Christianity: an indictment 21

Individual Christians in the name of what they take to be Christianity do good, and have done good throughout the history of Christianity, but critical examination of the religion itself does not support its claim to benevolence or truth.

Its theology is absurd. While it can plausibly be argued that all theologies are absurd, Christianity’s is particularly abstruse and internally inconsistent as well. The doctrine of the Trinity, in what claims to be a monotheistic religion, defies logic and challenges even the fuzzy sort of rationalizing which passes for reason in religious thought.

Its mythology is lethal. Its founding myth anathematized the people of another religion with a potential, and ultimately actual, genocidal result.

Its morality is unjust. By advocating love for all human beings including those who commit evil, it abnegates justice.

Its history is bloody. While it is true that the mission of the Church to gain adherents was often peaceful, there were ages in which it tried to impose its orthodoxy by force. With totalitarian ambition, Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages unleashed one of the cruelest instruments of force in all recorded history in the form of the Papal Inquisition. The Crusades, often defended by Christians as a just war of defense and reclamation of the ‘Holy Land’ from Islam, also massacred Jews against whom there was no question of necessary defense. Furthermore, internecine wars continued to rage within Christendom well into the twentieth century.

By its treatment of the Jews, Christianity as a movement can only be judged, in the light of its own declared moral values, a failure, a deception, and an hypocrisy. That terrible history alone and in itself makes nonsense of Christianity’s claims to be a religion of love and gentle forbearance, and reveals such injunctions and ideals, by which it characterizes itself, to be merely sentimental .

Christianity extinguished the intellectual light of classical Greece and Rome, and brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. In the last two hundred years or so it has become a gentler religion – even Roman Catholicism has become more tolerant – but has been in slow decline as scientific enquiry raised doubts about religious belief in general, and as humanism and science together make Christian reverence for suffering look both sick and obsolete as a source of comfort, substituting cure and palliation for resignation and endurance, and the happiness of survival for the morbid virtue of martyrdom.

Jillian Becker   May 20, 2009

Posted under Articles, Atheism, Christianity, Commentary by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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  • I’ve enjoyed our discussion, Polichinello, and would be happy to continue it until Kingdom come (which of course it won’t), but I think it’s inevitably inconclusive. I appreciate the points you have raised, the information you have given, even the provocations in your arguments. I really enjoy your descriptions of Jesus and Paul in this last comment of yours. I don’t like either of them, though I admire Paul for his earth-shattering achievement. I prefer people of more intelligence and more humor than the Jesus of the gospels.

    At this point I suggest that we agree to differ on our theories.

    The question of the how the Logos – ‘the Word’ – came into Christian theology is fascinating to examine, but perhaps not best dealt with in a blog.

    Thank you for the fun. Please continue to comment on any of our posts.

    • Proxywar

      To be fair we should look at the Aramaic version….

      Mark 15:34

      And at the ninth hour, Jesus shouted in a loud voice, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, for what have you forsaken me?”

      This changes the meaning entirely.

      Jesus also advocated self-defense in Luke 22:36: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Jesus in this verse advocates the use of a sword for self-defense purposes. Of course, Christians point of view on this verse is split.

      1.) Christian pacifists believe it is always wrong to injure other humans, no matter what the circumstances. And the same principles supporting pacifism carry over to nonresistance–the belief that any form of self-defense is wrong. This view is usually based on the exemplary life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

      2.) However, many scholars do not believe pacifism (or nonresistance) is the essential point of His teaching in this passage. These scholars do not believe Jesus was teaching to “turn the other cheek” in virtually all circumstances. Even Christ did not literally turn the other cheek when smitten by a member of the Sanhedrin (see John 18:22-23).

      Striking someone in the face was a big no-no to Jews it would be like white trash spitting in each others faces today.

      • Proxywar

        One of you mentioned a book called “metapolitics” whom was that written by?

        • Proxywar – 'Metapolitics: the Roots of the Nazi Mind' is one of the best books ever written on Nazism. It is by the Pulitzer-prize winning author Peter Viereck.

