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10/01/2007                                                                                       View Comments

A House Divided

By Tim Simmons

There is one Moslem temple in Carbondale, Illinois. A small town of 26,000, the town is also home to one Jewish synagogue and two Catholic churches. The number of Protestant churches?

Forty-seven.

With three main streets and probably 150 smaller residential streets, there really is a church on every corner. But Carbondale isn't the exception when it comes to the number of Christian churches it boasts, but rather, it seems to be the norm. Take any small town of roughly 30,000 to 40,000 residents, anywhere in the southern half of the United States, and you'll find a similar pattern. Here's three I picked at random.

Carlsbad New Mexico (pop 26,000)

54 Protestant churches

West Memphis, Arkansas (pop 28,000)

55 Protestant churches

Gainesville, Georgia (pop 26,000)

71 Protestant churches

With such seeming consistency, one might conclude that having a church on every corner is normal. But just because something happens frequently or is considered normal, it doesn't make it good or right, necessarily.

Prior to around 1960, the world lost hundreds of thousands of people each year to polio. It was normal that diseases claimed lives but a few people concluded that it wasn't proper. Jonas Salk was one of them. Forty years after the polio vaccine was created, the disease has been almost completely eradicated from the planet.

In the 1980s, it was normal for anyone with the HIV virus to die from the disease but would anyone conclude that because it was normal it was also correct or desirable? (Okay, excluding certain Christians who feel that it's God's punishment for their wicked ways) Thanks to new drugs and research, people with HIV can live much longer lives and stay relatively healthy in the process.

In any large, random group of people in the United States, there's going to be about 80% Christians. Based solely on this, you would expect there to be 80% Christian churches and the remaining 20% composed of other beliefs. Using Carbondale as an example, the percentage of Protestant Christian churches is 94.7%. The ratio of Christian churches to non-Christian is 18 to 1. But assuming no other religions existed, I still find it shocking that a small town of 25,000 people needs to have 50 churches - not to mention the two dozen different denominations within that set. Apparently, every time someone with the money to do so and impetus for doing so, splits from the current congregation and forms his or her own church, in order to preach the "true" message of Christ. With so many denominations and flavors to choose from, how can anyone be sure they've chosen the correct one? Christians will argue that many of the denominations simply disagree on nonessential matters. This, then, begs the question of why Christians can't consolidate these denominations in a show of unity and let these nonessential disagreements be…nonessential?

It seems, however, that one thing has not changed since the days of Jesus. There is no unity among believers. From the very first cries of a newly born Christianity, Paul the apostle could hardly pen a letter to one of his churches without admonishing them for turning from the gospel he had personally delivered to them. While his back was turned, other gospels were being circulated - and believed. There was no unity even among the apostles. Paul, Peter and James couldn’t agree on whether Gentiles should be circumcised in order to be “in” the new club. There was no unity among the canonical gospel writings. Each one offered a different and often contradictory view of what happened during Jesus ministry and crucifixion. There was no perfect unity between the writings of Paul and the writings of James. Paul taught that the law had been abrogated with Jesus’ sacrifice while James taught that faith without works was dead faith and no faith at all while Jesus himself said that until heaven and Earth passed away, the law was still in effect.

With disunity as its heritage and with disunity throughout its founding documents, is it any wonder that the Christian community remains divided to this day?

Even its own precepts prophesy against it: a house divided against itself cannot stand.

We, as nonreligious people, do not have to sound the call of unity because our ideals and beliefs unite us rather than divide us. We do not seek to follow a set of contradictory dogma or an aloof phantom in the sky. We seek to follow what is true. This fact alone is all that is needed to unite us.

A house divided against itself can stand - for a while. But its days are numbered. A house divided against itself, eventually, will fall. We may just need to give it a little push first. ; )

62 comments:

Laughing Buddha said...

OK, X-ers, here's our chance. Instead of turning this comment thread into another troll-feeder, let's just demonstrate what the author, Tim Simmons, said:

"We, as nonreligious people, do not have to sound the call of unity because our ideals and beliefs unite us rather than divide us."

Here goes:

Love
Peace
Harmony
Tolerance
Equality
Freedom
Generosity
Patience
(not a comprehensive list, of course)

If you agree that those are noble truths that unite us, rather than dividing us, and that they are true WITHOUT necessitating the influence of 'god' or 'gods', simply comment, "I Agree".

Hopefully the Xtians and other religious trolls will see that it doesn't take semantic arguments, systematic 'theologies' or complex socio-political ideologies for us to find a common ground.

