I run the aforementioned Losing Faith in Faith Since 1997 site: Ex-WCG Non-Believers. My site deals specifically with people who both had experience in the WCG and who have found good reason to question religion in its entirety. A niche to be sure, but I’d like to point out that I commonly encounter the attitude of, “Boy, glad I didn’t grow up in that cult! I’m just a plain old Christian.” Sorry if this offends anyone, but to those of us who grew up in any flavor of Christianity and ultimately rejected it, it all looks like a historically destructive (and still potentially dangerous) cult, or at minimum a widespread (if amicable) lunacy. Perhaps it’s just a bit easier to see the lunacy when one has experienced its extremes.
A few comments later, Mr. Hershberger responded:
I’m taking issue with the statement that Christianity is at “minimum a widespread (if amicable) lunacy.” I understand that as meaning “whatever else Christianity is, it [is] a madness — you can’t escape its insanity.” Please rephrase If I’m paraphrasing you incorrectly.
What does that mean? What makes Christianity Lunacy? What do you make of Christianity’s contributions to humanity? Or do you think it has made none?
Mr. Hershberger also added in a separate comment:
Hmm… I feel I must add that I don’t think it is necessary for Christianity to have pragmatic value (”What do you make of Christianity’s contributions to humanity?”) Christianity would be worthwhile even if the act of following Christ doesn’t contribute to the progress of mankind.
Perhaps that is what you meant by lunacy?
Mr. Hershberger, I have decided to take your question at face value. I don’t use the term “lunacy” lightly, and I felt the qualifier “amicable” was important enough to include because, frankly, I know and like many Christians, and I never wish to engage in simple name-calling. But it will take some space to give your question a serious answer. So, I have written the following article, in which I enumerate and explain my personal top ten reasons for calling Christianity “lunacy.”
Because your second comment effectively withdrew the question of Christianity’s contributions to humanity, I have chosen not to address that aspect directly here, although I do touch on it in places.
1. Original Sin
Original Sin is the idea that we are all born into an inherent state of “sinfulness” that ineluctably damns each individual to eternal punishment.
Look at a baby and tell me how that child, by any stretch of the imagination, has committed a crime. It didn’t even ask to be born! But you, the Christian, want me to admit that the Christian God thinks that child is intrinsically worthy of ultimate punishment?
And if you want to trace Original Sin back to the mythical Garden of Eden, then you would have to admit that your all-knowing God must have known that Adam and Eve would have eventually eaten of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and thus God essentially entrapped them. Even if you want to say that the Serpent enticed them, then it was done with your all-knowing God’s knowledge and consent.
Original Sin, then, is a manufactured “problem” for which Christianity then offers itself to us as the “solution.” That’s lunacy!
Christians cannot agree amongst themselves on many topics relevant to their faith, and not least among these disagreements is how one is to be delivered from sin— because each sect interprets their “holy and perfect” scriptures their own way. Moreover, many teach that the other sects have it wrong, and that to practice the wrong set of salvational doctrines is likely to land sincere, yet mistaken, believers in the same hell as unrepentant sinners. In other words, no matter what kind of Christian I decide to be, there will always be some other “Christian” out there who says I’m going the wrong way, and who use their interpretations of the Bible to back them up. That’s lunacy!
3. Substitutionary Atonement
One thing most Christians seem to agree on is that “Jesus died for your sins.” In other words, that, even though you are guilty of both Original Sin and all the other crimes you’ve committed in your life, that God somehow accepts the death of Jesus on the cross as a fitting substitute for punishing you directly for those sins through damnation. There are a couple serious problems with this idea.
First of all, it makes no sense. If my son commits a crime and is brought to justice, there is no court in the world that would allow me to suffer his just punishment while he goes free. Even if I could prove to the court that I had never committed any crime, this would not matter. The idea that one should reap the consequences of one’s own actions is an intrinsic part of the humanistic moral code to which we all adhere, except when we believe that God corruptly hands “get out of jail free” cards to whomever he pleases.
Secondly, it is really not much of a sacrifice. Assuming for the moment that Jesus believed he was some aspect of God incarnate, he must also have believed that his suffering and “death” would not be permanent— that very soon he would be back in the godhead with all the power attendant to it. From this perspective, this seems much less an “ultimate sacrifice” and much more a temporary inconvenience.
So the idea of Substitutionary Atonement can only be accepted by irrationally suspending common sense, and accepting that God’s morals, though corrupt by human standards, are somehow better. That’s lunacy!
