Jarred Cinman
Jarred Cinman

Christianity owes us

I am often accused of fighting a battle that’s already been conceded with organised religion. In fact, this is the criticism levelled at many anti-religious thinkers: basically, that we’re beating a dead horse. Religion has moved on from its horrible past. In its current form, it’s something altogether more complex and intricate. So why spend time putting new bullets into an old corpse?

Unfortunately, the corpse is not really dead, is it? As recently as a month ago, there was a fanatical, right-wing Christian within spitting distance of running for the White House. There is still one in the White House. The Catholic Church continues to condemn countless thousands to the misery of life with parents who don’t want them. And that’s just off the top of my head.

So I present here a short and incomplete list of Christianity evils. Why them? Simply put, because the relative success of Mike Huckabee puts a chill in my bones. In 2008, this shouldn’t be possible. But it goes on. So it feels like it’s time to remind ourselves of all the madness this particular religion has brought into the world. Just so we can keep ourselves on course.

In no particular order:

1. The Crusades
What fun it was for the church to exist in a time where it could behave exactly as it pleased, as the highest authority on Earth. Starting in 1095, Pope Urban II called on European Christians to raise a defence against Turkish invaders into the Byzantine Empire. From this point until roughly 200 years later, amateur Christians and soldiers alike — all with the church’s blessing — conducted massacre after massacre against Muslims, Jews and anyone else who was regarded as an “unbeliever”.

Stories about the atrocities abound. A bishop is said to have commented that “the impaled heads of slain Muslims [are] a joyful spectacle for the people of God”, for example. Or how about when a chronicler of the day, called Fulcher of Chartres, wrote that “… the Franks did nothing evil to them [the women] except pierce their bellies with their lances”. And so it continues.

The enmity, even hatred, caused by these many years of appalling behaviour led directly to the troubled relations between Christians and Muslims, and Christians and Jews, that have arguably been in place ever since. And hardly a wonder.

It seems trivial to make the point that people wandering around talking about peace, neighbourly love and “thou shalt not murder” should be the last ones to be cutting off other people’s heads and putting them on pikes and waving a cross over the whole operation to give it divine blessing. But there you have it.

You may say that I’m covering material here that is already worn through. But the same religion that ordained this stuff is present with us today. The same religious books, the same beliefs, the same church hierarchy (at least within Catholicism). So we cannot just forgive and forget.

2. Burning of witches
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” (Exodus 22:18)

This little gem of tolerance and compassion supported the decision to murder somewhere in the order of 60 000 innocent people, mostly women, during the 14th and 15th centuries. Rather than an organised campaign by the church, like the Crusades, witch burning was, in fact, a phenomenon fuelled by the culture of Christianity itself. While the church ultimately assisted in trying and burning people alive, it was often ordinary, country folk who took to the burnings most enthusiastically.

One could argue, of course, that just like the so-called “witch-hunts” of the modern era such as McCarthyism or the current persecution of anyone looking vaguely Muslim, this was more just crowd behaviour than religion at work. However, Christians are keen to point out that we owe our moral backbone to their religion; that, criticise the church if you will, Christianity per se instils people with a selfless, pious, benevolent disposition.

Tell that to the independent women of Europe who were set alight while still alive because they had a strange birthmark or were denounced by some other miserable wretch trying to escape her own punishment.

3. Enforced ignorance and cultural suppression
Whether it was the control of knowledge and education during the so-called “Dark Ages”, the persecution of early scientists like Galileo because he uncovered some inconvenient truths, or the burning of The Beatles’ albums, the history of Christianity is littered with attempts by the church and ordinary Christians to keep knowledge and culture under their control.

Simply put, Christianity hates facts and hate science. Only under conditions of absolute duress and faced with evidence so overwhelming that it cannot be denied will it concede what has been blindingly obvious to everyone else. Even in these circumstances it can take a while. Galileo was eventually pardoned by Pope John Paul II — in 1992. And he generously conceded that the Earth was, in fact, not stationary and did go round the sun. From which point all Catholics were presumably free to start answering their grade-one science questions properly at last.

