Thursday, October 29, 2015

Americanized Christianity (updated)

More than one commentator has noted that we have a distinct form of Christianity in the US, an Americanized form that is not truly Christian.  These commentators call for a restoration of True Christian values.

Of course, how that works depends on who's asking.  Rod Dreher thinks that "Americanized Christianity" is an anything goes amoralization that allows for horrors like same sex marriage and transgendered folks transitioning.
Business as usual is over, church people. There will be no “taking our country back”; you will be lucky if our country’s fast-emerging culture doesn’t take our faith away from our kids. Don’t you doubt it. If you have been the sort of Christian who equated Christianity with the American way of life, you had better rethink that, and fast.

On the other hand, Benjamin Corey on Patheos thinks "Americanized Christianity" is an overwhelming identification of Christian faith with Republican talking points, which real Christian will reject.  for example
If your primary identity is legitimately that of a Christian, you’ll be open to learning about Christianity as it was taught and lived by the earliest Christians. However, from an American mindset, original Christianity and the first Christians appear nuts: they were universally nonviolent (against capital punishment, abortion, military service and killing in self-defense), rejected individual ownership of property in order to redistribute their wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:35), and rejected any involvement with the government. When reading about them they seem rather un-American, and this will cause frustration or disbelief among those in Americanized Christianity.
An American value is small government and low tax rates, but a Christian value is the elimination of poverty– which is precisely why the early Christians shared their wealth instead of hoarding it. However, while many American Christians fight for lower taxes, the average American Christian doesn’t give money to charity. Where the early church shared everything, statistics show that Americanized Christians share almost nothing- less than 5% even tithe to their church. When we reject the Americanization of Christianity, we become focused on how to give more, not on how to give less.
and of course,
Somewhere along the line, the Americanized version of Christianity taught us that defeating gay marriage was perhaps the most pressing issue of our time. Sadly, as Americans we’re taught to be self-centered and this is an incredibly self-centered view that completely ignores the global issues of our time. It is the mistaken identity that our issues are the issues. The most pressing issues of our time? Let’s start with the fact that 750 million people around the world don’t even have access to clean water or that 805 million people are chronically malnourished.
Funny.  They both agree that "Americanized Christianity" is a problem but there is no agreement on what that is!

This completely corresponds to another article I read this week on how liberals can change conservatives' minds and vice versa by considering "moral foundations theory":
Summing up a great deal of research, Feinberg and Willer write that "liberals tend to endorse foundations based on caring and protection from harm (harm) and maintenance of fairness and reciprocity (fairness) more strongly than conservatives. However, conservatives tend to endorse moral concerns related to ingroup-loyalty (loyalty), respect for authority (authority), and protection of purity and sanctity (purity) more than liberals [emphasis theirs]." ....
Feinberg and Willer had two main hypotheses for their study: first, that liberals tasked with convincing conservatives on some issue would do so with liberal-"flavored" moral language, and vice versa, rather than try to seek out an argument more likely to resonate with someone on the other side; and second, that liberals would be more swayed by liberal-flavored arguments, and vice versa.
So, Dreher isn't going to be swayed by arguments about fairness and harm to gay people, and Corey isn't going to go for the purity argument.  But maybe Dreher would be more concerned about the poor and disadvantaged if one points to Biblical authority.  But I'm not sure how you could use arguments re. harm or fairness to persuade Corey otherwise.


Kevin K said...

What would be the support for the idea that the average american christian does not give to charity. Every study I've seen indicates that religious people overwhelmingly give to charity.

Marshall Scott said...

Kevin, I wonder if the disconnect is because of "the disconnect:" the "average American Christian" isn't really religious. People who are active in a faith community are giving to charity. However, the statistics from the Gallup folks for nearly two generations have consistently reported that less than half of Americans claim connection with a specific congregation or worshipping community. Perhaps 75-80% will say they are something - Baptist, generic Christian, whatever; but only 48% will say they associate with a specific congregation (and that is all faiths, and not just Christians). Moreover, as the number of "Nones" is growing, it is that 48% that is slipping.

So, from that, there appear to be as many folks calling themselves Christian but not associating with others, as there are folks who are active in worship. (I'm being careful here: being active in a local community is not all there is to faithful living.) It gets even more narrowed by surveyors like Barna that use an even more narrow understanding of "Christian." So, the concept of "average" may well be watered down.

Kevin K said...

Marshall, interesting point. Although the numbers seem to suggest that Americans are still, on average, giving to charity. This would suggest that a good number of the religious who do not belong to a congregation do make charitable contributions. Of course if you don't belong to a congregation you probably don't tithe.

Marshall Scott said...

And, tithing or not, there is the fact that there are many organizations that fall under the category of "charitable" or "educational" to which people contribute (most worthy, certainly). Support for the local symphony or the public radio station are worthy and beneficial to the community as a whole; but a different benefit than, say, contributing to a community kitchen. And, of course, many people claiming a faith, whether actively worshipping or not, may divide contributions among several organizations with differing impacts.

Kevin K said...

This level of agreement just kills a good conversation. :)

JCF said...

"they were universally nonviolent (against ... abortion"

Well of course, I'm going to take exception to this: abortion as "violence". If anything, can't the argument be made that Early Christians (of the time of the Didache which, IIRC, has the first explicit Christian denunciation of abortion) picked up the condemnation of abortion from the pagan Greeks, e.g., the Hippocratic Oath (w/ its "I will not provide/nor cover-up an abortion" clause)? The Hebrew Bible was OK w/ abortion, if the result of a "Who's Your Daddy?" test! [Numbers 5: 19-23]

But speaking of the Hebrew Bible:

"Summing up a great deal of research, Feinberg and Willer write that "liberals tend to endorse foundations based on caring and protection from harm (harm) and maintenance of fairness and reciprocity (fairness) more strongly than conservatives. However, conservatives tend to endorse moral concerns related to ingroup-loyalty (loyalty), respect for authority (authority), and protection of purity and sanctity (purity) more than liberals"

Doesn't Loyalty, Authority, and Purity sound more like the (pre-Later Prophets) Old Testament, while Caring, Protection from Harm, and Fairness sounds more like the New Testament? I've said it before, I'll say it again: it would be great if conservatives met Jesus [Or, to quote Marcus Borg (memory eternal), if they "met Jesus again for the first time"!]