Jerry said...

I agree.

stronger now said...

I agree.

Anonymous said...

I agree

Mary Rodríguez said...

I agree.

Bola said...

I agree

Christopher Scott said...

I agree

Tim said...

Holy Cow! This is the coolest reply I've ever seen! It's hard not to bash the "opponent" and I didn't try to do that per se with my writing but I just wanted to say that if there are tons of differing beliefs under one umbrella, something is not right and maybe we can all simply strive to find real truths and simply put them in our bag to keep. No, we shouldn't all be clones but 1 + 1 should not equal 3 for you and 2 for me.

Let me chime in, also and say...

I AGREE!

Tim

Monk said...

I agree.

SEO said...

I agree

Melissa said...

I very much agree!

SCOUT said...

I AGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!...

That "Ball" Guy said...

*Raises drink in agreement*

Excellent post Tim. . .I know all too well the "church on every street corner" syndrome, being from Texas.

Brock said...

I agree

J. C. Samuelson said...

Tim,

By far one of the best articles you've ever posted here.

Oh, and I agree. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree.

-Leonard

Anonymous said...

I Agree.

Fcuk religion. It only brings war & death.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

-Gregory

tjmarcink said...

I AGREE!

chris said...

I agree!

Huey said...

I agree!!

Ellytoad said...

I agree.

Bloviator said...

I agree.

buffettphan said...

I agree.

jfraysse said...

Well said - I agree!

redtail said...

I definately agree

AA said...

I agree.

Left of Center said...

I remember in a college sociology class that that ideal size of an organic functioning group of people is around 200.This applys to many organisations and does not include countries, towns, and corporations because they have rules and connections that go beyond a simple common belief. So with that in mind I would assume that many churches thet grow beyond this number are expieriencing quit a bit of internal frictions and groups that are eager to break away. Enter the American "mega" church... we know they often fractionalize and implode under their own weight, but what keeps them from doing so for so long. Two things come to mind. They grew quite rapidly and attained high numbers before the social rules started to kick in or... (and this is the more incideious thought) that they use group phycology to the exclusion of the individual. People become "addicted" to the easy social interactions of the community and override their own reason and sense of self in doing so. There are also strong stigma associated with thinking or doing anything outside of the groups narrowly defined roles. The Carrot, the Stick and the disconnect: Everything organised religion can offer.

Dave8 said...

Tim Simmons: "We, as nonreligious people, do not have to sound the call of unity because our ideals and beliefs unite us rather than divide us."

Tim, great article, I agree that a group that adheres to a common set of values does in fact have a far greater capability to reach social goals, that benefit the individual and the social group, in-turn...

However, not all nonreligious people are constrained by those values, there are those who may find opposing values to some degree and unite as well... perhaps, in an exclusionary way to the repression of others, but...

I believe I understand your point however, which is, "We do not seek to follow a set of contradictory dogma or an aloof phantom in the sky." in order to find harmony in life with others. And further, "We seek to follow what is true. This fact alone is all that is needed to unite us." Laughing Buddha honed in on that insight, and followed with a list of values.

A common goal/objective with similar values is a good recipe for a thriving and rewarding life for both the individual and the community.

I tend to value logical consistency as the most valuable attribute on the list of values, as without logic and the will to seek Truth; one may never find a consistent means to stabilize a life that supports all other desired values...

But, of the list of values provided (not-exhaustively as stated), I agree :-)

John of Indiana said...

I also agree.

Poltergoost said...

PART OF THE ORIGINAL POST:

With three main streets and probably 150 smaller residential streets, there really is a church on every corner. But Carbondale isn't the exception when it comes to the number of Christian churches it boasts, but rather, it seems to be the norm. Take any small town of roughly 30,000 to 40,000 residents, anywhere in the southern half of the United States, and you'll find a similar pattern. Here's three I picked at random.

Carlsbad New Mexico (pop 26,000)

54 Protestant churches

West Memphis, Arkansas (pop 28,000)

55 Protestant churches

Gainesville, Georgia (pop 26,000)

71 Protestant churches"

Also, don't forget that most of the members of these churches are made up of "Wife Beaters" and other dsyfunctional families.

Last, but not least, don't forget all of the divorcies that also attend these churches.

Seems that even though God hates divorce he doesn't have the power to save a lot of these marriages either.

Even when some christian prays for their marriage to be restored, and the other spouse refuses to reconcile.

