Humanity’s Urgent Need to Outgrow Religion

The scams and deceptions continue

Here’s a headline that caught my attention this week: “Jesus baptism site makeover aims to draw a million Christians in 2030.” (BBC News, 15 January 2023) The article includes this text

“Samir Murad, who chairs the non-profit foundation set up by the Jordanian government to oversee the project, insists the integrity of the area will be maintained. ‘It would be foolish and unwise to try and create a touristic destination that's based on commercialisation and theme park-type issues in a site so holy,’ he says. ‘Let's remember this is the third-holiest site in Christianity. This is the site where Jesus got his calling and so it would be highly inappropriate, if you will, to corrupt it or violate in any way.’”

It will be a “340-acre baptism zone.” They want to attract a million Christian visitors by 2030—but it’s not a theme-park tourist destination? There’s also this line: “Plans for the new development include so-called glamping-style lodging and eateries, serving locally grown organic food.” Glamping? That’s a merger of glamourous and camping. But it would be “foolish” to go for something resembling a theme-park?

“This is the site where Jesus got his calling.” Very few, if any, of the millions of Christian tourists will bother to ask, “How can that be verified?” Where is the documentation that proves this is the spot where Jesus was baptized? We read in Mark 1:9: “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. The exact coordinates were not given. At a later date—probably centuries later—some “holy” person, following the practice of Constantine’s mother, Helena, was inspired to announce: this must have been the place where Jesus was baptized. So the pilgrimages began, and continue to this day—with new goals for 2030:

“‘It's always great to have our visitors, our pilgrims, experience what John and Jesus did,’ says Rustom Mkhjian, director general of Jordan's baptism site. ‘I call it the fifth gospel, as you physically see what you read in all the four gospels. Truly you feel in the midst of religious history and faith.’” Exactly what did John and Jesus do? In Mark’s version, Jesus was baptized for the forgiveness of sins. When Matthew borrowed this story, he added Jesus-script to avoid any misunderstanding that Jesus had sins to be forgiven (Matthew 3:14-15). The author of John’s gospel carefully omits any mention that Jesus was baptized—just as he left out Jesus being born of a virgin. His mighty Jesus had been present at creation, so baptism and miraculous birth were quite unnecessary. Even early on, Christian theologies were in conflict. 

What good is it for humanity that a million Christians will travel to a fictional baptismal site, where they certainly will not “physically see” what supposedly happened so long ago? This BBC article quotes a tourist saying that he came for “the spirituality, to be able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.” But has this spiritual tourist, any more than millions of others, carefully studied the Jesus-script in the gospels, so much of which is pretty bad? If we could somehow get him to engage in this kind of disciplined examination of the gospel texts, would he still want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus? Would he also see that the gospel accounts cannot be trusted at all? They are narratives created to advance the cause of the breakaway Jesus sect.

The word scam keeps coming to mind: it’s a scam to bring devout folks to 340-acre baptism zone, without any proof whatever that this is where Jesus was baptized. This scam has fooled so many, as the article points out: 

“Although the Jordanians vie with the Israeli-controlled side of the river for tourists, in the past two decades three Catholic popes, two popes from the Coptic Church and church leaders from all over the world have visited al-Maghtas. The rich and famous have had their children baptised here, and Jordan's royal court has sent the holy waters for British royal christenings.”

It’s a scam to keep pushing Jesus as one the world’s holiest heroes when his saying in the gospels thoroughly undermine that status. Humanity needs to outgrow religion.

Approximately $100 million dollars will be spent on the development of the 340-acre baptism zone, and that’s not all: “On the invitation of the Jordanian authorities, different Christian denominations have built new churches here, with more planned.”

Is there a Jesus command that I missed? i.e., "Build as many churches as you possibly can, even if it’s in the millions.” Priests and preachers justify this colossal waste of resources by claiming that each church is for the glorification of god, to provide a proper place for him to be worshipped. Such superstition was appropriate when the ancient view of the Cosmos prevailed. Now we know that any creator-deity that might exist has hundreds of billions of galaxies to manage, with countless trillions of planets. How does it possibly make sense that such a deity gets his kicks from being worshipped, flattered, fawned over, sung to (How Great Thou Art) by human beings on a planet that is—by any way of measuring it—lost in space? Building more and more churches (come on now, motivated as much by clerical egos as anything else) isn’t helping. Humanity needs to outgrow religion.

I came across this article after I had finished re-reading Jack David Eller’s essay, “Pious Pain: Self-Harm as Religious Work and Religious Good,” in John Loftus’ anthology, God and Horrendous Suffering. Pain and suffering present major problems for those who would have us believe in a good, powerful, caring god. How does such a god put up with it? Why not eliminate it—as much as possible? The word horrendous in the book’s title is appropriate, given the human and animal suffering we see around us every day—and that has been present in the world for millennia. 

