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It might be considered presumptuous or pointless for a non-believer to talk about the divisions in the Christian religion.  But most people in America are Christians of some sort, so these divisions have a real effect on all of society.

When people think of schisms in Christianity, they usually think of differences in denominations.  Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, or Catholic and Protestant, are thought of as the basic divisions.  But the real differences that divide modern Christians are related to the basic contradiction in traditional Christian theology.

Traditional orthodox Christian theology holds that God is good and loves the human race, and that people who do not believe the right theology will suffer eternal torment in Hell.  These two assertions contradict each other.  

With the rise of the Enlightenment religious toleration and questioning of traditional beliefs became possible.  So now some people tried to deal with the contradiction.  What might be called "liberal" Christianity began.  The Unitarian Church was the pioneer in this trend.  But traditional ideas fight hard against any softening of the fear of hell.

So what we have now is two types of Christianity, and even two types of religion in general, competing for influence in the modern world.  One type emphasizes the love and mercy of God, and teaches compassion as the most important value.  The other emphasizes the power of God, and teaches fear of God as the most important value.  Each deals with the contradiction by choosing which half of the traditional theology to emphasize.

So why is an agnostic like me concerned with this split?  I want to have a better society.  Which group of religious people are more likely to work cooperatively to make a better society?  Those who want compassion for people, or those who want people to submit to their idea of correct theology?  The emphasis on compassion can lead to cooperation against the ills of society.  The emphasis on power can lead to emphasis on which people have power, and to stronger hierarchy.  The emphasis on power and theological correctness can lead to tribalism, with the elect against the infidels.  The emphasis on compassion can make it possible to break down tribal barriers and reduce conflict.

As an agnostic, it is unlikely I will ever believe in any theology.  I have no problem living with some believers.  But those who want rigid theological correctness to frighten people into their beliefs are a danger to my freedom.

Originally posted to Thutmose V on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 12:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Moral philosophy vs primitive superstition (6+ / 0-)

    Even the Buddha would call the Two Great Commandments of Jesus (Love God, Love your neighbor) "enlightened".

    OTOH, the belief that God is psychotic enough to eternally punish anyone who cannot brainwash themselves into believing 600 impossible things before breakfast (e.g. Virgin Birth, walking on water, inexhaustible loaf-and-fish picnic baskets, raising the dead) is just primitive.

    The two schools hardly deserve to be called by the same name.

    Don't let millionaires steal Social Security.
    I said, "Don't let millionaires steal Social Security!"

    by Leo in NJ on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 12:26:51 PM PDT

    •  101 Zen Stories (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joy of Fishes, semiot, Leo in NJ
      Not Far From Buddhahood

      A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: "Have you even read the Christian Bible?"

      "No, read it to me," said Gasan.

      The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these...Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself."

      Gasan said: "Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man."

      The student continued reading: "Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened."

      Gasan remarked: "That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood."

      "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

      by Andrew C White on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 03:09:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  the most illuminating difference i have seen in (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Leo in NJ

      the schism has been the discussion of if the Bible is inerrant or infallible.  The difference may seem negligible but the difference points to the heart of where present day Christians find a part of departure

  •  Let's assume (0+ / 0-)

    that religion did not exist, do you think that would change anything ?  

    (That's not intended as a flippant response to your question.)

    •  I guess that is like saying that if Man did not (0+ / 0-)

      exist the gods would have to create him.  Assuming religion fills a necessary social role, the question is if there were not religion what would exist in its place?

  •  Universalists. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pandoras Box

    There still are universalist Christians today. Not many of them, but when I meet one it's just such a rare and wonderful thing.

  •  Unitarians and Universalists (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    joined together just 50 years ago next month, but I am feel that, as a religion, we have moved past Christianity for the most part.  

    Our Easter service today had more God and/or Jesus references than we hear all year.  It's more to honor our resources - where we came from - than to "worship" per se.

    •  My Unitarian Universalist Minister is Jewish (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pandoras Box

      I have never understood how a god could hate something it created in its own image. Or condemn them for eternity for something they did in one lifetime.

      Dear Republicans: The Handmaid's Tale is fiction, not a plan.

      by BobBlueMass on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 05:30:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not sure there's any way to stop the conflict... (3+ / 0-)

    To state the obvious, Christians' perspectives on life/politics are based on the Bible. The trouble is that the Bible speaks out of both sides of its mouth: Some verses advocate peace and love, while others call for violence and fear. Both testaments contain both types of passages.

    So it's kind of like a Rorschach blot: "buffet" believers can cherry-pick what they like, and interpret it however they want. And there views will always be backed up by "Holy Writ." If I had to speculate, I'd think that different interpretations are rooted in different temperaments and predispositions, some of which are pre-conscious.

    As long as the world contains Bibles and self-righteous assholes, we'll have Pat Robertsons all over the place. We'll also have liberal, compassionate believers (luckily!), but unless we somehow evolve to something other than what we are--and quickly--this tension isn't going anywhere.

  •  Well said (0+ / 0-)

    historically I would take the split back a little further though between the pre-Constantinian religion and the post-religion of the Roman Emperor period. Even that is really a little late as Constantine was really the culmination of Christianities growth from a small radical sect to a power of empire.

    But power over others is the key as you surmise. The original was about radical egalitarianism and empowering people, operating at a level beneath and outside of the control of the "powers that be."

    But like most things in life it started to become institutionalized and structured and that meant it had to fit into the existing power structure and no longer exist beneath and outside of it. And thus the power games began and the radical egalitarianism and anti-hierarchy were tempered and then frankly suppressed.

    The reformation allowed some of that to come back to the fore... but it also allowed a lot of other interpretations to come out as well and the seeds of today's anti-Christian Christianity were sown.

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Sun Apr 08, 2012 at 03:05:31 PM PDT

  •  The next generations of American Christians (0+ / 0-)

    are liberalizing fast.   This is a problem that will take care of itself.  Or rather, generational turnover is the one way it is going to happen.   Of course, watching their siblings and children and grandchildren slip away does radicalize the hardcore conservatives and they keep consolidating and trying to find ways to regain the 'lost'.  There is more than a vague resemblance of the American Religious Right to the efforts to keep Communism alive and believed in in the late days of the USSR.  I think of it as American Conservammunism....

    For hard evidence have a look at Barna pollings at where there are compilations going back about 10 years.  There is obvious overall softening and demographic decline of the most hardcore conservative groups, i.e. the activist evangelizing and Biblically Correct 6-7% of the early Bush years has dropped to 3-4% of the population or less.  There is the growth of the group of Americans who identify with no particular religion, aka the Nones, a group that perhaps adds about 1% of the population per year with a hypothetical 0% point around 1993.  The Nones mostly practice, or socially practice, some particular religion but regard it as incidental or arbitrary or socially imposed on them.  

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