An Easter OP ED Cites The Good News Of The Rising Numbers of The Unchurched

By Donald A. Collins | 4 April 2013
Church and State

Easter Spotlights the Core Church Muddle ‘Death Trips’ Drive Eternal Life”.

As utterly confusing to me as one unchurched as this title is, Becker starts his op ed: “Considering half our Christian faithful expect the Second Coming of Jesus within 40 years, why then is church commitment flagging?”

Ok, the fact that 50% of Christians believe in a fantasy event which has often been predicted over time and never occurred NOT good news. But Becker then reports that

“Not affiliated” tops America’s fastest growing non-religion. Those without affiliation has reached 20 percent, compared to 15 percent only six years ago, and a whopping 32 percent from ages 19-29 are non-churchgoers (compared to only 9 percent unaffiliated over 65).

I am guessing those numbers for “Not affiliated” are even higher as, for example, any local merchant in a small town in Kansas had better show up at some church on Easter once in a while if he wants to keep his customers!

Becker then tells us,

More dramatic still, according to Pew “strong Catholics” now total only 27 percent, reduced from 40 percent since ’05 (vs. 46 percent in 1974), crowning a four-decade low.

If the Jesus sequel, and thus real world ending “climate change,” doesn’t flush out the wayward, then the west’s most established institution is lost in the desert. If god in the flesh, and the final disposition of souls won’t drive earthlings to the pews, Christianity must do more than “rebrand” its “life-line to immortality” message.

He then says “Now if Jesus was spotted riding a New Jersey-size asteroid plunging at top speed, churches would sell-out corner rafters.” Maybe. However, one is reminded of “The Grand Inquisitor” which is an important part of the novel (The Brothers Karamazov) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and as Wikipedia tells us, is “one of the best-known passages in modern literature because of its ideas about human nature and freedom, and because of its fundamental ambiguity.”

In the tale, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Inquisition. He performs a number of miracles (echoing miracles from the Gospels). The people recognize him and adore him, but he is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burnt to death the next day. The Grand Inquisitor visits him in his cell to tell him that the Church no longer needs him. The main portion of the text is devoted to the Inquisitor explaining to Jesus why his return would interfere with the mission of the Church.

The Inquisitor frames his denunciation of Jesus around the three questions Satan asked Jesus during the temptation of Christ in the desert. These three are the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptation to cast Himself from the Temple and be saved by the angels, and the temptation to rule over all the kingdoms of the world. The Inquisitor states that Jesus rejected these three temptations in favor of freedom, but the Inquisitor thinks that Jesus has misjudged human nature. He does not believe that the vast majority of humanity can handle the freedom which Jesus has given them. The Inquisitor thus implies that Jesus, in giving humans freedom to choose, has excluded the majority of humanity from redemption and doomed it to suffer.

Despite declaring the Inquisitor to be an atheist, Ivan also has the Inquisitor saying that the Catholic Church follows “the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction,” i.e. the Devil, Satan. He says “We are not with Thee, but with him, and that is our secret! For centuries have we abandoned Thee to follow him.” For he, through compulsion, provided the tools to end all human suffering and for humanity to unite under the banner of the Church. The multitude then is guided through the Church by the few who are strong enough to take on the burden of freedom. The Inquisitor says that under him, all mankind will live and die happily in ignorance. Though he leads them only to “death and destruction,” they will be happy along the way. The Inquisitor will be a self-martyr, spending his life to keep choice from humanity. He states that “Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.”

The Inquisitor advances this argument by explaining why Christ was wrong to reject each temptation by Satan. Christ should have turned stones into bread, as men will always follow those who will feed their bellies. The Inquisitor recalls how Christ rejected this saying, “Man cannot live on bread alone,” and explains to Christ “Feed men, and then ask of them virtue! That’s what they’ll write on the banner they’ll raise against Thee and with which they will destroy Thy temple. Where Thy temple stood will rise a new building; the terrible tower of Babel will be built again, and though, like the one of old, it will not be finished”. Casting himself down from the temple to be caught by angels would cement his godhood in the minds of people, who would follow him forever. Rule over all the kingdoms of the Earth would ensure their salvation, the Grand Inquisitor claims.

The segment ends when Christ, who has been silent throughout, kisses the Inquisitor on his “bloodless, aged lips” instead of answering him. On this, the Inquisitor releases Christ but tells him never to return. Christ, still silent, leaves into “the dark alleys of the city.” Not only is the kiss ambiguous, but its effect on the Inquisitor is as well. Ivan concludes, “The kiss glows in his heart, but the old man adheres to his idea.”

Ho, ho, ho! Well, Becker gets on the right page when he says, “If the Jesus sequel, and thus real world ending “climate change,” doesn’t flush out the wayward, then the west’s most established institution is lost in the desert. If god in the flesh, and the final disposition of souls won’t drive earthlings to the pews, Christianity must do more than “rebrand” its “life-line to immortality” message.” So, he assumes maybe “if Jesus was spotted riding a New Jersey-size asteroid plunging at top speed, churches would sell-out corner rafters” but Dostoyevsky and I are skeptical.

I gather from his next paragraph he wants us to embrace the fundamentalist view of Jesus when he says,

In fact, befuddled Christians deny the present like fallen, rightwing fellow travelers called Republicans. Sure, let’s rebrand the surface but not the core. “Superior sound bites,” goes this ploy “will convey our sanctity and moral relevance. 20 centuries verify that our right beliefs and righteous dogma will best offset godless iniquity.” Excuse me, but for millions it’s not the promotion (stupid!) but outmoded assumptions, messengers, and delivery.

He surely is not counseling us to slip without reprimand into our own take on religion or non-religion as he shouts, “In fact, befuddled Christians deny the present like fallen, right wing fellow travelers called Republicans. Sure, let’s rebrand the surface but not the core.” To repeat, he says, “Superior sound bites,” goes this ploy “will convey our sanctity and moral relevance. 20 centuries verify that our right beliefs and righteous dogma will best offset godless iniquity.” Excuse me, but for millions it’s not the promotion (stupid!) but outmoded assumptions, messengers, and delivery.”

Mr. Becker, your OP ED confuses me. Are you preaching fundamentalism or a return of biblical literalism? However, no matter, the numbers you cite are encouraging. And your post allowed me to remind everyone that organized religions have managed to provide more hate, death and disorder than love, peace and health. If the level of the Not Affiliated numbers moves up past the tipping point then perhaps humans can better face the reality of life on our finite planet and perhaps come to decisions about how to save it and us.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
ASIN: B00MA40TVE
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