How did Christianity become so toxic?

Six ways conservative theology undercuts the teachings of Jesus.


If you devote much of your time to trying to make the world a better place, you’ve probably noticed a paradox.

On the one hand, some of your most dedicated co-workers are church people. You may not have realized it right away, because they’re not the kind of Christians who say “Praise the Lord” whenever something good happens. Rather than preach at you or try to lead the group in prayer, they just show up and share the work: ladle the soup, stuff the envelopes, hammer the nails, make the phone calls. Only after you spend some down time talking do you start to understand what motivates them: They think some guy named Jesus had some pretty good ideas about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger.

But at the same time, when you look at the bigger picture, it’s hard to escape the idea that Christianity is your enemy. The loudest, best-funded, and best-organized groups working to make the world harsher, crueler, and less forgiving are the ones waving the cross. There’s nothing subtle about it. All their rhetoric is about what God wants, what God hates, and the “Christian values” that the law should impose on Christians and non-Christians alike.

And strangest of all, those “Christian values” seldom have anything to do with healing the sick, feeding the hungry, or welcoming the stranger. These followers of the Prince of Peace aspire to be “spiritual warriors“. They revere a man whose self-sacrifice brought forgiveness to the world, but their focus is on punishment.

The name of Jesus shows up in every paragraph of their rhetoric; his teachings, not so much.

The value of cruelty. Pretty much any time you want, you can pull examples out of the headlines. Recently, the people Christians want to punish have been kids who express the wrong gender identity or sexual orientation, as well as the adults who support them.

Until Friday, when a state judge put a stop to the practice for violating the state constitution, Texas was investigating nine families for “child abuse” because they’d been seeking medically approved treatment for their child’s gender dysphoria. One child’s mother commented:

I know what the law says. And yet it is terrifying to have a [Child Protective Services] worker come into your home and threaten to take your children away for doing nothing more than loving them unconditionally.

https://www.reformaustin.org/political-cartoons/refugees/

Florida’s new Don’t Say Gay law will stop kids who are uncertain about their sexual orientation from confiding in teachers or school counselors: By law, school employees have to break their students’ trust and out them to their parents; otherwise, the school district could be sued. And if you’re a teacher or principal who sees elementary-school kids being bullied because of their gender expression, you can’t start a conversation about that without risking a lawsuit, because such topics are not “age appropriate”.

As soon as you picture either law in practice, the cruelty is obvious, and it’s hard to see who benefits. But if you ask the people behind these efforts what motivates them, one answer almost always comes up: their Christian values. The Tennessee version of Don’t Say Gay includes this in its list of justifications:

WHEREAS, the promotion of LGBT issues and lifestyles in public schools offends a significant portion of students, parents, and Tennessee residents with Christian values” …

Where on Earth did these “Christian values” come from? Not Jesus.

Did Jesus have “Christian values”? If you’ve never read the gospels, but you’ve listened to the people who invoke his name, you might think Jesus talked about sex and gender constantly. But in fact you’d be wrong. Homosexuality never comes up in his sermons and parables, and Jesus never rebukes his followers for getting their gender roles confused.

Sex is on the mind of the Pharisee who faults Jesus for letting a prostitute touch him, and on the minds of the men he stops from stoning an adulteress, but little in the text indicates that Jesus himself made a big deal out of people’s genitals or what they did with them. (Examine, say, the parable of the sheep and the goats. None of the failings that keep people out of Heaven are sexual.)

If you believe that Jesus defines Christianity, then persecuting gay and trans people isn’t a Christian value at all.

Other Christian values. Those are recent headlines, but these last few weeks have been nothing special. If I’d written this article in a different month, I might have talked about the Christians who were doing their damnedest to help a deadly virus spread freely and kill as many people as possible.

Religious liberty” now includes churches’ right to host superspreader events, which many of them have been eager to do. Rather than thank God for the scientists who found and tested a vaccine so quickly, many Christians spread lies and conspiracy theories about the vaccines (“For those of you who say you are Christians, what will your life review look like at the end of your life? Will the Lord say to you: ‘You coerced people into being injected with this gene-modification technology that irreversibly disrupts your chromosomes?’”). Wearing a mask in church became evidence that you didn’t trust God’s protection. (But if you really trusted God, wouldn’t you jump off a tall building?)

In other weeks, the headlines have been about Christian attempts to shut down discussion of systemic racism, or to stop children from learning America’s racist history.

Making women bear their rapist’s child is a Christian value. (“As plain as day, God spoke to me. … And I said yes Lord, I will. It’s coming back. It’s coming back. We are going to file that bill without any exceptions.”) But miscarriage-inducing herbs have been part of women’s folklore since the beginning of time. Isn’t it strange that Jesus never mentioned them?

