Christians Who Dislike Conservative Christianity January 19, 2008

Christians Who Dislike Conservative Christianity

There are many religious people who are sick of the conservative/Republican hijacking of Christianity.

These are the types of people who leave church because they’re sick of organized religion, opting instead for their own way of worshiping the Christian God.

For example, here’s an article about Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality:

For [Miller], the word [“Christianity”] conjured up conservative politics, suburban consumerism and an “insensitivity to people who aren’t like us.”

To quell his rage, he sat in his boxer shorts and banged out a memoir of his experiences with God, stripped of the trappings of religion.

“Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” sold just enough to pay a few months rent. Then five years later, spurred by a grass-roots movement of 20-something Christians longing to connect to God without ties to the religious right, the book became a sudden hit.

Fans were buying caseloads and passing out copies to friends. It peaked at No. 18 on The New York Times list of best-sellers among paperback nonfiction in November.

Supporters say Miller’s authentic, graceful approach to God has finally given a voice to their brand of Christianity. The book also debuted at a time when the emerging church movement – which emphasizes the individual’s faith experience and varied worship styles – is flourishing, signaling a fertile audience for such religious musings among more socially liberal evangelicals.

(Thanks to Donna for that link)

Vjack also points out an article by Gary Vance about the “Institute for Progressive Christianity”:

The pendulum of religious influence on socio/political issues has begun to swing back to the Left and thank God for it. The unholy merger of neo-conservatism with the holy fever of the Religious Right is at last being countered by a growing contingency of left leaning Progressive Christians. A Christian think tank, the Institute for Progressive Christianity (IPC) has risen up like young David to stand against the multi-headed Goliath incarnation of heavily funded Conservative think tanks and fundamentalism.

The IPC is arising as a strategic nerve center for research and development of the Progressive Christian movement and offers a robust response to the Right. The institute has hosted innovative symposiums, published revolutionary research papers, issued provocative press releases, and is designing compassionate public policy proposals while championing the separation of church and state.

Not that moderate Christianity is “more appealing” to many atheists, but it’s nice to see people from the Religious Left speaking out in public against the extremists. We need more Christians to do that. They’re a lot more effective than an atheist ever could be.

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  • The IPC link is broken. You can find their website here.

  • As a Christian who read BLJ about 4 years ago, I’m happy to see that you’re encountering that end of the spectrum, though it’s definitely not the furthest left of the Christian spectrum.

  • though it’s definitely not the furthest left of the Christian spectrum.

    No, I’m probably a lot farther to the left on the Christian spectrum than Miller (heck, I’m a lot farther to the left than a lot of Atheists are). 🙂

  • I wanted to like Blue Like Jazz. I took it out of the library yesterday, but I couldn’t read it. The manuscript needed about three more rounds of editing before being ready for publication and Miller’s views are quite immature (which is understandable, considering that he was 30 or maybe younger when he wrote this, but that didn’t make the book more readable to me).

    In addition, he starts out with the doctrine of original sin and the need for redeption through Christ, and talks about the idea of how without God or cops to boss them around, humans are basically uncontrolled, immoral maniacs — which is one of the things I hate most about Christianity, because it completely devalues and ignores human goodness and the human ability to transcend our own shortcomings. Just because we are not perfect doesn’t mean we are immoral pieces of sh*t. Being imperfect is not a fault or a sin and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We don’t need a divine life guard to save us from drowning in our humanity.

    I did read some other sections because I wanted to give Miller the benefit of the doubt and not put the book down just because I disagree with the theology he discusses in the opening pages, but I didn’t find that the writing improved or the insights got any more mature as the narrative progressed. So even though I am happy that Miller has written this book and that Christianity seems to be breaking up with right-wing politics, I can’t recommend Blue Like Jazz.

    For those wanting to read well-written and insightful thoughts on spirituality by a politically liberal Christian, I highly recommend anything by Anne Lamott, especially Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.


  • I mostly agree with Donna. Miller’s writing is rather immature. He’s very popular in emerging church circles, but I would say he’s actually sort of on the shallow, popular, mass-market level of the EC. He’s like the Max Lucado of the emerging church.

    And I’d definitely recommend Lamott as well.

  • I have to agree with Mike Clawson, Miller is part of this touchy, feel good Christianity that makes Christians feel “hip” and non-judgmental, etc. However, I find the “left” version of Christianity to be just as repulsive. Just b/c the extreme “right” embraces the conservative/repub platform without question, doesn’t mean that we should demonize free markets, capitalism, etc. In my mind, as a former Christian turned atheist, this “throw off the shackles” Christianity speaks to a deeper problem for most Christians–they don’t believe the shit they say they do.

