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Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity - Bruce Bawer As someone who is largely unfamiliar with the different denominations of Christianity in the U.S., I appreciated Bawer's division into two main types, which he calls "legalistic" and "nonlegalistic". Simply summarized, the legalistic denominations concentrate on God's authority, and tend to believe in strict adherence to (certain) doctrines, the literalness of Biblical scripture, the actual existence of Satan, and that God will bring only "saved" Christians into Heaven. These are the Christians who believe they need to defend themselves against secular humanism in the culture wars. Nonlegalistic Christians, on the other hand, believe in God's love for all humans, a socially and historically contextual understanding of the Bible, and the necessity for humans to use our (God-given) minds along with Jesus's teachings to sort out right from wrong. Bawer also goes into the history of Christianity in the U.S., including evidence that the nation's founding fathers were not legalistic Christians, and the rise of evangelical Christianity in the last few centuries.I found this book an emotionally difficult read, especially the part about the rise of Christian fundamentalism and the decline of moderate Christianity on the national political stage. As someone raising a child in Texas, a state so tainted by fundamentalism that I am considering homeschooling in order to protect my child from ultra-right-wing bias, these issues hit close to home. Reading about how calm, peaceful, accepting Christians have been out-shouted by political extremists makes for depressing reading. I was convinced by Bawer's arguments about the true message of Jesus and how strongly it differs from the ethics of, say, Pat Robertson or James Dobson. I understood Bawer's own position, which seems to be to follow Jesus's teachings closely and to develop a position of love and compassion for his fellow humans. What I still don't understand is the appeal of fundamentalism, or why someone would read the Bible and choose to see the messages of intolerance more clearly than the messages of love.On the positive side, I gained a greater appreciation both for moderate Christianity and for the Biblical passages about Jesus. I enjoy reading about other religions, and I feel I learned a lot from this book. If you can stomach its subject matter, this book is well-written and well-argued.