Keeping refugees and asylum-seekers out of the country is a Christian value. Some prominent pastors defended breaking up immigrant families, while others invented elaborate sophistries to explain why the Bible’s many references to immigrants don’t mean what they say.

The Bible warns us not to bear false witness. But Christian churches have become the prime breeding ground for the most vicious and baseless conspiracy theories.

Jesus told a young man to “sell your possessions and give to the poor“. But now getting rich is a Christian value, and successful Christian preachers live in palaces and travel in personal jets.

Joel Osteen’s house

“Put away your sword,” Jesus said in Gethsemane. But now gun-toting vigilantes are Christian heroes, and the faithful are carrying concealed weapons in church. (What was that about trusting God’s protection?)

You know who’s also a Christian hero these days? Vladimir Putin. A Republican candidate for the Senate praised Russia as a “Christian nationalist nation” and told CPAC

I identify more with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.

As far back as 2014, Franklin Graham was lauding Putin for the even harsher Russian version of Don’t Say Gay:

Isn’t it sad, though, that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia’s standard is higher than our own?

And of course I have to mention the righteous politician who in 2020 garnered 80% support from White Evangelicals: a compulsive liar and conman, who has cheated on all three of his wives and traded the first two in for younger models, who can’t name a single Bible verse and admits that he has never sought God’s forgiveness. What a guy!

How did this happen? You might imagine that the teachings of Jesus would be a pole star for Christians, and that any time they started to drift away, the Sermon on the Mount would guide them back.

Clearly that’s not happening. But why not?

The reason is simple: Jesus told stories and gave advice, but he never laid out a systematic theology or worldview. He used imagery that was designed to upend the way his disciples were thinking, but he never told them step-by-step how they should think.

So in Jesus’ stories, mustard seeds — which were the scourge of Mediterranean gardeners because once mustard got into your garden you never got rid of it — were good things. An employer paid everyone the same, no matter how many hours they worked. A priest and a Levite could be bad neighbors compared to some nameless Samaritan. It was all pretty confusing.

Jesus hinted that you’re not really supposed to understand right away. The Kingdom of God, he said, is like yeast; it works on you invisibly. His images and stories are supposed to sit in the back of your mind and ferment, not proceed logically from axioms to theorems.

And while that’s a fine guru-to-disciple teaching technique, it leaves an opening for people who do lay out systematic theologies and worldviews, and do tell people what to think. Over the centuries that’s what’s happened. A conservative worldview has built up around Jesus’ teachings and almost completely sealed them off.

Here’s a simple example: According to John, Jesus once made this enigmatic statement: “The Father and I are one.” But he never explained exactly how that worked. The result has been centuries and centuries of theological battles about the precise nature of the Trinity, arguments that have occasionally erupted into gruesome executions or even warfare.

In short: People got lost in the mystery of that one line, and wound up on the other side of the world from loving their neighbors.

How conservative theology leads people astray. Today, when you come to an Evangelical church, the main thing you are met with is a worldview that contains simple answers about what’s going on in the world and how you should respond to it. Sometimes those answers are proof-texted back to something Jesus said (though more often they point back to Paul or Leviticus or some verse in Revelation that could mean just about anything). But invariably the logic only works one way: After the idea is presented to you, you can squint at one of Jesus’ more puzzling statements and say “Oh, that’s what he meant.” But you can’t walk that path in the opposite direction; what Jesus said would never lead you to the idea if some community-endorsed authority hadn’t already put it in your head.

I’m not claiming this is a complete list, but here are six ways that a conservative theology and worldview tilts Evangelical thinking in directions that eventually put a wall around Jesus and his teachings.

  1. Focusing on the Devil opens a person to conspiracy theories.
  2. Believing that we’re in the End Times justifies suspending normal reasoning.
  3. Traditional religion values tradition more than religion.
  4. A focus on individual souls and individual salvation makes systemic or social reasoning heretical.
  5. Fundamentalism promotes bad-faith reasoning.
  6. Christian imagery and rhetoric tilts towards autocracy.

1. The Devil is the prime conspirator. The conventional wisdom isn’t always right, and occasionally powerful people do conspire for nefarious purposes. But the problem with conspiracy-theory thinking is that it’s too easy: You can always come up with some way to fit current events into whatever story you want to believe. No matter what actually happens, you can make it prove that whoever you like is the hero and whoever you hate is the villain.

So if you want to live in the real world rather than some dramatic fantasy of your own choosing, you need some standards that filter out the crazy conspiracies. The most important standard is to realize that conspiring is hard. People all have their own motives and purposes, so keeping a large number of them on the same page is difficult, especially if you have to do it secretly.

So the first questions a rational person asks about a conspiracy theory are: How many people would have to commit to this, and why would they? What keeps them all pulling in the same direction? Why don’t they rat each other out?

