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Mary Parrish
Professor Rebecca Morean
English 100.20
27 February 2015
The Christian-American Culture
Though environmentalist and religious author Bill McKibben is correct when he
writes about the lack of Christianity in the self proclaimed Christian nation that is the
United States in his article The Christian Paradox, he fails to recognize he is not talking
about Christianity at all when he discusses megachurches, poverty, and faith. Instead of
American culture destroying the fundamental aspects of Christianity, as he suggests, it is
the Christian-American destroying American culture.
Information Powerhouses
As an example, McKibben berates megachurches. These churches go through
essentially sacrilegious means to obtain as many members of the congregation as
possible. Using video games and free food to attract the masses, Mckibben describes such
an environment that teaches Christians to focus on ones self, a direct opposition to
Jesus radical and demanding focus on others (McKibben par. 11). Though this may go
against biblical teachings, the megachurches goal is not to share the good news of Christ,
but to inform the masses of what they should and should not do in their daily lives, often
unrelated to morality. Rather than a facility in which to practice faith, these
establishments become information powerhouses.
Nowhere in the Catholic intellectual tradition is there information about reaching
the top of the professional ladder, yet these preachers find themselves qualified to teach

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others how a Christian would balance his checkbook. With the expansion of these
churches, the emphasis on common good is lost as they only try to enlarge the facilities.
In Pope Leo XIIIs Rerum Novarum, he stresses the importance of promoting the
common good, rather than the self, when he says, all citizens, without exception, can
and ought to contribute to that common good in which individuals share so
advantageously to themselves (Leo XIII par. 34). However, these megachurches fail to
support the common good when striving to make money. Unfortunately, it is the
American way for big businesses to gain support and influence its customers into
pursuing a certain mindset in an effort to advance politically; this is how they gain
acceptance and power. The information powerhouses release all the information, true or
not, to its followers and creates a society in which everyone follows the same moral code
and label themselves as Christians, even though they are not. Just like everything else in
America, faith is made a commodity.
Loving the far away neighbor
McKibben mentions the biblical commandment to love your neighbor as yourself
and finds himself in embarrassment as he describes the Christian-Americans inability
to do so (McKibben par. 20). It is the morally upheld nations who follow this because
they understand the importance of being a generally good human while the ChristianAmerican just wants to fit in with the crowd and get through the day. McKibben argues
non-Christian nations are the ones who care more about the environment and the poor
than the proclaimed Christian nations (par. 14). However, there is a difference between
the Christian-American culture and the faithful. Seemingly secular countries could be
more aware of the members of society because they are faithful and of a high moral

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standings while not necessarily Christian. To say this is a Christian nation verses a secular
nation topic is unfair because not all who do not actively support the poor are Christian
just like all who do are non-Christians. In his encyclical letter Populorum Progressio,
Pope Paul VI expresses the importance of understanding the goodness and need of
dignity for all humans outside of Christianity when he says, [t]oday the peoples in
hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance. The Church
shudders at this cry of anguish and calls each one to give a loving response of charity to
this brother's cry for help (Paul VI par. 3). By using the words peoples in hunger and
brother he is articulating there is a need for everyone to watch over his neighbor; it is
not an obligation given by just the Church. If he differentiates the human nature from
Christianity in the sense that everyone should have the right to various aspects of human
existence, then so too can humans give this right to others dissociated from the Christian
A Secret Faith
Doing good works based on a personal moral code rather than divine teachings
may be more common in secular countries. In his letter Veritatis Splendor, Pope John
Paul II explains moral theology is a reflection concerned with morality, with the good
and the evil of human acts and the person who performs them; in this sense it is
accessible to all people (John Paul II par. 29). He emphasizes the ability for a human to
function in a moral manner rather than doing so just because of his religion. It is not that
the true Christian in America does not care about poverty and the environment because he
has been brainwashed by American culture; it is more likely the average American,
disregarding his religion, does not. This is the final idea McKibben fails to address, the

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difference between the Christian-American and the faithful. The language of ChristianAmerican culture emphasizes the importance of a follower proclaiming his so-called
faith. Saint Thomas Aquinas, replying to objections made about whether internal or
external actions are necessary in the worship of Christ explains, the internal acts of
religion take precedence of the others and belong to the religion essentially, while its
external acts are secondary, and subordinate to the internal acts (Aquinas). The faithful,
or true Christians, practice their faith in private so not to distract others or boast and
contradict the very ideas and teachings of his faith. Why would it matter what religion the
latest pop star is if she should be praying in secret? Saint Augustine explains worship is
only used as a sacred sign of the invisible sacrifice (Augustine X, 5). ChristianAmericans are so concerned about what others think of them, whether they pray or not,
instead of the external practice being one of the remembrance and understanding of the
faith itself. Thus, a principal that should only matter to the individual has become a
necessary element of common culture this is not Christianity.
In a way, to say you are Christian is to say you are American; the words have
become synonymous with one another. However, this is only true when Christian in the
Christian- American culture does not mean faith or follower of Christ, but a follower of
the norm or nation. Therefore, not only do we lose the meaning of Christian teachings,
what McKibben so clearly fears, we lose American culture. In a society where
individualism diminishes with the ever present need to follow pop-culture and media,
people proclaim to be Christian because that is the accepted norm. The ChristianAmerican is striving for what every human ultimately wants, acceptance. McKibben

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mistook Christianity for the American way; it is with every powerhouse educating the
new masses, America is stripped of her natural culture.

Works Cited

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Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theological. Holy Apostolic See. 1917. Web. 28. Feb. 2015
John Paul II. Encyclycical Letter Veritatis Splendor. The Splendor of Truth. The Vatican.
6 Aug. 1993. Web 28. Feb 2015.
Leo XIII. Encyclical Letter Rerum Novarum. Of Revolutionary Change. The Vatican. 15
May 1891. Web. 28. Feb. 2015
McKibben, Bill. The Christian Paradox: how a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong.
Harpers. Web. 27 July. 2005.
Paul VI. Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio. The Development of Peoples. The
Vatican. 26 Mar. 1967. Web. 28. Feb. 2015
Saint Augustine. De civilate Dei. The City of God. 426 AD. Web. Feb. 2015