If Catholicism has been evil, the charismatic churches of this persuasion and that, along with the lunatics of cults like “Christian science”, appear to be just downright determined to misinform. Spread across the internet are site after site of cogent and diligent arguments against evolution, the age of the Earth, stem-cell research and just about any other scientific fact against which anyone dare mount an argument. By now, of course, that excludes trying to prove that the Earth is flat and doesn’t go around the sun because, well, even the most devout wouldn’t go near those any more.

But the pattern here is clear. The church (whichever one) wants control over not only the lives, but also the actual minds of its followers. One of the clearest expressions of this is control of knowledge. And one of the clearest expressions of that is its endless war with the sciences. It’s obvious why, of course. Because science seeks to explain those — nature and the universe. And those old men wafting around the desert in the Middle East dressed in sheets and waving sticks in the air were pretty far off the truth of things, as it turns out. So what are you going to do? Apologise like the pope did? Or dig in and try to fight it out?

Into this often embarrassing battle has waded the “intelligent design” crowd, who have sought to have the creation story inserted into the American education system as a viable alternative to evolution and natural selection. So far, they have been stopped. Praise the Lord.

4. Sexuality and contraception
Of all the evils the Christian religion has committed, ruining the sexual lives of millions of people has to rank close to the top. The guilt and embarrassment that children are made to feel about their sexuality, and the sexuality of others, has led to a large community of repressed and dangerous adults. The horrific recent molestation scandals inside organised churches are just one symptom of this.

Extend this to the fanatical attempt to prevent contraception — going as far as to preach in some cases that condoms actually cause disease — that has led not, in fact, to regulated sexuality, but instead to large numbers of unwanted children. The church would like the world to thank it for caring for orphans and the poor, as it no doubt does, but it has at least in part created the problem to begin with. If it had a sensible view of abortion and contraception, many people would have been spared the misery they have endured, and will continue to endure until some pope or archbishop or pastor wakes up to the thundering tide of reason that all the yelling up to Christ can do nothing to stop.

5. Support of evildoers
There are many people who have carefully analysed the connection between the church and Hitler during World War II, as well as many other similar atrocities. I want to mention here two less publicised cases: that of the Dutch Reformed Church in apartheid South Africa, and the case of Wenceslas Munyeshyaka of Rwanda.

The Dutch Reformed Church was pretty much the official church of the apartheid regime. Not only did it spread the word about the governing principles of apartheid, but it also endorsed the whole programme as God’s will. Sunday after Sunday, the faithful Afrikaner flock would listen to preachers telling them they were a superior race. And this belief translated into a horrific political and social system of which we are all the victims today. Again, this is one specific church. But how does a religion that is supposedly filled with such moral goodness get perverted this much? They were all reading the same Bible.

Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka is someone I am particularly interested in. Found guilty of being one of the ringleaders of the Rwandan genocide, the Catholic Church actually rescued the bastard from Rwanda and sent him to France where he has enjoyed their protection ever since. He was re-arrested late last year and now being passed around between the French and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Hopefully he will shortly receive what’s due to him.

At which point, no doubt, someone will apologise again for the error of supporting a mass murderer simply because he waved around a Bible.

At which point they will move on to some other ultimately indefensible position on something else.

This is a very incomplete list. But my points are two: first, that Christianity, as well as the practice and institutions thereof, is no guarantee of doing good. In fact, it seems to breed evil quite nicely, thank you very much. And secondly, that Christianity owes us more than an apology. It’s a failed project that has been kept alive by ignorance and manipulation of power, and greed. Its reign must, and will, end.

  • Afronooit

    Rick
    You are free to choose whatever you want to believe. If you do not have any spirituality in you then fine. I do and find belief in God to be deeply rational and profoundly true. If you make yourself the source of morality then you have nothing to make you say that we must be compassionate that we must treat others as ends not means. You are your own arbitrator. SO teh Marquis de Sade said I am capbale of deciding what os right or wrong no-one else and look waht he got up too. Most atheists including by the sound of things Jarred would accept most of Christ’s teaching about forgiveness and love of neighbour and service as good things. Yet there are often counter intuitive. WHy should I forgive my enemies, why should i give and not count the cost. The Christian believes that we follow in Chrit’s example of selfless love for our fellow human beings. Sure we oftne don’t live up to expectations but we are human and we tend to fail. So if you don’t believe in God and think Christ is a fairy story where do you get your morality from. ost atheists are moral people but they cannot explani why . They have simply taken over Christianity and tried to remove God from it.