One way to divert attention from this theological headache is the suggestion that pain is one way to perceive god at a more profound level. Amateur theologian C. S. Lewis claimed that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, and shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Professional and amateur theologians alike fail to show us the data to back up their claims, and William Lobdell, who lost his faith when he saw religion up close, had no patience with Lewis: “It is one of those inspiring things said by apologists that makes absolutely no sense to me anymore. Why would God whisper to us in our pleasures but use pain as His megaphone? That sounds sick.” (p. 275-276, Lobdell, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America—and Found Unexpected Peace)

Sick and scam to come mind when we read Eller’s essay. Most of the essay, about twelve pages, is an examination of three common religious practices: self-mortification, asceticism, and martyrdom. The details Eller provides are shocking, nauseating: how does it happen that people believe that gods and spirits are pleased by such behaviors?


Humanity need to outgrow religion: 

“…shamans of the Kaniyan tribe in Tamil Nadu, India, offer their own blood during ceremonies for the god Sudalai (also the term for a graveyard or charnel ground). In the ceremony, the shaman draws blood from his hand or tongue, which is blended with bananas and consumed by another spirit-possessed participant…”   (p. 266)

In ancient Mesoamerican civilizations: “Any and all members of society might spill their blood on numerous occasions, including marriage, pilgrimage, travel, battle, planting and harvesting, and for placating or thanking the gods; indeed, according to myth the gods themselves had indulged in bloody self-harm.” (p. 266)

“…in some religious traditions, self-inflicted pain and injury serve a punitive or penitential function. Christianity and Islam are two of the primary self blaming, pain-as-atonement religions. In the Middle Ages, the practice of whipping oneself, also referred to as scourging or self-flagellation, developed and spread, first in monastic orders and then through the laity.” (p. 267)


Eller notes that asceticism “tends to be a full-time (whether temporary or permanent) commitment by virtuosos or athletes for whom pain is the main event.” (p. 268) Christianity, he points out


“… has a vivid and renowned ascetic tradition, tracing back to the third Christian century and Anthony (circa 250‒circa 355), the solitary desert monk of Egypt. Hermits like Anthony reasoned that their spiritual goal could not be reached through timid or partial effort; it required a full and strenuous commitment of one’s time, mind, and body and a radical break from the secular world. The body in particular, it seems, was a problem for Anthony.” (p. 270)

He offers other examples as well—some of them extreme—and we can’t help wondering how these holy people came to be so focused on self: by their own suffering and deprivation they please god. Why would the Christian god be happy with that? Wouldn’t he be far more satisfied if his followers were committed to helping others who suffered through no fault of their own? 

Then there’s martyrdom. 

“By far most of the world’s religions lack a martyr tradition and would frankly deem it foolish. It is most associated with religions that make exclusive truth-claims, specifically the white-hot monotheisms that assert that only they are true and good and that all other beliefs are false and evil.” (p. 273)


“For obvious reasons, martyrdom, along with the lesser self-mortifications and asceticisms discussed above, has always been a central component of Christianity. The founding act of the religion, the death of Jesus, can be construed as (self-)sacrifice or martyrdom or both, and followers of Christ from the Gospels until today are encouraged to emulate his example.” (p. 273-274)


“Once Christianity achieved dominance in the West, the golden age of martyrdom subsided, to be replaced with the age of doling death to others for their false beliefs (that is, persecution, inquisition, and holy war).” (p. 275)

Many modern churchgoers may prefer to think that these forms of extreme piety are things of the past. But they still worship a human sacrifice, and engage in rituals that involve eating the flesh and drinking the blood of that human sacrifice—with little or no thought as to how irrational that is. 

In his conclusion, Eller states: “From a secularist position, all self-inflicted religious injury is futile: there are no shamanic spirits to invite, blood has no supernatural potency, there is no god to observe and enjoy your torments.” (p. 280)

The shams and deceptions continue, whether it’s a 340-acre baptism zone, building yet more churches, or ritual celebrations of a barbaric human sacrifice. Can’t religion do better than this? When we look at more than a thousand pages of Holy Bible, so much of which is recycled ancient superstition, miracle folklore, and magical thinking, we have to wonder why the god supposedly behind this scripture didn’t do better. There could have been so many chapters explaining how the world works (e.g., what causes diseases, weather, how to make painkillers)—how the Cosmos is constructed and works. God could have told us that, and also have canceled a few superstitions: No, he doesn’t have a staff of thousands of saints who give him a helping hand—that makes no sense whatever. No, there are no devils and demons in the spiritual realm who stir up trouble for himself and humans: how could he even allow them to exist? That especially makes no sense whatever. 

God himself could have put a stop to the scams and deceptions—and could have pointed out the need for humanity to outgrow religions as they are so commonly practiced.   



David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 


His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.


The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here


Please support us at DC by commenting on and by sharing our posts, or subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon.