When I was a child, I considered religion to be a fairly simple matter: my family celebrated Christmas and Easter, therefore I was a Christian (as opposed to the people who celebrated Hanukkah, Purim, and a number of less fun holidays, the only other religious group with whom I ever associated prior to the age of twelve or so). Because my mother was a Catholic and my father a Protestant, we never even went to Church*, and so my religious instruction consisted exclusively of very occasional readings from the Bible (once again, usually around Christmas and Easter) and watching the 1970s rock-opera Jesus Christ Superstar (of which my father is a fan). I knew little of the more intricate specifics of Christian morality, but what I did know (don’t kill people; don’t steal; don’t lie; help the less fortunate, et cetera) seemed eminently reasonable.
Later on, things became somewhat more confused; as I grew older, certain zealous classmates of mine informed me that I was not a true Christian, as I did not attend church regularly/ believe in Creationism/support the Canadian Alliance Party**. Their goal, I suppose, was to goad me into adopting these beliefs. It was a miscalculation on their part because I just stopped calling myself a Christian, and to this day I no longer think of myself as such***.
I was motivated to think about all of this earlier today, by this article by Andrew Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan is of the impression (I think correctly, for the most part) that the prominence and prestige of the Christian Right in American politics really just obscures the long term institutional rot that has taken hold at the heart of that religion. According to the author, modern Christianity has become so obsessed with culturally conservative wedge issues like creationism and opposition to abortion, feminism and sexual diversity that it has not only lost sight of the main thrust of the teachings of Jesus, but is now hemoraging moderates and potential converts at an alarming rate.
Personally, I think that on this matter, Sullivan is right on the money. As I have said, I am not a Christian. But I am, among other things, a mediaevalist, and one of the things that mediaevalists do alot is read books written by Saints. And what one finds in these books may be surprising to people who are familiar exclusively with modern Christianity. You see, these Saints are an extremely self-effacing lot; maddeningly so, in fact. These were people who were convinced that, no matter what they did, it could never measure-up to the standards of God, and so they magnify even the most trivial indiscretions to serve as proof of their ‘inherently wicked natures.****’ The contrast to the sanctimonious, holier-than-thou attitudes of people who, for example, think that they are qualified to judge their peers through ideological litmus tests could not be more stark. Perhaps a little more humility, and a little less pride, is what Christians (and the rest of us) truly need.
*except for a brief flirtation when I seven or so with the United Church of Canada, which was liberal enough not to care about denominational inconsistencies.
**The Canadian Alliance Party (formerly the Reform Party and very briefly the Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party, or CCRAP) is a defunct precursor to the modern Conservative Party of Canada; one which wasn’t smart enough to realize that it needed to lie about its stances on social issues in order to win elections.
***I don’t really think of myself as much of anything. “Agnostic” is probably the most accurate description as, while I don’t really believe in any meaningful way in supernatural entities, I have no idea how one would go about proving that one way or another, since it seems to me that anything which can interact with the physical world must itself be physical, and therefore natural, and therefore not supernatural.
****Seriously, Augustine: you stole some pears.