Those questions sink most conspiracy theories. Take the central Q-Anon theory for example: that the world is run by a ring of child-sex traffickers, and has been for a long time. Now picture yourself as a rising star in the world of money and politics. At what point would the conspirators reach out to you? And what if child sex wasn’t your particular kink? It just seems really hard to make this work.

But now imagine you believe in the Devil. (Satan does show up in Jesus’ stories, but those references are easy to misread. Our current picture of the Devil stitches together diverse Biblical characters with different names, and didn’t fully congeal until a century or so after Jesus. Neil Forsyth described the process in The Old Enemy.) The Devil doesn’t need a motive to launch some evil plot, because for the Devil, evil is its own reward. Minions of the Devil, likewise, do things just for the sake of being evil.

If you can imagine a core of people like that, who don’t need the conspiracy to bring them wealth or power or status or any other visible benefit beyond the simple opportunity to do evil, then just about any conspiracy becomes feasible. The door to believing whatever you want is wide open.

2. Strange things happen during the End Times. In the summer of 2013, 77% of Evangelicals told the Barna Group that they agreed with this statement: “The world is currently living in the ‘end times’ as described by prophecies in the Bible.” Evangelicals not only believe this, they seem to enjoy thinking about it: The Left Behind series of novels (based on a literalistic interpretation of the Book of Revelation) has sold more than 80 million books and inspired six movies.

Paradoxically, a belief that the world is ending soon has always been prominent in Christian circles. As far back as the first or second century AD, St. John could close his Book of Revelation with

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

That’s Jesus’ second coming he’s talking about, the one Christians are still waiting for. Nearly two thousand years later, John’s “soon” has still not turned into “now”.

But in spite of this extended delay, the persistence of the end-times belief is not hard to understand. Basically, it’s a form of self-aggrandizement, because it makes our lifetimes special. Nobody, apparently, wants to believe that they live in a humdrum era.

Now think about the everyday significance of that belief: More than three-quarters of conservative Christians approach the evening news the way the rest of us approach the final chapters of a novel. They expect diverse plot threads to start coming together. Connections that would ordinarily be wild coincidences are almost required. (Of course the serving girl with amnesia is the Duke’s long-lost niece! I should have seen that a mile away.)

What’s more, as the final battle of Good versus Evil approaches, the participants should become easier to identify. So of course there’s an international conspiracy of blood-drinking child molesters. How could there not be?

3. Traditional religion is more traditional than religious. Religious teachings are one of the prime ways that a community maintains its institutions and passes down its folk wisdom. The practices in one part of the world may be completely different than those somewhere else, but you can be pretty sure that in both places, some local deity wants things to work that way.

New empires often bring new religions (which usually complete the circle by justifying the new imperial order). But community practices change much more slowly than military or political power structures. So old practices get woven into the new mythology and the new belief system, as if they had been part of the new religion all along. The annual fertility rite of a pagan deity continues, but instead is blessed by a Catholic saint. And no matter how many Islamic scholars say that the Quran does not endorse honor killings, many common people in Muslim countries keep on believing that it does.

In 21st century America, “traditional values” and “Christian values” are often used interchangeably, but they ought to be very different concepts. Countless varieties of bigotry are traditional in America: racism, sexism, antisemitism, anti-gay prejudice, and many others. Like any dominant religion, Christianity has often been co-opted to justify abusing “outsiders” (however that term has been defined at different times in different places). But custom shouldn’t turn prejudices into Christian values.

4. Bias towards individuality. One of Jesus’ most mysterious phrases is “the Kingdom of God”. He said it a lot, and anyone who claims to know exactly what he meant by it is kidding somebody, most likely himself. Sometimes it sounds like a vision of an ideal future. Other times it seems more like a metaphor for the state of consciousness Jesus had achieved and was trying to teach. Once in a while it resembled an afterlife.

Nobody really knows. It’s even possible that Jesus meant different things at different times, or that the gospels occasionally misquote him.

But in the conservative theology I was taught growing up, the Kingdom of Heaven was a literal place that I could hope to reach after death. I’d get there as an individual, because we all have individual souls, which will be judged at the end of time. There’s no such thing as a collective soul (except in Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walter Wink’s creative reimagining of angels).

My teachers never admitted that all this stuff about souls is speculative. It’s not really spelled out anywhere in scripture. (If the sheep and goats story is supposed to be a description of literal events, it’s just about the only parable that is.) Heaven is speculative also, and (like the Devil) has meant different things in different eras.

Once you’ve made that speculative leap, though, any kind of social thinking is going to give you problems. If good and evil are only accounted for in judgments about individuals, then good and evil must only exist in individuals.

