Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The paradox of Christianity in the United States: Article from Harper's Magazine

Citation for the article:

McKibben, Bill. "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong." Harper's August 2005: 31-37.

This essay caught my eye because of the headline, but as I read more of it, it kept my attention because the writer strives to show how the concept of Christianity in the United States is very different from what the Bible states it should be. The author opens by pointing out how the common refrain of "God helps those who help themselves" was said by Benjamin Franklin, and it is not found anywhere in the Bible, even though most Americans think it is a Bible verse. From there, the author argues that much of the Christianity in the United States is focused on the individual and on making individuals feel good rather than focusing on others, like Jesus suggested when he said that line about loving thy neighbor as you love thyself. This passage stuck with me:

"But one day it ocurred to me that the parts of the world where people actually had cut dramatically back on their carbon emissions, actually did live voluntarily in smaller homes and take public transit, were the same countries where people were giving aid to the poor and making sure everyone had health care--countries like Norway and Sweden, where religion was relatively unimportant. How could that be? For Christians there should be something at least a little scary in the notion that, absent the magical answers of religion, people might just get around to solving their problems and strengthening their communities in more straightforward ways" (35).

The passage stuck with me because it made me wonder much as the author wondered. He goes on to say that the United States will pretty much remain a Christian nation. And before someone out there says something about how the Europeans are mostly socialist heathens or something similar, it does bear thought the fact that such nations place a higher priority in providing basic needs like health care to all their citizens, caring for others besides themselves in, dare I say it, a Christian fashion. Personally, I think I have said a few times that I have not much use for religion in this regard: if religion moves you to do good deeds, make a better place of the world, make you a better person and help you help others, that is great. If on the other hand, it moves you to be a bigot who cares only for him/herself without regards to your neighbor, and in the process of realizing your fullest potential, you destroy the rest of the world, you can keep your religion to yourself. Maybe that is what I find so disturbing about so-called Christians in this country: the fact that they seem more worried about having the latest, about reaching their own fullest potential while not really doing much of anything for their neighbors. And the thing I find sad is that the United States has such potential, and its people can be very generous, but those who have hijacked religion for the sake of power take that potential away, and they should be condemned. But we should also be condemning the so-called Christians that sit silently and let those powers that be do such terrible things in the name of the religion. I am sure there are many decent and true Christians out there, but if they do not take a stand, tell their leaders, that this is not how things ought to be, then they become accomplices in the process. Anyhow, just some food for thought.


Norma said...

You're mixing apples and oranges, but I'll just add that our friends in countries with gov't health care all use private health care for their families' more complex needs or extended care.

I wouldn't look to Harper's for anything incisive about Christianity's problems. For that I'd go to Christianity Today--they know the field much better and are quite aware of the problems.

Good luck with your new job as an academic librarian--may tenure be in your future. If that's what a gypsy librarian wants, of course.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

I don't think it is totally mixing apples with oranges. Given the current climate in the United States, such a vision of Christianity's woes is not far off the mark, and _Harper's_ has not been the only place to remark on it, just happened to be the one that caught my eye at the moment. The fact that Pat Robertson is going around saying what he does simply adds to it. And before you remark that he does not speak for all Christians, he does speak for a very large segment of them, and more importantly, many Christians who supposedly see themselves as charitable and decent are staying silent instead of denouncing him. And yes, government care certainly does not cover everything, but the principle is that those governments at the very least see as important that people should have a measure of health care, especially children. It is something that is sorely missed in the United States. I think the U.S. has the potential to do so much more for its people; it just chooses not to, and they do so under a Christian pretense of "God helps those who help themselves," which is not Christian at all (It is Ben Franklin). Thanks for stopping by.