Bill McKibben in his essay “The Christian Paradox:How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong” describes some tendencies in the life of American Christians. He makes a quite detailed analysis of the statement that Americans are a Christian nation and presents some very appealing facts and conclusions. This work will be a critical response to his thoughts and ideas.
Short summary of McKibben’s essay
The author begins with presenting facts taken from the life of people attending Christian churches. Although he uses light irony when describing certain ideas and behavior of those who profess to be Christian, he seems sympathetic to the values and ideas of Christianity.
Afterwards, McKibben goes on to explain what, in his opinion, being a Christian means. He says that Christianity implies combining words of faith with charitable deeds. And then he begins to give examples of things done opposite to what Jesus taught. He says that Americans take little care of the US children who live in poor families. And then he adds that the divorce rate in the nation is higher than that in the European Union. McKibben blames Christians for being busy with “deciphering” some Bible passage regarding the “End Times” rather than doing practical things to help the nation whose morale is degrading.
The author criticizes megachurches for preaching the gospel of self-centeredness and personal comfort and not mobilizing people to help the society and its needs. McKibben says that he himself grew up in a church and that his work often overlaps with Christian activities. He believes that American Christians, who are called to make positive changes in the society, are, in many cases, not very different from Europeans in whose life religion is relatively unimportant.
The author says that American Christians tend to be hypocritical, speaking about the love to their neighbors and not practicing it as the Bible teaches. He blames churches for being involves in political life more than in protecting the Judeo-Christian values. McKibben concludes expressing his regrets over the present condition of Christianity. One can read in between the lines that he hopes for good changes to come.
Why I agree with his criticism
While some critics tend to blame Christianity indiscriminately, Bill McKibben gives constructive criticism. He does not only blame and criticizes, he also analyzes some key tendencies. For example, he speaks about Christians being self-centered and then goes on to giving instances and naming books and authors who are known throughout the nation. He shows the essence of some pseudo-Christian values and gives examples of the “light” version of Christianity. Thus, he uncovers self-centered nature of some popular teachings like prosperity and personal success. He says that they are often contradictory to the biblical values. McKibben’s essay is very much targeted at unveiling egotistic tendencies that crawled into Christian churches of America. For those who like to analyze, it is good food for thought.
Some things I do not agree with
The author does not present any ideas in terms of giving practical advice as to possible ways of resolving current problems. His criticism tends to be inclusive of all Christian life in America and it does not take into consideration mainstream Christianity in America. The author seems to concentrate only on megachurches and “big” names forgetting about thousands and thousands of small local Christian communities and millions of average Christians who practice the love to their neighbor through making daily financial contributions to charities, giving practical help as volunteers in various outreaches and providing help for the underprivileged. He also seems be reminiscent of the old days he grew up in and tends to stay in the past not offering any ideas of how Christianity should develop and adapt to rapidly changing life style and, at the same time, retain its principles.
In my opinion, it is a very timely essay on this topic that forces to look for answers to the questions and problems raised there. The author was very successful in uncovering many acute issues that create a bad image of Christianity and Christian principles. The text is easy to read, its style is consistent with the message. The examples presented are very descriptive and up-to-date. This essay is a good stimulus for the reader to switch to practical actions.