Mark Twain on Christians

  • Hitchslapper

    Mark Twain, Samuel Clemmons….. what a superior mind.

  • John C

    Big swing and a miss-rep-resent’ing

    • ctcss

      Amen to that. Twain was a very complex man, and commented on many areas of life, often touching on the same subject from more than one angle. He obviously like to poked fun of self-righteous and hypocritical types who took themselves very seriously and at the same time looked down upon everyone else. But he also had great regard for people who quietly and sincerely tried to live up to high ideals. He was not at all against people who were sincerely trying to follow Christ. He, like most people, could tell the difference between sincerity and hypocrisy.

      • Nox

        Twain recognized that christians are victims of christianity just as much as they are perpetrators of christianity. But the idea that he would have given a pass to “people who were sincerely trying to follow Christ” wouldn’t survive a cursory reading of his work. What he is saying here (and he was right) is that trying to follow christ is what is causing these people to choose a bad deal for themselves and impose it on others.

        • ctcss

          No, after reading what you had cited, I would say that people who are not actually interested in actually following Christ but who do it out of social obligation (and chafe while doing so), and who do not actually consider that there is anything worthwhile at all about what Jesus actually taught, but hope like crazy to be able to get out of any involvement in it, are actually being hypocrites. And Twain loved to skewer hypocrites.

          • Nox

            (1/2)
            Ctcss and John C,

            Who defines what a religion is? The leaders or the followers? If the words and actions of christians don’t count as representing what christianity really is, and the teachings promoted by the christian churches don’t count as representing what christianity really is, and the contents of the bible don’t count as representing what christianity really is, then what the f*ck is christianity?

            Ctcss,

            I don’t think you’re a bad person.

            Just wanted to make sure that was said before we start.

            I really hope you will not take anything I say here as a personal attack.

            None of it is intended that way.

            It’s pretty obvious that your mental picture of what you are defending when you defend “christianity” is very different from my mental picture of what I am attacking when I attack “christianity”. This will inevitably cause confusion. We will not get anywhere if we cannot agree on what the words we are using mean. My solution to this is to argue that my definition is the right one.

            I always think it’s important to make the distinction between attacking ideas and attacking people (not to say I rule out attacking people, but my only real goal is to attack ideas). As that is a distinction you are especially sensitive to, I am going to try to be especially sensitive to it here.

            I preface my point with all these niceties because if you read this whole thing, there’s going to be some moments when it feels like I’m being unneccessarily mean.

            I’m going to make some observations about you. I’m going to make some observations about your church. And I’m going to speculate about how some of the things your church has said may be influencing some of the things you’re saying here. And in doing this I’m going to lay some harsh statements on you. Not the least harsh of which is that the people who made your religion a force for hate and ignorance are the people who made up your religion in the first place, and it is your god that is a badly misunderstood knockoff of theirs, not the other way around.

            I will try to make this point nicely. It will still require telling you some things you don’t want to hear. Whether or not you are a good person, you are here attempting to defend bad ideas. And now I’m going to have to attack some ideas which are an important part of how you define yourself. You should probably expect up front to be offended.

            The thing is, I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern in your comments Ctcss. Someone attacks christianity, and you defend christians. Someone describes a statement by the bible or some religious authority as false, or points to negative actions inspired by religious belief, and you respond by telling us christians are not all horrible people. Who said they were? The statement you were responding to here describes them as victims.

            To the question of whether christianity is wrong or causes great harm or should be opposed, saying most christians are nice people is no more relevant to the point than saying we shouldn’t treat cancer because most cancer victims are nice people.

            Whenever atheists (or others) point out how demonstrably untrue those beliefs are that a majority of christians have always claimed to believe, some christian will show up to tell us that’s not really what they believe. Whenever atheists (or others) point out the actions that have been inspired by christian belief, some christian will show up to tell us that wasn’t really them. All the comments I’ve seen from you around the Patheos atheist channel seem to be of this variety (and please don’t get the impression that I want to chase you off, I just want to take this opportunity to address the central thesis of what you’ve been saying since you got here).

