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Criticisms of the modern Christian church

November 16, 2010

World Religions pie chart

Living in a society where Christianity is recognized as the most widely accepted religion in the world definitely has an effect on humans everywhere– especially in the United States of America today. In many communities, you can’t drive downtown without seeing several church buildings: First Presbyterian Church of Whatevertown, St. Whoever’s Catholic Church… you can easily fill in the blanks with familiar names. Historically speaking, the Christian church has been a powerful force in different arenas of life: for example, politics, education, and social standards. Even today, with changing standards and morals in the American public, it is undeniable that the church, its followers, and its voice are well-known to the average citizen.
Mill writes in chapter 2 of On Liberty about the freedom of “Thought and Discussion,” a core value that the founding fathers of the United States held dear. Mill insists that all opinions are to be held in esteem, regardless of their perceived correctness. To silence the opinion of someone who disagrees with you would be robbing the human race of posterity; furthermore, you rob yourself of the chance to test the strength of your own ideals. In light of Mill’s argument, I must say that I completely agree with him, and I believe that for the most part, the modern Christian church could do well to take this lesson to heart.
As a Christian myself, I cannot deny that I have firm beliefs and faith in Biblical doctrines. Having been raised in a Protestant family, I grew up reading Bible stories and singing “Jesus loves me, this I know…”
However, even as a staunch member of the Christian church, I cannot help but to disapprove of many churches’ stances on today’s political and social issues. Rather than lovingly welcome disagreements with the hopes of honest discussion and perhaps eventual conversion, the church often takes an aggressive, censorship-friendly stance.
Even more shockingly, as further explained in this link, the modern Christian church seems to shy away from an outright statement of its beliefs, choosing instead to stomp out any spark of controversy, fearing that they may erupt into flames. Rather than issue a rebuttal to this student’s article, the Catholic school decides to simply take away his right to express his opinion. The most frustrating part for me is that this tactic is not even in line with what the Bible calls Christians to do! In the new Testament, the great Christian leader Paul writes:

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
–2 Timothy 4:2

So I ask members and leaders of the church: Why the silence? Why are we so afraid of speaking our minds and sharing our beliefs in an open way? Are we so scared of being proven wrong that we will not even risk accepting challenges? If we are so sure in what we believe in, why not welcome others to prove us wrong? This attitude must change if the church wants to change its long-held reputation of being an ignorant and closed-minded organization. I advise all religious leaders, in fact, to follow Mill’s example and welcome discussion and the sharing of ideas and opinions. Only through doing so can we achieve a better understanding of others’ beliefs… and maybe we will even find out who was really right all along.

  1. Taylor Fields permalink
    November 16, 2010 3:30 PM

    Your post is really interesting, and made me consider the benefits that Christian’s have in contemporary society, also refereed to as the ‘Christian Privilege’: Stores decorated in Christmas themes during the Holiday season, Days automatically of work and school for Christian Holidays but no other, and being able to openly and embracing acknowledge their religious beliefs in public. Mills would argue that the Christian Privilege is detrimental to the development of society and of Christians who embrace the special perks of their religion: when they live in a world where they are not challenged, where they incessantly feel comfortable, where their ideals and beliefs are mainstream, they are not challenged to discuss, and pursue what is right.

  2. dbwein permalink
    November 16, 2010 5:05 PM

    I think you make a good point that religious leaders should be more open to discussing topics of religion with people of differing view than themselves. However, I think it is important that these discussions are not about trying to convert one another, but instead trying to understand each other and each person’s point of view. The truth is that everyone believes based on faith. No one has any hard proof that they are right, so why have we let religion become such a source of contention between people? Only through the freedom of “Thought and Discussion”, as described by Mill, can people begin to understand each other (understanding does not mean agreeing) and accept one another regardless of each person’s religious views. And this type of “Thought and Discussion” should not only apply to people of religious conviction. Many people are so easy to jump to conclusions about someone based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc. We need to be able to discuss, understand, and accept each other even when we don’t agree. However, unfortunately, I think it is a bit idealistic to expect that one day we will really be able to disregard our presumptions about people and not judge them until we talk to them. But maybe one day that’s how it’ll be…

  3. Kathleen Duddy permalink
    November 16, 2010 6:44 PM

    After reading this blog post, I couldn’t help but think of an incident that occurred at my high school during my junior year. Our high school was doing a production of “Rent” which caused quite the controversy due to its material involving gays and people diagnosed with AIDS. The Westboro Baptist Church, who are from Kansas, flew all the way out to California to protest the production. They certainly took Mill’s words that “human beings should be free to form opinions, and to express their opinions without reserve” (620) to heart. Many of the students (including myself) participated in a counter protest and the plan was to sit in silence as the members of the church screamed awful things about death and hate from across the street but soon enough the students were yelling right back. Both parties went against Burke’s belief in choosing “to refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false” (600). Yes, I do think that the protest would have had a more powerful effect if we sat in complete silence but how is it possible to sit and listen to things that you KNOW you don’t believe in? You can’t help but start yelling back. Both sides of the street held on so firmly to their beliefs I can’t see how either party would truly benefit from listening to the other. I know this is a more extreme example and I actually do believe that in most other cases, people can indeed benefit from listening to other opinions but in this case, it was a stale mate.

  4. neilrab permalink
    November 16, 2010 8:10 PM

    Yes, religious leaders should be more open to discussion, but I ask one question: what if throughout this discussion the basis for their beliefs gets disproved? What if everything they have been building for centuries gets destroyed in a matter of seconds?

