Practical Arguments


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    Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
    Karl Marx (1818-1883), Criticism of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Introduction

    In this section we consider the putative characteristics of a true religion, and look at how Christianity compares to expectations.

    It is reasonable to ask what the characteristics of a true religion might be expected to be, and then compare Christianity against those expectations. This is not an unfair thing to do because, like other religions, Christianity purports to possess characteristics that can pertain only to an institution appointed by God. The following list contains some of the characteristics that Christians have claimed for their faith, and that a disinterested observer might reasonably expect the one true religion to possess*:

    These points are now considered one by one:



    "It is a curious thing," he thought, "that every creed promises a paradise which will be absolutely uninhabitable for anyone of civilised taste."
    Evelyn Waugh (1990-1966), Put Out More Flags

    The tenets, doctrines and practices of the one true religion should be distinctive and original.

    It is sometimes claimed that the concept of there being only one god is uniquely Christian. Accepting for the moment that Christianity can appropriate Judaism's monotheism as its own, the claim is still unwarranted. Many religions had already posited a single god. Among them were various Hindu sects, Zoroastrianism and various Greek religions. The Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten had also developed a monotheistic religion. Most respectable Greek philosophers around the time of Jesus, including Platonists and Stoics, believed in a single ultimate divine being.

    What else is claimed to be uniquely Christian? The following are teachings that have often been cited as being unique. Indeed, most of them have at one time or another been cited as so obviously unique and divine that they confirm their author as God himself.

    Humility and Poverty
    Humility is sometimes regarded as characteristically Christian, but the Venerable Master Lao Tse, a Chinese sage who predated Jesus by over 500 years, cited a saying that was then already ancient "He that humbles himself shall be preserved entire". He taught "I have three precious things that I hold fast and praise. The first is called compassion, the second is called economy, and the third is called humility". So the heathen Chinese were asserting the value of humility while God was still advocating war, torture, murder and self-advancement to the Jews. Lao Tse also said that "The wise man does not lay up treasure. The more he gives to others, the more he has for his own".
    Love thine Enemies

    This idea is still believed by many to be quintessentially Christian. Who but the son of God could have been responsible for the following words?

    Does a man become angry? You on the contrary challenge him with kindness ... If someone strikes you, step back; for by striking back you will give him the opportunity and the excuse to repeat the blow.

    The answer is a Roman philosopher, for these are not the words of Jesus but of Seneca (De Ira, II, 34 ). Lao-Tse was there first. He said "Do good to him who has done you an injury" (Tao Te Ching 63 ), a teaching known to Confucius around 500 BC (Analects 14:34 ). Incidentally, it is interesting that Jesus was consistently hostile to his own enemies. He never once did a good deed for a Pharisee. Except for a single occasion on the cross he never even prayed for his enemies. The description of this single occasion appears to have been a late addition to the text* and may well have been added specifically to counter the charge that he never prayed for his enemies at all.
    Love thy Neighbour ...
    Jesus said " ...Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). But this was not a new teaching, but an old one. Indeed Jesus was actually quoting Jewish scripture. The same words appear in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18). The idea that good deeds performed to others are good deeds done for God is also an established one. In The Odyssey, Homer (c.900 BC) says "By Jove the stranger and the poor are sent, and what to them is given, to Jove is lent".
    Do unto Others ...

    Jesus is reported as having said "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12). Curiously, this is still often cited as being specifically Christian, although the words "for this is the law and the prophets" emphasise that the concept was already well established in Jewish thought. Quoting the Jewish Talmud, Rabbi Hillel expounded its importance in the century before Jesus. When a gentile asked the rabbi to teach him the whole of Jewish Law in a short time he told him "whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the whole Law [Torah]. The rest is commentary. Now go and study" (Sabbath, 31.1 ).

    Neither was the idea original to Hillel. He may have had in mind the ancient injunction from the book of Leviticus: " ...Love thy neighbour as thyself ...", a sentiment that has been described as "the great principle of Torah"*. Confucius had said "Do not do to others that which you do not want them to do to you" (Analects 12.2 & 15.24 ). The same principle was familiar in Greece, and is known as The Golden Rule. Around 370 BC Isocrates taught "Do not do unto others that which angers you when they do it to you" (Nicocles 61 ). Socrates had advocated the Golden Rule: "You should be to others what you think I should be to you" , a principle that was widely accepted by the Stoics and other sceptical philosophers. The principle is also known to other religions including Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. Indeed, Jains extend the principle to all living creatures.

    Turning the Other Cheek
    Jesus said "And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also" (Luke 6:29). This contradicted established Jewish Law but was not novel in Jewish thought: "He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him" (Lamentations 3:30). Once again, Lao-Tse was there before Jesus. He taught: "The good I would meet with goodness. That which is not good I would also meet with goodness".
    God as Father
    Jesus" teaching about the fatherhood of God was an old and familiar doctrine of the Rabbis*. God was Abba [father] to Jews long before Jesus.
    Other Teachings

    Many of Jesus" ideas reflect those of other Jewish rabbis*. For example Hanina ben Dosa and Gamaliel the Elder demonstrated that prayer could cure illness even at a distance. Both also lived in poverty. When it comes to his explicit teachings, authoritative Christian writers concede that Jesus was not original: "Point for point, there is nothing in the teaching of Jesus that cannot be found in the Old Testament or in the rabbinical teaching"*.

    Some New Testament ideas were characteristically Hellenic in nature. Those introduced by Paul for example are identifiably Stoic*. Some New Testament influences are clearly Platonic, and others are Pythagorean. Jesus himself seems to have adopted several ideas that were characteristic of the Cynic philosophers: voluntary poverty, abandonment of family, renunciation of needs, and general attitude towards life.