            I do sort of get where you’re coming from. You participate in a religious tradition that you consider to be about living a good life. What you’ve seen of your church has not given you the impression that it is about hating your neighbor. And then you come to atheist websites and see the negative aspects of christianity being discussed in a way that doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to the religion you have observed. You feel like it’s a wrong description that overlooks what christianity is supposed to be about, and you want to clear up what you see as a misconception. That is a perfectly legitimate and understandable motive.

            However, it is possible that a statement might accurately describe the beliefs and practices of christianity but not accurately describe how christians want to see themselves. For example, if I were to say the Crusades were a real thing that actually happened, or the bible commands genocide and endorses rape and slavery, those would be examples of true statements that do not accurately reflect how you (or most modern christians) want to see their faith.

            If someone were to say “a christian is a person who wants to give up great things in a real life for mediocre things in an imaginary life” they would be using language that calls attention to the ridiculousness of the salvation scheme and indicates the speaker doesn’t think it’s a very good deal. It would be entirely natural for a christian reader to be put off by this and feel like they weren’t being accurately represented (if you don’t think your beliefs are ridiculous and someone describes them in a way that makes them sound ridiculous, of course they must be misunderstanding something). But the Twain quote at the top of the page is just a straightforward (if somewhat snarky) description of the basic premise of christianity. If you don’t recognize giving up things in this life in exchange for things in another life as a central concept of christianity, then I really have no idea what you’re doing or why you’re calling it by that name. Aside from the ‘imaginary’ part, and assigning different values to the rewards, what Twain says here is not really any different from what Paul says in Romans 4.

            Who defines what a religion is? Is it the leaders or the followers? If the words and actions of christians don’t count as representing what christianity really is, and the teachings promoted by the christian churches don’t count as representing what christianity really is, and the contents of the bible don’t count as representing what christianity really is, then what the f*ck is christianity?

            Following the teachings of christ is not a real definition unless you at least specify which version of christ you are talking about. All christians think they are following the teachings of christ. They just don’t all agree on what those teachings were.

            It’s not like the ‘teachings of christ’ are such a clearly defined thing. The body of teachings that most people are thinking of when they talk about ‘the teachings of christ’ is a loose amalgam of christian tradition, things other characters in the bible said, things their pastor said, and a carefully picked selection of things Jesus is quoted as saying in the gospels. And those quotes from the gospels may or may not be based at all on anything Jesus ever actually said. The gospels were written by people who never met Jesus, and they disagree about both his teachings and his biography. No one (christians included) has any real idea what Jesus did or did not say.

            ‘The teachings of christ’ is not a category which can be meaningfully separated from ‘the teachings of the church’. All that is known of christ is what the church has told us, and what we are told by the documents the church decided were the right ones. If you think you don’t trust the authority of priests over the authority of Jesus, then why would you accept the authority of those priests to tell you what Jesus said?

            In addition to being a very small part of the christian holy book and a very small part of the body of teachings which are commonly referred to as ‘the teachings of christ’, the teachings attributed to christ in the gospels are not thorough or specific enough to form the basis of a complete belief system or a complete lifestyle. They are heavy on nice sounding platitudes and very light on practical advice about how to interpret and carry out these teachings. You cannot get to any version of christianity just from the red letters in the bible. Jesus just doesn’t tell us enough. And to complicate matters further, what he does tell us is wildly inconsistent.

            When someone talks about the ‘teachings of christ’ as though they are some sort of coherent moral framework, it suggests they have not actually read the gospels, and are not only relying on the word of the men who decided what to put in the bible, but must also rely on other men to tell them what the bible says. Anyone can make the bible say anything. And if you automatically accept ‘this is what Jesus wants me to do’ as a good reason to do things, anyone can make you do anything. It’s not that all people who accept ‘this is what Jesus wants’ as a good reason to do things will only ever do bad things as a result. Some people believe Jesus wants them to feed homeless people. Some people believe Jesus wants them to sacrifice their children. And ‘this is what Jesus wants me to do’ leads equally well to both outcomes.