Systemic racism, then, can only be a heresy. If racism is evil, then that evil has to be accountable to individuals, not to systems. If stealing is a sin, then the man who steals a loaf of bread is guilty, and not the society that left him no other way to feed his family. If enslaving people is evil, then George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and many other people we might want to admire were evil. Slavery can’t be blamed on society, because society will never stand before St. Peter and be sent to Heaven or Hell. So maybe slavery wasn’t really so bad.

Theologians created these problems by going too far out on a limb. They’ve constructed a semi-logical structure around some hints in scripture, and that structure leads them into absurdities and injustices.

5. From apologetics to bad-faith denial. Apologetics is the art of using rational argument to support positions that originate in faith. It often looks like philosophy, but it isn’t, because practitioners aren’t reasoning in order to find truth. Instead, they believe they’ve already found truth through their faith, and are now just trying to persuade others. So apologists start with their conclusions already established, and try to tie them to convincing first principles via logic.

Apologetics can be an honorable practice if the apologists are open about what they’re doing. (And philosophy can even benefit if the arguments are sharp enough. Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae proudly claims to be apologetic, but philosophers still read it.) The practice goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages, and is still taught in seminaries.

But for most of its history, apologetics was an esoteric field of study. Parishioners in the pews might believe what they were taught or doubt it, but they didn’t really care whether St. Anselm’s proof of the existence of God was sound.

That all changed in the 19th century, when geologists discovered a world far older than Genesis described, and biologists developed a theory of human origins very different from God shaping Adam out of dust. Science was now invading turf that had previously belonged to religion, and many religious people believed they had to fight back.

That was the origin of fundamentalism.

But a problem soon became apparent: If you restrict yourself facts and logic, Genesis is just wrong. If you’re going to argue that it’s right (without invoking faith), you have to cheat. You have to make bad-faith scientific arguments and hope you can sell them. So fundamentalists did that. They’re still doing it.

The result was that fundamentalist churches encouraged their members to reason badly, and to accept any kind of nonsense if it supported a literal interpretation of the Bible. In essence, they built a back door into their members’ reasoning processes. But in the long run, that kind of corner-cutting always has unforeseen consequences. In the subsequent decades, self-induced gullibility has made fundamentalists prey to intellectual hackers and conmen of all sorts.

Today, motivated reasoning is the rule in Evangelical churches, and has spread to topics that have little to do with the Bible. So Evangelical churches have become centers of climate change denial and Covid denial, as well as hotbeds of Q-Anon conspiracy thinking. Rose-colored views of American history — where the Founders are latter-day prophets, slavery wasn’t really so bad, and the Native American genocide shouldn’t be examined too closely — are practically dogma among White Evangelicals.

Evolution denial established the notion that if enough people don’t want to believe some true thing, it’s OK for them to support each other in denying it. That genie is out of its bottle now, and it will work ever-greater mischief in conservative churches until they recognize the problem they have made for themselves.

The Divine Monarchy. When monotheism replaced polytheism, the Universe began to be viewed as a vast autocratic system. You can see the transition happening already in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, written in the fifth century BC. There are still many gods at this point, but the sky god is sovereign to the point of tyranny. In the opening scene, the personification of Power explains to Hephaistos why he must complete the disagreeable job of chaining Prometheus to the mountain: “Zeus alone is free.”

Jesus often talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, but St. Paul supported worldly kings in Romans 13:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

If we know that Heaven is a kingdom, then maybe Earth should be a kingdom too. Maybe we should find the godliest man we can (of course it has to be a man), and do whatever he says. (And by the way, have I told you about the lying, womanizing, unrepentant, Bible-illiterate conman all the other Christians are voting for? Maybe he’s the guy.)

Today, Christians talk about “Christ the King” and say “Jesus is Lord!” with the enthusiasm of football fans saying “We’re #1!” But again, Jesus never laid out his political theory. If you think you know what kind of theocracy Jesus wants you to establish, or even who Jesus thinks you should vote for, you’re standing at the end of a long chain of speculation.

I can’t tell you what Jesus would think, but I can tell you what I think: If that long chain of speculation has you supporting cruelty, and if it gets in the way of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger, then you probably did it wrong.

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Comments

  • Bill Dysons  On March 14, 2022 at 11:19 am

    Insightful post as always, Doug! While I agree with everything you’ve said, I also find it helpful to think of this topic from the perspective of George Lakoff’s strict father and nurturant parent moralities (an author you introduced me to in a post years ago). What you’re describing is Christianity practiced under the assumption that God is a strict father. As you point out, it’s about motivated reasoning. “God must be like me – a strict father – and so we can safely assume that all of Jesus’ teachings are meant to endorse some aspect of that moral system.”

    In my opinion, Jesus was a classic liberal/hippie type. I often find it amusing that you never come across any conservative anywhere who says something along the lines of: “I’m not a Christian because Jesus was clearly a liberal. Screw him and his stupid hippie movement.” At least I’ve never seen a conservative make that argument….

