The Harmfulness of Christianity

Most people know the numerous historical wars, tortures, pogroms, enslavements, human sacrifices, and other brutalities committed in the name of some god. Those facts alone should be enough for anyone to question the righteousness of religion. But the harm that the Christian religion does is far more subtle and ingrained in its core teachings than just these obvious atrocities.

I am discussing Christianity only because it is the religion with which I am most familiar and the one that dominates American culture. Most of the points I will be making are true of other religions as well, perhaps even all religions.

One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that people are born sinful. This belief stems from the legend in Genesis, the first book of the “Old Testament” or Hebrew Bible. The story is that Yahweh (God) told the first man that he was forbidden to eat the fruit of one tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden. This all-knowing, all-powerful deity did not want the man to have the “knowledge of good and evil.” Yet, he placed this fruit tree in the midst of the garden and made it good to eat and a delight to look at. That is just cruel. Then the woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat the fruit. She was only told second hand not to eat that fruit. God commanded Adam, not Eve. So then this tyrannical deity punished the snake for convincing the woman to try the fruit, although nowhere does the story say the snake had been given any commands by Yahweh. The woman and man were punished for disobeying Yahweh BEFORE they had a knowledge of good and evil. And every descendant forever after was considered sinful for something in which they had no part. Punishing children for the actions of their parents would today be considered unjust.

Teaching people, especially children, that they are sinful from birth is malicious emotional abuse. Children are even taught that their sinfulness was the reason Jesus was tortured to death. What a horrible burden to put on anyone, especially a child. Human emotional well being is nourished by positive self esteem, not fear. Furthermore, Christianity teaches that if this universally inherited sin is not corrected, the person will be tortured in hell for eternity. The eternal torture of hell is perhaps the most despicable concept ever developed. It is so excessive that even the most dastardly justice system on earth would not endorse it.

Monotheism brought a problem that is commonly unrecognized. When people begin to believe that there is only one god and my religion has the truth about that god, they also begin to believe that all other beliefs are wrong and other people are infidels and heretics deserving torture and death. The Catholic church conducted the Inquisition for several centuries, and German Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer wrote Malleus Maleficarum in 1486 to define witches as demons and expand the torture and execution to many more individuals. Kramer’s book detailed procedures for identifying witches, for witch trials, and for tortures of witches.

The Inquisition and Kramer’s book were endorsed by papal bulls. The purpose of the Inquisition was to terrify people into unquestioning obedience to Roman Catholic authority and to destroy anyone who opposed, or even just disagreed with, Catholic dogma. Informants were common and produced continual fear. Torture was legally sanctioned by the Church from 1252 until 1917. Legally, torture could not be repeated, however, it could be “continued” after a suspension. Numerous gruesome methods of torture were invented by Inquisitors. Millions of people were killed in that ghastly operation, all in the name of a god. The torture and killing continued for decades throughout the world perpetuated by Christian missionaries.

Another core concept of Christianity was animal sacrifice. For some reason, the all-knowing and all-powerful god enjoyed the smell of burning flesh and required an animal sacrifice to forgive sins. How killing something takes away a sin is never explained. Christians went one step beyond the Jewish practice of animal sacrifice and decided that god raped a virgin Jewish girl to produce a son just for the purpose of torturing and killing him to forgive sins. Jesus is believed to have been a Jewish rebel who the Roman’s decided to crucify. He is claimed to have been brought back to life after three days, so the sacrifice was not nearly as permanent as most. Christians revere this gruesome event so much that many wear the symbol for Roman crucifixion around their necks. Why an all-knowing god could think of no other way to deal with sin is never explained. It is one of the reasons that Christianity is known by some as a death cult.

Christianity also condoned slavery because it is sanctioned in the Bible. It is considered part of the divinely ordained hierarchy. Christianity values obedience and submission far more than freedom and self-determination.

This “sacrifice” of Jesus brings up another Christian concept that is no longer considered sensible, except in Christianity. Substitutionary atonement is the belief that Jesus’ death atones for the sins of everyone else. The idea that a sin or wrongdoing of one person can be paid for by punishing someone else is no longer considered reasonable or acceptable. Our justice system does not allow one person to be punished for the crime of another. We require people to be responsible for their own actions.

