Why Is American Christianity So Effin’ Weird?

Among the eight hundred pound gorillas sitting in the room with us is the one wearing a cross around its neck, demanding its religious freedom. Christianity somehow managed to twist a simple message – “Do unto others” – into the justification for murdering non-adherents. Talk about transubstantiation! The amount of carnage committed in the Prince of Peace’s name is literally incalculable. A “gap” between religious doctrine and its successful execution is one thing. In Christianity’s case, that gap is all about execution. Literal execution. And, when Christianity reached these shores, its blood lust didn’t diminish one iota. In fact, the same kind of inventive zeal that characterized Christianity’s beginnings echoed across North America as Christians landed here and began spreading their “good news”. That good news was as deadly as the pathogens the Europeans were spreading at the exact same time.

You know a religion’s gone weird when large numbers of its adherents point to other adherents – in large numbers – as NOT being “good” adherents. Every Christian who’s ever told me THEY were a good Christian truly meant it. And they truly meant it when they pointed at other Christians as NOT being “good” like them at being Christian. Of course, if we were to interview that other Christian, they’d say the exact same thing – that they are the “good Christian” while the Christian questioning their goodness is a heretic – so why would anyone believe them? “Heresy” is an entirely subjective subject.

To an outsider – an atheist, for instance – that’s when we go refill the popcorn tub (no butter, please) and settle in for some real entertainment. Watching two or three or four people bitch slap each other silly is endlessly fascinating. Ever watch someone with no defense try to play defense? Hilarious! It’s even funnier than watching them go on offense thinking their bitch slaps are heavyweight uppercuts to the jaw. When your best argument is based on a story that doesn’t even pass muster as a good story, nothing you say carries any weight. But – and here’s the problem – once logic and analytical thinking are removed from the equation, the story can go anywhere and mean anything the storyteller wants. Once mystery becomes the final answer to all questions – more to the point, the acceptance of that mystery as final – a religion based entirely on magical thinking (as Christianity is) can and will go anywhere and justify anything.

Manifest Destiny, anyone?

Christianity spread into the America’s the same way it spread through Asia Minor at its inception. Jesus did not invent Christianity. He was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew. He preached Jewish things to other Jews who understood the Jewish reference points and mythologies about which Jesus spoke. What disturbed Jesus most was the corruption he saw in the temple and its priests. His insistence that one did not need either to have a relationship with God – that was Jesus’s radical idea. Forget the institution!

Take Paul out of the equation and Christianity never happens.

It’s Paul who has a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus – then heads to Jerusalem with his version of Jesus which he tries to sell to people who knew Jesus and heard him preach. “No,” they told Paul, “Your version of Jesus isn’t Jesus – and we KNEW Jesus”. Does Paul abandon his idea of Jesus – because it wasn’t authentic? No – Paul takes his version of Jesus to the Gentiles. They have no idea who Jesus is. The only Jesus they know is the Jesus Paul describes. Same goes for all the Jewish teaching and mythology.

Whereas the Jews in Jerusalem could point out where Paul was inventing things, the Gentiles couldn’t. Paul was free to say literally anything – and it was canonical.

Now, here’s another factor to consider about Christianity’s founding. Judaism did not proselytize. One had to be born this thing to be this thing. Being monotheists in a polytheistic Roman world isolated Jews in a significant way. It would make them a tribe apart forever – atheists, in a way, because in order to believe in their one god, Yahweh (that’s the god’s actual name; “god” is Yahweh’s job description), Jews had to deny all the Roman and Greek gods. So long as Jews didn’t proselytize their denial of the Roman gods, the Romans tolerated them. Paul couldn’t rely on that strategy. He had to proselytize. He had to spread the good news just to get off the ground. And the good news, don’t forget, could be whatever he said it was.

Paul, IMHO, was a genius. The hook – the actual “good news” he was telling and selling was a way to beat death. Whereas polytheistic gods – not much different from humans – had little real interaction with most people, the god Paul pitched the Gentile world was intensely interested in having a relationship with each and every person. In fact, this god was so interested in helping people that he mated with a virgin and made a man-god whose mission was to absorb and die for all of humanity’s sins so that each believer in Jesus could be reborn – just like Jesus was! Do you see what Paul’s really selling? The “good news” is that if you believe in Jesus in the exact way Paul’s telling you to, then just like Jesus, you, too, can defeat death and liver forever and ever in a happy place called Heaven alongside everyone you ever loved!

