Is There No Shame: Or Is Christianity Inherently Evil?

The implication of evangelicals in support (implicit or explicit) of notions of white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and the KKK raises the question/accusation that it is Christianity itself that is complicit in evil.  In terms of the broad sweep of history and the core teaching of the New Testament this is, I believe, a false claim and a misunderstanding.[1]  Nonetheless, I understand the accusation and see the necessity of disclaiming any association with a faith that, in certain forms, has become evil.  A passing familiarity with the New Testament seems to make it clear that oppressing, enslaving, denigrating, murdering, or doing violence to others is not Christian.  At the same time, it is also clear that in various periods, such as the present time, Christians and certain forms of Christianity have been implicated in and have even been the basis for promoting these very same evils.  

Given this reality such movements as #EmptyThePews are more than understandable.  That is, there are certain churches and certain forms of the faith that do not deserve the allegiance of Christians and no longer deserve to bear the name of Christ. There are “Christianitys” that should be refused. But many within these churches have become so accustomed to various forms of bigotry, racism, misogyny, oppression, and violence that they cannot recognize they are part of a church which supports the very evil Christ came to destroy.  The faith which is supposed to promote love of neighbor has been so twisted that it provides a platform for the worst sort of hatred.  Just as the Bible was used to promote slavery and segregation in the past it is now being used to promote white supremacy and hate. How can this be?

There are forms of Christian belief so focused on individual pietism and future rewards and punishment that a real-world accommodation of evil is made possible.  Combined with a misreading of Ro. 13 and the notion that the supreme ruler is always God’s chosen instrument, a narrow focus on a legalistic atonement, relegating the teaching of Jesus to a prior covenant (no longer binding), all serve to contribute to a perverse form of the faith.[2] What seems to hold all of these various perversions together is the notion that the primary human problem is guilt. In this understanding, the Old Testament missed the fact that the main human problem was a guilty conscience and Paul discovered this on the Road to Damascus.  Now we need not concern ourselves so much with politics, culture, and legal regulations as we realize our problem is interior and spiritual.  In fact, the primary human problem is not guilt – guilt before God, or the law, or in the conscience.  The primary human problem is evil – an evil that would kill and destroy both the neighbor and the self.

For the uninitiated, this may not appear to be much of an insight.  For those steeped in bad Christian doctrine though, they should recognize evil is not a subject which is addressed in their received understanding of the work of salvation.  Evil may be considered as an objection to the existence of God, a necessary part of God’s plan, an essential ingredient in bringing souls to maturity, but strangely enough evil is not usually considered to be the focus of the work of the Cross.  Evil is a subject for courses in apologetics and is usually missing in theology courses.  As a result, preaching is geared toward trivial moralism, bucking up self-esteem, and improving the quality of life. The confrontation with real world evil – systemic political evil, nationalism, presumed white supremacy – is not really allowed for in the scope of evangelical theology.

Though being “born again” is more or less definitive of American evangelicalism the concept is trivialized with notions of light weight moral reformation. It does not follow that new birth may require new political associations, different economic commitments, a revolutionary notion of values, and an open door to foreigners and strangers. How about being born again into an alternative set of cultural commitments devoid of evil, racism, and violence?  Or how about being born again into a world where women, minorities, and aliens are not reduced to second class citizens?  This was the point of the first Church – where gender, race, and social status (neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free) no longer played a role in identity.  Where Christianity is focused on guilt, individual piety, and future redemption, the main point of Christianity and the Cross of Christ are lost.

I suppose there are easier ways to make progress in theology, but it took me some twenty years in Japan to recognize the inadequacy of a theology focused on guilt (a concept all but lacking in Japan). In my next blog I will describe how it is the concept of shame brings the focus of the Cross onto a holistic notion of evil.

[1] Book length delineations on the positive world-wide impact of Christianity make the argument sufficiently.  David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions, for example, has demonstrated that Christian promotion of human charity and dignity has subverted the cruelest aspects of various human societies.  At a more popular level, D. James Kennedy goes through the various benefits of Christianity to humankind – from economics to government, science to civil liberties, and morality to health (What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?).  In fact, a passing familiarity with the facts seems, to forego the necessity of making the case that Christianity has in the past and continues to impact evil.

[2]In previous blogs I have worked out a correct reading of Ro. 13 (http://forgingploughshares.org/2017/02/02/what-is-the-proper-christian-response-to-evil-government/) and the problem with legalistic notions of the atonement (http://forgingploughshares.org/2017/05/11/jesus-death-does-not-save/).

 

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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