For many Christians, the idea of morality begins and ends with their alleged “holy” book, the Bible. They assume that this is no ordinary text, but a book of sublime beauty containing timeless moral wisdom inspired by their deity. In fact, this book, like the Qu’ran and other religious texts, contains much that is supremely backward and immoral and, if followed literally, would bring about nothing less than the destruction of civilization. Let us critically examine this issue and see why Christianity is a bankrupt moral system.
We will begin by examining two moral messages that were considered to be of paramount importance by the writers of the Bible, though many followers today tend to water them down or even ignore them altogether. The first of these is one that permeates virtually every page of the Bible, either stated implicitly or else underlying the text. Put very simply, it is: Obey this book, or else! This is stated in a number of ways, both in the Bible, and in subsequent Christian works. “We are weak but he is strong,” when analyzed critically, simply means that we should not rely on our own reason, but instead obey what is being told to us, allegedly by the biblical god or by his spokespersons on earth. Since god does not exist (for elaboration on this issue, please see my article Why Gods Cannot Exist), what is really taking place is that we are being told what to think and how to behave by the authors of the Bible, a group of primitive illiterates with no inkling of how the world really works, or of the best ways for us to live. Concomitant with this is the idea that we mere humans are not intelligent enough to figure things out for ourselves or to accomplish anything by ourselves; we are admonished to beware the sin of pride. Reason is denigrated repeatedly in both Old and New Testaments; we are told not to trust in our own reason but simply to have faith in God, Jesus, and the Bible.
The second key idea that the authors emphasized as of paramount importance is the New Testament idea that Jesus Christ died to save humans from their sinful nature. Notice the assumption, never proven of course, that we are all inherently bad. Atheists hear this in various forms such as “if there is no god, what is to keep you from committing evil?” This is psychologically very revealing: the believer is saying that, if he didn’t accept Jesus, he would be doing evil. The atheist does not accept Jesus, and yet is not doing evil. The question the believer must address then is: who is more inherently evil, the atheist who does no evil without Jesus, or the believer who thinks he would?
Despite the obvious falseness of the assumption that humans are innately depraved, it serves a very useful purpose for religious leaders, for it instills the one emotion that Christianity must inculcate in order to survive: the idea of guilt. Guilt, not love, is the motor driving all religions, in particular Christianity. The omnipresent image of Jesus Christ bleeding on a cross is the most striking example of how Christianity seeks to inculcate guilt in its followers: look how our savior suffered for you, you miserable unworthy sinner! Fear is another key ingredient in the psychological ploys employed to gain adherents, but this can be problematic in that those in fear may strike out. Guilty persons never strike out; they are psychologically destroyed. And this makes them malleable instruments of the church. This is a lesson that every cult leader since time immemorial has learned. What better way to gain converts than to make them feel guilty and depraved? Salvation is Christianity’s answer to a self-created problem.
There is another angle to Jesus’ alleged sacrifice, again showing Christianity in a most unfavorable light: Jesus is invariably portrayed as the embodiment of moral perfection. So, by what stretch of the imagination can it be moral to sacrifice the good (Jesus) for the bad (the rest of us)? Imagine if this lesson were put in secular terms. Suppose that a man was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Just before the execution is to take place, the killer’s brother steps forward and offers himself in place of his brother. While a nice gesture, what would you think of a legal system that allowed an innocent man to die in order to save a guilty one? Few thinking people would agree that this would be just. Then how can a fundamentally immoral idea suddenly become moral when presented as religion? How is Jesus’ imagined death to save people who are allegedly sinners? This is the inevitable dead end of Christian ethics; allowing the good to die so that the evil may survive hardly constitutes what morality is all about. This is true whether stated in secular or religious terms.
The following illustration is another example of why Christianity is a depraved moral system.
First, the Christian god (or, more correctly, his faith-saturated followers) insists that we “turn the other cheek” when evil is done to us. If you are robbed, forgive the perpetrator and forget the incident. It doesn’t take a genius to determine who really benefits from this way of thinking: followed literally, this biblical injunction gives free rein to any criminal to do whatever he wishes, without fear of repercussion. And then, perversely, all he needs to do is to find Jesus and poof! The slate is wiped clean and he attains eternal life. Some more primitive Christians might point to the traditional idea of hellfire as a deterrent to criminal activity, but the point is that, even if hell existed, its existence does nothing to address crimes and punishments in this life. While the Bible informs us that the meek shall inherit the earth, it is the strong who contest the will and call the shots—knowing that the Bible is their single greatest ally. Napoleon understood this point when he said “we have religion to keep the poor from murdering the rich.”
The key point here is that, even on such a fundamental issue as crime and punishment, the Bible is a useless moral guide. Observe also the double standard at work here: god, who we are told is all good and who is supposed to be a moral exemplar for us to follow, is exempt from the standards he imposes on us. Certainly the Bible portrays an unforgiving god; hell in the New Testament attests to this. The question therefore arises: can god forgive anyone? For example, can he forgive someone who does not believe in him? The Bible unequivocally says no. Christians today who are still tied to the moral system of the Christian Dark Ages seem to have no problem imagining someone burning for all eternity, thus illustrating their own moral depravity. Wouldn’t it be a magnanimous gesture for a supposedly all-good god to find forgiveness in his non-material heart for those of us who have the temerity to use the brains he supposedly gave us to question his existence? Do honesty and intellectual integrity mean anything to the Christian god? Again, the Bible gives no hint of this; while blind faith and unquestioning obedience are the traditional Christian virtues, independent thought, pride in our accomplishments, thinking and reasoning are denigrated in no uncertain terms from cover to cover. Degrading ourselves in obsequious, pointless prayer is the only “solution” offered by the Bible to any of life’s perennial problems.
