Where Christianity is Lagging

In the comments of a recent post Matt provided the following from Michael Schermer:

Mark my words. Here is what is going to happen. Within a decade, maybe two, Christians will come around to treating gays no differently than they now treat members of other groups whom they previously persecuted — women, Jews, blacks — but not because of some new interpretation of a biblical passage, or because of a new revelation from God. These changes will come about the same way that they always do: by the oppressed minority fighting for the right to be treated equally, and by a few enlightened members of the oppressing majority supporting their cause.

Then what will happen is that Christians will take credit for the civil liberation of gays, dig through the historical record and find a few Christian preachers or bloggers who had the courage and the character to stand up for Gay rights when their fellow Christians would not, and then cite those as evidence that were it not for Christianity, gays would not be equal.

Although not a perfect analogy, this passage reminds me a bit of the conversation I had with a young man who had recently come out. He told me that all Christians hate gays. I said, “Well, I’m a Christian,” he interrupted to say that he knew I was because he heard me going on about it all the time. I continued, “and I don’t hate gays.” His response was that I was not really a Christian, then.

First off, this is an attack on Christianity. It is a preemptive strike against a future more tolerant Christian church to make sure Christians don’t get off the hook for the evil they have caused.

And, I feel compelled to point out that the exact reasoning provided by Schermer–Western Culture, not the Church will solve the problem of mistreating gays–can be used to let the church off the hook–Western Culture, not the Church is responsible for mistreating gays. Religion and Culture until very recently were inextricably intertwined.

More importantly though, Schermer and the angry young man have reason to be pissed off at the Christian Church. We have been slow to take a leadership role in the great moral ills facing our society. The Church needs to correct this: even if it doesn’t get to take credit.

In the past, the Church has done well in advocating for the impoverished. In the United States the Civil Rights movement was a church movement. However, two glaring examples of movements, of what Judge Posner calls moral entrepeneurship, are afoot: Gay Rights; Environmentalism. While my little church and much bigger churches all across the country are coming on board, we need to do more. As Kanye says, “Better, Faster, Stronger.”

2 replies on “Where Christianity is Lagging”

I found the speech you linked stimulating to read. It is good to read someone with a different perspective from what I am used to, and especially someone with a strong background in a field very different from my own.
However I found many of the analogies in the article strained to the point of breaking. Perhaps it was the hints of postmodernism limiting science to a social norm. The author seems to equate knowledge of moral progress with advances in scientific knowledge, at least on an epistemological level.

As far as “moral entrepreneurs” go, I would argue that the secular humanist movement lead to a further advancement in moral progress than does Christianity. In my own life I have found the notion that there is truly nothing at all that sets my own being apart from the rest of humanity, other than as a point of reference, to be the strongest possible moral compass. Start with the notion that we are all essentially the same, and yet each of us contains our own point of reference. You can then build a moral system more robust and progressive than one based on the dubious claims of revelation or obeisance to a higher moral authority. This, I think, is where Shermer takes issue with institutions such as Christianity (if it can be called an institution).
Returning to the “moral entrepreneur” notion, I strongly recognize the need for the use of non-rational persuasion as a pragmatic reality. Not from an ends-justify-the-means perspective, but rather from the understanding of the psychology of the human mind.

Just a clarification on Posner, in general I’m not a fan. I do think his idea that facts and evidence are less pliable that ideals is interesting. As to whether it can successfully remove outcome driven reasoning from the law, well, that’s a different story.

Re: secular humanism. I have no problem with other religions or secular humanism. I will absolutely join arm in arm with a secular humanist and a muslim to oppose oppression of gays. This is not an interesting proposition. Likewise, I don’t think anyone would argue too much with my claim that my life in the church has given me the values I have.

The sexy topics are whether secular humanism would do a better job and has the church done more bad than good. I am pretty close to thinking those are interesting because they are unknowable.

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