Pastel colors, bunny-logoed candy, baskets filled with messy, plastic grass, and Cadbury eggs are everywhere. Easter, a supposed celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, has become another “Hallmark holiday,” an enterprise capitalizing on Christian sentiment, influencing secular society.
The Christian religion is a ubiquitous structure of American culture. Recently, I read an article about Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, who was asked if he thought Obama was Christian or not. “I don’t know,” he said. His response brought him attention in the press, and it underscores America’s attention to religion in public matters.
Much of American culture is informed and influenced by a Christian model of thinking, a bias that is often used to define our culture’s spending, politics, actions, and morality.
Every decision about how you live is influenced by biases. You choose through preferences. You may choose to be a vegan or eat meat, to ride a bike or drive a car, to attend church or not. As we continually enact preferences, they become personal and cultural truths. Thus we entrench ourselves in biases, defining the world from biased perspectives.
Often these conceptions can be positive; they help us navigate life and inform our decisions.
Christianity is engrained in our culture. A 2014 study by Pew research showed that 78% percent of American adults identify as being Christian. The religion is present in so much of culture that it has become part of the language we speak and, too often becomes the way actions, injustice, and tragedies are justified.
Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas until 2015, said that “from time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented.” At first glance, this innocuous statement would seem true to our Christian dominated society. But it’s not innocent. He said this while speaking about the 2010 BP spill that dumped over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Let’s get something straight: Men, not God, drill for oil. That’s like saying that God intended for Man to destroy Earth, God’s creation, or that the holocaust was a construction of God. In fact, someone did say God wanted the holocaust to occur. Reverend John Hagee, also of Texas, said “How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen… because God said, ‘My top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.’”
This type of self-appointed “knowledge” of God’s will must be refuted and denied. Many Christian leaders (particularly southern Baptist) would argue that society should not challenge their authority. Jerry Falwell once said that, “Good Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.” But I won’t blindly accept the misuse of Christian sentiment attempting to persuade my ideals or my morals.
In many cases, the current American model of Christianity has become what Jesus struggled to eradicate: a self-indulgent ideology, undermining the democratic, independent, and progressive ideologies that society deserves.
I am not asserting that the Christian faith itself should be condemned; provided it is enacted in benevolence, a moral model is useful to cultural progress. However, just as Jesus assailed the Pharisees for hypocrisy and lawlessness, the self-righteousness of those exploiting the Christian faith as justification for immoral behavior must be challenged.
A new, compassionate, accepting, and expansive model must be encouraged. We should not remain silent; those who use a belief structure to persuade must be questioned. Unlike the reporter who asked about Obama’s Christianity, the questions shouldn’t be about espoused religious beliefs; they should challenge assumptions, promote empathy, and renew moral convictions.
Keith works for an Olympia based organization developing adult learning solutions, and he is currently completing his B.A. at the Evergreen State College.