    • James C  On March 14, 2022 at 11:42 am

      Modern conservative, no. However, check out Nietzche, who essentially argued Jesus was a p***y.

      • philipfinn  On March 14, 2022 at 11:46 am

        ‘ “I’m not a Christian because Jesus was clearly a liberal. Screw him and his stupid hippie movement.” ‘
        No, but it is clearly the “truth” Trump seems to be living…

      • MaryPat Randall  On March 22, 2022 at 9:26 am

        This piece is the answer to my prayers.

    • jorisheise  On March 25, 2022 at 8:18 pm

      Two men went up to the temple to pray

      To himself Jesus mumbles

      I saw that man with fancy tassels
      and proud stride walk ahead
      to be close to the Holy Place
      and maybe judged him harshly.
      My friend Caleb whose past greed
      gouged poor people’s daily lives
      has changed his heart and ways
      once he saw how wayward he was.
      And Caleb will be hated for his past,
      but I love Caleb more, and so does God,
      than the man with fancy tassels
      whose eyes are merely mirrors
      and whose heart died long ago.

  • philipfinn  On March 14, 2022 at 11:42 am

    “The toil of all that be,
    Heals not the primal fault;
    It rains into the sea,
    And still the sea is salt.”
    is this just another episode of “Christians Behaving Badly”? If so, that would go a long way to explain why they covet regaining control of government, laws, and the judicial system. Or perhaps they’re simply acting out, overcompensating their constitutional freedoms in response to all the repression they feel within their church communities?
    In that case, I would respectfully suggest to anyone currently wrestling with this issue to consider whether Christianity can’t be “fixed” because it isn’t “broken” but may be functioning according to design…

    • Thomas Paine  On March 14, 2022 at 9:47 pm

      Nitpick about one of my favorite poems, for both its simplicity and existential truths. It’s “Helps not the primal fault.”

      Stars, I have seen them fall,
      But when they drop and die
      No star is lost at all
      From all the star-sown sky.
      The toil of all that be
      Helps not the primal fault;
      It rains into the sea,
      And still the sea is salt.

      – A. E. Housman

  • Patricia Dallmann  On March 14, 2022 at 11:53 am

    You might be interested in upgrading your views on Christian faith by viewing a conversation between Jordan Peterson and John Vervaeke, which can be found on YouTube. They go into different epistomologies and their hierarchical arrangement: the foundational one being participational knowledge and the derived knowledge being propositional. Vervaeke’s argument, and I think he’s correct, is that much of what passes for Christianity today is propositional: cut off from experiential knowledge, thus empty of Truth. A good expression of participatory faith can be found in the early Friends (Quakers) writings of the 17th century. Here’s something by one of them (Francis Howgill), which should resonate with your rational mind: “What if a man that is naturally blind says there is no light in the natural day or in the sun, simply because he sees none. . . . Does this therefore make void the seeing, or hinder the discerning, of those who indeed see with the natural eye both the sun and the day? Likewise, what if they who are spiritually blind . . . say they can see nothing of the Day of the Lord, nor discover the things of God, or His glorious appearance, which many others do witness? Does this therefore make void the spiritual sight of those who have seen into the things of God’s kingdom? May God forbid that the unbelief of some make void the faith of those that do believe.”

    • Rob ARcher  On March 14, 2022 at 12:17 pm

      Am I reading you correctly in that Christians have a vision that others do not?

      • Patricia Dallmann  On March 14, 2022 at 2:56 pm

        No, your reading is not correct. I referred to a particular kind of Christian faith: primitive apostolic Christianity, which was lost in the early centuries and then revived in the 17th century. Although the Peterson/Vervaeke discussion covered other areas of cognitive science, what struck me was the distinction made between different kinds of knowing: the participational knowledge being the distinctive quality of that earlier Christianity, and propositional assertions (so prevalent today) being an ungrounded version of the original (and Scripturally supported) faith that mostly has been sadly lost.

    • codecrow1975  On March 14, 2022 at 12:20 pm

      Which video? There are about 6 videos of Vervaeke and Peterson talking . . .

  • davebritt  On March 14, 2022 at 11:57 am

    Thank you so much for this. Exceptionally well said and referenced.

  • George Washington, Jr.  On March 14, 2022 at 1:53 pm

    As the character played by Max von Sydow said in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

  • anonymous  On March 14, 2022 at 3:17 pm

    Growing up several decades ago close to the “Buckle of the Bible Belt” but attending a mainline church I have seen in my lifetime the “Public Face” of Christianity change significantly.
    50 +/- years ago all the prominent people (Doctors, bankers, pharmacist, public school educators, business people and yes, politicians) in my small hometown attended either the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian or Baptist (before the rightward move in the 70s) church. If the media needed to quote or to interview a minister they almost always contacted one from these denominations.
    Today a large percent of the people in the public eye up to the highest level attend some non-denomination mega-church and the leaders of these churches (I hesitate to call them ministers or pastors) are the ones interviewed if the media needs a comment from a “Christian” frontman.
    I’ve often wished that the more liberal mainline churches had found a way to counter the rightward move toward fundamentalism.

