Is Christianity to Blame for Allegedly “Christian” Lunatics?

Is Christianity to Blame for Allegedly “Christian” Lunatics? October 29, 2015


 Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time (detail), from Allegory of the Triumph of Venus (1540-1545), by Angelo Bronzino (1503-1572) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

* * *

This exchange took place in the combox for my post, Atheism: More Rational & Scientific than Christianity? The words of JGravelle (atheist) will be in blue; those of JD Eveland (agnostic) in green.

* * * * *

A: “Stalin was an atheist!” 
B: “Hitler was a Catholic!”

Where exactly does that sort of dialogue get us? How does it in any way advance the discussion?

The if-you’re-not-a-theist-you’re-a-polytheist argument isn’t novel, but it does betray the schizophrenic nature of the apologist, and I’m delighted to see it used again with such enthusiasm.

By all means, adhere to it. Or, as the kids say”: #represent

“…what every atheist believes (indeed must believe – matter being all there is)…”

All any atheist need believe is that a compelling case has yet to be made for god[s]. That’s it. Will you be making that case, or is ridiculing the opposition via the above straw-man puppet show your entire argument before the court of public opinion…?

I merely gave Stalin as one stark example of atheist antipathy to science. He is more famous because of his prominent position. If asked to name an atheist who opposed real science, Stalin would come immediately to mind. Live with it. I never said all atheists are like Stalin. But believe that if you like. It’ll just make your arguments worse than they already are (burdened as they are with the inherent irrationality of atheism). Plus I knew that all hell would break loose if I dared to post a picture of Stalin and note that he was an atheist and anti-science and dogmatic (all of which he certainly was).

What you did sir, was resort to guilt-by-association and, I’m the first to admit, my Hitler reply was, to make the point, intentionally just as cheap of a shot. Then again, what’s good for the goose-stepper…

You projected onto me dumb tactics that others may do, but I don’t. I merely noted that Stalin was an anti-science atheist (which is absolutely true).

And I noted Hitler was a Catholic, paying homage to his faith in Mein Kampf. And my question remains:

Where does this sort of back-and-forth get us?

Hitler left Catholicism long since, just as Stalin departed his Orthodoxy. He was in no sense a Catholic or any kind of Christian, by the time he came to power and began perpetrating his evil (whereas Stalin was clearly a self-professed atheist, as was the Soviet Communist regime, officially). See these five articles: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5].

Again, you give us an article in which, rather than building your own case, you set up and knock down what you perceive to be the opposition targets. I’ll re-iterate and expand my offer from your earlier effort[s]:

Let’s say every argument you’ve heard from the atheistic and scientific communities are incorrect: How does that validate any god claim[s]…?

I believe in God based on cumulative evidence of many sorts, making His existence more plausible than His not existing. I have stated this many times. It’s no secret. I don’t have an exhaustive treatise about it, all in one place. And the reason for that is explained in the next paragraph:

I’ve also said that asking a Christian why he believes in God is a lot like asking a young lover why he is in love with his lover. Just as he or she finds that difficult to answer in brief, most Christians do, too, regarding God. We don’t know where to begin; feel like a mosquito on a beach in summer. The very question strikes us as silly and out of place.

No sir. It is like asking a Bigfoot hunter why he believes in Sasquatch. And you lack so much as a footprint or tuft of hair.

I’ve read atheist accounts which are similar in that regard. Many factors came into play; tough to summarize for a demanded soundbite.

I have just uploaded large collections of teleological and cosmological arguments. These are two of the reasons why I and many others believe in God.

Oh good grief.

Teleological: everything appears designed and thus needs a designer. Then so does your designer. Your god can be an exception? Then so can our universe.

Cosmological: everything appears caused and thus needs a causation. Then so does your cause-er. Your god can be an exception? Then so can our universe.

Please tell me you have sturdier hooks upon which to hang your holy hat…

I’m currently collecting links to many more arguments. I’ve been influenced by most of these, so they would be my reasons.

So you ask in apparent sincerity and then derisively mock two of the major reasons. You’re obviously philosophically naive enough to think that that few sentences-long dreck actually refutes what are usually extremely sophisticated arguments, as they are made today by philosophers. There are a couple dozen major arguments for God.

[he gave brief, derisive “replies” to many theistic arguments, that can be read on the thread]

Forgive me, sir. I thought you had your own arguments to present. I’ve given you far too much credit. It’s a mistake I’m unlikely to make again.