    Telology or purpose is important. Do you really simply believe that Life is hard and then you die? I don’t.

  • Ed

    will,

    The passage about the rich man entering the Kingdom of God is an illustration about priorities. A person can be meek without being poor and downtrodden and a person can be arrogant and prideful without being rich. Nowhere does the Bible state that the poor and downtrodden are virtuous by default. Furthermore, Liberation Theology was condemned by the Catholic church out of which it arose and goes against the Bible and historical Christian teaching.

  • Ed

    Rick,

    You’re mixing categories. There is plenty of reason to have faith; none of those reasons amount to proof. If it were proof, faith would not be reuired. But you do things every day based on faith without proof.

  • zorro

    Among other things, Jarred wrote:

    In an absolute system, where accepting Christ equals redemption, how can you excuse the emergence of one paedophile acting in his name? One genocidal priest? And how can you defend the banner under which they stand?

    My answer to this follows. Redemption in the work of Christ on the cross follows repentance. Although (sadly) this part of the Christian walk has been missing in many sermons and not seen in the lives of many individuals, yet it is easily presented biblically as a requirement. Repentance is a turning away from your current life/sin/choices, and a turning 180 degrees to walk the other way, following Christ.

    It must also be said that Jesus clearly draws a line between true and false converts. He speaks of false converts a lot. My opinion is that He knew there would be many who would be dissuaded from following Him due to these false converts going out in his name and wrecking all kinds of havoc. Any “gospel” which tolerates this in His name is viewed in the utmost harshness, as can be seen in the beginning of Galatians where Paul doesn’t stop short of cursing people who propagate this nonsense.

    I would say to you, read the new testament, see Jesus’ hard-line stance on sin, on hypocrisy, on the existence of hell, on repentance. His words demand something of you, just as they demand something of the priest or paedophile you refer to. They ignore it with dire consequences. The question is, are you going to do the same?

  • ndundu

    will o’ the whipwill on April 9th, 2008 at 9:50 am,
    wow. and again wow. I think you have just settled the argument. where will we be without the love of God.
    so happy I survived some of the fittest, to be able to help others to do so. happy and most blessed are those who know how much they need God

  • ndundu

    some 500 years ago the question on men’s minds was:
    what is your only comfort in life and death?
    in times of great difficulty, the answer was given:
    that I belong to Christ, body and soul, in life and death. And what must you do to have this comfort? know the terrible depth of thy sin; know thy Saviour; then live like a man who is very, very thankful. And what was the fine script? only: Amen

  • Jarred Cinman

    @ndundu: do you really believe that these contributions add anything to this debate? The underlying premises on which you are basing this mindless drivel are exactly what are in question here. You are simply offering a demonstration of exactly why religion is such an easy target.

  • ndundu

    I added to the debate in that I enticed you to call a basic faith statement ‘mindless drivel’. I did not call your overworked interpretation of history that: the word is yours. You came back to your basics, I came to mine.

    As I have travelled the main roads and byroads of atheism myself, don’t take my faith statement to be a mindless one. I’m just looking to find the same depth of understanding you need from me.

    David Sloan Wilson (evolutionary biologist): ‘Time will tell where Dawkins sits on the bell curve of open-mindedness concerning group selection in general and religion in particular. At the moment, he is just another angry atheist, trading on his reputation as an evolutionist and spokesperson for science to vent his personal opinions about religion.’

    John Haught (theologian): “The new atheism is simply unchallenging theologically. Its engagement with theology lies at about the same level of reflection on faith that one can find in contemporary creationist and fundamentalist literature.”

  • Jarred Cinman

    @Ndundu: I honestly don’t see where you’re offering any depth of understanding by saying things like “know the terrible depth of thy sin; know thy Saviour” blah blah. This last post bears no resemblance to your prior two. So I must counter by saying that my name-calling seems to have called out a real person from behind the mask of Christian platitudes.

