This got rather long. I'm focusing on what I think is the main thing I'm being challenged on here, which is my assertion that Christian doctrine is, or encourages, evil - not that Christians are evil, not that I can prove that Christianity has a net negative effect in practice, but the reasons that I think it logically should be expected to. And again, not anything at all about "religion", which I can't even meaningfully define, and of which everything here is probably some subset - I'm really thinking about Christianity in contrast to other religious practices or belief systems and so on.
I mentioned proselytizing repeatedly earlier. I want to be clear that I don't think proselytizing is evil. I think the reasons that Christianity is obsessed with it represent elements of its doctrine that are
evil, and I think the portable, intellectual nature of Christianity that makes proselytizing on a grand scale such an available and desirable goal come at both ends of Christianity's uniquely awful character, enabling and being enabled by.
Copper Bezel wrote:I do think that Christianity (along with Islam, as I keep saying) has a very unhealthy set of doctrines that cause concrete, measurable damage under the right conditions, and that the liberalization of most Christian groups has been an externally rather than internally motivated process not organically derived from those doctrines.
Interesting thought, would you care to provide some insight to how you might justify that opinion? The Bible has managed to spawn any number of offshoots believing any number of different things. From the same book. Which can be read to mean anything you want. Which says something about humans and our ability to compartmentalize and the inability of language to be precise, particularly when the source is as old as the Bible is. My point is not that you are wrong, I'm not certain, rather how do you come to that belief?
I'd largely agree that the Christianity of today is not the Christianity of the medieval is not the Christianity of Rome and so on. "From the same book" is even arguable, since the Bible has varying degrees of relevance to each of these groups - the early church didn't have even that book, the Catholic church has papal authority and Church tradition as a separate line of holy authority, and liberalized groups today hold much of the Bible as metaphor, while the line that goes from Luther to Puritanism to modern Evangelicals hold the Bible as literal truth and the absolute holy authority, effectively because it's the only thing they've got.
(Again, I'm not going to be "true chuch"ed, so to be clear to everyone, when I say "Christian" and I'm talking about anything past 200 CE, I'm talking about people who would say they believe in the tenets listed in the Nicene Creed. All of those people are "true" Christians, because that is what the word means every time I use it; if you disagree with that assessment, we have a semantic rather than a doctrinal difference.)
But there are some thematic ideas that you can't get away from if you have the Bible in your toolkit at all, and some doctrines that have bred true in Christianity whether or not they actually come from the book. Part of that owes to Roman and medieval Catholic interpretations of theology that, while not unambiguously what the books say, can still be reinforced by a particular way of reading them.
The first one to me is the theme of the book, the concept of sin. Now, for Jesus and his followers, the new treatment of sin had a fairly specific meaning - it was wresting a particular holy authority away from the priestly authority, a power they'd enjoyed for at least the last six centuries when, after the Babylonian captivity, they'd managed to convince the people that every hardship they experienced was a due turn for a lack of piety. But Christianity also came with a novel conception of Hell to make clear that they were terribly serious about it, and from the first gentile convert to Christianity and on to today, the whole package comes in one piece: every fault of character is evidence that you, dear believer, wholly deserve unimaginable eternal punishment.
It might seem like there's still something egalitarian in saying that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God", and it took Christianity a bit of time to establish its own priests as gatekeepers of heavenly forgiveness and permit the rich to pay someone to pray away their sins, neither of which is universal in Christianities. But Christians nonetheless believe that the basic condition of human beings is to be something so grotesque that our bloody-minded creator is right to punish us eternally for it. Moreover, Christians believe that they know what kinds of actions and feelings and beliefs are sin and which are not. To accept Christianity means that, no matter what compunctions you have against judging others, no matter your own "sin," and no matter your conception of "grace", you are right to look at something a person does and assess that it utterly invalidates their value as a human being. This is an evil idea.
Sin also gets wrapped up in this Euthyphro thing, where the goodness or evil of actions has nothing to do with their consequences on other human beings, but at this scale, that's a minor quibble. It does carry into the second problem, though.
The second problem, to me, is Heaven and Hell themselves. Christianity comes with a belief that the temporal world of human experience, in all of its joy and pain and fulfillment and tragedy, is a fleeting introduction to the totality of experience any one individual will have. The real world simply doesn't matter. This is a very different thing from beliefs that center on cycles of reincarnation and so on, or that the dead have a remnant presence in the world and perhaps act as guides to their descendants or whatnot, which perform the same therapeutic role of softening the sting of death. The eternally-minded Christian is asked to see the physical world as a game that decides which eternity he or she will experience, and then the real world is this other thing out there in the multiverse that humans ultimately really belong to.
