8/10/2011 | Share this article: View CommentsBy unoder ~
I spent a good proportion of my childhood and adult life as a Christian, and I humbly accepted the teachings of the faith without question just as I had been told to do. Any nagging doubts I may have had, I simply pushed to the back of my mind and ignored. Through fear of hell, I dared not question things that didn’t make sense.
When teachings threw up more questions than they provided answers, I plodded along regardless, not letting my “imperfect”, prideful human intellect get in the way of god’s “higher wisdom” which required my faith to understand, even when it didn’t make sense.
However, the cracks started to form as I began to think critically and look at things objectively. Rather than assuming “The bible is the world of god”, I instead asked “Is the bible the word of god?”. I began to entertain the doubts I once dismissed and, owing a lot to internet resources, learned more and more things that confirmed many of my nagging suspicions and lead me to the point of realisation that Christianity is an entirely man-made construct and rather than being the infallible word of a god, the bible is the very fallible word of human beings.
What I would like to do now is share the doubts I always had about the religion and speak out loud the things I forced myself to keep inside for many years. I’m certain many of you will be able to relate as I take you through my 14 biggest problems with Christianity.
NB: To avoid making this too long, I have decided to split this article into two parts. The second part will follow in due course.
Problem 1 : Original Sin (or “Sins of the fathers” doctrine)
We all know this one. It’s one of the first things you’re taught to accept as a Christian: you are flawed and sinful, an aberration in the eyes of god; worthless and bound to an eternity of suffering by default just for being born. Why? Because 6000 or so years ago, a woman was tricked by a talking snake into eating a magical fruit. This indiscretion is now your inheritance, and as far as god is concerned, you are equally responsible.
To my now liberated mind, Original Sin is precisely why Christians are told to never ever question god. The doctrine is so unjust and unreasonable that the only way it anybody could possibly believe or defend it is if they’d been actively discouraged from thinking about it critically.
Not in any justice system in the world would you find a judge that would punish the protégée of a criminal for the actions of said criminal. No parent would hold their grandchildren responsible for the misdeeds of their children. In no way is such a system fair or just. That any reasonable person could equate such behaviour with the unconditional love of a benevolent creator is beyond ludicrous. This one doctrine alone makes the god of the bible not worth serving. So, not only am I personally guilty for the sins of Adam and Eve, but if my own biological father committed a crime and was sentenced, according to biblical laws and Christian thought, his “sins” are also “visited upon” me as well.
If we are to believe that as humans, we are flawed and imperfect but can devise a better standard of justice than a supposedly perfect, infallible being then what does that say of this so-called god? And if we are to accept that we cannot possibly fathom his ways because they are so beyond us, then one has to question why an infinite, unlimited god is somehow limited in making himself understandable to his own creation.
Upon closer inspection, it’s easy to see what the human writers of the bible (using the name of god) were trying to do. The purpose of this doctrine is to scare into submission. In short: do as I say or I will hurt your kids.
Problem 2 : Exclusivity
In my Christian years, I was always told that god loves everyone. Somewhat contradictorily, I was also told that whilst all humans were created by god, only some “belonged” to him. Conveniently, these were Christians and Jews (I shall discuss the latter group in another section). In essence, saved people were the children of god whom he loved, cherished and held a covenant, Jews were his favourites regardless and everyone else belonged to Satan. Though this view may make some Christians feel special and privileged, it is also patently unfair, particularly if one marries it to the Pauline doctrine which states that god chooses some people from eternity for salvation, leaving the rest to sin and hell (predestination - a doctrine magnified by the horrifically dour and morbid Christian sect of Calvinism).
What kind of an all-loving being would favour only a fractious percentage of humanity and damn all others? Why would a god who “desired that none should perish” (Peter 3:9) have a special elite club that excluded most of humanity?
I always felt that it was not at all reasonable for “god” to expect unwavering obedience whilst, at the same time being wilfully distant and unknowable.To my mind, this has always been an incredibly self-serving doctrine that does more harm than good. It encourages believers to have an elevated sense of self, positing themselves above the rest of humanity as “god’s chosen people”. This accounts in a large way for the sheer smugness and self righteousness of much of the Christian community. We only have to look at the rest of the world to see how a mentality of entitlement and privilege makes people arrogant and selfish, and Christians, for all their claims and pretensions towards piety are absolutely no different in this regard.
What’s more, if god deems righteous only those who subscribe to a particular religion and values this over the behavioural attitudes of his creation at large, this is neither just nor loving. It is favouritism of the highest order, completely contradicting the biblical claim that god is no “respecter of persons”.
Problem 3 : Satan
Now this one has never made sense. According to Christianity, Satan is the enemy of god, the fallen angel, the Rebel that caused man to sin and messed up god’s creation. The belief is that Satan, in the form of a talking snake tricked Eve in the Garden of Eden having been cast out of heaven for insubordination (even though this is not actually what the Genesis account says).
