I’ve been thinking lately about exactly why I reject Christianity and what I would consider validity with regard to its various claims. My answers are not what Christians might imagine!
The Marks Against Christianity.
Fervent claims of inerrancy in the face of overwhelming evidence against those claims. What might be surprising to newer readers is that I don’t actually consider any religion’s lack of historicity and scientific accuracy a big problem in and of itself. Lots of religions get by just fine with a mythic view of their source material. Lots of Christians take a largely-mythic view of the Bible. Some even take a mythic view of Jesus Christ.
That said, it’s a problem for me that a huge swathe of Christianity considers the Bible’s history and science claims to be credible and its general gist to be inerrant when we know for 100% sure that this isn’t the case. The fact that they cling to those claims and are not being disabused of those notions by their saner brethren, not the fact itself that the claims are invalid, is the problem.
Now, can you disprove a negative? Not especially. But we’re absolutely positive that the Exodus didn’t happen, that the Genesis Creation story can’t possibly be literal, and that King David, while he very likely existed, wasn’t a king of some huge and powerful realm but rather a much smaller, less influential one. We know that Bethlehem wasn’t an occupied village at the time of Jesus’ supposed birth. We know a bunch of things that are a raised middle finger to the Bible’s myths. We know all of these myths didn’t happen because there’s no room for them to happen amid the facts we know about the science and history in question.
And remember, if even one single thing in the Bible is discredited, that casts a shadow over all its claims, according to those who believe it is inerrant.
Fervent claims of a god who intervenes in human affairs when there’s never been a bit of objective proof that he does. Even the most liberal Christians tend to believe that their god answers prayer and helps them in small and large ways. But in 2000 years we’ve never seen a verified, credible miracle or supernatural intervention. And when Christians do claim miracles, their miracles are shockingly small-scale and subjective considering they think they’re worshiping the god who created the universe.
A source book that is easily misinterpreted, misused, misconstrued, and misunderstood. This is one of the big ones. Folks, there are over 40,000 denominations of Christianity, and every one of ’em has a divergent and contradictory take on some aspect of the religion and some interpretation of the Bible. There are translations of the Bible that some denominations think are evil and therefore reject (Biff, my preacher ex, referred to the NIV as the “New International Perversion” in private). There are some doctrines, like speaking in tongues, that some denominations reject as demonic and say doom their practitioners to hell.
For every denomination that isn’t completely toxic, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of denominations that are misogynistic, racist, or otherwise awful. Now, lots of religions have contradictory texts. But a non-toxic religion, it seems to me, views competing opinions in a more tolerant and genial way. It’s not like anybody really knows for sure anyway. Arguing about flavors of religion is like arguing about which Batman someone thinks is better when we all know the pre-DK Bats is the best and most valid one. Don’t you even.
A faith system that rewards ignorance and blind faith but punishes critical thinking and rational thought. Christian writers from the Gospels onward celebrate that they have no evidence for their claims. Hebrews 11 talks about how important faith is to the religion, but it clearly makes faith into evidence–an important distinction! Even today, even while embracing any apologist who says he’s (sorry, they’re almost all male–and white, for that matter) got evidence for Christianity’s claims, just about all Christians make a virtue out of believing nonsense. People who try to use critical thinking skills to assess the religion’s claims are downgraded. And this is a problem for me because when you’ve got a system that rewards belief in nonsense, there’s no built-in protection against other types of nonsense.
Remember I was just talking about how Christians seem like such easy marks for MLMs? That’s what I mean. Because of their unique inability to assess and critically weigh information, evangelicals especially condemn and reject objective facts in favor of whatever popular apologist best tickles their ears, as the Bible verse goes. When I look at mainstream Christianity I am not the only one who sees a bubble around believers that insulates them from rational thoughts, facts, and objective truth.
A faith system that punishes doubt and views it with great distrust and suspicion. While Doubting Thomas still got blessed by none other than Prankster!Jesus after the Resurrection, doubt in general isn’t something Christians really like to deal with. Mark 11 even says that as long as a Christian doesn’t doubt “in his heart,” he/she can get the Christian god to hurl mountains into the sea upon demand. It’s okay to question the religion, but not too much. It’s okay to doubt, I’ve heard them say and write, because that leads them into greater certainty later, unless of course it leads them into so much uncertainty they lose their faith. Then it’s bad and should not be pursued. The only way to engage with doubt is dishonestly, because there’s always the implicit command to pull away from anything that really threatens belief.
