This document sets out some arguments that question the truth of contemporary evangelical Christianity. It has been written largely for the benefit of the author but also to communicate to friends and family in a dispassionate and non confrontational way some of the rationale for no longer adhering to fundamentalist Christianity. It is almost all my own words but I have used material from the Internet in some places.
I want to start with a challenge to the Christian who may read this. The challenge is as follows:
- Think of all the people and belief systems residing outside your church.
- Try, against all the odds, to read this as a “juror” and not a “defendant”
- Remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.
1) Without God there is “no meaning”
Unfortunately this is one of the hardest concepts I am going to write about but it does need to be at the beginning so please bear with me for this one…The above statement is one of the key reasons people fail to even engage with some of the issues around the validity of Christian doctrine. It is almost as if people are saying “I need an ultimate explanation…there has to be one and I cannot contemplate otherwise”.
Even if there is a God, as per evangelical Christianity, there is still much left to mystery and therefore is a lack of ultimate “meaning”. An example of one of these mysteries would be the origin of God but there are many more. Therefore saying you “know God” sets the boundary of what you think you understand about our universe, rather than ultimately explains it.
The boundary could be set entirely differently:
“Although I don’t understand everything, I do recognise I exist and I can see my relationships with other humans are important. Therefore I am going to use this to give me ‘meaning’…and not religion”
Is this different to the statement below in terms of achieving “ultimate meaning”?
‘Although I have to admit I don’t understand everything, I know God and I am going to use this to give me “meaning”…’
In both statements we have to acknowledge we don’t know everything and so neither is any more “ultimate” than the other.
Ok that may have seemed confusing, but it is important to be clear at the outset that, philosophically speaking, religion does not make life necessarily more meaningful than a secular outlook. Religion just removes the “lack of ultimate purpose” issue out of your own back yard, and therefore makes it easier to live with.
2) Our morality and God’s morality- i.e “…you need God to be moral”
Our morality is not the same as the morality of the Bible. This is pretty clear in the Old Testament, to the extent it is not worth listing examples. However, stoning any woman raped in a town (Deut 22- she obviously didn’t protest enough), is a good example. However Christians conveniently say that the Old Testament cannot be included in the argument on morality. The Gospel demonstrates a different set of morals to our western 21st century set anyway.
Can you see a parallel in the following story?
An adult allows a child to play on the hard shoulder of a motorway but, graciously, tells them not to cross the white line into the traffic. If the child is trusting and obedient the adult gets a “kick”- the kid had a choice and obeyed. However if the infant steps over the line and is mown down by a truck they were disobedient and so deserved to die right? In the UK you would get locked up for years for either neglect or murder/manslaughter if this happened for real; of course the “moral” thing to do is prevent kids from going anywhere near a road.
The analogy holds- the wisdom gap between me and the Christian God is much bigger than between me and a three year old. And yet in his wisdom and grace he lets millions of us “play” right next to Hell, telling us not to cross the white line of disbelief. Why does this need to happen? It is utterly illogical or, at worse, immoral behaviour. God has more control of us than I have over my kids (or any other person or animal I am responsible for), so why does he do a worse job than me? The answer is simple, because we do not actually share morality with the biblical God and our sense of morality is not imparted by an ancient Middle Eastern deity. There are both logical and positive reasons for a moral system outside of religiosity, but it is not the aim of this document to detail them.
As an aside, do you think the moral status of the child in the story (perhaps they are as awful as one can be at three) would make the court any more lenient on the adult involved? Points (3) and (5) should also be considered when thinking on this issue.
3) God’s will co-existing with man’s free will
This is illogical. Either God predefines everything or he doesn’t predefine everything. If he leaves even the tiniest matter to us, his will is not ultimate, and therefore, neither is he. If he doesn’t, we have no will of our own and therefore no responsibility either. Besides, if all the circumstances in which one makes a decision are predefined by someone else, how responsible is one actually for the decision? Or if someone in authority delegates a decision to a subordinate, are they not still ultimately responsible for that decision? The whole matter of “will” as determined by evangelical theology seems flawed.
4) Unconditional Love co-existing with Hell
This must be nonsense because these two things are mutually exclusive. Hell (if understood literally as fire, brimstone etc) is utterly horrific. Would you push and hold someone’s face into a bonfire or barbeque grill? Even someone who had done you a terrible wrong? No I thought not. Hell is far worse. A god who loved unconditionally would not subject anyone to it. Not least billions of completely ordinary people who happened not to be of the protestant western faith and who could never have known better. The key word here is “unconditional”. Logically it is possible for God to project unconditional love on some people utterly randomly while some suffer Hell utterly randomly. It would be his prerogative. However to the rational person this seems more despotic than something to be worshipped and adored.
