Is Andrew Sullivan’s ‘Christianity in Crisis’ Newsweek article any good?

Posted on 09 April 2012

The conclusion is probably not what Christians want to hear.

Christianity is in crisis. Well, at least it is in America.

In the Easter week issue of Newsweek this year, which features a depressing looking white man resembling Jesus in New York, Andrew Sullivan wrote a missive detailing why people ought to leave the Church and focus on their faith.

Without the religious funambulism.

He is, essentially saying, that Christianity in its present form is utterly and hopelessly detached from what Jesus originally stood for.

How? Well…

Politicised faith

Currently, Christianity is hijacked by politicians.

The Republican base in America is made up of evangelical Protestants who believe that religion must consume and influence every aspect of public life.

To score cheap political points, President Obama even appeared at the National Prayer Breakfast, invoking Jesus to defend his plan for universal health care.

The term “secularism”, which once meant “belief in separating the spheres of faith and politics”, however, is now made to mean “atheism”.

How sad. Such is the seismic shift.

Religious hierarchy on the decline

Moreover, religious organisations are on the decline.

About four decades ago, the decline was precipitated by the pope’s decree on contraception.

The Catholic Church’s hierarchy lost much of its authority over the American flock with the unilateral prohibition of the pill in 1968 by Pope Paul VI.

Worse, the same hierarchy, in recent years, was exposed as enabling, and then covering up, an international conspiracy to abuse and rape countless youths and children. (These are Sullivan’s precise words.)

Besides, the mainline Protestant churches, which long promoted religious moderation, have rapidly declined in the past 50 years.

This is due to them embracing a gospel of prosperity, which teaches that living a Christian life will make you successful and rich. (Again, these are Sullivan’s exact words.)

Others defend a rigid biblical literalism, that tries to brush aside the scholarly research detailing the canonised Gospels as having been written decades after Jesus’ ministry, and are copies of copies of stories told by those with fallible memory.

The upside though? The thirst for God is still there. That’s why polls show a huge majority of Americans still believing in a Higher Power.

Christianity still holds water.

Unfortunately, the organisations don’t.

Ascetic self-denial for present-day Christians? Seriously?

But this is also where Sullivan gets a bit kooky. Too kooky, probably.

He asserts that ascetic self-denial can be liberating. It is in line with what Jesus himself stood for.

Sullivan writes: “To reduce one’s life to essentials, to ask merely for daily bread, forgiveness of others, and denial of self is, in many ways, a form of madness. It is also a form of liberation.”

And Jesus was into self-denial. He was celibate. He disowned his parents in public as a teen, and told his followers to abandon theirs if they wanted to follow him.

“This Christianity comes not from the head or the gut, but from the soul. It is as meek as it is quietly liberating. It does not seize the moment; it lets it be. It doesn’t seek worldly recognition, or success, and it flees from power and wealth. It is the religion of unachievement. And it is not afraid.”

(Once again, Sullivan’s exact words.)

All of this has to be read in light of his scene setting introduction, where Sullivan talks about America’s founding father, Thomas Jefferson, and his attempt to cut out parts of the Bible that reflected what Jesus said, without embellishments.

Thomas Jefferson's Bible, punctuated with holes, after he cut out what he thought truly reflected what Jesus said. Everything else left behind, is minor chit chat.

Fact: America’s founding father, Thomas Jefferson, started cutting out passages of the Bible’s New Testament that he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth when he was 77 years old.

He moved those text into a stand-alone compilation.

And that was in the 18th century.

The remnants of that holy book, which is basically the majority of it, is on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Jefferson described the difference between the real Jesus teachings that he cut out and the evangelists’ embellishments that are left behind as “diamonds” in a “dunghill,” which in effect means that he was calling vast parts of the Bible religious manure. (Sullivan’s exact words again.)

And this is the most important point of all: What Sullivan is saying is that when Christianity can be stripped to its bare bones components, it wouldn’t reflect Christianity as people know it today.

If only people were to just follow what Jesus taught, things might be different…

Sullivan’s conclusion: “[Jefferson] believed that stripped of the doctrines of the Incarnation, Resurrection, and the various miracles, the message of Jesus was the deepest miracle. And that it was radically simple. It was explained in stories, parables, and metaphors—not theological doctrines of immense complexity. It was proven by his willingness to submit himself to an unjustified execution.”

This is a 60-second reduction of the original article published here. You are advised to read the entire Newsweek article for its full thesis.

This post was written by:

- who has written 914 posts on New Nation.

Wang Pei can be considered a new citizen of Singapore. She has been here all her life, just that her environment's changed beyond recognition.

Contact the author

  • Heyoka

    …certain people teach false doctrines, devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.  The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.  They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

  • believer

    Sullivan’s conclusion shows that he is an unbeliever who really doesn’t understand – that if the miracle of the resurrection did not occur; then Christianity is just a powerless, empty philosophical teaching of a mad man who claimed to be the Son of God who had no power to grant any of the promises He made, namely eternal life.