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Sunday, November 10, 2002

The Future of Religion-Part I-Fred Pruitt's got this bit of thoughtful yellow journalism (he highlights his typically cheeky comments on the news in yellow; here, he's rather serious) that begs a response.
A hundred years from now, when the world is mostly divided between agnostics and atheists, an historian will analyze why religion died en masse. Here's the reason: this man, an educated Muslim, cannot come out and say that killing innocents is wrong. The reason Christianity is on the edge of disappearing is exactly the same — Unitarians, Episcopalians, United Methodists, and the like cannot bring themselves to say "this is an abomination in the eyes of God." Even more fundamentalist branches of Protestantism spend much, much more time evoking the Glory of God than they do examining right and wrong. I put that down to ecumenism, which is fine in theory, but which ends up looking for the similarities among religions while ignoring or downplaying the differences. The resulting thin gruel is devoid of both flavor and sustenance. Chris Johnson and Mark Byron know much more about the subject than I do, but it seems to me that Islam's appeal is that it does present that "right-wrong" aspect; it just draws it out to the point of absurdity, with fatwas on everything down to how to pee correctly (Muslims are supposed to squat because The Prophet did) and how to pack the pork to the Little Woman. The one will die because it's bloodless, and the other because it's bloodthirsty.
Fred's (as far as I can tell) a honorable agnostic, and since we all typically want to see the "good guys" (however we define them) win, he's seeing the world of 2100 as a secular playground gradually purged of its devout religious people. Let's take this paragraph on sentence by sentence-this might look like a fisking, but it assessing a honorable argument line by line.
A hundred years from now, when the world is mostly divided between agnostics and atheists, an historian will analyze why religion died en masse. Here's the reason: this man, an educated Muslim, cannot come out and say that killing innocents is wrong.
Actually, if you phrase killing innocents as "collateral damage", you will have a hard time getting an educated [fill in religion here] to say that killing innocents is wrong if it is part of a cause defending the good guys from the bad guys or, in the more aggressive faiths, expanding the domain of the good guys. One of the problems with Islam is that it has some bloody roots. Muhammad led his people to a conquest of much of Arabia, and his actions are recorded for his followers to imitate. If you take the writings of the Koran and of the other written traditions of Mohammed’s life at face value, you can justify going to war against the infidel. Islam was also written as a majoritarian religion; the Arabia of Mohammed’s lifetime merged the power of the state with the power of the spiritual, allowing a prophet-king to go to war with the unbelievers and having the resources of the state to bring it up. The less-literal modern reader of the Koran could say "that was a seventh century thing; it doesn't apply today." However, the more-literal modern reader might take Mohammed’s model of making war with his foes to heart. Most good Islamic clerics will not that jihad means struggle, and that the believer should focus more on the greater jihad against one's own personal sin rather than the more common use of the term as "holy war," but there are plenty of not-so-good clerics around. Unlike, Islam, Christianity grew up as a minority religion. Jesus will be around as a ruler, but only on the second trip will he play conquistador, as He opted to play sacrificial lamb on the first trip. The Old Testament has plenty of ethnic cleansing, but much of the Old Testament law has been rendered moot by the cross; the vast majority of modern Christians would not look to follow Joshua's lead in parking-lotting ones enemies. Instead, the model is that of missionary, preaching the Good News and accepting voluntary converts rather than putting a sword to the neck. Yes, feel free to bring up some of the barbarity of the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, but those aren’t the model that the modern believer combing the Bible will find in the early Christians. The Jews of Jesus’ day had a good chunk of contempt for Gentiles, it took multiple hits with a 2-by-4 to get the early Jewish believers to accept non-Jews as equals and not to dump the minutia of the Mosaic law on them.
The reason Christianity is on the edge of disappearing is exactly the same — Unitarians, Episcopalians, United Methodists, and the like cannot bring themselves to say "this is an abomination in the eyes of God."
The less-litteral modern reader of the Bible says "that was a first century thing; it doesn't apply today." In the name of understanding, many liberals within the church will look to water-down their message rather than offend modern sensitivities. If the Bible says X and the culture says Y, they often will side with Y, feeling that the Bible must be out of touch. This is the reason that the mainline churches (add Presbyterian and Congregational/UCC to the list above) are bleeding members; people who want the Bible to win in a Bible-versus-culture fight will go to more evangelical churches and people who want conventional cultural wisdom with a slight spiritual coating can stay home and watch Oprah.
Even more fundamentalist branches of Protestantism spend much, much more time evoking the Glory of God than they do examining right and wrong.
You might have a case in some of the more experiential charismatic churches and in many “seeker-friendly” churches where the love of God is focused on to the near-exclusion of discussion of man’s sin nature. It’s easy to head towards the touchy-feely side of the Gospel and ignore a God who’s got a place called Hell waiting for people who don’t want to follow Him. I remember a passage of Steven Curtis Chapman’s Blind Lead the Blind
There's a preacher in a nice church Anchored in the heart of town People flock to hear his eloquent delivery He talks of Jesus how he can please us But the cross cannot be found
That describes a larger number of evangelical churches as well as the mainline churches Chapman was seeming to go after in the song. However, you’ve got no shortage of preaching against various sins in a good evangelical church. Do we spend much, much more time at the Lakeland Vineyard in praise and worship (the closest translation of “evoking the Glory of God” I can come up with) than in talking about right and wrong (good Bible-based preaching on living a godly life)? I’ll buy “more time”, nip-pick on “much more time” and say “I don’t think so, Fred” on “much, much more time.” Heading off to church-I'll finish up this afternoon.

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