I was thirty years old before I ate my first artichoke. At least knowingly.
Growing up in the 1950s in rural south-central Pennsylvania there were no such strange thing-a-ma-bobs to be had. It wasn’t until I was established in my career and visiting a friend in California that I was introduced to what I still regard as one of the strangest of foods.
I got to thinking about artichokes again a few days ago as I was reading yet another Christian apologist whining that atheists simply do not understand his religion. Atheists, he wrote, draw on the worst of biblical passages, thereby creating a straw man of sorts which they can then attack and demolish with glee.
But that’s not what he and many other Christians believe. Their religion, he says, is more mature and much more sophisticated than that.
How quaint, not to mention misleading.
The facts are that Christianity is totally dependent on just a handful of ideas:
- Original sin: We are all stained with the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and therefore in need of redemption;
- Sacrificial atonement: Because of our burden of original sin, we can neither come to really know nor be accepted by god unless we acknowledge the sacrificial atonement offered to and for us by god through “…his only begotten son…”; and
- The Second Coming: Jesus will return to earth to judge us, for either our deeds or our acceptance of his sacrifice or both, depending on which sect’s interpretation of scripture and tradition one finds oneself relying.
Growing up out of or around these essential premises are a number of other traditional Christian claims:
- The Abrahamic god is the mover and shaker of creation, whether 6,000 or thirteen billion years ago;
- Jesus was born of a virgin;
- Jesus performed miracles;
- Jesus was crucified, expired, and was then resurrected; and finally
- In front of his followers he ascended into heaven.
The above in various forms and combinations flow together in one way or another to form the core tenets of every one of the vast conglomeration of belief systems that is in general referred to as Christianity.
For the past few centuries however science, biblical criticism, history, archaeology, and philosophy have been casting a less than flattering light on these claims. Evolution itself is the ultimate monkey wrench in Christianity’s spokes, for with no historic Adam and Eve in a garden, the whole thesis unravels rather quickly. No Garden, no original sin, no need for a sacrifice to redeem that sin, and so on. All of which explains the eagerness of so many Christian groups to attack Evolution and try to prevent it from being taught in our schools.
And so presto, a new, more “sophisticated” Christianity emerges. Just as one eats an artichoke by peeling away the hard, bitter outer leaves to get at the tender, more desirable innards, the “New Christians” now seek to peel away the undesirable and unsupportable outer surfaces of their god and resulting Christianity to find comfort in a more mellow and digestible core.
- Adam and Eve? "Well no, that’s only metaphor." (No kidding!)
- Leviticus? "Straw man!"
- Virgin birth? "Who knows? Maybe yes, sort of, maybe no, but hey, it really doesn’t matter."
- Miracles? "Define miracle."
- Resurrection? "Absolutely! Probably. You can’t prove it didn’t happen."
What is left as those unsavory outer leaves are stripped away however is at its core not Christianity, in spite of the howls of protest. It may be a form of spiritualism. It may have an amorphous god with a philosopher – teacher Jesus as its anchor. It is however neither Christianity by any historic definition nor as large swaths of dedicated followers believe and practice it today.
One cannot help but wonder just how far the New Christians will peel their artichoke, how much of their formerly inviolate faith they are willing to sacrifice in order to make their god and brand of “the Faith” palatable in an increasingly rational twenty-first century. Then again, as annoying as they are being at present with their new-found sophistication, maybe we should actually encourage them to continue with their symbolic peeling.
After all, once they strip away enough myth, superstition, and related nonsense, invariably they cannot help but to find themselves at the very same place we Atheists have been for a long time.