Something other than all abortion all the time.

James Hanley comments that

Christians have become (relatively) comfortable with teen birth (and I think he is right), it’s another classic case of Christians adapting their religion to their culture, rather than having any profound religious effect on their culture.

I’m wondering to what extent this is a feature of all religions and to what extent some religions are more susceptible to change than others. I’ve got a sense that the more iconoclastic a religion is, the more likely it will be unable to resist changing attitudes. Since the social conservativism of the US is hitched so thouroughly to Christianity and especially the evangelical strain of it, we will find that it cannot avoid the pressures of libertinism.

I will try to lay out roughly why I think this might be the case.

Jesus is a radical and iconoclastic figure. He is no conservative. He does not say proceed carefully with social change. When asked to stone the adulteress, does He proceed with gradual steps? No, He castigates and effectiely abolishes the practice. He asks those who have not sinned to cast the first stone. But surely He Himself did not sin and yet he forgave her and just told her to sin no more. (not saying its a bad thing, just that its farily radical for its time) Same thing with the money changers. Does he propose a 10 year exit strategy where an alternative venue for finance can be found? No, He goes in and starts overturning the tables and destroying other people’s property. That covers his radicalism. Oh yeah  and He kept His hair long and was a bit of a wild Man going off into the desert at times. I’m not say that He was a hippy but He did love peace a lot and was involved in more than His share of peaceful civil disobedience and non-cooperation…

Now for the iconoclasm. Jesus exorts his people to forgo outward forms of piety in favour of authenticity and genuine feeling. He says what really matters is what is in your heart and not what you outwardly do. He breaks Sabbath and He openly disrespects the Pharisees. He touches the leper and praises the heretic (Samaritan) over the orthodox. He openly condemns concerns abour ritual purity.

So, the basic Jesus story therefore has a fairly radical and iconoclastic message (for its time). Such radicalism and iconoclasm cannot sustain itself forever. Such movements are often short-lived and also quite dangerous. By the time the Roman Catholic Chirch was formed, Christianity had been domesticated for civilised consumption. The Roman Catholic, Eastorn Orthodox and even High Anglican Churches are all very similar. They are all formal and very ritualistic. Their own beliefs on certain key aspects of chirch doctrine have chainged very little over the centuries. At the same time of course, full adherence rates to such traditions is also low. Prtestantism is different. When Martin Luther posted those 20 objections on the church door, he was being iconoclastic and radical. But twenty years down the road, we find that yes, he had abolished some of the rituals (e.g eucharist) but had replaced the eucharist with something very similar. None of this is to say that the Catholic Church digresses from the teachings of Christ. My only claim is that the tonality of the Catholic experience has more to do with the writings of Paul than Christ’s life.  Nevertheless, even if Evangelical Christianity does contain rituals, in tone, it is still more radical and iconoclastic than the formal three. After all, is it not a radical proposition that each man can find God by himself  without the intervention of clergy? The Protestant may very well say that this is not radicalism, but a return to the teachings of Christ. My reply is that that is precisely why it is radical. To be radical is to return to the root, to go back to fundamentals. Consider the rationalist who for every question tells us to go back to basics, to first principles. In many ways, this going back to first principles stuff (especially in the west) has certain protestant influences (at least in attitude).

Let ius move to the 20th and 21st century see how the various churches operate today. All the churches do missionary work and their radicalism or lack thereof can be seen from the way they go around spreading their message. The Roman Catholic Church goes around helping the poor without overly preaching to them. It helps them when they are down, schools them helps socialise them. Slowly by the second or third generation, it has established itself as a positive benevolent social institution whose traditions and practices have slowly been absorbed by the people around who are all now overwhelmingly catholic. By contrast, Evangelical Churches certainly do good works, but are at the same time more dedicated to spreading the Good News. It would be unflattering to call it a sales pitch but that’s what it often sounds like. What this direct more immediate approach calls for a person to do when he converts is to reject the faith of his fathers, to break awayfrom his olde family structure’s traditions and to be born again in a new fellowship of Christ. This is the basic evangelical message and it is a radical iconoclastic one.

Given this iconoclasm and radicalism which is conveyed to the adherents of the Church, we can see how it would be problematic for the  evangelical church to turn around and tell its younger members to keep to the traditions and practices of the previous generation. Very frankly, it lacks the credibility for such a message. And that is why evangelical christianity has proven to be a particularly bad bulwark against the creep of libertinism. Catholics who are libertine-ish are libertines in the understanding that they are thereby bad catholics. This is less so with Protestants. Even with Catholics, there is some degree  of libertine-creep simply because the Catholic church has been unable to expunge the radicalism that is an essential part of Christ’s message.

 

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53 thoughts on “Something other than all abortion all the time.

