Sunday, May 13, 2012

What Christianity Means To Young Americans Today

This is not Europe gone mad; this is not aberration nor insanity; this is Europe; this seeming Terrible is the real soul of White culture.

-- W.E.B. Du Bois

The above quote comes from Du Bois' 1920 work Darkwater. Anyone who has read Du Bois' more famous work, The Souls of Black Folk, would recognize a distinct shift in tone. n Souls, Du Bois was always very careful to not register condemnations of Whites or White society as a whole. Racism was a problem of a few bad, backwards persons; most people of goodwill were earnestly trying to achieve justice. Twenty years of failure later, and Du Bois was writing this instead -- in his experience and for what he had seen, the true face of White culture was lynchings, Jim Crow, colonialism, and oppression. The chapter, appropriately enough, was titled The Souls of White Folk

Whether Du Bois is being fair or not, the point is that from the outside looking in this is what Whiteness meant to someone like Du Bois. Its defining characteristic was as a tool of oppression. And I thought of that when I read this post detailing what young Americans think when they think about Christianity today:
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers. (The next most common negative images? : “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” and “too involved in politics.”)

Is this all that Christianity is? No. But in politics, in the public sphere, it is this issue that seems to animate self-declared "Christian" political action. It defines Christianity in the eyes of the public. To assert oneself to be "a Christian" is to identify oneself with the foremost social movement backing up the oppression of gays and lesbians in America today, through unequal laws, through bullying and harassment, through constant degradation. That's true even of the many Christians who really don't care about the issue, not to mention the many Christians for whom Christianity ought actually be about promoting the equal human dignity and human rights of all.

I'm not a Christian, so I can't tell Christians what their faith is or isn't, or does or doesn't require. All I can say is that when I hear a candidate for political office loudly assert he is a Christian, I wince. Not because I think there is anything inherently wrong with being a Christian, or any religious outlook, but because the social meaning of asserting oneself to be Christian in the American political context has become almost completely absorbed by "anti-gay".

That's what it means. And if the Christian faith wants to retain any purchase on the people of my generation (and maybe it doesn't), it is an issue they're going to have to deal with. Because I find this very sad, and very tragic.

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