5) Origin of Sin
The Christian position holds that before the creation of the Universe there was only God and God has always been. There was nothing but God and as such anything that now exists, at its root, came from Him. The problem is that this includes evil.
It is often explained by Christians that the fall of Man happened because God gave Man free-will in order that Man’s worship would be truly glorifying to God. Whether the fall is held literally or figuratively evil clearly existed in creation prior to this. The Devil fell because he was ambitious and selfish and wanted to be God, however where did the very seed of his evil come from?
This is insoluble intellectually, as the Devil’s origin is ultimately God within evangelical theology At this point the average Christian apologist will say that our intellect is indeed insufficient to understand such a mystery and must, in faith, trust these things to God.
However we are actually discussing a straight forward contradiction. Purity can contain no defect, by its very definition, and therefore there is no seed from which evil could grow. So if everything came from God (he is the ultimate reality) we cannot explain the existence of evil. To say this is too difficult to understand is like saying that 2 + 2 definitely equals 5 and the fact that 2 + 2 appears to equal 4 is just an insoluble mystery.
4) Pagan myths that predate OT law and NT narrative
I have researched this topic entirely on the Internet and on apparently authoritative websites. It certainly appears that Christianity includes many elements of pre existing religion. However we all know the web has much misinformation so I have ignored some of the more controversial and clearly anti-Christian motivated claims.
The following at least does appear to have some historical validity:
Mithras had twelve followers with whom he had shared a last sacramental meal. He had sacrificed himself to redeem mankind. Descending into the underworld, he had conquered death and had risen to life again on the third day. The holy day for this sun god was, of course, Sunday (Christians continued to follow the Jewish Sabbath until the fourth century). His many titles included ‘the Truth,’ ‘the Light,’ and ‘the Good Shepherd.’ For those who worshipped him, invoking the name of Mithras healed the sick and worked miracles. Followers spoke in tongues. Mithras could dispense mercy and grant immortality; to his devotees he offered hope. By drinking his blood and eating his flesh (by proxy, from a slain bull) they too could conquer death. On a Day of Judgement those already dead would be raised back to life. This was a key religion of the Roman Empire from about 300BC and competed with Christianity until about 200AD.
Both the Egyptians and Hittites had laws laid down by god(s) that were very similar to the Ten Commandments and both pre date the Mosaic Law. The Egyptian Book of the Dead contains a section where the newly dead have to declare they are fit for heaven (they actually had to do it 42 times because of the number of Gods). The newly dead very nearly state they obeyed the Ten Commandments. This was long before any Hebrew presence in Egypt.
6) Old Earth and the Biblical Narrative
It seems unfortunate Paul and Jesus are clear on a young earth (Jesus on marriage and Paul on original sin) yet you have to trust some unconventional science to agree with them. If you accept that observable constants are constants then there are some big problems for a young earth. It is best to research them yourself but some examples are:
- Speed of light allowing us to witness events that occurred millions of years ago.
- Ice core layers showing 100’s of thousands of years and consistent with predictions based on knowledge of ice ages etc.
- Early humanoids that are well preserved and yet clearly not “man” in the biblical sense.
- The amount of chalk produced by plankton would need far more than all the oxygen available over the 6000 years of young earth history. It would also need far longer to settle and form than 6000 years.
- What were the dinosaurs? Cue the Job references
- Fossil strata are uniform (apart from volcanic disturbance etc) and you never find complex life mixed with ancient, simpler, life. That is a clever flood.
- Radio metric dating. Although not infallible, there is no way of explaining why you get ancient dates again, again and again.
- You can observe multiple volcanic formations caused by a single hot spot in the earth’s core as the crust has moved. The distances between formations need millions on years.
Theistic evolution does not make any more sense. If there are millions of years of evolution when did the fall happen? What about original sin? Death is a result of sin but also a necessity for evolution/natural selection. Death and suffering is in the fossil record. Evolution depends on a very high extinction rate of all living things over all time – couldn’t God get a hit rate better than 0.1?
6) Biblical contradiction, inconsistencies and errors, apparent human authorship
Just use Google and a Bible. I’m not going to list or re-discuss them all. The other approach, if you know the Bible well, is just to think about it in a straight forward way and avoid the temptation to “theologise” your way out of apparent errors and inconsistencies. When I read the Bible cover to cover with no commentary it suddenly seemed a lot less like an “inspired work” than when I read bits of it with notes, as I was taught to do. It does seem that the theologians need to do quite a lot of engineering to explain things that on face value sound like errors or contradictions.
