If Christianity is the correct moral and spiritual path, why doesn’t it look like it?
Some Christians are good and some not so much, just like in any large population, but if morality is a central part of religion and Christianity is the one true religion, shouldn’t this be obvious somehow? Why can you not tell a person following the truth path from one following a false religion by their actions? And why are prisons full of Christians?
Christians have a response. Look in a church, and you’ll find that it’s full of sinners. But what did you expect? Christianity says that we’re all fallen people. Jesus said, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-2). The church is a hospital, with the sinners as the patients.
Let’s take this metaphor for a drive and see the many ways it fails.
1. A hospital stay is temporary
When you’re sick, you go to the hospital if you must, but your stay should be as brief as possible. The hospital is the option of last recourse. Financial pressure encourages the patient to leave quickly.
By contrast, church isn’t to be avoided, it’s celebrated. It’s a lifestyle and a worldview. Once you’re in, there are often penalties for leaving such as loss of friendships and even family. Church isn’t free, and you are encouraged to dig deep and contribute. Your tithes aren’t a fee but a privilege.
If a vaccination can last for ten years, why isn’t a good dose of Jesus enough to last you for a lifetime?
2. Hospitals improve society
If we can expand the metaphor to include modern medicine and health-focused social policy, this expansive view of “hospitals” has found many ways to keep you out of a hospital bed: a healthy lifestyle with proper diet and exercise, vaccines, improved environmental conditions, nutrition labels on packaged food, laws to safeguard working conditions and food, and preventative medicine like periodic checkups.
By contrast, churches have no interest in seeing you leave. They sometimes encourage their members to fiddle with social policy, standing in the way of same-sex marriage and abortion, for example. Church leaders often dabbles in politics. Christians might push for religious views of reality (like Creationism) to be taught in schools. Evidence drives medicine, but dogma drives religious meddling.
Christianity looks like a protection racket. Its leadership benefits from the status quo and strives to protect the system. Commenter RichardSRussell asked, “Of the two great, evil, criminal gangs to emerge out of Italy, why is the Mafia the one that gets most of the bad press?”
3. A hospital can cure you, completely
Modern medicine isn’t perfect, but it cures many illnesses and repairs many injuries. While medical treatment and research is expensive, we have a lot to show for it.
By contrast, churches have no concept of a cure for a spiritual ailment. Baptism or saying the sinner’s prayer are sometimes portrayed as cures, and yet (depending on the denomination), the Christian is continually on edge, wondering if they’re still on God’s good side. To follow the metaphor, churches provide palliative care only. Christianity says that we’re born spiritually sick, there is no cure in this lifetime, and God himself made us so. As Christopher Hitchens noted, “We are created sick and commanded to be well.”
4. Hospitals treat actual illness
Hospitals treat illnesses like pneumonia, hepatitis, and AIDS.
By contrast, churches invent a new problem of sin plus a god to get offended by it, as if there weren’t enough real problems in the world. Jesus said demons can cause disease. This is theology, not science.
Here’s an idea: if God is offended by sin, let’s assume that he’s a big boy and can take care of it. He can tell us himself how we should conduct our lives, not through a religion that looks no different from all the other manmade religions. That God needs human agents here on earth and never speaks for himself is powerful evidence that he doesn’t exist.
5. Hospitals follow scienceHospitals use medicine, and medicine follows evidence. The bill at the end of a hospital stay might not be as transparent as you might like (that’s a policy issue), but it could theoretically itemize every test given or medicine taken. And each of those could be linked to the studies that document their efficacy.
We can complain about the medical system, but we can agree that objective measures of success should be the final arbiter of what works and what doesn’t.
Churches use dogma and faith, not evidence. There’s not even an objective measure of the correctness of various religions’ dogma. That extends down to contradicting Christian denominations as well. Religion gets a pass and isn’t required to provide evidence for their claims.
There’s a reason that faith healers don’t spend time in hospitals healing the sick. And there’s a reason why U.S. churches hide behind a loophole that allows them to benefit from tax deductible donations and yet keep their financial records secret.
6. Hospitals work
Antibiotics and other medicine as well as other treatments work. Some are 100% reliable, while others are less so, and doctors can reliably predict how a course of treatment will go.
Churches use prayer whose only effectiveness is as a placebo. Christians often say that prayer works, but it certainly doesn’t in the sense that medicine, electricity, or cars work. Prayer may reliably work only in that it provides meditative benefits, but that is certainly not the meaning behind the claim “prayer works.”
They also claim that miracles happen. I issue a challenge to provide that evidence here.
7. Hospitals use professionals
Doctors and nurses are trained. Evidence is used to improve their training.
Jesus is the Great Physician (as in a spiritual healer) in name only. He never shows up. It’s said that he does his work by magic, but there’s no evidence of this. People marvel at his work like people marveled at the diaphanous fabric made by the tailors weaving the Emperor’s new clothes. Any example of an actual healing through the church—maybe someone who kicked an addiction or got out of homelessness or got control of their anger—has people behind it.
In this “hospital,” the patients treat each other. Some are lay members and some are clergy, but they’re all ordinary people, with the Doctor in the Sky conspicuously absent.
The treatments (that is, the right path of spiritual living) are sometimes contradictory across Christian denominations. Extend that out to all religious people, and the incompatibilities underscore the partisan nature of religion’s answers (more here).
8. Bad things happen if you need to go to the hospital but don’t
Centuries ago, doctors might’ve caused more illness than they cured, but we’re long past that. Faith healing or wishful thinking are no help. A medical cure, if one is available, is the reliable route.
By contrast, people outside the church look about the same as those who are members. In fact, those who had been in the church but quit say they’re happier. (Of course, Christians will say that the opposite is also true—those who had been outside the church and are now inside are happier. There are plenty of miserable Christians, but let’s accept that point. That simply makes this a worldview issue. Atheism and Christianity are worldviews, and those in each one prefer it to the other. But is this the best that the One True Religion can claim? It’s just another worldview? Shouldn’t it be obviously better somehow?)
But there is one parallel that works. Hospital-acquired infections cause or contribute to 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Similarly, churches can give you new spiritual infections such as new biases or hatreds.
h/t commenter InDogITrust.
to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists
and this, that, and the other thing.
Nonsense! I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.
— Pat Robertson
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 11/12/15.)
Image from Wikimedia, CC license