“Why don’t you just stop talking about religion?!” The statement seemed more of a command than a question. He looked at me, eyes filled with frustration, waving his hands as he raised his voice. “All you do is talk about religion! Get a life! Go do something useful!” I stifled my urge to point out that social media account was filled with abundantly more posts about religion (albeit from a different perspective.)
But instead of pointing out the hypocrisy, I found it wiser (or perhaps easier) to simply move on with the conversation. This wasn’t my first rodeo. While many religious people are kind, welcoming, and full of honestly, we all know some who are not. I had already learned that some don’t want to listen, they don’t care what I have to say, they are like a walkie-talkie with the switch permanently glued to ‘send’ not ‘receive.’
Fortunately my wife’s grandmother isn’t one of those people.
When I was a preacher, she was one of my biggest fans, beaming with pride as I stood in the pulpit. After services she would always give me a cheerful hug and tell me what a great young man I was. So when I left the faith, I expected her to immediately initiate a difficult series of conversations. But this did not come. In fact, she avoided the topic completely. For over two years, she fed me blinchiki and never asked any strenuous questions.
Until a few weeks ago, when the dam broke loose.
I won’t air the specifics of that conversation, suffice it to say, I didn’t attempt to dissuade her from her faith. After an hour of quizzing me, and seeing my earnest responses she finally ended by saying she will continue to pray for me (which I politely thanked her for), but she also suggested that I remain silent and not publicize my questions and doubts. She had kindly joined the chorus who say: “I understand that you don’t believe this, but stop dragging people with you”
So why don’t I stop and stay quiet? Why continue to talk about religion? (I usually talk about Christianity, but for the record, I would say that Islam, Mormonism, and other religions are equally bad, or perhaps worse, but I simply don’t have much personal experience with them, nor do 99% of my readers).
So why talk about religion? Two reasons. First, because I think it’s not true. Second, because I think it’s not good.
Are there good things about Christianity?
Religion has among its ranks a tremendous amount of good, moral people. Religion has inspired many humans to pour out their creativity through magnificent architecture, art, and music. Religion helps alleviate the anxiety and fear people feel about death. It has often been the social glue that has united small tribes or families, and the social context through which much joy has been celebrated. Christianity, for example, has among its mixed bag of commands, the beautiful call to love your neighbor and treat others as yourself. So yes, Christianity does produce a significant amount of good in the world. Although none of this is exclusive to Christianity, this exact same set of statements can be said about dozens of religions.
I am honest enough to admit that Christianity has contributed good things to this world. Even more so, I want to acknowledge that I respect and admire many Christians, because they are fantastic people. Alas, the story doesn’t end here.
Are there bad things about Christianity.
Imagine that I told you there was a doctor who saved ten people from dying because of his empathy, but also killed ten because of his negligent attitude. Would that be a “good doctor”? Now certainly, the act of saving ten lives is not invalidated by the act of killing ten lives. But on the whole, such a doctor is not a good doctor. We should celebrate the ten saved lives, but we must take prosecute him for the ten murders. Furthermore, if there is a second doctor at the clinic, one who has saved lives AND harmed no one, we ought choose her instead! My argument is that orthodox Christianity (or Islam/Mormonism) with beliefs like the inerrancy of the Bible, sin, hell, etc, is the first doctor while secular humanism or certain liberal religions (like Universalism) are the second option.
This doesn’t mean all the people who are orthodox Christians are bad, evil, or stupid. Some are, to be sure, but others have hearts of gold. It’s very important to distinguish the ideology from the person. I am speaking about the idea, not attacking person who believes it.
Again, I want to reiterate, I’m not “picking” on Christianity, had I grown up in a Hindu country, I would speak about the negative aspects of that religion. But I didn’t, I grew up as a Christian and live in a culture where Christianity is (wrongly) considered the ultimate standard for society.
Five most dangerous things about Christianity.
1. It exploits nature
As an atheist, this earth is all I have, and the totality of my existence depends on this planet. On the other hand, for a Christian, this earth is just a brief pit stop on their way to eternal bliss.
As an atheist, I understand that it’s quite possible for us to destroy this planet. While for a Christian this planet cannot be destroyed by our means unless God ordains it to happen. And in fact, in Christian theology it’s a good thing for the world to be destroyed, because it means evil is being destroyed and replaced by heaven. Many religious people have an obsessive fetish for the destruction of our world, they write books, create movies, and sings songs, eagerly celebrating the destruction of the only home for our species.