The inflexible Christian dogma that all knowledge comes from a god through the bible and is unchangeable has retarded the advancement of human knowledge for centuries. For example, Pythagorus in the sixth century BCE thought the earth revolved around the sun. Aristarchus described the heliocentric theory in the third century BCE, and Eratosthenes had already measured the circumference of the earth. Hipparchus described longitude and latitude in the second century BCE. But not until the sixteenth century CE did Copernicus reintroduce the theory that the earth revolves around the sun. When Galileo promoted that idea, he was tried by Inquisitors in Rome, and the Roman Catholic Church did not revoke its condemnation of him until 1965. That’s almost 7,000 years of resistence to scientific knowledge by the Catholic Church. Much of that became known as the Dark Ages and is epitomized by St Augustine’s statement, “It is impossible there should be inhabitants on the opposite side of the earth, since no such race is recorded by Scripture among the descendants of Adam.”

The Catholic Church even rewrote ancient history erasing the fact that neolithic people between 7000 BCE and 4000 BCE had sophisticated cultures that flourished in art, architecture, city planning, dance, drama, trade, writing, law, and government, including democracy. The Church replaced that history with the false idea that pre-Christian societies were ugly, violent and barbaric. The early Christians burned one of the world’s greatest libraries in Alexandria and prohibited education outside of the Church.

The Christian belief in everlasting heaven and hell is one of the greatest cons in history. The “proof” for the claim comes only after death. Its primary purpose seems to be control of people by instilling fear. It clearly instills fear and claims only one solution to resolve that fear. In fact, Christianity repeatedly emphasizes that fearing god is a requirement for being a Christian. Tyrants brutalize their victims and ensure compliance by instilling maximum fear and then offering release from that fear that only they control. It’s a very effective terrorism tactic that seems to be a hallmark of Christianity.

The dogma of Christianity was debated vigorously in the beginning for several centuries, and one version was finally sanctioned through the political persuasion of Emperor Constantine in about 325 CE. A convoluted and perplexing concept of the trinity was created. While that solution brought some unity to Christianity, it is still debated and questioned to this day.

The Protestant Reformation was a protest against a Church more concerned with collecting money than with teaching scripture. Protestants argued that individuals should develop a relationship directly with god, not through images, saints, symbols, or church “representatives.” However, Martin Luther also continued to advocate human inequality, including sexism (“Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow more quickly than good crops.”), racism, antisemitism, and the execution of Anabaptists. Bloody wars between Catholics and Protestants evolved, and they both argued for their own version of godly order and obedience.

For centuries, orthodox Christianity has believed in a singular, authoritarian, punishing god who rules from a spiritual realm in the sky. The physical world and nature are considered mechanistic and inferior to the spiritual realm, even considered to be the devil’s domain by some. Holidays that honored seasonal cycles, nature, joyfulness, and celebration were replaced with holidays that emphasized struggle and suffering. Christianity described the world as a hierarchy that operates through fear, domination, competition, punishment, and unquestioned obedience to god’s unchanging laws.

Although orthodox Christianity and science have vehemently opposed each other for centuries, science developed a view of the universe that is also mechanistic and deterministic and independent of human consciousness. Christianity and science continue to differ on whether the devil has a supernatural influence on the universe and whether fear and spiritual punishment compel morality. And science eventually discovered quantum mechanics in which mechanistic laws do not apply, at least to subatomic particles. We now think that we can know only the probability of any outcome. The universe is not as deterministic as once thought. It may be a conscious, self-regulating system. A complete understanding of reality seems to lie beyond the capability of rational thinking.

If you need a religion that is clear and concise and dictated by a god, Christianity is not it. Actually, no religion fits that description. Religion is created in the minds of humans to reduce the anxiety of life and invent answers to mysteries that many people find uncomfortable. If it is understood to be an invention to soothe the unwillingness to tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty and the unknown, then it serves a function. A better alternative would be to learn to live with ambiguity, uncertainty and the unknown. The scientific pursuit of knowledge and solving of mysteries can be exciting, challenging and invigorating if you can embrace that it never ends.

4 thoughts on “The Harmfulness of Christianity

  1. Timely commentary for today Bob. I especially appreciated your last paragraph. Learning to live with ambiguity allows the self to be set free. Thank you for your thoughtful and well written posts.


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