Hey, we’re back! Thanks for sticking around for the last couple of months while your hardworking staff here at PubTheo had a little break from deep thinking and discussion leading. But now it’s time to get back into the swing of things, and what better way than to start our eighth season (yes, eight years!) of conversation with a topic that has echoes of our very first discussion. And as a bonus, we are back in person for the first time in almost two years!
In our inaugural meeting, all the way back in 2013, we asked a simple question: Why do Christians have a reputation as being dour and unyielding? The 2021 version of this question is what is going to animate our conversation this week: Why does so much of Christianity come across as toxic, and what if anything can be done about this? As nonreligious blogger Cassidy McGillicuddy explained some years back:
Something toxic is harmful to others. A toxic thing poisons and infects whatever it touches, killing life and destroying good things. It spreads like a sickness and must be fought and contained.
And I see this toxicity in a big part of Christianity and other religions today.
The problem, as she sees it, isn’t religion in general, or even Christianity in and of itself, but rather zealotry. Zealotry, she argues, demands compliance and conformity, and must silence or destroy dissent and those who dare to voice it. Zealotry demands control over the lives of others, even if they aren’t members of the faith group. Zealotry, and zealots, she says it what makes religion, and Christianity, toxic. More recently, McGillicuddy described toxic Christians as those whose zealotry drives them to use their religion as a tool to control and harm others. And these, she says, are destroying Christianity from the inside.
The problem of toxic Christians isn’t new, she argues. Rather, it didn’t used to matter. For centuries, and frankly until relatively recently historically speaking, Christians filled the pews of their local churches out of duty and obligation, and often faced real penalties from church leaders and society at large for daring to dissent or refusing to participate. But when Christian leaders lost their power to force compliance from unwilling parties, Christian hypocrisy suddenly became all too clear.
And now it matters. As Presbyterian pastor the Rev. Rob Dyer writes, one of the things the pandemic has taught people is that they can live without their church:
People have experienced how easy (or how difficult) it is to live without their church. Obligation and duty no longer make up for a lack of connectedness, devotion, or faith itself. People learned who their friends are and some discovered – or finally acknowledged – that the church isn’t a necessary part of their lives. As much as churches miss people, people just aren’t missing back.
How much of that recognition that the church isn’t necessary, and that people don’t miss it, is fueled by the toxic Christianity that McGillicuddy describes? Now she does suggest a solution, of a sort:
If the vast majority of Christians could simply behave like they truly thought their religion’s claims were true, it’d probably cut way down on the number of disenchanted Christians investigating further and losing faith as a result.
But she doesn’t think that will happen. Instead, she makes two points that will spark our conversation this week:
- Christians themselves prove every single day that Christians’ claims are not true.
- Most Christians cannot engage meaningfully with this truth, even if they recognize it. And those that do are basically powerless to change it.
We’re going to take up this question of toxic Christianity, and what, if anything can be done to address it, in our conversation this week. Join us for the discussion (IN PERSON) Tuesday, Sept. 21, beginning at 7 pm at the 313 Pizza Bar in downtown Lake Orion. This is the former location of Lockhart’s BBQ where we met for several years before it closed for rebranding as 313.