    Resist not Evil

    Jesus was apparently responsible for one new teaching, though it tends to be played down nowadays. This was the injunction not to resist evil: "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil ..." (Matthew 5:39). This novel teaching authorised Christians to stand aside and watch many millions of people being tortured and murdered over the centuries. It is a licence for Christians to ignore any manner of wrong, however heinous. For example it gave Christians explicit permission over the centuries to do absolutely nothing to oppose the burning of old women, the prosecution of unjust wars, pogroms, persecutions, or Nazi concentration camps. To have opposed these things would have been against the clearly stated will of Jesus, and hence unchristian. Although the injunction is not so popular now, it has been followed for centuries and still stands as Jesus" unique contribution to morality.



    The Contradictions of the Old Testament mean that with a little effort anyone can find a faith that accords with his preferences and a moral code that is agreeable to his tastes, even if fairly depraved.
    John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006), Economics, Peace and Laughter

    The tenets, doctrines and practices of the one true religion should be clear and unambiguous.

    As we have already seen in our discussion of the Old and New Testaments, the Bible does not provide a clear account of the tenets or doctrines of modern Christianity. Different biblical writers have markedly different ideas and frequently contradict each other. Some even contradict themselves. Many passages are, to say the least opaque, and biblical scholars often have produced five, six, seven, or more possible explanations for a small piece of text — the story of the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24 is a good example. Jesus confirmed that he used parables to deliberately obscure his meaning, so it is not surprising that even the disciples were not always clear about it. The so-called parable of the salt is another prime example*. The authors of the three synoptic gospels disagreed about its significance and so give it different contexts and emphases. Neither did the disciples understand the parable of the seed falling on stony ground. Jesus also had some ideas that seem rather odd and have never been explained. On one occasion he cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit and the tree withered away. Yet it was not the season for figs, so he could hardly have been surprised (Matthew 21:19).

    This lack of clarity extended to matters of the utmost importance. As we shall see Jesus gave many different accounts of exactly who would be saved. The apostles seem to have been confused as anyone else. Paul thought that eternal life is to be gained by faith alone (Romans 3:27-28 and 4:3-6, Galatians 2:16). James thought it was to be gained not merely by having faith, but by doing good works as well (James 2:20-26). In broad terms, the Roman Catholic Church has followed James, while the Protestant Churches have followed Paul*, and their members have burned each other for centuries because Jesus" teachings were not clear enough for them to agree.

    Many Christian beliefs and practices have no foundation in scripture at all. Indeed, it is not certain what scripture is: different denominations have different canons. One way to justify dubious teachings has been to claim that God approved of them, even though there was no evidence to show that he did. These claims were based on variations of the flimsiest possible argument: potuit, decuit, fecit. Roughly translated, this means that he (God) could make it happen, it would be seemly if it had happened, therefore he did make it happen. Theologians have used this sort of argument in attempts to establish everything from the Immaculate Conception to the existence of Limbo. Indeed, it can be used to justify virtually anything. The fact that Christian tenets, doctrines and practices are not clear and unambiguous is easily demonstrated by the huge range of beliefs amongst Christians. Some Christian theologians can assert as a fact that salvation is impossible except through veneration of the Virgin Mary, while others, such as followers of Calvin, can say that where Mary is "venerated" the Church of Christ does not exist.

    That Jesus" teachings were unclear and ambiguous is apparent from the 20,000 or so Christian denominations that now exist. Each believes itself to reflect his teachings more closely than the others, and each can cite evidence to prove it. Many sects can produce evidence to support their ideas that is at least as good as that of the mainstream Churches. Continuing disagreements between (and within) these mainstream Churches — Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant Churches — demonstrate clearly that tenets, doctrines and practices are ill-defined and open to interpretation. They do not all agree on important issues such as personal wealth, war, contraception, the death penalty, education, divorce, homosexuality, the role of women, fiscal policy, animal rights or ecology. They do not even agree on issues central to the Christian faith such as the purpose of prayer, the status of the gospels, or even the number of sacraments ordained by God. It is in fact almost impossible to find a single area of doctrine on which all denominations agree. The World Council of Churches still experiences difficulties in finding a form of words for its membership criteria.



    To err is human. To persist in error is devilish.
    St Augustine , Sermons

    Teachings of the one true religion should be free from error.

    Jesus" teachings are badly flawed. Time and time again he makes errors. He makes predictions that are not fulfilled, he makes promises that are not kept, and he espouses views that were common in ancient times but are now discredited. He makes mistakes about scripture — not too serious for a man quoting from memory, but uncomfortable when done by an infallible God whose scripture it is. Most seriously, he contradicts himself, so that, as we have seen, he left his followers unsure as to what his teachings were after he died.

    The End of The WorldJesus taught that the end of the world was imminent, and expressed this erroneous belief on a number of occasions:

    ...Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
    Matthew 3:2; see also Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15

    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; see also Mark 9:1 and Luke 9:27

    So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.
    Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.
    Heaven and earth shall pass away ...
    Matthew 24:33-35; see also Mark 13:30-31 and Luke 21:32-33

    Ironically this is one of the matters that his followers were under no misapprehension about. They were certain that the Second Coming was imminent*. Both he and they were wrong.

    Miraculous Powers and Rewards Jesus promised that believers would be able to cast out devils, speak in new tongues, safely handle poisonous snakes, enjoy immunity from poisons, and acquire healing abilities:

    And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:17-18

    Pentecostalists favour certain bits of this prediction: casting out devils, speaking in tongues, and faith healing. The ability of Christians to handle poisonous snakes, or to drink poisons, without harm — either of which could easily be tested experimentally — appears to be far less certain, however*. In the Appalachian Mountains there is a sect of snake-handling Christians who are prepared to take Jesus at his word. The movement was started in 1909 by one George Hensley. His faith was apparently not quite strong enough, for he died of a snake bite in 1955. The faith of his remaining followers is not quite strong enough either, for they continue to suffer a high rate of mortality through rattlesnake bites.

