Bill McKibben on the Christian Paradox

/ 16 September 2005

Bill McKibben has an interesting piece in the August Harper’s entitled “The Christian Paradox,” wherein he explores this paradox — “America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior.” He goes on to explore the paradox in a number of ways, and his statistics alone are compelling:

"This Christian nation also tends to make personal, as opposed to political, choices that the Bible would seem to frown upon. Despite the Sixth Commandment, we are, of course, the most violent rich nation on earth, with a murder rate four or five times that of our European peers. We have prison populations greater by a factor of six or seven than other rich nations (which at least should give us plenty of opportunity for visiting the prisoners). Having been told to turn the other cheek, we’re the only Western democracy left that executes its citizens, mostly in those states where Christianity is theoretically strongest. Despite Jesus’ strong declarations against divorce, our marriages break up at a rate—just over half—that compares poorly with the European Union’s average of about four in ten. That average may be held down by the fact that Europeans marry less frequently, and by countries, like Italy, where divorce is difficult; still, compare our success with, say, that of the godless Dutch, whose divorce rate is just over 37 percent. Teenage pregnancy? We’re at the top of the charts. Personal self-discipline—like, say, keeping your weight under control? Buying on credit? Running government deficits? Do you need to ask?"

At root a lot of our dilemma I think he also gets clear, that:

"The power of the Christian right rests largely in the fact that they boldly claim religious authority, and by their very boldness convince the rest of us that they must know what they’re talking about. They’re like the guy who gives you directions with such loud confidence that you drive on even though the road appears to be turning into a faint, rutted track. But their theology is appealing for another reason too: it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would be if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we had to share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies. "

If this individualized, "focus on me ignore the gospel" softsell is not to prevail, what will it take? Amongst other things, Christians who take very seriously the demands of the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" and to see the neighbor even in the Samaritan lying on the side of the road, the Iraqi in the ditch, the terrorist with the suicide belt. Can we do this?