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The Christian Delusion 1: The Cultures of Christianity

01/08/2011

The chapter talks about the hidden role that religion plays in our culture, how it infiltrates apparently secular things and religionizes them, thus affecting the underlying assumptions of our culture in their favor.

I’m not sure I feel that much of a threat. I guess there are some things like free will, belief in belief, thoughts that morality is grounded only in religion, and a general distrust of atheists that bother me, and do have an affect on this culture, but other aspects, like saying “God bless you” or the biblical roots of most people’s names seem unimportant. It is a good point that Christianity has been very good at becoming central to how many Americans view themselves.

The other main claim is that “Christianity” as a whole does not exist. It’s become fractured, more and more as it’s passed through the ages, and this is exactly what we’d expect from a very human religion. In fact, it’s the pattern we see in other religions, and Christianity shares that aspect in common with them all. The gospels themselves fall prey to this pattern, and when see in the context of their authors and their surrounding cultures, they make more sense as separate attempts at pushing their particular views than they do as different facets of the true faith.

The author believes that if we see Christianity in this very human context, as a culturally transmitted entity similar to other religions, they will stop taking its truth for granted. I do agree that understanding the history and non-divine nature of the conflicts, schisms, and transmittance of Christianity, people will no longer be able to reasonably conclude that it was given by God.

Kindle Notes:

Charles Kraft, one of the leading figures in the project, describes culture as “the label anthropologists give to the structured customs and underlying worldview assumptions [by] which people govern their lives (229).

Most atheists use most of these phrases without any thought for their source-and how the use serves the source (323).

Note: Not really convinced that using sayings whose source no one thinks of as Christian is really going to serve the source.

Many religions maintain that a person cannot be born or die “well” or “successfully” without a religious officiate and a religious ceremony on the occasion. The same is true with marriage, a social and civil bond that religion often attempts to claim as its own (one must marry “in the church”). In times of illness or misfortune, religion may barge in and insist on a role, either as reason or remedy (325).

Note: Religion does have a monopoly on these events. Are other countries different at all?

there is no such thing as a single, unified, global Christianity but instead many, different, local Christianities, which often do not recognize each other, accept each other, or even comprehend each other (389).

Each of the four gospels is a product of its particular historical moment and political perspective, written for-and against-someone; each thus was influenced by the rival or enemy of the day. Mark, generally held to have been composed first, “takes a conciliatory attitude toward the Romans” but quarrels “with the Jewish leaders-the council of elders, the Sanhedrin, along with the Jerusalem scribes and priests-who had rejected God’s Messiah.” This Christianity is a dispute between Jewish factions. Matthew reflects the establishment of a distinct Christian identity and community, separate from “the Jews,” that is, “the majority, who reject the gospel, [and therefore] have forfeited their legacy” Luke, as “the only Gentile author among the gospel writers, speaks for those Gentile converts to Christianity who consider themselves the true heirs of Israel”; at the same time, he makes comparative peace with the Jewish authorities. By the time of John, the historically last version, an exclusive and tight-knit Christian community has emerged, which is commanded to love each other “while regarding their Jewish opponents as offspring of Satan” (390).

Note: Can a Christian retort that this multifaceted view reflects God’s wisdom?

Books and essays were composed by Christians arguing with and condemning each other for false doctrine, such as Hippolytus’s The Refutation of All Heresies, Irenaeus’s The Detection and Refutation of False Knowledge, also known as Against Heresies, and Tertullian’s “Prescription against Heretics.” The only ways to settle these disputes became fiat and violence: committees like the Council of Nicaea in 325, overseen by the emperor Constantine, determined official Christian policy, while as early as 385 Bishop Priscillian of Spain and six followers had the honor of becoming the first Christians to be executed over theology (400).

Note: Did the specific brand of Christianity get chosen by Constantine by chance, or was there something inevitable about that interpretation.

Christianity, if it ever was united (and it was not), was forever divided. Of course, the immediate result of these divisions was fratricidal war for more than a century. American Christianity is thus not unique in its history of innovation, diffusion, loss, reinterpretation, syncretism, and schism, but it is noteworthy (418).

Note: Spread by the sword. Christianity follows the same pattern as all religions. Wouldn’t we expect the one true faith to be more united?

Christians are not easily reasoned out of religion since they are not usually reasoned into it. Christians, like other religionists, are not so much convinced by arguments and proofs as colonized by assumptions and premises. As a form of culture, it seems self-evident to them; they are not so much indoctrinated as enculturated (452).

Note: God as the only source of morality, everything happens for a reason, heaven after death all could be cultural indoctrination. You hear it enough, it becomes plausible, even necessary.

With the information presented in this chapter, and in this book, it is impossible for Christians to remain unaware of their own religion or of the differences between religions. The hope, and the obligation, is that once people recognize the diversity, plasticity, and relativity of religion, they will see little merit in it: that which is no longer taken for granted is often not taken at all (470).

Note: Shift the burden of proof where it deserves to be.

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