad about it when we got home, he couldn’t believe that we’d allowed the devil’s instruments into a sanctified house of worship, and that the entire congregation was probably on the path to hell.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to George Turner
                Ignored
                says:

                That sounds about right. Nothing wrong with some bluegrass spirituals but you do that at a special performance in the Convocation Hall on Saturday night, not on Sunday. It should be a curiosity that teaches you about the hillfolk, sort of like watching a documentary about snake-handlers or something like that.Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to Mike Dwyer
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                says:

                I went to school with snake handlers. ^_^

                I also went to a classmate’s funeral at the “Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name”. That church made international news a couple years ago when the preacher died from his umpteenth rattlesnake bite.

                I went to the funeral with another classmate who’d become a policeman, and who noted that our mutual classmate apparently killed himself without a suicide note under mysterious circumstances so his cheating ex-wife, who he hated more than Satan, would get a big life insurance payout. He’d have looked into it, but our force didn’t have a detective because nobody could pass the written test.

                But he was obviously saved, and it’s insurance money coming into the local economy, so it’s all good.

                A few years after that some of our police were arrested for selling cocaine to the school kids from the squad car in the school parking lot. Once those two were put away our crime rate dropped by over a third.

                In retrospect, it was kind of a weird town.Report

              • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Mike Dwyer
                Ignored
                says:

                The Louvin brothers would like a word. I’ve played any number of country gospel tunes in my ELCA church, and no one has ever felt they detracted from the service.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Slade the Leveller
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                says:

                That’s exactly my point. You drop that E in the name and anything goes.Report

              • Avatar Slade the Leveller in reply to Mike Dwyer
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                says:

                Heh. We’re not getting naked during church, but I imagine it’s right around the corner.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                As Keillor put it, “one of those churches where the priest plays a guitar and they call god ‘mother’…”Report

              • Avatar CJColucci in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                All of this assumes that there are right ways and wrong ways to conduct religious services. That is a category mistake. There are only the ways we — for some values of “we” — are used to and what other folk do.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                that the entire congregation was probably on the path to hell.

                Don’t leave us in suspense, man. Did that entire congregation end up in hell?Report

              • Avatar George Turner in reply to DavidTC
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                says:

                So far as I know. They were mostly Presbyterian coal mine owners and geologists, but one was an aerospace engineer who designed components for our nuclear bomber aircraft before he became a very rich abortion doctor. He owned the only Maserati in town, or for that matter, perhaps in all of southeastern Kentucky.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to K. William Huitt
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        says:

        “oh but I don’t mean you personally” is not a defense against an accusation of inappropriate generality.

        Nor is “oh well I guess you can find exceptions to every rule…”Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    Churches may do comparatively more for charity than other groups, but individual congregants are indiscernible from their non-Christian counterparts on a day to day basis.

    I don’t know who we’re yelling “TAKE THAT!” at.Report

  5. Avatar Em Carpenter
    Ignored
    says:

    I will go against the tide here and say that I appreciate the piece. I think it’s odd to pretend this is not a common view of the Christian Church by many who are not part of it.
    Glad to have your perspective here!Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Em Carpenter
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      says:

      As someone on the outside looking in (being the devout militant apathetic agnostic that I am), I gotta say I agree with the OP. In short, the public view of the Joel Osteen’s overwhelms the public view of the congregations committed to the ideal.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon
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        says:

        This is certainly true. As I comment above, the Big Lie is that “Christian” = “White American Evangelical Protestant.” This Big Lie has been wildly successful, from the perspective of public perception. It will be interesting to see if, now that WAEP is showing some cracks, the Big Lie will bring down Christianity in general. The mainlines are picking up a few people disenchanted with WAEP, but many others have so internalized the Big Lie that they don’t see mainlines as an option. This is WAEP as an unchurched people generator.Report

        • Avatar JS in reply to Richard Hershberger
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          says:

          As I understand it, Christian Churches in America are struggling to fill pews. Speaking on the Protestant side about 20 or 30 years ago as the mega-churches rose, it was those mainline churches that struggled — it wasn’t that only mainline churches were facing the issues of declining memberships and, especially, declining youth memberships — but mega-churches were cannibalizing the smaller churches.

          So even as the overall percentage of religious fell a bit, the mega-churches — almost exclusively evangelical and fundamentalist) — saw rabid growth. And as I recall, were not at all shy about explaining that it was their very evangelical and fundamentalist doctrine that saw them growing, “bucking” the trend.

          Unfortunately, as they tapped out the mainline protestant churches for parishioners, the mega-churches are now seeing the same problem. Attendance drop-offs, members disappearing, and heavy struggles to attract younger parishioners.So far, they’ve mostly blamed variations of secular society — acceptance of gays, video games, public education, etc — for their problems, and I do worry that they’ll become increasingly strident and potentially dangerous if the trend does not reverse.

          As for Catholics, lacking — as best I can tell, not being a Catholic — the whole ‘mega church’ phenomenon and the semi-revival it caused — has simply seen and been dealing with the drop in attendance. Which is at least not new to them, as I understand that they’ve struggled with this problem in Europe, for instance, for quite some time.Report

  6. Avatar Stormy Dragon
    Ignored
    says:

    >>Churches may do comparatively more for charity than other groups

    This is only true to the extent that church services to their own members count as charity.

    If I pay a therapist for marriage counseling, no one considers that charity; if I pay a pastor for marriage counseling, suddenly it is. If I join a country club to play in an amateur sports league, no one considers that charity; if I join a church to play in an amateur sports league, suddenly it is.

    Suburban churches have become a way for a certain segment of their middle class to launder a lot of their personal expenses into a tax deduction. If you adjust charity spending for the amount that gets spent on bona-fide philanthropy for society at large, church-goers end up donating significantly less to charity than the general public.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stormy Dragon
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      says:

      “They *THINK* they’re good but they’re only helping *THEIR* *OWN* people! HA! Take that!”

