Friday, April 16, 2010

Sneak Attack!

In the complex web of society, religion, and culture, we are now seeing damaging attacks on the Christian faith. Assaults on organized religions are nothing new in the history of the world, but they take different forms in different epochs.

We are writing not about the obvious attacks taking place in various parts of Asia and Africa in which churches are being firebombed and individual Christians tortured or killed, nor about the verbal offensives by militant atheists who pile insult after insult upon Christians. These types of attacks, while sadly all too numerous, are obvious, and need little comment: the atheists who protest against a Christian organization like the Salvation Army, which simply distributes food and clothing to the poor, offer their own confutation to the thoughtful observer.

The less obvious, and therefore more dangerous, attacks upon Christianity come now from those who have labeled themselves Christians and present themselves as representatives of that faith, for the very purpose of discrediting it. This is reminiscent of the "mole" or "double-agent" from the spy novels of the Cold War era.

Specifically, in recent days, newspaper and TV coverage has featured two groups: Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, and the Hutaree Militia. These two organizations share two characteristics: first, neither of them is Christian, and second, both of them claim to be Christian.

By identifying themselves as Christian, and then behaving badly, these two units succeed in doing damage to the public's understanding of what Christianity is. This type of subterfuge can do more damage than the direct physical violence of atheists and Sudanese Muslims.

Enlightened thinking demands a clear definition of what "Christianity" is, and subsequently the ability to distinguish between which groups are Christian and which groups merely claim to be. Although defining Christianity is a complex topic, there is at least a simple beginning to that complexity: the only possible starting point for any proposed definition is the text of the New Testament.

Exactly as Judaism is defined by the Tanakh (and Talmud), and exactly as Islam is defined by the Qur'an (and Hadith), so also Christianity is defined by the New Testament (and Tanakh). Admittedly, there are competing interpretations of the New Testament, and the analysis of some details becomes quite complex.

But this much is clear: anything which directly contradicts the New Testament cannot be textually authentic Christianity.

The "Reverend" Fred Phelps and his "church" (the quotation marks reminding us that he is not a Reverend, and his organization is not a church) proclaim, among other things, that "God hates" certain groups of people. Yet the text of the New Testament is tells us that God never hates any human being, and that He, in fact, loves every human being.

The Hutaree group claims that they are morally obliged by God to attack and kill policemen. Yet the New Testament is a consistently pacifistic document, in which Jesus consistently declines to engage in any form of physical violence, and proclaims that His organization is not one supported by military force, but rather by spiritual concepts.

The imperative for the current day is this: to ignore the self-classification of institutions, and ask rather, what they may really be. Merely because a group labels itself as Christian doesn't mean that it actually is, and a group which does not so identify itself may actually be.