Comments: mid-August opinion

Hari's comment seems pretty baseless. The Orthodox churches in countries like Georgia, Russia and Armenia are far more conservative than the Church of England, but their membership of faithful communicants is growing and rebounding from the decades of Soviet suppression. The RC church, which is established or semi-established church in some of the Latin American countries, continues to be a powerful force in those countries in spite of its conservatism, and where it is losing members, it's losing them to equally socially conservative Pentecostal churches. Moreover, the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia- which accepted divorce centuries ago, and one of which has a female gay archbishop, or whatever the title they use- are losing people as fast as the Church of England.

In fact, the opposite is more likely true- at least in the United States, it's the more liberal churches (Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, ELCA, mainline Protestants) who are losing people, the RC church is holding steady due to immigration, and the conservative Mormons and Evangelicals are gaining people.

In any case, truth is not an issue of popularity. I'm for accepting gay relationships, because I believe that the spirit of Christ's love demands it, and I don't care whether that leads to people leaving the church. I'm also against accepting divorce and abortion, particularly the latter, because I believe they're incompatible with the most basic Christian values. The Church of England should never accept abortion, not now and not ever, no matter if it dwindles to a tiny and demographically irrelevant sect. Truth is more important than popularity.

Posted by Hector at Saturday, 14 August 2010 at 2:05pm BST

Timothy Larson's piece interested me as a recently retired academic who is also an Episcopal priest. I taught English literature at a public university in Virginia. Among the classes I taught beside the usual surveys, was one in the Bible as literature and one on the works of John Milton. The survey of early English literature was of course heavy with references to Christianity.

I began each of these classes by 'coming out' as an Episcopal priest, since I didn't wear clericals on campus,praising Jefferson's 'wall of separation,' and explaining that I approached the religious content of the texts as a scholar, not as a preacher, and said this was in fact consistant with my faith.

I usually had to turn drafts of papers back, early in these courses, to some of the evangelical Christians who wanted to use the occasion to 'testify' rather than to analyze. Most students got the difference, but some never did, and either dropped the course or spent the rest of the semester glaring at me. Some left sooner rather than later when they found out I am gay.

The professor's comments quoted in Larson's essay are unscholarly and uncalled for, no matter how poorly written the paper was. That's not how to help a student distinguish between analysis and testfying, and doesn't help the student write a better paper.

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 14 August 2010 at 4:04pm BST

Johan Hari hits the nail on the head as usual. 'Christians' are their own worst enemies and the sort of cases he cites just add ammunition to those who deride Christianity as a dangerous and divisive delusion.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Saturday, 14 August 2010 at 8:04pm BST

"Can you keep Christ and give up being a Christian?" Interesting article. I think the answer, although its not my answer, is yes you can. Rice by the way is talking about her giving up Roman Catholicism. It's important not to lose sight of that point. For many Roman Catholics who have left, there seems to be an inability to completely let it go. For many ex Roman Catholics, joining another Christian denomination is not an option. What remains is a more amorphous form of believing in a sense of having an attachment to the ideal of the Christ, the sermon on the mount and so forth, but with a vigorous resistance to to the institutional Church. Ms. Rice is a gifted writer. I hope she will deploy her craft in writing stories about her alienation from the Church. Such stories could help all of us, staying or leaving. In some ways, her vampire stories were a kind of reversal of the archetype i.e. the supernatural as something that does not feed us as much as something that feeds upon us.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Saturday, 14 August 2010 at 8:37pm BST

Whether one can keep Christ and not be Christian or reject Christianity is problematic.
I believe that the person Jesus of Nazareth (fully human, period) existed. I admire his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere, and especially I admire Matthew 25:34-45 which I consider to be an excellent summing up of the Old Testament/Jewish Scriptures prophets' message of social justice. But then, I'm Jewish.
To me, if you believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One, then -- by definition -- you are Christian. Period. You can reject the teachings of churches, you can reject, as Ms. Rice has, the intolerance spoken in the name of some churches, or in the name of Christianity, but you are still Christian. I don't know if Ms. Rice has expanded on the Twitter posting ("tweet" is too cute for words), but I believe she recognizes Jesus of Nazareth as a supernatural person ("the Christ), but rejects the homophobic, misogynistic, chauvinistic aspects of Christianity.
I think she's throwing the Baby out with the bath water. There are numerous Christian denominations that embrace gay people, embrace women, and don't embrace "my way or the highway -- to Hell". Even within the RCC, there are churches that -- to the extent the priest can get away with it -- teach acceptance of gays, women, and believe that the RCC isn't the only game in town.
Ms. Rice has to follow her conscience, and I respect her decision to follow it. But I think she could have found Christian churches where she could feel at home.
Can one follow or admire the teachings of the humble prophet and itinerant preacher Jesus of Nazareth, and not be a Christian? Yes. Can you believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and give up being a Christian? My simple response is no, you're still Christian. You're really giving up on the Church -- or more accurately, its earthly manifestation.

