Christianity a Hospital, with Sinners the Patients? 8 Reasons This Fails.

Christianity a Hospital, with Sinners the Patients? 8 Reasons This Fails. January 16, 2020

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.”

Religion takes in over $100 billion in the U.S. every year. Tell me that church is a country club and I’ll buy it, not that it’s a hospital.

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 science

Hospitals 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.

You say you’re supposed to be nice
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


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Gussie FinkNottle

    It’s more like a substandard nursing home where about the best you can hope for is that you’ll die soon and move on to your afterlife.

    • What blog isn’t improved by the addition of an expert on newts? Welcome, Mr Fink-Nottle.

  • Polytropos

    A hospital’s number one aim is to get patients well and ready to go home as quickly as possible, without compromising quality of care. Even if you have an ongoing condition that requires outpatient treatment, the doctors do their best to ensure you can manage your condition with the minimum of hospital involvement. And this is despite the fact that you pay to be in hospital, just like you pay to be in church (assuming you tithe, which churches strongly encourage). That’s the key difference between hospitals and churches. Hospitals want you to be well. Churches just want your money.

    • Hospitals want you well. Churches want you dependent.

      • Polytropos

        And if your doctor kept making up fake diseases you didn’t have to keep you paying hospital fees, you’d sue.

        • Sample1

          Those not in the medical field have no realistic idea how heavily regulated and reviewed the profession is both internally and externally.


        • Otto

          Well…except for the billing part.

        • Sample1

          Whose fault is that? A culture’s or an individual’s? Most of the docs I know, as well as many of their national organizations want universal health care.


        • Otto

          Whose fault is that?

          The hospitals, the insurance companies, their lobbyists, etc. etc. and in the end all of ours, because we allow it.

          My gripe on this isn’t with the actual care providers…they have next to nothing to do with it. My point was that the money side is very much unregulated and it shows with their practices.

          My wife has worked in medical billing and has a lot of experience with it and yet almost every time we get billed from the local hospital (one that she is employed at…though not currently in billing) she often can’t make heads or tails of it. This is imo by design. If she has such a difficult problem think about your average person.

        • Sample1

          I hear you. Hospitals have infrastructure overheads that single-shingle docs (which is a relative rarity now) do not. Equipment in every department requires upkeep and money, replacement, personnel education, everything from maintenance departments to dietary to administrative, to IT, let alone employee payrolls for hundreds. As a result when I see a $10.00 aspirin, I know that isn’t going into a doctor’s pocket, it is going into a mini-city of expenses that is a medium sized hospital.

          The solution is nothing short of an entire cultural shift in priorities that humanity has never experienced. That isn’t happening soon.


      • eric

        Whose dependent on who? Without the voluntary offerings…

    • Ficino

      What about an analogy with that side of the medical industry that really wants, not to heal you definitively, but to manage your chronic illness/disability at a profit?

      • Sample1

        By “side of medical industry” are you thinking the Big Placebo industry? You know, those practitioners who schedule monthly spinal adjustments for you, your children and sometimes your pets? Or those whose work ups for say, “vague sense of unease,” begins with an in house hair and rare metals analysis? Vitamin injections creating, essentially, expensive urine?

        Many counter that Big Placebo doesn’t really do much harm. Debatable. But it does create economic harm. This is a 50+ billion/yr enterprise in the US (last I checked). Money taken through these alternative means (largely protected under a much needed relook at the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health and Education Act) theoretically financially limits access to medicine and perpetuates a non-scientifically literate population.

        But hey, if someone wants to spend their hard earned money on some unregulated or faith-based modality I won’t stop them. But I will speak out.

        Why? Because I’m in the pockets of doctors who are so unregulated, have so much free time, and unable to pay their bills that intentionally keeping people unwell is known to be a good business model. /s


      • Polytropos

        There’s possibly a case to be made that people get over-medicated, but overall there’s no incentive for doctors to keep people sick, even if they wanted to, and the vast majority of medical professionals are ethical people. Doctors actually have a huge incentive to get patients out the door before the next one comes along, because there’s never any shortage of patients.

      • Robert Baden

        So why did we get rid of polio?
        Another sore point for me: There never was a cure for polio. Just a preventative vaccine.
        What people think of as a cure is repairing damage. Not easy.

        • Why did we get rid of smallpox? In just the 20th century, after a vaccine was available, it killed 500M people.

  • eric

    The church is a hospital, with the sinners as the patients.

    No gays allowed in most of those hospitals, though. To extend the “hospital” analogy, evangelicals seem to be arguing that gay people can’t be let in to evangelical “hospitals” because they’re, uh, sick. So sensible!

  • Greg G.

    I noticed that Disqus now displays the names of the down voters. That’s new.

    • Lex Lata

      Couldn’t help myself. 😉

      • Michael Neville

        Me neither.

        • Phil Rimmer

          This is how bar fights… and World Wars start… tsk!

        • Greg G.

          Fights don’t start until somebody hits me back.

        • Phil Rimmer


          So ya want a fight, do ya, Bub?

          Well tough! I’m a sadist and I ain’t inclined to give ya the pleasure…

        • Ficino

          Reminds me of the old joke:

          Masochist: “Beat me, beat me!”
          Sadist: “No.”

        • Phil Rimmer

          Masochist: “Beat me, beat me!”
          Sadist: “No.”
          Masochist: “Ah! Thanks.”
          Sadist: “Damnyou!”

          Is there no end to perversity?

        • NSAlito

          The letter ‘y’?

        • Michael Neville

          Officer, he hit me back first.