There’s no mystery here. In matters of philosophy, I mostly defer to philosophers, rather than pretend that I am qualified to do their work for them. Hence, my long lists of links of theistic arguments from philosophers. It’s intellectual humility and wanting to direct my readers to the very best treatments of the topics.

Likewise, in matters of science, I mostly defer to scientists and (sometimes) philosophers or historians of science, rather than pretend that I am qualified to do their work for them. It’s intellectual humility and wanting to direct my readers to the very best treatments of the topics.

Would you prefer that I pretend to be a scientist or philosopher, as you do: acting as if you can refute elaborate arguments with a sentence or two?

What I’d prefer is that you, or somebody, or anybody, provide something of evidentiary substance for the claim[s] of god[s] rather than echoing soundly refuted attempts at defining said deity[s] into existence. Sorry for not making that clear earlier…

You obviously won’t be impressed by anything we produce. We’ve done all that already. You indicated that you have read some really good stuff like Dr. Craig. You thumb your nose at it all. So why don’t you ignore us? Nothing in your behavior or attitude indicates any openness to Christian or theistic arguments.

I don’t waste my time with ring-around-the-rosey games with folks who have a closed mind to different positions.

It’s not a matter of being impressed. It’s a question of being convinced.

“So why don’t you ignore us?”

Because if I do, some of you will beat your children to death for trying to leave your church, a la the Leonard family’s antics from last week.

And I’m against that. Others will deny their daughter vital healthcare in lieu of prayer, a la the Neumann family here in Wisconsin. And she will die. And I’m against that, too.

So as long as you, or anybody else, is promoting unsubstantiated claims of the supernatural, I will be there to question those propositions.

I’d hope your obligation under First Peter 3:15 might give you an appreciation for my effort as self-appointed Advocatus Diaboli, but c’est la vie.

The non-believers walk among you, my friend. And we are no longer content to hold our tongues…

I read a bit about this “Word of Life” group (Leonard family). It is clearly a wacko cult and not a true Christian group.

You don’t give me enough info. about the Neumann family. It sounds very likely that that will turn out to be a weird group like Christian Science (which isn’t Christian) or the various groups (usually pentecostal) that deny that Christians should ever get sick (something that no major Christian denomination has ever sanctioned).

The oldest paper I have online, from 1982, was a refutation of that very view.

No True Scotsman? They’re Pentecostals…

The article states: “The Neumanns do not belong to any identifiable church or religious organization but identify as Pentecostals.”

So now any idiot who belongs to no Christian group at all can call themselves “pentecostal” or “Christian” and kill their child, and you take that as representative of all of Christianity, huh? And you call that charitable or logical? It is neither.

I know the general school of thought they are operating under, though, and refuted it 33 years ago. It has not been espoused by any large or important Christian denomination, including pentecostal ones. I used to attend Assemblies of God, which is one of the largest pentecostal denominations (perhaps the largest), and it did not believe in this rotgut.

I make no claim to be able to know what’s in my fellow man’s heart. Whichever cult one prefers to self-identify with “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”, as Mr. Jefferson put it. We can agree they don’t consider themselves atheists, I hope.

I am heartened to see you so viscerally opposed to their antiquated way of thinking. Perhaps we’ll find ourselves on the same bench the next time I’m arguing that the book should be thrown at anybody who’d forgone medical attention for a loved one in lieu of magical incantations…

What did you expect from me? That I would cheerlead murder? I have certainly not met any Christian, of the many thousands I have encountered in 38 years, who would favor such a hideous and evil thing. Yet you thought I would do so, huh?

At the same time, I also believe in healing and in praying for people to be healed. I don’t see that they are opposed to medical science. One seeks medical help for serious illnesses. You want to oppose the two things. I do not. I oppose negligence, stupidity, and the utter twisting of Christian teaching in the Bible about sickness, etc.

You mention one lunatic family as supposedly representative of Christians: all the while we have the daily ruthless, merciless execution of over 3,000 preborn babies every day. And I’m against that.

I mentioned two. I could spend the afternoon enumerating them if you’d like, but I assumed most would find that tedious. And, I daresay, in violation of your discussion rules.

(Chris Benoit didn’t leave copies of On The Origin of Species next to the bodies of his slain family members, he left the KJV. If you needed another quick example.)