I do think Heaven is at least as pernicious as Hell, but with the caveat that it's one doctrine of Christianity that isn't actually selfish for the believer in question. I'm not sure that I even need to get into any explanation of why Heaven was an evil in the medieval period, because it's pretty well understood what happened there, how it acted as a control and maintained a social order exploitative enough that it would otherwise be unstable. Regardless of how meaningless and valueless your life, if you keep your nose clean and follow the rules, even if you never experience a jot of happiness on Earth, you'll be rewarded eternally for your good behavior. Obviously it's the same mechanism for Islamist suicide bombers today. I'm not sure that this particular aspect has a lot of bearing for mainstream Christians, though - at worst, the fundamentalists consider it in their calculus for how to judge others but don't apply it to themselves.
Dualism is also a natural consequence of this version of an afterlife - humans, as eternal, spiritual creatures, can't possibly be anything like the temporal beasts of the Earth they so resemble. The temporal world doesn't create eternal things. So from the moment of conception, most Christians posit a soul, this supernatural organ of self, that will follow its ape body throughout life and carry on into the real world. Human value is abstracted away from all of the parts that make up a human and the entirety of the human condition. That's a little sick.
Another natural consequence is something I can only think of as a fridge logic. Taking all of this very literally, only the people who accepted Jesus' message are allowed into heaven. Jesus' teaching is a thing that happened at a historical moment spread by cultural forces. The evil of colonialism, destroying native cultures because their traditions didn't look "Christian" enough and spreading the Gospel at sword point for the chance that a few could be "saved" and all of that, is one consequence, but I think it goes deeper than that. If there's a special elect of the saved, and all of the cultures that came before or developed very separately are left out, there's an automatic significance to the peoples who get to move on into this eternal legacy. It reduces the value of everything and everyone that came before and continues to reinforce ethnocentric conceptions of the world.
All of that is simply amplified in what I'd see as the third big evil of Christian dogma, its eschatology or apocalypticism. Jesus' promises of a new kingdom of the Jews on Earth, with him and his God running the business, were probably very comforting to his Jewish followers, who resented the Roman occupation that stole away their autonomy as a people and offered only running water and a functional legal system in return. But it didn't take long for the early Christians to figure out that Paradise wasn't coming to Earth anytime soon, and it was successively projected into the future. The Revelation of John seemed to put it at the scale of many years, and was then interpreted as a metaphor for an even later end to the temporal world, but it's still hanging out there for fundamentalists of every generation to latch onto and believe must represent their own eras.
If Heaven and Hell didn't drive the point home enough. the eschatology makes it unarguably clear that the world we experience is a phase, a game that's only about us humans. Everything in the universe exists for our benefit or detriment, God's terrarium for his pet humans. And God is going to take us out and play with us and throw away the terrarium and get us a better one (but for the very good, obedient pets only, of course). The world will degrade and die and fall in on itself, and someone's going to come along and give us a better one and get rid of all the people we don't like as a bonus.
Now, while Jesus in the Gospels makes some vague references that are now largely read as a reference to this eschatology, the doctrinal value of the Revelation of John itself as a barely-canon addendum to the New Testament told in fanciful metaphors and embarrassingly short-sighted political statements would seem fairly slim. But we keep printing the book, a minority of people keep taking it very seriously, and even if the outright evil parts of this idea are just the metaphoric vehicle, I think it's a harmful one in its own right. This idea is still there
, that the world isn't really valuable, that God and the holy law is first and humans second, with very little space left for the rest of the world. And every generation, there are people who take all of that just literally enough to weaken their respect for the natural world, undermine any conception of social progress, and reject the idea that the moral arc of the universe might bend toward justice, condemning the temporal world to an ugly death. Those people are no more virtuous at base than anyone else; their own
temporal concerns, their own interests, are still going to be prominent in their minds, and all this doctrine has done is to liberate their selfishness and arrogance.
So, in sum, I do fully understand that Christians like to talk about love and humility. Those are virtues that they value, and they happen to be virtues that I also value. But you can't just look at the heroes of the story and what they want to say about themselves to trust that those are actually the values represented here. Christians believe they have divine knowledge that transcends all other sources and the moral authority to condemn actions or identities as worthy of eternal torment; they're largely asked not to be judgemental about it, and this trivial tempering of inexcusable arrogance is called "humility". Christians believe that human suffering is temporary and that the real consequences in the world are in another universe, and excusing someone from eternal torment in this fairy land is called "love".
I'm not going to take seriously any attempt to talk about the faith in those terms. And you can reduce it to metaphor and tell me what it really does and doesn't mean and we can talk endlessly about literary criticism, but in doing so, you're expecting that the net effect of this system of beliefs is a positive one, that each random believer you choose can be trusted to have better than even odds not to fall into any of the pitfalls I've laid out. That's what you're claiming if you're saying that these doctrines have a positive moral effect on their adherents. And I call bullshit.
So much depends upon a red wheel barrow (>= XXII) but it is not going to be installed.
she / her / her