Christianity’s Continual Fade Into Irrelevance?

The powers that be within the bubble that is Christendom continually amaze me. …At their ability to increasingly banish themselves and the religion further into irrelevancy.

It used to be that only the most blatantly arrogant talking heads sullied the religion’s image in the eyes of “the World.” Those like Pat Robertson or possibly James Dobson. Ultra-conservative Christians who happened to have significant influence in politics while having little or no positive effect on Joe the Sinner. Or even the more obscure-yet-somehow-heard examples like Fred Phelps and Terry Jones. All those were easy targets for the rest of the world to quickly dismiss as right-wing lunatics.

But it seems recently things are reaching a new low. Now we’ve got bastions of liberal/progressive Christianity coming clean about how they may not care quite so much about the rejected, as many thought, as much as they care about their own reputation. I don’t know all the details, but when people like Jim Wallis of Sojourners reject an ad promoting gay inclusion in churches, regardless of the details, it sends a disheartening (but not surprising) message: Those who the Empire has rejected, who, in liberal Christianity, once had a place to turn for hope and shelter from the onslaught of prejudice from “Christian” bigotry, now must find a new home.

Because that home they once had has been sold out from under them to the influence of the Empire itself. Or if they haven’t completely sold out, at least they’re being leased to pay someone’s image-enhancement bills. But that’s just my theory. …Perhaps ask someone like Sojourners contributor Becky Garrison or others on what they think of it. (On a related note, my favorite is when Dan Savage writes, “If progressive Christians can’t unite behind the concept of ‘welcome’ then, gee, what the fuck good are they?” )

So the Few with Influence, whether they’re on the right or left, seem to be continuing a trend that’s gone on for ages. Creating a world of their own design that caters more to the whims of power for power’s sake, for comfort and safety, and progressively less to the cries of a hurting public. They are painting themselves into a corner that, while perhaps increasingly comfortable, grows increasingly smaller and isolated. While the rest of the world moves on, they’re trying to maintain and polish their little bubble, with all its mirrors and finery.

We used to think there was something different, something refreshing, about the establishment of liberal/progressive Christianity. But we’re starting to realize that it’s all just the same as that stuffy old box of religion as we’ve come to know it.

Yes, people like Pat Robertson and Jim Wallis (I’m saddened that I now must lump them all together) have great influence in the world…correction, in the Empire. But even with enormous power, individuals and institutions can become irrelevant. I think even of Barack Obama. The most powerful man in the world. And how even he is powerless against the Empire of greed. How great plans for Change devolve into stale taglines under the blinding lights of power and popularity.

Ironically, all this reminds me of the ancient times when Christianity challenged the Empire instead of sleeping with it. When even cruel emperors like Nero, who strung up Christians and burned them for light for his evening walks in his garden, were powerless against the tide of revolutionaries who stood for a Better Way. But then, somehow, those revolutionaries gained more and more power, with the likes of Constantine and such. And then Christianity became the Empire it once stood against. Then Christians, sadly, became the ones who did the burning of those in opposition to their power. And today, while not many literal burnings at the stake occur, the Church has executed many good ideas and people who don’t outrightly prop up their platform.

But again, it’s strange to me how a person or an institution can seem so influential, while in reality they’re nothing more than figureheads of a bygone era. The era of institutions itself is fading because the world has come to realize that they just don’t work. They don’t work because you can’t trust them. You can’t trust them because they don’t feel. When someone feels, they can relate to vulnerability and loneliness and powerlessness. But something sad happens when priorities migrate from relating with the stories of others to building a platform for one’s own story. And life becomes nothing more than a haze of people trying to grow their own bubbles. And we become less relevant to each other for the sake of trying to become significant.

And that’s what I’ve seen happening within Christianity. As it tries to hold onto its own reputation, it is losing it.

***

So here’s a quick open letter to the religion and the figureheads, on the left and right, who maintain the status quo within it:

Face it. People just don’t care about you anymore. You’re too high-maintenance. You’re a nag. And you expect everyone to want to ride in your car–that ’84 TransAm that you can finally afford–just because you’ve got the loudest stereo on the block. The trouble is, you’re still playing Stryper like it’s cutting-edge. You’re balding. And your beer gut is hanging over your spandex pants. Yes, the ones you’ve stuffed with a cucumber. You need to go home, to the holy House you still share with your Mom, and look at yourself in the mirror. You are living in your own fantasy world. You have been sliding into irrelevance since the moment you started thinking you were cool.

So here’s my advice: You need a good cry. Move out of your Holy Mother’s house. Get a ratty apartment in the bad part of town. Hang out in the Home Depot parking lot and hail a job with some day laborers. Then–and this may be more difficult than working with the migrants (it seems to be the cliff over which only the true revolutionaries dare to explore)–go to a gay support group. Listen to their stories. Let them hug you. Hug them. Listen to their cries. Don’t give them advice. Just listen. Just keep your damn mouth shut and listen.

Maybe there’s still hope. I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure. As long as you, Christianity, try to hold on to your reputation with power, you will continue to fade. As one unpopular rabble-rouser from a tiny, backwater Jewish town once said, “As long as you try to save your soul, you will lose it.” …Or is it already lost?

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8 Responses

  1. By the way, about a year and a half ago, Bishop John Shelby Spong made quite a firm pronouncement regarding the relevance/irrelevance of the Church in today’s world. It furthers much of what I’ve said here. Here’s the link to his open letter: http://secure.agoramedia.com/spong/34674.asp

  2. As long as people buy the products, pay to watch the posers play, etc. this empire game will continue.

  3. Nice.

    It’s easy to look back into history and see historical groups who have been left behind by the flow of culture. It isn’t so easy to identify the same process while you are living in it. Very true and very insightful post.

  4. I’ve definitely noticed many churches trying to change their game by becoming hip and trying to integrate themselves into as many aspects of peoples’ lives as possible, such as more finance seminars and the like.

  5. Love it. It’s a good articulation of why I feel ever more increasingly falling farther and farther from being able to imagine myself willingly identifying with the Christian label.

  6. This is the best post I’ve ever read here.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Lydia.

  7. again, well stated and the reason i have left christianity

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