If it’s your contention those abortions are all being performed on atheist children, you’re mistaken. Per the Guttmacher Institute, more than 70% are self-described as religious.

For whatever it’s worth, my liberal friends are no happier with my restrictive views on abortion-as-contraception than they are my pro-gun, anti-big-government stances. We likely agree more than we differ, you and I.

No one said abortions occur only among atheists. That’s just silly; projections and foolishness. I’ve never asserted that anywhere, ever (nor thought it in my head), so that has no basis whatsoever.

I’m very glad to hear that you are pro-life. Most atheists are pro-abortion but I have always understood (and have been very thankful) that some are not. The last time I hung out with atheist friends at a restaurant or a night (a few months ago), at least two of the six were pro-life.

Nothing in my discussion rules forbids differing opinions. But broad-brushing Christians as ruthless murderers, as if this is at all representative of legitimate Christian teaching, is quite borderline, as to the rules.

In other words, there is no reason in heaven and hell to assume that I and 99.9% of all Christians would not detest such things every bit as much as you do. So why bring them up? Of what relevance is it?

It doesn’t “tweak” us because we already agree with you. There are self-professed Christian nuts, wackos, and morons out there. There are mentally ill people who claim to be Jesus (as John Lennon did once: little-known fact). DUH! I started my apologetics career in the early 80s researching the cults: fringe groups that claim to be Christian but are not. Next question . . .

If you’re opposed to abortion, it seems to me that your ire and angst against murder is better directed (here) against 3000+ daily murders, legally sanctioned, rather than two sanctioned neither by law nor mainstream Christian opinion.

Do you retract your broad-brushing of some lunatics in fringe cult groups being representative of Christianity as a whole?

I’d deny I’ve ever tarred every Christian as a fringe-lunatic. What I’ve alluded to is that the eagerness for some of the devout to meet their maker (or worse, send the rest of us to meet Him) scares the snot out of me, and is my motivation for acting as Advocatus Diaboli.

It’s an unfortunate reality that we don’t usually know who the kooks are until they’ve snapped. My mission, if it can be called that, is to dissuade them from the superstitious notions that led them down that path in the first place.

But if “You’re not David Koresh” and “I’m not Joseph Stalin” is the detente we’re headed for here, then I’m all for it…


Christianity [i.e., in context, rightly understood, in its essence] does not lead to lunatic, evil acts such as those; it’s the corruption of Christianity that does. If Christianity actually did do what you claim, there would be a helluva lot more instances of these monstrosities, but as it is, they are very rare, because these people are not Christians, in any reasonable sense of the term. One of them didn’t even belong to any group.

You still have a ton of bigotry to even think that this garbage has anything to do with real Christianity at all.

The notion of begging the ethos for help in lieu of seeking medical attention is the lunacy I’m fighting.

I’m happy to leave it up to the “real” Christians to sort themselves out from the rest. I haven’t a dog in that fight…

That’s kind of disingenuous. When a member of any group does something bad, the immediate reaction from members of that group is “Well, no REAL (insert group here) would ever do that, so s/he can’t be a real (Insert group here).” And that may in fact be true. All groups of whatever ideology and/or stripe behave this way; it’s just group dynamics.

But it always ought to be a stimulus to think if there is anything inherent in (insert group here)-ism that might facilitate such bad behavior; there almost always is. Even if you’re convinced that they aren’t a REAL (insert group here)-ist, they and others believe that they are, and the question is why. All I’m saying is that you can’t get out from under some degree of association just by saying that the bad guys aren’t real Xs.

To use a non-PC example, this is the same refrain we always hear from the moderate to peaceful Muslims when there is an atrocity committed in their name. But we rightfully notice that there are certain structural features of Islam that perhaps make this kind of aggressive behavior more likely than it it to occur in, say, Unitarians, and we legitimately point this out. Pretty much all religions have this aggressive tendency built in as a result of a commitment to a singular, not plural, truth; exceptions might be (as always) Unitarians and Zen Buddhists. If we retain the right to point this out to the moderate Muslims, then we also retain the right to make the same demands on Christians.

It’s a matter of definition. This is not rocket science. If you want to know what Christianity is and what it teaches, you go to the major representatives of it and look at their actual teachings.

I have pointed out that no major denomination of Christianity teaches this nonsense about not seeking medical help in emergencies, and the hyper-faith garbage.