      If I pay a therapist for marriage counseling, no one considers that charity; if I pay a pastor for marriage counseling, suddenly it is. If I join a country club to play in an amateur sports league, no one considers that charity; if I join a church to play in an amateur sports league, suddenly it is.

      If I pay a pastor to give marriage counseling to other people, is that charity?
      If my church has an amateur sports league that plays against the Methodists (but *NOT* on Sundays!) but I don’t play on the team because Levitical Law seems to indicate that individual sports are more Godly than team sports, is that charity or not?

      If we’re defining “charity” so narrowly that it doesn’t include helping one’s own neighbor because it’s in the group’s best interest to help each other, we’re relying on Utilitarianism to the point where we can’t even comprehend Virtue Ethics or Deontology anymore.Report

      • Avatar Stormy Dragon in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        >>If I pay a pastor to give marriage counseling to other people, is that charity?

        If he provides counseling to anyone without expecting renumeration, yes.

        If he only provides it to other church members who are also expected to tithe, then no. For the same reason that your home insurance premium to State Farm isn’t charity even if you never end up filing a claim yourself.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stormy Dragon
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          says:

          Can you provide a *SINGLE* example of charity that we couldn’t wave away using this level of skepticism?

          (Note: The value of marginal dollars versus endorphins will play heavily in the next few comments.)Report

          • Avatar Stormy Dragon in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            I think the big mistake is the assumption that there are “charitable organizations” or “non-charitable organizations”. Specific acts are charitable. Some organizations do a lot of charitable acts and some do hardly any.

            The mistake a lot of people make is assuming anything a church does counts as charity purely because a church is doing it. Some things churches do (e.g. a soup kitchen) are real charity. Some things churches do (e.g. the church summer barbeque) are not. Most of the things most churches do fall into the later category.

            The big distinction is whether the set of donors is equal or substantially overlaps with the set of beneficiaries. Most of the things that churches spend money on only benefit the church”s members, who are only members if they participate in tithing.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stormy Dragon
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              says:

              I think that the assumption that helping one’s group is co-extensive with helping oneself is, long-term, toxic. It may even be toxic in the short term.

              But, I imagine, that attacking the outgroup for this sort of thing while ignoring it for the ingroup is useful positionally.Report

          • Avatar Pinky in reply to Jaybird
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            says:

            (Note: the poison I just put in the well will play heavily in the next few comments.)Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Stormy Dragon
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      says:

      Yes, if you do something for yourself, kt’s not charity; if you do something for others, it is. That’s definitional.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Stormy Dragon
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      says:

      Why shouldn’t churches helping members of their own congregations count as charity?Report

      • Avatar Stormy Dragon in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        For the same reason paying your State Farm insurance premium doesn’t count as charityReport

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Burt Likko
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        says:

        They don’t as far as personal tax deductions go, generally aside from travel expenses.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to George Turner
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          says:

          Most stuff churches do is actually aimed at the members, it’s just not technically _restricted_ to the members.

          I.e., the church summer barbeque (To steal an event from above) would be _technically_ open to everyone. Anyone who shows up can get a plate. In reality…it’s attended by church members. It’s not even advertised anywhere else. (It’s worth pointing out most of those things are actually not entirely free, you have to pay $5 or whatever, but…they’re using church resources still.)

          Same with services. Logically, the premise behind a pastor is that they help people learn religiousy stuff. They are ‘educational’ or whatever you want to call it. But a large portion of the people they interact with are church members. Which means…church members are paying someone to educate themselves. Paying someone to educate yourself, or even pooling resources to hire a teacher, _is not charity_. Paying someone to educate _others_ is charity.

          So, yes, church are indeed sorta slipping through cracks by in theory producing things for everyone that in practice only their own members use. 501(c)(3) non-profits aren’t supposed to be social clubs. There are other non-profits classifications for social clubs.

          Now, all non-profits seem do this to some extent, but not really. Like, the non-profit theatre I volunteer at will sometimes purchase a dozen pizzas for the cast and crew on long Saturday rehearsals…except that’s not ‘membership’ getting those benefits, but current volunteers, and we consider people being _in_ the shows itself to be educational. I.e., the membership is feeding the ‘students’, not itself.

          We actually get a little paranoid about providing _membership_ benefits, because if we provide some sort of specific tangible benefit to the membership that has a real dollar value, suddenly that part of member dues _aren’t tax deductible_. We’ve thought about offering a discount on season tickets, for example, but rejected it…instead we let them get the tickets slightly earlier, which just means ‘hypothetically better seats’.

          But churches get away with it a lot easier, both because the government doesn’t want to look at them, and because basically the entire premise is basically a social club to start with…there’s no some distinct ‘donors and members’ group vs. ‘people who come to church to learn’ group…it’s sorta assumed those two groups are identical.

          Whereas any other non-profit that had the membership and leadership spend the majority of time and effort with events aimed _at_ the membership would be…a very suspicious one.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Stormy Dragon
      Ignored
      says:

      “If I pay a therapist for marriage counseling, no one considers that charity; if I pay a pastor for marriage counseling, suddenly it is.”

      wait

      who says that latter thing?Report

    • Avatar KenB in reply to Stormy Dragon
      Ignored
      says:

      You have something of a point that typically a significant percentage of one’s church pledge goes to general upkeep, salaries, and member functions, but you proceed to ruin your own argument by giving crappy examples. Church giving is not transactional and giving is generally not required for participation in church activities, so it’s ridiculous to compare this to buying insurance. How one accounts for what percentage of a church pledge should be considered “charity” depends a lot on what a person’s trying to argue. You imply that there’s some simple calculation that can be done, but that’s hardly the case.

      Beyond that, I’m curious to know your source for the assertion that church-goers give less overall after subtracting church pledges — the information I’ve seen has suggested that even for secular charities, givers are more likely to be religious than not. I’m open to contrary evidence but to me this would be expected — the ethic of giving is built in to most religious practice.Report

  7. Avatar Chip Daniels
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    says:

    As a lapsed Catholic turned lapsed Episcopalian I think this piece has a lot of truth to it.

