It’s not hard to poke holes in Christianity’s supernatural claims. Anybody with a reasonable grasp of history or science can do it. Entire websites exist to debunk this or that supernatural claim, and I’ve written extensively about them. But there’s more to their worldview than just those supernatural claims! And today we’ll be examining some of those other ones.
Those supernatural claims are simply low-hanging fruit. Only a child (or a childish adult) would ever believe that Hell is a real place or that their magical invisible friend can heal injuries or find lost car keys for them. It’s downright silly to think that there are tons of adults in 2016 who seriously believe that, Real Soon Now™, their god will cast a spell that makes them all fly up into the sky before he totally trashes the planet.
The more literalist the Christians, the easier it is to bat aside their claims, and the harder it is for them to cope when they finally realize the truth about even one of those claims. Literalist belief is like a Jenga tower. It can withstand a little challenge (just like any conspiracy theory can), but when a definitive debunk finally gets through to one of its believers, the whole tower falls and that Christian is very likely to deconvert at that point.
But not all of Christianity’s claims revolve around the Bible’s myths. Many of its claims are more about how great their religious rules are for families and communities and how much better Christians’ lives are compared to those of non-Christians. I call these “ideological claims” to differentiate them from supernatural claims because they relate to the Christian worldview and how that worldview translates into recommended behavior and actions.
1. Christianity Makes For Better People and Communities.
One of Christians’ favorite claims is that their religion makes people into better people: more compassionate, honest, ethical, kind, law-abiding, respectful, and whatever else they think is good. They think that this goodness comes from their god, who inhabits them physically and informs their morality, thoughts, and behavior. Conversely, non-Christians–especially atheists–are thought to totally lack those traits because they lack belief in the Christian god.
This common claim is also used as a fear tactic. I’ve talked to way too many ex-Christians who resisted examining their religion’s claims because they were scared that if they began doubting too much, then they’d suddenly lose all sense of morality. Imagine their astonishment when they deconverted and found out, as I did long ago, that their sense of morality wasn’t dependent at all upon their religious beliefs!
And Christians who do think their religion’s supernatural claims are true and credible–or at least say they do in their out-loud voices–certainly don’t let Christianity’s gruesome and grotesque threats stop them from committing all manner of evil deeds. Here’s a pastor who sexually abused teens. Here’s another. Bill Gothard, one of the most influential right-wing Christians in their homeschooling movement, is being sued for harassing and sexually abusing women at his school. Here’s a priest who ran a lottery scam. Here’s a whole cult that just got caught running a food-stamp fraud (and their leader is in prison for raping underage girls). And, of course, the Catholic Church–the oldest, biggest group of Christians in the whole world, is still dealing with their child-rape scandal.
One needn’t go so far as the headlines to see examples of Christians–even fervent ones–acting in the most reprehensible manner. One can see this behavior every single day in everyday Christians too. The Christians I know who are wonderful people are so rare and remarkable that they stand out like red roses among brambles, while the more religiously-obnoxious the Christian, the more likely that person is to be a terrible ambassador of their religion.
Zoomed out to the larger scale, nothing changes.
Christians may love the idea of “taking back their country” since they have this idea that a Christian-dominated community is safer, more law-abiding, and more harmonious than one that is secular. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. In every single direction, by every single metric imaginable, very religious societies are more dysfunctional than ones that are secular.
I’ll add a word here, too, about charitable giving, since Christians like to trumpet their charitable donations as a sign that their religion makes them better people than non-believers are (and sometimes even as a sign that their supernatural claims are true–really!). Tithes make up most of Christians’ charitable giving. And tithes largely go to–you guessed it–the upkeep and building of the tithers’ church building(s), the salary of their ministerial staff, and outreach efforts designed to put and keep butts in pews. Almost none of Christians’ donations go to people who need help.
Most churches refuse to make their budgets and expenditures completely transparent to parishioners (only 150 churches out of 330,000 in America are members of an organization dedicated to transparency), so tithing Christians generally have no idea where their tithes go–and that’s if they tithe at all, since most Christians don’t actually donate anywhere near 10% of their income to their churches. Now that secular charities are starting to get more attention, charitable giving by people identifying as atheists or Nones, meanwhile, has increased dramatically.
So Christians’ claim about how wonderful their ideology is for society is not one I consider to be credible.
