If there is one emotion that increasingly comes to the fore when discussing these religious ideas in detail, it is that of disgust. The kind of disgust you might have if you witnessed a fellow human doing something utterly depraved. Or to be clear I am speaking of disgust towards specific ideas put forward by otherwise seemingly-respectable people. To say that it invokes some cognitive dissonance is an understatement.
If you were watching a documentary about an ancient tribe sacrificing a virgin on an altar in order to appease the gods and achieve greater crop yields or good fortune, you would rightly be horrified at the injustice and non-sensibility of it all. Just how exactly does action A lead to outcome B?
But make it instead about a virgin girl giving birth to a child who grew up to be tortured and sacrificed to appease a mysterious invisible god in the sky, in the hope of achieving some future eternal bliss, and now you're talking about Christianity - the world's most popular religion. It's not so far from the primitive ideas from earlier times. And it is every bit as repulsive.
The Bible records actual historical accounts of slavery. It also gives instructions on how to treat slaves, how to beat them, the rules under which they may (or may never) go free, and so on. If we were in any doubt that these writings are not the highest moral standard we should look to, surely this alone should eliminate all doubts. And yet people carry on believing, unfazed by the cruelty contained in this book. "It was a different time", they say. Apparently there was a time when slavery was "ok". Really? Many Christians claim that the Bible's version of slavery was "better" than other kinds of slavery from that time. Besides being incorrect, the argument is pathetic. Would you rather live in that "better" time or are you quite thankful we no longer follow those biblical laws today? Yeah, I thought so!
Consider how many times the Bible has been used to justify slavery throughout history, and how that history might have looked different if only we had had a better collection of documents from which to derive our morality. And when you consider just how recently slavery was abolished in many countries, you realise that in some ways we are barely out of the dark ages. Oh, and those "dark ages" ? That was the period throughout which Christianity held its greatest power!
But for those who think the Bible doesn't really condone slavery and that was just language and customs from a former time, consider the number of times the New Testament uses the metaphor of slavery in relation to the Christian's commitment to Jesus. It's not flattering. Rather it just shows how morally tone-deaf the "good book" actually is. If anything it's a reminder that human morality has thankfully moved on since the time when the Bible was written.
One of the more disgusting stories in the Bible is that of Job. The whole episode is bizarre and disturbing enough. God literally harmed Job until he couldn't take it any more, and then had the audacity to criticise Job for not praising him enough, launching into a strange bragging session that seemingly had no relevance to anything that had occurred. Apparently this was all supposed to teach Job the reason for suffering, but the book ends without mentioning what that reason might be.
But there are two parts of the story that stand out as extremely disgusting. The first is when God outright murders Job's family as a way to test Job. I don't think I need to explain why that might be morally problematic. The second is when God gives Job more children at the end, as if having more children could possibly make up for the slaughter of his previous children. No. No it doesn't. This is just sick.
"Once we assume a creator and a plan, it makes humans objects of a cruel experiment whereby we are created to be sick and commanded to be well"- Christopher Hitchens
The early chapters of the Bible appear to be a feeble attempt to provide an explanation for the suffering we experience and witness in the world. The fact that the Bible's authors deemed it significant enough to warrant such an early explanation is quite telling. Barely 3 chapters in and they realised the reader is going to notice some things just don't add up. And this is why we have apologetics.
Religious apologetics is, after all, the practice of trying to explain why the world doesn't quite look or work the way you might reasonably expect if there really was a loving creator behind it. The religious desperately want you to believe that the world isn't really what it looks like. And so they make claims about "beings" that are invisible, undetectable, and even non-physical, but still really powerful and always watching!
This is how you control people, and keep them obedient to your cause. Promise them rewards if they obey, and punishments if they leave. But the rewards and punishments need to be compelling, which is why both have grown ever larger throughout history. Religions now almost always promise eternal bliss and warn of eternal torture. Christadelphians buck this trend by warning only of eternal death, but this far weaker (and perhaps even more desirable) threat appears to have cost them significantly in membership numbers.
But what about that explanation of suffering? Does it work? No.
The Christadelphian narrative tries to pin our suffering on Adam's sin. As if God offered the paradise upfront but humans failed and that is why we find ourselves in this fallen state. But this explanation fails as soon as you give it a moment's thought. In this narrative, who created this scenario? Who invented the punishment? Who carried out said punishment? To what end? Who invented the criteria for the test? Who created the people knowing they would fail this test? Who placed them in a situation in which he knew they would fail?
What we're left with is an extremely disturbing picture of an at-best incompetent and at-worst grotesquely evil deity playing a sadistic game of chess with itself. If the story were true, why were the elements set up this way if not to create beings capable of immense suffering, and then subjecting them to it? The story also fails to account for animal suffering, a detail that may have been insignificant when it was first penned, but has since aged quite poorly indeed as animal welfare is fast becoming one of the most important moral issues since the dawn of our species.
