Wednesday, August 3, 2005
Bill McKibben: 'How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong.'
Earlier this week one of my parishioners sent me a note recommending the essay by Bill McKibben in the current issue of Harpers. The title is "Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation get Jesus wrong." I was dismayed to find that I couldn't read it for free on-line, but elated to find that another parishioner had sent me a copy of the same article in the mail. (Thanks!)
McKibben exposes dangerous misreadings of the Bible by American Christians such as the apocalyptics who justify violence and militarism with a twisted reading of Revelations. However, McKibben really hits his stride when he argues that many American Christians have "replaced the Christianity of the Bible, with its call for deep sharing and personal sacrifice, with a competing creed" of 'God helps those who help themselves', self-absorption, and greed.
McKibben's essay ranges far and wide from skewering the exurban mega-church founders and Christian publishers for offering "treatises on how to get God to serve the demands of self-centered individuals" to taking on voters in Alabama who resisted a Christian appeal for more equitable taxation. The "Christian Paradox" is how so many American Christians ignore completely the radical teachings of Jesus concerning treatment of the poor, the marginalized, and society's "left-behind", embracing a "me, me, me" Christianity instead of the Biblical one which is about how we treat the stranger and the other. I found myself agreeing with most everything McKibben argued.
But I find that I am reticent to preach polemics like McKibben's in my own pulpit. I take the attitude that if my calling were to reform misguided, self-obsessed Christians, then I definitely made a wrong turn somewhere. In a UU context, preaching McKibben is like preaching to the choir, and preaching to the choir risks becoming its own kind of tired, self-congratulatory exercise. I suspect that if Bill McKibben were to instead have written, "The Unitarian Paradox: How a minority religion gets it wrong" he might dedicate at least a paragraph to skewering the Unitarian preacher who indulges in leading the congregation to think they are morally superior for not being hypocrites like those misguided mega-church Christians. My problem with McKibben is that he is writing to an audience of many, I would guess, non-Christians. In that regard, his piece is not an act of reform, or even admonishment. It risks reading as an act of abetting self-congratulation. If Christianity Today or Christian Century had published his piece, then it would be different.
I suppose I am wondering about this question: To what extent can preaching the hypocrisies, errors, and corruptions of many forms of Christianity be considered to be an act that has integrity in the context of today's UUism?
Copyright © 2005 by Thom Belote | Posted 3 August 2005 at 11:42 PM