    A snake handler, before being bitten (left)
    and after being bitten (right), shortly before he died in May 2012
    This is Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, a Pentecostal pastor from West Virginia.
    He was the son of another snake handler who died in 1983, also after being bitten by a snake.

    With regard to the prediction concerning immunity to oral poison — in the whole world there does not appear to be a single Christian who is prepared to exercise this gift in public (though some of the snake handlers will take safe amouts of strychnine).

    Jesus also promised unlimited powers to those who have faith, including quite specifically the power to miraculously transport mountains (Matthew 17:20), and even to cast them into the sea (Mark 11:22-23). Only a small amount of faith was claimed to be necessary, yet not a single living Christian can apparently muster enough to fulfil Jesus" promise*. Jesus also promised rewards in this world to his followers*, although worldly success seems not to correlate with belief, except perhaps negatively.

    Illness Like his contemporaries, Jesus believed that illness was caused by sin*. Also, like his contemporaries, he clearly believed in evil spirits, which could be ordered around*. Some demons could be exorcised only by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). This was quite acceptable in pre-scientific times, but is now a minority view. Most Christians already regard such ideas as eccentric.

    Scriptures Sometimes Jesus made mistakes about the scriptures. He said that no one except the son of man has ever ascended into Heaven (John 3:13). He has apparently forgotten Elijah who did exactly that (2 Kings 2:11). This error led some Christians to deduce that Jesus was Elijah come back to life. He said that no one had seen God (John 1:18), but the scriptures say otherwise. Abraham saw him (Genesis 18:1-2), Moses saw him (Exodus 33:9-11) and so did Aaron and seventy elders.

    As an especial honour Moses was also permitted to see God's back parts (Exodus 33:23). The author of Psalm 63 (see verse 2) also saw God, as did Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1), Jacob (Genesis 32:30), and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:1). Again, Jesus said that David and others took shewbread to eat in the time of Abiathar the high priest (Mark 2:25-26), but this incident happened not in the time of Abiathar, but of Ahimelech (1 Samuel 21:1-6). He also seems to have accepted the traditionally ascribed authorship of the scriptures, which are now known to be bogus. For example he ascribed a psalm to David, although it is now known to have been written much later (Mark 12:36 referring to Psalm 110:1 ). He also quoted scripture that does not exist, for example in John 7:38 he cites the passage "out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water", which occurs nowhere in the Old Testament. He even misquoted the Ten Commandments, thinking that one of them was "Defraud not" (Mark 10:19).

    Self-contradictions Jesus contradicted himself on important matters, for example about who he had come to help. Sometimes it was only the Jews, sometimes it was gentiles as well. He seems uncertain about who is to be saved. Sometimes belief in Jesus is enough (John 6:47), but sometimes baptism is needed as well (Mark 16:16). Sometimes taking Communion is sufficient (John 6:54). Sometimes it is necessary to be poor (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 6:24 and 16:19-31). Elsewhere he says that anyone who asks will be saved (Matthew 7:7-11) but also that some who ask will be turned away (Luke 13:24-27). He also claimed to uphold the traditional laws unreservedly. For example in Matthew 5:17:

    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am come not to destroy, but to fulfil.

    He goes on to say that not one jot or tittle will be changed till the end of time (cf. Luke 16:17 ), but then overrides many of the traditional laws. He addresses a number of questions including murder (Matthew 5:21-26), adultery (Matthew 5:27-30), divorce (Matthew 5:31-2), swearing (Matthew 5:33-7), an eye for an eye (Matthew 5:38-42), and loving one's enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). In each case he overturns the traditional Law. For example, Matthew 5:38-39:

    Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    This clearly contradicts what was said previously, since it overturns the requirements of the Law as stated in Leviticus 24:17-20. On the question of divorce, Matthew and Mark both contradict the traditional laws, under which divorce was a simple matter for men*. Not only that, they are incompatible with each other as well. According to a passage inserted in late biblical manuscripts at John 8:1-11, Jesus abrogated the law requiring an adulteress to be stoned. Elsewhere he abrogated the dietary laws (Mark 7:18-19).

    Other problems On top of all this Jesus neglected to teach about many things that are now central to many Christians. He never taught about the Holy Trinity, he never taught about infant baptism, or the celebrating of Sunday instead of the Sabbath. He never instructed his followers about slavery, racial discrimination, women's rights, child labour, torture, capital punishment, or the value of education, with the result that Christian Churches have had a poor record in all of these areas. If he had even once mentioned that there are no such things as witches he would have saved millions from appalling and unnecessary deaths.

    All in all we do not have a body of clear coherent truths from Jesus. We have a collection of statements that are sometimes ambiguous, sometimes mutually contradictory, sometimes demonstrably false, and in many respects incomplete.



    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Essays, "Self Reliance"

    The one true religion should be internally consistent.

    Theologians have long accepted that "truth cannot contradict truth". The expectation was that theology, philosophy and nature should all tell a consistent story. Throughout the Middle Ages scholars tried to keep these disciplines in harmony, but with ever-increasing difficulty. We have seen examples of consistency problems already. Examples are philosophical concepts that turn out to be self-contradictory, and doctrines that are claimed to be immutable but in practice change from time to time. Later we will look at the problems that arose when infant sciences started to contradict religious dogma. Here are some more consistency problems.

    If an omnipotent and omniscient God wanted to save mankind, it seems unnecessary for him to carry out elaborate charades on Earth, the outcome of which can never have been in question. For example, why were God's ends not achieved by, say, a click of his omnipotent fingers? Why take six whole days to create Earth when it could have been done in an instant? And why did he need to rest afterwards (Genesis 2:3)? Why did a divine and merciful Jesus kill thousands of animals (the Gadarene swine) just to handle some petty demons, when he could presumably have done it without harming any innocent creatures at all? Why has God been telling Christians that promiscuity and homosexuality were moral crimes and that their perpetrators were culpable, when all along God had been responsible for encouraging promiscuity and homosexuality through the human genetic makeup?

