In the first article of this series, I suggested that the Western world is moving away from being a guilt-innocence to a pain-pleasure culture. This article explores the ways that guilt-innocence and pain-pleasure worldviews attack Christianity in different ways.
The Double Assault Of Culture
In 2018, God’s people in Australia are facing a double assault. We are being attacked in two different ways for our faith in Jesus Christ. We are being attacked from the eroding guilt-innocence paradigm and the emerging pain-pleasure paradigm.
In 2018, God’s people in Australia are facing a double assault. We are being attacked from the eroding guilt-innocence paradigm and the emerging pain-pleasure paradigm.
The first way we are being attacked relates to guilt and innocence, right and wrong. It’s an attack on the reasonableness of Christianity―an attack on our minds. This is the attack that we are used to. It’s Richard Dawkins telling the world that Christians are fools and our beliefs make no sense. It’s an attack on our rationality, and we rightly respond by defending our faith. This is the world of apologetics and reasoned argument. It’s the attack you will face in the science faculty of a university.
The second way we are being attacked relates to the pain-pleasure paradigm. This is not a reasoned attack from a guilt-innocence worldview that says, “Christianity makes no sense.” It’s an emotional attack from a pain-pleasure worldview that says, “Christianity hurts you.” This is the attack that says, “Christianity is oppressive, it abuses people and messes your life up.” It’s the attack you will face in the arts faculty of a university. This attack is summed up by the title of Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale
But actually, it’s not Hitchens’ book that should worry us. What should worry us is Game of Thrones. I don’t know if you watch Game of Thrones. I wouldn’t advise it, I’m not a fan myself. But an awful lot of people in Australia are watching the TV series. The best way to describe it is: a cross between The Lord of the Rings and soft porn. It’s a great example of the way that our culture is attacking Christianity. Of course, Game of Thrones doesn’t mention Jesus anywhere but it does have a very unpleasant character called the High Sparrow. The High Sparrow is dressed like a monk, surrounded by women dressed like nuns. He leads a religious order that supposedly cares for the poor. Christianity is never mentioned but the High Sparrow is unquestionably an assault on Christian faith. He is a revolting hypocrite, coercive and abusive. He delights to manipulate power using religious language, and he loves to humiliate women―epitomised by Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame.
Without ever mentioning Christianity, Game of Thrones paints a horrific picture of institutional religion. People all over Australia are watching it.
Without ever mentioning Christianity, Game of Thrones paints a horrific picture of institutional religion. Its message is clear: Religion hurts people. It destroys relationships. It abuses women. It’s coercive and oppressive. People all over Australia are watching it. If you’ve got teenage kids and don’t supervise their use of the internet, they are watching Game of Thrones, and they are certainly talking about it at school.
Or, if Game of Thrones isn’t your thing, think of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s Tale is a mini-series currently showing on SBS, based on a book by Margaret Atwood. At some time in the future, there is a terrible civil war in the United States―society breaks down. After the dust settles, fundamentalist Christians take over government. Because the population is shrinking and the birth rate is plummeting, women become possessions of men―baby factories―to be abused and humiliated. It’s a show that paints a particular portrait of Christianity: a religion that abuses power, hates women, endorses sexual violence, and manipulates people.
Christianity: Simply Wrong Or Actually Harmful?
Ordinary Australians are living in a culture where their TV sets are bombarding them with a distorted, horrific picture of Christianity. Imagine “Mr and Mrs Normal Australian” sitting in their living room. They watch an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, then they turn on the news and see the latest report from the Royal Commission. How likely do you think they will be to opt their kids into Special Religious Education at school?
This means that many of our neighbours, colleagues at work and non-Christian family members have a distorted view of Christianity combined with almost no knowledge of Jesus. Our Anglo-Aussie friends know nothing about Jesus but in their eyes, Christianity has been completely discredited. The church is viewed as a force for harm. We are no longer a good or neutral thing―we are a bad thing. Think about how socially conservative Christians were portrayed during the same-sex marriage postal vote: as haters and bigots. The message was not “You’re wrong.” It was “You’re oppressing us, you’re hurting us.”
Next time we will explore ways in which the church has been seduced by the pain-pleasure worldview.