    Particularly the thoughts on how churches tend to deliver spirituality as a consumer good, a sort of self help exercise.

    Personally I think American Christian churches (I don’t know enough about other faiths) are struggling to define themselves and what they are about.

    Aside from sexuality and reproduction few of them really have anything to say that isn’t already covered by secular organizations.Report

  8. Avatar Stormy Dragon
    Ignored
    says:

    >>The evaluative system the Church has ignored in its own scripture is one formed by reflection on the Christian’s role as ambassador between God and a fallen, broken world.

    As a side note, this smacks of gnosticism. Humanity is fallen. The world itself is not (“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”).Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    When Christians support fiscal conservatism
    No, they vote the opposite of that: Republican.Report

  10. Avatar Dark Matter
    Ignored
    says:

    “In order to find the answer, one must see American Christianity not as a religious institution per se, but as a composition of individuals whose evaluative frameworks have been shaped by a culture irreconcilably at odds with a truly Christian moral foundation.”

    The phrase “a truly Christian moral foundation” either has no meaning, or it translates into “what I think other people should do”.

    Christianity is flexible enough to be on both sides of any issue, including things like tribalism (i.e. racism), slavery, the flat earth, governmental power, women’s rights, and so forth.

    Whenever I hear “god wants X” I translate that into “I want X” and it provides more meaning. Everyone wants God on their side. So just at a guess, the author of this piece probably supports LGBTQA, choice, more money for the poor and so forth. Ergo the “true meaning of Christianity” is to support all those things too.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter
      Ignored
      says:

      “Are you part of the anti-crucifixion Judean People’s Front?”

      “No I’m part of the pro-crucifixion People’s Front of Judea”Report

      • Avatar George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels
        Ignored
        says:

        +10

        Some Christians might think that other denominations are also mostly correct in their interpretations of the Bible. Well, let me tell you, my own church is the only one that has it right on both major and minor points. The poor misguided members of the plethora of errant sects, making up 99.9% of Christians, are of course doomed.

        For two thousand years Christian scholars and theologians kept getting it totally wrong, but thankfully Pastor Bingham has figured out the true meaning of Jesus’ words, which he shares with us.

        Now some Christians might still manage to get into Heaven through good works and lowered standards, but Bingham tells us that they’ll be welcomed because we’ll need some people to be our gardeners, butlers, maids and pool cleaners in the Great Yonder up above.Report

        • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to George Turner
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          says:

          I went to a “foreign” church and in the discussion group afterwards was a lady who said (more or less) what you just did except she was serious. Smug about it too.

          All of these groups are going to be just shocked when they’re burning in hell.Report

          • Avatar George Turner in reply to Dark Matter
            Ignored
            says:

            One of my coworkers was talking to one of his aunts (I think) after one of her Jewish friends left. She said “I so dearly love Jewish people. It’s such a shame they’re all going to Hell.” ^_^

            I grew up in a two full of hard-core born-again Baptists who were equally certain that the rest of us would be burning right along with them because we’d never been saved.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Dark Matter
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      says:

      Those are some pretty broad issues. There are many positions a person can take on them that would be compatible with Christianity, and many that would be incompatible. Christianity does provide general guidelines on issues, as well as specifics. But those specifics are usually in the “thou shalt not” form.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Modern Christianity the culture? Or even every denomination as a whole? Sure, I buy that.

        However if we look at the historical Christianity it really did back slavery for a thousand years. Galileo’s “crime” really was heresy.

        If the moral system is flexible to be on both sides of the “slavery” issue then it’s a reflection of its times, i.e. a tool for culture/power/community, and not an “unchanging” message from an “unchanging” god.

        Translated into modern times, I see no reason why “a truly Christian moral foundation” needs to be in favor of racial/gay/gender rights or even supporting the poor (our “poor” have lifestyles beyond the Kings of old so by Biblical standards there are none). That’s an effort to say “my side is moral, your side is not”.

        Just like with the civil war, we have large, take-themselves-seriously denominations on both sides of these issues… and there’s no obvious way to invoke God to settle the matter since he’s already being invoked by both.Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Dark Matter
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          says:

          I think we might be agreeing here, but I can’t tell.

          For example, the word “slavery” has meant a lot of different things. I can imagine a temporary indenture, say for working off debt, that would be morally acceptable. And as you note, the word “poor” has had different meanings. But in these cases, I don’t see the moral requirements changing, only the society in which the moral code is being applied. A person who has the ability to improve the life of another in absolute poverty is just as obligated to do so as ever.

          I might be getting off-topic, but I think all of this touches on ecclesiology, which is something we haven’t addressed on this thread specifically. I have a Catholic perspective on it, and that affects a lot of my thinking about Church authority. If you point out a denomination that believes differently than I do, I have no problem with the answer “well, they’re wrong”. And that conclusion isn’t motivated by petty sides, either. The Catholic believes that his Church’s teaching is directed by God in a unique way, due to its historical origin.

          And what I’m saying would be nonsense if (1) the Catholic Church can’t trace itself back to the Apostles, (2) the Catholic Church’s teachings haven’t been consistent with itself, or (3) the Catholic Church’s teachings haven’t been consistent with moral reality. So I’ve just introduced three more tangents. I hope I don’t have to defend the Church on these points, but that’s due to the time and research it would require, not due to a fear of being wrong. I’m only bringing this whole thing up because it was getting cumbersome not addressing it.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Pinky
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            says:

            the word “slavery” has meant a lot of different things. I can imagine a temporary indenture, say for working off debt, that would be morally acceptable.

            That is not the historical church backed practice of slavery.

            A person who has the ability to improve the life of a person in absolute poverty is just as obligated to do so as ever.

