31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
The greatest scandal of our age,
This review is from: The Dishonest Church (Paperback)
If asked to name the gravest scandal in American society during the last century, most Americans, I suspect, would name the Watergate affair, which brought down a President.
They'd be wrong.
Jack Good is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, retired from decades of preaching in New York and Illinois. In "The Dishonest Church," Good reveals that most of his fellow pastors in the mainstream American churches are systematically preaching from their pulpits teachings which they themselves know to be blatant lies.
Why the systematic lying?
The basic problem, Good explains, is a divergence during the last several centuries between what he calls "academic" Christianity and what he dubs "popular" Christianity. As early as the Renaissance, scholars such as Erasmus began applying the intellectual tools that were being developed in science, history, etc. to better understand, purify, and solidify their Christian faith.
By the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, an increasing number of scholars and intellectuals were coming to realize that Christianity could not actually be historically true. In the nineteenth century, the floodgates opened. From David Strauss's "Life of Jesus" to Albert Schweitzer's "The Quest of the Historical Jesus," scholarly research proved that the Bible was a crazy mish-mash of garbled history, Jewish mythology, and fantasies based on pagan stories of "virgin" births, resurrected savior gods, etc.
By the early twentieth century, F. C. Burkitt, in an introduction to Schweitzer's famous book, could confidently assert as an established fact among educated people, "Every one nowadays is aware that traditional Christian doctrine about Jesus Christ is encompassed with difficulties, and that many of the statements in the Gospels appear incredible in the light of modern views of history and nature."
How can it be that most Americans are ignorant of this?
Good opens his book with a telling anecdote:
"One of my clergy friends boasts of a comment he made in an interview with a pastoral search committee. A somewhat hostile member of the committee demanded to know if this prospective pastor believed in a literal virgin birth. My friend replied that his views on the virgin birth were the same as those of St. Paul. The committee member nodded approvingly, and the discussion went on to other matters."
As Good explains, his friend was counting on the fact that the members of the committee would be ignorant of the fact that nowhere does St. Paul make any reference at all to the virgin birth: scholars assume Paul had no acquaintance whatsoever with the doctrine. Thus, Good's friend, who did not believe in the Virgin Birth, could "honestly" claim to hold the same view as St. Paul!
Good adds, "Clergy tend to see such moments as victories over the benighted folk who occupy church pews."
So, are America's pastors and religious leaders simply pathological liars?
Much of the explanation, Good claims, is simply economic self-interest. He states that "my fellow professionals... are motivated by fear... clergy fear the loss of their jobs... These professionals... are killing the church by their lack of courage."
But Good also titles one of his sections "Pleasure in Power," declaring, "I fear that denominational officials and professional theologians perpetuate the present state of affairs because they have come to enjoy too much their role as sole owners and manipulators of the sacred symbols. Consciously or unconsciously, they leave their church members in a state of semi-darkness because otherwise they would have to share prestige and authority."
Finally, Good concedes that many of his colleagues honestly fear that the adults in their congregations simply lack the maturity to handle the truth and that telling the truth would therefore result in the destruction of Christianity.
The bulk of the book consists of Good's attempts to argue, based on his own experience, that such fears are groundless.
These attempts are unconvincing.
Good has managed to avoid lying to his own congregations, and his churches did not collapse. He concludes that his truthful form of Christianity can survive and even prosper. He argues that there are many "Christians in exile" whose orientation towards life finds "an especially luminous form in Jesus of Nazareth."
His view is short-sighted. There are certainly many Americans who suspect, or know, that the Virgin Birth and Resurrection did not actually occur but who nonetheless wish to be members of a "Christian" church. But is their desire really a result of any personal fascination or adoration for a purely human Jewish carpenter/religious reformer who lived two thousand years ago? Or is it more a matter of familial inertia and social conformity that makes it emotionally difficult for them to make a completely clean break with Christianity?
Good argues that the popular view of Jesus as "an adult equivalent of the child's invisible friend," always there to smooth over the difficulties of life, is untrue to the Gospels. On the contrary, "Jesus never intended to be an answer man. Instead of making human problems go away, he seemed intent on creating a new set of concerns. Through both words and example, he defined the requirements of discipleship... even to the point of joining him in crucifixion."
Yes, and some of us do indeed find this Jesus for grown-ups more inspiring than the Sunday-school Jesus of "Jesus loves me, this I know..."
But why make Jesus the sole or primary center of such inspiration? Why should such concern focus primarily on Jesus rather than on Socrates, Buddha, Tolstoy, the pagan martyr Hypatia (murdered by a brutal Christian mob) or scores of other thoughtful, courageous human beings throughout history?
The appeal of Christianity for rational, educated people who know the truth is simply nostalgia. If everyone comes to know the truth and there are no more "true believers," Christianity will fade away. Good's variety of "progressive" Christianity is simply a temporary rest stop on the road from orthodox Christianity to the final destination of outright atheism.
Good forthrightly declares, "The lying must stop in all Christian congregations." Yes, even if the ultimate result is the end of Christianity.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 22, 2008 12:08:02 PM PDT
B. Plaisted says:
I would guess that you are an athiest, you've missed the point completely. There is a huge chasm between following the fundamental church as we know it, and having a truthful spiritual life. Jesus the man was not an athiest, neither were the other wisdom teachers you speak of. The point of the movements which Jack Good and other contemporary christian authors are a part of is not a quick jump from athiesm, but rather a way of knowing the spirit which each of them knows as a reality in their lives, without the lies and manipulation present in the current church. There is a way of knowing truth and life that has been twisted and marginalized through our rational means, and there is a growing number of people who are unhappy with the churches answer to that problem, but are unwilling to give it up completely.