Posted by peterpi at Saturday, 14 August 2010 at 9:59pm BST

Peterpi's posting is intriguing. I think I follow what is meant, and if so, I don't entirely agree. When people claim to give up on Christianity, in the sense that Ms Rice claims to have done,what is claimed is a complete distancing from Christianity in any formal sense, i.e, formal belonging, legacy, heritage and the like. What is disavowed is not just this set of denominational polices as compared with that set, but the whole notion of identifying one's self with Christian practice, formal belief, and belonging. I would also be careful about a categorical use of the term messiah. On the one hand, Pererpi is correct in noting that believing in Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah is a credal or at least quasi-credal statement. I suspect, however, that credal statements, which are really statements of corporate believing, are among the notions that Ms. Rice wishes to distance herself from. What remains is an attachment to an idea of Christ that is personal, eccentric, but not credal. So, short of asking her, I suspect Ms. Rice is correct in saying that she rejects Christianity as a form of religious expression but not Christ as a link with what she understands to be the Divine. Personally, we should allow Ms. Rice her sense of self-definition.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Sunday, 15 August 2010 at 12:51am BST

Rod, you raise excellent points. IIRC, without looking it up again, Ms. Rice rejects certain aspects of Christianity, and therefore gives up on Christianity, but she accepts Christ. And, therein lies the rub. Who does she mean by Christ? She is intelligent, and therefore I hope she knows that in the name "Jesus Christ", "Christ" is not Jesus' last name: "Let me introduce you to Joseph Christ and Mary Christ, and their darling little child, Jesus Christ". Rather, "Christ" is a title: It means the Anointed One, the Messiah. She used that term: "Christ". I don't know in England, but in the USA, I swear some people use "Jesus" and "Christ" interchangeably. to refer to both the earthly Jesus of Nazareth, and well as the resurrected Son of God. Yes I know that in orthodox Christianity Jesus is both God and man simultaneously. But there are differences between the earthly Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Son of God
I think one can be Christian without necessarily belonging to any formal denomination or ascribing to any formal creedal statement. A belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ -- some form of unique supernatural means to God -- is sufficient.
To use an example, Bishop Spong may be a lousy (or even apostate) Episcopalian or Anglican to many Christians (in my mind, he rejects most of creedal Christianity as well as orthodox monotheism) because of his stated views, but he's most definitely Christian: He believes there was something special and unique about Jesus' relationship to God that no other human can achieve. That's the sense in which I see Ms. Rice being Christian.
And of course, we should allow Ms Rice her sense of self-definition. But, to me she distanced herself from certain aspects of Christianity, misogyny, homophobia, etc., not Christ.

Posted by peterpi at Sunday, 15 August 2010 at 5:13pm BST

"I think one can be Christian without necessarily belonging to any formal denomination or ascribing to any formal creedal statement. A belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ -- some form of unique supernatural means to God -- is sufficient."

Of course, this isn't how the Christian Church has defined "being a Christian," but I suppose that doesn't necessarily enter into it (although I suppose it shows that "who's a Christian?" (just like the "Who's a Jew?" debate in Judaism) is a matter of who you ask.

I believe that St. Francis of Assisi regarded the Muslims as extremely heretical Christians. While modern Muslims might find that patronizing, it does show that commonality might be where you find it.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Monday, 16 August 2010 at 1:04pm BST

Of course, Rice's claims to be an extra-ecclesiastical Christian is well within the American Protestant tradition:

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Monday, 16 August 2010 at 1:08pm BST

"But, to me she distanced herself from certain aspects of Christianity, misogyny, homophobia, etc., not Christ."

In short from the Academic Neo Platonist Tradition from ancient Alexandria of both East and West.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Monday, 16 August 2010 at 4:43pm BST

Part of the reason why theology is seen to be redundant as an academic discipline may have something to do with the fact that the Church is still, in some areas, resistant to what science is telling us about areas of human development. Religious Studies may remain impervious to what modern scientific method has revealed to the world about sexuality and gender, preferring rather to reinforce stereotype morality.

The contribution religious studies could make to a better understanding of these realities affecting every human being - by factoring in the science of human biological discoveries made - could be sufficiently helpful to encourage more of our young people to clamour for an education which offers a more balanced world-view of human development. It might also give intelligent people an incentive to believe in God as Loving Creator & Redeemer.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Monday, 16 August 2010 at 6:18pm BST

Dear Father Ron,

I am glad you champion the necessity of keeping up-to-date in these areas. Could you please also do so in the area of first-century church history and come back to me, otherwise - I'm afraid - I think it's rather rude.



Posted by john at Monday, 16 August 2010 at 7:34pm BST

Going THERE, Hector? Really? (Sigh)

"The Church of England should never accept abortion, not now and not ever, no matter if it dwindles to a tiny and demographically irrelevant sect. Truth is more important than popularity."

Well, I do agree Truth is more important than popularity.

Therefore, no matter how popular (and hysterical) anti-abortion demagoguery becomes, I promise to defend the Truth of reproductive choice w/ my life.

[I didn't start this, but I hope I ended it! ;-/]

Posted by JCF at Tuesday, 17 August 2010 at 4:11am BST

Of course it is possible - perhaps necessary - to keep Christ and jettison "Christianity."

The ecclesial dynamic was founded and formed by the same corrupted worldview that Christ came to eradicate. Within a few generations of His death, his message had been tamed, the revolution which would overthrow the entire world has become part of the world. For close to 2 millenia, the church, as organized ecclesia, has occupied itself with legalistic minutiae and consistently failed in its one true mission of overthrowing the existing matrix of human existence and establishing the Kingdom.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 17 August 2010 at 4:48am BST

"We are inevitably social creatures, and even religious "purists" seek out the like-minded. But Christ taught that faith must begin with an acceptance of moral failure – our own and others'. And thus whilst the community of believers must always seek to be reformed it can never demand perfection." - John Richardson, Guardian -

I believe J.R. has enunciated the reality here - that Christians are bound to relate with other Christians - on one level or another. What they can never do is insist on a mutual purity - either of doctrine or behaviour. That is a problem in the present push for a 'puritanical' Church.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Tuesday, 17 August 2010 at 10:27am BST

No, John Richardson has given voice to an old and flawed view - that being in relationship to other Christians requires Christianity as an institution.

Christianity as societal institution - again - has failed in the one Christly duty where loose communities have had at least fleeting success.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 18 August 2010 at 4:52am BST
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