            It’s very weird that we-the-people can be lectured on improving the lives of people living in absolute poverty by a Trillion(ish) dollar organization that loves covering things with gold and displaying them in vast buildings which it owns, runs, and so forth.

            if… Catholic Church’s teachings haven’t been consistent with moral reality

            Slaves, obey your master with fear and trembling.

            Or if you want something more fiscal, Indulgences come to mind.

            The Catholic Church still teaches that the acts of one person can be put onto the soul of another. The example the Priest who educated me used was you could make the sign of the cross, and ask god to put it on someone else’s soul.

            The historical practice of that “moral teaching” was the Priest shows up the doorstep of a grieving person whose family member just died, tells them the dead guy probably wasn’t good enough to go to heaven on their own, and asks them if they’d like to do something good for god so their relative’s soul can go to heaven. “Doing good things for god” includes “giving money to the church”.

            Big picture the church isn’t about morality and never has been. It’s about power for the church. Left to their own devices they’re not able to figure out that raping children is unethical. They needed to be shown that it’s bad for their image in order to even entertain the concept of stopping.Report

            • Avatar Pinky in reply to Dark Matter
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              says:

              You raised a lot of issues. Let me just say that I’m talking about teaching authority, not behaviour. The worst Catholics are as bad as the worst people of any belief system. (I’d say they’re probably more responsible, because they know what they should be doing.) The Church has never made any claim that its leaders are free from sin, but does claim to be guided in its teachings.

              The thing I want to address the most is your take on indulgences. I’ll admit that the idea of carrying someone else’s spiritual burden is extraordinary. But your description makes it sound like the Church claims that you can control another’s final fate.

              I definitely believe in the benefit of intercessory prayer. If I were inventing a religion, it’s not something I would have thought of, but I can understand the reasoning. But this line bothers me:

              “…tells them the dead guy probably wasn’t good enough to go to heaven on their own, and asks them if they’d like to do something good for god so their relative’s soul can go to heaven”

              Someone could read it and think the hypothetical priest is selling “get out of Hell free” cards. You really have to understand the idea of Purgatory. There’s nothing I can do that could get a damned soul to Heaven. But I can help a soul in Purgatory scrub himself clean. And, as you noted, it’s not just money. It’s hardly ever money.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Pinky
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                says:

                …the idea of carrying someone else’s spiritual burden is extraordinary…

                The basic concept seems somewhere between “easily abused” and “designed to be abused”.

                You really have to understand the idea of Purgatory.

                Oh, I understand it. I go to Catholic Mass every week. I’m well educated, informed, able and willing to look stuff up, have a good memory, have taken religious training from different places, and have undergone something best described as a spiritual quest. For me, Purgatory can be (and has been) a subject in a philosophical/religious discussion.

                The problem is the historical target audience for this message was someone who couldn’t read and doesn’t have access to the Bible because Gutenberg’s printing press hasn’t been invented yet.

                In that situation we’re looking at the combination of a message that lets priests extort money from the ignorant, a large number of ignorant people, and a church structure shields priests from bad deeds.

                The expectation should be that this combination of inputs had the obvious outputs.

                The Church has never made any claim that its leaders are free from sin, but does claim to be guided in its teachings.

                “Not free from sin” covers everything from the boy scouts to The Sopranos. If they want to also claim “to be guided in its teachings” then there’s a problem taking Tony Sopranos as a guy giving advice from god.

                I don’t expect a group enjoying supernatural moral guidance to be totally “free from sin” but I do expect them to recognize that raping children is pretty deep on the “evil” spectrum, and they simply didn’t. Large organizations tend to be sociopathic but even by those standards they’ve behaved more like The Sopranos than a group whose calling is supposed to be moral.

                I see no seriously evidence to support that they’re moral authorities, moral experts, or anything of that nature. I especially see no legit claim to “guidance”, as far as I can tell, everything they’ve done can be explained by self interest, marketing, and the pursuit of power. God’s special teachings match up well with what serves the church’s interests, that’s where we get Indulgences and so forth.

                Morality and special guidance is marketing, not miracle. The claim is stunningly self serving. For example separation of church and state seems like a no-brainer nowadays but it took a war to strip the church of it’s army.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                As someone who enjoys heresy myself, I’ll share this comment from a million years ago:

                A purgatorial Hell makes some amount of sense to me.

                CS Lewis has a story in which he discusses Heaven as a banquet and The Lord God motions for us to enter and enjoy and partake. We look and see how everyone else is bathed and dressed in the cleanest white… and we look at ourselves and see that we’re caked with mud and tar and whatelse and smell like a sewer.

                God beckons us but we say, if you don’t mind Sir, I would like to get cleaned up first.
                God says: but it will hurt.
                We reply: Even so Sir.

                Niven and Pournelle’s Inferno and Escape from Hell used a different idea… Purgatory as an asylum for the theologically insane. Hell is the violent wing. It’s possible to leave Hell (and Purgatory) but, first, you have to get better. The point of Hell (and Purgatory) is that it will help you get better.

                When things are painted with those brushes, the idea of Hell is much nicer, perhaps even lovely.

                Of course that’s not the *REAL* story of Hell… but, as retcons go, it’s a very well-written one.

                With that in mind, I like the idea of Purgatory very much.

                I just also know that it’s heresy.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                The point of Hell (and Purgatory) is that it will help you get better.

                Messages from God provide insight into the messager.

                In this case the message is not following the Church/Priests results in you being tortured for all eternity.

                God beckons us but we say, if you don’t mind Sir, I would like to get cleaned up first. God says: but it will hurt. We reply: Even so Sir.

                It’s your fault I’m hitting you, and I’m doing it for your own good.

                Classic abuser behavior.Report

              • Avatar Pinky in reply to Dark Matter
                Ignored
                says:

                I didn’t intend to say that you, personally, don’t understand Purgatory. I was referring to the hypothetical someone who would have read your comment and thought that the Catholic Church claims the ability to extract the dead from Hell.

