Dismal theology-related hymn of the day

Once you actually realize how degrading Christianity really is — Y’all are no damn good! — you can’t un-hear it. Worse, Christianity’s degrading premises are so deeply embedded in its thought and expression that it tends to pass unnoticed unless you’re alert to it.

I was thinking of these things yesterday when Dawn and I attended a memorial for the mother of a friend, which was held at a local Baptist church that broke with the Southern Baptist Convention during the serial indecencies of the so-called Conservative Resurgence (fundamentalist takeover, more precisely, kind of like what has happened to the GOP). So, at least with respect to the SBC, this would probably be characterized as a liberal church.

One of the hymns chosen for the service was that beautiful staple, Amazing Grace. But look at the lyrics:

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home,
And grace will lead us home

Amazing grace, Howe Sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

Was blind, but now I see.

Is there anything — anything — in this hymn that lifts up? I was particularly struck by the opening of the second verse: “T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.” Right: How very fortunate that an Invisible Friend filled the author’s heart with terror at the prospect of justice for being an utterly worthless heap of dung.

And this is one of the most beloved hymns in all of Christendom.

No, thanks. I’m with the closing words of Bertrand Russell’s famous lecture, Why I Am Not A Christian.

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world—its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is, and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence, and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past, or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time towards a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

Surely that’s healthier than singing about being a terror-filled wretch.

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