So, instead of simply destroying the usurper that the omnipotent god already knew in advance would screw everything up, he simply “cast him down to earth” and left him hanging around so he could mess up the perfect world that he created. What’s more, having tricked Adam and Eve, god doesn’t punish Satan directly at all, instead, he curses his “beloved creation” and then curses all snakes which, according to the bible, used to have legs and now eat dust. However, the fundamental issue remains: why did god let his arch rival off the hook? Twice?
If Satan is the root of all the world ills, and god is omnipotent, then that makes the god of the bible entirely responsible for the consequences as he is the only being that could’ve completely stopped him in his tracks. If a serial killer was rampaging your town, and the police knew who he was, where he lived and how to capture him but instead chose to do nothing, then not only would the police be grossly negligent, they’d inadvertently be responsible for any further killings. It could even be argued that they were somehow colluding with the killer. The same applies to biblegod with regard to Satan.
Beyond that, it has been shown that the word ‘Satan’ actually means ‘accuser’ and was used in the original Hebrew texts to refer to anybody who opposed another, making the personification of Satan as a being something that came about via a mistranslation (but try telling that to your average fundamentalist!). Nonetheless, Satan is just as important as god within Christianity; a necessary evil, if you will. Without Satan and without hell, the Christian has nothing to fear and no reason to believe the unbelievable. He is the archetypal Shadow on which all the undesirable aspects of the god construct (and for that matter, humanity itself) can be placed. He is needed in order for the religion to work, and for its followers to be controlled.
Problem 4 : Ours is Not to Question
One thing everybody who either is, or has been a Christian has, is questions. Lots of them. Between its claims of the implausible and the many contradictions in the bible and in relation to the supposed behaviour of god, much of Christianity fails to make any sense to the rational mind. The instinct to question things that don’t make sense is suppressed by the idea that both questioning god and harbouring any sort of doubt is a “sin”.
The bible frequently reminds Christians that they are not, in any way to question god, that god’s foolishness is greater than man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25) and anything from the mind of men is inherently inferior to anything from the mind of god. However, this entire notion dissolves once the truth about the bible and the god within becomes apparent and one realises that both are man-made.
Either way, this was always a very big problem for me in my Christian years. I always felt that it was not at all reasonable for “god” to expect unwavering obedience whilst, at the same time being wilfully distant and unknowable. To my mind, an omnipotent being should know exactly how to communicate with its creation in no uncertain terms. Thus, there should be no questions and god should be able to make himself understood in as unequivocal a manner as possible.
The so-called mystery of god was actually one of my greatest barriers. I was always told to love and trust god, but I just could not fully do it because there was so much I didn’t understand, and simply being told that I was not to question under the ever present threat of hell just made it worse. It rendered god as an unreasonable parent or a tyrannical ruler that expected and commanded obedience but gave nothing in return. How was I supposed to love a god that not only made himself invisible and hard to understand, but threatened me with eternal torment simply for asking questions? Why would god not want me to understand his ways or ask questions? Is this not what “seeking god” should be all about? And how is one supposed to seek and know the will of a being they don’t understand? In direct contrast to this, the Christian is impressed upon to continually praise god. So again, how is one expected to praise a wilfully enigmatic being that chooses not to make itself understood?
Lack of understanding equates to lack of trust, which in turn leads to lack of love. So, as an ex-Christian, I now admit that I never really, truly “loved” the Christian god. I tried, I really, really did, but I just couldn’t fully love a god that didn’t want to make sense to me. I would never love another human being who treated me this way, even a parent, so how was I ever supposed to fully love and trust an invisible being that did?
Problem 5 : Hell
An obvious one, but still worth mentioning. In relation to the previous problem, the concept of hell is a direct contradiction to the notion of a god of love. Even as Christians we knew this, but were too scared to give it much thought, so instead we came up with all sorts of excuses to make god look like the good guy by laying the blame at the feet of humanity. It’s not that god is wicked and cruel for creating a system by which most of his creation will burn and writhe in excruciating pain forever upon death, we are the ones at fault for pissing him off. We are bad, we are sinful, and we deserve whatever we get. All we need do is pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, fall into line and OBEY and everything will be OK. God doesn’t send us to hell he created, we send ourselves there.
These were the excuses I used to justify god’s apparent cruelty, and you did too. Of course, they are merely apologetic hand-me-downs dreamt up by Christian thinkers intent on blaming the victim.