    If the Church was inspired by God, why has there been so much disagreement about what should be believed? Church Councils from Nicæa onwards have rarely been unanimous and have often been badly divided, despite their being helped by God. To take a recent example, how can the General Synod of the Church of England have been so divided about the use of third party sperm and ova? In 1985 a motion to condemn their use as contrary to Christian standards was defeated by 195 votes to 183. What can this mean? That God had not made his mind up either? Or that God does not help Anglican Synods? How can the Roman Church be so sure that embryo research is so inherently wrong when it has been so badly mistaken about so many things in the past? Further, why is it that the full range of opinion may be found throughout the various Christian denominations if God is informing the faithful of the correct position?

    There is also a noticeable inconsistency between belief and action. It has always been difficult to find professed Christians who live by their beliefs. The Earl of Rochester commented that he would not contemplate religion seriously until he could find a churchman who lived according to his principles. It cannot be difficult to follow Christian principles if one is absolutely certain that they are right, and if faith provides absolute certainty, then the faithful ought to be all fully committed. Yet, as in Rochester's time it is rare to find Christians living by their professed beliefs, and just as rare to find a churchman doing so.

    The existence of evil and suffering, and in particular natural disasters, has caused problems from the earliest times. Most Gnostics deduced that since God was good and the world was not, he could not have created it — another, subordinate, god must have been responsible. The traditional Christian explanation, echoing older religions, is that God engineers such things to punish wrongdoers. So it was that Western crusaders rejoiced in 1170 when the Church of St Peter at Antioch collapsed on the Orthodox Patriarch and his clergy while celebrating mass. For them it was divine justice, to punish sinful schismatics. This sort of explanation was first seriously challenged in the middle of the eighteenth century following a natural disaster in Portugal. One Sunday in 1755 an earthquake hit Lisbon. While celebrating Mass many pious Christians were crushed to death as churches collapsed throughout the city. This caused a crisis of faith throughout Europe.

    Perhaps surprisingly, considering the frequency of such events, minor crises of faith occur every time another bus full of nuns plunges down a mountainside to oblivion en route to Lourdes, or another batch of children are crushed to death in the crowds that go to see the Pope. Another major crisis of faith happened globally after God wiped out some 150,000 human lives in a tsunami on the day after Christmas in 2004. Senior churchmen have been asked to explain such occurrences but have not been able to proffer an explanation. The best the Pope could do after the 2004 tsunami was to urge Christians to unite against same sex unions and stem-cell research*. Other Christian leaders blamed godlessness, abortion while others joined Muslim leaders in blaming sex, drugs and alcohol. Israel's Chief Rabbi opined that “The world is being punished for wrongdoing”, while some Hindu leaders blamed Christian missionaries.

    A Methodist view attributed to God

    No theologian has ever been able to produce a good answer, which is why there is a whole branch of theology, called theodicy, dedicated to the problem. The claim that Adam was somehow at fault because he misused his free will implies that he was flawed right from the start, which puts the onus back onto God. In any case the claim is inconsistent with other facts: for example animals suffer, yet they never sinned, nor were they expelled from their innocent state of Paradise. Only humans were thrown out and punished. Again, as St Augustine wondered, if evil is caused by the flesh, how can we explain the wickedness of the Devil who has no flesh? Evil in the form of Satan existed before Adam, and humankind can hardly be responsible for the war in Heaven (Revelation 12:7-9), nor can this explanation be squared with the fact that the Bible clearly asserts that God is responsible for creating evil.

    In early times, before Christians were permitted to use icons and images, for many centuries, Christians took delight in vandalising statues of pagan gods and demigods. They jeered at the distraught and terrified pagans, pointing out that their gods could not defend their own images, and cited this as evidence that the gods did not really exist. Such reasoning was abandoned as soon as Christians started to use statues, icons and other images. Some evangelical Christians who have reverted to the early Christian line have taken to destroying images of saints in public - pointing out that they are merely human creations and that God shows no interest in protecting them. The Catholic Church condemns the destruction of its own statues, ignores it's own traditional reasoning about the implications, and complains loudly that this should be allowed. Even a gentle kicking incites controversy.* Why does the destruction of one statue by sceptics prove the falshood of the religion it represents, while the destruction of another does not?

    A further consistency puzzle is provided by the Church's recent adoption of the secular view that the Bible is not literally true, but only true in a mythical sense. The Bible is a book of riddles that can be understood only in historical context, in the light of modern scholarship, and by those who understand that babies are not really born of virgins, and corpses do not really rise from the dead. So why did God mislead so many Christians for so long, and allow them to burn alive anyone who espoused the view that is now accepted as correct? Moreover how can it have been that the truth was discovered, not by fervent Christians, but by sceptics?


    Logical Coherency

    Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats. Zechariah 10:3

    Doctrines should not be contradictory, or lead to absurd or irrational conclusions, nor depend upon irrational arguments.

    Different denominations have different doctrines, so it is difficult to give an example that is applicable to all. Indeed it seems to be impossible to find a single substantial doctrine to which every confessing Christian could give unqualified assent. Most main denominations other than Baptists practise infant baptism, so this will provide a good initial example. Baptists and most others believe in the bodily Resurrection, so this will provide a second.

    Baptism, Original Sin and Hell The doctrine in question is that in the event of its untimely death an infant baptised into the Christian faith will be eligible for a place in Heaven, whereas an unbaptised one will not*. This doctrine underlies the common practice of rushing sickly new-born babies to a priest for baptism, in case they should die soon after birth. It is not unknown for stillborn babies to be baptised "just in case ...". Some Churches advocate the baptism of sickly babies even before birth. The life chances of numerous babies and their mothers have been compromised by well-meaning Christians squirting syringes of holy water into the vaginas of heavily pregnant women*.

