Christian “Truth” in Shreds: Epic Takedown 1

Collateral Damage Everywhere

When a religion is big business—actually a colossal business, with worldwide brand recognition—it’s hard for the CEO to be honest. I’ve always thought it would be smart for Pope Francis to hold a weekly Vatican news conference, to announce the steps taken every week to stop priests from raping children, e.g., this is how many pedophile priests have been handed over to the police; this is how many bishops have been defrocked and excommunicated for covering up the problem, for transferring offending priests to other parishes.



But the pope can’t do that because it would draw attention to the systemic nature of the problem. The brand would be damaged even more than it has been; the bad publicity has already been bad enough, which makes us wonder why membership in the Catholic Church isn’t down to zero by now. Here’s a headline just this week: 600 Sex Abuse Lawsuits Expected to Hit California Catholic Dioceses.  


The common assumption, of course, is that religion makes the world a better place. There is so much evidence to the contrary, however, and the case for that is well stated in a 2018 article by Richard Carrier, What’s the Harm? Why Religions Belief Is Always BadI keep the link to this article handy, to share frequently. It’s a 5,700-word essay, and includes three dozen links to other resources. Indeed, this is an epic takedown.


It’s appropriate that Carrier leads with this criticism:


“In actual fact the Catholic Church is an international rape factory. And has been for decades; possibly untold centuries. Religious belief not only allowed that to happen, it is still allowing it to happen, as believers refuse to leave the church, refusing to effect any substantive reform that would prevent it, refusing to find a less deadly and destructive religion to believe in and support. 


“And that’s not the only horror that Church has unleashed on the world. Even now that same Church also teaches false and dangerous, even lethal, things about a great deal else, from condoms and AIDS in Africa, to mental health and marital and parental and sexual relationships. The Church even denies charity to aid groups that so much as associate with gay people. And likewise enforces other positions it irrationally and harmfully endorses. Add it all up, and the harm Catholicism does well exceeds any good.”


“…as believers refuse to leave the church…”  Why would that be? The eternal life gimmick still works, as it did when the ancient Jesus cult offered sure-fire magic spells and formulas to get to live forever. The church refined the gimmick over time, e.g., adding ceremony and ritual, such as the Miracle of the Mass: the body and blood of Jesus are offered as magic potions. I’ve known three Catholic women whose   obsession with heaven reached unhealthy levels: one bragged that she never reads books—yet had been tapped to teach catechism—and would tolerate no criticism of the faith because she wants to see her mother again in heaven; another, as she sat with her semi-conscious dying mother, gave her messages to pass on to deceased relatives in heaven (I wondered if such opportunism violated any afterlife protocols); finally, the third, who accounted for the mass shooting of twenty school kids by arguing that it happened because God needed more angels in heaven.  


Some might consider these trivial examples, but they matter, as Carrier notes:


“If we do not confront the fact of our mortality, if we hide from it and evade it by fabricating fantasies that we are immortal, we do not really grow up. We remain emotionally stunted, never having come to terms with the truth about ourselves and our lives.”


But then there are examples of grotesque faith-interference. Carrier quotes Lawrence Krauss:


“Religious leaders need to be held accountable for their ideas. In my state of Arizona, Sister Margaret McBride, a senior administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, recently authorized a legal abortion to save the life of a 27-year-old mother of four who was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from severe complications of pulmonary hypertension…Yet the bishop of Phoenix, Thomas Olmsted, immediately excommunicated Sister Margaret, saying, ‘The mother’s life cannot be preferred over the child’s.’ Ordinarily, a man who would callously let a woman die and orphan her children would be called a monster; this should not change just because he is a cleric.”


We can be sure that the bishop’s actions spread a lot of hurt, while he no doubt was confident he was holding the line for God. This shatters one of the primary excuses commonly offered for being religious: that it brings comfort. I do sometimes wonder how real that is. Are parents who lose a child to cancer comforted by the assurance that “it’s all part of God’s plan”—or that the kid is “now with Jesus”? Carrier condemns the fallacy:


“If you really think religion’s only utility is in comfort, then you should condemn all religions that carry any dangers and discomforts, and fully support everyone fabricating any belief system that makes them happy. Lovable faerie worlds. Benevolent polytheism. Post-mortem solipsism. We get to live forever in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Anything. It’s all the best thing ever. All other religions, a curse. That should be your position. If it’s not, then you don’t really believe we should believe false things merely because of the comfort they bring us.”


Whether someone believes that mother is waiting in heaven or that massacred children are transformed into angels, the question I most want to ask is: what is your epistemology? But chances are—overwhelmingly—I would be wasting my time. Many things are taught in Sunday School, but not epistemology: are your sources of God-information trustworthy, and how do you demonstrate that? Priests and preachers want people to believe that prayers and visions deliver information about God—as does tradition. I asked the woman who wants to see mother in heaven: Where did your religious ideas come from? “From my grandmother,” she beamed. Case closed. Epistemology derailed.  


