Thursday, 2 September 2010

Why do they hate us? Reason 1 - Killjoys

Christians are often surprised to find that there are many people in the world with a passionate hatred of Christianity, and that these are often people who have a past connection with the church.  It surprises us because most of us spend a fair amount of time with other Christians and we know they are no better or worse than other people.  While this is disappointing - surely the followers of the God who is Love should be at least a little better than average - it hardly seems a reason for active animosity.

I've been noticing that in our culture there is a strong thread of critique of the church, and if we listen carefully we can understand the animosity a little better.  So I'm going to give you some examples.  They're not scientific or representative, but they illustrate what many people feel.

My first is one of my favourite poems of all time, William Blake’s “The Garden of Love” from Songs of Experience.

I went to the garden of love
And saw what I never had seen
A chapel was built in the midst
Where I used to play on the green

 And the gates of the chapel were shut
And “thou shalt not” writ over the door
So I turned to the garden of love
That so many sweet flowers bore

 And I saw it was filled with graves
And tombstones where flowers should be
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds
Binding with briars my joys and desires

Blake was a deeply religious man, if a little strange.  He wrote intensely religious poems and painted vivid Biblical scenes.  His relationship with God was passionate and deeply personal.  Yet he saw the church not as a helper but an intruder on this relationship.  Instead of helping him to love, the church prevented him. 
Where he looked for a celebration of life, he saw a graveyard.  Where he looked for a way of love, he found a locked door and a heartless commmand.  Where he looked for joy and fulfillment, he found a prison of thorns.  The song is a lament for his lost innocence, driven from him by the very institution that should have nurtured and celebrated it.
Back in the 1950's and 60s, Australians used to use the word "wowser" to describe a morals campaigner.  Wowsers were looked at with derision in Australia.  They supported a kind of public morality which they claimed was Christian.  It included early closing for pubs, strict liquor licensing and gambling restrictions, tough censorship and indecency laws, bans on Sunday get the picture.  In the wider Australian culture they were seen as killjoys, the enemies of fun.  And they were the public face of the church. 
In Queensland our State Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was a famous wowser who took part in public bible readings, opposed condom vending machines, maintained tough censorship laws and took every opportunity to court the religious vote.  Yet his career ended in public shame as the corruption of his government was revealed and he himself escaped prison by the skin of his teeth.
Hypocrisy can keep for another day.  But this harsh joylessness, this focus on externals and on banning things, seems not so much Christian as Pharisaical. 
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  (Mt 23:13)
I'd much rather follow the man who made wine at a wedding, and who strolled with his disciples through the grain-field on the Sabbath, plucking and eating ears of grain in defiance of the Sabbath law because they were hungry.  Lets not let our own fear of chaos, our desire for control and safety, shut out those who long to enter the joy of the Kingdom.


Luke said...

You'd like Suspicion and Faith: The religious uses of Modern Atheism by Merold Westphal. If you lived closer I'd loan it to you.

I like this analysis, however painful it is.

Jon said...

Thanks Luke, I'll try and track down a copy up here.

ish said...

I like this too Jon. Of course there is complexity in this. For one thing, even given the validity of what you say, the animosity to the church and things Christian seems out of proportion to the perceived offence. There seems an almost drivenness to purge Christianity from our culture. Also, what is perceived as the iron grey doors of the "thou shalt nots" are the grammar, if I may use the metaphor, to allow the syntax of joy and freedom in Christ. The paradox surrounding the meaning of freedom is so frequently lost to those who consider the prohibitions.

Deb said...

"I'd much rather follow the man who made wine at a wedding, and who strolled with his disciples through the grain-field on the Sabbath, plucking and eating ears of grain in defiance of the Sabbath law because they were hungry."
Amen to this brother!!
I find it extremely interesting that those who despise Christians the most will allow any other, or at least most other religions to have its place. Very interesting... And all in God's plan I am sure...

Pykle said...

Jon I think you underplay the historical context of religious antagonism and the role of the Church in it. It is no less mysterious than the anti-intellectualism or racism that is common if not prevalent in our society. The Church has been seen as on the side of oppressive states in modern history, and if pedophilia is included, in recent history. But I think the strongest source of antagonism is that the "joy" that should flow from religion is seen to be as ethereal as the belief system itself!