Somewhere in the long arc of its transformation from a religious belief system to a political movement, Christianity lost a big chunk of its soul to a social phenomenon more concerned with owning the public dialogue over proving its theological merits in actual practice.
This was the advent of Meta Christianity, in which confessional language and dog-whistle politics contrive to take over society.
It’s not hard to point out the cast of characters that borrowed the authority of a well-respected religion as a means to self-empowerment. They are all famous names with whom we are all familiar. The process was slow at first, with social and religious conservatives frustrated by democratic rulings on issues such as abortion. But then the movement toward a more political form of Christianity formed around the likes of Jerry Falwell, a televangelist who formed the so-called Moral Majority in collusion with equally conservative politicians that found it quite convenient to borrow the authority of Christianity for their personal objectives of getting elected. Again. And again.
Courting the so-called Christian voting blog translated into power for conservatives willing to say all the right things to convince conservative voters their morals were in the right place. The power conferred by the Christian voting bloc further converted the forrmely faith-based ideals of Christianity into a brand focused on social and political authority. The word Christian came to mean something entirely different than it once did, taking on a form that willingly confused God with Country. To achieve this aim the new form of old-time Christianity needed to ignore the very plain language in the United States Constitution Establishment Clause which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”
And that was the advent of Meta Christianity. No longer was conservative Christianity going to bother abiding by its tradition of self-examinative remorse, repentance and reformation.Meta Christianity said the hell with that. The former introspective faith in the model of Christ would now be replaced by a self-referential new order focused on never admitting you’re wrong and asking people to join along because it’s the right thing to do. The Meta Christian takes a new vow: “We’re more interested in gaining power and getting our way than explaining ourselves to people who don’t get what we’re doing.”
By these methods Meta Christians began by definition to refer to itself and its conventions as a genre outside the realm of normal social criticism. Using the age-old methods of requiring “proof texts” from the Bible to engage in any criticism of its objectives, Meta Christianity has endeavored to remove itself from any form of social criticism at all. It does the same with its politics, especially by claiming loudly and often that America was founded as a Christian nation.
These tactics extend to the view of America both as a nation of destiny and as a tool for the End Times. Fundamental Christians love to claim the mantle of God’s Chosen people. The thin veil of the former worldview known as Manifest Destiny is thus torn away and worn all over again like a new garment. The Meta version of its racial overtones embrace age-old prejudicial values against people of color and origin, lambasting emigrants and Muslims and anyone that Meta Christians choose to see as an enemy. This is all based on the Meta-Christian’s perceived state of privilege by providence.
Meanwhile some Meta Christians seem eager to hurry along the end of time any way they can. When George W. Bush first attacked Iraq in 2003, there was some hope in some deeply religious (but apparently not patriotic) quarters that a magical key was being turned in the Mideast that would bring on Armageddon and drag Christ back to earth for Judgment Day.
Even analysis from within the Christian faith has no effect on Meta Christians. Progressive Biblical scholars such as Marcus Borg, John Crossan and Rev.John Shelby Spong easily point out the contradictions inherent in Meta Fundamental Christianity by documenting the many ways in which the Bible is not infallibly composed. Bart D. Ehrman in his book Misquoting Jesus (Harper/San Francisco) documents how scribes who copied scripture sometimes changed it either intentionally or unintentionally. In so doing he points out the foibles of taking any section of scripture literally, and demonstrates the danger of those foibles at play in the modern context. Typically these include persecution of those who are made targets by literal interpretations of scripture. These include women, gays, Jews, blacks or anyone that gets casually or pointedly mentioned in the Bible as a transgressor of some sort. There is no distinctive virtue in these methods except that it provides a convenient way to define “the other” and thus give Meta Christianity the enemies it needs to rally troops to membership and shared power.
Science of denial
But Meta Christianity turns a purposely deaf ear on such erudite analysis of its beliefs. It also lovingly ignores the findings of science, flirting happily instead with the science of denial constituted by contrived theories such as creationism and intelligent design. As a result, some 30% of Meta Christians in America claim not to trust science, especially the theory of evolution. That’s one out of two people under the influence of Meta Christianity, which uses its reputation as protectors of the truth to fuel doubts and fears of intellectual pursuits in its constituents.
Thus the advent of self-referential and self-evidencing religion of power over biblical substance continues to evolve. When challenged over this assumed position of authority in society, Meta Christianity has simply moved farther to the Right as a means to insulate itself from any brand of secular analysis. Of course Meta Christian politicians love that kind of voter. It saves them lots of work trying to convince people they are indeed “voting their values.”
There’s just one problem with all this Meta Christianity. It’s a literal and physical dead end when it comes to addressing the problems of the present and future. The Meta Christian relationship with End Times theology is problem enough when considering what to do about foreign relations and plans for dealing with global climate change. Meta Christians are prone to the disturbing claim that the end is coming soon and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. No wonder Meta Christians fall in line with the radical political right on the idea that government is the problem, not a solution to human problems or needs. If the most radical brands of Meta Christians had their way, America would simply dump its entire governmental system and trust God to solve all problems in the home of the brave and the land of the free.
F the Establishment Clause
That’s definitely not what the Founding Fathers set out to do in forming a more perfect union or writing the United States Constitution. The Establishment Clause exists for a reason. It protects the freedoms of all citizens, not just those who claim to curry favor with God. Meta Christianity sees that as an obstacle, not the law of the land. We will be wise to keep an eye on protecting the Constitution from those who would redefine its purpose in a self-referential way.
Misquoting Jesus: http://www.amazon.com/Misquoting-Jesus-Story-Behind-Changed/dp/0060859512, Bart D. Ehrman, Harper San Francisco,