To an unsophisticated world, not exactly steeped in the sciences, that was a potent and powerful message.

The trick would be though that in order to get the cookie, you had to follow the rules “just so”. And damned if those rules didn’t keep changing…

Like religion, science can turn on a dime. If new data lands today that contradicts data that guided us yesterday, we’ll follow that new data with the religious zeal of the newly converted. But we’ll need to see receipts. Religion never needs receipts beyond what its core texts – and even those are wide open to fluid interpretation. The mystery that is God lies at Christianity’s core. Though God’s mind is unknowable because he’s so mysterious, Christianity claims to know it just well enough for you to trust them that they know it at all.

That’s the same God, by the way, that Jesus said everyone can talk to directly.

Seems Jesus spoke out of turn.

The Vikings probably hit North America first. They weren’t looking to spread their religion. They were looking for new places to live. Apparently North America didn’t cut it for them. They abandoned their claims. The English – “a nation of shopkeepers” per George Bernard Shaw – saw North America in entirely mercantile terms. The Virginia Colony was founded by the Virginia Company. The Pilgrims – contrary to how America mythologized them – did not come to these shores in search of religious freedom – they found that in Holland, their first stop after leaving England. And let’s pause for a moment to consider that we’re talking about one group of Christians feeling oppressed by all the other Christians. The Pilgrims sailed to and colonized Massachusetts because they went broke in Holland and were looking for some cash flow.

English Christianity was different from Roman Catholic Christianity – and it was different from Continental Protestantism too. It also was different from the Christianity being practiced far to the east by Coptics. The ability to hold two opposing thoughts in one’s head is a very good ability to have. But religions can’t work that way. Bullshit can only hold so much on its brittle back before crumbling. That’s what makes dogma essential. Dogma is solidified bullshit.

Think of all the crazy religions – many of them variations of Christianity – that took root in America! Mormonism, Methodism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventism, Christian Science and Pentecostalism. The Branch Davidians and Jim Jones’ Peoples’ Temple all flowed directly from American Christianity. And so, for the record, did Scientology. Hey, if you insist on making a variation of the Christian cross your religion’s symbol, Christianity is living rent free inside your head.

Just as Paul could say Christianity was whatever he said, so, too, did L. Ron Hubbard. If Paul was a genius for creating a religion that outlived him, so is Lafayette Ron. I may not care much for L Ron’s creation but I can’t deny that he succeeded where many others have failed. For all we know, the Scientology has a richer real estate portfolio today than the Catholic Church. What’s success anyway – where a religion’s concerned?

To a non-believer, the Church of Scientology is no different from the Catholic Church or any church. An atheist like me, while understanding how we got here to where religious invention dictates our lives, views every religion with equal frustration when those religions attempt to assert their way of thinking into places where it doesn’t belong. Honestly, I don’t care what anyone else chooses to believe inside their head about how we got here and what Life’s about. But the moment you even think about forcing me to live by your rules, I have a problem with you – especially when I stand with the majority who also don’t think like you. You are forcing something upon us that we don’t want.

The irony is that you – the religionista – will run away screaming that YOU were the one denied his religious freedom because you weren’t allowed to spread the good news to us like a virus.

Oh, puh-leeeeeeeeeze!

One could write a book on all the bizarre crap the various versions of American Christianity believe. Like Jesus visited North America. Or that a zygote is a human being. Or that slavery is okie-dokie. Or that a sky deity had sex with a human virgin so as to produce a man-god son who would die for all humanity’s sins.

And, oh, by the way – don’t forget to hate Jews because “they killed Jesus”.

It’s a “blessed” relief that more and more American Christians are as dismayed and disgusted by what Christianity’s turned to here in America. Where all that church money produced the Renaissance in Europe, here in America its produced an anti-democratic cabal of racism, misogyny and willful ignorance. If Jesus were to come back from the dead for real and actually visit North America? He’d never get over the depression from seeing his name abused the way it’s been abused.

And, as for all those Christians – his “followers”? Not a one of them would know Jesus if they stopped mid-way through nailing him to a cross to spit in his eye. Which every single one of those “good Christians” would do.

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