Born Agains Be Gone

When I’m flipping through the cable TV channels, sometimes I catch a few anecdotes from Wayne Dyer with his latest book pitch, “Excuses Begone.”  When I hear him trying to make it sound so easy, I picture Samantha on “Bewitched” just wiggling her nose to make anything appear or disappear.  Well, that’s what I’d like to do with those Born Agains.  To be clear, I’m not wishing them dead, I’m just wishing their behavior (and attitude) would be gone.  And I know I’m not the only one.

Here’s how one person described it (p.24):  “Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.”  When I heard that quote I had to buy the book.  Well, that was an unfortunate impulse, but I’ll share the few things of interest here so you don’t make the same mistake.  (Don’t even check it out from the library.)

unChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity, is written by David Kinnaman aunChristiannd Gabe Lyons.  They researched what 16-29 year-olds think about Christianity with a few statistics about all adults throughout.  Though this research was clearly biased, I found their conclusions interesting because they were so unflattering to the authors’ own orientation – as the book flap says, “Christianity has an image problem.”

In 16-29 year-olds, 57 percent know “Evangelical Christians” and 49 percent have a bad impression (p.23).  The three most common perceptions of Christians by this age-group are anti-gay/91%, judgmental/87%, and hypocritical/85% (p.25).  These “perceptions” are based on interaction with Christians, as the authors describe, 85 percent of young “outsiders” say they have had significant exposure to Christians.  In other words, these are not just random perceptions, but a result of personal experiences.  That makes it much more than an image problem.

The authors start on page one by characterizing folks of other religions/no religion as “those outside of Christianity” and then shorten future references to “outsiders.”  I was repeatedly disturbed that they didn’t see this distinction as demeaning.  Throughout the book the consistent assumption is that not only are other religions wrong, but so are other kinds of Christians.  The Born Agains see themselves as the sole moral authority for the world and the only acceptable interpretation of Christianity.

In case you dozed-off, here’s how I would summarize this book: the Born Again authors are shocked and dismayed that there are so many people who think that their exclusive club is hypocritical and judgmental.  They want to learn from their “data” so they can do a better job of converting more of us “outsiders.”  Even as they write about arrogance, their underlying assumptions have tremendous hubris.  Here are examples of the authors’ rationalizations: “Keep in mind that part of the reason Christians possess a bad reputation is because our faith perspectives grate against a morally relativistic culture…Christians are known as judgmental because we address sin and its consequences…Christians should identify homosexual behavior as morally unacceptable because that is what Scripture teaches,” (p.34).  In that last sentence the authors leaped from interpreting data as the Barna Group (which Kinnaman runs) to interpreting the Bible, and without attribution, neither on Biblical scholarship nor Bible passages.  (I remind you that on the gay issue, Jesus did not say one thing in the Christian Gospels.)

Born Agains are so sure they are right and the rest of us “outsiders” are wrong that some of them turn their arrogance into full-time jobs, fund-raising from each other to proselytize the rest of us.  One couple, now middle-aged, has done this with relatives for over 30 years without ever having to work for a living.  They still make regular visits to an elderly retired couple, a school teacher and a tradesperson, who donate more money every year than they spent on the education of their own children.  One of the donors is now exhibiting signs of dementia – but that doesn’t stop the tireless fund-raisers from asking for additional support, above and beyond the regular amount.  They have even sent one of their children to fund-raise for a “mission” trip to Paris.  Nice work if you can get it.  I will take a Secular Humanist’s ethics over these Born Again exploiters any day of the week.

I have written before (link below) about a more compassionate Evangelical, Rob Bell. who reminds us that whatever happens after death is “speculation.”  Two amazingly intelligent and compassionate Evangelicals are Bill Moyers  (public television) and  Jim Wallis (Sojourner magazine), so those folks do exist.  It seems that there are fewer of them and their voices are not as loud and intrusive.  They are willing to express their faith, but respect the faith of others, regardless of what shape that takes.  Faith is a part of life that can’t be proven, by definition, and so there are no absolutes.  The only ultimate truth is the one we choose for our own life.

“What the Hell?” and Rob Bell

By way of contrast, and to leave you with something more positive, I want to ask you to think about the Pueblos.  These Native Americans lived an apparently peaceful, agrarian life for over 2,000 years.  They didn’t have a word for religion because the lives and religion of the people were inseparable (“Treasures of the Past: Mesa Verde,” Mesa Verde Museum Association, Inc., 1993 video).  They minded their own business.  They lived their lives.  They didn’t need to convert anyone to anything.

Here is how I would pray to an inclusive, loving God.  Perhaps it will remind you of another famous prayer, after which I modeled it. – J.B.

Mother and Father, in heaven and earth
Making all things sacred
Your riches fulfilled, your preference for us
On earth, the same as heaven

Your providence meeting
Our earthly needs
Teaching forgiveness by forgiving

Guide us from fear
Protect us from harm
That we not forget all is connected

Your Spirit
Our Spirit
Forever
Amen

© 1999 J. Good

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Comments

  • Linda Maldonado  On May 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Brilliant!!! Thank you.

    • allthingsreligious  On May 2, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Thanks for reading! I always appreciate hearing from you. I love your FB postings. Stay in touch and one day soon we must connect in person, not just online!

  • Mkay  On September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    I can’t believe I missed this one. I love your prayer. It is so inclusive and kind.

    • allthingsreligious  On September 19, 2013 at 7:05 pm

      Mkay-I’m so happy and grateful you are still taking the time to read my stuff! It’s been too long…we must get together again. J.B.

  • relativebeing  On August 27, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I really enjoyed this post, as it provoked a few thoughts. One of those thoughts was the realization that you included a quote about an ‘image’ problem in a post that described people doing fund-raising to pay for their proselytizing. What I like about that connection is that ‘image’ can refer to something that isn’t real; and money, being a promissory note from the government and not something we technically own, isn’t as real as many might imagine, either. So, thanks to your post, I now have this mental picture of people running around, chasing after something that doesn’t really exist, to the extent of trying to get as much as they can from people suffering dementia and who knows what else, so they can improve upon an image that is only illusory to begin with … and all the while they scratch their heads and wonder why some might think them a bit out of touch.

    And as for the proselytizing (my second thought here), I’m willing to wager that most gods who might have an interest in the social behavior of their followers, and in attracting new followers, would much rather see their followers ‘spread the word’ by embodying it; rather than just reciting it, ad nauseum, from rote. That, at least, would cut back on some of the statistics cited here that have to do with the category of hypocrisy and perhaps even to some extent the judgmental category as well.

    Thank you for posting this!

    • allthingsreligious  On September 13, 2014 at 7:15 am

      Interesting insights, as always. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. You know I agree with you that behavior has to matter much more than words, though obviously, I do love words! -J.B.

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