  • Kate

    I keep telling Erik that I wish more people like him (emergent/liberal Christians) would be outspoken against fundamentalists and conservatives. Overthrow the masses. 😛

  • Mriana

    There’s another one too: Check out that sign on that 1st Baptist Church they are showing. 😆

    Here’s the article to the hypocrit thing:

  • Probably somewhere better for this comment, but I don’t see an “email me” button. There’s an interesting article about atheism in the pulpit in Psychology Today this month. I bought it off the newsstand just for that. It is a good article and could use some intelligent commentary (I’m not capable at the moment). You are a prime candidate!

  • Kate

    Mandy – Hemant’s e-mail is friendlyatheist (-at-) friendlyatheist (-dot-) com 🙂

  • Claire

    Is it ok to just send things like that? I saw the same article and thought the same thing, but didn’t know if it was quite the done thing.

  • I’ve posted my own take on some of the problems with equating the religious right with Christianity: the religious right vs. young people.

  • Mriana

    This sounds like a judgemental question, but I don’t mean it the way it sounds: Is it possible that the religious reich has formed a different religion that is not what Christianity is suppose to be?

    This sounds like I’m saying they aren’t Christians, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I’ve tried to phrase the question as best I can. I have Christian friends who view me as more Christian than some Christians and then there are Christians who never saw me as a Christian (generally of the Religious Reich) and then there are Christians like Bishop Spong and Don Cupitt. We can’t say Mere Christianity and the only way I can see how to define the term Christian is one who follows Christ, that IMO throws out the Religious Reich and could include those that like Robert Price who claim to be atheist, Humanist, and study the Bible because they enjoy it, as well as still find some wisdom in it, but don’t believe in a historical Jesus either.

    So, what is a Christian suppose to be? It’s hard to define anymore esp when you don’t see the behaviour of those who claim to be Christians, like the Religious Reich, as Christian. There are, believe it or not, Christian Humanist and Religious Humanist who sort of overlap- like Spong, Cupitt, and Freeman (Christian Humanists) and Price (Religious Humanists). So, it’s gotten really difficult to define the term. About as difficult to define as Humanist is.

    They do overlap in some respects- unless you go over to Secular Humanists, then it doesn’t overlap as much, if at all, but the closer to centre you get between the two, things start to blur- at least for me. The difference I can tell between Religious and Christian Humanists is that Christian Humanists still have an appreication for Jesus and have a lot of “God Talk”, but don’t believe in a literal metaphysical deity. Religious Humanist don’t see either a deity or a historical Jesus, but still appreciate the culture values of Christianity or other religions. While liberal Christians are more humanistic and believe in both- God and a historical Jesus. Yet all three groups share the more humanist values, regardless of their views on God and Jesus, and sometimes can study religious text together without going off the deepend with disagreements (they agree to disagree on issues concerning the Bible- like story/myth or fact). It really gets to be a big blur and the two extremes, it seems, are really outside of all of that.

    True peaceful living seems to come in the more moderate (as in moderation) areas of the two extremes. The BIG blow ups come when you throw in a Religious Reicher and/or an extreme Secular Humanist.

    So, I’m beginning to think the more towards centre a person is, the more compatible they are with others, but the distinctions become very blurred. Maybe the “new” religion isn’t the Religious Reich. Maybe it is moderation of the two extremes that is the new philosophy and not a religion at all. Maybe we are looking at a new humanistic philosophy that overlaps and both sides are still Humanist and Christian, with little or no belief in the metaphysical and alike, but still agree to disagree peacefully on the differences. (ie Liberal Xians may say, “OK so you don’t believe in God and/or a historical Jesus, but you are fascinated by the subject, so come join us anyway.” and the Religious or Xian Humanist says, “Great! It’ll be fun!” While the more extreme Secular Humanists see us as navel-gazers and the Religious Reich screams, “SINNERS!” 😆 )

    I don’t know, but it seem to me the more towards centre a person is, the less battles with others who are more towards centre.

  • Is it possible that the religious reich has formed a different religion that is not what Christianity is suppose to be?

    I know exactly what you mean. Part of the reason I left the church (not the reason I stopped believing in God) was because I witnessed the beginnings of the religious right and I couldn’t become a part of that.

