. . . 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. But it is certainly true in Europe and North America. I believe this has occurred for several reasons.
First, in the States, this has occurred, 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 much more than they had in the past. They did this in response to certain ethical issues — particularly regarding abortion. More recently they have been doing so out of fear of losing their freedom to practice and express their beliefs—which have become increasingly out of step the newly-dominant currents in the culture. But this has had an unintended consequence. Those who do not share the same political perspectives have, naturally, reacted against this. And because Christians have explicitly tied their politics to their religion, others who see things differently politically have come to have a very negative opinion of Christians and Christianity in general. Ironically, as conservative Christians have acted politically to protect their freedom to express and practice their beliefs, and fight 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 fighting for what they believe in.
Secondly, the (now-not-so) “new atheists,” Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, have been driving home the historical horrors perpetrated in the name of faith. Many of these attacks are unfair, of course, in not providing a balanced historical perspective. There were other factors going on at the time in light of which what was done is more justifiable then these antagonists made it appear. But still, no, really, there is still way too much that could not remotely be ethically justified. And 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.
Thirdly, the words and actions of many Christians are very often considerably less than gracious. This is actually in striking contrast to the words and behavior of the person they profess to be following—Jesus. Many have been especially profoundly disappointed by the actions and words of Christian organizations and leaders. Of course, people often have unrealistic expectations. After all, the Christian Community is composed of people. And Christianity does not teach that a person becomes perfected when they become a Christian. Fundamentally it is a message that God accepts them, and is for them, even though they are not at all what they ought to be. Still, many, many have been deeply, deeply disappointed in the actions and words of Christian organizations and leaders. Worst, organizations and leaders have repeatedly used their faith and organizations as tools to exercise control and power over people. This is wickedness, and anti-Christ. But it is often the use and abuse of the faith for broadly-political power that people are reacting against.
Writer and peace-seeker Carl Medearis has eschewed identifying himself any longer as a Christian. He rather says he is a follower of Jesus. I see wisdom in this. Do I want to be saddled with the justification of all the wickedness that has been 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 presented us with our only plausible hope of reconciliation with God. But I want no part of all the baggage associated with “Christianity.”