Where Christianity Ends [mention of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner] by Ross Douthat, NYT Columnist, author of Bad Religion (6/17/2015)

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    Jul 12, 2015 8:10 AM GMT
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    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/17/where-christianity-ends/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=Opinion&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs®ion=Body

    Ross Douthat

    At what point in the process we should stop talking about American faith in terms of Christian heresy (my preferred terminology) and start talking about a new religion altogether?

    Douthat's Interlocutor (a person who takes part in a dialogue or conversation), Damon Linker

    You and other would-be “orthodox” Christians are trying to impose a level of coherence, consistency and theological stability on Christianity that the faith’s history does not really support.

    Point #1
    Notwithstanding (in spite of) the best efforts of popes, theologians and ecumenical councils, Christian belief has proven the most protean of ideas, flourishing in all sorts of forms and contexts and cultures and constantly revising itself — institutionally, morally, theologically — as necessary to meet its new adherents’ needs.

    Point #2
    The subversive message of the gospels has a logic all its own, pointing inexorably toward a radical egalitarianism and individualism that no hierarchy, even one that’s trying to uphold the New Testament’s own moral prohibitions, can successfully resist.

    “What if the ‘Americanization of Christianity’ is no less legitimate — no less a plausible transformation of the gospel message — than the Romanization of Christianity that took place in the centuries immediately following Christ’s death, establishing the Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical authority in the first place?”


    Ross Douthat

    It depends on what you mean by “legitimate.”

    If you mean faithful to what we know about what Jesus taught and did and what his earliest followers believed, then obviously I think the answer is no:

    Whatever corruptions came in when the church went Roman, post-Constantinian Christianity (its creeds, its canon, its structure, its basic moral orientation) offered a far more compelling, coherent, sophisticated attempt at a holistic reading of the Jesus story

    than do Christianity’s latter-day Americanizers, from Emerson to Peale to Oprah and Osteen.


    It is not simply that purveyors of contemporary Christian-ish spirituality are failing to respect the authority of the pope or the Bible or the Council of Nicaea, it’s that their re-interpretation of Christianity is:

    1) intellectually weaker
    2) more historically unlikely, and
    3) more partial and selective

    than more traditional alternatives.

    If you assume Christianity is the key religious revelation in human history, the orthodox interpretation is simply more likely to be the true one than the Americanized version that’s spent the last few hundred years coming into being.
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    Jul 12, 2015 8:12 AM GMT
    Ross Douthat joined The New York Times as an Op-Ed columnist in April 2009. Previously, he was a senior editor at the Atlantic and a blogger for theatlantic.com. He is the author of "Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class" (Hyperion, 2005) and the co-author, with Reihan Salam, of "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" ( Doubleday, 2008 ). He is the film critic for National Review.
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    Jul 12, 2015 8:14 AM GMT
    StephenOABC saidRoss Douthat joined The New York Times as an Op-Ed columnist in April 2009. Previously, he was a senior editor at the Atlantic and a blogger for theatlantic.com. He is the author of "Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class" (Hyperion, 2005) and the co-author, with Reihan Salam, of "Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream" ( Doubleday, 2008 ). He is the film critic for National Review.


    His book Bad Religion was first published in 2012.
  • HottJoe

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    Jul 12, 2015 3:02 PM GMT
    Jesus was a liberal hippie. Evangelists and scholars who line their pockets and/or cast judgments on others, or those who are wealthy when most of the world is dirt poor, would go to hell, based on Jesus's teachings.
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    Jul 12, 2015 6:30 PM GMT
    Ross Douthat

    Americanized Christianity can be described as a “legitimate” form of the faith when:

    1) it is directly inspired by Christ’s words and deeds

    2) it does him homage in varying ways and with some degree of fervor

    3) it is organized around moral and theological premises

    This is when the overall American religious tendency clearly belongs to the same religious family of small-"o" orthodoxy.

    Second, this is where I agree with Linker: Heresy is part of Christianity, integral to its history and development, and the proliferation of heresies across the centuries is intimately connected to Christianity’s overall genius and resilience (and should be appreciated as such, in certain contexts at least, by the self-consciously orthodox).

    It is a mistake, both theologically and personally, to read individuals and cultures out of the Christian family prematurely, just because you think they’re moving in deed or word away from essential elements of the faith.


    This is true when we’re debating the faith of President Obama or Bruce/ Caitlyn Jenner.

    It is true of anyone who publicly identifies with Christian faith.


    This is the whole point of talking about “orthodoxy” and “heresy” — it frees you to acknowledge just how permeated by Christian ideas and influences even a culture trending away from the faith can still remain.
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    Jul 12, 2015 9:55 PM GMT
    Ross Douthat

    A big-tent view of what counts as Christianity can be taken, as I try to do, while still recognizing that some worldviews, some people, can be Christian-influenced while ultimately deserving a very different label.

    Consider Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and Nathan Verhelst.

    The first discusses Jenner’s own religious faith, and it’s written by a youth leader at the church Jenner attended.

    She [then Bruce] was there at church almost every Sunday, sitting in the front row and singing along to every song if she could. She would chat with me before services. I eventually left that church. Caitlyn was there my final Sunday and gave me a big hug wishing me well.

    News came out a few months later that Caitlyn would no longer identify herself as Bruce Jenner.

    My [Facebook?] newsfeed is flooded by both enormous support and enormous disappointment. Most of my friends who don’t know Jesus were in support of Caitlyn, proclaiming their acceptance and love for her. Those who did know Jesus were mostly either silent or derogatory. Today, I can’t help but think how backward that is.

    Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a Facebook timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news.

