Benji asked what non-believing forum posters find offensive in Christianity. This piqued my interest, but I thought I’d rephrase the question as “What is it in Christianity that you find unacceptable?”. This is an opinion piece, and I guess it could apply to most systems of supernatural belief.
Firstly, Christianity is premised on the savage offering of a blood sacrifice – originally in the form of innocent animals unaware and not in control of their fate; this later morphed into human sacrifice and deicide, both of which I find not only repugnant, but also grossly uncivilized. Given that animal sacrifice was the precursor and god-murder became a substitute for it, I say it is still based conceptually on the ritual slaughter of animals, which is something I believe no human has a right to pursue, God-granted or not. In many denominations, the body and blood of the deity are then ritually eaten (in actuality if you’re a Catholic). This is little more than ritualised cannibalism.
Second, I don’t accept the dualism that it creates – good vs. evil, heaven vs. earth, god vs. man, light vs. dark, the list is endless. I believe that evil is created by human beings. To quote Solzhenitsyn: “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”. This drives a stake through the centre of the personal quest for spiritual “cleanliness”.
Third, the wide range of religious and spiritual beliefs in the world suggests to me that no religion can claim to be the “true” one. People of other cultures are not primitives just because they’re from another part of the world – most have as much or more accumulated cultural wisdom as us westerners. But despite this, at its heart Christianity claims exactly that superior position (so do others, but this is the one we’re discussing). It’s a form of ideological imperialism, and as you can see looking at the US and its relations with the Muslim world, it is a fundamentally polarizing force. Other faiths are regarded as being somehow “lesser”, only rattly Mark 1 versions of the ultra-streamlined “true faith”.
Fourth – history shows how easily Christianity lends itself ideologically to imperialism and genocide. Think Conquistadors, crusades, George W. Bush.
Fifth: Christianity tends to be a “closed” system of thinking. What I mean by this is that it is a self-referencing belief system. The obvious absurdity, which believers never seem to understand, is that “the bible is God’s word because it’s stated as such in the bible”. “The bible is true – because the bible says so”. And a problem with self-referencing systems is that while their ideas are often relevant within those ways of thinking, they’re not realistic or even sane in the outside world. Think Koresh and Kool-Aid as extreme cases; then there’s Opus Dei, pastor Fred Phelps and the recent spate of unfulfilled prophecies of the end of the world. In many ways, Christianity fits the definition of a cult – it’s just a “socially accepted” one. Don’t ask, don’t question – unless they’re the “right” questions. The responses generated by the atheists on this forum demonstrate how poorly believers adapt to more open lines of enquiry. Asking why God doesn’t ever heal amputees through faith healing invariably doesn’t get a good reception. Asking for explanations of what God and prayer are in real terms get no response at all. The kind of language and rhetoric encouraged in Christian circles is designed / has evolved (take your pick!) to avoid challenges and highlighting of inconsistencies. I believe the same process is followed by advertisers and smooth sales people. You end up not asking the right questions because the rhetoric smooths over the cracks in the narrative.
Sixth: in its history, Christianity has readily adopted violence and torture as tools for expanding its social base. Sure, not any more - but what’s at issue is the thinking and ideological processes that gave rise to that – and those haven’t changed. I predict we will see it rise again in some form in the future, somewhere. I’m willing to bet my house that there are torturers in the rendition squads that are good church-going Christians on Sundays because of this. It’s a case of ends justifying the means, and “closed” systems of thinking are prone to that.
Seventh: like any hierarchical systems, religious institutions are prone to manipulation by their leaders. Your local fellowship group might not have child abusers in it, but you may find yourself experiencing pressures of a kind you don’t get elsewhere. I’ve experienced this in youth groups and the church in general. Pressure to conform can be immensely stressful. When I was at school, the protestant kids could often be heard telling each other “Hey, backslider! You turn, you burn…. draai of braai!”. Innocuous enough on the face of it, but the deeper meaning is macabre to say the least. This is quite apart from pressure to give more and more of your time and money. If you’re a person that fits well into clubs, it might work for you, but I found it increasingly difficult to keep engaging with people who seemed to share the same values as me, but who I never really liked at a social level.
