is Christians, of course.
The general regard in which Christians and Christianity are held in the west has plummeted in recent years. This is less so in other parts of the world, where Christians are observed to do an enormous amount of charitable work and other good. It is certainly true in Europe and North America, however. I believe this has occurred for several reasons.
This has occurred in the States, in part, as a backlash against the increased political activities of Christians. In recent years many Christians have become more politically active and have explicitly tied their politics to their faith. They did this in response to certain ethical issues – abortion in particular. More recently they have been doing so out of fear of losing the freedom to practice and express their beliefs—which have become increasingly out of step newly-dominant currents in the culture. This has had an unintended consequence, however. Those who do not share the same political perspectives have naturally reacted against this. And because Christians have tied their politics to their religion, others who see things differently politically have come to have a very negative opinion of Christians’ religion as well. Ironically, as conservative Christians have acted politically to protect their freedom to express and practice their faith, and have fought for what they believe in, others have reacted against them out of fear of losing their freedom to express and practice what they believe in, and have been fighting for what they believe in.
The (now-not-so) “new atheists,” Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, have also been driving home the historical horrors perpetrated in the name of faith. Many of these attacks are unfair, of course – not providing a balanced historical perspective. (There were often other factors going on at the time in light of which what was done was often more justifiable then these antagonists make it appear.) But still, really, there is far too much in “religious history” than could remotely be justified. For the many now in our culture who have only a remote Christian heritage, and have not grown up with a real practice and knowledge of the faith, these observations have had a large effect.
The third reason regard for Christians and Christianity has plummeted is that the words and actions of many Christians are often considerably less than gracious. This is actually in striking contrast to the words and behavior of Jesus – the person they profess to be following. Many, many people have been profoundly disappointed by the actions and words of Christian organizations and leaders. Of course, people often have unrealistic expectations. The Christian community is composed of people, after all. And people will be people. Christianity does not teach that people are perfected when they become Christians. It is, rather, fundamentally, a message that God accepts us, and is for us, even though we are not what we ought to be. Still, many, many have been very deeply disappointed in the actions and words of Christian organizations and leaders. Worst, Christian organizations and leaders have repeatedly used their faith and organizations as tools to exercise control and power over – to manipulate – people. This is wickedness, and anti-Christ. But it is often this use and abuse of the faith for broadly-political power that people react against.
Writer and peace-seeker Carl Medearis has eschewed identifying himself as a Christian. He says, rather, that he is a follower of Jesus. I see wisdom in this. Do I want to be saddled with justifying all the wickedness done in the name of Christ? Do I want to take on all this baggage? No!
I find Jesus’ actions and teachings—especially his ethical teachings—profoundly moving. (See his “Sermon on the Mount” [Matthew 5-7].) In the end, I think God is our only hope, and I think Jesus presents us with our only plausible hope of reconciliation with God. But I want no part of all the baggage associated with “Christianity.”