            You have picked and chosen from the things other people told you Jesus said, disqualifying anything you think he wouldn’t say (based on who other people told you he was). Through this process you’ve come up with a version of Jesus that is believable and palatable to you. This is the same process by which all those other christians came up with all those other versions of Jesus. When they do it, it’s just as sincere (or just as insincere) as what you are doing.

            Some people want a petty vengeful god who is mostly concerned with punishing sinners. Some people want a loving compassionate god who is mostly concerned with taking care of his children. All those people and the ones in between can find the god they are looking for. Wanting and finding a nicer version of god probably says something nice about you as a person. It doesn’t really make your god any more real than theirs.

            When I made this point before, your response was “People who are clueless about the meaning of scripture or of God’s nature are going to do clueless things in the name of scripture or of the God they think they know but don’t”. But if we examine scripture to determine the nature of god, it becomes immediately obvious that the petty vengeful god of scripture is a lot more similar to the petty vengeful god of traditional christianity, than to the benevolent gods of lukewarm christians.

            What are we supposed to call the 2.3 billion people who call themselves christians but don’t fit your definition of the word? Can we not ever talk at all about these real people or the things they really believe or where those beliefs come from or the real consequences those beliefs and the actions motivated by those beliefs? We certainly can’t if we accept a rule that the word ‘christian’ can only be used to refer to a hypothetical set of idealized people who have never existed.

            Just here in this thread we have you telling us that people who do or don’t do certain things don’t count as christians. And John C telling us that it isn’t really about doing anything at all. As far as I can tell, you both sincerely believe the things you are saying. In neither case is the problem that you or he are bad people or don’t sufficiently value christ’s teachings. But you can’t both be right. And that is just sampling two christians from the extreme liberal end of the spectrum.

            What you are telling us here, is that you are a real christian, and all those other christians are not real christians. But if I ask them, they will tell me that they are real christians, and it is you who is not a real christian. How can I know who to believe? Have you sold all your possessions and given the money to the poor as Jesus said his followers must do? Do you follow every letter of the law of Moses as Jesus said his followers should do? Can you perform the supernatural feats that Jesus said would be the sign of his true followers? Which teachings of christ? Which christ?

            If we accept the definition that a christian is someone who follows the teachings of christ, then Twain was right about one more thing. There has only ever been one christian. They caught him and crucified him early.

            Of course I would find it much more interesting to argue with you about whether the quote in the original post is true, than whether it accurately reflects the beliefs of a dead man. But I do want to clarify this thing about Mark Twain. Everyone (especially writers who have so clearly stated their opinions) deserves the right to be accurately represented. So let’s clear this up real quick, and then we can get back to talking about the other thing you came here to talk about. Mark Twain’s views on religion may have been complicated. What they were certainly not, is ambiguous.

            “The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive … but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition. The Greeks surpassed us in artistic culture and in architecture five hundred years before Christian religion was born.”

            “You can never find a Christian who has acquired this valuable knowledge, this saving knowledge, by any process but the everlasting and all-sufficient “people say”.”

            “The Christian’s Bible is a drug store. Its contents remain the same; but the medical practice changes…. The world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession — and take the credit of the correction. During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. the Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
            Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…. There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.”

            That’s the guy in the picture. I really don’t want to turn you off to a great writer you seem to like. I mean he wrote a lot of cool stuff that has nothing to do with religion. For most of his work, there’s no reason it should be particularly uncomfortable for religious readers. But let’s be totally clear about this. Mark Twain absolutely did not share your belief that all the problems caused by christianity were the result of christians not being christian enough. His diagnosis was that christianity is programmed to have those problems. He didn’t say christians were bad people, he said christianity encourages bad things. It encourages people to divide the world into “good people” and “bad people”, and completely separate thinking of themselves as “good people” from making any effort to be decent humans. It encourages people to navigate the real world using an out of date map with imaginary landmarks. And because of these and other factors, it can motivate otherwise good people to do very bad things.

