Christianity vs. the Forces of Darkness

This letter from a father to his son, which the recipient shared online, has been getting a lot of attention:

I was struck by the language used on the blog Unreasonable Faith, which shared the letter and offered some reflections on it. The author suggested that this is a Christian mindset that says “It’s a battle between Christianity and the forces of darkness, and some sacrifices have to be made.”

My response is to suggest that some Christians are gung-ho about the notion of being in a battle against the forces of darkness. And what they do is take their own personal enemies and assume that the appropriate thing to do is to wage holy war against them in Jesus’ name.

Any authentic Christianity, one that is in keeping with Jesus’ own teaching about introspection, taking the splinter out of our own eye, loving our enemies, and so on, cannot do that.

Authentic Christianity is about realizing that you are and may at any point end up being the forces of darkness. You yourself are the one with the penchant to condemn others but not yourself, to allow justified indignation to turn into hatred, to demonize your enemies in a way that turns you into a demon yourself.

James’ father may think he is fighting a battle for Jesus. But in fact, he himself has become a warrior of the forces of darkness, fighting against love, against family, against compassion, against all that is good.

Any so-called Christianity that fails to have at its central point the cross, with its message that victory is achieved not by defeating enemies, but somehow through allowing oneself to be defeated by them, and loving and forgiving them in the midst of it all, is not Christianity in any meaningful sense of the word.

  • Ian

    Vile letter, and I suspect, James, that you and I are very close indeed in our moral and social compass.

    But “Authentic Christianity”? Is there not just a little of the True Scotsman about that? I get that one can argue that hate and bigotry aren’t the only way to read the scripture, but there is a deep and profound history of religiously motivated Christian bigotry.

    Surely it is more honest to say that your faith causes you to stand against the hatemongering of certain other Christians, rather than to say that theirs isn’t authentic, that you’re the really real thing.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Logically, I am almost certainly guilty of a fallacy. :-)

      But I intend such language not as a logical argument, but a plea to some who consider themselves Christians that they are betraying core principles of our faith. And I am offering that appeal in terms I am hopeful they just might understand, since they make that accusation – just as logically fallaciously – against others.

      • Ian

        I wasn’t thinking logically. I meant the idea of being able to determine what the ‘core principles of [your] faith’ actually are. Or at least, of having a claim to have found the correct core principles in the fact of co-religionists who also claim the same, but who’s core principles are at odds with yours.

        It was just interesting to see that kind of language, since I tend to assume you’re not the kind of person who’d think “I know the truth, you’ve got it wrong”, as evidenced by, for example, the post on the electromagnetic spectrum.

        A minor thing, given that I agree with the underlying point. I wasn’t intending to be picky, just interested in whether you do think you have Christianity somehow ‘right’ compared to others.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Well, it is a fair point, and as a scholar of religion I would definitely agree that the attempt to essentialize a religious tradition regularly fails. But as an insider to one of them, within a form that gives particular importance to principles over specific texts, the attempt to identify core principles is crucial. Whether I’ve been successful is another matter – I try to be – and try to be right as often as I can – but don’t always manage to achieve it.

          Perhaps it is the attempt that matters more than success or failure?

    • malakhgabriel

      Can “No True Scotsman” apply to ideologies?

  • arcseconds

    this looks more like good old-fashioned homophobia than anything else to me. It’s possible that Dad reckons he’s waging a war against the forces of darkness everywhere he sees them, but it’s at least as likely (I think more) that he’s not actually all that pious, he just can’t cope with his son being gay.

  • Dave Burke

    Do we have any evidence that this letter is even genuine?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The person who shared it claimed to be the recipient. I don’t see how we could know for sure, but it certainly is verifiable that parents have responded to their children telling them they were gay in this sort of way, and so it is not implausible, and I think that the points I made would remain true even if this turned out to be a fictional letter based on what people have ally experienced.

  • andom

    ” he himself has become a warrior of the forces of darkness,
    fighting against love, against family, against compassion, against all
    that is good..”

    Yes, the same a day would say a polygamist or an incestuous.
    And someone will write about ‘polygamophobia’ or ‘incestophobia’.
    A Christian should say what is good not that ‘all is good’.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      If people have polygamophobia then they will need to be careful what parts of the Bible they read.

      But I agree that Christianity should be about what is good and not approval of everything and anything. I support the extension and recognition of the same sorts of committed, faithful, loving covenant relationships for adults of the same gender just as we have for people of opposite gender, because I see Christianity as affirming that sort of love and committment, and I see the attempt to undermine the attempt of people to commit to one another in this way to be profoundly antithetical to the most basic Christian principles.

  • http://www.patheos.com Joelle Ludington

    Love covers a multitude of Sin , it knows it’s there , but goes beyond the condition and circumstances , Now sin blinds and it can’t see it’s certain lifestyles are wrong and not acceptable , and it hardens the heart , But i understand your point , We are to hate the sin not the sinner. It’s good to love unconditionally like our father which is in heaven , to keep the door open because God can heal the backslider and wipe our slates clean , But in all pray for wisdom . Separation is important , we brush shoulders with people daily , surely if i can be kind to a stranger and love sinners i can love my loved ones . but again i must the bible says how can you say you love God whom you can’t see and hate your brother whom you can see . Amen


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