    The problem with the Church is that it holds tremendous power well beyond religion. The Church, like you said, has an influence over education, politics, and other aspects of society. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful and wealthiest organizations in the world and it cannot risk having its beliefs and ideas challenged or proved wrong. I do think that Mills is right when he says we shouldn’t silence people’s opinions just because they challenge us. I’m an advocate of criticism as a positive thing. Being challenged means that your ideas have made enough of an impact to have opponents, and taking these opponents’ criticism is the key to making your own ideas stronger.

    On another note, unrelated to the Church, it is said that during a brainstorming session, for example, the number 1 rule is to never shut down anyone’s suggestions. Even if one doesn’t agree with what someone else said, it allows us to further think about one’s own ideas and find ways to solve the problems/challenges being proposed.

  5. emilywiho permalink
    November 16, 2010 8:10 PM

    I found your post extremely interesting and as a fellow Christian I must say that I agree that it is essential for the Church to be open to opinions and views against the beliefs or doctrines of the Church. I think it’s important that as Christians we listen to others and consider their views, as that is the only way that we ourselves will learn.

    I think, however, that it is a little difficult to define a single ‘Church’ now because there are so many different churches and different views – especially in the US. Unless you’re talking about the Catholic church, Protestant churches are not really unified and each church is slightly different. Some are more opened and others not so much. I think that it’s important to note that even though we often see ‘the Church’ as a single entity, there are actually many denominations of Christianity.

  6. mikeking0717 permalink
    November 16, 2010 10:34 PM

    While reading this I couldn’t help but consider Burke’s opinion about Christianity being open to discussion and debate with both other Christians and non-Christians. I was torn. Would he concede that this kind of public questioning of a great historic establishment is good and necessary, or would he only condone it under the notion that all discussion will lead to conversion and further strengthen the church’s traditions?

  7. adamarcher permalink
    November 17, 2010 11:08 AM

    Reading the article, I could not help but bring Kant into the discusion because of of the idea of Public and Private Reason. The reason the article was removed was because of the close affiliation with the catholic school that Simonson attended, and therefore vicariously the Catholic Church. Had the boy’s writing been distributed through an independant source, such as personal blog everything would have been perfectly all right, but because the spread of the editorial was facilitated by the resources of the catholic school, Simonson should have respected the school stance on the subject and used not his Public, but instead his Private Reason. Regardless of what we may think of the subject, the catholic school as a private institution, has every right to control what literature they spread with their own resources.

  8. Jameson McRae permalink
    December 6, 2010 4:03 PM

    In todays day and age everyone wants to be more “Western” and a major part of being western is in fact being Christian and following the rules and doctrines of the religion. We have a high number of people immigrate to the Unites States every year, all wanting to be in the “Land of the free”. Many of these people come with different lifestyles and beliefs of that of the “West”, and have a tough time adjusting. Looking at the pie chart above I think Muslims are a perfect example. Due to a rocky relationship in the Middle East and following 9/11, the West classifies Muslims as terrorists. Due to close minded opinions in the Christianity dominated West, we have classified 20% of the world as terrorist due to the attacks by a select handful of radical Muslims. Christians and the rest of the West for that matter have not left their mind open to Muslims cultures norms and ideas and instead have shut them out, the government says for “protection to our homeland”. As Mill said we must be open minded to all opinions and this includes other cultures, Mill would be extremely disappointed in the West, who are the trend setters for the rest of the world, for being so close minded. We must all open our minds and forget about religion whether you are Christian or Muslim it does not matter your opinion can have a great impact on society as a whole and we must all be open to each others ideas.

  9. Mycki Kujacznski permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:18 AM

    I actually found this post to be really interesting because I don’t go to church, and I wasn’t even aware of this “closed-minded” reputation they had. I completely agree with when you said, “If we are so sure in what we believe in, why not welcome others to prove us wrong?” As I was reading through, that was the exact thing I was thinking. People who feel strongly about something and feel that their beliefs are right should have no reason to be afraid of opposing views. Therefore, I agree with you that churches should follow Mill’s example and welcome opposing viewpoints.

  10. jpriest04 permalink
    December 9, 2010 10:54 PM

    You tackle a very controversial issue with this blog post; and I find myself shocked that I (with reservation) support the changes you call for. If someone possesses such a strong belief in something, and extensively understands all parts of it, then why should they fear opposition? With such a strong conviction as they possess, they should not only be able to defend against opposition, but also lead the world into upholding their same beliefs. As a Christian, I would be disgusted with myself if I ever cowered away from someone who challenges my beliefs because doing so could be perceived as admitting defeat. A challenge does not mean you are wrong in what you believe, it simply means that someone else has a different opinion and you have been given the opportunity to prove them wrong. With conviction comes the opportunity to convince others; and with more people convinced, our community grows.

  11. rickover09 permalink
    December 10, 2010 11:19 PM

    I agree that people in general should be more open minded and believe the church, since its seen as an institution that socializes most of us to believe in the things we do, should be that much more inclined to hear what others have to say and contribute. However, I think they (the church leaders) refrain from hearing what others have to contribute on any idea really not so much in fear of being proven wrong per say but in causing people to explore new ideas and ways of thought. As a society we like to now whats right, whats wrong, whats good or bad, we like classifying and placing labels on things. Black and white answers establish a sense of security, regardless of what truth they truly REALLY hold. People like to believe in something, they like something to lean on you could say, they like the stability an institution like religion can offer thus being the reason they don’t want other to come in and make things uncertain with the introduction of new ideas others may deem important, even though times HAVE changed.

    –Take homosexuality for example when if first came about people that were heterosexual wanted answers. They wanted to know why these people were acting and wanted what they did thus labeling these homosexual individuals as mentally ill. Even though that was not true it provided something to lean on, some stability and most importantly an answer as to WHY these individuals were acting as they were, it was long before the medical diagnosis was considered to hold no truth at all.

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