            Not because they are failing to live up to the ideal of christ (you’re the one adding that distinction, and it’s one he would have considered meaningless), but because they are trying to do what they think christ wants them to do.

            If you want to say people who are not actually interested in actually following christ but who do it out of social obligation are hypocrites, that’s fine. Go ahead and say that. I’d even say from where you’re standing it makes some sense to say that. But it would be a mistake to read that into what Twain said. It is not there.

            He wasn’t calling those people hypocrites. That wasn’t his intention with writing Letter 2 (something like ‘christians accept an unfair deal, trading things they want in this life for things they don’t actually want in an imaginary afterlife’). Nor was it my intention in citing it here (something like ‘I didn’t know whether the quote was real, but this passage shows the idea is totally consistent with things Twain did say’). If you want to see Twain describe how christianity encourages hypocrisy or which kinds of christians he did consider hypocrites, check the link in this post. To see him explain why god as described in the bible is the biggest hypocrite of all check out the previous chapter of Letters From The Earth at my earlier link.

            But hypocrisy isn’t even part of the f*cking question if these people think god is holding a gun to their heads. People who participate in a religion without believing in all of it’s teachings may or may not be hypocrites. Either way, calling them hypocrites misses an important point. Those ‘hypocrites’ are afraid and they are acting out of fear. What of the ones who have been told that if they don’t participate they will be punished by an eternity in a lake of fire? What of the ones who have been shown that their nice polite christian neighbors will turn on them in a second if they are perceived to be one of the bad people? What of the ones who don’t particularly want to be there but have just never known of any other option? Are those people hypocrites? And more importantly, does it f*cking matter at all if they are?

            While it might be tempting to just throw your brothers in christ under the bus at the first sign of trouble, we should keep in mind for most of the last two thousand years, most christians did not get to choose whether to be christian, let alone which kind of christian to be. They did what the church told them to do because the church killed those who didn’t do what the church told them to do. If they were born in christendom, they were christian by default (as the church restricted anyone but their priests from owning or reading the bible ‘someone who follows the teachings of christ’ would be a more useless definition then than it is now) by which I mean they were forced by law to be christian. And if they were ever suspected of even having any doubts, they would be subject to all manner of sacred tortures designed to force them back into orthodoxy.

            The earliest documentary record of the christian church portrays them vandalizing other people’s churches, interrupting their religious services and often killing people for believing differently than them. After they came to political power, they got their opportunity to show what kind of world christianity would create if given the chance. And they spent the next fifteen hundred years showing us exactly that.

            • Nox

              (2/2)
              The first thing they did was set about purging the pagans. They compelled the baptism of those who would cooperate, and killed those who wouldn’t. They destroyed other libraries besides the one at Alexandria. Burning any scrolls and smashing any statues that they found not sufficiently praising of their god (and in the process, destroying what would have been most of our record of pre-christian Europe if they hadn’t robbed the world of that information to protect their insecure god). And the second thing they did was go to war with each other, happily slaughtering their christian brothers over such questions as whether god the father and Jesus were the same person or whether the wine literally became the blood of Jesus.

              This ten way christian holy war ended with the church of Rome being established as The One True Church and ushering in an age of ignorance and superstition that humanity has still not completely escaped. With everyone in the former roman empire required to submit to the teachings of christ, and the power to decide what christ taught being exclusively controlled by the bishop of Rome, the church which is now known as the roman catholic church erased any of the parts of christianity they didn’t like and added in whatever was convenient to add at the time. The successive rulings of various councils and popes resulted in the set of beliefs which became catholicism, and later became the basis for all sects of protestant christianity (this is what I meant by “the people who made your religion a force for hate and ignorance are the people who made up your religion in the first place”).