    The fundamental problems in the doctrine can be highlighted by a few thought experiments. First consider the case of an apparently healthy infant who is due to be baptised within the week, but who dies suddenly and unexpectedly, and without the benefit of baptism. In the next cot is another baby who was born sickly, and so was baptised immediately after birth. Are we to say that the first child must be bound for Hell, while the second is bound for Heaven? The idea seems absurd. Take another case: a priest is called to attend a sickly new-born child. On the way he is involved in a road accident and is delayed. Had he not been delayed he would have arrived in time to baptise the child before it died. As it happens he was not in time, and the child dies before he can reach it. Is the child to be denied a place in Heaven because of a road accident in which it played no part? What would be the position if the priest's delay were due to his drunken state, or his decision to finish a game of poker first? To take a more concrete case: people have died without being able to confess because of the cowardice of their priests. A letter from a bishop of Bath and Wells reveals that during the Black Death priests were not visiting the sick and dying, apparently "for fear of infection and contagion"*. Did those who died without the last rights stand more chance of going to Hell because a priest's instinct for self-preservation proved stronger than his duty to God?

    Such paradoxes are common to many denominations. For example consider two people with some debilitating terminal disease such as Huntington disease. They have identical righteous histories, and are equally deserving of eternal Paradise, but one is run over and killed by a bus while the other commits suicide the same day. Is it feasible that the one spends eternity in Heaven and the other in Hell? For the Roman Catholic Church there are additional paradoxes of this sort. It is not difficult to imagine situations where similar problems might arise over confessions, or last rights, or indulgences, or the potency of relics. According to Roman Catholic doctrine an individual's suffering in Purgatory can be reduced by the considerate provision of earthly prayers or by indulgences*. But is it reasonable that an individual's suffering in Purgatory can be reduced by the provision of earthly prayers? Consider two men, the first of whom has no family and only a few agnostic friends. He dies in poverty having given away his wealth anonymously. The second man on the other hand has a large devout family, and many Roman Catholic friends. The money he gave away during his lifetime he gave to Roman Catholic Charities amid great publicity, and in his will he left a large amount of money to pay people to pray for his soul. Now as it happens the first man was less sinful than the second, but there are no earthly prayers for the soul of the first man, while there are hundreds of sincere prayers for the second man. Can the second man, as it were, get his sentence reduced to less than that of the first man? If so, can this be even remotely considered as just? If not, what is the point of all these prayers? Indeed how does this system work at all? How much benefit did the soul of Cardinal Beaufort get from the 10,000 soul-masses conducted on his behalf? Do souls accumulate points for the number of prayers received on their behalf? Do longer prayers score more points than shorter prayers? Does it make a difference that some people are being paid for their prayers? Do bishops", priests", laymen's , women's and children's prayers score equally highly? What if the person praying doesn"t mean it, and secretly detests the deceased?

    At Lourdes there are signs apologising for the fact that candles cannot be burned at peak times because of lack of space. They say that the visitors" candles will be lit later, and that their prayer will be heard then. In other Churches similar ideas are expressed about simulated candles lit by electricity — the electricity supply is switched on for a short period when a coin is inserted into a slot, and the prayer is "heard" as long as the candle is illuminated. The more is paid, the longer the prayer is "heard". Do those who pay more really get a longer hearing before God? Does he take more notice? Do those who write computer programs to generate a new prayer every second and run it indefinitely get an even longer hearing? And does it matter if the prayer is publicly available on the Internet? Does the system work in reverse too? Can one accumulate minus points if people heartily wish one in Hell?

    Too busy to spend time praying? Don't know what to say? Just light a candle and the job is done

    When tackled on these questions, churchmen generally deny that the system works like this at all. But that then raises two further questions. Firstly, when did the system change? There was no doubt in the Middle Ages that the normal length of time specified on a standard pardon was 40 days*. Other periods were specified for nominated actions: saying prayers, making a pilgrimage, walking in a procession, even repairing a bridge. All this is well documented in official Church records. If the system does not work like this now, then it must have changed at some time between the end of the Middle Ages and now, yet the Church has never announced that God had changed it. Secondly, why do churchmen so rarely trouble to inform the faithful about the mistaken nature of their beliefs, and on the contrary continue to propagate them? Churchmen continue to sell candles with the clear message that if you buy a more expensive candle, your prayer is more likely to be answered.

    In fact the system does not seem to have changed. At the beginning of the twenty-first century Pope Benedict XXVI was still offering “remission of sins” as a reward for believers who attended a festival he was promoting.

    The Resurrection, and Survival after Death The traditional view is that on the Day of Judgement all the graves will open, and dead bodies will arise to be judged by God*. As the Athanasian Creed puts it: "…all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works" (Book of Common Prayer ). That is why the Christian Churches so often refer to death as "sleep" and why Christians once referred to graveyards as dormitories (which is what the word cemetery originally meant ). A little thought shows that this position is difficult to sustain. For example what about people whose bodies have been completely destroyed? The Church used to burn its enemies and then scatter their ashes in a river in order to deny them the chance of bodily resurrection, just as some Native Americans scalped their enemies, in order that the gods would not be able to hoist them by the hair to the happy hunting grounds in the sky. Did the Christian method work any better than the Native American one?

    Christian tombstones in the shape of beds - emphasizing that for Christians death is just a prlonged sleep. They will, they imagine, be awoken one day.


    For almost two millennia it was important to keep Christian dead bodies intact ready for their resurrection on the Day of Judgement. So what happened to those who failed to ensure that their bodies were kept intact? What about, for example, those whose ashes have been scattered from an aeroplane? And what about amputees? Do they get their arms and legs back in the afterlife? If they do, what about those who were born without limbs at all? Do they get new ones? What about Siamese twins? Will they still be joined together in the afterlife? Will it matter if they have been surgically separated during life? We might also speculate about the mechanics of bodily resurrection of those who have received organ transplants. Are they resurrected with their original organs, or the organs they possessed when they died? Will the resurrected use these organs to think, to breathe, to eat and digest food, and to excrete the waste products? What is the purpose of genitals in Heaven? Surely the Christian God could not countenance sexual activity among the heavenly hosts? Also, when these bodies are restored, will they look like they did at death? Will some of us spend eternity as babies? According to many clergymen the answer is yes, since they still assure bereaved parents that God has a special place for little children*. Will other dead people spend eternity as doddery old men and women? Are there Zimmer frames and wheelchairs in Heaven — or are we all restored to the way we were at a certain age? If so what is that age? St Augustine said it was around 30 years*. Does 30 years represent current orthodoxy? If so what about those who never reached that age?

    The grave of Jules Verne graphically illustrates what Christians believe will happen to buried bodies at the Resurection of the dead on Judgement Day.


    If souls are allocated at conception as some theologians would now have us believe, what happens to the souls of aborted foetuses? Developmental biologists have discovered that more than two thirdsof pregnancies are spontaneously aborted at a very early stage, often without the mother even being aware of her pregnancy. The logical consequence of this is that well over two thirds of all souls are automatically condemned without ever having been born. So is the afterlife mainly populated by aborted foetuses? Are they all in Hell? Traditionally the position was even more bizarre. The Church taught that the life force was contained in male sperm (which is why it is such a grave sin to waste it). This teaching combined with modern scientific knowledge about reproduction suggests that every individual sperm has a soul. Can individual spermatozoa also expect bodily resurrection? Will Heaven be largely populated by billions of gallons of semen? Or is unbaptised semen all condemned to Hell?

    Will married couples still be married? Jesus said not*, but many grieving widows are given firm assurances by clergymen that they will one day be reunited with their dead husbands. What about those who have remarried after their partners" deaths? Will there be happy threesomes in Heaven?

    In fact the idea of survival of the personality presents even greater difficulties. What will happen to homosexuals? What about cross-dressers, sexual deviants, depressives, neurotics and psychopaths? Will their personalities survive? Will those who died senile remain senile for eternity? What about those who were mentally handicapped during life? Will they continue to be mentally handicapped in the afterlife? What exactly is a personality anyway? Is there a one-to-one match between personalities and souls? Apparently the answer is "no" unless we accept that people with multiple personalities also have multiple souls. Perhaps everyone will be made perfect as they were or might have been at the age of thirty. But if people are to be restored to some perfect state, then it is hardly meaningful to speak of survival of the personality after death. Taking away people's selfishness, jealousy, lust, stubbornness, greed, and so on might leave them with little personality left. A personality with all its imperfections corrected would be a different personality altogether. If a one-minute-old foetus has any personality at all, it is difficult to imagine that it would be sufficient to sustain an existence throughout eternity.

    Further difficulties are presented by monstrous births. One might reasonably enquire about children who are born without a brain (it does happen). And what of those who are born with two heads and two brains (this happens too)? Babies like this who survive, as some do, generally develop two distinct personalities. Will both survive in the afterlife? And if so, what sort of appearance can they expect to be furnished with? Again, patients suffering from Parkinson's disease can be treated by implanting foetal brain cells into their brains. In the future more ambitious brain transplants will be possible, perhaps restoring those with a deviant or pathological personality to normal. Will such people, when resurrected, possess their original defective personality or their medically restored healthy one? Will those with a severed corpus callosum (causing the two hemispheres of their brain to operate independently) have it magically repaired, radically changing their mental abilities?

    One Soul or two?

    one soul or two?

    One soul or two?

    one soul or two?


    The fact that there is no satisfactory answer to these questions suggests that the doctrine of the bodily Resurrection is badly flawed. The personality seems, from all the evidence we have, to be entirely dependent upon brain function. By affecting brain function it is easy to affect personality. That is why physical damage to certain parts of the brain affects personality. It is also why depressive patients are given electric shock therapy to the brain, why diseases such as encephalitis lethargica can turn a friendly person into a vicious one, and why deficiencies in chemicals such as iodine can turn an ordinary child into a retarded one. Much mental activity, including mood, is affected by neurohormones and neurotransmitters, which can easily be manipulated. Again, we know that oxygen starvation kills brain cells and that those who experience it often suffer marked changes in awareness, consciousness, intelligence, memory and conceptual ability, if they survive. Such changes in brain functionality clearly affect personality. The more prolonged the oxygen starvation, the greater the damage and personality change, ultimately resulting in the cessation of mental activity and death. If the mind, consciousness, memory and personality are irreparably damaged by lack of oxygen, it is plainly absurd that they can survive death intact. There is no scientific reason to suppose that any essential part of us survives after death, but if there is anything it must be so remote and abstract that it is hardly meaningful to identify it with its previous owner at all. It certainly cannot be what we know as personality, memory or mind.

    More reflective Christians find this traditional doctrine something of an embarrassment. Most theologians have also abandoned the traditional doctrines of life after death along with divine rewards and punishments. Some, trying to hold onto some idea of resurrection, have returned to exotic ideas like those of Plato, who believed people might be resurrected as spheres.



    Christianity is always adapting itself into something which can be believed. T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

    Thought systems often change radically. As new discoveries are made they mutate, and may even be replaced by new theories. Aristotle's ideas of motion were swept away by those of Galileo and then Newton, and these in turn have given way to those of Einstein. For science, there is no shame in this. Indeed it is the purpose of science to discover new theories that better fit the known facts. All man-made systems might be expected to change to greater or lesser degrees. But the position is quite different for the one true religion, which is divinely inspired by an infallible God. In the past, mainstream Churches have all claimed that certain unchangeable verities had been vouchsafed to them, often through infallible sources such as the Bible, emperors, Church Councils, and so on. One might reasonably expect a divinely inspired, true religion to be constant to its own claims, especially when it has explicitly declared these claims to be literally true for all time. As many Church leaders have affirmed, the one true religion should be unchanging, and should not be culturally determined.