Academic studies of the texts also make a lot of sense if you can take the time to get to grips with them. The authorship of the Pentateuch is worth studying for instance. It is also interesting that the movement to treat scriptures as “inerrant” is only 120 or so years old. Before this time it had always been assumed that interpretation is for the reader and that much of scripture is allegory.
Anyway a couple of examples:
"The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father..." -- Ezekiel 18:20
"I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation..." -- Exodus 20:5
"Honour thy father and thy mother..."-- Exodus 20:12
"If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. " -- Luke 14:26
"... I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." -- Genesis 32:30
"No man hath seen God at any time..."-- John 1:18
"And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." (2 Kings 2:11)
"No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, the Son of Man." (John 3:13)
And this does not sound like a 2000 year timescale:
"Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom. " -- Matthew 16:28
"Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. " -- Luke 21:32-33
"And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light." -- Romans 13:11-12
"Be ye also patient; establish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." -- James 5:8
"Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." -- 1 John 2:18
"But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." -- 1 Peter 4:7
Or a few examples of the scientific errors:
- You can’t see all the kingdoms and oceans from the highest mountain
- Rabbits do not chew the cud as cattle
- Insects have six legs not four
- Bats are mammals not birds, but are listed as birds in the Bible
7) The Trinity
This like #3, #4 and #5 is either mysterious or a logical nonsense. I do not even recall the terminology even being mentioned in the Bible but am happy to be corrected. It seems that the Trinity is a theological concept to make sense of the Bible. Polytheistic religions say that their Gods are equally God. Does Christianity have three Gods but call it one to be monotheistic?
The Bible taught that Christians were to worship Father and Son and Holy Spirit. It also taught that Christians should only worship God. Finally, it taught that there was only one God:
- We must worship only God
- We must worship God the Father
- We must worship God the Son
- We must worship God the Holy Spirit
- There is only one God
8) Spectacular claims need spectacular evidence
This is a basic rule that we all learn at a young age and use to assess the validity of things we are being told or are learning. If in conversation I say “I drive a Ford” it is probable that little or no evidence will be required of me. It is not a big claim. If, however, I claim we have aliens from the planet Zorbe round for dinner every Thursday, people will wish to see very clear evidence or simply won’t believe me. This is only different if enough people say I do meet with aliens which make it socially unacceptable to question my veracity.
Similarly, if someone says “I personally know the creator of the entire universe and he has told me exactly how and why we are here and what his plans are for all the people of the world”, we should apply the “spectacular claims” rule. However God is invisible and does not speak out loud in any verifiable way. As for evidence of miracles and healings etc, nobody anywhere has ever shown photographic/clinical evidence of a medically impossible healing. Why do Christians throw this logic rule about evidence away? It is odd how much evidence many Christians need to get them to doubt the “young earth”, but need nothing but “faith” to believe the biggest claims one can ever make.
9) Omnipotent and Omniscient…
The much quoted Riddle of Epicurus sums this one well:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
10) Belief in something hard to believe is the one qualifying necessity
The ultimate qualification for salvation is “belief” or “faith”. The Christian must believe in God as described in the Bible and in Jesus as their redeemer. Without belief, there is no Christianity. The evangelical always say that Christianity is all about one directional grace, love and forgiveness. However this is not strictly true- the one and absolute requirement is to believe something which is not directly evident. This is your contribution and the pay off is big. However the one thing that has to be contributed by the human (God does the rest) is belief/faith (this may be dressed as first given by God- but the display of belief is definitely our job). It is interesting that the very oxygen on which Christianity survives happens to be the one thing we, the party that definitely exists, have to give and exhibit. Belief, or displayed belief is the glue that holds things together.
The Church does not have for example; repentance, or forgiveness, or performing any other kind of duty, as the central requirement. These are part of it, but above all other things you must “believe” and be seen to believe, “to confess with your mouth”. This is so familiar it does not seem strange- this is religion. However to be part of any other organisation (apart from others in the same category) there is rarely emphasis on belief in the existence of the object of the organisation (except where it is a philosophical or political group, but here the deal is quite clear- the world view or belief is the end of the group). However with most groups this is not the case. Football fans do not have as the qualification for being a fan, a belief in the existence of the players.
11) Observations on the Church as a Social Group
One of the undeniable benefits of being a Christian is the security and social network that the Church provides. This is a good thing, but it can also add to doubts and questions as to whether the social functions of the Church are really all there is. This is not to say that Christianity is fundamentally insincere. However, if it works effectively as a social system it may not need a supernatural power for its existence. Is Christianity actually like “The Matrix” of the well known film- when you’re in it you cannot see it for what it really is?