              The church propagated the idea that all humans are inherently guilty of a sin committed before they were born, and anyone who did not accept the conditional salvation offered by Jesus (conditional on one’s obedience to the church) would spend eternity being punished for that inherited sin. For several hundred years the use of physical force and the threat of supernatural force was enough to keep most people in line. Occasionally someone would propose a slightly different interpretation of the teachings of christ from what the church had approved. These people were known as heretics, and countless thousands of them were murdered or chased from their homes under the orders of the papal office in charge of deciding which teachings were taught by christ (that would be the papal office currently held by Joseph Ratzinger, who was inspired by the teachings of christ to cover up the molestation of thousands of children by his employees).

              The catholic church successfully put down many heresies. But in the 16th Century, at a moment when the Vatican’s coffers were low, and a lot of catholics were really pissed off at the pope, one particular heresy caught on. By taking the set of catholic doctrines that were currently held at the time and redesigning the command structure (in what I’m sure is a coincidence, Luther’s idea was that he should be in charge) Luther successfully established a christian church outside the authority of the church of Rome. Once they were free from the violent oppression of catholics, the first thing protestants did was start violently oppressing catholics. Protestant nations required all their citizens to be members of protestant churches (and required them to internally hold the spiritual beliefs commanded by those churches) just as catholics had always done. And in nations where catholics still held power, they required all their citizens to be members of the catholic church (and required them to internally hold the spiritual beliefs commanded by that church) just as catholics had always done. And for the next hundred or so years, catholics and protestants wiped each other out by the nationload. When the idea of religious freedom was first brought up, it was decried by catholics and protestants as the work of the devil. It was only because of this devilry that these christians ever stopped killing each other (they still haven’t completely).

              When catholics and protestants had sufficiently weakened each other’s power, and christianity’s grip on the former roman empire began to loosen, and people started to create secular art and perform scientific experiments, and approach philosophical questions that had been previously forbidden, the church responded by imprisoning scientists, artists and philosophers (Galileo is the most well known example of this, but not the only one). When we started to understand and explore the real origins of our species, the churches saw it as a threat to the original sin that is required for the salvation scam, and they responded by launching a massive (and massively succesful) campaign to convince christians to reject science. This one is still happening right now. It’s called creationism, and it’s the reason 54% of americans think the earth is six thousand years old.

              Most modern christians don’t usually like to talk about those things. But this is the process which created the beliefs they hold today. All those things I just described, did actually happen. Christians really did those things, and in all these examples they were motivated by their sincere belief that they were following the teachings of christ. Whether it is the version of christ you believe in is unrelated. The fact that not every christian has done those things does not change the fact that those things happened because of christianity. The Crusades and the Inquisition are the results, exclusively, of christianity (and on a side note, any god who could watch these things happen in his name and not step in to stop them is impotent or evil, and any god who would design a salvation plan with these results is somewhat less than all-knowing).

              In our earlier conversation at Hallq’s site, when I asked you “How many terrible things would christians have to do while declaring “I am doing this for god” and citing the bible as justification before you could entertain the possibility that christianity is actually the cause of their behavior?”, it was only a partially rhetorical question. Do you have any line? Could christianity ever be harmful enough for you to admit it is harmful?

              There is a tendency among christians to think any negative aspect of christianity must be the result of people not being christian enough. If you believe you have the infallible will of an infallible god, it can be hard to consider that the book might be wrong, or god might not exist, or god might be wrong. That something might have gone wrong because there actually was something inherently wrong in the belief system itself is a hard thing to imagine if you think your salvation depends on calling the belief system perfect.

