Len Munsil makes a dubious case for compulsory Christianity

Len Munsil
Len Munsil. Photo: Tucson Citizen

On Easter Sunday the AZ Republic ran a My Space column by 2006 Gubernatorial candidate Len Munsil, who formerly ran the theocratic lobbying group Center for Arizona Policy and currently serves as President of Arizona Christian University.

Quoth Munsil, who is disturbed by the decline of Christianity in the US:

Today we are living in a reality TV world where popular culture and politics seem to be dominated by cruel, hateful, confrontational, coarse, narcissistic, greedy, selfish and vulgar messages, leading to a stressed out, cynical, depressed and discouraged citizenry.

But enough about Donald Trump! Munsil thinks you need Christianity and that the only evidence you need for the veracity of the belief is that it has been popular:

Whether you believe the historical record or not, these eyewitnesses, along with those who saw and wrote about the many miracles Jesus performed before the crucifixion, quite literally changed the course of human history. They were so certain of what they had seen they refused to renounce it even to spare themselves death by crucifixion.

Christianity was so unique and so powerful it became an unstoppable force despite the might of the Roman Empire.

Really, actual proof of the existence of Munsil’s preferred deity is not required. It’s all about how belief makes you a good person.

When people hear the good news, it changes their lives and makes them better people. For every famous story of radical conversion — the Apostle Paul, from persecutor of Christians to apostle; John Newton, from slave trader to abolitionist and author of “Amazing Grace”; Chuck Colson, from profane, ruthless adviser to President Nixon, jailed for his role in Watergate, to humble founder of prison ministries — there are hundreds of millions of Christians who quietly follow Jesus by serving others.

As Christianity advanced throughout the world, cultures and civilizations changed for the better.

Recognizing every person is created in the image of God, Christians led the abolition of slavery in England and America.

Christians built churches, schools, orphanages, hospitals, homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

Of course, Len Munsil doesn’t mention how Christianity was also used to justify slavery, based on interpretations of scripture that deliberately excluded certain people from that “image of God”, and continued bigotry and horrors against African-Americans after that institution ended. Nor does he touch on how it has been a primary vehicle for discrimination against LGBT people and women throughout history.

It is true that a lot of good has been done by Christians, but Munsil does not explain why Christianity was the necessary ingredient for that kindness and compassion, as opposed to a function of decent people practicing kindness toward less fortunate people using the resources provided by the most powerful social institution in their community, the church. While I’m sure that many of the people who have run soup kitchens and orphanages and whatnot (and I mean run them well and not used them to abuse vulnerable people) have done so under the influence of religious feeling, I cannot be sure those same people would be incapable of doing those same things in the absence of religion, and neither can Len Munsil.

I’m definitely certain that religion is not a necessary condition to avoid lying, cheating, and cruelty, and Munsil admits that even devout Christians are often incapable of avoiding them:

Critics of Christianity are quick to point out the obvious — Christians throughout history and today fail to live up to the principles of love, sacrifice, virtue, integrity and goodness called for by our faith. Professing Christians have owned slaves, committed atrocities, cheated on their spouses, been cruel, selfish, judgmental, vain and dishonest.

The response to critiques of Christian conduct is quite simple. Guilty.

God sent Jesus to die for us precisely because we are not able in ourselves to live without sin and moral failure. In fact, the more active our faith, the closer we come to understanding and embracing Jesus, the more aware we become of our own shortcomings.

Despite renouncing my Catholicism years ago, I seem to manage to avoid committing atrocities and other crimes quite well, as do many, many other non-religious people and people who follow other religions besides Christianity. Christianity may provide one path toward empathy, enlightenment, and self-actualization but it is far from the only one.

Predictably, Munsil evokes the canard of America’s Founding Fathers being guided by Christianity in the formation of our democracy:

Influenced by Christian awakenings, America’s founders established a form of government that operates from a Christian understanding of reality. Accepting the biblical idea that man is sinful and prone to corruption, our Constitution provides for a separation of powers that creates accountability and limits the ability of one person to accumulate and abuse power.

Christians believe faith in God cannot be compelled and must be freely chosen. Explaining his commitment to religious liberty, Thomas Jefferson wrote “Almighty God hath created the mind free.” In totalitarian Communist nations and fundamental Islamic regimes people are not free to believe and worship according to conscience. Christian influence in America is what protects religious freedom for all people.

