Friday, 27 March 2015
The Myth of Christianity
I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy debating theology with people, especially those with very different opinions and beliefs to my own; I find that they help clarify my own thinking wonderfully, and force me to consider things that I have previously taken for granted. I’ve been having a (polite, intelligent, so far at least) discussion with someone on Facebook recently, and they were asking why they should respect Christianity when it can’t keep its more extreme adherents in line, or even seem to decide exactly what it believes, and when it appears to be the source of so much intolerance and oppression, both historically and in the here and now. Very valid questions, and ones which I have attempted to answer.
However, it has also resulted in a realisation, and one that I’ve sort of vaguely had before, when thinking about the way some atheists approach religion in general. Put simply, there is no such thing as ‘Christianity’. “Why should I respect Christianity?” “Why is Christianity so intolerant?” There is no such beast. Christianity is not an entity, it does not have intentionality, volition or motivation; it is not sentient or biased, it neither thinks nor acts. There is no such thing as Christianity. It is a myth, a fiction. There is no Christianity, there are just Christians. There’s Christian theology, and Christian ethics, and Christian this, that and the other, but even these aren’t the faceless, oppressive entities that some people like to imagine. They are the theologies and ethics of Christians. There is no Christianity. It is a label for a vast, amorphous mess of beliefs and behaviours that has increasingly become so loose as to be almost meaningless as a word. Anyone can claim to be a Christian, and apparently no-one has the right to tell them that they’re mistaken. (This is, perhaps, a rant for another day.) Certainly as a label it still has its uses, but that is all it is. It is not a thing in and of itself.
Some Christians are intolerant. Some Christians are oppressive. Some Christians have committed atrocities. Some Christians have forced their beliefs on others, often at the end of a sword or gun, or with the threat of withholding medicine or food or shelter. Can ‘Christianity’ be blamed for this? Many Christians are not intolerant or oppressive. Very few indeed have committed atrocities, or forced conversions through violence, threat or coercion.
Why should you respect Christianity? There is nothing to respect; it is a chimera. Why should you respect those Christians who persecute or oppress? You shouldn’t. I would hesitate to call them Christians, no matter how well-intentioned or sincere their belief that they are doing God’s will, although ultimately there is only one arbiter for that. Why should you respect the great many Christians who strive for high ideals, who feed the hungry, heal the sick, shelter the homeless, love the unlovable, bring hope to the hopeless? The question answers itself.