Why are Young People Rejecting Religion? Part 1 – Seven Deadly Myths about Christianity
Why are Young People Rejecting Religion? Part 1 – Seven Deadly Myths about Christianity
A Response to Nikki Gemmell’s ‘Losing their Religion’ article in the Australian Magazine (5-6th November).
(Part 2 is here)
Prejudice is harmful. Lies destroy. Ignorance demonises. Most normal people will recognise how true that is. When people making sweeping judgements such as ‘Jews are greedy bankers, gays are paedophiles, Muslims are terrorists’, they not only reflect their own prejudices but do harm to other human beings.
I would hope that before condemning others as prejudiced, ignorant liars, we would look at our own hearts. Sometimes we need to take the beam out of our eye, before we take the speck out of others.
Whilst in our society some prejudices are considered so serious as to be named ‘phobias’, it appears that others are deemed to be respectable. I was reminded of this in reading an astonishing article by Nikki Gemmel in the Australian Magazine, entitled ‘Losing their Religion”. It’s been a long time since I have read such an unjust article – designed to stir up prejudice and it’s offspring, hatred. Almost every sentence contains a myth or misunderstanding – and the whole article drips with malicious meanness.
The article is a caricature of Christianity. It demonstrates Nikki’s schadenfreude, in her belief that young people in Australia are out to get Christianity; a Christianity which she equates with young women in Iran taking on the Mullahs.
I have no problem with Christianity being subject to scrutiny and legitimate criticism. After all, as followers of the truth why should we be afraid of any truth? But the trouble with Nikki’s article, is not that it contains no grain of truth, but that, like many caricatures, it distorts that truth so that a completely false picture is presented.
I note in passing that The Australian, a paper I love and subscribe too, even as a ‘conservative’ newspaper, regularly has columnists and news articles which attack biblical Christianity. Again, as an advocate of free speech and open discussion, I have no problem with that – as long as alternative points of view are expressed and rights of reply allowed, especially when whole groups of people are accused and demonised. I have asked the Australian to allow a right of reply to this article. So far, no reply. We shall see how open minded they are!
I write this response – not in anger, nor in surprise – all my public life I have been used to journalists not understanding what Christianity is. But I write in sorrow because of the ignorance displayed, and the hatred that pours through the whole article. I also have a deep sorrow because it is prejudices like these that prevent people even considering Christ – the one person they really need! And I also write in hope – because Nikki has not made this stuff up. She is just reflecting the prejudices of much of our culture and so she has given me an opportunity to deal with some of those.
I appeal to those of you who are not Christians to listen to the other side of the story. When I want to learn about Islam, I read Muslim writers. When I want to learn about atheism I read the best of the atheist writers – and Richard Dawkins! I hope that no one will take their opinions or definitions of Christianity from articles such as Nikki’s. Why not listen to what Christians actually say? Why not listen to us, rather than talk about us? Is that not a fair request?
Some of you who are Christian will get overwhelmed by the tsunami of ridicule, misrepresentation and abuse that an article like this unleashes. But don’t despair. Be patient. And use the opportunity to inform, educate and enlighten. It’s in the darkness that the light shines.
I have reduced Nikki’s main points to seven myths about Christianity, and seven misunderstandings about Australian (and most Western) society today. I won’t answer each one fully – but you will get the gist. Feel free to comment and ask for more! This first article will deal with the myths about Christianity. Part two will deal with the misunderstandings about society.
Seven Deadly Myths about Christianity
- Modern Christianity operates by terrifying children with the image of Hell – Nikki cites Christopher Hitchens as posing this as ‘quite the question’ on modern religion. All of which goes to show just how little she knows about modern religion! I cannot recall the last time I was in a Sunday school where children were taught explicitly about Hell. Come to think of it I rarely hear the subject mentioned in main services. This is not to say that we don’t believe in Hell. As Christians we are followers of Christ, who taught more about Hell than anyone else in the Bible. But most of us would follow McCheyne’s dictum ‘don’t preach Hell unless you can do so with tears”. And we certainly don’t use Hell as a means to terrify children. We believe more flies are caught by honey than vinegar.
But there is a deep irony here. Whilst Christians tend not to use fear to terrify or even nudge into particular beliefs and behaviour – our society does! Only yesterday I read an article on the BBC on why it was good for children to be terrified about climate change and the prospect of the world ending – because it would make them behave better and act! Most Western governments have now adopted nudge theory as their modus operandi – employing psychologists and sociologists to work out how to ‘nudge’ people towards the behaviour they want. “Project Fear’ is far more likely to be used by secular authorities and media, than it is the Church. “Wear a mask or you will kill your Granny”; “Accept Trans ideology or you will cause teenagers to commit suicide” etc. In its own way Nikki’s article is using the same methodology – it is designed to make people fear those Christians who actually believe the Bible. Prejudice leads to fear, which in turn leads to demonisation and discrimination.