So if anything is “disingenuous” it is extrapolating these loose cannon lunatics to the whole of Christianity, as if Christian premises made them do what they did.

I caught hell simply for putting a picture of Stalin at the top of this very post. I did because he was an atheist and was anti-science.

What I did not do was imply that all atheists tend to be like he was, or that the spirit and essence of atheism made him do what he did.

But that’s what is being done here. We’re told that if these goons had not been taught any form of Christian “superstition,” then they would not have done what they have done. That’s just hogwash through and through.

You’re also wrong about the radical jihadists. They don’t represent mainstream Islam, but rather, a gross corruption of same. The initial Muslim culture (within a few hundred years) was one of great learning (such as in Spain), and relative tolerance, and brought the world things like algebra.

These ISIS goons are no more true Muslims than Jim Jones was a true Christian. But outsiders observing it, since they don’t know the nature of the legitimate movements, lump the nuts and wackos in with them.

Atheists constantly do this with Christianity, implying that fundamentalist know-nothings somehow represent the whole of Christianity, when in fact they are a tiny fringe part of Christianity. But at least they are still truly Christians. These monsters who are killing their children are not, by any reasonable definition of the word.

Atheists often think fundamentalism is Christianity, because they themselves often were in that camp. I have never been in the camp, but as a student of religion for 38 years and a sociology major to boot, I’ve always known that they are but a tiny portion of the whole and most unrepresentative of it.

Aggressiveness? Well, if you want to play that game, we all know that the most murderous regimes have been the atheist ones: exponentially so. Like I said, I don’t put Stalin and Mao around every atheist’s neck, but if you want to insinuate this grand level of almost conspiratorial association, then it won’t work out well for you, with Stalin starving ten million Ukrainians, Mao and his 60 million killed, etc.

It’s Christianity that started hospitals, the Red Cross, was in the forefront of the abolition of slavery and child labor, championed women’s rights (real ones; not the feminist garbage of the 60s on); led the civil rights movement (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King); on and on. The Catholic Church now almost officially opposes the death penalty.

The Catholic Church saved 850,000 Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.

Atheist-influenced secularism has brought about half a billion legal abortions in the last fifty years.

And you want to talk about ultra-rare instances and claim that this comes from Christianity’s inherently aggressive nature? That’s certainly intellectually breathtaking and flabbergasting.

Look, Dave, I’m not trying to be confrontational here. I hope you’ve at least figured that out about me. I’ve also been a student of religion in various forms since childhood, although my Unitarian upbringing essentially immunized me against fundamentalism of any form. (Well, there is of course Unitarian Jihad, but they’re a fringe group.) I’m quite aware of the enormous diversity of opinions about almost every aspect of religious belief and practice in every major religion (hey, even in U-Uland), and of the dangers of trying to categorize all members of any faith in terms of any set of specifics.

What binds each of these faiths together at the highest level is a core myth (please note: I’m using this term in the Joseph Campbell sese, to mean a coordinated set of beliefs, with no implication of truth or falsity attached.) In the case of Christianity, this would presumably include the existence of a personal God, the role played by Jesus in achieving salvation, and the idea of eternal life after death contingent upon performance during life on earth. Going much beyond that, however, begins to entangle us in endless debate. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and a number of others share the same problem.

The difficulty is not so much defining what beliefs are characteristic of Christianity, as determining what beliefs are not central, and therefore presumably subject to legitimate variation. No religion has ever been particularly good at resolving this question. Most religions have sets of beliefs and practices that are for the most part benevolent or neutral in moral impact. Most also have at least some beliefs and practices found among some adherents to the overall myth that are socially pernicious, at least to some. Of course, you are at perfect liberty to say that anyone who holds any of these pernicious views isn’t a “real Christian”, but you can see why an outsider might have a hard time drawing the same fine line that you do. The “Westboro Baptist Church”, I think you would agree, is a generally pernicious institution, but to those not closely involved in Christian practice, it probably passes the duck test to be considered Christian. So no matter how much you’d like to distance yourself from those folks, they’re part of the baggage that Christianity has two haul around in the world. Islam and Judaism, of course, have similar splinter groups that they’d like to disinherit, but they can’t do it either.

