A concern about my work was recently brought to my attention, and I would like to take a moment to address it now. The concern was that, while forming my arguments regarding Christianity, I identify certain beliefs but do not give any consideration to why they are held. The person voicing the concern felt that I was doing a disservice to Christians by simply stating beliefs and then attacking them. It was said that my arguments would be far stronger if I were to give credence to the reasons behind the beliefs that I criticize. I must disagree with this assertion, and that will be the topic of this post.
The central focus of my research is the relationship between Christian and Western cultural paradigms. In simple terms, a paradigm is an idea or ideal that is generally accepted in a given culture. Christianity contains within it many different sub-cultures, and the ones that I focus on are Fundamentalist and Evangelical. Western society also contains many sub-cultures, and the one I focus on there is primarily Pop culture. What I study, therefore, is the relationship between the paradigms found in Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity, and Western Pop culture.
Within this framework, the reason behind any given belief or paradigm is, for the most part, irrelevant. I study these paradigmatic relationships because I care about the effects they have on people and society. The reasons for which a paradigm exists do not in any way influence the effect it has on those subjected to it. LGBTQ individuals who take their own lives due to the constant barrage of hateful rhetoric, for example, are not particularly concerned with the scriptural or doctrinal reasons behind it. Your reasons or intent may be entirely contrary to the outcome, but that does not change the outcome. I assure you that if the reasons were relevant to my arguments they would be thoroughly explored.
There are, indeed, a number of reasons behind most Christian paradigms. In the Bible we find verses that tell believers to go out into the world and spread the ‘good news.’ The idea is that we have a moral obligation to inform the world that salvation can be had through Jesus Christ. Working from the presupposition that we are all tainted by original sin, and therefore deserving of eternal torment, many Christians who preach and proselytize do it out of love for humanity. This is important, because many of them are genuine in their desire to do good. Believe it or not, when an evangelical Christian offers a damning opinion on homosexuality, they may actually be trying to save the people to which they are speaking. “If the sinner hears the gospel, they may think about it, turn from their wicked ways, and welcome Christ into their heart.”
Having been around for 2 000 years, these teachings are often thought to be correct by virtue of sheer staying power. Over the past 2 000 years, there have been thousands of scholars, theologians, philosophers, and other brilliant minds who have given rise to academic fields of Christian thought. These disciplines have influenced the operations and doctrinal paradigms of governments, educational institutions, denominations, churches, and society at large. Because of colonialism and its missionaries, Christianity has gained dominance in more places worldwide than any other religion. “With such a long tradition, how could the God of the Bible be anything less than real in actual fact?”
The desire to save those destined for hell and the assertion that so many people can’t be wrong are only two reasons behind belief and, if one cares to look, there are many more. Unfortunately, knowing these reasons doesn’t make the beliefs they uphold any more or less impactful. Regardless of what is in a person’s heart, anti-gay sentiment is an attack on the personhood of people who are gay. It devalues them as human beings, causes a rift in our social fabric, and is an affront to everything we have learned of the world since the Bible was written. One may think they are doing it for love, but the outcome is very damaging. Likewise, maintaining beliefs for the sake of tradition is a very dangerous thing to do. Regardless of how intelligent the scholars who influenced original doctrine were, they did not have access to the information now available to us. It is important to remember that the survival of an idea through the centuries does not have any bearing on its truth.
The discussion around the origins of Christian thought is certainly worth having. I believe that it can foster understanding and I never shy away from engaging debate. That being said, it has no place in the context of my research. Identifying something that is causing unrest and then pondering over the reasons for it is a complete and utter waste of time. Too many academics prefer this type of thing – identify a problem, read up on it, and spend years thinking about it. They will do this oblivious to the fact that while they twiddle their thumbs alone in their ivory towers, people are dying below; people who could benefit from academic thought if only it was directed at the problem at hand and not lost in the history behind it. I will not tolerate this sort of thing. What current paradigms are doing, the effects they are having, how they are interacting, and what societal trends are occurring as a result, must be the focus if the intent is to motivate and spark change. I will not waste time in the past, but rather work for a brighter future.