    Yet the history of the Church is one of ever-changing mores. Virtually none of the doctrines now accepted by mainstream Christianity can be traced back to the first century, let alone to the teachings of Jesus. Many Christian ideas are rooted in the European culture of the Middle Ages. We have already seen this with a number of doctrines (e.g. transubstantiation and the Atonement). Arguably, almost all doctrines are the product of cultural influences. The idea of penance for example is related to medieval secular law, which required compensation to be paid to the victim of a crime. The Church simply adapted this so that sins (crimes against God) called for compensation to be paid to the victim of the crime (God). Penance is simply the payment of this compensation.

    There are also echoes of ancient Middle Eastern practices. The idea of God making a covenant exactly parallels the ancient practice of making formal treaties to bind together two parties. Again, in ancient times God sat enthroned in a temple, just like neighbouring Middle Eastern deities such as Baal, Marduk and Dagon. He gave instructions to the children of Israel about where he wanted to reside: "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8). From there he could smell the sweet aroma of burning sacrificial flesh. By the Middle Ages he had long lost his taste for the smell of burnt offerings, and had removed himself to a heavenly court of medieval splendour. Now, in the Age of Democracy, he has abandoned much of his feudal overlordship, and become an advocate for freedom and liberty.

    Teachings that were once unimpeachable are now discarded (creation in six days, Earth-centred Universe, prohibition of usury). Heresies have come to be incorporated into orthodoxy (the Trinity, denying the existence of witches, the Immaculate Conception). The Ten Commandments have been repeatedly re-interpreted (capital punishment, graven images, adultery). It is difficult, if not impossible, to trace doctrines and practices back to the early Christian times. The overwhelming majority are later accretions, and if we knew a little more about the first century we might be able to affirm that all of them are accretions.

    Christians occasionally claim that their religion is the same as that practised by their predecessors for almost 2,000 years. If it were divinely inspired then we should not be surprised to find it to be so. A cursory review of the history of Christianity reveals however that this claim cannot be supported. If it were possible to assemble five typical Christians from the years AD 50, 500, 1000, 1500, and 2000, it is doubtful whether any one of them would acknowledge another as a fellow Christian. Over that time the religion has changed so much that to each of them, the faith of the other four would seem absurd, unchristian, heretical or blasphemous.


    Accessibility to All

    Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (there is no salvation outside the church)
    St Augustine of Hippo, De Baptismo contra Donatistas, IV

    Access to the one true religion should be equally available to all people.

    Since early times, even before St Augustine, the Church taught that there is no salvation outside the Church*. There was no doubt about what this meant. The Church in question was the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and anyone who did not accept its authority was automatically damned*. The Church tried people for making statements such as "everyone should be allowed to practise his own religion" and "the Jew and the Muslim could each be saved in his own law". The Church of England has always regarded itself as part of the Catholic Church and also held that there is no salvation outside it. So too for Protestant and nonconformist Churches, which held themselves to represent the one true Church since the Church of Rome had erred.

    All the mainstream Churches have traditionally held that there is no salvation for non-members. Our salvation is wholly dependent upon our embracing the Christian faith. This seems not a little unfair on many people of the world. To start with, what is the position of the many millions around the world who have never even heard of Christianity? Are they all condemned out of hand, never having had the chance to adopt the Christian faith? Again what of the entire population of the world before the time of Jesus, are they denied access to Paradise for all eternity because they were unlucky enough to have lived when they did? Until recent times this was the view of all mainstream Churches. Some people saw this as absurd. (Voltaire claimed to have lost his faith at the age of eleven when he learned that Caesar and Cato, the most virtuous men of antiquity, would burn in Hell for eternity for not having practised a religion that they did not even know about.) What about the unbaptised children we have already mentioned, and those countless thousands who are so mentally unfit that they cannot form any understanding of Christianity? What about the many thousands of deaf people who were traditionally denied any Christian indoctrination? Are they too condemned?

    This doctrine is something of an embarrassment, and it is now often played down. In recent times attempts have been made to reinterpret the teaching so that the intrinsic unfairness is eliminated, for example by redefining Church so that term encompasses everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike. But this looks suspiciously like what it is - an unconvincing story reverse engineered to overcome precisely the above objections




    I can"t believe in a God who only saves people who live in certain latitudes.
    Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury (1980-1991)

    The one true religion should be fair. It should not favour any one group of people, or put another at a disadvantage.

    We have just looked at the unfairness of condemning people to Hell for not having heard of Christianity, but there are similar problems among those who have. As we have already noted, in the past God was willing to perform miracles in order to convince millions of people of the truth of Christianity. Now he performs far fewer miracles, which are generally witnessed only by people who already believe. But this is unfair. Why did God routinely offer proof to non-believers in earlier times, but not now? Why is he selective and inequitable in this way? Again, Jesus gave understanding to some but not to others (Matthew 13:11, Mark 4:11). On the other hand apparently innocent people were used as tools of the divine will in such a way that they were automatically condemned to eternal hellfire. Judas Iscariot was one who was selected for damnation. According to John 13:21-27 Judas did not betray Jesus until Jesus had selected him for the role, and caused the Devil to enter into him. Why should one person be given a free ride to Heaven, and another an enforced march to Hell?