My own peculiar subgroup has its own issues here. Actually, relatively few gay folks are seriously interested in browbeating pizza parlor owners or bakers into doing work they don’t want to do. Yet there are enough loud folks who are part of our community out there that I dare say a large proportion of evangelical or conservative Christians believe that every gay person wants to throw them into a concentration camp. I assure you, most of us don’t want that. But neither do we want to be harassed or beaten, either.

I have no particular fondness for either Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China, or Idi Amin’s Uganda, or any number of other hellholes around the world. But I think you’d have to agree that the bulk of casualties resulted from political choices, not deliberate religious policy. The most you can argue is that nothing in the atheist moral framework prohibited making those kinds of political choices even knowing the consequences. I wouldn’t agree with that, by the way, but I will let you argue the point that far.

Sometime I’ll discuss with you, if you like, how Unitarians manage to construct a pretty good morality and public presence, almost entirely beneficial, without necessary reference to a personal supreme being. It can be done.

I don’t think there is any particular point in trying to establish some kind of calculus of good deeds versus bad deeds done by various groups, including religions. Clearly, a lot of good has been done in their name, and over the years, a fair amount of evil. Keeping score doesn’t really help much. Any large social institution has the capacity for both good and bad outcomes. I’ve spent 40 years as an organizational psychologist both participating in and studying how organizations affect the people who participate in them and the societies in which they are embedded; the simple answer is “a lot”.

Finally, I think you’ve pushed my point about “aggressiveness” rather too far. All I meant to say is that any religion that takes seriously its own claim that it expresses universal truth and that other religions with different beliefs and practices do not reflect universal truth and are in fact dangerous and pernicious to those who participate in them is likely to develop a missionary sense and reach out to non-believers around. Under the circumstances, it’s not always the case that the wishes of the person being reached out to – perhaps not to be witnessed to – are thoroughly acknowledged and respected. At the far end of this continuum is forced conversion and compulsory religious practice – not at the moment characteristic of mainstream Christianity, although the Dominion Theology group might have other ideas.

Well, this is far too long, and I apologize, but there are a lot of issues at stake here and I want to be sure that my points are acknowledged if not necessarily embraced. And above all, I want to keep this dialogue civil and positive. The Joys of Snark are considerable, but I’m trying to forgo them here in favor of dialogue.

This is a much more nuanced and acceptable statement. My main beef is to deny a direct causation between “Christianity” (which is a huge concept and multi-faceted institution) and the acts of every nut and lunatic who claim any allegiance to Christianity at all.

I don’t see the connection. Any institution or belief-system has folks around its edges or fringe that are only very remotely connected to the Main Idea or who have literally corrupted the essence of it and have departed (according to several reasonable criteria), while still falsely identifying with it.

Thus, we see the phenomena of various heresies throughout history: all claiming to be Christian. At what point do they cease to be that, and become guilty of false advertising? Clearly, I would draw the line a lot sooner than you two would. But there is a line, somewhere.

If we are talking about a belief (not seeking medical help, leading to the death of a child, or beating a child to death) that can’t find sanction in any denomination of any note, nor in the Bible, nor in the history of mainstream Christian teaching, in what sense can we still say it is “Christian”? I don’t see that it makes any sense at all.

So do we say that these wackos did what they did because of the very notion of faith itself? That is such a wide category that it is almost meaningless to analyze it in those terms. Anything can be distorted or co-opted by individuals.

Stalin “took” atheism and anti-religious principles and started killing tens of millions of people. Does it make sense to blame some big category of “atheism” for that, so that it is incumbent upon me to strongly dissuade anyone from adopting atheist beliefs, lest they become Stalin II? No! Yet this is precisely the argument that JGravelle makes regarding Christianity.

To be consistent, you would have to concede that Stalin and Mao are connected to you and did what they did primarily because of the atheist perspective, so that we have to find every atheist and make sure they are converted to theism; just as you claim that these two lunatic families are connected to me and did what they did primarily because of the Christian perspective, so that we have to find every Christian and make sure they are converted to atheism.

I doubt that you’ll agree to that analogy, since atheists are always bristling at any comparison to Communist tyrants (and, I think, rightly so). Thus, it comes down to a matter of not applying a double standard to Christians and Christianity, that you don’t want applied to atheists and atheism and agnostics.

Applying the nuts and evil madmen in either group directly to the whole is a species of bigotry, which is broad-brushing and refusing to make any manner of necessary distinctions or acknowledging rational causality and connection.

Browse Our Archives