WHAT REMAINS OF CHRISTIANITY?

The all-encompassing problem with Christianity is its incoherence. What is it? A set of rituals? Adherence to a core text (i.e. if not the Bible as a whole then the New Testament, or at least the Gospels)? What are the core tenets that Christians share? And what constitutes Christianity for those who no longer believe but see Christianity as a tradition embodying many of the values they hold to?

We might start with the creeds, proclaimed as truth by assemblies in the early centuries much as a political manifesto is set today. These avow certain beliefs, which are little more than assertions of a shallow world order.

They are questionable because of the structure of knowledge that they assume, namely that of a building constructed on stilts. These tenets are the fundamentals from which, supposedly, all else follows. Here one stands (“Here I stand”) on these feet. As if it were not the millipede that has the better footing in life. Epistemologically wide open to challenge. The lesson of the modern philosophy, especially the English tradition, is that knowledge is not constructed this way.

Besides, such creeds are harmful to children who (as I was) are required to utter them by rote. Early brainwashing.

Then we have not only the omnipresent symbol but also the narrative of the Cross. One idea here is sacrifice and another is vicarious redemption. When one member of a community gives life or limb in order to save, or protect, others, we may speak of sacrifice. Such sacrifice is a commonplace in all cultures. It is not what is meant in the Christian narrative. In a distant time animals were offered to the deity, and in some cultures it was not animals but humans (the youth) that were condemned. The reasoning here must be reconstructed and is bizarre, i.e. quite foreign to our usual way of thinking in the post-Enlightenment. It is the topic of much ingenious speculation among anthropologists (e.g. René Giraud).

More readily understandable is the concept of redemption, or maybe salvation. But it is here that Christianity exposes itself to ridicule. It is debts that are redeemed, i.e. monetary obligations due to the powerful. This reduces the Christian worldview to a religion of accountancy. We sinners have incurred debts, and now Big J. has kindly paid them off to his Dad.

Not so fast, says the Christian apologist. The message of the New Testament is one of forgiveness. For example, this allows the Prodigal Son to start anew and his past to be erased. As if to forgive were to forget...

The Apologist returns to the idea of redemption, or salvation, The key tenet of Christianity is Love and especially the saving power of Love. Indeed, in later iterations, God is Love. Agape, presumably, since the Gospels were in Greek and the Greeks wisely distinguished between different kinds of love. As do the Chinese, and doubtless most other cultures.

In our day, Agape might be thought of as coming close to the rule of respect, solidarity among all mankind, and universal human rights. Indeed, the political correctness these principles incorporate has the feel of a religion, but without the deity. There is, though, a counter-narrative to be upheld. In the Eastern religions other humans in other cultures are simply part of the living world. It is not self-evident that that they should be privileged over other animals.

Christianity in contemporary iterations comes close to upholding Lovc as a panacea. Not unlike faith in God or the saving power of Jesus. But although love may often be a good policy, it can also be counter-productive. Much like generosity, even generosity of spirit. Indeed, like all the so-called virtues. Pacifism included: Turning the other cheek, as a policy, is most unwise.

And it is here that we see how useless the Gospels are. They are wide open to interpretation. Was Jesus issuing a general rule, as the Pacifist would have it? Or was he just saying that, every once in a while, we should act in a manner that is counter-intuitive. Or, as I have argued elsewhere, a tooth for an eye, but unpredictibly sometimes an eye for a tooth – to stop the wicked from gaming the system.

Moving from the rituals and bizarre metaphysics of Christianity to what really matters, namely the morality, it is here that it is found most wanting. The Sermon on the Mount has all the intellectual substance of the Dada movement. How better than to completely confuse children than by presenting them with this chaos incarnate as Gospel truth? Or is this the work of the Devil?