- 2) Christians consider women an inferior creation. To prove this charge of sexism Nikki cites ex-Pentecostal Louise Omer who asks – ‘why was independent female power incompatible with Christianity? Why was my beloved God male? Why was Eve responsible for the fall of man? “. The answers to those questions are not difficult – not least because in a Christian sense they don’t make sense. They are accusations about something Christianity does not teach, rather than questions about something it does.
Independent female power is incompatible with Christianity! So is independent male power! Christianity is not about human power. It is about our weakness and how the all-powerful God helps the weakest to be dependent on his love, compassion and grace. In Christian terms the question/accusation doesn’t even make sense. The contemporary world is a world of power and oppression; independence and self-absorption; the strong ruling over the weak. The Christian view is a world where all of us are weak and in need of Christ.
It’s ironic that Nikki cites a Pentecostal, because the Pentecostals tended to be the earliest in having women preachers and leaders in Australia. But this particular Pentecostal woman does not seem to have been biblically well taught. Male and female are fundamental characteristics of human beings – not God. God did not make man in his image and then add on women as a lesser being. Genesis one makes it absolutely clear that men and women are equally made in the image of God. The outworking of that through Christ and the Church is the basis of what is good in the modern feminist movement. Without Christianity women’s equality would not exist.
And Eve was not responsible for the Fall of Man. The Bible tells us that it is in Adam that we all fell. (Romans 5:12) Of course Eve was part of it. But she can’t take the fall for The Fall.
Again, you will note a real irony here. It is not the Church that is having difficulty with the role of women – it’s much of modern society. As we move away from our Christian roots we are reverting to the view of women as second-class citizens that dominated in Greco/Roman/Pagan society. Why – we even have politicians, medical officials and journalists in modern Australia who cannot even tell us what a woman is! Women are more likely to be abused, sidelined and despised in today’s post-Christian society. Some feminists such as Louise Perry are beginning to grasp this. Read her “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution”.
As for the teaching about wives submitting to their husbands, I simply repeat my mantra about quoting the bible – “a text without a context, is just a pretext for whatever you want it to be”. In this case a text within a passage (Ephesians 5) which urges men and women to submit to one another, and offers basic principles on the relationship between husband and wife (including the extravagant demand that husbands are to love their own wives as they love their own bodies, and as Christ loved the Church), is used to accuse the church of sexism.
- 3) The Church Preaches Homophobia – There are up to three billion people in the world who profess to be Christian – and doubtless there are some who are homophobic. But just as it is unfair to extrapolate from the fact that some Muslims are terrorists, to therefore state that all Muslims are terrorists, so it is unfair to make the exception the rule as regards Christians. Apart from such extreme sects as Westboro Baptists, I know of few churches which actually preach homophobia. In fact, we would preach the opposite. Rather than live in fear of those who have a homosexual orientation, we are commanded to love them. Christians are to live without fear of man (or woman!) – that is our great strength – we are not in bondage to the cultural elites of the day, or those who seek to manipulate us by fear. The only one we fear is God – for there is the beginning of wisdom.
But I suspect that the problem here is that Nikki’s definition of ‘homophobia’ is so broad that it includes anyone who is not willing to affirm her sexual philosophy. It should not come as too much of a surprise that Christians follow the teaching of Christ – who taught that marriage was between a man and a woman, and that sex should be kept for such marriage.
The bottom line is that the church does not preach homophobia – it preaches Christ and his love for all. Part of that love is to teach his teaching about sex, sexuality and marriage.
- 4) The Church Opposes ‘Reproductive Health Care’ – i.e., Abortion – In one sense this is not a myth but in the sense that Nikki uses it it is. Because Nikki regards abortion as so self-evidently morally right, that anyone who opposes it is not fit to be in modern civilised society. Her ideology tells her, like the old Greco/Roman/Pagans that it is ok to get rid of unwanted babies by killing them. The Church goes the opposite route. We want to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable in society. We speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. And for that we are condemned?!
(I dealt with both homosexuality and abortion in this response to another Australian journalist – Mike Carlton).
- 5) The Church doesn’t follow Jesus – Nikki plays the Jesus card. For her it is an easy card to play because it is a blank upon which she draws her own personal Jesus – largely disconnected from the Jesus of the Bible. She talks of his “voluptuous enveloping of others”. But this is the Jesus who told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more. The Jesus who warned that those he did not know would end up in Hell forever. The Jesus who called the Pharisees ‘whitewashed tombs – twice dead”. The Jesus who took a whip and drove the money changers out of the temple. I’m not quite sure how this fits ‘the voluptuous enveloping of others’?.
