Bill McKibben’s “The Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong” (in the latest Harper’s) is fascinating and wrong.

Christianity in America has gone bad, McKibben says. It’s concerned with the wrong things. It needs to return to its roots: the actual admonitions given by Jesus.

America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. […] [T]here is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. […] That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity. But is it Christian? This is not a matter of angels dancing on the heads of pins. Christ was pretty specific about what he had in mind for his followers.

The article proceeds to describe two specific ways in which people have strayed from the True Way. But, for all McKibben’s obvious intelligence and sincerity, this argument – that people aren’t doing it right; that real Christians wouldn’t behave that way – is threadbare, confused, and dangerous.

Here are just the few objections I see right off the bat.

  1. Bill McKibben does not know what Jesus actually said.
  2. Whether or not Jesus actually said any particular thing is not relevant to whether it has any utility for us here and now.
  3. Religious groups always say that other groups are doing it wrong. But there has never been a method for ascertaining whose claims might be “genuine.” Why? Because there are no genuine claims in this field. No one’s favorite flavor of total nonsense is more genuine than anyone else’s favorite flavor of total nonsense.

The only way to resolve the “paradox” of Christian “belief” is to recognize that belief is the wrong word for it.

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