  • Polichinello

    I’d say: not mad, not bad, not God – just misrepresented.

    Then he was a poor judge of character since he chose the apostles who carried on his message, and he is thus equally worthless as a moral guide. That is assuming you can trust that there is any message one can squeeze out of the gospels that isn’t some sort of post-Enlightenment back-reading.

    All those Church Fathers really needed Jesus to be God.

    Why? If they were so determined to cast out Marcion and his works, which they were, why stick with Jesus’ divinity, which is an enormous burden to explain to potential converts in a monotheistic context? Why feel the obligation to stick with that tenet unless it was already established? In fact, you don’t see a serious controversy break out over the Jesus’ divinity until Arius, and even the Arian conception of Jesus was supernatural. The gnostics, for example, didn’t have a problem with Jesus’ divinity, but his humanity. That’s why the Gospel of John goes out of its way to say the “Word was made flesh.”

    Also, Paul wasn’t as anti-nomian as you make him out to be. He didn’t care for the ethnic exclusion created by the Mosaic code, but he also insisted on the universal moral prohibitions it contained. In fact, it was that insistence which makes Paul such a target for modern liberals. He restated these moral teachings and he’s an easier target than Jesus. Thus the cry of the modern liberal “I have no probem with Christ but with Paul” is a coward’s dodge.

    In fact, I’ll go one further: I find Paul a much more admirable person than Christ. He wasn’t a moocher; he worked as a tentmaker for his food. He strove to include his gentile converts on an equal basis with Jewish Christians, and he argued forthrightly for them. He certainly never showed near the sadistic glee Jesus did when talking about hell and judgment.

    Who would Paul have argued with over the issue? He was hardly likely to write to Jesus’s surviving Jewish disciples and tell them he thought their executed leader was God.

    Paul’s letters are full of him addressing other people’s arguments. He was writing TO congregations ABOUT those very arguments. Yet there’s not a whiff of a dispute in there about Jesus’ divinity. It’s taken for granted. If there was a dispute, you’d see Paul writing something like, “And believe not those who say the Lord Christ was but a mere man not equal to God.” That’s not there. Why the lacuna?

  • Polichinello –

    I’m very glad to hear you’re an atheist.

    You are right of course – those words from Psalm 22 were attributed to him to make it seem that ‘prophesy’ had been fulfilled. The ever-so-canny authors didn’t think it through – or else ‘Mark’ and Matthew’ didn’t believe he was God.

    I’d say: not mad, not bad, not God – just misrepresented. (Personally I can’t stomach C.S.Lewis.)

    All those Church Fathers really needed Jesus to be God. Their trouble with Paul was that he was antinomian. They had to retrieve the moral law. Especially when law-rejecting Marcion, who thought of himself as a Pauline purist, compiled a “New Testament’ that didn’t suit them at all. They put their own picks together then – including some of Marcion’s. Gospels, letters, Acts – all so full of contradictions. Gospel truth is like Obama truth – you can have it both ways, all ways, every pair of mutually exclusive claims merely a ‘false choice’.

    Who would Paul have argued with over the issue? He was hardly likely to write to Jesus’s surviving Jewish disciples and tell them he thought their executed leader was God. He had enough disagreement with them without that. His mere presence in Jerusalem raised a riot so that he had to ask the Romans for protection. (Maybe because he did in fact raise that blasphemous idea!)

  • Polichinello

    If Jesus himself believed he was God, why did he cry out from the cross ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

    Well, here we’d both be assuming the gospels are accurate. I am an atheist myself, BTW. But granting that assumption, I’d say that Jesus sense of his divinity probably didn’t track with what was hammered out over the next three centuries. However, going through the gospels, it’s pretty clear that he had some divine pretensions. Forgiving other people’s sins was a pretty big one. Assigning himself the power of judging man on the Last Day was another.

    I find C.S. Lewis’ trilemma convincing. He was mad, bad or God. I think he was a mix of the first two.

    Nothing Paul wrote or is thought to have written is proof of anything.