  • Dan  On March 14, 2022 at 4:54 pm

    I think we should start a movement to teach the history of Christian concepts….. I’d like to see red state legislatures try to ban teaching discomfiting Christianity…..

  • ecjspokane  On March 14, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    Long overdue and very well done. And you didn’t even get to the Crusades and the Inquisitions… It’s really too bad that those who really need to read and contemplate these issues will never read it nor have the capability to comprehend and consider it.

    Please keep the great words and summaries coming!

    Eric C Johnson Spokane WA 99202

  • Roosevelt Katlain  On March 14, 2022 at 9:10 pm

    Christianity is a strange religion. It claims to be based in mercy and peace, and founded on proper morals by people who say it encourages people to be responsible but shows the exact opposite.

    It’s main character is given birth through the rape by god of of a virgin girl.
    It festishes the torture and killing on a cross of its original leader.
    It brought us three great hollywood monsters – ghosts (the holy ghost), zombies (Jesus waking up from dead and walking around), and vampires – become one to get immortality (Jesus telling his disciples to “drink his blood”).
    Its original leader says love is the greatest but since its founding, its adherents have an committed astonishing number of genocides, and shown consistent intolerance and hatred of others based on their interpretation of “Christian values.”
    It teaches its adherents that you are born in sin but saved through a grace you don’t need anything to do to get. In other words, don’t worry about taking personal responsibility for your behavior as long as you show up in church and ask forgiveness.

  • JTF  On March 14, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Ever wondered how many people are turned off by Christianity due to the false prophets spreading obvious bullshit? It doesn’t matter to them, since there are seemingly many more craving a voice telling them their hatred is the key to salvation. (There’s a LOT more money in that too.)

  • Thomas Paine  On March 14, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    If Christ were here today, the one thing he wouldn’t be is a Christian.
    – Mark Twain

  • Erik  On March 15, 2022 at 12:25 am

    The issue here is that the author appears to have not even taken the time to read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit speak to him as with many so called Christian believers. It’s not difficult to understand the simple message Jesus taught.

    • Kim Cooper  On March 15, 2022 at 5:06 am

      Which simple message are you referring to?

      • whistlinggirl2910  On March 16, 2022 at 1:41 am

        Jesus: Love one another.
        or as the poet said, “we must love one another or die.” Send that to Putin.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 15, 2022 at 9:47 am

      Actually, many of us have read the Bible and have found much of it to be repulsive degeneracy more suited to a past historical period when human life had no value. If “the message” is so simple, why do so many Christians fail to follow it? And why are so many atheists and people who adhere to other religions following it so much better than so many Christians? The problem, which Doug explains very well, is that too many Christians selfishly focus on personal “salvation” while ignoring the far more important message of loving their fellow man. And no, “loving” your fellow man does not mean shoving your religion down his throat because you think it’s good for him.

    • weeklysift  On March 21, 2022 at 11:25 am

      I think the point is quite the reverse. It’s because I have read the Bible that I find most contemporary Christianity so repulsive.

      • mofretwell  On March 21, 2022 at 11:03 pm

        Exactly!!

  • Kim Cooper  On March 15, 2022 at 5:09 am

    Doug– Have you read Brad Hicks’ five part essay on this same subject? It’s called “Christians in the Hands of an Angry God”. I think you might like it.

  • whistlinggirl2910  On March 16, 2022 at 1:39 am

    It’s not just cruelty, it’s done to the point of sadism. There’s a mentality of punishing those who don’t conform, who refuse to knuckle under. It’s toxic.
    Locking children separated at the border from their parents who were fleeing violence is not just cruel, it’s sadistic. They are helpless, traumatized, fearful, alone, put into a cold place with no place to sleep but the floor, ill fed, no shower facilities, nothing to do, and they don’t understand why.

    This is not just cruelty. Former VP Mike Pence said at the time, “Cruelty is the point.” So this was their policy. To make those fleeing violence trying to find safety and succor,feel only humiliation, fear, and terror–that is sadism. They are helpless and dependent and create in an inhumane way.

    Look at Putin, same thing. Inflicting military violence on a country, destroying it, killing, targeting civilians??? Is that not sadism???

  • RevLinda  On March 17, 2022 at 9:48 am

    Christianity is not hateful, toxic, or strange, or stupid. Do not judge Christianity by those who claim to be Christian. Do not judge Christianity by those who hate it, they do not know what they are talking about. Most of all do not judge Christianity by all the media images, movies, or TV shows about it. Instead, look for those who practice Christianity every day. They may not say Jesus Jesus all the time, but they try to live like Jesus lived.