    And, Caitlyn has taught me more about Jesus. Caitlyn taught me to be bold. Jesus was bold enough to overturn tables at his father’s temple, he was bold enough to stand up to the religious leaders of his day and let them know they had it backwards.

    In the Bible, we see the oppressed overcome the oppressor and the meek become strong. That is the core of the Jesus I know.

    Jesus came to eat with the people no one would be seen with, to turn the tax collector into an honest man. He came to transform the world. Jesus wasn’t one to turn away from those the world had labeled broken. He was the one who would walk toward them with open arms.


    Now, I could write you an essay on how this view of Jesus is true but partial, sincere but incomplete, more faithful to American ideas about the self than to the words in the New Testament … but my point here is that it is recognizably Christian in some of the senses I described above, and that even if I think it represents a version of the American heresy in action I also feel the author and I still share some important assumptions about God, morality and human flourishing that could enable us to argue in good faith.

    Contrast it, then, with what happened to Nathan Verhelst (source: The New Yorker).

    In Belgium and in the Netherlands, where patients can be euthanized even if they do not have a terminal illness, the laws seem to have permeated the medical establishment more deeply than elsewhere, perhaps because of the central role granted to doctors: in the majority of cases, it is the doctor, not the patient, who commits the final act.

    In the past five years, the number of euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths in the Netherlands has doubled, and in Belgium it has increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent.

    Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people have also been euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression.

    In 2013, Wim Distelmans euthanized a forty-four-year-old transgender man, Nathan Verhelst, because Verhelst was devastated by the failure of his sex-change surgeries; he said that he felt like a monster when he looked in the mirror.


    Now: Could you argue that what’s happening in Belgium is on a continuum with what’s happening in America, that the apotheosis (the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax) of Caitlyn Jenner and the death of Nathan Verhelst are both manifestations of expressive individualism in action?

    Yes.

    Could you trace, with Linker and Tocqueville and others, the roots of both forms of individualism in certain Christian ideas, certain (selectively-chosen) gospel admonitions?

    Yes again.

    Could you argue that there’s a clear cultural slope that could take Americans, too, from celebrating the man who transitions to womanhood to permitting his medically-administered quietus (medically-assisted suicide) in the event that the transition doesn’t work out?

    One certainly could.

    But the two stories still represent very different points on the continuum, two very different places on the path away from orthodox Christendom.

    I look at the celebrations of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and see, with Bloom and Wilkinson, a gnostic-influenced Christian heresy.

    I look at the death of Nathan Verhelst and see Belgian Christianity’s eclipse, disappearance, defeat.

    I look at the United States, sexually permissive but still deeply conflicted on abortion and moving only slowly toward limited forms of physician-assisted suicide, and see a nation that’s Americanized its Christian inheritance but hasn’t yet jettisoned it.

    I look at the Belgium, or at least the Belgian medical and media culture, portrayed in the New Yorker and see a social reality to which the term “Christian” no longer meaningfully applies.

    Again, where precisely the break happens I can’t claim to know. But in Belgium it seems to have happened; here, not yet. Not yet.
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    Jul 12, 2015 10:06 PM GMT
    "I look at the celebrations of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and see (with Bloom and Wilkinson) a gnostic-influenced Christian heresy."


    How so?
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    Jul 12, 2015 10:15 PM GMT
    Jim in Wisconsin June 18, 2015

    Yes, the Americanization of Christianity diverges from orthodoxy. Divergence from orthodoxy is in fact the definition of heresy. Douthat raises an interesting question regarding the extent of divergence required before heresy manifests, along with speculations regarding the societal effects of heresy when it becomes widespread.

    It's a sad fact that intellectualizing about Christianity without its condemnation is beyond the ability of too many these days.
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    Jul 13, 2015 6:02 AM GMT
    StephenOABC said"I look at the celebrations of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner and see (with Bloom and Wilkinson) a gnostic-influenced Christian heresy."


    How so?



    Because Bruce trumped the demiurge by having medicine serve his higher self.


    In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge is an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe.

    The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics.

    Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not necessarily the same as the creator figure in the familiar monotheistic sense, because both the demiurge itself plus the material from which the demiurge fashions the universe are considered either uncreated and eternal, or the product of some other being, depending on the system.

    The word "demiurge" is an English word from a Latinized form of the Greek δημιουργός, dēmiourgos, literally "public worker", and which was originally a common noun meaning "craftsman" or "artisan", but gradually it came to mean "producer" and eventually "creator". The philosophical usage and the proper noun derive from Plato's Timaeus, written c. 360 BC, in which the demiurge is presented as the creator of the universe. This is accordingly the definition of the demiurge in the Platonic (c. 310–90 BC) and Middle Platonic (c. 90 BC – 300 AD) philosophical traditions. In the various branches of the Neoplatonic school (third century onwards), the demiurge is the fashioner of the real, perceptible world after the model of the Ideas, but (in most Neoplatonic systems) is still not itself "the One". In the arch-dualist ideology of the various Gnostic systems, the material universe is evil, while the non-material world is good. Accordingly, the demiurge is malevolent, as linked to the material world.

    # # #

    Jesus showing up in Gnostic literature gives him a greater educational background than conventional Christianity does: Jesus would not only have been reading Isaiah, Zechariah, the Psalms, and the Torah but Platonic literature as well.
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    Jul 15, 2015 1:20 AM GMT
    Ross Douthat

    At what point in the process we should stop talking about American faith in terms of Christian heresy (my preferred terminology) and start talking about a new religion altogether?

    Stephenoabc

    Christianity is a calamity of Temple Judaism. See the youtube video presentation: 2 hours 45 minutes. Youtube search WBFbySteefen and see the latest upload. Login to youtube and you can pick up where you left off for those who cannot watch the presentation in one sitting.