    When I read what the leaders in this movement have to say, it is very much based on Old Testament philosohpy and scriptures, not the teachings of Jesus. I mean, they are very much into the letter of the law, an eye for an eye punishment, and many other things that seem to be the exact opposite of what Jesus taught about in the Gospels.

  • Mriana

    Yes, writerdd. I’m glad someone understands what I’m trying to say and ask. 🙂

    Your post reminds me of something Bishop Spong likes to say and I love quoting this too, “If that’s Christianity, I want no part of it.” I feel very much the same way too, even if I don’t agree with everything he says, we can agree on that one thing without a doubt. We come together on humanistic values, if nothing else and I can admire him for taking the stand he has within the Episcopal Church and such views seems to be where those who believe in moderation seem to overlap greatly and blur the definitions. I’m not complaining though. I appreciate it greatly and it seems those like Spong etc appreciate my Humanist views too. It’s a mutual respect.

  • Mriana asked,

    Is it possible that the religious reich has formed a different religion that is not what Christianity is suppose to be?

    I not only think it is possible, I most definitely think it has. That got me on a train of thought. I’ll write something up. Thanks, Mriana!

  • Mriana

    You’re welcome, Linda! I’m so glad I could get at least two people thinking about it all without misunderstanding my question. 🙂

  • Mriana said,
    You’re welcome, Linda! I’m so glad I could get at least two people thinking about it all without misunderstanding my question.

    I’ve thought the same myself. I posted this comic a while back on my blog. I’ve often thought that if there is a god and a devil and if the devil was very clever, he would come up with pretty much exactly what the Christian right has done thus turning Christianity on its head and doing to complete opposite of what Jesus supposedly really preached.

    I can see reasons to reject the Christian Reich both on religious and atheistic grounds.

  • Mriana

    I love it, Jeff! 🙂 You maybe right too. I could see that happening IF there were a god and a devil, etc. It makes for a very nice comic strip to say the least. 🙂

  • Is it possible that the religious reich has formed a different religion that is not what Christianity is suppose to be?

    I think you’re exactly right about this Mriana. I’ve been doing a lot more study lately of the historical Jesus (yes, I’m pretty well convinced that he did exist) and discovering that within his context he is radically unlike the Jesus promoted by the Religious Right, and that his gospel in some ways is almost diametrically opposed to the gospel and agenda of the RR. For all that they love to exclude any other Christians who don’t agree with them, IMHO, it is the RR that has gotten Christianity off course from Christ’s original intent (as best as I can discern it).

  • Mriana

    I have also studied it, as you well know, and I have come to the same conclusion that the original Christians of antiquity did not have in mind what the RR do. It is a completely different line of thought. Taking what is common knowledge to most Christians, the Jesus you find in the gospels, fact or fiction aside, has the little children coming to him and asking him questions. He did not shut down the questions they came up with, but freely allowed the questions.

    Secondly, Mary was called in Greek (and please do excuse the spelling) his quinenos, kwinenos- which means companion, friend, confidant- my older son astutely pointed out once, this could mean a number of things even the possible misconception of his wife, BUT rather his widowed sister or sister-in-law. It is possible since she is considered a widow and according to the time a woman could not be without a male relative, that when she became a widow, she fell under his supervision. So, she might not have just supported his ministry because she was a rich widow, but she could have been a rich widow who are related to him. In the process, she not only followed him around, but became emotionally close to him, which could easily be mistaken for having a physical relation, but in reality could have been JUST an emotional closeness and nothing more- like a sister or possibly a sister-in-law.

    Thirdly, he did not turn women away as a rule, even though we disagree on his level of respect for women. They were there and they spoke to him freely- even when he broke all the social rules of the time and spoke to the woman at well, who appeared to be alone at the time in the story.

    The list goes on and on as to what the early Christians may have been, but the bottomline, it seems to me the RR has created something totally new in the spectrum of Christianity. Looking at all the varieties of the past- Docetism, Gnostism, Donatism, Hermetics, etc, none of them fit the RR. I think, if all the views were allowed to develop and evolve with human progress, we’d find something more in line with Religious Humanists, Christian Humanists, Liberal Christians, and Progressive Christians. (Please don’t ask me which on became which though, because I’m not sure it’s that easy. 😆 )

  • Yes, though I was thinking more specifically of Jesus’ attitude towards those in power (e.g. the Jewish religious authorities, the Empire, etc.). He preached a radically subversive (though not violently revolutionary) religious/political message, and for centuries the early Christians following this message were persecuted by those in power who felt challenged by this gospel. In the face of Rome’s exploitation of the poor, violent oppression of their enemies, and demand of absolute allegiance to the emperor, the early Jesus followers practiced radical generosity, non-violent peacemaking, and loyalty to an authority higher than human political systems.