    • George Washington, Jr.  On March 17, 2022 at 11:13 am

      Doug isn’t criticizing Christianity; he’s criticizing the people who use religion as an excuse for hatred and oppression. These Christians are a good example of the ones trying to emulate Jesus:

      http://www.notalllikethat.org

      The problem is that the worst critics of the Christians who strive to live out Jesus’ teachings by opposing bigotry and hatred, are the ones hated the most by their fellow conservative Christians. Hopefully you’re taking your message to those people instead of trying to defend yourself against imaginary attacks.

      • Kim Cooper  On March 22, 2022 at 5:11 am

        There is also an organization/FaceBook page called The Christian Left.

    • pauljbradford  On March 21, 2022 at 12:46 pm

      The second paragraph of this essay is all about Christians who try to live like Jesus lived. The problem is that a very large number of self-described Christians, certainly the most powerful and prominent ones, loudly show they are not living like Jesus lived.

      • Oscar  On March 21, 2022 at 2:56 pm

        “They think some guy named Jesus had some pretty good ideas about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger.”

        Jesus did not describe all that he was about in this way, though. This isn’t essential Christianity. It’s just good stuff people do, and sometimes, but by no means always, is an indicator of an affiliation with Christ.

        People who focus on these kinds of charitable activities to the exclusion of the rest of it end up being wrong about what Christianity really is. That’s at least partly because they don’t really know, or choose to obscure, what Jesus taught about himself, and they also are ignorant of the context into which orthodox Christians believe he fit.

        The Jesus of this lightweight pseudochristian love-god cultural artifact doesn’t have any similarity to the real Jesus, who came into the world to save his people from their sins, not merely to teach them how to be really, really nice and helpful and kind in such ways as might gain them the approval of the people around them. That’s not all there is to it.

        Christianity, when it’s the real thing, is always repugnant to people who despise its message. Jesus himself taught this, all the time. If I tell you that because of your sin and God’s pure hatred of it, the only way you can escape an eternal state of torment in which you will be always becoming more and more undone is to cry out to Jesus, who created and owns you, for mercy, and you think I’m lying to you about all that, how are you supposed to think well of me? It’s impossible.

        What you and Doug and everyone here are talking about here is significant forever. It really is. The way you’re apprehending it now will be the way you see it only for a very short time, and after that, your vision will be corrected forever. Don’t be confused by the cultural lenses through which Christ is currently more or less distorted (and admittedly, some of the distortion is profound), because none of us will have an excuse for our arrogance and unbelief at the end of our lives on this planet.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On March 21, 2022 at 3:40 pm

        This why your version of Christianity is repulsive, because at bottom, it’s selfish. Your view of Jesus is that he only came to save you personally, and as long as you’re saved, the rest of the world can (and according to you, will) go to hell, literally. Any religion, not just Christianity, that has as its focus personal salvation, is self-serving, and inevitably leads to arrogance. Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that placed “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, as its highest value. The lesson of God creating the universe in six days, and resting on the seventh, implies that it is the duty of humanity to finish the job, not just for ourselves as individuals, but for everyone. The lesson of all humanity being descended from Adam is that if even one person is unsaved, then no one is saved. James the brother of Jesus said it best, “faith without works is dead.” But you conveniently ignore that because your religion is ultimately about no one but yourself.

      • Oscar  On March 21, 2022 at 5:03 pm

        “This why your version of Christianity is repulsive, because at bottom, it’s selfish. Your view of Jesus is that he only came to save you personally, and as long as you’re saved, the rest of the world can (and according to you, will) go to hell, literally.”

        ‘Tis not my version of Christianity. It’s what Joseph was told by a messenger of God that Jesus was coming to Earth to do, and it’s what Old Testament prophets said he would do before that. Jesus told his followers to go on the road and tell people about what Jesus had come to do, and that’s what they did. This isn’t some aberrant American expression of Christianity (though there are plenty of those). It’s everybody’s version of Christianity: it’s just Christianity. My view isn’t what you accuse it of being. Salvation is offered to anyone who asks, not just me. We’re embedded in a story Jesus is telling anyway, and not vice versa.

        “Any religion, not just Christianity, that has as its focus personal salvation, is self-serving, and inevitably leads to arrogance.”

        It’s certainly self-preserving, but rightly understood should make its adherents increasingly anti-arrogant. After all, Christianity’s salvation comes only as a gift, and is not earned at all. There are no grounds for arrogance in following Jesus. None of us brings anything to Jesus that we can offer or exchange for salvation. None of us are good. We all start out dead in sin, and we’re all alike.

        “Jesus came out of the Jewish tradition that placed “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world, as its highest value.”