As for the first comment in this thread, I also agree.

Anonymous said...

I Agree!!!

There is a church acoss the street from me and another a block away. Two more just down the street. I think I'm surrounded.



Sandra

boomSLANG said...

I Agree.

Astreja said...

I agree.

Bluescreen said...

I agree!

freethinker05 said...

I agree, to help push!

notabarbie said...

I agree!

Steven Bently said...

I agree, the scary thing is, we are way too few!

SpaceMonk said...

Those elements in combination, Yes, I agree.

Jamie said...

I agree...

But I don't agree that so many churches in a small town are simply the result of disunity. The last church I went to before deconverting was a 'church plant'...probably about the sixth from the same original church. It's not that there was doctrinal disagreement, it's that some people realize that a bunch of smaller churches might build better community among it's members than one great big one. And I think they are right about that. (I just think they are wrong about their specific religious beliefs).

And with the list provided above...I think many Christians can chime in with agreement as well, and those things can be a point of unity for us all.

Jim Earl said...

I agree!

Former Follier said...

I absolutely agree.

Reggie said...

Nope.

Who says those are the values of the non religious?

Tolerance?

Bullshit. Does Richard Dawkins tolerate Christianity, or religion at all.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

You are such hypocrites.

Monk said...

Right, Reggie, because ALL the mainstream mouth-pieces for religion are uber-tolerant (actually I couldn't even TYPE that with a straight face). And, of course, Richard Dawkins (ETC. ETC.), imitating their theist counterparts, regularly try to lobby Congress to pass laws cramming anti-theism down Christian throats.

Oh, and, lest I forget, RD and company would NEVER encourage debate, because, again like their theist counterparts, they think it's better to just shut up and accept the word of authority rather than to participate in a REASON-based debate.

I'll take RD and company's form of tolerance over christian tolerance ANY DAY.

P.S. Thanks for offering yourself as the perfect example of a tolerant theist.

.:webmaster:. said...

I'm confused by your comment, Reggie.

Are you saying that because Richard Dawkins or others maintain that beliefs in magical beings are silly, non-believers are therefore intolerant and hypocritical? Is there some secret movement underfoot to take away the human rights of Christians? Perhaps what we don’t have here is a good definition of intolerance. To you, words and ideas that reveal the fallacious nature of religion is intolerant. Yet, you apparently approve of name-calling when it is against non-Christians.

Another point you might want to consider: Responding with angry emotionality does nothing toward supporting the claims of your “love your neighbor as yourself” religion.

jim earl said...

Tim's statistics got me thinking what my own city would show. I did a search for my city of 18,000 +- and the results were startling. Within 15 miles of my local city in South Carolina, there were 78 baptist churches, 34 methodists, and 8 Church of God. That's a total of 120 churches and that doesn't even count all the different ones. My county has about 33,000 people living here, according to the website. When my boys were young and we would go on a trip by car somewhere local, we had a game of count the churches. It was amazing how many there are actually out there. So many churches and not even one real god. Amazing!

Poltergoost said...

REGGIE SAID:

"Bullshit. Does Richard Dawkins tolerate Christianity, or religion at all.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

You are such hypocrites."

Geez....speaking of a hypocrite, you sure do sound like one, that's for sure.

Doesn't the bible teach you to not use filthy language, such as the word, "Bullshit"?

Thanks Reggie, for proving how dysfunctional most christians are.

Have a nice day. :)

trancelation said...

I agree.

Reggie . . . with you I do not agree. The point of tolerance has never been the tolerance of INTOLERANCE, but rather the promotion of tolerance and tolerance for those that cannot change. The ex-Christians here demonstrate that Christians can, in fact, change. The bigotry, exclusiveness, and hatred that is inherant in Christianity is something that can be changed. The characteristics of Christianity (bigotry, exclusiveness, and hatred) are by their very definition aspects of INTOELRANCE. And as I already said, the point of tolerance has never been to tolerate intolerance.

I have heard this argument from Christians numerous times. That because I, as an atheist, do not TOLERATE their desire to enslave the rest of humanity to their unique ideal of 'freedom,' I, myself, am intolerant, despite my claims of being tolerant. This, to use your term, is bullshit. By speaking out against Nazis and pther racists, I have been said to be disingenuous with the foundations of our country, the Bill of Rights, which contains the article promoting free speech, and with the Constitution with which Christians and other bigots try to strangle my free speech. What Nazis and other racists don't seem to understand, as you don't seem to understand, is that I am not stifling their right to free speech. But by their having free speech, I am given the right to free speech as well, and thusly speaking out against them (or Christianity or any other organization promoting bigotry, exclusiveness and hatred) is all part of the big picture that is free speech.