Consider this, if you and a friend were given a car, and this friend had the sincere belief that (1) this car cannot be crashed until his dad wants it to, and (2) that upon its destruction, we would all survive and he would get a brand new Ferrari, would you let him behind the wheel? Do you think he would be a safe driver? Would you risk your life? Or would you want to drive it (very safely and slowly)? The world is our car, and those of us who are secular, are risking our lives every day by letting religious people drive the world.
This is the danger that Christianity poses to the planet, it teaches its adherents that our world is a disposable campsite, on the way to a permanent mansion. It doesn’t depict the destruction earth as a terrifying conclusion, but a beautiful beginning. It’s no wonder that conservative Christians lead the polls in rejecting human climate change is a problem and other forms of environmentalist concern. Christianity teaches people not to carefully safeguard this planet, which is our only hope, and that is dangerous.
2. It makes stubbornness a virtue
Christianity teaches that doubt is shameful and faith is noble. In actuality, doubt is the humble awareness of our human propensity to be mistaken, while unwavering faith is nothing but stubbornness and refusal to change your mind.
This may be easier for a Christian to see if we apply the same faith/doubt dichotomy to another ideology. Let’s say there was a group of atheists who taught their followers that “doubting atheism” was a shameful thing, that only the immoral or weak-minded did it. Imagine this group taught its followers to “have faith in atheism, no matter what, even if you see visions of angles, don’t believe them, just believe that atheism is true, to the point that no one can ever convince you otherwise.” Does such an atheist group seem like they care about finding the truth? No! You would clearly see that their ideology was manipulating its members using fear, shame, and indoctrination. It’s clearly not interested in the pursuit of truth, merely keeping it’s members addicted to the dogma, no matter the cost. Yet, that is exactly the way Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, and other religions treat internal skepticism.
In the end religion teaches its followers to have arrogant and unwavering self-confidence, to believe that “MY religious views cannot be mistaken!” It urges its adherents to instantly reject other people’s views without honestly and openly considering them. It teaches it’s followers that asking skeptical questions and seeking to critically examine whether their own beliefs are true is a shameful thing which the “spiritually strong” don’t do. Religion makes the evil of arrogant dogmatism a virtue, so long as that dogmatism supports that religion.
3. It has no ethical limits
Usually it’s the Christian who accuses the nonbeliever of having no moral limits, after all, without God “anything is permissible.” But is that really true?
Assume with me that there is no God, does that really mean that there are no rules in the universe? For example, will shooting yourself in the foot cease to be bad for you? Will cutting off your fingers instantly stop being harmful? No, not at all. There are natural laws which govern our health and happiness, regardless of the gods, and these laws are grounded in natural facts.
If I want to be happy, I cannot go and kill thousands of children. Why? Because it brings harm to sentient beings, which ultimately reduces the level of happiness in the world. The tribe or society of those who were harmed will be angry, cease wanting to help me, and will likely desire to hurt me in turn. Most actions have consequences to my own well-being. Lets take an simpler example, it’s a natural law that trying to drink two gallons of vodka will harm (or kill) me. There is no way we can ever consider this “good” for my health. It is an objective fact that this action is bad for my health. If I want to live happy and healthy, I ought not do it..
On the other hand, if God commands me to kill thousands of children (a la Old Testament), what choice do I have? I must consider this act morally good and murder them. If God tells me to burn my neighbor with fire, I must not only do it but also classify it as morally righteous act. If God commands me to take a rock and bash in someone’s skull, I must perform the deed and think it virtuous. Whatever God says, I must not only obey, but honor as morally upright. There are no limits outside of Gods opinion. And looking at the diversity of commands found in the texts of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, & etc, the “Gods opinion” includes just about anything imaginable to man’s mind. If you don’t believe me or are muttering to yourself “god would never order do that,” just read this series of citations from the Bible where the authors describe God commanding those horrific examples of violence and brutality that I cited and much more.
4. It steals human potential
You walk into the doctor’s office, he looks at an x-ray and begins to tell you that your carnivorous lifestyle has given you cancer and you (and all others who eat meat) are going to die a terrible, painful, death. Then he offers to cure your disease asking you to tell others your story. This is not true, but what happens if you believe it? Your roller coaster experience takes you from the dreary chasm of existential dread to the very heights of euphoria and joy. Afterwards, you would almost certainly waste massive amounts of time (falsely) denigrating or worrying anyone who eats meat and (falsely) venerating this doctor. You will waste valuable amounts of time on a useless lie, robbing yourself of time and money that could have been used on a useful truth.