    And I agree with that. The problem I have with your case is what doesn’t appear in the record. If your assertions are right, that Paul created the Divine Christ, why don’t we see any acrimony in his letters over this issue? He doesn’t fight about that at all. He just assumes it as a common belief for himself and his readers. What gets him going, especially in Galatians, is circumcision of converts and the observation of Mosaic law. Now these were, of course, quite important to Jews. I don’t deny that. However, they pale compared to the proposition of Jesus being a divine being (be it in the Nicene conception or the platonic one). That would raise a much bigger ruckus. But we simply don’t see that.

    What interest would the redactors – layers and layers of them – have had in preserving any evidence of a dispute over the divinity of Jesus, when they themselves were members of the church he founded?

    You’re kidding right? For the next three centuries Christian theologians were disputing the meaning of the Trinity. Anything Paul had to say about the issue would be extremely important! Not just for his own words, but also to get a glimpse at what the other apostles thought. It would have shown up in Ireneaus, Tertullian, Origen, Clement or any of the other ante-Nicene writings. If one side had tried to cover up something inconvenient, the other side would have called them on it.

  • Thank you, Polichinello, for taking this discussion forward.

    A few points for you to answer if you feel so inclined:

    If Jesus himself believed he was God, why did he cry out from the cross ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

    Can you point to anything reported of Jesus by the gospel writers or anyone else that indicates he thought he was God?

    If Jesus didn’t think he was God, his immediate followers, who survived him and constituted the Jerusalem church, would not have thought he was God. They thought of him as the Messiah – though they had to believe in a second Coming to make this plausible – but only in the new religion which Paul invented was the Messiah, or Christ, himself divine. That was precisely what Paul was about: inventing a new religion and preaching it to non-Jews. Paul, not Jesus, is the author of the Christian religion.

    Nothing Paul wrote or is thought to have written is proof of anything. The letters ascribed to him were selected to be put into a ‘New Testament’ long after his death, and most scholars agree that only some of them were actually written by him. Who knows how many he wrote that have not survived? What interest would the redactors – layers and layers of them – have had in preserving any evidence of a dispute over the divinity of Jesus, when they themselves were members of the church he founded?

    Your other questions are well worth answering but cannot be answered briefly, so I’ll leave them aside, at least for the present.

  • Polichinello

    Polichinello – if you have any evidence that the Nazarenes, or members of the “Jerusalem Church’ , led by James, believed that Jesus was God, please reveal it.

    Paul himself references James as an authority. They were part of the same church. The big dispute between them was about how far they could extend the Mosaic law. There’s no evidence whatsoever of a dispute between the two parties over Christ’s divinity. If there was such a difference you would have seen something in the letters. Paul woul d have been compelled to address the issue.

    There must indeed have been a deep division between him and the Jewish Christians about the nature of Jesus…

    There “must indeed have been a deep division”? On what do you base this? I think you’re the one that needs to come up with the proof. You’re asserting the existence of a deep theological division–one you admit is so big that it calls into question Paul’s Jewish origins. Wouldn’t Paul be forced to defend it in his letters? But he doesn’t really do that. He asserts it almost as a given.

    That Paul could believe that Jesus was God is one of the many reasons for doubting that he was ever a Jew.

    On what do you base this? Second Temple Jews were a diverse lot and many of the Hellenized ones adopted a lot of Platonic thought. The idea of Jesus as a divine demiurge finds echoes in contemporaneous writings, like Philo of Alexandria. It seems like you’re engaging in a bit of “presentism”, where you’re back-reading latter Jewish thinking into the thinking of that time.

    The Pharisees had no quarrel with the Nazarenes who were loyal to the Law and like them believed in bodily resurrection…

    Then why did they declare them heretics in 85 AD? Why is Jesus described to as one of the most wicked of heretics in Talmud? In fact, Jesus himself was no fan of the Pharisees either, as he constantly used rhetoric filled with “white-hot hatred” (Michael Grant’s description) against them.