    Contrast that then to the politics of today’s Religious Right, in their lack of concern for the poor, their rubber stamp support for Bush’s wars of conquest, and their rabid pursuit of political power and demand of absolute allegiance to their (Republican) President. In all of these ways they are much closer to the gospel of Rome, IMO, than to the gospel of Jesus.

  • Mriana

    Yes most definitely like Rome, but if you are going back to the setting of Jesus, that was more Judaism than Christianity, although there was a sect called Jewish Christians or Christian Jews (something like that) at the time the author(s) attributed to Paul wrote and when the gospels were written. Thing is, when Rome persecuted Christians and even after Rome became “Christian”, various sects of Christianity were persecuted esp those that did not conform to Rome’s version of Christianity- which WAS more political and controlling of the masses than anything else.

  • Yep. What he (Mike) said… 🙂

    Mike, I do have one question, though. There is a wide range of beliefs among Christians. Exactly where does a group stop being RR and considered on the “Emerging” side? Is it possible to keep that true spirit of Christ alive, as long as we hang onto the organized religion?

  • Eliza

    Kate said,

    Mandy – Hemant’s e-mail is friendlyatheist@…..

    Claire said,

    Is it ok to just send things like that? I saw the same article and thought the same thing, but didn’t know if it was quite the done thing.

    My understanding is that spambots cruise the internet looking for email addresses (like Hemant’s, as you posted it above) & therefore it’s advisable, and current etiquette, to write them out in a way understandable to people but not computers, for example: friendlyathiest at friendlyathiest dot com

  • Darryl

    You guys will start chasing your tail by asking whether or not some form of Christianity is truly Christian or not. We’ve already hashed this one out on this blog some time back. By this time there are many different kinds of Christians and they’re all just as Christian as they think themselves to be. Those on the Christian Right are pigs in my opinion, but so what? It’s pointless to challenge their authenticity since one cannot make arguments to them based in Scriptural interpretation and expect to change their minds? These folks made a fundamental error when they mixed their religion and their politics. They’re not the first to do it and they won’t be the last. I don’t think Jesus was as “radically subversive” in his message as Mike thinks (he was a reformer, not a revolutionary), but I do think that he was for keeping religion’s and the state’s affairs as separate as possible. Mixing church and state always poisons both. The end product is invariably corruption. This is why I hate the Christo-militarist-nationalist-Republicans: they’re thoroughly corrupt.

  • Mriana

    Darryl said,

    January 20, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    You guys will start chasing your tail by asking whether or not some form of Christianity is truly Christian or not.

    Darryl, that was not the question and I tried hard not to insinuate that or say I was making that judgement call. You totally misunderstood the question.

  • Yes most definitely like Rome, but if you are going back to the setting of Jesus, that was more Judaism than Christianity

    Yes, exactly my point. Jesus ought to first be understood in terms of 1st century Judaism, before interpreting him through 2000 intervening years of Christian theology. Jesus was a Jew who thought he was reforming and fulfilling Judaism, and his first followers (including Paul) likewise still thought of themselves as Jews who were following the Jewish Messiah. Jesus through that lens looks far less traditionally “Christian” and far more politically subversive in my opinion.

    (And I don’t think first century Jews – or any ancient near eastern culture for that matter – would have even been able to conceive of such a thing as “separation of church and state”. Those terms didn’t exist as discrete categories; it was all interwoven to them. For instance, the original Greek word for church “ekklesia” is itself a political word.)

    For more on that, I’d highly recommend Richard Horsley’s “Jesus and Empire”, Dominic Crossan’s “God and Empire”, or Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s “Colossians Remixed”. Or for the less academic, Reader’s Digest version, Brian McLaren’s “The Secret Message of Jesus”. Or check out my post here on “Was Jesus Political?”

  • Mriana

    Another good book on the subject is Spong’s This Hebrew Lord

  • Darryl said,
    You guys will start chasing your tail by asking whether or not some form of Christianity is truly Christian or not.

    I think it is critically important to research and understand the origins of Christianity. A very valid argument can be made that Christianity as we know it didn’t start with Jesus but with the Gospel authors. They merged some previously existing disjoint religious concepts into a unified theology which was more potent and easier to relate to than anything previously existing. In political terms, it was pure genius. In ontological terms, though, it was no different than the alternative pagan ideas at the time.

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