God's perfect plan
Upon realising that this explanation for suffering fails so dramatically, the next tactic for many apologists is to claim that yes this was all part of God's perfect plan. A plan, so they tell us, that requires the development of characters worthy (yet somehow still unworthy, because otherwise you wouldn't need Jesus - but we'll get to that) of immortality. Forget the Adam and Eve story - that was just a backstory to introduce Adam to his complete and utter dependence on God (a dependency that God created). The real story is about Jesus, an example of the ideal human (just one ideal, as if a single ideal human makes any sense in such a diverse world), and by struggling our entire lives somehow we can grow and build characters that God ... still finds unacceptable? But maybe he could forgive and make up the difference if we got baptised?
If you're still trying to figure out why, if God supposedly made us in the first place, he couldn't just design us a little better and then be happy with the result, you're not alone. All of these Christian "explanations" fall short in really obvious ways. Somehow people just don't notice, because they've been trained not to question. And because if they question, they might not be eligible for the eternal bliss, and worse still they might be tortured for eternity. Perhaps you can start to see how teaching this stuff to children might not be the healthiest thing our species has ever done. And maybe you can also see why so many are starting to oppose this. It is child abuse - and that abuse carries through to adulthood and gets perpetuated to every generation.
Some say that Christianity is about building a relationship with God, and that what God really wants from us is our love and commitment, willingly, voluntarily, and that if we do this he will welcome us into his family and reward us more than we can imagine.
Oh, where to start.
Firstly, you don't tend to form a very good relationship with a being that invented suffering and subjected you to it. It's a little detail in the story that's kind of difficult to forget. Such a relationship has a name - it's called "Stockholm Syndrome" (you can look it up). And it is prevalent in many religions.
Secondly, you can love someone just as well (actually a lot more!) without being made to suffer. So this aspect of wanting a relationship with us just makes no sense. If anything the suffering actually argues against it. A being that truly wanted a relationship might, you know, act like it. Relationships are built on mutual trust and respect. You also have to show up for a date once in a while, not remain hidden forever.
I suspect that Christianity focuses so much on relationships and love in order to soothe our own desire to feel loved and connected, and the fact that people are trying to fill this need with their imagination of invisible beings and empty promises of future rewards instead of with real human connection just makes me really sad.
Thirdly, there is nothing voluntary about Christianity. Most Christians were born into the religion and forced to attend Sunday School where they were indoctrinated and threatened if they disobeyed. If religions were truly voluntary they would have long ago died out. And the religious know it! That's why indoctrination of children is still so prevalent.
It's also not exactly voluntary if you are born into suffering and told that the only way out is to submit. This isn't gracious, or generous, or loving, or anything praise-worthy at all. If you create beings that can suffer, and subject them to suffering while promising a future escape from the suffering for those who profess to love you, then you are not an "all-loving" god, you are an abusive tyrant. Christians can try to sugar-coat it any way they like, but nothing in this story either makes sense or spells love. Instead it just makes me question their idea of love. And their humanity.
Built on immoral foundations
The central pillar of Christianity is the idea that Jesus rose from the dead and thus allowed God to forgive our sins and grant us immortality. Whether you believe in substitutionary or participatory atonement makes no difference. Either way you believe that the punishment of an innocent person was in some way connected with the reward of the guilty. This is probably the greatest violation of justice ever invented, and deserves nothing but our utmost contempt. This originates from a time of animal sacrifice, when the sins of a person could be attributed to an innocent animal and the animal could be senselessly murdered in their place. That practice was barbaric and the idea of a crucifixion as atonement is even worse! Seeing ancient Roman torture devices hanging around people's necks never ceases to be disturbing. One might imagine that if Jesus was hanged, the Christians would have adopted a noose as their sacred symbol.
The idea of God even requiring anyone's death to forgive someone will never make any sense. Even the idea of a perfect being needing to forgive someone it created for doing things it created them to do, just makes no sense. The whole story is simultaneously both insane and disgusting.
If there was one concept that Christianity has distorted beyond all recognition it is "love".
Take this quote:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."John 3:16 KJV
Christianity tries to paint death as an unavoidable consequence of sin, but in a narrative that involves an all-powerful being, nothing is unavoidable. Even the concept of sin had to be invented. The story just doesn't work, and it's worse than that. It's pure evil. Again, it originates from a time when blood sacrifice was considered sacred.
Christians may proudly boast that "without God, we are nothing" but I suggest to you that without Christianity, we can all be so much more.
You are beautiful. You are worthy of love and respect. And you don't need to be saved.
Live the life you wanted the afterlife to be. And if you can, try to make someone else's day just a little brighter as well.
This is how we save the world.