6/15/2015 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Ben Love ~
This morning a man knocked on my front door and invited me to his church. He had with him a Bible and a bag full of pamphlets on his particular church home. I declined the pamphlet and the invitation, but I did invite him into my home for a chat. While he was much more pleasant than some of the evangelists I’ve come across, his rhetoric was pretty much par for the course. What you would expect, basically. However, he did say one thing in particular that, to me, just begged for an article to be written. So here I am, writing it. What did he say? This: “I understand your intellectual objections, but the plain fact is that the benefits of being a Christian simply outweigh any objection you could possibly raise.”
I merely smiled, deciding whether or not to contest the statement. I was actually about to, but then he suddenly said he had to leave. As I closed the door behind him, I thought to myself, “Hmmm, perhaps I should write an article addressing what these ‘benefits’ he spoke of might be.”
So, let us ask the question: What are the benefits of being a Christian? I thought the best way to get an answer to this question was to get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Now, granted, I used to be a Christian, so I probably could have answered this myself. But I wanted fresh answers. So, I went into a Christian chat room and, without any preamble, typed: “What are the benefits of being a Christian?”
I received many answers, six of which I’d like to address here in this article. They are as follows:
- “Knowing your sins are forgiven is quite a psychological comfort.”
- "Being assured of a spot in heaven, as opposed to hell, makes all the difference.”
- “When God is on your side, prayers are answered.”
- “Christianity’s scriptures offer the best possible guide to upright living.”
- "There nothing in the world like knowing God.”
- “Only Christianity offers real peace and joy. No one is as happy as a Christian.”
“Knowing your sins are forgiven is quite a psychological comfort.”
Having been a Christian myself, I can attest to the fact that, if you believe in sin, and if you believe you are guilty of sin, feeling like you’ve been forgiven is indeed quite a weight off the shoulders. But the Christian definition of sin does not exist outside of Christianity. Therefore, the solution to that sin also doesn’t exist outside of Christianity. In other words, this alleged “benefit” only applies if you first believe in the “need” of that benefit. As such, I don’t think this qualifies as a bona fide benefit. This would be the same as some business saying they sell the best tires for withstanding the damage of all those nails they have put in your driveway. They put the nails there and then sell you the tire. This is backward! Remove the nails, and the need for a new tire disintegrates. It is the same thing here. In order to experience this benefit of forgiveness, you first have to believe you need it, and in order to do that, you have to accept that you’re unworthy as you are. I would think that a true benefit is something that adds to what you already have rather than subtracting something from you and then giving it right back. If I take away your dignity and then restore it, how have you really benefited? This benefit, therefore, is merely an illusion, one created by the very tenets of the theological system responsible for both the “need” and the “solution” to begin with. This is a snake eating its own tail.
“Being assured of a spot in heaven, as opposed to hell, makes all the difference.”
The very same principle is involved here. Heaven is only a “benefit” if you believe that you’re going to go to hell without having performed some “saving task.” Here again, Christianity sells you the probability of hell and then sells you the way out. Once again, this is not a benefit. Moreover, let us observe that even for the most faithful and committed Christian on Earth, heaven and hell are both still merely theoretical. No one, believer and nonbeliever alike, has definitive proof that an afterlife exists at all, let alone an afterlife that includes the possibilities of a Judeo-Christian “heaven” and “hell.” Therefore, this “benefit” falls under the category of “pie-in-the-sky.” In other words, this is the same as having a vault at a bank that is filled with stacks and stacks of “Monopoly money.” You have absolutely no idea that the money will ever be worth anything. (And, if you have the courage to be honest with yourself, you might discover that you already know the money is useless.)
“When God is on your side, prayers are answered.”
As far as I can tell, believers and nonbelievers alike both die of cancer. Likewise, sometimes believers and nonbelievers unexplainably recover from cancer. The arbitrariness of the matter seems consistent within both the atheist world and the believing world. Sometimes the prayers believers pray seem to be “answered.” Sometimes not. Suppose two men are struggling with how to pay their mortgage this month. One man is a Christian, the other is an atheist. The Christian man prays to God for a solution. The atheist man just hopes that someone thing will change in the situation, and that a good outcome will ensue. Both men end up being able to pay their mortgage at the last minute. Both men, therefore, had a metaphorical "mountain moved,” but the Christian man will say, “God did this!” And the atheist will say, “I'm glad that worked out.” Isn’t it all a matter of perspective? Are Christian women raped less than atheist women? Do fewer Christians file for bankruptcy than atheists do? Where is the hard data in the world that demonstrates an unequivocal bent toward praying Christians faring any better than non-praying atheists? Do Christians live longer? Do their teeth stay whiter longer? Do their children miraculously escape car accidents while atheist children die? Is it really fair for you to believe God led you to your current job, which you prayed for earnestly, when the atheist in the cubicle next to you found the same job without having ever uttered a single prayerful word? Seeing what you want to see in random patterns might make you feel good, and perhaps that feeling is a benefit of sorts, to you at least, but the atheist can feel just as good about his reasoned and logical approaches to the living of life. Thus, benefit for benefit, we are evenly matched on this one.