  1. Teen births have actually gone down quite a bit since they peaked way back in 1957. The difference is, women marry much later, and, therefore are much more likely to give birth out of wedlock.

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      • it’s correct and it is not correct.  long ago (december), during the Tebow wars, some people pointed to Mathew 6 to tell Tebow to calm down his “show” of piety.  astute biblical scholars pointed to other portions of the Bible encouraging worshippers to (paraphrasing) shout it from the rooftops.

        I love the Bible.  Even the parts that contradict the other parts.

         

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          • i’ve learnt that only the portions that support the prevailing christianist narrative are to be taken literally.  the rest is dicta until a portion can be (mis) construed to promote the narrative.

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          • The reason that God creates man twice is the merging and concatenation of existing texts.
            The Northern Kingdom and Southern Kingdom had their own sacred texts and traditions. David allowed both of them, but Solomon discontinued this practice.
            Ezra merged both scriptures following the Babylonian captivity.
            Much of the Dueteronomic text was actually written by Jeremiah.

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        •  

          I’m going through the Sermon on the Mount now, and a lot of what Christ is tackling is the aforementioned inner heart/thoughts of the person.

          The injunction against praying in public and making a public spectacle seems to follow this, as an injunction against the typical religious mindset of the day that made prayer a spectacle in order to feel more righteous or appear more righteous before others. The person wasn’t really talking to God at all, they were talking to anyone near by who could overhear them. Thus they could expect nothing more from their prayers than the praise of those to whom they really prayed.

          I’ve no idea what Mr. Tebow is thinking in his celebratory prayers or gestures, so I don’t know if this is the case with him or not.

          What I guess I’m saying is that I don’t find it particularly contradictory to tell someone not to act religious for the purpose of impressing others, but to live in such a way that honors God and proclaims his truth. My take away from it is that (as the author notes) its mostly about what your inner motives are (“Look at me! Look at me! vs. a focus on God.)

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          • i see your point, and perhaps i should have said the plain meaning of the words contained in the bible contradict themselves.  you have to get somewhat insidery and ascribe additional meanings to the terms to get to where you get.

            for example, it seems like you speculate about the “typical religious mindset of the day” but refuse to speculate about tebow.

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            • i see your point, and perhaps i should have said the plain meaning of the words contained in the bible contradict themselves.  you have to get somewhat insidery and ascribe additional meanings to the terms to get to where you get.

              The bibles we have are translations of the original Greek, so they don’t contain the actual original words, so I would agree that taking them literally (as in every word literally means what it says without regards to the original language or its textual, historic, and cultural context) is foolish.

              Though, I admit, I’m probably slightly more liberal than a lot of evangelical Christians.

              it seems like you speculate about the “typical religious mindset of the day” but refuse to speculate about tebow.

              It’s a matter of the availability of source material. I have the biblical accounts of the Pharisees and their motivations, so it’s easy to draw inferences, but I don’t have anything that gives me insight on Tebow.

               

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              • literally = plain meaning?  not necessarily.

                we have plenty of anecdotal evidence re: Tebow as well.  From what I have seen, whenever someone attempts to impugn what Tebow has stated as his motives, the 21st Century catchall argument is levied:  U R A HATER.

                 

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                • I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really get into the whole Tebow story. From what I”m aware, what he was doing with regards to his faith didn’t seem all that negative to me.

                  What I thought was a bit over the top was the idea that God had a direct personal hand in the Broncos regular season success, rather than God simply blessed the guy with athletic talent and the Broncos played with confidence.

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                  • i agree.  people’s use of tebow is what offends me.  not his beliefs or even being showy about it.

                    team sports lend themselves to what appears to be acceptance of internal preaching.  i think chuck klosterman tackled this in grantland pretty well.  the team has an existing “us against the world”.  coaches foster this.  the mentality allows for team members who may not be religiously inclinded to get into a teammate preaching.  tebow is a great speaker.  he very rarely says the wrong thing in public and does great motivational speeches (his iron sharpens iron bit was cool).

                    however, when this sort of team mentality does not exist, his preaching isn’t as well accepted.  the best example is when he tried to get everyone taking the Wonderlic test prior to the draft to pray with him.  that suggestion was met with “STFU”.

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        • It’s a distinction between practicing and displaying one’s faith openly as a witness to non-believers, and using displays of faith to tell other Christians (or, when Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, other Jews) that you’re a better, more religious person than them.

          GIven how secular society has become, I’m inclined to regard Tebow’s shows of faith as the former.  They’re a way of saying to the world “I’m a Christian, and I’m not ashamed of it.”  That’s a good thing, as long as you don’t get too pleased with yourself for doing it.

