Faker or Fakir?

An article posted on CNN on Friday, “More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians,” suggests that many American teenagers aren’t really Christian. Whether that is a bad thing or not I’ll leave up to the reader to determine (Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary, cited in the article, has no doubt that it is bad). My concern with the premise and the presentation of Dean’s data is much larger: who has the right to determine what is “authentic” religion? In a world daily faced with the clash of religious views, particularly among passionate believers, most scholars of religion seem to agree that one’s religion is what an adherent claims it to be. There is no way to test the authenticity of a religion empirically. Whose Christianity does Dean mean? That of Jesus? Or of Paul? Or of the Pope? It seems to me that what she suggests is that “true” religion is “passionate” religion.

Religion, however, may extend well beyond belief structures. Religionists recognize many forms of religion that are primarily activity-oriented rather than belief-oriented. Does that mean the adherents of such religions are only half-hearted members of their tradition? Do only passionate believers qualify? Who is it that has the authority to decide what any religion is? If it is seminary instructors, I’d rather face the apocalypse right now. I’ve known far too many of those to trust their judgment on defining authentic religion.

Christianity is perhaps the most fragmented religion in the world, with tens of thousands of different denominations, each declaring itself correct and authentic. What person ever purposefully believes in an incorrect religion? “I know my religion’s wrong, but I think I’ll stick with it…” Who gets to determine which is the real real religion? Passion may not be an adequate measuring stick. The clashes of religious views that leave the highest body counts are between groups equally passionate about their beliefs. In such a world where people need to learn to control their religious passion, it is my hope that mere theological assent might be more than enough in most cases. And only for religions that are belief based.

The only true religion?

10 thoughts on “Faker or Fakir?

  1. This kind of thing (esp. coming from an ertswhile “serious scholar,” who ought to know better) makes the rest of the field’s efforts to adopt an anthropological approach wherein self-identification trumps all and a religion is defined as what its adherents actually do/believe seem completely and utterly pointless.

    Not to mention the cultural politics of this – it’s hard enough to open up a space in public discourse where non-fundamentalist Christianity seems like “real”/”authentic” Christianity, but now that Christianity has to be passionate and articulate to boot.

    Very Protestant. Whatever happened to baptism and liturgical participation as a sufficient marker of Christian identity (the sacramental approach)? If religious enthusiasm and internalized rational understanding of doctrine are required, you are talking about Protestant Christianity pure and simple.


  2. Pingback: Faker or Fakir? | Sects and Violence in the Ancient World

  3. The sheer arrogance of “passionate” Christians has never failed to stun me. As a mother of two “fake Christian” teens, I know many of these “fake Christians” who volunteer in soup kitchens, care for the elderly with pure and loving hearts, and weather extreme hardships that would break most adults. They feel no need for empty labels or shows of “passion.” After reading the article, I’m left with the impression that Dean should teach at Wheaton College and move over for a real scholar at Princeton.


  4. Henk van der Gaast

    Yup, that does it for me every time… I have worked with food for others and volunteered to help youth and I am a philosophical nihilist. Of course I don’t believe Nihil is going to give me a reward either.


  5. Henk van der Gaast

    Note how good it is to wait until another own goal is kicked Wulfila. Three in one half makes you want to move to Columbia and buy takeout…


  6. I was surprised to read the content of that article coming from CNN, it seemed very strange there instead of in Christianity Today. The comment above about teaching at Wheaton seems very appropriate.


  7. India will do just fine. (The anthropologist in me notes the near-total absence of religious exclusivists, even among members of the so-called “monotheistic” traditions, in India…)


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