Christianity – the good and the bad?

CATHEDRAL

The good and harm done by christianity is a topic of much discussion and argument, and I have written on it many times (e.g. Does religion poison everything? and Do religious believers have better health and wellbeing, like, really?).

Keith Parsons is a US philosopher and atheist who writes about the philosophy of religion, and actively engages with christian belief via The Internet Infidels website and the Secular Outpost blog. Keith has made his assessments of christianity in two posts on Secular Outpost, and they are worth checking out.

The seven deadly sins of christianity

Parsons assessed The Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity back in March, and this was his list:

1) Certainty.

Christians often claim greater certainty for their beliefs than can be justified, Parsons says, and this can lead to poor treatment of those who disagree. I think this is fair comment, although he doesn’t allow for the fact the christians believe their faith is based on a relationship and not just theoretical propositions.

2) Servility.

Institutional christianity has too often servilely supported the rich and powerful, whereas Jesus, as Parsons correctly points out, was always on the side of the downtrodden and poor.

3) Dis-enchantment.

Pagans found the numinous and sacred in all sorts of places and things in the world, but christianity removed it to a “distant deity, one that could be approached only through the Church and its appointed sacraments, rites, and ministers.” Guilty as charged. Christians must seek the deeper experience of knowing God, not necessarily mediated through the church. This inevitably strips the world of some of its former magic, but we must surely find a different kind of fascination with God’s creation.

4) Sexism.

Parsons rightly points out that the New Testament significantly improved the status of women in the ancient world, but later christianity didn’t always follow through on these teachings.

5) Theocracy.

Christianity began as “marginalized, outlawed, and sporadically persecuted”, but after 3 centuries became established. Unfortunately, this led to the church often taking on some of the despotic aspects of the Roman Empire, including the crushing of religious dissent and the imposition of christian values on non-believers even until today.

6) Fanaticism.

Parsons recognises that all ideologies can lead to fanaticism, and he defines a fanatic as someone “who does not shrink from the full implications of his premises, however odious.” But he argues that monotheism is more likely to produce fanatics than other ideologies, and to discriminate against and oppose other viewpoints.

7) Anti-Judaism.

“Of all the Church’s sins, this one is the most bizarre. After all, Jesus was a Jew”. Yet from very early days, the church condemned the Jews for rejecting Jesus, and this persecution continued through the Middle Ages right up to the Holocaust.

The good stuff

Then just a couple of days ago, Keith evened the score with an assessment of seven things that christianity has got right.

1) Everybody matters.

Parsons says: “In the ancient world in general, the attitude seemed to be that a few people mattered a lot and others were pretty much insignificant and disposable” and the pre-eminent thinker Aristotle was an elitist. But “Jesus always sided with the poor against the rich, the powerless against the powerful” and “consistently emphasized that even “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45) are owed our compassion, and should be fed, clothed, and given shelter when they need it.”

2. Nothing is worth the sacrifice of your personal integrity.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36) No worldly goods are worth the sacrifice of our character.

3. Money madness is dangerous.

“And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” (Mark 19:24). “Obsession with money is bad, … it diminishes life, warps character, and poisons our interactions with others.”

4. “Good” people are often the most odious.

Jesus often criticised the religious people of his day because they kept the letter of the law and didn’t really show justice and compassion. Parsons sees parallel examples today.

5. There are higher obligations than human law.

Christians have always taught a balance of respect for the law and civil disobedience when an issue of principle is at stake, as exemplified in Martin Luther King.

6. Retribution is an essential aspect of justice.

This is an intriguing one. At first I was unhappy with this, but Parsons argues that most of us believe that truly evil people should face justice and “get what they deserve”, though he rightly adds that justice should not be vindictive and should be balanced with mercy.

7. Redemption is possible.

Christianity is based on two principles – that we all have failed morally, and we all can be redeemed.

Assessment

1. I find that I generally agree with Parsons, even though we come from very different viewpoints. I think he has been extremely fair, and should be respected for this. I may have chosen some different positives and negatives, but I can’t argue with much of what he says.

2. I find it interesting that most of his positives are based solidly on the teachings of Jesus, while most of his negatives reflect the church ignoring the teachings of Jesus.

3. Overall, I think christianity as a belief emerges from his analysis looking pretty good. Of course this doesn’t make it necessarily true – he and I obviously differ on that point – but he presents another strong case against those who say christianity is been unmitigated evil. Religion (that is, the things people do in the name of God) may indeed poison everything, but following Jesus produces much good.

Photo Credit: thisisbossi via Compfight cc.

6 Comments

  1. These comments were made by the author, and my answers are in (parentheses):
    Certainty: Christians claim their certainty on our beliefs. (The Bible has never been proven wrong. Living as Jesus did makes much difference in our world. We need to love and care for the poor, the imprisoned, the helpless, and everyone who is in need of a loving and caring God, which is everyone).

    Servility: Jesus was for the poor, but Christianity is for the rich. (Yes, pastors preach the prosperity Gospel today, and they neglect leading their congregants out to help the poor. I am just the opposite. I minister in prison, nursing homes, at the local soup kitchen, at our “free lunch ministry” five days a week, and I help those in need that I meet as I minister. I take not a cent for what I do. I try to live as Jesus did. He is my Hero!