From Dead to Rights, by Rev. Jim Huber
4. Heaven and Hell
So what happens to people who do, or don’t, run the gauntlet of Original Sin, Salvation, and Substitutionary Atonement?
Because it is God’s will.
Could he have prevented it?
You bet— he’s all-powerful.
Why didn’t he?
Because it is His will.
But why is it his will that some should spend eternity in torment when he could prevent it if he chose?
It’s a mystery.
But what about people who lived before Jesus ever “saved” humanity? They get hell too. Or purgatory. Or perhaps we don’t know— it depends on what kind of Christian you’re talking to. The other Christians are wrong, of course.
5. The Problem of Evil
Christians claim their God is Ultimate Love. They pray to their God for everything from miracle cancer cures to the victory of their favorite football team. They credit God with responsibility for All Things Bright and Beautiful. On the flip side, they put responsibility for all evil on Satan the Devil, The Deceiver, the Big Bad Guy in Hell, who was one of God’s homeys once upon a time, but decided to go his own way— which, as all Christians know, must be “away from God.”
But God is all-powerful! So he must have let this happen! He is all-knowing! So he must have known it would happen! And he is all-loving! So he must know that it is ultimately good that it happen!
Wait a minute.
God knew that Satan would cause all the pain and suffering? He could have prevented it? Those two facts together would, in most people’s minds, make God complicit in the act. If Satan does something, it is with God’s knowing consent. So morally, what is the difference between God and Satan? There is none— Satan is merely God’s tool. In fact, in the Bible God admits he creates evil and calamity even though, being all-powerful and all-knowing, he doesn’t have to.
Apparently because he loves us. Welcome to The Problem of Evil. Christians accept that their god is a paradox: all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, and fully responsible for the worst evils imaginable. That’s lunacy!
6. The “Morality” of Divine Edict
I am an atheist. I don’t claim I can prove the non-existence of any and all gods (depending on how they are defined) but I do claim that common religious “god belief” is pretty much in the same category as “unicorn belief.” I am an “a-theist” in the sense that you are most likely an “a-unicornist,” whether or not you’ve ever thought to call yourself that.
One common attack on atheists is that humans need morals, and that atheism is inherently amoral. Well, I’m here to tell you… I agree completely.
I agree because “atheism” is merely a refutation of theism— an outcome of skepticism. It is not a complete framework in which to live a moral life. It is certainly true that Stalin, Lenin, and a number of other notable people who committed atrocities also denied the existence of a god. But this in no way refutes atheism— it only refutes the moral frameworks upon which these people lived. Therefore, attacking atheism because it is amoral makes as much sense as attacking religion because it doesn’t provide a firm foundation in Computer Science.
And this is a big part of Christianity’s attractiveness: it tells people how to live— it provides a moral framework. Unfortunately, Christianity as a framework has at least one grave shortcoming: it is just as morally relativistic as it claims that non-believers are. But it is actually even worse, because although Christians claim that their morals are anchored in those of a perfect, loving, unchanging God, the Bible reveals that God to be mercurial, capricious, and often downright cruel. When confronted with the many moral atrocities committed by God as described in the Bible, Christians retreat to the dubious position that God in his infinite wisdom knows what he is doing, and that humans have no place to doubt the ultimate morality of God’s actions.
Well, I call BS on that.
God is supposed to be setting us humans an example. What kind of example did he set when he helped Elisha slaughter 42 children with bears? (II Kings 2:23-24) Or his ordering Abraham to sacrifice his son as a “test?” There are plenty more biblical examples of actions by or condoned by God, that would be easily seen as psychopathic if taken by any human. Yet people give God a moral free ride, because, you know, he’s God! The thing is, since God is supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, he should also be quite capable of taking actions that are transparently obvious as being the actions of a loving god. Yet over and over he makes a conscious choice not to (for how can God’s choices be anything other), and his defenders rise to every occasion of killing, torture, depravity, and twisted logic— loudly proclaiming our ignorance of both God’s ends and his means. And more ominously, if they do claim that they understand God’s ends or means, then they are usually found using this “knowledge” to defend their own twisted actions performed in the name of carrying out God’s divine will. That’s lunacy!
As an aside, a large part of my moral framework comes from Humanism— a philosophy villified by many Christians not because it is demonstrably evil, but because it competes with their religion by challenging people to take the work of human happiness into their own hands.