    The very central point to this post is to leave aside the complexities of debate around religion and spirituality per se, and simply look at what having Christianity around has cost the world.

    Through all the counter-ranting and personal attacks issued in the comments on this article, no-one has really dealt with that central point. People have tried to excuse the actions of the church. They have tried to offer counter-examples. But what is missing is a genuine acceptance that Christians, the very people who are supposedly so touched and inspired by the teachings of Christianity, have engaged in horrific cruelty in the very name of that religion.

    The appropriate response, from what you would call a “true Christian” might simply be to say: Christianity in the way it has been practised over the past 2000 has been utterly corrupted. And if Jesus were here today, he would be shocked at what had been done in his name.

    And to leave it at that. Your personal beliefs (in this case anyway) were not really in question to begin with. But this has now slipped into a familiar debate about atheism versus belief, which has been covered in greater depth previously.

  • ndundu

    I also thought this debate had reached its demise, till I reconsidered your words: “….no one has dealt with that central point”.

    So then: you could easily have been one of the Nabiim, since no more radical critique against a faith community had ever been offered than that of the prophets. And they offered it from inside.(Example Isaiah 1:10-17) You may also compare it to the letter of James in the New Testament (Example 1: 26-27). Prophetic critique always marked the dividing line between a revelation from God, a hope that there is God, leading to belief, faith and works of faith (Hebrews. 11) and Religion Rotten. In the book of Jeremiah you may find even prophetic critique of prophets! (Jer. 23) Had this kind of critique ended with biblical times? No, I just happen to think of Orlando Costas’ book in the 70’s “a Shattering Critique of Mission…..” And many other books and sermons.

    There’s not much need for us to speculate that Jesus would have been shocked by what had been done in His name, the lines had already been drawn by Himself. I previously offered a word of Jesus that had seemingly been overlooked in the debate: “many will come in My name….and I will tell them, I knew ye not”.

    As I said, you could have been one of the Nabiim. Except for the fact that they never denied God, however hard they sometimes debated with God Himself (Example Jer. 20:7-18).

    This may cause another point to enter, namely, if there is God and God is good …. That’s also going to be stuff for another debate.

    I would also like to add some notes on the examples offered by you, such as the crusades and witch-hunts. For now, I don’t see the irrelevance of counter-examples. Especially if you compare them in depth, such as the one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Nazi’s I offered. This example differs fundamentally from the example you offered, of the German church going along. Why – Matter for yet another debate?

    Just a note on your (more personal) comments – Faith statements such as those that I offered may be considered platitudes if presented as religious artifacts. When offered as the faith statements that they are, they are who I am. They evoke the real person already and no mask is involved. You argue that there has to be a mask. Assumptions cloud the issue. But I agree that’s another debate.

  • Ed

    I’ve tried to address your questions, Jarred. The fact that skip over any of the hard questions to pick at the low-hanging fruit tells me you aren’t very serious about debating this issue. You just want to say your piece and be done with it. Well, that’s okay. It’s your blog after all. Just own up to it and quit trying to act as though you truly care about a reasoned debate. In the absense of that I guess I have no more use for this “debate”.

  • AsIntellectualAsICanBe

    Yawn… All things are permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Yawn. Yawn.

  • Linda Windell

    I enjoyed this thoroughly, thank you. why should our kids be taught christianity by default – that is my question? and if i may add that the pope did tell millions of South Africans that condoms were evil – I’d be interested to know how successful the love life campaign was after the pope’s visit…brilliant thank you.

  • http://billybobza.blogspot.com billybobza

    Hi Jarred,

    Regarding “Few, however, have the history of violence and brutality, combined with state power, that Christianity has enjoyed in the past 1000 years.”

    I know this discussion is closed, but I recently came across a link that I think would add balance to your extreme view on Christianity. Would be interested to know what you think.

    Good things pioneered by the Church and committed Christians in modern society:

    http://christiangoodinsociety.blogspot.com/

    I’m not denying the shame of many actions done by the church, but I think to offer one side only is not a fair assessment.

    Thanks..