    Disenchantment: He mentioned paganism and gods. (There are no gods. Nobody has ever seen them, including the Roman gods!) He says that we ‘must’ seek a deeper experience of knowing God. (Yes we do, and so do I. Our God became man on earth, and his name is Jesus Christ – Savior, the Anointed One of God. Jesus said that we will be able to do ‘greater things than He did.’ Through the power of the Holy Spirit of God in me, I have laid hands on people and healed them of cancer and tumors. God works miracles all the time. This is why I serve Him; He is real and alive in me, so I can help others in need. This is what I live for.)

    Sexism: the church doesn’t follow through with improving the status of women. (Jesus did. This is the fault of man, not Jesus. Let’s not blame Him.) You say that Jesus kept the letter of the law, but didn’t show justice or compassion. (Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for them. Jesus died for us so we might live eternally with Him in Heaven, as long as we love God and neighbor as ourselves.)

    Theocracy: we impose our Christian values on others. (Yes, I do. I am guilty of that, for sure. When I speak in churches, I tell them that ‘going to church’ is not enough. We need to get out of the church and minister to the poor and needy. We have to visit them at home and in the hospital instead of just writing to them or sending them a card in the mail. We have to visit and minister to them in prison instead of condemning them and writing them off as sub-human; they are wonderful people who simply made some wrong choices – and so don’t we all!)

    Fanaticism: we produce ‘fanatics,’ and we discriminate and oppose other viewpoints. (Yes, I have to admit that I am a fanatic. I am a fan of Jesus. I do my best to live as He did, and love as He did, and help the poor as He did. Yes, I guess Jesus was a fanatic also! Guilty! I do not discriminate against others and their viewpoints; I just try to show them the loving and right way of our Lord and Savior. Yes, I oppose the viewpoints of those in churches who ‘go to church.’ I tell them that if you go to church, you are stuck in it. We are the church. We are the Body of Christ. We have a lot of loving and caring work to do for others in the community around us!)

    Anti-Judaism: Christians condemn Jews for rejecting Jesus – the Crusades and the Holocaust. (I am a Messianic Rabbi. I was brought up in the Jewish faith. I turned my life over to Yeshua/Jesus over 43 years ago because those Christians you spoke about loved me and spent eight years telling me of our Jewish Lord and Savior. I am speaking at a Baptist church this Sunday, telling them about our Jewish Lord, Jesus, and telling them about the Passover and how Jesus fulfilled over 360 prophecies in the Tanakh, the Old Testament, about his coming to forgive us and save us because of the blood He shed for us on the cross. Please don’t blame Jesus for the Crusades. Jesus never told us to kill if others didn’t believe, as so many around the world do today in the name of their god.)

    What an awesome life I have now, serving the Lord full time, and helping all those in need who come to me, because I am out in the community helping and sharing what the Lord has given me to share. Every day is a great day, and mean that sincerely, because my Lord and Savior loves me and everyone in the whole world. He created all of us in our mothers’ wombs, so of course He will do everything He can to save us and forgive us and bring us into his presence for all eternity – Heaven! Be blessed. Shalom – שלום -peace.

  2. Thank you, Dr. Parsons, for a perceptive pro and con about Christianity, and thank you, uncklE, for sharing it with your readers. I second the observation of uncklE that the problems pointed out by Dr. Parsons are largely attributable to the church, not to Jesus. But this leads me to the question of why–why did the life and teaching of Jesus, illuminating and embodying universal love, so quickly become misunderstood, misdirected, and misused? When Rome embraced Christianity, allegedly after a cross appeared in a cloud during a military battle, the Jesus movement became intertwined with empire, in this case the very empire that murdered Jesus. After Rome fell, came the dark ages and the crusades, then colonial exploitation and genocide under the banner of Christianizing the savages, etc. etc. etc. up to the present time when Christianity in the U.S. is being twisted into a “prosperity gospel,” which allows multimillionaire preachers to convince poor people to send them money for a new jet plane so they can fly around for Jesus. We can argue about some of this timeline, but overall one conclusion seems to me inescapable. Jesus and the church have not been on the same page, and that page was turned very early on. Again, my question is what happened.

  3. On the bad side, I think that disenchantment also has its good effects (to appropriate Sagan’s phrase, it ends the demon-haunted world and, nicking Taylor’s, allows a secular age) and that fanaticism may not correlate with monotheism, although religious exclusivism/anti-synchretism and particularly exclusivist forms of fanaticism very likely do.

    On the good side, I think that the phrase “losing one’s soul” is less about integrity and more about salvation, while I share your initial misgivings about retribution.

  4. Yeah, I can’t see that monotheism is any more likely to produce fanatics than any other cause. I think the correlation is more likely with the strength that the cause takes on in a person. I agree with you about losing one’s soul – though his meaning is true and could easily lead to Jesus’ apparent meaning.

  5. Yes, the christian record on homophobia hasn’t been good, although many other religions and cultures have been similar, so it probably hasn’t all been caused by christianity. But it is good that things are now changing.

    I Hadn’t seen that petition, though I have seen others like it. I am no fan of Abbott (I think he is certainly the most inept, divisive, devious and morally bankrupt Prime Minister we have had in my lifetime), but I think that page overstates the case a little. Both sides of politics used to allow “conscience votes” on some ethical issues (I think mainly ones where Catholics would be put in a difficult situation), mostly I would guess to avoid division within a party rather than for more worthy reasons. But all sides of politics are hardening on this issue, the Greens have same sex marriage as a policy, and ALP is moving that way, so there will be no conscience votes there soon. So it is hardly a devious tactic for the coalition to do the same, except their policy is the opposite of the other two. I don’t think the coalition policy is homophobic, just conservative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *