If Christianity is Dying in America, Why?

Zack Hunt's interesting and important Huffington Post commentary on the demise of Christianity in America, evidenced in part by the low numbers of Millennials attending or affiliating with Christian churches, places much of the blame on the rise of the right-wing but also on the failure of Christians more generally to live a life like that attributed to Jesus. Hunt notes the stunning hypocrisy of Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr., who encourages his Christian students to arm themselves so that they can, "end those Muslims" before they kill "good people," which seems a bit of a stretch from Jesus' idea of turning the other cheek.

Hunt makes the powerful point that Christianity is being destroyed in America because its message of peace has been appropriated and warped by those who promote values contrary to those associated with the words of Jesus. Christians, as Hunt puts it, seem to easily find ways these days to claim they believe in the Bible and their god while also finding ways to avoid living like Jesus and building a life around peaceful action, selflessness, and caring for others.

As a non-Christian--an outsider looking in at the religion Hunt describes, but an outsider who has read the Bible and even taken graduate courses in both the New and Old Testaments--I find it difficult to disagree. The Christianity I see in the news is certainly not a religion that promotes peace, love, inclusion, and caring for others who are less fortunate. At the same, time, I am well aware that there are many peaceful, caring people in America who claim Christianity as their religion and who do much to make the world a better place. As with any religion, universally characterizing Christianity and its followers is a very difficult thing to do.

That said, I think Hunt missed another important factor that may contribute to the distaste many these days have for Christianity and that could eventually result in its demise in America--if said demise is truly imminent. That factor is arrogance.

From the perspective of the outside looking in, Christianity seems to have a fundamental flaw in that it arrogantly professes a single truth that must apply to all people in our world. Evangelicals are, of course, the most obvious expression of this arrogance as they go about trying to spread their truth and often attempt to impose it on others. The arrogance runs even deeper in claims that those who fail to accept this singular truth will be punished. A good example of this can be found in some comments written by Christians following the disaster in northern Japan in 2011. Amidst all of the suffering that individuals, families, and communities faced, some in America claimed that the Japanese were being punished by the Abrahamic god for their lack of Christian faith. I had a very difficult time finding the love in those comments.

In many ways the big turn-off for many of us non-Christians is precisely that kind of arrogance, found in the firm and not very humble conviction that there is only one truth and anyone who doesn't see that "we" (name your Christian sect) have it is doomed to eternal suffering and punishment. When it involves evangelism, the arrogance quickly can turn into a condescending attempt to "save" those of us don't seem to recognize the wonderful things being done on our behalf and even can lead to violence.

Of course, this isn't a problem limited to Christianity. Any ideology that claims to have a monopoly on truth, on knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil, and how to live life in general, has the potential to head in the direction of a condescending arrogance grounded in intolerance and a smug self-satisfaction that one has something others lack, but need.

The potential demise of Christianity that concerns Hunt is not the product of an arrogance unique to the right wing; it runs through Christian theology in its frequent claims to exclusive access to and representation of a universalized truth handed down by the Abrahamic god in the words of the Bible.

I don't mean to argue here that all Christians are arrogant nor that all Christians believe there is no truth but theirs. Like in any religion, individual Christians pick and choose which parts of their faith to accept and which parts to ignore or reject. And certainly many Christians see their faith as one among many ways to find peace. But as soon as one believes there is only a single path to the truth--and the institution of Christianity certainly proclaims this when stating that said path runs only through Jesus or is handed down in a book containing the words of a god--the doors to arrogance and intolerance become fairly easy to walk through.