It’s no secret that I’m no fan of Christianity. There’s an idea out that that most religion is benign and good for many people. We also have a tendency to identity religious affiliation with personal identity, as if religion is like gender or ethnicity. While I’m sympathetic to these sensitivities, my first allegiance is to my fellow humans and their welfare, especially those who suffer within religions. Much of Christianity as its practiced and the foundational teachings of the Bible are unhealthy or abusive. My point is that most people who live under religion are suffering under tremendous loads of fear, dehumanization, shame, commands that produce harm to self and others, and untruths that have very negative consequences. Although adherence to religion is declining alongside education and globalization, in the US 9 out 10 adults were raised religious, 70.6% of people are Christian, and 35% of adults are fundamentalist evangelicals. (Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015, “America’s Changing Religious Landscape”). We still have a long way to go. A lot of people are suffering needlessly. They deserve our concerted attention and efforts. We suffer from the impact of their suffering, and the promotion of ideas that do not serve us. Here are my main issues with Christianity, especially the more fundamentalist forms, which constitute the majority.
- Harmful and oppressive ideologies: The Bible contains many core ideas that are frankly nefarious. When we encounter them in any human or book other than the Christian god and Bible, we rightly condemn them as some of the most fascist or harmful ideologies ever imagined by human minds. Eternal torture of most of humanity. An entire book devoted to ethnic cleansing propaganda, or holy war (the book of Joshua). Patriarchy. Literal slavery. Persecution of gays. Sexual oppression. Sin, the idea that we are diseased and bad (systemic shame). Intolerance: any contradicting ideology or religion is evil at worst, or dangerously misguided at best. This also results in ignorance and pride. Selling one’s soul and life to the Christian deity and commands to devote oneself to his worship, which is a kind of spiritual and total life slavery that only narcissists and fascists demand.
- Abuse, psychological and otherwise: Christianity is based on the idea that humans are sinful and deserving of divine wrath. Sin is an abusive ideology. It promotes huge amounts of shame, guilt, fear, self-degradation, and manipulation. The notion that we are oriented towards evil has a profoundly disempowering impact, crippling self-love and self-actualization. Divine wrath, especially the doctrine of divine eternal torture (hell), results in a culture of fear–there is no other possible outcome for such a dire teaching when it is taken seriously. People who are afraid for their lives are wide open to manipulation. Moreover, this kind of chronic fear results in all kinds of unhealth, such as anxiety, depression, fear of and hostility towards others outside of the religion, and so much more. Fear is no foundation for the love which Christianity aspires to. So long as sin (which implies judgment) is foundational to Christianity and the Bible, fear will dominate the humans who live under it. This is so oppressive and unfair to millions of suffering souls. It’s just plain wrong.
- Untruth: The reason for all such notions and practices is apparent: The Bible. The Bible is an ancient textbook that reflects the ideas of men; men who were often explicitly and intentionally imperialistic and oppressive. Many of the ideas core to Christianity are known to be plainly scientifically and psychologically wrong, as the Bible is a bit outdated. Psychologists concur that human nature is not explained by the idea of sin. The Christian God is stylized after an iron age, war-mongering monarch who demands complete obedience on pain of eternal torture and death. The universe is not a monarchy. Evolution is an established fact. Human sexuality is not so limited. The earth is not flat (as the Bible teaches plainly). I could go on and on. Basing our understanding of reality on teachings that have been invalidated by every major field of study has huge consequences on whether people prosper personally and collectively. The first task of spirituality is to accept and understand things as they are. Once it has been clearly demonstrated that any spiritual notion is based on error, there is no excuse to continue holding onto it. Even though many Christians have modernized their understanding of religion, a bad apple is still a bad apple. There’s no use holding onto traditions and ideas that are erroneous or harmful, or trying to derive moral teachings out of them. Most do so, I suspect, because it’s hard to give up one’s religion once you have so much invested in it (identity, culture, history). This is a different matter, one that must also be addressed at length.
- There is a better way: Religion holds people back from the fullness of life, love, evolution, and service. It does empower, and it does good things, but at great cost, and with unnecessary mixture. There is a way to preserve all the good ideas of religious people (including the Bible’s good ideas) and drop the baggage of religion’s idea of god (a divine monarch separate from reality), judgement, duality, allegiance to a book, and adherence to dogma and outdated ideas. We can appreciate religion’s contributions best not by trying to reform or continue religious traditions. Instead, we can integrate its insights into free, democratic, non-religious spirituality and secularism, free of the kind of control and error that organized religions inevitably propagate. As long as organized religion continues around a set of dogma, tradition, and false authority, human evolution will be needlessly impeded.