Eighth: the bible sets unrealistic and inappropriate ethical frameworks. I think that the principles set out in Genesis and elsewhere are problematic because they set a dualism between humans and nature - "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." - this has created a mindset that, defined differently, may have been of more assistance with our current environmental and ecological problems. Imagine if it had said "Be fruitful, multiply upon the earth, and remember that whilst thou walk upon it, thou art part of the earth, its soil, its waters and its air; that ye are as precious as the animals and beasts that walk the earth with you, and swim the waters beside you, and fly in the air above you, as are the worms that burrow beneath your feet; care for them, for you and they are of the same creation"? Imagine that idea being drip-fed into our social consciousness over the past four thousand years.
Ninth: out-of-scripture teachings. When I was studying Christianity, most of the bible was regarded as mythological, allegorical, not requiring literal acceptance. That’s changed now in mainstream Christianity, and literal interpretations are now all the rage. The problem with this, as zaatheist and DelusionBuster regularly show, is that the consequences of literal acceptance are often completely and utterly absurd, and you will find yourself under pressure to take private and public positions that you simply know are unacceptable. How will you deal with this? First you’ll focus your mind on the scriptures, then you’ll share your problem with others, who will encourage you to follow the Lord’s example by stoically standing your ground. Then you’ll begin to see the pain that your unrealistic stance brings to others and eventually you’ll relent (the contraception issue is great for this, as is pre-marital sex). The impact on your faith will be profound and you’ll probably feel even more lost and disillusioned than you do now. I’ve seen this happen in a number of people. Alternatively, you will cling ever harder to your faith, regardless of the “worldly compromises” that result, believing that “we are in this world, not of it”, and will thereby make a personal contribution to the fundamentalist polarization we see in the world.
If you’re ok teaching your kids that dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time as humans 4,500 years ago then maybe my comments are wasted on you.
Tenth: I’ve found that Christianity is manifestly unable to answer most of the “big” questions. Where did I come from? No, but really where? Where was I before I was conceived? What is love? What exactly is death? Where do we go after we die? Don’t tell me heaven or hell – those are just someone else’s words for something they can’t describe. The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a better go at exploring this than the bible and all of Christian scholarship put together. You will be bamboozled with phrases like “the bosom of Jesus”, “at the feet of the Almighty” and others, that are nothing but medieval ignorance and superstition dressed up as palliatives for unquestioning believers.
Eleventh: TBN - need I say more? If you can sit through more than an hour of Joyce Meyer telling you why it’s good for you to give her your money, then maybe you should convert (I did watch – it was fascinating!). If you can believe bible interpretations coming from the mouths of guys who look like overly-cologned used-car salesmen that spent too much time in a sunbed, go ahead (why is it that TV pastors just look so sleazy?). To my mind, Christian media and many biblical resources are terribly “unsophisticated” in their appreciation of the complexities of human life.
Twelfth: which one? Out of 33,000 denominations, which one are you going to choose? Christianity must be just about the most ideologically fragmented movement in the world today. It suggests that either it’s lost its way, or it’s still got an immense amount to figure out about the creation, God, life, humanity, sin, the afterlife, history, spirituality and science. If the former – run like hell and don’t look back; if the latter – then the unknowledgeable pontificating we see on the News24 forum and elsewhere are little more than arrogance.
If you do join one of the more middle-of-the-road denominations – you know, one with a nice young minister and his wife in a house with a rose garden – much of what I’ve written might not touch you. But then I challenge you to reconcile the nice cozy heartwarming doctrine you find there with the violent, imperialistic, misogynistic, genocidal and downright murderous history that belief systems such as Christianity have created.
So – twelve objections to Christianity (one for each of the disciples?). You may decide it’s what you want, and you may well find the love and self-acceptance you’re looking for. You may find that the structured framework of beliefs suits you. If so – well and good. But there’s a world of spirituality out there that does not depend on a tribalistic bronze-age tome for its meaning.
I’ll let you explore that one yourself.
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