2. People Who Follow Christianity’s Relationship Rules Have Better Sex Lives and Are Happier.
I’ve written about this claim in the past. It’s one of Christians’ favorites. I heard it constantly while I was Christian, and I hear it hinted even today in Christian advice manuals–where it isn’t outright stated, as in The Love Dare, which flat-out tells readers that if they don’t convert to Christianity, they have no hope whatsoever of making their marriage work and last.*
Christians are downright obsessed with policing people’s sex lives. They have a myriad of rules that involve carefully-prescribed gender roles and a number of limits on exactly when sex can be had, by whom, where, how, and for how long. The more conservative the group of Christians, the more limits they usually insist upon and the more restrictive their rules about gender roles, and the happier they tend to claim that people are when they follow them–and the sadder they think people are when they do not. And the more conservative the Christians, the more likely they are to think that their rules should apply to everyone–like it or not.
Christians have a lot of weird ideas about what sex and relationships in and out of their ruleset look like. Premarital sex is devaluing to women and makes people miserable in the long run, so people should try hard not to have it. Men are monsters with no self-control and so they need to carefully manage how they relate to women lest do something awful to them. Women are totally responsible for how men treat them. Having sex without feeling love for one’s partner(s) is the most terrible thing anybody could ever do and a relationship based on sexual attraction is guaranteed to end in heartbreak and tears. Others believe that contraception “cheapens” sex by stripping the risk of pregnancy out of it, or that sex that looks like anything but “true love in the dark,” as Mr. Captain excellently mocks it, is disrespectful to women and will cause a relationship to falter.
Christians push a model of marriage that is one-size-fits-all, one that is decidedly one-sided and unfair to women particularly, and then blame those who try to follow those rules for not doing everything right–but the fact that so many Christians totally fail to do everything right doesn’t stop them from trying to force those rules onto not only their own number but everyone else as well. And the hilarious part? Even fairly progressive Christians push their ideological ideas about sex as being the best for married people, even if many of their other ideas are pretty benign.
Listening to Christians set rules for relationships is like listening to young children talk about marriage. They don’t have the faintest idea what works or why, but they do know what should work based on their worldview so they create and maintain rules based on that Jesus-colored view of the world.
But their rules don’t work. At all.
It’d be one thing if their rules sounded misogynistic, ludicrously cookie-cutter, and like a recipe for victimization yet resulted in stronger, happier marriages for the majority of people who tried to follow those rules. At that point I’d have to concede that though it didn’t make a lot of sense to me, clearly a lot of folks did great following their system.
But that’s not what’s going on. At all.
All one has to do to debunk their claims about how great their rules are about sex and relationships is to talk to people outside the tribe. (So many people are doing all these totally unapproved things and not caring one bit how Christians feel about it!) But if you want actual science, here’s some of that too. Christians’ rules encourage early marriage and childbearing, which leads to lower income for most couples, which leads to greater stress. Moreover, the unfair division of labor most Christian groups consider “divine” leads to conflict all by itself, as I can attest personally. And because Christianity doesn’t teach effective or constructive ways to handle arguments and negative emotions, all that stress can escalate quickly into serious conflict.
In short, I’m astonished that I ever allowed people with so little understanding to dictate such important parts of my life. This claim is not only untrue but ludicrously and pathetically so; it’s sad to see the damage these rules wreak on innocent Christians’ lives.
3. Christianity Gives People’s Lives Greater Meaning.
This claim is often parroted by Christians in the reverse–by claiming that people who are not Christian cannot lead meaningful lives at all without belief in Christianity and a god handing them their purpose.
I wrote about this claim in more detail here in “Captain Cassidy and the Cosmic Purpose”. It’s presumptuous of Christians to unilaterally decide that other people don’t have meaning in their lives just because they aren’t pretending to get those meanings from talking to the ceiling. Even when I was Christian myself, I had no idea what my life purpose was. I knew lots of other Christians struggling to discover their purpose as well. I knew Christians who were depressed and thought their lives were meaningless–even while attending churches that taught that all Christians had a part to play in what they imagined was “God’s divine plan.” I knew Christians who were trying to live out their divine purposes but were failing dramatically–as I was–and wondered all the time if this really was what they were supposed to be doing.
So it’s hilarious that so many Christians look down at people outside their tribe and sniff that they don’t know what it’s like to lead a meaningful life. I guess they don’t know any actual non-Christians, or else they don’t know how to use search engines, which would turn up pieces like this one, this one, or this one. People vary dramatically in what they construct for themselves as meaning in life, and I’m not saying I agree or disagree with everything I’ve linked here. The point here is, people can and do find meaning outside of Christianity. They’ve been doing it for many thousands of years, and they’re still doing it today all over the world.
Christians who leave the religion may flail for a little while, but they’ll settle into their new worldview–whatever it is–and find meaning again. Chances are they’ll find that new, self-created meaning to be far more, well, meaningful than the one they imagined was handed to them by their imaginary friend.