This inability to honestly function around doubt is part of what sets up the cruel dilemma I’ve described before, that dilemma that throws believers between the rock of objective reality and the hard place of their religious identity. A religion that is not toxic should be able to handle any amount of scrutiny. There should not be a need to put limits on just how much doubt is going to be tolerated before the doubter is demonized and the inquiry must be shut down. The ultimate reason we pursue doubt and skepticism is because we want to be certain we’re in the right, but we always must go into that inquiry knowing we might be wrong and indeed may find information that will change our minds. If we’re not willing to do that, then we are not acting honestly. And that’s what I see happening in Christianity.
A faith system filled top to bottom with misogyny and bigotry. How a religion treats its Others is a big part of its overall validity, in my opinion. Even Christianity’s Bible says everybody is equal in Galatians 3:28–though most Christians ignore that verse in favor of all the ones totally contradicting it. Now, it’s true that most religions–even the pagan ones I have such an affection for–were not easy on women. Even Buddhism has incredibly sexist roots. I don’t look so much at the history of the religion as how it’s put into practice now. How much Othering does the system have? How much does it tolerate?
There are obviously Christian denominations and schools of thought that are incredibly egalitarian and even woman-honoring, gay-friendly and affirming, and tolerant of all sorts of viewpoints, orientations, and lifestyles. But I defy anybody to try to tell me that Christianity at its heart and as it is practiced by most Christians is anything like that. The people controlling the dialogue around Christianity fall decidedly into that toxic group, even while they deny to the skies their biases. Even groups that seem affirming may not be–a few years ago a Christian group, the Marin Foundation, made headlines by attending pride parades with signs reading “I’m sorry!” And there were all these heartwarming photos of them hugging these crying gay dudes. But despite their apologies, they refuse to take any sort of stand about simple yes and no questions about simple biology and human dignity, which to me suggests strongly that they still believe being gay is wrong somehow, which in turn negates whatever good they think they’re doing. And in the same way, quite a few of these egalitarian denominations think they’re affirming of women’s rights, but deny women the most fundamental right of all: to make their own most intimate physical decisions about their bodies’ use (oh hell to the yes, I’m talking about abortion). Any religion that won’t even grant me the right to control what does and doesn’t violate my own body is not a religion that is affirming of my rights, and is not a religion worth my time.
Way too high of a ratio of embarrassing members to sane members. I hate to say this, but I’ve got too much pride to throw in with a label shared with so many people I would have to apologize for and argue with. That’s why I never got into Wicca, and why, if I were an atheist, I’d have a lot of trouble joining atheist groups. Every group has nutbars in it, of course, but when I’m dealing with untold millions of assholes and idiots, all gently tolerated if not encouraged by mainstream members and not reined in immediately (like the ludicrously disturbed Pat Robertson, who really should have been retired decades ago but who not only is tolerated but adored and given nationwide soapboxes by Christian groups), that’s where I draw the line.
Given that I don’t see any reason to believe in Hell or Jesus’ sacrifice anyway, and given that I don’t think that Christianity is uniquely positioned to help me become a better person or help me better humanity in any way that another, less toxic viewpoint couldn’t manage just as well if not better, there just doesn’t seem to be much incentive to me to get involved with a group I would be fighting my entire life about issues like my bodily autonomy and rights as well as those of people I care about. It absolutely blows my mind that there are so many Christian women trying so hard to save their religion from misogynists–I once saw a blogroll of hundreds of female Christian bloggers beating their own brains out trying to change their religion’s attitude toward them. I wouldn’t ever waste that much effort. I’d have walked away long before–and oh hey look at that, that’s exactly what I did.
