By Frank Raj
However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
– Luke 18: 9
In the West, one must have a balanced, calm, soft, voice; one ought to make sure to doubt oneself, to suggest that one may, of course, be completely wrong. But I didn’t have the time to busy myself with this.
God builds his temple in the heart on the ruins of churches and religions.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To bell the cat” is an English colloquialism that means to suggest or attempt to perform a difficult or impossible task. The phrase comes from an Aesop’s Fable, The Mice in Council, in which a group of mice declare that the only way to avoid the dangerous cat is to tie a bell around its neck in order that would warn them when it approached. One mouse then asks who will perform the dangerous task. The moral, as commonly given, is that it is easy to suggest difficult (or impossible) solutions if the individual giving the solution is not the one who has to implement it.
I am an outsider from India and the Middle East, a keen observer of American Christianity (AC). After studying it over the years I see it as a combination of: religious pride, prejudice, piety, privilege, individual prosperity, consumerism, focus on a church building, entertainment, and power seeking, not necessarily in any order. AC is a counterfeit man-made religion, keeping undiscerning Christians in subtle bondage by its sheer popularity gained over the centuries. Technology and every form of the media down the ages have played an important role in shoring it up.
Has American Christianity made any significant impact on U.S. society?
Every society has been perverted by religion–for different reasons and in different ways, but America is the classic modern case study with over 25,000 Christian denominations and a half million strong clergy that has presided over the nation’s spiritual degeneration and remains unwilling to review its call to spiritually train the Church not take it over and rule it.
In India where I grew up and the Middle East where I lived for nearly four decades, religious fanatics live out their convictions violently everyday. American and international followers of AC feebly try and prop up as the gospel truth an impotent religion that stands by watching American and European society grow increasingly depraved. Many missionaries today are AC orientated, unbiblical and unimpressive.
American Christianity is not ‘The Way.’
If it was, America would be the city on the hill.
Wherever AC is exported to, while supposedly “Christianizing” countries, it slowly undermines personal faith in Christ. Its territorial pastor system built on the ‘clergy-laity’ concept is still subscribed to by Christians completely unaware or unwilling to assume the responsibilities of their royal priesthood.
For every well meaning, humble pastor who is faithful to the scriptural mandate of empowering men and women, who does not make his flock dependent on his human leadership, there are scores who are doing exactly that while building their personality cults and mini empires.
When termites get to work they remain concealed and undetected until severe structural damage has occurred; the Church seems clueless about how AC is eating away at its vitals. Abroad there are some restraints working against the American religious juggernaut, but in the US it is probably too late unless those who uncompromisingly follow Jesus revolt against political correctness in the media, in their churches and in their relationships.
If America does a turnaround and true revival comes it will be because all believers unite in spirit and in truth; but this won’t happen if AC retains its hold and more and more celebrity pastors establish churches where people follow charismatic individuals or hang on to traditions that have not served the faith.
Gary Wills observes in his book ‘A Necessary Evil,’ (Simon & Schuster), “When Martin Luther King Jr., demonstrated against segregation, he came up against fierce opposition, not only from bigots but from ordinary southerners who felt that segregation was so built into the fabric of their lives that it would unravel everything they held dear, even their religion. They could not make such a fundamental alteration in the world their ancestors had given them. Tradition was at stake, the conception that they had treated blacks well despite the misunderstanding of outsiders.”
“Christianity was pro-slavery,” says Yolanda Pierce, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University (https://www.washingtonpost.com) “So much of early American Christian identity is predicated on a pro-slavery theology. From the naming of the slave ships, to who sponsored some of these journeys including some churches, to the fact that so much of early American religious rhetoric is deeply intertwined . . . with slave-holding: It is pro-slavery.”
Loyalty to American Christianity is spiritual segregation from Christ. Americans have missed the wood for the trees, and like the Pied Piper of Hamlin its religious leaders have led millions around the world to affiliate with a man-made religious system.
So what is the solution I have to bell the cat? Stop feeding this pet religion – let it starve, decline its favors; it has grown too big to be put to sleep at once but give it nothing to eat and allow it to waste away.
The only way to truly follow Christ is to stop following Christianity – American or any other version.
According to a 2017 PBS report the share of Americans who identify as white and Christian has dropped below 50 percent, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, a polling organization based in Washington dated Sep 6, 2017. Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent of Americans. However, white Christians, once predominant in the country’s religious life, now comprise only 43 percent of the population. Four decades ago, about eight in 10 Americans were white Christians.
I am teachable on the issue, but when I look at AC’s origins I wonder whether its steady decay lies is due to early America’s clergy trying to imitate Europe’s religious system. Did they have a desire to ape the large cathedral congregations, impressive architecture and formidable, though mostly state imposed authority and ceremony?
Rooted in idolatry, ideology and influence, not in Jesus, AC’s atrophy is inevitable and the cracks in its facade are increasingly apparent if the growing genre of books like ‘The Secret Message of Jesus’ by Brian D. McLaren, (W) ‘Revolution,’ by George Barna, ‘Pagan Christianity’ by Barna and Frank Viola ‘The End of Religion’ by Bruxy Cavey, ‘Christ in Crisis,’ by Jim Wallis and many more are any indication.
Since the U.S. is primarily where AC as a distinctive belief system has matured and rules, it is quite obvious to many people outside the U.S. that enslaved American and other collaborating denominations and their constituents clearly do not understand how they are trapped. These individuals belong to a unique sub-culture of faith – American Christianity is based equally on loyalty to the American flag and supposedly to the Cross.
Its followers are trying hard to do what Christ said is not possible – serve two masters. Its religious leaders are unable to relinquish the livelihoods that AC so generously provides because of its mass base – not surprisingly there are nearly half a million pastors in America, many of whom will defend American Christianity. Sadly many genuine believers are also in AC’s clutches, clueless or lethargic, oblivious to the danger. It is not a fight in which they want to get involved in a post-truth America.
But the Trojan Horse has penetrated into the very foundations of the Church taking it far beyond the simplicity Christ clearly modeled. The impact of relativist doctrines aside, AC cannot escape from admitting responsibility for the moral and cultural devastation of American society.
Captive supporters of AC are well meaning regular church folks led by religious middlemen, who have tied a rope to their followers’ nose so that even if liberated as individuals they cannot gallop away with the truth that sets men free. Complacent in their religious notions, confident in their piety, these privileged churchgoers have learned to mimic biblical faith. Their lives aptly reflect a stomach pleasing priority; religion is a comfort zone, and they have fabricated a false faith with little fear of God, obvious in their stubborn adherence to AC.
Having confused and combined man-pleasing religious concepts with true faith in Jesus Christ they are reluctant to engage in counter-culture initiatives. In many parts of the world where Christians find it costly to keep the faith, or struggle to make ends meet, true believers would revolt against the spiritually bankrupt, ludicrous, and politically correct society that America has become. But you can’t expect that from good old church folk who believe that culture, privilege, patriotism and faith go hand in hand.
Americans have custom-cut a Jesus who like superman instantly delivers spiritual pabulum for the asking.
Frank Raj belongs to an extended Indian-American family; raised in India he lived in the Middle East for nearly four decades, where he was founding editor and publisher of ‘The International Indian’ the 25-year old Indian Diaspora magazine. Frank is the author of a non-fiction book, ‘Desh Aur Diaspora.’ He blogs at https://christnotchristianity.com and https://homeanddiaspora.com ’