The same thing applies here, Reggie; I am not taking away your right to be a closed-minded, bigoted, hateful person. Indeed, I would say I tolerate the nonsense of you and other Christians quite well; but for the record, I do not ACCEPT you and other Christians. Your intolerance can be changed, and I will not tolerate it :)

Caleb said...

Great post Tim! I'll be using your words in the near future I'm sure!

Transman said...

I AGREE.

It does seem to be human nature though to build "clubs" and "cliques" and wanting to be different from others. That's maybe why there are so many different religions and denominations out there. Thousands and millions of people can't simply agree on so many things as the bible wants to put into law.

Tim said...

To Reggie: No one said that all non-religious people had those qualities. So, you erected a strawman and commenced to beating it up. tsk tsk.

what WAS said was that those were qualities that were desirable for both (all?) sides and can we not agree on that?

Have you allowed your bias/hatred/whatever to not allow you to even correctly interpret someone's writing?

Us/them... there's really just people and the dogma they were trained to believe could be replaced by simple truth instead. I believe the golden rule is a good one. I don't believe the Bible. I believe loving others is a good idea. I don't believe in giving to anyone who asks me.

We all have beliefs that differ but we should all be on the same page as far as human decency and respect go, I'd say.

Anyway, good comments everyone (except for Reggie HAHAHAHAHHA just joking, Reg. come back and play)

Tim

Dave8 said...

Reggie: "Does Richard Dawkins tolerate Christianity, or religion at all."

So, it's not possible to tolerate and respect a person, while "not" tolerating nor respecting their ideology?

Sounds, like someone in an "I"dentity crisis who hasn't figured out that people and buildings/papers aren't synonymous.

Astreja said...

Reggie,

At some point in one's life it becomes necessary to become intolerant to certain things.

What is the point in tolerating a book that features a talking snake, a genocidal flood, and a man rising from the dead so that he can come back at some indeterminate time and participate in the destruction of the Earth?

What is the point in tolerating a belief system that demands that we debase ourselves before an invisible being in order to not be tortured for eternity?

I am proud to be intolerant of Christianity. The sooner it's relegated to the status of an ancient myth, the better for all of us.

Ziggy Blacktail said...

I agree.

Anonymous said...

i agree

fjell said...

I agree.

fjell said...

btw, well-spotted, Tim re:

The way differing denominations go to the trouble of financing the countruction of entirely serparate buildings and physically segregate themselves all the while claiming that the reasons they have done so are "nonessential".

With this as a backdrop, you begin to understand the truly over-the-top reactions of some Christians concerning matters which they deem "essential".

Thinking Man said...

I somewhat agree. In the end, we are just noble savages. There is probably not a person anywhere who wouldn't kill the person next to them if it ensured their own survival.
Religion is cited as evil, but often, it is just an overlay for fear, anger, and depression that really inspire people to harm others and themselves.

Rick said...

I agree. Great Post.

And thanks Reggie - people like you argue against religion far more effectively than most non believers can.

Tim said...

Thinking Man, you said:

I somewhat agree. In the end, we are just noble savages. There is probably not a person anywhere who wouldn't kill the person next to them if it ensured their own survival.

This is simply situation ethics. Everyone has a breaking point (I think) and yet, perhaps there are some who would not do it no matter what BUT the point is that we would not kill for no reason. Most murderers do not kill for no reason. They reach their limit and ... snap. I'd probably kill someone if I knew they killed one of my children (if i had any). I would not be consoled and I would be cold and calculating to ensure the person's demise (and hopefully a little physical torture before I ended their suffering). So, you see, it's situational. No one has killed any relatives of mine. I do not want to kill anyone.

Mankind is maturing and learning and struggling to climb up from the level of savage brute and it's going to take a long time. Dumping a book written by people who advised that parents should murder their children if they backtalked or hit them is just inevitable, I think.

Tim

hg said...

simple division really. 250,000/50 = 500. any group/company/club bigger than a few dozen is hard to manage. can you imagine how hard it is to organize a church bigger than couple hundred? truth is your average christian gives a crap or even knows about the theological differences between different denominations. the real reason there are so many churches is purely logistic in nature.

Anonymous said...

Je suis d'accord.