What Nikki has done is follow the self-absorbed narcissism of our culture. Like Donald Trump and many others, she just invents a Jesus in her own cultural image – one who amazingly happens to share all our opinions and prejudices. We would never conceive of him as Lord – we just want him as our tame mantelpiece idol.
Of course, Jesus is welcoming. But he doesn’t welcome us by saying ‘come as you are, you are just fine, you be you….”. He welcomes all by telling us to come and be changed into his image – to become a new creation – to repent. The change he requires is so radical that he calls it a new birth!
There are however two ways in which Nikki is partially right. The real Church doesn’t follow her version of Jesus – if it did it wouldn’t be the church. And sometimes some institutions which call themselves churches don’t follow the Jesus of the Bible – they are Christians without Christ – what Jesus himself calls a ‘synagogue of Satan’!
- 6) The Church is Intolerant – In the modern world words have come to mean the precise opposite of what they used to mean. ‘Diversity’ means that everyone has to think the same. “Equality’ means that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. And ‘tolerance’ means we will not tolerate you if you dare to have a different point of view. Nikki uses the example of Andrew Thorburn and the Essendon affair as her example of intolerance and erecting walls to keep people out. https://theweeflea.com/2022/10/05/hypocrisy-and-hate-in-anti-christian-victoria-ap/
She is right but not in the way she thinks. Andrew Thorburn and the City on a Hill Church were not the ones shutting people out. Indeed, they have a reputation for being open and welcoming to all. But they were the ones shut out, demonised and abused. The civic elites in our culture today are determined to build walls to shut out those who do not agree with every one of their doctrines. If you are a Christian who goes to a church which teaches the biblical view of marriage, then you are not fit to even be a chairman of a footie club. Tell me – just who is erecting the walls? The Gospel breaks down the walls of division and intolerance. Nikki’s article is doing its best to build them up.
- 7) The Church is not loving and compassionate – Of course this is true. If you mean that we are not as loving and compassionate as we could be. We have a great way to go. But again, this is down to the use of words. What does Nikki mean by ‘love’?
If you ever want to see real hatred, go to a rally where ‘love is love’ is used as a weapon! You will never experience so much hatred – in the name of love. Contemporary society likes the sound of the word ‘love’ but does not know what it means, and finds it impossible to distinguish between love, like and lust.
The Church has a definition and standard of love – which is way beyond anything that the world can give. Read 1 Corinthians 13. Not only are we told to love God with all our heart, but we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are even to love our enemies – a command so radical that the same Christopher Hitchens cited at the beginning of the article stated that the reason he thought Christianity was immoral was because of this command!
A young man who was once as fundamentally opposed to the Church as this article, confessed to me when I was a minister in Scotland. “I hate everything you teach, but I want everything you’ve got. It’s strange – we talk about diversity, love and inclusion, but you (the church) have it”.
If you are not a Christian, I would suggest simply that you go along to a Church which teaches and practices the Bible, and I suspect you will be genuinely surprised. I know that I was bitterly anti-Christian (with many of the same arguments that Nikki uses) but it was the experience of seeing real Christians which changed my perspective entirely. Jesus himself said that we would know who his disciples were, and indeed who he is, by observing the love that his followers have for one another. (John 13:35)
Nikki’s caricature of the Church and of Christian teaching is, as we have shown, demonstrably false. But it’s not just that she doesn’t get either the Bible or the Church – her article shows she doesn’t really understand the context of our culture. Tomorrow we will look at her seven misunderstandings about society.
Meanwhile if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]
Excellent, thanks for addressing this so well. Yes, such a frustrating article. My husband wrote a brief letter, suggesting she visit City on a Hill. Hopefully you’ll receive a response.
David, I’m not quite sure what we are to understand from your article here. You say that Nikki’s article is entitled ‘Losing THEIR religion’ (my emphasis) yet you seem to be arguing against Nikki’s ‘view’ rather than THEIR ‘views’. Since the original article is behind a paywall I can’t check whether your critique is fair. Please help.
“We must be willing to ADMIT that IF the doctrine of the Trinity were to be dropped as false, the majority of religious literature will be UNCHANGED.” Fr K. Rahner SJ, former advisor to Vatican II.
In the sensate there is NEITHER God nor SOUL.
So what happened to prophetic dreams, visions, inner locutions, and sundry religious experience- private revelation?
How many really know about the various apparitions of the Blessed Virgin?
[There are in excess of 40,000,000 pilgrims to Medjugorje…]