So this claim seems like a rather boorish attempt by Christians to claim a monopoly on something that is not theirs to grab–a way to climb a moral high horse from which to insult and dehumanize those who aren’t part of their forced march. There’s no evidence that it’s true, and lots of evidence contradicting it. I declare it false.
4. Christianity Frees People from Guilt and Shame.
This claim is explicitly made by the guy who writes CARM. It’s one of the few non-supernatural claims he makes on that page and it’s a common one among Christians, so it’s worth examining here.
The idea is that once they convert to Christianity, Christians suddenly get someone to confess all their flaws and bad deeds to (“God”), so they don’t have to feel guilt or shame anymore. They are “set free.” But this idea is not only not credible but nonsensical. It’s part of their Prosperity Gospel, this idea that converting to Christianity will make them happy.
Unfortunately, it’s also untrue. Christians are the richest natural source of guilt and shame on the planet. They use both guilt and shame to gain compliance from other people, and they beat themselves up with both constantly.
That includes me. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t be a perfect Christian, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more to “save” the people I cared about from Hell. Entire (awful) books get written to help Christians get past their feelings of guilt and shame, mostly by telling them to “give those feelings to Jesus” in some fashion. Turn those frowns upside down! Jesus only wants to see happy slaves!
Obviously, when “giving those feelings to Jesus” doesn’t work–because there’s no divinity standing by to make first-world Christians feel prettier or less ashamed or guilty about whatever minor misdeed they’re sad about–the Christians in question will be the ones blamed for Doing Christianity All Wrong. I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of that accusation many times, both while I was Christian and once I’d deconverted. If a Christian wasn’t happy-happy joy-joy all the time, then by definition they were doing it all wrong.
Are there Christians who are happy-happy joy-joy all the time? Maybe, but I’ve never once met one. Even the truest-blue Christians I ever knew suffered from those negative feelings. There’s always something to feel bad about in Christianity, where even thoughts are policed.
I wish I had a nickel for every Christian I ever knew or heard who felt guilty and ashamed. Christianity doesn’t free people. It teaches them that they’re broken simply for being human and that their natural desires and feelings are bad and must be tamed or denied entirely. It gives them an outlet for confessing wrongdoing, but then hands them a whole list of “sins” to atone for that don’t hurt anybody and aren’t actually wrongdoing in any sense except in the one that Christians uniquely position as upsetting to their god–so suddenly people have a doubled if not quadrupled list of things to confess and atone for than they did before converting.
This claim is false, and probably one of the most damaging lies Christians believe.
5. Children Raised in a Christian Home Turn Out Better Than Kids Raised by Non-Christians.
When a pair of college students recently kidnapped and murdered a young girl, the father of one of those students declared that he didn’t understand how his daughter could have turned out that way because he’d maintained a Christian home that followed all the rules he thought his religion prescribed for parents. He specifically used his religious leanings as a shorthand for a family structure that his religion routinely teaches will result in good kids who grow up into law-abiding, kind, and respectful adults.
This belief is widespread in Christian-heavy communities. People express astonishment at crimes committed by their church-mates. Parents tsk-tsk over children raised by non-Christians because they’re positive those kids will turn out to be criminals–and when a kid raised by Christians is the one who does go that route, they’re shocked.
And I’m not sure that Christians have room to look down their noses at non-Christians. Mounting research indicates that non-religious parents seem to be doing just fine with their kids. Other studies assert that religious children aren’t as altruistic or as generous as kids raised without religious indoctrination. Researchers think that non-religious families have to rely on reasoning and rational explanations to teach children about kindness, honesty, and other values, rather than black-and-white religious stories that largely rely on fear of punishment to teach kids those lessons.
So…. no, this claim isn’t credible either.
All in All, Look, It’s Simply Not a Credible Religion.
I don’t actually require a religion’s mythology to be 100% true. I know that no religion makes true claims about the supernatural. That’s okay with me, insofar as its adherents don’t try to say that their claims are true when they aren’t. Clearly that’s also okay with the great number of Christians who’ve made peace with various Bible myths being, well, myths.
Lots of Christians don’t even try to make supernatural claims. They stress how wonderful their ideology is in lived experience. The problem is that when I look at the main thrust of Christian ideology, I don’t see any more evidence supporting that than I do the religion’s supernatural claims.
What matters to me a lot more than having untrue mythology is having untrue ideology.
To me, nothing untrue is totally awesome, but the latter is a lot less forgivable than the former. **
* The doublethink required for Christians to buy into this idea, yet buy countless advice manuals and attend countless seminars and sermons about the topic to learn how to marriage better, just makes me dizzy. Talk about a snake-oil sales campaign that sells itself!
** hubba hubba zoot zoot — damn it, this is stuck in my head