                It’s true that most of the Church’s members have been illiterate. That’s the same thing as saying that the Church is more than a few decades old. It definitely existed in a situation where an unscrupulous leader could manipulate the populace, but pre-railroad, this was unavoidable. Stained glass and standardized hymns helped communicate the universal truth, and monks wrote as many Bibles as they could.

                Did the Church ever fail to preach that child-rape is sinful? No. Remember that is was founded in places, and still preaches in places, that do not share that belief.

                You say that “God’s special teachings match up well with what serves the church’s interests, that’s where we get Indulgences and so forth.” Does it really match up so well? Take indulgences off the table. What else? It’s a mortal sin to punch a priest. Anything else? If you were going to create a self-serving religion, it’d be wildly different than Catholicism.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Pinky
                Ignored
                says:

                It definitely existed in a situation where an unscrupulous leader could manipulate the populace, but pre-railroad, this was unavoidable.

                Just like finding an animal with sharp teeth implies it ate meat, finding scumbag-friendly dogma (like Indulgences) implies that abuse happened on a vast scale in the past. And we know from the likes of Martin Luther this was true. And since the Church can be on any side of any issue, then this was a choice.

                It is “unavoidable” that there will be some abusive Priests, even in the modern era. However aspects of the church are designed to enable them. The well oiled church machery and well established church practices which protect transgressor priests from any consequences and enable his next round of misadventures are the source of the current sex scandals, not the “unavoidable” issue that there are going to be problems when you deal with people.

                My expectation is the same machinery also works for fiscal crimes, we just don’t hear about it because it’s less interesting.

                You say that “God’s special teachings match up well with what serves the church’s interests, that’s where we get Indulgences and so forth.” Does it really match up so well? Take indulgences off the table. What else?

                Priests as superheroes. Divinely inspired teachings that can’t be argued with, i.e. whatever the Priest says goes. Separate legal systems. A total lack of accountability to the people the church supposedly serves. A religious structure and dogma which claims Priests are needed at every level of interaction with god, and historically, every level of politics/control.

                The idea that you can be tortured forever for thought crimes against the Churches teachings seems pretty much in the Church’s best interests. Ditto the entire concept of Papal infallibility (discovered right after he lost his army).

                If you were going to create a self-serving religion, it’d be wildly different than Catholicism.

                What would be beyond “priests-as-superheroes and the-voice-of god?

                Did the Church ever fail to preach that child-rape is sinful?

                So what? They talk a good game and they have great marketing. However “character” is judged by what you do when you can get away with it, not what you proclaim. Tony Soprano talking about how a nice guy he is doesn’t make him a nice guy. Me claiming to be a world class supermodel doesn’t make me that.

                The Church really, really wants to claim moral authority. They also have problems with things like enabling child-rape. They’re extremely reluctant to deal with that problem in spite of the disconnect.

                If an organization fails to police itself for *that*, then my expectation is it also fails to police all sorts of things… and this is a matter of design. The flock are there to be fleeced. The Priests aren’t accountable to them for a reason. If that reason is “god says so” then we can substitute “the priests say so” and that works just fine.

                These are not new problems and were why Martin Luther tried to Reform the church, which resulted instead with splitting the church.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReformationReport

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
          Ignored
          says:

          “:Galileo’s “crime” really was heresy.”

          jesus christ this shit just WON’T die, it’s like “until 1491-1/2 people thought the world was flat” and “100 companies emit 71% of carbon” manure.

          Galileo was the Alex Jones of his day, if he hadn’t shit-talked his buddy the Pope then he wouldn’t have been excommunicated and there would have been another few hundred years of people inventing increasingly-complicated math to make Ptolemaic Epicycles keep working.Report

          • Avatar veronica d in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            Wait! Does this mean you’d support putting Alex Jones in prison?

            Can I save this statement for the next time you complain that some right wing troll gets “deplatformed”?

            In any case, Galileo was convicted of heresy. He was placed under house arrest thusly. Granted, it was almost certainly “political,” but so what? Is the Pope infallible or is he a narcissistic goon? (Perhaps he’s an infallible narcissistic goon.)

            Setting aside the competing oversimplifications, the story is complex even in the wiki presentation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_affair

            Furthermore, the list doesn’t begin and end with Galileo. He’s the most notable, true, but not the only person imprisoned or killed by the church.

            Did Giordano Bruno deserve to burn? He’s was a bit of a wackadoodle.

            Occasionally a “learned cleric” would piss off the current pope and be commanded to silence.

            (Was that 24 hour a day silence, or could they speak some? I have no idea, but it seems pretty fucked up.)

            (On the other hand, I would rather enjoy commanding all the right wing trolls to silence, so I suppose it’s good that I’m not pope.)Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d
              Ignored
              says:

              “Can I save this statement for the next time you complain that some right wing troll gets “deplatformed”?”

              Apparently you don’t read my posts, which is understandable because you’re a Feeler and not a Thinker. I am okay with deplatforming as an idea, I just want everyone to admit that they’re doing it because they don’t like someone, not because of some nonemotional objective clearly-defined transgression of specific bright-line boundaries that apply (and are applied) equally to all persons.

              “In any case, Galileo was convicted of heresy. ”

              i guess it’s also not surprising to find you pushing the idea that someone who gets in trouble must have been a criminal and must have done the thing they got in trouble for because the government never takes steps to shut someone up in a way that makes potential defenders think twice about getting the Taint Of Sin on them.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                There is perhaps confusion here.

                As a matter of fact, I don’t think Galileo did anything wrong in this case. I think he was unjustly tried by an oppressive system.

                We’re attacking the church here, not Galileo. That’s clear, right? Are we all on the same page?