Others have taken on this argument but I’m not interested in having it. As far as I’m concerned, Jefferson et al. could have been a bunch of holy rollers who thought they were mainlining it straight from the Savior. It is irrelevant to me nearly 250 years later what they may or may not have believed then. That is not evidence of the existence of a Christian God. Just as arguing that religion makes people ethical, so the argument that belief in a particular deity makes them create good governments is an argument for religion as social control. This is sometimes known as the Noble Lie.

Munsil ends his column on a very disingenuous note:

But whether such an awakening occurs, or whether we see a continuation of the Pew survey’s recognition that Christianity has declined in our nation, our task remains the same: to love one another, to preach the Gospel, to share the good news that Christ is risen from the dead.

But Munsil and his compatriots are not merely wistfully observing and hoping you’ll see the light through their sharing the gospel. In 1995 Munsil started the Center for Arizona Policy, a group of ruthless and relentless political operatives who have sought to impose their views on everyone in the state via legislation, and have succeeded in many of those endeavors with an agreeable GOP majority since then. The very existence of CAP is an admission that these religious authoritarians have failed to attract followers via example and persuasion and have turned to coercion.

11 responses to “Len Munsil makes a dubious case for compulsory Christianity

  1. As a woman and a scientist, I am damn well fed up with bible-humpers–let them shove their buybulls and invisible megalomaniac middle-east deity up their own nether regions.

  2. Frances Perkins

    If we look back in history for the character of the present sects of Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors and then complainers of persecutions. Benjamin Franklin

  3. captain*arizona

    jimmy swaggert jimmy bakker catholic pediphile priests. nuff said.

  4. Frances Perkins

    The Munsil/Herrod gang is not alone in their efforts to not merely urge you to their viewpoint by example, but by force of civil law. The Catholic bishops do the same thing in the issues of reproductive choice or medical insurance, under the false flag of “religious freedom.” Their co-religionists do not follow their words, so they attempt constantly to force their beliefs by civil law. It is incredibly rare nowadays for Catholic families to have “as many children as God gives”, while forgetting God also gave women brains, and not just an uterus. All these right wing religious fanatics want biology to be destiny. Even for men, they must be real men, in some fashion that Olmstead wants. Their actions are ironically just like the Moslem versions, like the Taliban. Zealots are zealots regardless of sect. It seems sometimes all religious zealotry is centered on the control of women.

    • For Sure Not Tom

      Yup. Control women. Also, sweet, sweet money and delicious tasty power. Mmm.

      But you can see their point, look how far we’ve strayed from the Founder’s (praise be to them) vision:

      No slaves?

      A black guy in the White House who’s not holding a broom! Looking God fearing white folks straight in the eye like’s he’s an equal?

      Women voting…. and owning property!

      And worst of all, having their own opinions!

      Come on everyone, get your Sunday going to meeting clothes on, I’ll drive, we gotta’ get to church before the country gets any worse.

      • Frances Perkins

        It’s amazing how many religious organizations were founded on the sure and certain knowledge that the road to women, money and power came through the method of, “God ordained it.”

        • For Sure Not Tom

          “We still need religion to keep the poor from killing the rich.”

          – Todd Snider

  5. For Sure Not Tom

    If ‘Merica was founded as a Christian country, with a Constitution dictated to the founding daddy’s by Jebus hisself, then why are at least two of the 10 Commandments unconstitutional?

  6. Mister Munsil, listen up. America’s leading founders were certainly not Christian. They were Deists or Pantheists, which is very different from Christianity in that Deists reject supernatural explanation, revelation, and the idea that God attends to the actions and fates of people. Simply put, America’s leading founders were naturalists who believed that God and nature are one. These Deist/Pantheist beliefs are enshrined in the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence in which Jefferson refers to “…..The Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God ….” But later one finds the words .”…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”, These were not Jefferson’s words; rather the result of an edit. What Jefferson actually wrote was “all men are created equal and by their equal creation” [are enitiled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.] Of course, this edit makes little difference if “Creator” is defined in terms of natural laws and processes. Mr. Munsil needs to read, “Nature’s god: the heretical origins of the American republic” by Matthew Stewart.

  7. Brian Clymer

    Well said, Jim Hannan. I agree with you totally.

  8. Jesus had a revolutionary concept in a time of tribalism: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. When I watch and listen to Christian ministers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, that does not seem to be their overarching message.