What does it say about the ego of the Christian god that he wishes to surround himself throughout eternity not with the great and accomplished, but rather with the unquestioning, brainless automatons who will stoke his fragile ego by constantly telling him how great and good he is?
And for those who dare to think and create? The Catholic historian Paul Johnson answered this by pointing out that Beethoven, in many ways the towering genius of Western Civilization whose monumental musical masterpieces have enriched the world for two centuries, is probably in danger of hellfire for daring to create and thereby trying to elevate himself closer to the almighty. Johnson imagines his deity as so jealous and unsure of himself that anyone who seeks to elevate humanity is viewed as a threat, to be burned for all eternity. If this isn’t evidence of a warped system of values, then I don’t know what is.
According to traditional Christian ethics, god is willing to forgive any crime or any kind of moral transgression, no matter how heinous, if the perpetrator subsequently accepts the Christian slave mentality of unquestioning obedience. This can occur on his deathbed, or at any previous time. Meanwhile, the honest, moral atheist, who has committed no crimes and striven to be the best person he/she can be, will roast for all eternity. For refusing to sacrifice his mind on the altar of superstition, the atheist is to be punished and never forgiven. Clearly, Christian morality is designed not to help humans, but rather to appease the vanity of a celestial super-tyrant—and to provide employment for his earthly representatives.
The Christian god will burn skeptics those who blaspheme the holy spirit for all eternity and never forgive them for their alleged sins. Is this the deity who is supposed to represent the essence of goodness? Is this the deity we are urged to worship?
The contradiction is self-evident: god’s idea of morality is totally different from our own. But, if so, then morality loses its meaning and Christians can no longer maintain that their god is all-good, since good means something different to him than to us.
Now let us consider the idea of hell.
Today, most Christians view the biblical idea of hell with a degree of embarrassment; it clearly is a product of a pre-enlightened time, and even most Christians recognize this. Nonetheless, the existence of hell is an unquestioned reality in the Bible and, often depicted with relish and glee; no slap on the wrist type of punishment here! All of us have suffered burns at one time or another and can attest to the extreme pain they cause. Trying to imagine burning that goes on forever is simply impossible to contemplate, yet the “loving” god of Christianity feels no sympathy or compassion for the people he has condemned to this unspeakable torture. Day after day, for all eternity, he will look at their suffering, hear their screams, and do nothing. This god makes the Nazi doctors like Josef Mengele look like saints by comparison. If the biblical god does indeed exist, he is clearly a moral sadist that, far from deserving our respect, instead must be condemned in no uncertain terms as a monster of unimaginable proportions. If we cannot do this, then morality truly has lost its meaning.
No god apologist has ever been able to answer the perennial problem of evil: if god is all-good and all-powerful, why does he allow evil to exist in the world? Another way to illustrate it is to consider the Nazi holocaust; Christianity maintains that their god is all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing, but the contradictions are obvious and inescapable: if all-knowing, he knows what went on. If all-powerful, he was capable of doing something about it, and if all-good, he would have done so. Yet their god obviously did nothing (neither, for that matter, did the Jewish god, the Muslim god, or any other imaginary celestial being) to save the millions of people who suffered unspeakable torture and death in Hitler’s war machine. God’s only excuse is that he does not exist. To insist that god has his reasons but they may not be obvious from our limited human perspective is simply an admission that god doesn’t care about our suffering. There is simply no other logical or moral conclusion to arrive at.
Christian theologians have been painfully aware of the problem of evil and have attempted to put forth numerous rationalizations, none of them convincing. One of the most popular of these is that heaven is so wonderful that our suffering here on earth amounts to little more than an inconvenience. Try telling that to a Holocaust survivor! Consider the implications of this: it basically states that pain, suffering, and death have nothing to do with morality.
It is not just the idea of hell that is problematic for Christian morality; even the idea of heaven can lead one to a supremely immoral stance. Consider the following quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury, made in 1954: “The hydrogen bomb is not the greatest danger of our time. After all, the most it could do would be to transfer vast numbers of human beings from this world to another they would someday go anyway.” Breathtakingly immoral, comments like this pervade Christian history. Notice in particular the casual use of the word “transfer.” The archbishop makes death sound like a financial exchange! The archbishop is saying that mass death is of little consequence for him or us since millions of deaths are not “the greatest danger of our time.” I can only wonder just what the archbishop thought the greatest danger actually was. Thinking for ourselves, perhaps?
Obviously, the foregoing illustrates the depravity contained in fundamentalist Bible belief. Fortunately, most believers have watered down the Bible’s toxic doctrines and insist that the “real” message of Christianity is love. Yet on the rare occasions where love is mentioned, it is usually presented in a perverse way; turn the other cheek when someone strikes you, love your enemies, and so on. Parents loving their children? Absent. Christians loving those of other faiths or of no faith? Absent. What liberal Christians fail to recognize is the simple fact that Christian love is only meant to be between fellow Christians. All the excuses and rationalizations cannot erase this simple fact.
In conclusion, anybody who, in this day and age, still insists that Christian morality is superior to any other system, is either frighteningly ignorant, or else supremely immoral. Christian morality is not only a contradiction in terms, it spits in the face of those who have died because of it, and constitutes the gravest of threats to our survival as a species.
By: Jon Nelson