                There is a sense that he indeed committed “heresy,” but only because the church was a capricious, oppressive institution. I interpreted @DarkMatter’s point to be that churches are like this, that the moral positions of the various churches follows from human sentiment and not any higher moral truth (despite their claims that “God is on their side”). The point: they all claim God is on their side, but we shouldn’t believe any of them.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d
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                says:

                Galileo was accused and convicted of heresy. He did not commit heresy. If you want to say “he was falsely accused of heresy by a church hierarchy reacting to a challenge to its hegemony and that sucks because they’re appropriating the language and justifications of faith for a secular purpose”, you’re right, but that is different from “the church went after Galileo because it considered heliocentrism to be a dangerously immoral heresy”.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to veronica d
                Ignored
                says:

                the moral positions of the various churches follows from human sentiment and not any higher moral truth

                That’s a great one sentence summation.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck
                Ignored
                says:

                Slate Star Codex wrote a lovely little essay about heresy, among other things.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Jaybird
                Ignored
                says:

                The problem with SSC isn’t Alexander himself, but the fact that a sizeable portion of his readership is upset that they cannot openly advocate “human biodiversity” or sexist evopsych takes or transphobic dipshittery, which all differ from heliocentricism precisely because 1) their subjects are disadvantaged minorities, not planets, and 2) they fancy themselves a bunch of Kolmogorovs, but instead they’re a bunch of insipid reply-guys with zero life experience.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to veronica d
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                says:

                Also the consequences are usually a hell of a lot closer to “being told off on Twitter” than “being burned at the stake”.

                And the way the metaphor is set up it’s not really limited to statements about physical facts. So you get it coming down on people making statements about moral or ethical matters that others find repugnant.

                And at a certain point the question really becomes, “What’s the alternative?”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy
                Ignored
                says:

                “What’s the alternative?”

                Well, this seems to be something evolving on Reddit.

                Here’s one story.

                Here’s an unrelated story.

                So… top-down heavy moderation might be an alternative.

                We just need good people in charge of it.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Well sure you can set up your own Reddit which is… well, Reddit.

                But even if you have a chunk of the world without taboos, causing the trap that Dr Alexander was concerned with, the whole world?

                Probably gonna have ’em.

                And you can stop people from getting burned at the stake, sure.

                But getting fired?

                Getting just shunned?

                I dunno. I’m skeptical it will work.

                Maybe you’re just better off teaching some people not to talk about some things as a prudential matter.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy
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                says:

                Maybe you’re just better off teaching some people not to talk about some things as a prudential matter.

                Yeah. They tried that with me, when I was a kid.Report

          • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
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            says:

            Religious opposition to heliocentrism arose from Biblical references such as Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 which include text stating, “The world also is established. It can not be moved.” In the same manner, Psalm 104:5 says, “He (the Lord) laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever.” Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states, “The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hurries to its place where it rises.”[71]

            …By 1615, Galileo’s writings on heliocentrism had been submitted to the Roman Inquisition by Father Niccolò Lorini, who claimed that Galileo and his followers were attempting to reinterpret the Bible, which was seen as a violation of the Council of Trent and looked dangerously like Protestantism.[74] Lorini specifically cited Galileo’s letter to Castelli.[75] Galileo went to Rome to defend himself and his Copernican and biblical ideas. At the start of 1616, Monsignor Francesco Ingoli initiated a debate with Galileo, sending him an essay disputing the Copernican system. Galileo later stated that he believed this essay to have been instrumental in the action against Copernicanism that followed.[76] According to Maurice Finocchiaro, Ingoli had probably been commissioned by the Inquisition to write an expert opinion on the controversy, and the essay provided the “chief direct basis” for the Inquisition’s actions.[77] The essay focused on eighteen physical and mathematical arguments against heliocentrism. It borrowed primarily from the arguments of Tycho Brahe, and it notedly mentioned Tycho’s argument that heliocentrism required the stars to be much larger than the Sun. Ingoli wrote that the great distance to the stars in the heliocentric theory “clearly proves … the fixed stars to be of such size, as they may surpass or equal the size of the orbit circle of the Earth itself”.[78] The essay also included four theological arguments, but Ingoli suggested Galileo focus on the physical and mathematical arguments, and he did not mention Galileo’s biblical ideas.[79]

            In February 1616, an Inquisitorial commission declared heliocentrism to be: “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture”. The Inquisition found that the idea of the Earth’s movement “receives the same judgement in philosophy and … in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith”.[80] (The original document from the Inquisitorial commission was made widely available in 2014.[81])

            Pope Paul V instructed Cardinal Bellarmine to deliver this finding to Galileo, and to order him to abandon the opinion that heliocentrism was physically true. On 26 February, Galileo was called to Bellarmine’s residence and ordered:

            … to abandon completely … the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves, and henceforth not to hold, teach, or defend it in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.[82]

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei#Controversy_over_comets_and_The_AssayerReport

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to Dark Matter
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              says:

              Yep.

              Moreover, the notion that Galileo’s punishment was actually the capricious reaction of a petulant pope isn’t actually better than the notion that it was a principled theological stand. Either paints religion in a bad light.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to veronica d
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                says:

                Either paints religion in a bad light.

                Focusing on which round of escalation ended with punishment ignores the forest for the trees.

                The basic concept that “The Church will Decide What Is Truth based on The Needs of The Church” is self seeking, corrupt, and unethical by modern standards when backed up by the power of the State.

                The modern equiv would be Trump insisting that conversations about the Dems need to start with “why do Dems hate America” and if you don’t start with that concept you can be arrested. Arguing that not many people get arrested or “whose fault” it is when that happens ignores that the basic setup is a serious problem.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to veronica d
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                says:

                Seems to me that sassing the mods and getting slapped back for it is different than Religion Viciously Crushes All Threats To The Truth Of Its Dogma And In So Doing Holds Back Human Progress.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                The church routinely “condemned” heretical teachings, both by banning the manuscripts and also by direct punishment of the authors. Those punishments were seldom death — although in some cases scholars would indeed be burned, as in Bruno’s case — but usually it meant loss of position and house arrest. Sometimes the church commanded a scholar to literal silence, which I guess meant they were confined to a monastery. (Vows of silence were a thing back then.)

