Saturday, September 04, 2010

How Bad Versions of Christianity Produce Unfaith

Today's WSJ features a story about a US Marine chaplain and his atheist assistant. For SWNID, it predictably illustrates yet another SWNIDish maxim: the Christianity that many people reject is bad Christianity.

The two players in the drama are Chaplain Terry Moran and Religious Programs Specialist Second Class Philip Chute. Moran is a Seventh-Day Adventist. Chute is an atheist who grew up among Baptists.

We read between the lines of the story to infer that Moran is an adherent to a version of Christianity that makes a dog's breakfast of Scripture with a mixture of dogmatically driven, selectively "literal" readings. Chute, as a young man in youthful rebellion, found the unchallenged readings of the Bible--only somewhat less dogmatically, selectively "literal" than Moran's--in his insulated, southern (whether upper or lower case) Baptist culture to be vulnerable to what in his nascent stage of intellectual development appears to be refutation.

When the two come together, they find little ground for dialogue. Instead, each easily regards the other as a personal challenge. So each tends to become more entrenched in the distinctives of his view, and the result is a contest of wills and personalities, not ideas. The mystic Moran stupefies the rationalist Chute, while the cynical Chute frustrates the idealistic Moran.

Would the outcome be different if Moran and Chute decided to listen more and talk less? Would it be different if Moran were committed to a more historic and rightly critical version of Christianity, one for starters open to different readings of Genesis and Revelation than those foisted on us by the ersatz "literalists"? Would it be different if Chute's Christian upbringing had nurtured better answers to his rebellious impulses? Maybe. There is limited predictability in the equation "Seed + Soil = Outcome."

Our frustration that stories like this one abound is ameliorated when we hear other stories of those who discover that biblical Christianity is something other than young-earth creationism and apocalyptic millenarianism.

1 comment:

Bryan D said...

Despite the way that the article seems to project it, it is not at all common for RPS's to be themselves entirely unreligious. In fact, the one mentioned here is the only one I have ever heard of. You have to ask to be a RPS, you have to receive specific training in how to help the chaplain facilitate worship, you have to be willing to unconditionally sacrifice yourself for the chaplain's well-being. Many RPS's use their job as a gateway to chaplaincy itself.

My suspicion is that this RPS's heart is having more to say than his cynical soldier's exterior is admitting to. Why is he so fascinated with men of God that he voluntarily took this special role? It certainly wasn't in order to shore up unbelief. Is the fact that the padre he's serving with is a nutjob a factor contributing to his attitude? Of course. But I'd be willing to bet a Sebastian's gyro on the fact that he came into his job with more questions than answers and that Moran's "nutjobbery" does not produce unfaith so much as it simply doesn't encourage it.