In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2008 7:30:45 PM PDT
David H Miller says:
BP wrote to me:
>I would guess that you are an athiest, you've missed the point completely.
>The point of the movements which Jack Good and other contemporary christian authors are a part of is not a quick jump from athiesm, but rather a way of knowing the spirit which each of them knows as a reality in their lives, without the lies and manipulation present in the current church.
BP, have you read the book?
In terms of the way that most ordinary Americans use the word "atheist," Rev. Good is more of an atheist than I am. He appears quite certain that no personal God really exists; I merely strongly doubt that one exists. He appears rather certain that there is nothing that literally exists outside of the material world: as a physicist, I have some real doubts about that (see my review of McGinn's "The Mysterious Flame" for an explanation of why I think materialism is false).
Rev. Good does indeed want a place for "spirit" in people's lives, if spirit simply means a sense of wonder and awe at the universe. But neither I nor any other atheistic scientist I know differs with him on that. Indeed, I would argue that it is not possible to truly be a great scientist without such a "spiritual" appreciation of the universe. Einstein, for example, who was an "atheist" in the ordinary sense of the term (although he disliked the word), wrote quite clearly on the need for a "spiritual" sense of awe towards the universe.
Rev. Good and I (and I suppose you) agree on all this, though, as I said, he seems to be a little bit more certain of his atheistic views than I am.
The one point on which I seriously disagree with him is sociological: I do not think that a demythologized Christianity of the sort you and he (and I) would like will in fact continue to attract people into the churches over the long term. Perhaps, I am wrong about that, but the fact is that the "old-time religion" of the evangelical churches has sold a lot better to the general public over the last half century than the more restrained forms of "mainstream" Christianity. I predict that this will continue to be the case.
Time will tell.
You also wrote:
>There is a way of knowing truth and life that has been twisted and marginalized through our rational means...
Well... in all honesty, Rev. Good seems to be as much in favor of "rational means" as I am! And I'm pretty keen on "rational means."
Again, read the book. He is not some airy-fairy New Ager.
Does Good believe that insight into human nature and the human condition can be communicated through myths, stories, metaphors, and parables? Sure, he does. But, so do I, and so does almost everyone. Even Richard Dawkins, usually considered the mad attack dog of atheism (I'm a fan of Dawkins myself), has argued, quite rightly in my judgment, that modern people should become more familiar with the Bible - its historical, literary, and cultural significance is huge.
So, Dawkins and I agree with Good about the importance of myths, stories, etc. We also agree with him that we should all tell the truth and not pretend that these myths and stories are literally true.
And, I take it you agree with us too.
Again, the only significant point of disagreement seems to be whether a demythologized Christianity can or will attract people over the long-term. I doubt that it will, but maybe I'm wrong.
Thanks for your comment: even if we disagree (and I'm not sure we really do), it's nice to know that you read my review seriously enough to bother to write a response and offer your own opinion.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 2, 2008 2:02:03 PM PDT
I enjoyed your original post and thought it clear and honest. I also think that in my own case, having questioned Christianity and researched its history and doctrines over the years, my residual attachment to it is mainly cultural and nostalgic as I no longer find it convincing in a literal, intellectual way. Also, while having sympathy for very liberal, or even "non-realist", Christians seeking some way to remain in the religious culture they are attached to despite agnostic views, I am not convinced that such an approach will stand the test of future centuries as a compelling framework for living one's life if most people start to see it as largely fictitious. Taken that way, while there are some admirable things in the Bible, there is much that is not, and, as you say, there are many other inspiring books and lives. Just because it is "our" mythology, and our best-known book etc, doesn't mean it will go on having the same importance for good. The fact it has been central to western culture for 1,700 years or so is already pretty remarkable.
Posted on Oct 30, 2009 9:58:15 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 30, 2009 10:01:37 AM PDT
Animal Joy says:
The quotations are your words:
"By the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, an increasing number of scholars and intellectuals were coming to realize that Christianity could not actually be historically true. In the nineteenth century, the floodgates opened. From David Strauss's "Life of Jesus" to Albert Schweitzer's "The Quest of the Historical Jesus," scholarly research proved that the Bible was a crazy mish-mash of garbled history, Jewish mythology, and fantasies based on pagan stories of "virgin" births, resurrected savior gods, etc."
I've spent a great deal of time studying the Bible and the historical Jesus efforts and have yet to see any "proof" of what you assert. Perhaps you believe Jesus never lived, another "enlightened" idea. Were people "coming to realize" that Christianity could not be true or were they deciding that they didn't believe it historically true. One cannot know something to be true or untrue without proof. A person who thinks highly of his/her own "rational" mind might find it easy to reject something which is, at first, beyond his ability to comprehend.
"By the early twentieth century, F. C. Burkitt, in an introduction to Schweitzer's famous book, could confidently assert as an established fact among educated people, "Every one nowadays is aware that traditional Christian doctrine about Jesus Christ is encompassed with difficulties, and that many of the statements in the Gospels appear incredible in the light of modern views of history and nature."
Yes, they did and do seem incredible - what was or is new about that? Do you think you're misreading the statement?
"How can it be that most Americans are ignorant of this?"
Do you know that "most Americans are ignorant of this" or anything else? Please document.
In reply to an earlier post on Oct 17, 2011 6:52:49 AM PDT
Steve Sexauer says:
Yes some vague idea / hope of a god and or an afterlife is arguably honest, but a claim of "knowing" specifics, especially those that make judgments about people, is an insult to everyone. It's the equivalent of of saying the rest of you should are insignificant and morally clueless.
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