              So I can understand why you don’t want to blame Jesus for the things done in his name. And if it were just because others were acting in his name, that in itself would not be a fair reason to blame him. But if you begin your investigation into any christian atrocity by assuming there must be some other culprit, how would you ever detect an atrocity that is the direct result of people following christian teaching. If you can only allow yourself to think of christianity as a good thing, how would you ever find out if it wasn’t?

              In addition to the nice little platitudes there is a more sinister side to ‘the teachings of christ’. The god based genocide in christian history can’t be completely separated from the god ordered genocide in the christian holy book (nor can it be separated from Jesus encouraging his followers to hate the sinner). And the god who is said to have ordered is also said to have fathered Jesus, and is the god christians still worship today. You might feel the embarrassingly barbaric behavior of some other christians shouldn’t reflect on you or your lord, but those things are directly encouraged by the concepts you and all those better christians still believe.

              Not that every idea in the christian canon is worthless. It’s just that anything in there that is worth keeping, you could believe for some other reason besides its inclusion in scripture, and you would be better off doing so. If you are one of the good ones, you would almost certainly come up with something better by following your own moral instincts than by accepting the guidance of priests.

              Christianity has come up with the wrong answer to every question it ever addressed. And it was only when someone else found the right answer, and it became so obviously right that the church looked foolish for disagreeing that they have grudgingly updated their positions. The updating and appropriating of secular memes has led to a watered down bastardized version of christianity that is actually far more benevolent than the classical church ever was. This is the church most christians know today. And most incorrectly think this is what the church has always been.

              These days, most people get to choose which (if any) religion they want to participate in (a development the church fought loudly and violently against). And it is easy to forget that christendom was built entirely on forcing people to believe. It is only because people were previously forced to believe, that anyone still believes these things today. In most places the church no longer has the power to force everyone to bow to them. But they can still make threats or promise rewards for those who will make the mistake of believing them. Many well intentioned christian parents who wanted nothing more sinister than to protect their children from the indiscriminate wrath of a loving god have done the church’s work and indoctrinated the next generation of victims.

              This is why christianity still exists today. Not because so many people find value in the teachings of Jesus, but because the teachings of the church were so successfully drilled into their ancestor’s heads. Today people have a choice whether to believe. And many believe today only because of how successful the church was at denying people that choice in the past. This is an integral part of what myself and many other critics are talking about when we talk about the institution of christianity. That institution is being kept in business mostly by people who don’t really understand what they are supporting.

              Many christians like to tell us it is a relationship, not a religion. The main reason why the word ‘religion’ has embarassing connontations they wish to avoid is because of the religious acts committed by other people who thought they had a special relationship with Jesus. People think ‘religion’ is about pious fraud and submission to arbitrary rules, because christianity has built a reputation as always being about those things. And now the church is trying to disassociate itself from the reputation they built. If you have a relationship with a dead man who you know nothing about (you could have more of a relationship with Twain, who is also dead, but who did think to write down his own teachings, so you can at least know what they are), and the nature of your relationship is you bowing to him and obeying his teachings, and all you know of him is what your church has told you of him, that is not a relationship. That is religion. If you’re going to completely disavow everything christianity is and everything christianity has done before you start defending christianity, what do you think your defense actually applies to?

              You said before that you were from a tradition that isn’t big on literalism. Overall I’m a big fan of christians moving away from that stuff. But christians who aren’t big on literalism have a tendency to whitewash their religious genealogy and think christianity just means whatever the f*ck they personally want it to mean (when arguing with the fluffy and constantly shifting theology of liberal christians, one can almost sympathize with the catholic church).

              The reason you believe in ‘the teachings of christ’ is because you were compelled to believe. The reason anyone still believes is because they were compelled to believe. Either because they were given bad information which led them to reasonably adopt unreasonable beliefs, or denied access to information which disproves those beliefs, or for many people even today, because they were literally forcefully compelled to believe whether they believed or not.