7. Holy Apathy
All believers in an afterlife, including Christians, have essentially been given divine license to “give up” on this life, seeing it purely as a rehearsal or test to see whether they are worthy of the Divine Rewards. This anti-life attitude manifests in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
In the most extreme cases we have suicide bombers and other kinds of willing martyrs— people who see their own lives as disposable, because they believe that in the act of killing themselves a better life will, video game-like, be immediately granted. Like the “sacrifice” of Jesus Christ, they don’t really see their termination as any kind of deep loss— they are doing God’s will and fully expect to be richly rewarded.
Somewhat more subtle is the attitude among those who are citizens of a nation (supposed by them) that God favors. In their eyes, the actions of their government (no matter how disastrous their obvious consequences) have the sheen of Divine Approval, and they rest easy in their hubris that God will eventually sort it all out.
Still more subtle is the quite-pervasive attitude among Christians that, “I can’t wait for Jesus to return and fix this horrible world— look at the mess Satan and his demons have made, and we depraved humans have only helped them!” This attitude is quite pernicious, because it tacitly asserts that the world is beyond repair, and expresses a hopelessness that humans can, individually or collectively, bring about significant improvement.
Even Christians who devote a certain amount of energy towards helping the poor or raising the standard of living around the world, when pressed, will admit that they’re doing it not because it is obviously a good thing to do, but because God commands them to, and that ultimately their hope is not in making the world better through human efforts, but in divine intervention. Because of this, success is not measured in mouths fed, or houses built, or living skills taught, but in “souls saved.” In carrying this self-righteous missionary attitude, these Christians are in the most subtle way contributing to this self-fulfilling prophesy of apathy and societal decay.
“Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!” — Mother Jones
8. Mysteries Answered by Deeper Mysteries
Christian evangelists will often approach people with an opening like, “Do you want to know what’s really important in life? Do you want to know how to find true happiness and fulfillment? Do you want to know why you are here? Do you want the answers that for so long have eluded the ‘educated greats’ of the world? Well, let me tell you, those answers are all found in the Holy Bible: inspired and written by our perfect, loving creator God. Yes, the Bible is God’s instruction book for living— startlingly accurate, and completely relevant to today’s fast-changing world.”
Hang on to your wallet.
Does the Bible offer a definitive moral code? Does it answer the deepest mysteries? Does it really tell you why you are here?
Christianity, in its multitude of interpretations, sects, factions, and schisms, does provide a moral framework, or rather, a meta-framework in which many conflicting moral frameworks can be defended. The Bible says “God is not the author of confusion,” (I Cor 14:33). Yet as discussed above, Christendom is a mass of confusion. And as moral frameworks go, it still requires the acceptance of deeply lunatic ideas like Original Sin, Salvation, Subsitutionary Atonement, and so on. A truly all-powerful God could have “authored” a world, or at least a religion, with much less confusion in it, and any confusion present is ultimately his responsibility.
And what about the deepest mysteries?
Why does the universe exist?
Because God made it.
But who made God?
No-one made God.
How do you know?
The Bible tells us so. God has always existed.
How do you know the Bible is accurate?
Because God says it is true.
Where does God say it’s true?
In the Bible!
Okay, you said God has always existed. Isn’t it simpler to believe that the universe has always existed?
We know the universe hasn’t always existed. There was the Big Bang, you know.
But how do you know God caused the Big Bang?
Because the Bible says so— God created the heavens and the earth.
How do you know the Big Bang was not the result of some natural process we don’t yet understand?
Because that would contradict the Bible, and we know the Bible is true.
But the Bible contains many scientific innacuracies, such as asserting that Pi is equal to 3.0. In what sense, then, is the Bible true?
It is here that the believer must begin to backpedal, defending the Bible’s accuracy where it supports their particular worldview, and cutting it slack where its accuracy is plainly lacking. An all-powerful God could have inspired an astoundingly accurate text, but apparently chose not to.
And what does the Bible say is my purpose in life?
To please God by doing his will.
And what is God’s will?
Well, Jesus said “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
But many other philosphers, even pre-dating Jesus, said essentially the same thing. That idea is not unique to Christianity at all.
Well, you also need to accept Jesus as your personal savior in order to go to heaven and avoid hellfire.
But then we’re back on Substitutionary Atonement, Salvation, and Heaven and Hell.
So Christianity is a bait-and-switch— offering the answers to deep mysteries, but only replacing them with even deeper mysteries. That’s lunacy!
9. Airtight Beliefs
If someone claims to have an open mind on a subject, then they must consider what sort of evidence could possibly shake them loose from their currently-held position— in other words their position must be falsifiable. This is an essential aspect of skepticism, which simply put is “open-minded non-belief.” As I mention above, atheism is simply the outcome of skepticism applied to unsatisfactory thelogical argument and evidence. But this then raises the question: what would qualify as believable evidence for a God, and furthermore for the truths espoused by (some form of) Christianity?
