Maybe we need a new Reformation if Christianity is to survive

Published 9:04 am Monday, November 6, 2017

How did you mark the 500th anniversary last week of the start of the Protestant Reformation?
All right, I probably would have missed it, too, except that my friend and former colleague Ray Waddle is editor of the Yale Divinity School magazine, Reflections, which dedicated its current issue to “Reformation: Writing the Next Chapter.”
Reading some of the essays in it prompted me to brush up on my knowledge of Martin Luther, which was only slightly above zilch. He’s the German monk whose 95 Theses (which he may or may not have nailed to church doors in Wittenburg on Oct. 31, 1517) taking issue with certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church started all the fuss.
I read the 95 Theses. I am not necessarily recommending that you do so. There will be no test.
But that research led me to an article in The Tennessean, where Ray and I once worked, about a project by two Tennessee atheist pals that they called 95 Tweets.
The idea was to encourage people to post their own grievances about religion on Twitter, in sort of a 21st-century Luther-like effort. So I took a look at what people were posting, and was not surprised to find the usual sorts of criticism:
“Teaching faith in the unprovable cultivates gullible magical thinking.”
“Why do you dictate my civil rights based on a book written 2000 years ago by people who didn’t know where the sun went at night?”
“Your lord is not my shepherd, for I am not a sheep.”
“An atheist believes in the denial of all religions. A Christian also believes in the denial of all religions (but one).”
“God is a petty, jealous, mass-murdering tyrant with a God complex.”
“At the end of the day, you can’t prove your religion is right.”
And, the old standard (which I don’t buy):
“Religions have caused more wars, violence, murder, ignorance, denigration of women, than any other belief system in history.”
I could go on and on, believe me. People have no shortage of negative things to say about religion. And most of it, I contend, basically boils down to one assertion:
“I’m too smart to be religious.”
My initial response on reading the litany was just what it usually is: Atheists have their own, perverse way of being holier-than-thou. They are some smug sons of guns. Why should I care what they think?
But then I reflected some more. A couple of years ago I wrote a column about a study that found Christianity on the decline in the United States, among various other countries.
One of my favorite theologians, John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop, says that Christianity needs to change fundamentally if it is to survive. For one thing, he would do away with the literal notion of a supernatural being in the heavens (a “sky wizard,” as one of the 95 Tweets posts mockingly put it) and build on essential truths and lessons from the life of Christ.
Could be it’s helpful for Christians, in my case, and people of other faiths, to hear out those who reject religion, that we might evolve.
Maybe we need a new Reformation.
I’m in.

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