I saw an article while I was reading the Christian Today website, which is a British evangelical website that is doing its best to force evangelicalism on the U. K., that mentioned a new and growing "Atheist Church." Wait, isn't that an oxymoron?
Actually, it seems not. To the everlasting shame of Christianity in all its denominations, a group of people in England have decided that you can teach people to live morally and in good will without religion. And in case you think that I am premature in blaming this on Christianity, I have to ask you what else you expected.
Do you think that Judaism, Islam and the faiths of Asia have created this backlash? I wish that I could think so, but I do not. Most people are repulsed by the Islamic fundamentalism of terrorists, but if you are foolish enough to denounce it, there are plenty of people to remind you about the American evangelical terrorists who bomb clinics, kill doctors and teach the low-information voting public that science is "lies straight from the pit of hell." Okay, then.
My father, an Episcopal priest, used to speak of popular Christianity as he perceived it in the Sixties, when I was coming of age. In that decade I graduated from high school and college, and began my lifelong study of Christianity at my very own house--in my father's theological library, which I must say was well-stocked for someone who was just starting out, like me.
Popular Christianity in the Postwar period became rather bland and in some intellectual contexts was considered irrelevant. Theologian W. H. Vanstone wrote of the era when the faith in social institutions was such that it was seriously thought that Christianity was no longer needed to create a society in which the needs of all could be met. The backlash of World War II had exhausted everyone in the Western World, and on top of the death of Catholic theologian Hans Kung at the hands of the Nazis, theology sank into a lull that finally provoked English Bishop John Robinson to write a famous book entitled, Your God is Too Small.
But we don't have that sort of criticism directed at Christianity today, especially in the U. S. In fact, in a parody of a hymn that became popular in the Seventies, today you might say that "they'll know we are Christians by our hate." And that's the problem, folks.
Isn't it the hate and homophobia that have incited open opposition to Christianity by the so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens? You aren't going to get Dawkins to argue with you about caring for the poor and feeding the hungry, but he will spit his contempt into the faces of the American Religious Right without the slightest compunction. The great American scholar and New Testament authority, Dr. Bart Ehrman, lost his faith over the callous disregard of modern "popular Christianity" for the human suffering that occurs even just in our own country.
Put that on a worldwide scale and you simply cannot listen to the pious cant that there is somehow a character defect in those whose lives are a living hell. In fact, our American evangelical superstar, Bishop Carlton Pearson, was literally kicked out of the Pentecostal communion after being a dazzling protege of the late Oral Roberts, who was the godfather of his child. But when Pearson began to question the priorities of the Church, even just his own denomination, he was informed in no uncertain terms that there was no need to be concerned about anyone other than Pentecostals, for they were going to go to hell the minute their souls left this planet.
To Pearson, that did seem unfair, especially considering the plight of the world's most destitute refugees who, to him, seemed to be in hell already. But that point of view cost him his Pentecostal ministry, although he is now ministering to a new congregation that he has found, and who has found him. Make a pilgrimage to that congregation if you are ever in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Now what it boils down to is that the American evangelicals have seized center stage, cranked their microphones up to 11, and trumpeted their new un-Christianity to the world. They began by demonizing Democrats and touting a "one way" approach to religion, and then they went on to their dreadful demonizing of President Barack Obama, questioning his birth, his patriotism, his Christianity (despite the fact that he is a professed evangelical like them), and attacking his family as well. This has gone on for four years in every venue in which they could make their voices heard, and it has borne fruit.
The poisonous fruit of evangelical hatred--towards our President, the LGBT community and the Middle East--has placed American Christianity in the worst light and damaged it for generations to come. While other national churches take hesitating steps towards tolerance, American evangelicals export their hate to Africa and set up the "kill the gays" legislation that is pending in Uganda. The focus of African bishops has gone from hatred and persecution towards Muslims to a new focus on gay and lesbian Africans, while the Moral Majority and the K Street congressmen in Washington, D. C. acted as their cheerleaders, assuring them (with a bible in one hand) that they are doing exactly right.
This sickening spectacle has horrified Americans for a generation now, but it is still hard to argue with a screaming, out-of-control preacher waving his bible in your face. However, the Barna Group keeps taking surveys and telling them that quietly and without confrontation, their congregations are simply shrinking away.
I would have thought that the many disaffected Episcopalians in the U. S., plus those from other denominations that are becoming more inclusive, would have made up the difference, though. I mean, the schismatic Episcopalians could easily just go to other churches, but they seem to prefer squatting in various diocese and attempting to hijack churches that they are already attending. Truly, it would be easier simply to join an existing homophobic church--the Catholic Church comes to mind--or of course their local shrieking evangelicals. There is no need for them to get enmeshed in legal battles, which they have to pay for at the very least.
But of course they couldn't just reconsider whether they are behaving like Christians--that is to say, like Jesus. They are certainly not behaving like the Good Samaritan, nor are they offering unconditional love to their fellow spiritual pilgrims--not if they are gay or women. So as I have been reminded in Comments, the Episcopal Church and several other denominations are fracturing and diminishing as well as--though less than, speaking per capita--the evangelical churches.
What we see is a cycle of death and rebirth. Painful though it is, the elements of hate are slowly being purged from American Christianity and splintering off into ever-decreasing hate groups who won't give up their heresies. And meanwhile an Atheist Church springs up in England because at least a few hundred Brits know perfectly well that they can practice a moral lifestyle without Christianity--in fact, maybe not being Christian will actually make it easier. Hooray for our side.