Fervent insistence that the religion makes its adherents better people when clearly it does not. There are so many reasons why Christianity doesn’t actually improve its believers–that it advocates a passive “come fix me” attitude but doesn’t actually have a god behind the curtain fixing people, that it substitutes a subjective feeling of being right for actually being in the right, that it mistakes abuse for love, that it creates a morality dependent on getting ordered to be good or face the risk of severe, totally out-of-proportion punishment for doing the things it considers immoral, that it sets up an expectation of being able to do wrong and just apologize and “repent” later, oh we could go on and on. But whatever the real reason, Christians just are not demonstrably better people than non-Christians. They sin just as much if not more than anybody else. (There’s an old joke that if you don’t want a Southern Baptist to drink all your beer, invite two Southern Baptists over.) They are very well represented in prison populations. The states heaviest with Christians also are heaviest with crime, lower graduation rates, dysfunction like wage disparity, teen pregnancy, and even domestic violence.
Every ex-Christian you ever meet will have oodles of anecdotes about being mistreated and hurt by Christians–and quite a few Christians have the same anecdotes if they’re being honest about it. The simple truth is that if there’s a heaven that welcomes people like most of the Christians I’ve run across, I sure don’t want any part of it. If there’s a god who showers blessings and miracles upon these Christians we see howling abuse and condemnation upon the rest of us, yew-all kin keep ‘im.
A cosmology that, at its heart, makes humanity into this broken project that needs fixing. And here’s Czar Bomba. This is it. This is why I simply couldn’t give Christianity consideration again as a valid religion for me. Christians posit that people are broken and need the product they’re selling to fix the problem. At its heart, Christianity’s about a perfect god, his blood sacrifice to himself to fix the cosmology he set up to begin with, and the imperfect humans who are trying to please and serve him despite never having asked to be born into that cosmology and not having any choice about opting out without facing major penalties, and it’s just really hard to draw something non-toxic out of that kind of mess.
I just can’t believe that the god of Christianity is anywhere near perfect or omnimax (that means “omni everything,” as in omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent, all those awesome omnis) when there is so much evidence around me in the world to show me that nothing perfect created this world and nothing omnipotent or omni-benevolent takes care of it. As pagans say, it makes a lot more sense when one considers it a group effort by a bunch of flawed beings–or even, dare I say it, the patchwork quilters of science. And I just don’t buy that humans are that flawed. We’re flawed, sure, but we’re also transcendent in our inner beauty, our grace, and our capacity for kindness and love. We need neither demons nor angels to hurt others or inspire goodness.
The Global Marketplace of Ideas.
The hilarious thing is that I know, I simply know, that there are Christians who’ll read this piece and get either upset or indignant because they don’t think their particular quirky li’l take on the religion is like I’ve described. They might well be totally different. And that’s okay. Again, one big problem with Christianity in my eyes is that it is actually so easy and so common for someone to develop a very highly idiosyncratic take on the religion and find whatever justification needed to push it to fruition.
But when the religion’s truth claims are in fact false and its threats are in fact completely non-credible, Christianity becomes just one of a number of competing ideas in a global marketplace with no greater or lesser intrinsic value than any other religion or philosophy. I am free to assess it by those standards that are important to me. And I find it wanting. When it’s so full of utterly toxic people who’d treat me like crap for being female (I cringe to imagine what I’d get for being a feminist), when it’s built from the ground up on a foundation I simply do not agree with, and when there are so many other competing ideologies and philosophies that do the job of meeting my spiritual needs in ways that grant honor, dignity, and respect to me and those around me, I just don’t see why I’d ever need to hassle with Christianity.
If someone else can put up with what I’ve identified as problems, that’s fine with me. I don’t mind. I don’t have to screw, marry, or enter into a business partnership with ’em. If they leave me alone and practice their religion in their own lives, I’m very live-and-let-live.
And really, in the modern age, tolerance is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate in ourselves. One thing I appreciate about non-toxic Christian/atheist/pagan/whatevers is this: they know that their thing isn’t going to work for everybody, and they can treat me with respect and even love me even if I’m not part of their thing. And I love and respect them right back.
Religion doesn’t have to divide us unless we let it.
Next up: Speaking of division, let’s talk about something I ran into many, many times as a Christian and which I see happening even today in toxic Christianity–the tendency to abuse people in the name of “love.”
In the meanwhile, be excellent to each other. As Kurt Vonnegut said so well of life on this planet as part of his proposed greeting to newborns:
Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”
A religion that gets that one rule wrong is not one I need in my life.
This post was modified slightly to include some new links, headers for easy reading, removal of a little deadweight text at the beginning, and addition of the closing quote because I liked it. Nothing of substance was altered.