    • Susan

      Disqus now displays the names of the down voters. That’s new.

      Good. It’s not that often that I’m reduced to the downvote, but when I was, I hated that when I did so, it was anonymous. I’m happy for anyone to see me that it was me doing the downvoting.

      At one point, the number of downvotes were counted but then it went to 1. 17 downvotes would count as 1.

      While upvotes and downvotes aren’t how I want to have conversations, it would annoy me when someone had 3 upvotes and 1 downvote, when they really had 3 upvotes from their friends who didn’t even participate in a discussion, and only 1 downvote, when countless people were probably downvoting their (I don’t know… sexist, or racist, or anti-gay screed).

  • Jim Jones

    > Religion takes in over $100 billion in the U.S. every year.

    And then there’s the $70 billion in taxes the government doesn’t get because “It’s religious”.

  • Ficino

    True or False:

    Getting saved/giving your heart to Jesus/becoming a Christian results in your becoming a morally good person.

    The answer?

    T AND F!!

    OK, the scholastics were good at drawing distinctions so that what looks like a contradiction in their system can be argued not to be a contradiction.

    Does a distinction succeed in giving us T and F as right answers to the above question?

    No, not really. It’s really just special pleading and moving goal posts. ANY pattern of behavior can be reconciled with a profession of faith. Just look at Donald J. Trump. Can he murder someone in cold blood on Fifth Avenue and still be an anointed Christian leader, though maybe still after all this time just a baby Christian?

    YES!! Praise God. /s

    • I prefer to give people a benefit of the doubt. The terms they use though very useful in equivocation or vagueness to prevent refutation. Intentional or not, that has been my experience with them.

  • Phil Rimmer

    American hospitals, like American churches seem most often to exist for profit.

    • Sample1

      Respectfully pushing back on this. Our local hospital is owned by the city (being purchased from the Catholic Church back in the early 1970s). As such, it is classified legally as an enterprise fund. Meaning it must make a profit to run operating costs. The profit, when years allow for them rather than deficits, is a buffer against market uncertainty.

      Hospitals in the US (the vast majority) bill out for Medicaid and Medicare. The former is state welfare medical insurance for the indigent or those meeting certain low income thresholds. The latter is the insurance for pensioners and the disabled that all working Americans are entitled to in their senior years. Both programs have diagnosis-fixed levels of reimbursement to hospitals. These reimbursements are always less than what a private market can pay or what individuals with private insurances will pay. Some doctors, particularly specialists like plastic surgeons or dermatologists (typically specialties that encounter diagnoses that don’t require hospitalizations) choose to not accept state or federal funds which means they can charge whatever the market will pay. Consequently seniors or the poor cannot access that care without paying in full upfront.

      But for the most part, all specialities can be found (in hospitals) if needed by those demographics.

      Further, it is illegal for any publicly funded hospital to refuse care for those who cannot pay if the situation is of an emergency or pregnancy related nature. As such, hospitals, via their emergency departments see many unable to pay citizens. Emergency medicine is the most expensive medicine on the planet because of various reasons, mostly because of the 24/7 available tech and diagnostics. This means hospitals with EDs always eat substantial costs which have to made up somewhere. Either a buffer fund of profit or increasing costs for those who can pay. I’m not saying this is wonderful, it’s just economics.

      Lastly, because our hospital receives state and federal funds, any goofball politician can choose to reduce that funding. Our hospital is having funding threatened by republicans in Alaska and making up 3-7million dollars for a small hospital until new strategies can be discovered to close that gap means profit funds will be tapped. Other hospitals simply close or are sold to larger conglomerates which has pros and cons.

      Ultimately this is a cultural ethos issue. Sure, the trillions the US spends on its military machine is a lamentable fact of our ape-ish shortcomings. The current medical situation is an artifact of our historical development. It will have to change eventually but it’s slow going. Universal healthcare will become a reality but not soon enough I’m afraid.

      Anyway, I’m mainly pushing back because the word profits is often perceived as denoting some sort of cigar smoking, mustache twirling, soulless board of executives laughing all the way to the bank. That isn’t the case in Alaska, my only domain of knowledge. And I’m not implying you’re necessarily thinking about mustaches, but that was my impression and it is an opinion for others. So congrats, you get my rant for them. 😉



      • Phil Rimmer

        I take all your points and in fairness I spoke too casually with “hospitals” standing in for “healthcare”. But “most often” is reasonable.

        Private healthcare which predominates in the Netherlands, for instance, is excellent and as cost effective as the pack of euro health providers many of which are more public in provision. The difference is in a government giving enough of a damm to mandate performance standards.

        My favourite graphic on healthcare (which I cannot find after half a bottle of Rioja) has aggregate health metric vertically against cost per capita horizontally. Each nation is represented by a shaky line pretty much monotonically going up and to the right with date tags mostly going up and to the right on each. The lines cluster and intertwine showing a similar improving performance at modestly increasing cost… except for the US which from 1980 dramatically breaks from the pack’s strongly upward ascent and heads out on its own strongly to the right ending up at two and three times the cost of ALL the others yet with much more modest health gains than them.

        US healthcare is uniquely disgraceful for all the individual good efforts.

  • Kuno

    Wouldn’t a better analogy be a crack house or an opium den? You have to visit all of those frequently to satisfy a need the owner of the establishment created in the first place.

  • sneaker2015

    The idea Church is a hospital is false and has no precedent it’s certainly unbiblical.
    The Church is a place for redeemed believers and that’s it, not for the uncommitted, and visitors well they just that, passing through unless they already committed or decide to be.