  • roger in florida

    Very interesting comments. To throw in my two cents worth: Religions are political organisations, founded for, and sustained by, the search by some people for power over others. Typically this exploitation is based on the natural fear that humans have of death, and to provide answers of simple certainty to questions of unfathomable complexity.

    We atheists do not understand how the Universe and all its parts came to be; neither do you believers. I would define faith as the ability to believe nonsense. As for Christianity; I can absolutely guarantee two things: There never was a virgin birth and nobody was ever raised from the dead.

    There was a period in European history when the church ruled with almost absolute power. This was the dark ages. There is actually very little difference between the popes, cardinals, bishops and priests of the past with the islamic mullahs of the present.

    Whatever good may have been done by individual christians it remains that the original post by JB is true.

  • Polichinello – if you have any evidence that the Nazarenes, or members of the “Jerusalem Church’ , led by James, believed that Jesus was God, please reveal it. Paul’s dispute with them was not merely about circumcision and ham sandwiches (though I like the way you put it), but about whether the coming of the Messiah (or ‘Christ’ in Greek) had abnegated the Law. Paul preached among the Gentiles that the Law had been superseded and was no longer valid, but when he came to Jerusalem and was accused of this by the Nazarene leaders, he denied he had said it. That was why they called him ‘the liar’. You cannot trust Paul’s account of anything. There must indeed have been a deep division between him and the Jewish Christians about the nature of Jesus, as Paul decided he was divine and they adhered to the Jewish belief that God was spirit only without physical form or qualities, who could not have a body because matter is the source and type of imperfection. That Paul could believe that Jesus was God is one of the many reasons for doubting that he was ever a Jew. The Nazarenes were dispersed after 70 CE when the Temple was destroyed. The Ebionites, ‘the poor’ (probably meaning ‘the poor in spirit’) were the same as the Nazarenes, only it’s unknown when the name came into use. They continued to exist as a sect but were increasingly distanced from rabbinical Judaism, about 135 CE they were declared heretical by the rabbis, and were virtually persecuted out of existence in the 5th century by the Catholic Church.

    James was killed with some others by the High Priest Ananus in 62 CE, either by being stoned to death or by being flung from a height down the steps of the Temple. Ananus was deposed by Agrippa for doing this. It happened because of a political conflict between the Sadducees and the Pharisees over questions concerning the Roman occupation. The Pharisees had no quarrel with the Nazarenes who were loyal to the Law and like them believed in bodily resurrection, which the Sadducees did not.

    The Jews stopped proselytizing after the dispersion. Hostility there will always be between contradictory beliefs. Persecution is another thing.

    Judaism with its entirely abstract God, its stress on morality, and its idea of freedom under the law was not as absurd (or cruel) as most others. But its theology belongs to a pre-scientific age. To believe now that a supernatural being created the universe is to make nonsense of science and its method. And to believe in a God that continues to take a benign interest in mankind is a triumph of wishful thinking over experience.

  • Polichinello

    I see no reason, generally speaking, to be either humble or arrogant.

    Humility is just a way of saying “down to earth.” It’s root is the latin word for soil. The idea is to keep yourself grounded and know your place. In the Christian world, this has often led to showy self-abnegation–which is one of the most annoying sorts of vanity around.

  • Polichinello

    No matter what sort of metaphysical gymnastics you do, the triune-God-as-one is a ridiculous claim, even more so as a foundation of one’s faith.

    I wouldn’t characterize it as “ridiculous.” I find something laudable about the early church fathers refusing to tamper with or ignore their data to get some satisfying answer. Remember, a lot of our current understanding of the physical world is based theories that the theorists themselves often can’t completely explain. In a way that’s a bit ridiculous, but there it is. (Yes, physics yields repeatable experimental results, and Christianity doesn’t, but we’re comparing religions so let’s not stretch my analogy too far, please.)

    The real foundation for Christianity, at any rate, is the idea that God lived and suffered as one of us. That is something very unique in religion. You don’t have some distant uncaring creator who screws with his creatures for the heck of it, as you see in the Old Testament. Now this does create some serious paradoxes and inconsistencies, but I don’t see how that would be unavoidable.

