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.