Thursday, October 16, 2008

Are Christians really as bad as you think?

Over at De-converts, they have a guest blogger on who raised the question, Are Christians really as bad as you think?

And of course, the obvious answer is that I think most Christians in most circumstances really are decent, moral, and intelligent people. Hell, I have a family full of them, with only one causality to the wingnut fundamentalist ideology and most people I know who are religious aren't insane in any way. Seriously, good folks. And though we may differ on religious matters, we both approach the world in basically humanist terms: seeking to create a better life in the here and now through our own actions.

That said, the high-profile loons are really not helping the public image. And I'm not talking about Christofascists on Faux News or the money-grubbing televangelists or the faith-healers or the "creation scientists" like Dembski and Kent Hovind - I'm talking about real church authorities, priests who rape the faithful only to have their crimes covered up by other authorities, megachurch pastors like Ted Haggard, who tell their enormous congregations that evolution is atheistic (and therefore, false), a Pope who idiotically blames atheism for the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" ever known in history (no mention is made of burning heretics alive or the Spanish Inquisition), and my own United Methodist church, that voted down allowing homosexuals to be ordained ministers (the church leadership, in their infinite wisdom, unilaterally decided it was bad, with no say from us plebeians) and passed out all-Republican voter "guides" for the election (thank God for separation of church and state - otherwise churches would tell us how to vote!)

Plus, and let's be honest here, what you guys believe isn't very plausible or well thought out. A God who created all the majesty of the cosmos, to whom we are like ants, who punishes many of us after death for what we do or do not believe, or if we broken such and such a commandment. Then, there's a human-God (who is the same guy as the other God) who was conceived by a virgin and God and then allegedly got himself crucified by the Romans so that he could go back to heaven and forgive everybody who believes the right things. This all-powerful God who's Plan for the universe only has the slightest wrinkle - this devil, who really exists and really waged war in heaven, he makes you do terrible things like look up internet porn and atheist blogs. Then there's the efficacy of prayer. And the less said about godly crackers, the better.

Frankly, I dislike that this keeps coming up over and over again: various Christians alleging that atheists think they're all a bunch of ignorant, superstitious, fundamentalist wackaloons and that the atheists are horribly mistaken. I'm halfway tempted to just consider it compliment-fishing, but it always seems like a recurring talking point: that the other side of Christianity is joyous and reasonable and respectable and good, that that everyone else should have faith just like they do. It's not really a question, it's just a PR campaign - and it certainly doesn't play out very well to people who don't already place a high value on religions or faith or Gods. But in this particular instance, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and answer the points as best I can.

(a) The core Christian faith teachings deal with moral ideals - like the ‘do nots’ of murder and adultery or ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. I cannot find places where the teachings actually allow for the immoral behaviour of someone committed to this faith. We know that it happens - but any small reading in the gospels will reveal they have no right to treat people like crap - none whatsoever.

People have divergent ideas about what moral ideals the Bible actually lays out. Nowhere is this clearer than the ongoing conflict between conservative/fundamentalist Christians and their more liberal counterparts, with both claiming that the Bible supports their diametrically opposed values.

I've heard people claim that the Bible clearly doesn't advocate anything immoral, but the Bible itself seems to disagree on numerous occasions, like prescribing a good old fashioned stoning for idolatry, adultery, even for the "crime" of being a disobedient child. But since you asked specifically for a Gospel quote, how about 2 Corinthians 6:14? The part about being "unequally yoked" with unbelievers? Surely, such ideological segregations seem ghastly to modern ears, yet it is there, nonetheless.

(b) The Christian faith, if it is bad, does not produce very many bad people (per capita). I see the odd bad person crop up - that will commit murder in the name of God or picket funerals. However, they are the exceptions to the norm (deviations from the standard). If it was reverse, and they were not exceptions, the news and history pages would be littered with their vicious exploits. This is not the case at all.

I'm not sure if I have reliable statistics on bad people per capita. I rather doubt that's a real statistic. But I agree with the general gist of it - most Christians do behave themselves very well (most people in general behave themselves very well) and only a few are truly bad (again, the same goes for people in general). But I'm not really seeing where you're going with this, it doesn't appear to be much of a revelation.

(c) People that join the Christian faith actually can do a 180 degree turn in their life. Now we cannot scientifically prove the change in someone’s life or their 180 degree spin - but for those personally affected by that individual - they can see the change. As much as people do not want to give merit to personal stories of change - it is the best evidence of a person’s actual change in behavior. No test can exist to show someone has changed - but as humans we can all admit when we have seen it.

Oh, I'm sure there are Christian converts who really have changed their life for the better. The same goes for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Wiccans, Buddhists, and probably even some Scientologists. Likewise, I'm sure deconverts also report similar positive experiences. Clearly, the veracity of the religion is irrelevant to the happiness converts feel.
(d) The Christian faith provides (and fills) something in society - a place to belong and find a value system. Most places you attend will not guide you into some type of value system - it’s just not going to happen…and sometimes families fail to fill this role. The church just happens to direct people into values that may help them become a functional piece of society. What they lack in culture, vision, ethical development, attention, community - all these things and more can be given to a person via a church.
That's certainly true, people can find meaning and purpose in a church. People can also find it in a hundred other places. People can even find it without requiring a religion at all.

But I'm not convinced that the meaning a church provides is even a good one, given the alternatives. It hinges on lust for immortality and fear of divine punishment. Whatever meager fulfillment these ideas grant is outweighed by the costs involved in taking this route to fulfillment.

(e) Christians say some strange things - I agree - and hold some strange theologies - I also agree - but how often does what they ‘believe’ make those same people into criminals or shady characters in society? Very, very, very rarely.

It doesn't. It doesn't make them criminals at all. It just makes them religious nuts, no better or worse than UFO nuts or psychic nuts.

These ideas aren't very well supported, and most are directly contradicted by what we currently know about how the universe works. Their proliferation is a cause for concern.

I admit the Christian faith has it drawbacks - namely in some of its weak theological ideas. However, I would not call it a faith that makes ‘bad’ people or makes society inherently ‘worse’ by being there. I admit they have some questionable behaviours - like being overly judgmental - but even within these behaviours they do not commit crimes against you or society. Churches actually help society in many ways - and can in many more.

It's a system where unquestionable, yet very questionable beliefs are instilled, and its primary justification, faith, gives those beliefs immunity from both scrutiny and doubt. These conditions make it a good breeding ground for dogmatism and zealotry, which does do harm to the surrounding community.

I think most of the things said by de-converts about Christians is pure BS and a mass generalization. They have an axe to grind concerning the treatment they received from Christians

How ironic, this is itself a generalization, and quite mistaken in this case. Despite my obvious displeasure with my old church's political stances, I have nothing else bad to say about it. The people were friendly, the sermons were often dedicated to loving one's neighbor and helping one another, and the beliefs themselves were often of the most progressive sort possible within Christianity. It's the kind of place where even an atheist can feel at home.

But as warmly as I feel about that church or Christian friends and family, I must acknowledge that the beliefs themselves are not very plausible, and really do end up causing a lot of harm in the world. It is for this reason that I criticize both Christianity and religion in general.

but at the end of the say I don’t let a few bad apples determine for me the whole apple orchard is rotten.

Indeed. But in this case, the orchard is plowed by oxen and is sown with salt. The fact that some fruits are decent despite the mistreatment is not a testament to its vitality, but a wonder of chance. We can do better.

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