As a skeptic, I think this is a very good question, and I have often considered it. What kind of evidence would cause me to become a Christian? Here is a set of criteria that, for me, would suffice:
- Dramatic. The evidence would have to be of “biblical proportion.” There are plenty of examples in the Bible that qualify. The parting of the Red Sea for instance— wouldn’t that make a great special on CNN?
- Persistent. The evidence would have to be something that changes the way the world is, and where the world stays that way indefinitely. Such as everyone suddenly getting to see and talk to their own (and everyone else’s) “guardian angel.” Permanently.
- Pervasive. The evidence would have to be visible and testable by everyone on Earth.
- Explanatory. The evidence must clear up, for both the child and the most educated adult, the morass of confusion surrounding religion. The right way to observe the right religion must be articulated, and it must make sense to everyone. It must provide definitive and irrefutable answers to issues like The Problem of Evil. It must also provide explanatory power over non-religious mysteries that still puzzle humans, for instance reconciling Quantum Physics and General Relativity.
By now, a lot of Christians reading this are probably thinking, “That’s a bit much! God won’t just do that to please little Robert McNally! What an egotist— he just doesn’t want to believe.” But hold on there, buckos: remember that the Christian God is all-powerful, and therefore perfectly capable of providing such evidence. Therefore, if he exists he is choosing not to provide it. Secondly, Christians already have such an event in their eschatology: the Second Coming. In some interpretations of this idea, this sort of evidence is what will be provided to the whole world.
So I suppose God just wants me to be an atheist right now. Isn’t it nice to know one’s place in the Divine Plan?
But what about you? If you’re a Christian what sort of evidence could, in theory, be presented to shake your faith? If you can conceive of nothing that would, then you have an airtight belief system, and perhaps your beliefs are intellectually dishonest. That’s lunacy!
[Edit: Here’s another atheist’s guide for theists looking for evidence that will convert atheists.]
10. Disturbing Mythological Tales Held as True
Christians, like most people, don’t usually let personal belief in miracles affect their actions. We go about our daily lives believing that natural laws always apply, and that they are not capriciously suspended on the whim of some spirit-being. Many Christians, however, do claim to have experienced miracles in their lives or they know of some relative’s friend who claims to have witnessed a miracle. Unfortunately, like Bigfoot and UFOs, these personal miracles are never rigorously documented, and so forever remain in the shadowy realm of personal anecdotes. Furthermore, by some very reasonable calculations, unusual things, even things some would consider miracles, are continuously occuring and completely attributable to statistics.
But what about the Bible? Here Christians are willing to cut the most outrageous myths the most outrageous amount of slack. Dan Barker, a former Christian minister turned atheist, said it well in his essay Dear Believer:
I find it incredible that you ask me to believe that the earth was created in six literal days; women come from a man’s rib; a snake, a donkey, and a burning bush spoke human language; the entire world was flooded, covering the mountains to drown evil; all animal species, millions of them, rode on one boat; language variations stem from the tower of Babel; Moses had a magic wand; the Nile turned to blood; a stick turned into a snake; witches, wizards, and sorcerers really exist; food rained from the sky for 40 years; people were cured by the sight of a brass serpent; the sun stood still to help Joshua win a battle, and it went backward for King Hezekiah; men survived unaided in a fiery furnace; a detached hand floated in the air and wrote on a wall; men followed a star which directed them to a particular house; Jesus walked on water unaided; fish and bread magically multiplied to feed the hungry; water instantly turned into wine; mental illness is caused by demons; a “devil” with wings exists who causes evil; people were healed by stepping into a pool agitated by angels; disembodied voices spoke from the sky; Jesus vanished and later materialized from thin air; people were healed by Peter’s shadow; angels broke people out of jail; a fiery lake of eternal torment awaits unbelievers under the earth … while there is life-after-death in a city which is 1,500 miles cubed, with mansions and food, for Christians only.
If you believe these stories, then you are the one with the problem, not me. These myths violate natural law, contradict science, and fail to correspond with reality or logic. If you can’t see that, then you can’t separate truth from fantasy. It doesn’t matter how many people accept delusions inflicted by “holy” men; a widely held lie is still a lie. If you are so gullible, then you are like the child who believes the older brother who says there is a monster in the hallway. But there is nothing to be afraid of; go turn on the light and look for yourself.
Yet here we are, in a heavily Christian society, where children are commonly taught that Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are myths, but all these other things are absolutely true.