              If what you are defending is merely some humanitarian club offering an unconditional gift, that anyone can join but no one has to join, where everyone just holds hands and sings and nothing bad ever happens (and the congregation is never encouraged to turn on those people the leaders have declared “sinful”), then your defense is summarily disqualified from applying to the christian church on the grounds that it bears no resemblance to the christian church.

              Even ignoring theocracy and indoctrination which you probably don’t think christ would approve of, almost all versions of christianity claim all humans are entered into this contest against their will by god, and all humans will be sent to hell or heaven (with no third option or chance to opt out) based on whether they are willing to believe things without evidence. How could any belief system that claims anything like this not be guilty of trying to compel belief?

              A lot of people who call themselves christians probably are hypocrites who don’t uphold the ideals they claim to believe. And I don’t f*cking care about that. You seem civil enough, and you are probably basically nice to most people you directly interact with. And again, I don’t f*cking care about that. I don’t mean that to be rude. It just doesn’t particularly matter whether you’re a “good person”. What kind of person you are is completely unrelated to any of the questions I’m trying to answer here.

              Are millions of people currently standing in the way of the moral progress of our species because the christian church tells them to do so? Is christianity the thing that is causing this to happen? Are the answers to these questions affected one bit by how many christians are nice people? Then why even bring it up?

              If you care so much what we think about you, tell me about your actions. Tell me what you are doing. What do you support? What do you oppose? What is your reasoning for those positions? How are your actions affecting other people? Do you know how your actions are affecting other people? Do you even care? Do you think about it at all, or does the harm you cause not matter to you if you can still call yourself a good person? If I had enough information to make a judgment of you as a person, or cared at all about making a judgment of you as a person, I would judge you on those things. And if it turned out you were more concerned with carrying out the orders of your imaginary friend than how that affected real people in the real world, I would judge you to be not helping.

              Not that you should care at all about my judgment of you. It should matter to you what kind of person I think you are, as little as it matters to me what kind of person you are. If I loved you, I wouldn’t treat you noticably nicer than the people I hate. And if I hated you, it wouldn’t change the fact that we are stuck on this f*cking planet together. My fate is intertwined with yours, just as it is intertwined with every other human we’re stuck here with. That includes all of the “good people” and all of the “bad people”. I’m not concerned with some magical judgment day where the “good people” will be separated from the “bad people”. It doesn’t f*cking matter who is on which list.

              We are all going to the same place.

              Let’s make it a better place.

              I propose the first step is to recognize and outgrow the dangerously foolish ways of thinking that got us where we are, and attempt to find better ways of thinking that work better in the real world. It is the real world we will have to navigate in this life. It is the real world which will determine the outcomes of our actions. It should be understanding of the real world that informs our actions.

              So yeah, I don’t think you’re “a bad person”. But don’t read too much into that. I don’t really think there are “good people” or “bad people”. As far as I can tell, there’s just people. Usually well meaning, often misguided, and always predictably human.

              People don’t do “bad things” because they are “bad people”. They do unwise, unhelpful things because they are not sufficiently thinking about the results of their actions in the real world (or not basing their actions on the real world at all). This is a moral failing I would accuse all christians of (anyone this accusation doesn’t apply to would have withdrawn their support for this institution a long time ago). This includes my former christian self and many other good people whose blindly directed good intentions are currently making the world a worse place.

              Leaving aside the part where “I’m one of the good ones” so often means as little as “I don’t want to force my beliefs on others, I just want laws to be passed forcing them to live under the rules of my religion” or “I don’t kill gay people, I just vote to deny them equality” or “I don’t think women are less than human, I just think they’re less than men” (or “it’s important to my self-image as a good person to not take responsibility for the actions carried out by the institutions I support”), a lot of christians really are genuinely nice people who make a serious attempt to love their neighbor. A lot of christians are genuinely reasonable people. A lot of christians are nice and reasonable people. That is what makes what’s happening to them such a horrible tragedy.