                So indeed, the Catholic church crushed all threats to the truth of its dogma, as best it could. Not completely, of course, because its power was never absolute, but it was pretty arbitrary. Often a scholar could seek protection of a king. Other times they could move between Paris and Oxford, hoping that the local clerical authorities would be more tolerant. (They didn’t have internet. They couldn’t just email Rome.) Other times they would ally themselves with some side of a schism (since there were often popes versus anti-popes, and I think at one point there were even three competing popes). In any case, it was messy and complex, but it was certainly oppressive.

                A brief overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heresy_in_ChristianityReport

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
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              says:

              I’m not sure what you think that link proves, because what it shows is that Galileo pissed off the religious heirarchy by arguing about comets, his friend Urban VIII said “you bro I think you’re right here but maybe cool out”, Galileo published a book saying “the Pope says I’m right so y’all can eat my fat dick”, and the Pope had to step in to show that you don’t put words (or dicks) in the Pope’s mouth. That a few scriptural references could be interpreted as supporting geocentrism hardly implies that heliocentrism was considered heretical in itself, rather than Galileo encouraging heretics by flouting the Church’s authority. It’s more along the lines of a modern writer citing feminist bona fides before pointing out that someone’s being a jerk. (And the primary arguments against heliocentrism qua heliocentrism–arguments presented by the Church, mind you–were mathematical, cited Brahe, and were entirely modern in their reasoning and process.)

              And–again from your link–the Pope asked Galileo to DEFEND heliocentrism, AFTER he’d been ordered not to talk about it! This is where the “shit-talking the Pope” comes in, because Galileo wrote his work in the form of a dialogue, and in modern terms we’d see it as “the Virgin Simplicio vs the Chad Salviati”, and everything Simplicio said was a quote from the Pope…

              so if you’ve got this idea that Galileo getting in trouble was solely, mostly, or even notably motivated by religious objection to heliocentrism specifically…it really wasn’t.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to DensityDuck
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                says:

                the primary arguments against heliocentrism qua heliocentrism–arguments presented by the Church, mind you–were mathematical, cited Brahe, and were entirely modern in their reasoning and process.

                A group of Christians were using math to “prove the Bible correct” and oppose something the Pope and the Inquisition judged heresy.

                I expect their primary motivation was “support the Bible” and not “love of Math”.

                Seems to me that sassing the mods and getting slapped back for it is different than Religion Viciously Crushes All Threats To The Truth Of Its Dogma And In So Doing Holds Back Human Progress.

                There is a difference, however this was clearly the later and not the former. Galileo was ordered by the Pope to stop working on this heresy more than a decade before the shit talking started. Before that the Inquisition soundly investigated it and decided this was something that needed to be stopped. That’s not a math club deciding someone was wrong.

                My read on the timeline is eventually Galileo got upset at having to deal with stupid arguments made by people who insisted facts weren’t facts and he changed from arguing with facts to arguing with insults.

                You can call that “abuse of a mod” if you really want to but the “mod” is insisting that the Earth is the center of the universe because it’s in a special book and is trying to shut down the truth. That’s the entire source of the disagreement and it’s why it escalated to his conviction. This mess took decades to play out and while his shit talking and their convicting him was at the end, their efforts to shut down this line of research as heresy happened at the start.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Dark Matter
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                says:

                “Galileo got upset at having to deal with stupid arguments made by people who insisted facts weren’t facts ”

                you don’t pull cites from the guy who invented the telescope if you’re “arguing that facts aren’t facts”

                “the “mod” is insisting that the Earth is the center of the universe ”

                the mod is insisting that he’s the center of the universe

                I get that you are really really invested in the story that you’re telling here and I understand that, I really do, it’s a very comforting story to you, but unfortunately it’s not true that persecution of Galileo was motivated by religious horror at the thought of the Earth not being the center of the universe.Report

  11. Avatar Burt Likko
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    says:

    The value system of modernity is one of the aesthetic –– one which prizes experience and sensuality above all. According to this paradigm, a life well lived is one in which an individual has satisfied a duty they owe to themselves to pursue all they desire to experience in this world for the sake of the experience itself and the satisfaction it brings. The result of this evaluative system is clear: a culture of people obsessed with the consumption of popular media, new places, new possessions, sex, food, etc. Arguing that this image is significantly different from the state of modern America would take some doing.

    I don’t dispute this general description of contemporary American culture. I query as to whether, historically, there is much unique about it. It’s certainly very pervasive in large part due to our technological sophistication, but technology doesn’t have much to do with the philosophy that underlies it. Where the OP calls this a philosophy of the “aesthetic,” I say that this world view has gone by other names, whether that be “modernism,” “individualism,” “romanticism,” or even “humanism.” The idea being that an individual knows herself better than any external person or institution or ideology possibly can, and therefore she must determine for herself the objectives for her own life and, within certain bounds necessary for maintenance of peaceful communal living, how she will attain those goals. (This coupled with the belief, potentially making humanism a form of religion, that a human can, in theory, attain basically any of her goals.)

    From where I sit, such a world view (call it a religion or an ideology if you wish) is infinitely preferable to Christianity (writ broad and large), which seems to focus on good moral behavior and universal love as a preparation for entry into paradise in the next life. Different flavors of Christianity throughout history have offered a lot of different takes on this, of course, with the never-ending debates about faith versus works, the imminence of the Messiah’s return, the role of wealth and power, manners of sinning and attaining forgiveness, which hierarchy of earthly clerics carries some sort of divine mandate, and all of the other things that create so many different denominations within the West’s dominant religion. But when it comes down to the question of “why should you behave in a loving fashion towards other people,” I see no variety of Christianity which does not at least make some reference to “because God will reward you [somehow] for doing so.”