“Christianity’s scriptures offer the best possible guide to upright living.”
This is purely a matter of perspective and opinion. I myself can attest to the fact that in my experience, the spiritual writings of Eckhart Tolie and even the Dalai Lama have had just as profound an impact on my life as anything found in the Bible. Moreover, this statement must beg the following question: do Christians show signs of being better behaved than atheists? Again, this is a matter of perspective. I have known a great many people who claim Jesus Christ as their savior and who spend hours of each day immersed in the writings of the Bible and who still seem to be judgmental, bigoted, deceitful, adulterous, and anything else you can possibly think of; while many atheists can be some of the most humble, generous, compassionate people you’ll ever meet. Sure, some atheists can be dicks, just like some Christians can be saints. The point is that no one, Christian, atheist, or otherwise, has any kind of monopoly on upright living. It largely seems to be a matter of personality, background, and the condition of one’s heart. To therefore assert that Christians are better behaved than anyone else and that this “benefit” is attributable to the writings of the Bible is nothing more than a blanket statement based on personal bias.
“There is nothing in the world like knowing God.”
“Being assured of a spot in heaven, as opposed to hell, makes all the difference.”
Okay. Which God? Oh, your God. Here’s a question: how do you know you’re knowing God? Why is it that when a lunatic says he killed all the tourists because God told him to, he is sent to an asylum, but when a believer says he handed out free sandwiches to all the tourists because God told him to, he gets a pat on the back? Is it the really the difference of behavior that separates these two people? Both claim they know God personally. Both claim God is speaking to them. Both obey that voice as they interpret it. Is the measuring stick merely this: if it’s something good, it must be the voice of God, but if it is something bad, it must not be? One must wonder why the deranged lunatic and the generous Christian so closely resemble each other up until the moment their acts are committed. If we are going merely by the outcome, then we must also keep in mind that many Christians turn their backs on their gay sons and daughters because “God told them to,” many Christians cause a division within a church body because “God told them to,” and usually these and other such acts are condoned somewhere within the Christian Bible. Clearly, the outcome is neither here nor there. The real issue is whether or not these people really are hearing the voice of “God,” or are interpreting their own thoughts and feelings as “the voice of God.” If so, why do you automatically assume the lunatic has done that while you give the believer the benefit of the doubt? In other words, how do you quantify a mystical and largely internalized experience such as “knowing God?” Can you even? If not, this particular benefit is merely the hearsay of the individual and thus constitutes a rather weak argument. Besides, an atheist could turn around and say, “There is nothing in the world like knowing the facts.” Both statements are merely a matter of personal perspective.
“Only Christianity offers real peace and joy. No one is as happy as a Christian.”
Aside from the fact that this statement is ridiculously arrogant, it too, like all the statements we’ve observed here, is purely a matter of opinion. How can you, a Christian, definitively say that you know for a certainty what is going on in my heart and mind? How can you definitively say that you know for a certainty that I’m not as happy as you are because I don’t believe what you believe? “No one is as happy as a Christian?” What empirical data is fueling such a statement? Oh, that’s right. None. This particular “benefit” is merely the standard propaganda Christians like to say to one another in an attempt to feel as though they are “set apart” from the rest of us. And that’s totally fine. But to impose such a statement on the rest of us would be the same thing as saying all white people are happier than black people, or that all Germans are happier than Greeks. How absurd! Such a statement is too ridiculous to even address. Now, granted, the Christian is making this statement because he genuinely feels that he is indeed set apart, that the Spirit of Jesus indwells him and is therefore providing him with a much more lasting and authentic peace and joy than the nonbeliever could ever hope to experience. But this is true only inasmuch as he himself believes it to be in his own mind. The reality might be, and likely is, much different. I cannot speak for everyone, but if we are going to use experiences as evidence for benefits, then I know that I’m on the better side, for I’m much happier in my atheism than I ever was in my faith.
I cannot see that there is any particular benefit to being a Christian, or any noticeable advantage to faith that dramatically sets the believer apart from the nonbeliever. Many Christians lead awful lives. Many atheists lead wonderful lives. The largely atheist nation of Japan appears to be thriving while the largely Christian nation of Zambia is in shambles. Christian musician Rich Mullins died quite young and quite tragically while the noted Brazilian architect and atheist Oscar Niemeyer lived to the ripe old age of 104. Granted, all of these demographics are subject to all kinds of other factors that may or may not be relevant regarding this particular topic, but the point is that the blanket statement made by the Christian visitor in my home has neither merit nor foundation. Your individual life is whatever you make it, regardless of which philosophical road you walk. Can I get an “amen?”