Tailor-made Christianity vs. Moral Eclecticism
Re: Why I am not a Christian. At the risk of having broad-brushed Christians into one manageable stereotype, allow me to state in my defence that I am aware that there are religious moderates out there who suggest a less literal reading of the Bible, whose focus is more on the life of Christ and select aspects of his teachings of brotherhood and love, who naturally will oppose the banner-waving fundamentalists with whom they happen to share the same religious label. Christians of this type often cite the ideals of Jesus’ teachings in the defence of their faith, whilst happily turning a blind eye at the mention of the countless atrocities contained within the Old (and New) Testament as though they were simply irrelevant to the issue. It is my contention that this position is in the whole indefensible; for the merits of Jesus’ teachings pale in comparison to the doctrine of hell which he propounded, or to the primitive condonation of genocide or slavery which, as even well-informed Christians are themselves aware, is so distinctive a feature of the so-called holy text. This is not to discredit the worth of Christ’s teachings, but to weigh them upon the moral scale from which Christianity emanated. The central tenets of Christianity are not one of a striving after morality but rather a striving after Christ. The two are not synonymous in the plain fact that Christians readily admit that we fall short of God’s goal of perfection for us, and thus cannot with any likelihood of success strive after virtue for itself without first accepting His salvation. This remarkable piece of obstacle is what invalidates the tailor-made version of Christianity as being of any moral stature, because it requires an acceptance on the believer’s part that humanity, being flawed as it is, cannot be left to its own worldly devices in the noble pursuit of moral perfection. Thus the Christian cannot strive after morality for itself, because he has already conceded that any such attempt is but an exercise in futility. This, to me, points conclusively to a theology of not a moral but a highly eschatological orientation, and any Christian’s attempt to mask it with claims of abiding by Jesus’ teachings falls short in justifying his adherence to said religious label on grounds of an unwitting (if not insincere) appeal to the moral betterment of the self.
The dangers of religious moderatism have been addressed elsewhere by other writers, namely Sam Harris, in so pithy a manner that I should not have to elaborate on the topic further than to state the mere obvious. It is a strange circumstance that one who claims himself to strive simply after Christ’s message of love and good conduct should feel the need to attach himself to a label which is so vile and spoilt as Christianity is. It is of an even stranger circumstance that he should wish to do so in the knowledge that his adherence to such a common label is what enables fundamentalists to hide or thrive in the shadow of his numbered existence. Moderates and fundamentalists alike endeavour to defend their label; however, these labels carry very different meanings and so have very different implications altogether. In the case of the moderate the label implies a system which is less dogmatic and more practical to the moral conduct of his daily life. To the fundamentalist it involves imposing his religious values upon those which do not wish to conform to his dogmatically-informed expectations, often through the democratising or manipulation of law. Yet the fundamentalist position is more Christian in the sense that it more truthfully adheres to the values as espoused in the Bible, some of which are so vivid in meaning and intent that they can hardly be said to be open to any kind of secondary interpretation on the reader’s own part.
To ensconce in a single doctrinal label in pursuit of moral excellence is to insist satisfaction or complacency in the idea of being restricted to that one particular worldview and that alone. The fact remains that one should never need to consider oneself a Christian in order to be able to appreciate the worthy lessons as can be derived from the exemplary life of Christ. Any person who is sincerely interested in moral pursuits would surely know to select his morality from a multitude of sources, rather than from one. Moreover, to adhere to a tailor-made version of Christianity is to willingly participate in a corrupt enterprise in the full knowledge of its vilest crimes against humanity. A mind vested in the interest of moral goodness should feel it almost an obligation to stand up against any doctrine which has so repeatedly exposed its truest colours from since the time of its earliest inception. To do otherwise is to play blind, to turn the other cheek, or to refuse to speak up for oneself in the spirit of what one feels or knows is right. The parable of sheep and goats surmounts to a create a doctrine premised in fear — and to produce followers who are unwilling to stand upright on their own feet in the fear of eternal punishment. Religion survives for the sole reason that it continues to attract a sufficient multitude of followers who, in their numbers, rally to justify its make-believe significance. The commonest weapon it employs is Fear, and Fear binds the moderate and the fundamentalist as one.