  • Polichinello

    One counter argument: The Jews as a whole took very little notice of the early Christians. The Jewish followers of Jesus – who didn’t think of him as God – were perfectly tolerable to them, just cranky like the many other more or less orthodox sects.

    First, you’re assuming that the Jewish followers didn’t believe in Jesus as God. The ebionites, a later sect hewed to this line, but there’s no evidence of this being the case in the first century. Remember, most of Paul’s disputes with the Jewish side of the sect were about circumcision and ham sandwiches. I’d think a dispute over Jesus’ divine nature would have taken up some space in his letters.

    Second, James, the head of the early Jewish sect, was executed on the High Priest’s orders. You also have a ruling from AD 85 that condemns the Christians alone with the then defunct Sadducees.

    As for the Paulian Gentile Christians – those who accepted Paul’s idea that Jesus was ‘God-the-Son’ – the Jews had no need to deal with them at all until their faith became the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine.

    Again, no. Christianity still competed for Jewish souls as well, and Jews were active in trying to convert Gentiles–if not to full Jews, at least associated “righteous gentiles.” A lot of Christian houses of Worship from the empire were found in Jewish areas. You also have references in latter Christian documents, like the Martyrdom of Polycarp, that refer to Jewish hostility. A lot of this verbiage was no doubt overblown, but there was still a core of hostility there. This was reciprocated in the Talmud as well.

  • aeschines

    Polichinello – excellent! Just what I was about to say.

    No matter what sort of metaphysical gymnastics you do, the triune-God-as-one is a ridiculous claim, even more so as a foundation of one’s faith. Even the boldest of the Medieval apologists couldn’t rationalize it. In fact, the Coucil of Nicea decided that it was a mystery too great for human understanding.

    To address Makarios:

    “And you think that a person must ignore justice in order to be love someone? You must not have any experience in dealing with children. In contrast to atheism, or any other religion for that matter Christianity is the only religion that includes a concept of justice for all. All good will be rewarded and all evil will be punished – the exact opposite of atheism.”

    What, unlike Zoroastrianism? Sorry, bud, Christianity is nothing more than a poor rehash of the teachings of Zoroaster. Besides, trying to prove that Christianity is somehow true because it’s unique is like trying to prove your dog is Krypto because he’s a unique dog. He might be a unique dog, granted, but that doesn’t make him Krypto.

  • Comments well worth reading, Polichinello. Especially the point about the early Christians not expecting their faith to last long.
    One counter argument: The Jews as a whole took very little notice of the early Christians. The Jewish followers of Jesus – who didn’t think of him as God – were perfectly tolerable to them, just cranky like the many other more or less orthodox sects. As for the Paulian Gentile Christians – those who accepted Paul’s idea that Jesus was ‘God-the-Son’ – the Jews had no need to deal with them at all until their faith became the official religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. And at that point they were in no position to do anything about them even if they’d wanted to. At no time did the Jews anathematize them.

    Another note on what Makarios said. About being humble: humility is a Christian virtue. I see no reason, generally speaking, to be either humble or arrogant. What then? Here’s a marvellous quotation from Peter Viereck, author of ‘Metapolitics’, writing about the virtues of the Classical Age: ‘That mental discipline, that unpretentious clarity, that fastidiously classical humanism, that well-balanced skepticism, that laughing rationalism!’

    I especially appreciate the ‘laughing rationalism’.

  • Polichinello

    Actually, the Jews first anathematized the Christians. Of course, Christians more than returned the favor once they gained the upper hand.

    From the original post:
    “The doctrine of the Trinity, in what claims to be a monotheistic religion, defies logic and challenges even the fuzzy sort of rationalizing which passes for reason in religious thought.”

    This is true, but in Christianity’s favor, most of its theologians frankly admit that the Trinity does not accord with human understanding. The religion could have papered this over and gone with a real rationalization (like Arianism), but it didn’t. It accepted the revelation it received, said “Here it is. We don’t fully understand it, but then again, no one could fully understand an infinite being like God.”