        Okay. I suppose that’s congruent with the culmination of Jesus’s mission, which is the eventual but sudden recreation, thus renewal, of the entire cosmos. Nobody places a higher value on renewing all of creation than Jesus. It’s what he will do.

        “The lesson of God creating the universe in six days, and resting on the seventh, implies that it is the duty of humanity to finish the job, not just for ourselves as individuals, but for everyone.”

        The story of Adam and Eve is about real people, and isn’t just an object lesson. But we don’t “finish the job,” whatever that is supposed to mean. We should be working in the direction of taking excellent care of what God has created and given to us to care for, which is an obvious teaching of Jesus, but we won’t be the ones who perfect the universe or this sweet planet. He will. He’s the finisher. We just participate by aligning ourselves with him. Or not.

        “The lesson of all humanity being descended from Adam is that if even one person is unsaved, then no one is saved.”

        That may be someone’s lesson, but it’s not the lesson of Jesus. He neither taught nor affirmed this idea in any way. In fact, he clearly taught that there would be some people who would be saved and others who would not. There’s no tension between these ideas. One of them must be untrue.

        “James the brother of Jesus said it best, “faith without works is dead.” But you conveniently ignore that because your religion is ultimately about no one but yourself.”

        No, I don’t ignore it, and no other Christian does either, except at their peril, but “works” encompasses a lot more than good deeds and being kind to others. It also encompasses the work involved in uprooting sin in our own lives, and much else besides. These works flow out of salvation, too. They do not bring it about.

        James also said that people who only learn about the things Jesus taught, but do not put them into practice, are fooling themselves, and are not following Christ at all. James scares me because he says “test yourselves to make sure your faith is real,” and I find him impossible to ignore. I often find myself at odds with him because I often catch myself doing things that are opposed to Christ. One day that’ll be over, but not yet.

      • George Washington, Jr.  On March 22, 2022 at 6:57 am

        Of course, a selfish person will make a virtue of selfishness. But you’re entitled to your interpretation, just as I’m entitled to mine. The Jesus story was crafted by his followers to transmit the message they had in mind. We’ll never know what the real Jesus, if such a person existed, actually said, since he never wrote anything down himself. Nor has he returned since then to clarify anything.

        Let’s see if you have the courage to answer this question. Imagine that you died and went to heaven, and every human being who ever lived was there – Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, Satanists – no exceptions, they’re all there. So you ask Jesus about this, and he says that if two people eating an apple was sufficient to curse all of humanity, whether they believe this story or not, his death on the cross redeemed them, also regardless of whether they believe it or not.

        What would your reaction be? Anger, disappointment, happiness? Please don’t tell me “this wouldn’t happen.” I’m asking a hypothetical question.

      • weeklysift  On March 24, 2022 at 8:12 am

        Oscar, I think you’re selling the “lightweight pseudoChristian” vision short. When William James studied religious experience, he developed the theory that a new and better person could form in someone’s unconscious, and that religious experience was often that better self’s attempt to break through into consciousness.

        I see the Kingdom of Heaven as a collective version of this process. A better world is forming in our collective unconscious, and it can break through in the lives of individuals, who become seeds of the greater change. This seems much deeper to me that the childish wish-fulfillment that we can all be happy after we die.

    • Anonymous  On April 5, 2022 at 4:19 pm

      Horseshit!

      • whistlinggirl2910  On April 6, 2022 at 12:43 am

        Don’t listen to what Christians say. Look at what they do.
        And what the Christian Nationalists have done, are doing now, and plan for the future is horrific. Remember Trump, though not a Christian, plays one (CN) for TV. And Putin is a Christian Nationalist–there’s close ties to Russian Orthodox church and the Kremlin.

  • Lionel Goulet  On March 22, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    A triumph, Doug!

  • tehodler  On March 25, 2022 at 2:42 pm

    Oscar, many people are stuck on their particular religion without any alternative visible. Alternatives exist but most people won’t see them because they’ve been taught since childhood that other religions are heresy.

    You might try the religion of your idol, Yeshua ben Yosef. I’m sure there is a temple in your area if you’d care to do the work, learn Hebrew, and learn what he taught, not what other people wrote about him decades and centuries later. For a closer reading of what he said, you’d have to study Aramaic and the Dead Sea scrolls but this is far too much work for most Americans who claim adherence to the King James Bible, a collection of scripture endorsed by the emperor Constantine for largely political purposes.

    Judaism wouldn’t be my first choice for a religion. I’d recommend something with older provenance like Vedic and Buddhist traditions. Most people born into a particular religion can’t break the mental bonds from their formative years. Maybe you can. Good luck.

    One last thing. I’d really like it if “Christians” would stop using the most famous rabbi in recorded history as a primitive religious blood sacrifice but it’s too late for that, obviously. Still ticks me off though.

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