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          • Yep. Teebow’s standing up for the silent what, 87% of Americans that are Christian? Way to show those oppresive 13% who aren’t.

            Most of whom are religious, just not Christian.

            America is a majority Christian nation. If it’s secular? It’s because the bulk of those Christians prefer it that way.

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  2. When asked to stone the adulteress, does He proceed with gradual steps? No, He castigates and effectiely abolishes the practice. He asks those who have not sinned to cast the first stone. But surely He Himself did not sin and yet he forgave her and just told her to sin no more.

    Well, He brought a new covenant. Is it abolishing the old one? The message I take from the sermon on the mount is Jesus deepened the old thou shalt nots instead of doing away with them. Adultery isn’t just adultery- He says it’s divorce too as well as lusting after another in one’s heart. It’s not just the formal rule-following, but something more difficult and a deeper commitment. I remember Martin Scorsese once saying he was expecting Hell after he dies because he’d been divorced. It’s certainly a different attitude than the sort of Phariseeism we see in most public officials.

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    • First of all, Murali this is an excellent and insightful post.

      , you’re missing the point Jesus was making. He was trying to get past the excessive piety of the hypocritical generation He was preaching to. Plenty of folks (then as now) believed they were “above” the rest of “those” sinners and were surely on the stairway to Heaven. What Jesus was saying in response was that no one was “sinless” and therefore no one could get to Heaven on their own good graces, but only through the Grace from God. Likewise current evangelicals are dead wrong when they claim you must be a Christian to get to Heaven. Jesus /did/ say “None may come to the Father except through me” (John 14:7) but what he /meant/ isn’t what the preachers claim. They’re just trying to fill the pews, realize Jesus /Himself/ wasn’t a Christian. That Jesus is the firewall between those who get saved and those who don’t is perfectly acceptable to me, He earned it but His judgement isn’t based on our ideas, but on the content of people’s character. I believe a lot of hypocritical Christians will be mightily amazed that they aren’t on the stairway they thought they were just as the Pharisees were.

      Would Jesus forgive a Libertine like you? It all depends, do you sneer at the poor souls who ask for a handout? Do you have love in your heart or just sex on the brain? Would you rather kneel in Heaven or rule in Hell? If you’d rather rule in Hell, good luck with that but I hear there’s another badass who already has the job and he might not be keen on giving it up (and I hear he likes to make his subjects  kneel too).

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      • Yeah, I see your point about grace. A note about this: “Do you have love in your heart or just sex on the brain?” though.

        Well, two notes. The first would be that I didn’t realize the two were mutually exclusive. The second would be a somewhat relevant story: I asked my father once why he’s no longer a Catholic, and his response was, “I couldn’t stand it when they started doing the mass in English. Also, I think it’s stupid to think that lust is a sin”. What can I say? My dad is a salty old lobsterman!  No doubt everyone has their own path though.

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  3. This is an excellent post.  Pithy, cogent, succinct, provocative.

    I’m an atheist who was raised in an evangelical Christian church.  Actually, I’m an agnostic because I can’t get past the search-for-meaning-from-out-there foundations of the way I was trained to think as a child so I’m emotionally alienated own atheistic conclusions about the way the world actually must be.

    I think you’re describing a central psychological dynamic at the root of the evangelical spastic yo-yo that oscillates between extreme loving tolerance and extreme hateful intolerance.  Evangelicals seek inner peace from their faith, but if both God and Satan speak to and act on you directly through your very own thoughts and feelings, lasting inner peace is impossible and the experience of faith becomes an endless cycle of agony, ecstasy and indifference.

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  4. In Europe things like living together before marriage have become so routine that Evangelicals seem to have some success in promoting keeping sex in marriage as the radical option. But then in Europe they haven’t hitched their wagon so firmly to political and social conservatism, which may make the idea that Evangelical Christianity is radical an easier sell.

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  5. Martin Luther had 95 objections, not 20.

    We must at all times avoid putting Jesus Christ into our own little box.   Though I don’t think Jesus was a Conservative, it’s not helpful to say he wasn’t.    As for the difference between Protestant and Catholic missionary efforts, my personal experience shows the Catholics have been every bit as radical and homiletic as the Protestants and increasingly the Mormons.

    I have previously said religion is a big nothing, a scaffolding upon which the workmen stand, building the house not made with hands.   Faith is a deeply personal thing but he who believes by faith does look back to the faith of his fathers and the faith of his fellow believers.  The credibility of the Church is the credibility of the faithful.

    I wouldn’t worry about how the church evolves:  in every time and place it has done so.   I long for the old hymns we used to sing.   Now it’s all these silly choruses on some flatscreen monitor.   I remember the Hausa singing in the double harmonic scale.    I’ve sung in choirs all my life:  for me, worship involves song, as much a refuge for my own soul as for anything else.