    From a practical level, one may be tempted to say “Well, whatever it takes,” and there’s a degree of truth to that. And in a world where nearly everybody routinely endured suffering and privation, this sort of world view makes a lot of sense. “Things kind of suck now, but if you behave morally, pass the moral tests the world places in front of you, a better life awaits you in the future.”

    We don’t live in such a world now. Industrialization has made suffering and privation endured by far fewer people than in the past, and in many cases mitigated the suffering that came before. So I restate my thought thus: In our modern world, the advance of science has eliminated the need for God as an explanatory force for even very powerful natural phenomena. In our modern world, we have adopted the individual self-determination as the teleology of human existence, rather than the preparation of the soul for entry into Heaven. Given this, what need does our culture have for God at all? Hasn’t religion been reduced into a force for cultural stasis, an obsolete bit of legacy coding left over in our newly-updated cultural software?Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      You must be one of those people who didn’t do a complete backup before you upgraded to Windows 10.

      The upgraded cultural software is extremely buggy and full of security holes, and it turns out that if you disable the mocha latte service the whole OS crashes.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko
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      says:

      “when it comes down to the question of “why should you behave in a loving fashion towards other people,” I see no variety of Christianity which does not at least make some reference to “because God will reward you [somehow] for doing so.” ”

      So an honest miser is preferable to dishonest charity?

      “what need does our culture have for God at all? Hasn’t religion been reduced into a force for cultural stasis, an obsolete bit of legacy coding left over in our newly-updated cultural software?”

      Religion provides a framework for forgiveness of sins that doesn’t exist in a secular context driven by game theory.

      People really grind hard on the parable of the Young Rich Man because they don’t like the implication that being happy and well-fed and comfortable might actually be sinful. But there was a whole other side of Jesus’s works that people forget about, and that’s the part where he hung out with tax collectors and whores. It’s common to say “oh well they were the counterculture of their day, of course he’d hang out with them, they were awesome cool interesting people instead of those squarejohn Pharisees”, but that’s wrong, in a modern context the tax collectors are Trump voters, the whores are meth addicts, and the Pharisees are social justice warriors calling out problematic faves. There will be a Christian revival in America in the next ten years or so, and it’s going to come from a far Left frustrated with the idea that they can’t have meaningful conversations about social progress because they keep getting yelled at over purity codes. (in this metaphor, the Republicans are the Romans.)Report

  12. Avatar Road Scholar
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    says:

    In my tiny hometown, settled in the 1860’s by the Dutch, there was one church, a congregation of the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Outside of town there was another church, a congregation of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). My family attended the CRC even though it was a longer drive since our farm was outside the opposite side of town. Now, if memory serves, the CRC is an offshoot of the RCA. There is some theological/doctrinal difference — something about permissibility of lodge membership, like the Elks and Masons — but no one really cared. People could and did freely attend the other one if need be and the congregations/denominations were so tight that the two churches actually shared a pastor for some time, maybe still do. But still, it was clear that you were a member of either the RCA or the CRC. One was your church family and the other wasn’t.

    My point being that in modern society churches, of whatever denomination, fill the role that the tribe filled in pre-historic societies. They’re about the same size as the prehistoric tribe, the average size of a congregation in the U.S. being about 75. Studies have shown that most people can’t give you a coherent account of the actual theology or doctrine of the church they attend, so membership isn’t really about that.

    It’s all about identity, at least for folks who are very concerned with such things.

    So when you’re scratching your head, wondering at the conservative Christian support for President Trump, given his obvious flaws, or their support for cruel policies that fly in the face of Christian doctrine (really any faith), don’t. Because it’s not about doctrine, or faith, or theological principles. They likely couldn’t recount them if you put a gun to their head. Same for the Beatitudes. In fact, support for Trump and his policies is strongest precisely among those Christians who actually attend church the least often. It’s just identity politics all the way down.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Road Scholar
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      says:

      This is a really good comment.

      As someone who does not assume the existence of a deity (at least, not one that most people would see as an entity worth worship or even meditation upon (it’s a small batch artisanal deity… you’ve probably never heard of it)), I look at Christianity and say “okay, what’s *REALLY* going on here if you take away the inessentials?” and see a lot of both tribalism and a surprising amount of trying to outright *AVOID* tribalism.

      It’s tribalism mitigation given tribalism as a constant.

      And the evolution from Orthodoxy to Catholicism to Protestantism to Evangelicalism to Whatever The Hell Marianne Williamson Is Doing is really, really interesting when you look at it the way you look at such things as language evolving.

      Because it’s not about doctrine, or faith, or theological principles.Report

    • Avatar JoeSal in reply to Road Scholar
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      says:

      Organized religion arose about the same time organized government arose. The two have been doing the dance ever since, sometimes with religion dominate, sometimes the government dominate, sometimes a balance of the two.

      Tithes, taxes, offerings, the church of needs was born.

      Gods truth, governments truth, the socialists truth, all making the case for their own objectivity. All making the case for their own existence.

      That churches have become intolerant at the ideas of the left, is a mirror that the left is intolerant at the ideas of the church. This is the battle that has been seen in other countries where social objectivity has been regarded as superior by a faction. The error of man is that morality tends to be defined by the most powerful social construct. Accordingly perpetual war is cultivated.

      The only relief from the god of war is the god of truth.

      para bellumReport

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Road Scholar
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      says:

      “So does that mean it actually is a bad thing to tell Trump voters that you’ll hate them and exclude them and shun them and shame them and drive them from your sight forever, because that’s making it into a Tribal Thing and they’ll just go join the other tribe and never come back out?”

      “No! Fuck ’em! They’re goddamn racists and they proved it in 2016, and if they’re gonna be tribal about stuff then we don’t need their votes anyway!”Report

  13. Avatar Mike Dwyer
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    says:

    I will also note that while Joel Osteen is far from being the most theologically sound preacher, is he really doing harm? His services are basically just intended to be group positive affirmation sessions. I guess I see it as a net good.Report

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