This is what I believe Christianity is like. Even worse, the very core of Christian doctrine says that all of us are wretched sinners who deserve eternal torture (and the only reason God loves us is because he is nice, not because we are worth loving). What are the consequences of such a belief? I don’t have to invent hypothetical answers, because my memory is still fresh with the crippling depression and fear I had from of internalizing that doctrine. I could have spent my time enjoying myself or bettering my world, but instead I wasted hundreds of hours anxiously and tearfully muttering at the ceiling, begging a God who doesn’t reply to not torture me in an imaginary lake of fire.
If Christianity is wrong, then it’s not merely a harmless belief on Sundays, but a pervasive meme that emotionally manipulates its host to waste its life spreading that meme to others. It is like a doctor that infects you with a disease only to sell you the cure, afterward demanding that you bring in new patients, to also undergo the same process. Each patient is infected, cured, and sent out to bring in more. Over and over again, wasting a great deal of human potential towards other, nobler, pursuits.
For those of you who are Christian and cannot imagine your beliefs this way, consider this. You believe Islam is completely wrong. Now conjure in your mind the countless hours that a billion people spend reading Islamic literature, performing Islamic rituals, earning money that’s donated to Islamic centers, and trying to convert others to Islam. Do you not think that is an immense waste of human potential? So much effort and time for a false religion? Surely you do. Now imagine if all those people were to pull all of their time and money away from Islam and invest it into finding a cure for cancer, or into something else productive, helpful, and true. Now do you see? Islam wastes the potential of a billion people? So does Christianity.
5. It creates social segregation
Christianity is among a family of religions and ideologies that force segregation between those of us who are all members of the same brotherhood of humanity. It seems that it’s human nature to harshly divide each other, yet throughout history, many groups adopted different ideologies which fostered unity and kindness for their fellow man (like Jainism, the Bahá’í faith, Maoiri tribal religion, Chinese Mohism, Unitarian Universalism, Deism, Secular Humanism, etc). History gives us evidence that certain ideologies encourage unity with all mankind while others consistently produce division and animosity. Most variations of Christian doctrine produce division (along with other big offenders like Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, etc).
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” -Jesus (Mat 10:34-35)
In a trillion galaxies, filled with hundreds of billions of stars we have not yet found another planet with human beings, creatures that are so uniquely gifted with the ability to love, feel, or create. At least for now, we are alone in the universe (though perhaps only because of its immense distances). In this great vastness and aloneness, how must stronger should our unity be! For each one of us, there are trillions of comets, asteroids, planets, and stars. We, the living ones, among all this cosmic dust, we are the minority.
This fact alone should drive us to cooperate, and yet, religious and political ideologies create false narratives which divide and fill our hearts with hatred towards the “other.” Religions like Christianity separate us into wheat and chaff, good and evil, friend and foe.
They separate inseparable human beings into “us” vs “them.”
I will admit that some people have great tales of friendships formed through religion, but this is only because members of the “us” group united among themselves, while separating from “them.” This is like two members of the KKK forging a brotherly bond, while still segregating our nation by skin color.
This is the greatest fault of Christianity.
It teaches a parent to turn to their child and say “if you are not with us, you are against us.”
It teaches a friend to say “if you don’t commit to the unprovable ideas I believe, you are broken and evil.”
It teaches a spouse to say “if you don’t believe in the invisible, I can no longer love you.”
It is the thief in the night that has caught us all in slumber and robbed us of our ability to earnestly connect with anyone who is not an identical clone. Most conversations I’ve had with Christians ended up with them coldly assaulting my motivations or acting as divine therapists, in a thinly veiled attempt to diagnose the root of my folly and turn me into another religious clone. How few were the honest conversations when two kindred spirits met, and in the fragile tension of embracing each other’s existential uncertainty, warmly apprehended each other’s fears, hopes, frustrations.
When I left the church, dozens of human hearts around me were sealed shut by the rusted iron gates of religious dogma. My path became difficult and my companions few. And the only one to blame was Christian dogma. (2 Thes 3:14, 2 John 1:10, etc)
The ideological weight of systems like Christianity produces a virulent attitude towards any critical conversation about it (which in turn produces some equally nasty responses from outsiders). Dogmatic religion has driven a wedge between so many people who would otherwise be part of the family of humanity. It has burrowed so deeply into our minds that we cannot kindly discuss it as an idea, instead we would rather break apart families or friendships, than acknowledge our ignorance of the hereafter.
If you’re a Christian, you are might be thinking “stop complaining about how people treat you, it’s your fault you chose to leave the church.” And that, my friend, is precisely the kind of segregation that religion produces.