    Jesus Christ remains the Rock of Offense.   Outsiders will always find reasons to criticize the Church, for it is full of sinners.   The difference between those inside and those without remains this issue of Sin and its consequences.    Those within have admitted they are sinners.    Let’s put it this way, it’s rather like AA.  If you don’t have a problem with alcohol, you don’t need to go to meetings.    if you don’t have a Sin Problem, stay the hell away from Christianity.    Both will demand you own up to your failures before you can turn your life around.

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  6. Murali,

    This is an interesting hypothesis, but my own suspicion is that what’s going on is much simpler; the only way to keep society from shaping your religious group is to keep it separate from society.  The Hutterites and Amish, for example, manage to avoid adapting to society by segregating themselves from it as much as possible.  Certain protestant churches in the U.S. fall under the heading “separatist” churches–they do not remain as wholly apart as the Amish, but they very strongly encourage their adherents to limit their socializing to within the group and tend to dress in distinctive ways that mark themselves (in our town, we all know to what church the girls in plain tennis shoes, long denim skirts, white blouses, and long hair go).  It’s hard for them to blend in with society without their church fellowship noticing and calling them out on it, and with the security of a firm social identity, they have less need to blend in with society.

    But Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and so on don’t try to segregate themselves, and so they lose the distinctive markers.  So not only do they lose the ability to really socially control each other, but they lack such a firm social identity as the separatists have, and so they are more likely to attach themselves to the dominant cultural identity.  And so they drift with the evolution of society, generally lagging behind its pace of change, but following in the same path because they lack effective mechanisms for distinguishing themselves.

    All this presupposes that the actual effect of religion is purely social, and that there is in fact no supernatural power that influences religious folks’ behavior.  If there was such a power, I think we’d see it more evidently acting to counteract these trends.  In fact one of the biggest spurs that led me out of the church was recognizing that the constant refrain of “be in the world, but not of it,” was blatantly, obviously, false.  In every church I’ve been a part of, the people clearly were “of the world,” which suggested to me that there was no God working in these people.  And the only religious people who avoided being “of the world,” were the ones who actively separated themselves from the dominant social culture–and that active separation is itself sufficient explanation, obviating  the need to invoke any supernatural force.

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    • Yeah, what you say makes kind of a lot of sense, and it certainly does a good job of broadly explaining the larger trends. I was hoping to explain more fine grained differences between catholics evangelicals. (i.e. more lapsed catholics, but staunch catholics stick closer to doctrine than staunch evangelicals)

      Also, I want to ask about Hindus in the US. I understand that they are pretty much a minorityand tend to live in enclaves, but to what extent do they  adhere to more traditional mores about dating and sex and to what extent are they like their peers? The reason being is that I can imagine first and even second generation Indian parents having a cow (which is clearly a bigger thing for Hindus than it is for others) if their teenage son or daughter went on dates. Imagine trying to pick up this guy’s daughter from her house.

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      • Murali,

        I don’t know many Hindus these days, but I knew a few in California back in the ’90s.  Most of them were not too terribly traditional in most ways, but were in regards to sex and dating.  They tended to have large get togethers so the kids could pick out someone to have mom and dad arrange a marriage with.  But we’re already talking 20 years ago, so some of those folks I knew in college surely now have kids of their own who are at or approaching marriageable age, and I don’t know how they tend to work things these days.

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  7. I would personally hazard that one of the reasons why so many Christians find themselves adapting to their culture is because the messages they hear from the pulpits.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been encouraged to set my life apart for God, or live my life for God, or live in the world, but not be of the world or some other variant, and the first question I’ve always had is: That’s nice, but what exactly does that mean in a practical sense?

    If I got an answer, most of the time, it would be that I need to pray more or read the bible more, and that was it.

    Well, if you’re already praying and reading your bible and you’re still finding yourself spinning your wheels spiritually, it’s a bit hard not to just say “This doesn’t work, I don’t feel any closer to God, and I don’t seem like a changed person at all.”

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    • Comrade Dread,

      That was my experience as well.  And when I still believed, the frustration was terrible.  I also saw desperate attempts among my fellow Christians to find ways other than just praying/reading more to make this happen, such as the girls I went to college with who decided to try saying Jesus loves you as an addendum to every (and I do mean every) conversation, which ultimately served only to alienate even their fellow believers.  Or those who won’t even drink sparkling grape juice because they’re sure it’s not far enough away from wine. Or who grew beards as a personal covenant with God because they needed some kind of marker as a personal touchstone.

      All of these efforts, well-intended and sincere, betrayed the reality that they were longing for some kind of clear distinction that they weren’t getting either internally or externally.

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