    On the Justice v. Love you have a stronger case, but this is due to a more fundamental flaw. Christianity as originally conceived was not meant to be long-lasting faith. Its first proponents believed in the imminence of Judgment Day were thus not overly concerned with worldly concerns, like fighting evil-doers.

  • C. Gee

    Makarios:
    1. It would be foolish to challenge a person’s claimed understanding of the mystical. Gnosis trumps reasoning.

    2. To say A’s religion is bad, is not to deny B’s may be worse. Hypocrisy is only one yardstick.

    3. Neither theologically nor in practice is justice universal in Christianity. Everybody may be judged at Judgment Day, but in some orthodoxies only Christians stand a chance of eternal reward. Historically, universalism in the Church meant everyone converts or dies. The national laws of Christendom – Britain, say, – the state religion placed civil constraints against non-state religion practitioners. In modern times, universal love means non-judgmentalism, by definition anti-justice.

    4. Certain American churches do indeed support Israel for religious reasons. Many individual Christians in Europe and America support Israel for moral reasons. Israel will take gratefully what it is given. And yes, insofar as the Atheist movement is predominantly leftist, that Zeitgeist is not in favor of Israel. And the leftist Zeitgeist blows through church too – as liberation theology.

    You say:
    “Of course, Jillian, you can’t help but finish with the profound atheist insight:
    Christians have done bad things
    Therefore God does not exist.”

    No, no. Correctly that should be: “Christians have done bad things in the name of God.” God doesn’t come into it.

  • Sorry, makarios, I meant Leviticus 19.17 for that ‘love they neighbor’ quotation.

  • Thank you, makarios, for your contribution.

    Your point 1.
    Okay, explain it so that I can understand it.

    Your point 2.
    The people Christianity anathematized are the Jews. The founding myth of Judaism is the story of Abraham and Isaac, an absolute injunction against human sacrifice. No Jewish women worked as temple prostitutes.

    Your point 3.
    Judaism (in the theology of which I no more believe than I do in that of Christianity) holds justice – or ‘righteousness – to be the supreme value. Love – enjoined by Judaism in Levitcus 19.18 – can be part of justice but should not replace it.
    Surely you know that the Jews have been persecuted by Christianity?

    Your final point:
    The best proof of the non-existence of God is the absolute failure of anyone to prove his existence.

  • “The doctrine of the Trinity, in what claims to be a monotheistic religion, defies logic”

    By which atheists in great humility conclude, “If I can’t understand it then no one else can understand it either. How humble of you, Jillian.
    ==========

    “Its founding myth anathematized the people of another religion with a potential, and ultimately actual, genocidal result.”

    You speak of this issue in your very next point but let me ask, “How do you think people should be treated who offer their children as living / burnt offerings to their gods, Who subjugate their women by the thousands to work as prostitutes in their temples? What sort of justice do you see fit for person a family a community or a nation like that?”
    ===========

    “By advocating love for all human beings including those who commit evil, it abnegates justice.”

    And you think that a person must ignore justice in order to be love someone? You must not have any experience in dealing with children. In contrast to atheism, or any other religion for that matter Christianity is the only religion that includes a concept of justice for all. All good will be rewarded and all evil will be punished – the exact opposite of atheism.
    ========

    “By its treatment of the Jews, Christianity as a movement can only be judged, in the light of its own declared moral values, a failure, a deception, and an hypocrisy. That terrible history alone and in itself makes nonsense of Christianity’s claims to be a religion of love and gentle forbearance, and reveals such injunctions and ideals, by which it characterizes itself, to be merely sentimental.”

    Perhaps you could enlighten me by listing nations other than those whose foundations we’re Christian that have supported the Jews and the Nation of Israel. Or do you choose to ignore the fact that as formerly Christian nations slide toward atheism, their support of the Jewish people and the Nation of Israel declines proportionately?
    ==========

    Of course, Jillian, you can’t help but finish with the profound atheist insight:
    Christians have done bad things
    Therefore God does not exist.