An Introspective Look at Christianity
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A Pew Research Center study from 2022 projects that by 2070, the percentage of Americans who are affiliated with Christianity may drop from 64 percent to between 35 to 54 percent. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with a decline in religious affiliation, it is critical to look at the underlying causes. Lifeway research found that among the top five reasons young adults aged 23 to 30 stopped attending church were that church members seemed judgmental or hypocritical, that they didn’t agree with the church on social/political issues, and that they lacked a connection to church members. When it comes to the final reason for leaving, the lack of LGBTQ+ acceptance came in number one with about 25 percent , behavior of believers came in second at about 16 percent , politics came third at about 11 percent and faith leadership came in fourth at about 9 percent . When many people in the Christian community, including myself, look at these statistics or at any negative criticism of Christianity for the first time, it is natural to think things like, “Those criticisms don’t apply to me,” “They could’ve found a different church,” or “Those people who did those bad things aren’t real Christians.” Once the Christian community stops placing the blame on those who became religiously unaffiliated and takes a more introspective look into the community itself, Christians will be able to deal with the problems within themselves and within churches. This will then allow for a more welcoming, safe, and healthy environment within Christian groups and churches, which will benefit not only those within Christian communities but also people trying to introduce themselves to religion and those interacting with that community who aren’t religious.
The largest issue with the Christian community today is their perception of moral superiority. While my Christian friends and I grew up in our churches, we often heard that atheists are more immoral or more prone to doing bad things. However, scientific studies show that there are few moral differences between religious and non-religious groups. We can also look to Biblical scripture and see very easily that this is not the case. One example of such scripture is in James 1:14-15, where the Bible says, “...each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin.” This quote is important because it shows that as long as humans have their own immoral desires, they are going to succumb to them at some point. Though the Bible does say that believing in God can give a person guidance surrounding immorality, no verse guarantees that they will be anywhere close to perfect or more moral than non-believers.
This idea of moral superiority roots itself in phrases that many of my Christian friends and I often use, such as “That’s not very Christian-like of you.” This phrase promotes the presumption that Christians don’t do bad things, like lying and insulting others, and that it’s only something non-Christians do. However, a large part of following the Christian faith is repentance and asking God to forgive the sins that you have committed. For Christians to repent, they need to recognize the sins they do every day. Continuously using these seemingly harmless phrases creates a division—an us vs. them mentality that pushes people away from the church. A more overt example of this division between Christians and atheists can be seen when talking about the subject of learning about same-sex relationships in schools. One Christian Today article argues that a reason why teaching about same-sex relationships in schools is not okay is that it normalizes it, which the author equates to being worthy of respect. So by this principle, something that is nonconforming to traditional religious standards becomes equal to something not worthy of respect. That’s exactly how moral superiority affects society outside of Christianity adversely. It breeds self-righteousness that makes people think that they can determine what is worthy of respect for an entire society. This is also unbiblical, as the Bible cites the precept of the golden rule in Matthew 7:12. “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you…” One’s religious affiliation does not exempt one from giving others respect, no matter what.
Some uphold this idea of moral superiority by relying on personal anecdotes, but one can’t tell how moral someone is just based on the outward appearance they show to the world. For instance, the Bible points this out very clearly as well when talking about the Pharisees. Pharisees were seen as the people who had the closest relationship to God because they followed all the rules of the Bible and seemed to do everything right. However, in the book of Matthew, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matthew 23:26). Hypocrisy akin to that of the Pharisees can be seen in many religious leaders and people today, and it is one of the popular reasons for leaving religion, as it falls under the category of “behavior of believers” I mentioned in the beginning. An example of this hypocrisy and false outwardness among religious leaders is Jim Bakker. He was a televangelist who had exceptional commercial success but was then exposed in a sex scandal and found to be guilty of wire and mail fraud and defrauding the public to cover it up. There is also an alarming number of abuses committed by pastors and religious leaders, and keeping these leaders on moral pedestals allows for these abuses to be covered up.
Being part of a supposedly morally superior group of people can make some people believe it is their responsibility to fix the immoral world. Though God does ask believers to talk about his word and engage in evangelization, many interpret this command as a pass to try and force religion onto others and even persecute others who don’t believe or aren’t following God’s commands. Though there are multiple examples of this, the most notable is the church’s anti-LGBTQ+ actions. Though the theological debate over whether or not the Bible actually talks about homosexuality being a sin could constitute a whole other article, the more important point here is analyzing how some of the Christian community goes about treating the community. Many politicians use their religious beliefs to justify the passage of anti-LGBTQ+ laws. For example, in 2017, more than 150 Christian leaders created an anti-LGBTQ manifesto to uphold their position against marriage equality and providing basic rights to transgender people. Even in 2023, we can see Christian influences behind criminalizing LGBTQ+ identities in Uganda. However, behind all of these bills, there is a large logical fault. If their need to pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is simply because of their religious beliefs, then they should be making it a criminal offense to lie or do anything the Bible tells us not to. These people are just inherently prejudiced and are using Christianity to cover up their hateful ideologies. It is the idea of moral superiority that allows them to do so.
But what is the “intent of the law” that I am talking about? It’s simple: love. It is told to us in the Bible in so many places. Galatians 5:14 tells us, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Moreover, when Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment of all in Matthew 22, he says that “All the law” hangs on two commandments: to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. To love God, one needs to try to follow his commandments and believe in him, which means that doing so cannot come into contradiction with the second commandment: to love your neighbor. So no matter what any religious person or leader tells you, God’s commandments cannot be fulfilled without the intent of love behind them.