              I was a christian for many years. More than half the years I’ve been alive (in a very abstract sense, I could say I’m still someone who follows some of the teachings of Jesus). I supported and participated in the institution I’m decrying here today. And when I prayed or went to church or studied the bible or defended christianity on the internet, it wasn’t because I wanted to harm my neighbor and promote hate and ignorance. I was raised to believe that Jesus was my savior and that his sacrifice and the ensuing opportunity to be part of his flock was the best thing that ever happened to humans. And I did believe that. With my whole heart (right up until the point where I would have been lying to continue believing it). I went to church because I wanted to be where two or three are gathered in his name. I prayed because I loved Jesus and I believed I had a special relationship with him. I proselytized because I didn’t want people to go to hell.

              Looking back, I am ashamed of some of the things I went along with. Not because I was a bad person, or because I had any reason at the time to think it was wrong, but because I was used to help bad things happen. And looking at most of the christians I know now, not one considers their religious devotion to be an act of malice against their fellow humans. Most of them are very nice to their in group. Most of them would say their religion is about love and compassion, and they are just trying to be good people. Most of them wouldn’t be lying about that (at least not on any conscious level). And every one of these “good people” are being used to help bad things happen right now.

              Could you get several million people who earnestly claim to believe in loving their neighbor to support torture or unprovoked wars, or to oppose equality if they hadn’t first accepted a definition of goodness that short circuited their basic human empathy?

              It is their stronger than average concern for morality, combined with their weaker than average understanding of morality that makes the average christian so dangerous. Most christians are highly driven to be “good” people. The problem has mostly been that they are working with a broken definition of “good” (any moral system which prioritizes how an act makes god feel over how it affects other people is dysfunctional). If there’s a blanket accusation that should be made of all christians, it’s that they have failed to realize this somewhat obvious fact, and mostly because they haven’t put enough thought into where they direct their good intentions.

              Bad intentions are not a necessary component of bad results. Neither are good intentions any guarantee of good results. This isn’t an argument against good intentions. Good intentions are lovely. The intended lesson here is that good intentions are not enough.

              Increasing the likelihood of good results requires more than good intentions. It requires more than calling yourself a good person. It even requires more than taking actions to make yourself feel like a good person. It requires thinking about how your actions affect yourself and those around you. Without this step, good intentions lead to random results.

              Read that quote again. Twain’s point here wasn’t to insult all (or any) christians. He’s not saying christians made up christianity just to oppress others. He’s saying christians are getting f*cking robbed. And you deserve better than to be conned into giving up the things that matter most in this life for empty promises in a paradise you’ll never see. And your children deserve better than to be robbed of making that choice for themselves.

              You know what would be really insulting to christians? If someone said you couldn’t help it, that would be insulting. If anyone said the reason christians keep saying foolish things is because there is just something wrong with their brains, that would be something to be offended by. If anyone said the reason most christians end up on the wrong side of every moral issue is because christians are just inherently immoral people, that would be something to be offended by. What I’m suggesting here is the complete opposite. I am saying most of you are decent reasonable people who have been given some bad information. Isn’t that more pleasant than the alternative?

              I respect your right to choose to worship your god if that’s what you want to do. But the christian church, the institution you are defending, the institution that is the thing I am referring to when I refer to christianity, wants to take that choice away from you. And they want to use you to take that choice away from everyone else. And I am only asking you not to let them.

              I’m not telling you this because I think you are a fool. I’m telling you this because I think you are smart enough to figure sh*t out just fine for yourself without a priest telling you what to believe.

            • Custador

              Nox, why are you not writing entried for UF?!

        • John C

          There is no ‘trying’ to follow Christ. In fact, there is no self-effort anywhere in the liberating Truth of it, quite the opposite.

          ‘tell us, what is the work of God that WE may do it’? Jesus replied, ‘this is the work of God–that you (simply/merely) believe…’ (John 6:29)

    • Jabster

      You starting your autobiography then John?

  • Robster

    Were Twain and Hitchens relasted? They must have shared a literature gene or something.