I recommend following Carrier’s argument closely in the section, Liberal Theologies Entail Broken Epistemologies. Believers get away with so much—encouraged by their religious leaders—because broken epistemologies are not recognized. Basically: who cares? Here are a few of Carrier’s key points:


·      “…all religions require suppressing critical thought. Because you can’t maintain even a liberal religious belief, without a willfully broken epistemology. And no net good comes of doing that.”


·      “…faith-based epistemologies always bear a cost, a cost always greater and more dangerous than of abandoning false comforts.”


·      “Any epistemology that sticks you with false beliefs…will invariably stick you with some false beliefs that are bad for you as well, or bad for others if you embrace them.”


·      “…abandoning false comforts is what it means to grow into a mature adult and to take charge of yourself as you really are and life as it really is, and to get started on building true comforts in their place. Becoming a better, more honest, more realized person. Becoming less delusional, and therefore more enlightened.”


·      “…faith is simply an unreliable path to knowledge. And as such, it is an inherently dangerous epistemology to adopt—much less promote. As it can lead you, and others, into real folly. Even if it hasn’t done yet, it will do. If not to you, then those who come after you. Statistically, it’s inevitable. Just a matter of time.”


·      “…if you will believe things without evidence or reason, even against evidence and reason, what other false beliefs will you be vulnerable to, on account of that same fault in your epistemology? Even beyond the domain of specifically religious beliefs, with that epistemological software installed, you will be in danger of false social beliefs, false political beliefs, false beliefs about yourself and others, false beliefs about the world.”


·      “It’s all the worse that faulty epistemologies also leave us vulnerable to exploitation. If you don’t have a filter that protects you from false beliefs, your vulnerability to false beliefs (including excess reverence for the “pious” and “clergy”) can easily be used to exploit and manipulate you, by churches, church leaders, politicians, corporations, your communities, everyone. There is no good in this. Better armed against this fate, than a puppet of it.”


Early in the essay—after his criticism of the Catholic Church—Carrier also notes the dangers posed by conservative, evangelical Christianity: the vengeful Yahweh who stalks both the Old and New Testaments finds modern expression in mean-spirited theology, e.g., Carrier notes, “American Evangelicals lobbied for the mass murder of gay people in Uganda.”


Of course, liberal Christianity has worked hard to knock the rough edges off the Bible god, pretending that its theology is much better, more kind-hearted. But that’s an illusion; liberal theology remains incoherent. Somehow all the evil and suffering of the world are just-the-way-it-is on God’s watch. 


This powerful indictment is one of the most important paragraphs in Carrier’s essay:


“…although liberal Christianities tend to try and ditch the crazy, abusive teachings of devils and hells and unearned salvation, they can only replace them with something almost as bad: that God, even Jesus, is the example we should look up to, of the most loving and just person possible—


“…yet allows all the horrible, evil things in the world and does nothing about them, because this is somehow all for the best. Disease. Cancer. War. The Holocaust. Mass starvation. Mass drownings from floods, tsunamis, storms, sinking ships. It maximally exemplifies being loving and just…to do zip about any of it? How is that not a messed up thing to teach anyone? Especially children? It’s hard to imagine it’s doing society any favors to build a human being who thinks these things” (emphasis added).


It is especially important to hold theologians, preachers, and priests accountable for their willful misrepresentation of Jesus. Their “lord” has been idealized beyond recognition—hardly a surprise, since he’s the primary product—despite all the negatives about Jesus on full view in the gospels. For details, see the long first paragraph of Carrier’s article, The Real War on Christmas. He is fully justified in this conclusion:


“No, the character of Jesus in the Gospels was not the wisest and kindest of beings—he is actually quite loathsome and rarely gives anything but really bad advice.”


But do Christians grasp this? Not at all. The hype about Jesus—all the worship drama, ritual, and adulation—are designed to erase it from view as much as possible. The widespread failure of Christians to read the gospels carefully and critically plays into the hands of the professional Jesus promoters, who know they would have a lot of explaining to do. Dr. Jaco Gericke called it correctly: “If you read the scriptures and are not shocked out of all your religious beliefs, you have not understood them.” (The End of Christianity, ed. John Loftus, p. 137).


Carrier alludes to this disinformation campaign; he notes that liberal theologies “…are allies on so many missions of progress in the world. Though only so long as you don’t ask too many questions or start exposing too many things they’d rather their congregations not know ” (my emphasis). Congregations are kept in the dark about the Jesus negatives, indeed about the turmoil in Jesus studies for several decades now: scholars have discovered no reliable method for figuring out which bits and pieces of the gospels might be history. 


[A plug here for my next book, due out in a few weeks: Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words.]


I have touched on just a few of the points in this Carrier essay that resonated with me especially. It is worth thorough exploration, including the many links that are included. We value the rigorous thinking he advocates:


“…if we believe the truth matters, if we believe growing up and being an adult matters, then we cannot support believing in lies even if they are comforting, and even if the truth must necessarily be disturbing. There is no virtue in willful naivety. There is only danger.”




David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. His book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, was published by Tellectual Press in 2016. It was reissued in 2018 with a new Foreword by John Loftus.


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