Because believing something contrary to the majority of the population is difficult, it has an effect of pulling believers very close together. Therefore the majority of true friendships for Christians reside within the Church. This could be seen to enhance “groupthink” but more critically it makes the price of rejecting Christianity massive. Although Christians would say, with sincerity, that they would maintain friendships with “leavers”- it is unavoidably on the basis that the person was somehow in a different category. A similar but even more painful thing would happen to a person in a Christian family who decided to be honest. This honesty would be to admit that they had either not been chosen by God to have the gift of belief, or had correctly noticed that evangelical Christianity was untrue – whichever is the fact. One way or another it is going to affect some or all of their in-group relationships in a negative way. The doubter additionally knows how upset loved ones will be at their eternal peril. It is not that the Christian necessarily thinks these things through consciously and carefully, but it is certainly easier and more socially beneficial to stay inside the group belief system.
The Church also provides a network of people in whom all the membership can trust. This is very beneficial and has all kinds of upsides, from reliable tradesmen to filling properties with prompt paying and conscientious tenants – with everything in between. A Christian may arrive in most parts of the world and expect to find existing connections as well as a ready made and trusted social network. You cannot list all the differing benefits of the system, but they do provide a “here and now” benefit to being in the Church, alongside more lofty spiritual motives. While not subscribing to the fact Church leaders and other full time employees are cynically making a job for themselves, it is true that they are most committed to the promotion of its doctrine and they also are dependent materially from its continuance.
The rigid routines of Church life are also effective at holding it together as a social system. The Sunday services educate in the necessary doctrines and provide pleasure and enjoyment from music and mutual enthusiasm for the groups’ set of beliefs. A similar “tribal” effect can be observed at sports events. Prayer meetings sometimes seem to serve the function of communicating important information within the social group. To remain cohesive it is important for the community to know what is going on. “Matters for prayer” or “legitimised gossip”? Regular reading of the Bible (always with commentary to tell you what you’re reading means) and prayer keeps the mind receptive and open and persuaded of faith as reality. This routine and rigidity could be “a means of grace” or it might equally be method to keep the brain persuaded of something hard to believe.
The fact that the number of evangelical Christians that were brought up in religious homes is always far greater than those converted from utterly irreligious families also indicates “Christianisation” rather than the supernatural.
12) So, why aren’t you a Mormon or a JW?
I recently stayed for a couple of nights in a hotel while the largest UK convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was running in the same town. Every other guest I came across was a JW. It was amazing how the atmosphere (pleasant enough) and people seemed almost identical to that which I have experienced at Christian conventions. These people were utterly and completely convinced they were right and that secular people and especially other religious groups were “lost” and “blinded”. It did seem eerily similar to my experience of fundamentalist Christianity.
It is much stated by Christians that witnesses wrote down what happened during Jesus’ life and that those witnesses were willing to die for the truth of their statements. These statements are exactly true of Joseph Smith the Mormon prophet and his associates, but with the added benefit that their existence and martyrdoms are indisputable, recent historic fact. But we all know the JWs and Mormons are nuts so we can disregard their apologetics right?
These two thoughts are just meant to get the mind working on the issue of how different are Christians, really, from other religious groupings.
13) Instinctive belief in the afterlife?
One argument that is used by the religious in support of Christianity is that we have an instinctive awareness of eternity and that death repels us so much because it is “unnatural”.
I think that when we dwell on times before our birth date it gives us a proof that material life continues with us “happily” in a state of non-existence. It seems quite natural and acceptable that after our death we again will cease to exist, in the same way we did not exist before we were born. God must be creating new eternal beings all the time but ones that are finite in one direction and infinite in another. Therefore they are not really eternal. I suppose there is no reason why this could not be so, but it seems odd to me. Personally I think non existence would be better than even one person being eternally burnt in Hell.
As for us holding revulsion at death, and behaving as though we will not die, this is a natural necessity rather than anything indicative of the super natural. If we did not see beauty in life and misery in death it would greatly affect our will to survive which is of course vital to our species. It makes that beauty and revulsion even more real when you realise how necessary and intrinsic it is to us.
So there you have it, a stream of consciousness about why I cannot honestly call myself a Christian. One could fill a book with this kind of stuff, but I think I have spent enough time for a man with a very busy job and a young family. The vast majority of this document is straight “off the top of my head” and it’s not meant to be scholarly. I know that every point can be countered and rebutted one way or another, especially when the protagonist has the benefit of all sorts of supernatural possibilities on their side. I also know that Christians will most likely think this document “evil” rather than honest and liberating as I do. The work of someone blinded and deceived. If that is their position then so be it.
I just feel it is more honest and straightforward to say we simply do not know all the answers to life’s big questions. To have lived, loved, cared and wondered seems the best we can do.