The biggest problem I had with the doctrine of hell was that it seemed too binary, too simplistic. Any misdeed, no matter how small meant eternal torture in hell if one was to die at that moment. Thus, someone who simply didn’t believe in Jesus and a child molester, according to this doctrine get the same punishment. Some Christians console themselves that the “bad people” of the world (such as the aforementioned molester) will one day get what they deserve in the fires of hell, but fail to realise that if another person gets the same punishment for much less, then justice has not been served. Interestingly, for all their claims to objective morality, these same Christians are blind to the fact that the doctrine of hell, rather than discouraging “sin” can actually have the opposite effect. After all, if the punishment is always the same in the end, does it really matter what one does?
Problem 6 : Witnessing
Probably one of the hardest things for me when I was a Christian was sharing my faith with others. I was always told that I should spread the so-called good news whenever possible. But in some small part of my mind, I always felt that telling people they needed to believe the same things as I did or they’d burn forever when they died was wrong. Telling people who believed in other things that their cultural beliefs and sensibilities were wrong whilst the bible was right seemed supremely presumptuous and arrogant. I could not bullishly impose my beliefs on others that way. When I was younger and still lived at home, my mother would sometimes give me tracts, leaflets and tapes to give my friends, which made me feel very uncomfortable. As a result, I rarely bought friends (and certainly not girlfriends) home in case she’d bombard them with Christian stuff (she was very forthright and ‘In Your Face’ in her evangelistic manner).
To me, witnessing to others always felt like being a salesman. Christianity was the “pitch”, and “the kingdom of god” was the marketing company I represented. Everyone who didn’t have my “product” (the Holy Spirit) was to be persuaded into thinking they really “needed” it even if they very probably didn’t. I was constantly guilt-tripped into witnessing by being told that my friends would go to hell due to my reluctance to preach the “good news” to them, and that god would hold me accountable for their loss, even though, being omnipotent, he would’ve known all along whether someone would “accept him” regardless of my intervention.
So, to get around this problem, I would witness anonymously by sending things to people in the post and not leaving a return address or putting tracts and flyers in places where they could be found. Even so, it felt disingenuous. Despite trying my best to walk the walk, I only half understood what I attempted to witness, not because my faith was superficial (far from it), but because somewhere in the core of my being was that kernel of uncertainty that existed as a result of my many buried doubts and questions that even Christians I looked up to couldn’t address. On the rare occasions I did try to witness face-to-face, it never panned out well. I’d not be able to answer tough questions effectively or, in some cases, completely alienate friends. Being told that I was “suffering for Christ” or that they were rejecting god rather than me didn’t help.
Problem 7 : Suffering
In the Christian household I grew up in, my mother was big on suffering for Christ. Perhaps it was due in part to her catholic upbringing, but this was one aspect of Christianity that seemed to be especially magnified.
I was always taught that suffering, pain and hardship were actually good things because they bought one closer to god. If you didn’t suffer –or so went the thinking- then it meant the devil was leaving you alone, which meant you weren’t doing anything for “the kingdom”. This never struck me as being particularly “good news”, and would’ve turned me off Christianity a lot sooner were it not for the fear of eternal damnation.
This aspect of Christianity, even when I still believed only served to make me view the religion as being very negative. I could not understand why god would want “his people” to suffer so much. I was often told that if Jesus, god’s only son suffered, then we puny humans have no right to complain and should basically just suck it up. What’s more, not only are we to suffer to prove ourselves as Christians, but we’re absolutely not to complain about it either. After all, when the Israelites complained in the desert, god sent “fiery serpents” to bite and kill them, so if we grumble about hardships as Christians, then god will do the same to us (figuratively speaking). Then of course there was also the suffering that god might inflict upon someone as punishment for sin, but either way, as a Christian, you were going to suffer. How one was supposed to know the difference between suffering for doing good and suffering for being sinful was never clearly explained.
Yes, this is the sort of thing I heard a lot growing up. God wanted you to suffer to prove your faith and make you a better person, but you better not complain about it or he’ll punish you even more. And I was supposed to believe this god loved and cared about me. However, this view of god not only caused me not to trust or understand god (as per Problem 4), but instilled within me a view of god as a capricious trickster who enjoyed playing games at the expense of his creation, much like a little boy with a magnifying glass burning ants (as the fate of Job illustrates so well).
At the same time, I was always told that god wanted the best for us, that we were to live life in abundance and prosperity, but this completely contradicted the grim view of suffering being virtuous to god, so it just made me very confused. Thanks to all of this, Christianity was, to my mind morbid and bleak for the most part. God might want to bless me with “good things”, but he’d most likely just want me to suffer “for his glory” and so, the “spiritual breakthroughs” I was often promised were always just out of reach.
The doctrine of suffering is perversely negative and almost sadomasochistic. It is one of the worst things about Christianity, especially as it is something tucked away in the small print and only impressed upon a believer after they’ve already taken the bait. To convince someone that they should invite suffering in this life because something better awaits them in the next is not only destructive, it is downright immoral.
To be continued...