    Similar questions can be asked about other groups. Take for example people who suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy and experience visions, as a result of which they become religious. If they happen to live in a Christian country they generally become Christians. Are we to believe that God has specially favoured such epileptics, as was traditionally believed? Again Christian missionaries have experienced considerable success in Africa but spectacular failure in East Asia. Are we to conclude that Africans are more likely to get to Heaven than Asians? Historically, it has been easy for Christians to make converts among animists and followers of other primitive religions, but not amongst followers of more advanced religions (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc.). Why should God discriminate in this way? Anthropologists have an explanation, but theologians prefer to avoid the question.

    Research has revealed that belief in Christianity is correlated with a number of attributes. It confirms for example that the greater a person's intelligence, the less likely he or she is to hold traditional Christian beliefs*. Are we to believe that the dull have on average a better chance of attaining Paradise than the intelligent ? So too, the more creative they are the weaker is likely to be their faith*. It also seems that alcoholics are more likely to be believers than the population at large*. In general women, especially those without families, are much more religious than men*. Another finding is that, once over the age of 60, people tend to become more religious the older they get*. Church membership also tends to be class-related. Those who have moved up the social scale are less likely to be interested in religion than those who have not, while those who have moved down the social scale are more likely to be interested in it*. It is also clear that children tend to adopt the religion of their parents. These findings support the intuitive view that an unintelligent, alcoholic, aged widow with no family, who was raised in a strict Christian home and who has since come down in the world, is far more likely to profess the Christian faith than a young family man who was raised by non-Christian parents and who has enjoyed academic, social and material success. The implication is that the Christian God discriminates against certain communities and social groups, in other words that Christianity is inequitable.



    I believe in the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and I regret that it nowhere exists.
    Attributed to William Temple (1881-1944), Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-44)

    Adherents should be united in their divinely inspired belief. In other words they should all believe the same things.

    It is clear enough that Christian beliefs have changed from time to time within each major denomination. But even within denominations there seems to be no more agreement on ethical issues than there is between members of other religions. Can killing ever be justified? Some say yes. Others say no. Is baptism really necessary for salvation? Some say yes. Others say no. Is freedom of thought inconsistent with God's demands? Some say yes. Others say no. Does God object to contraception? Some say yes. Some say no. Are organ transplants unethical? Some say yes. Some say no. Is it ever moral to tell a lie (as when the Nazis come for your Jewish neighbours)? Some say yes. Others say no. Depending upon their own disposition Christians appear to adopt whichever theology suits them: conservatives embrace fundamentalist theology, Marxists embrace liberation theology, Women's rights activists embrace feminist theology, environmentalists embrace environmentalist theology, and educated liberals embrace mythical theology. It is possible to believe almost anything, and interpret Christian teachings to suit one's own ideas.

    There is even widespread disagreement about what Jesus himself taught. Disagreements about Jesus" teachings had already arisen before the gospels were written, a fact that St Paul makes clear in his letters. Since then the disagreements have multiplied. With no central authority, autocephalic Churches developed their own doctrines and practices. When synods were called to settle disputes, the usual result was another schism, each side proclaiming the other heretic. So it is that today there are tens of thousands of Christian denominations throughout the world. Typically they claim to be peaceful, tolerant and loving. They also claim to be proclaiming God's message, and doing his work. It is therefore odd to find that they disagree on many fundamental matters. It is even odder that they cannot reconcile these differences quickly and amicably. One might have thought that if Christians received the divine guidance they so often claim to receive then they would not have been driven to burn each other at the stake, as they did before the rise of secular ideas put an end to such practices.

    All denominations consider their beliefs to be obviously true and others as obviously false, so in practice belief is often determined by geographical dominance - a fact that invites the sarcastic scorn of philosophers. As Schopenhauer noted:

    To the South German ecclesiastic the truth of the Catholic dogma is quite obvious, to the North German, the Protestant. If then, these convictions are based on objective reasons, the reasons must be climatic, and thrive, like plants, some only here, some only there. The convictions of those who are thus locally convinced are taken on trust and believed by the masses everywhere.*

    Church schisms are often cultural as often as they are doctrinal. For example both the Methodist and Baptist Churches became divided over the issue of slavery in the USA. In the North, which had a more modern secular outlook and which did not rely on the economics of slave labour, Methodist and Baptists were opposed to slavery. In the more traditionally Christian South, which did rely on slave labour, Methodists and Baptists were overwhelmingly in favour of the practice. Consequently, both Churches split along lines corresponding to the political division. Now the civil war is long past and the majority in both North and South agree with secular opinion on the issue of slavery, yet in the USA there are still separate Methodist Churches, and separate Baptist Churches, reflecting the nineteenth century schism. In states like California, Northern and Southern Churches exist side by side, competing for converts against each other, yet doctrinally almost indistinguishable.

    In other parts of the world inter-denominational competition is less restrained. Missionaries engage in what they call sheep stealing — poaching converts from other Christian denominations. At the time of writing, the Vatican is growing increasingly worried by the success of North American fundamentalists in South America. Baptists and Pentecostalists there offer to teach English to the wives of rich Roman Catholic bankers and political leaders, using the Bible as a convenient textbook. Selected passages are used to raise doubts about Roman doctrine, and a steady stream of women converts are soon followed by their influential husbands. In a few years the percentage of Brazilians belonging to Pentecostalist sects has increased from 0 to over 10 per cent.

    So far, this has not led to the sort of open rivalry found in Papua New Guinea. There, disagreements have led Roman Catholic missionaries to accuse Methodist missionaries of burning down Roman Catholic churches, and to Methodists making similar claims about Catholic missionaries. In Jerusalem it is not uncommon for fights to break out between rival Christian sects — Orthodox, Armenians, Roman Catholics, Jacobites and Copts — who for centuries have despised each other to the greater glory of God. These fights often centre on who owns which parts of various church buildings, and are particularly common at Christmas, the season of goodwill to all*. Rival Churches will not trust each other with the keys to church buildings. Keys for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for example have been in the care of a neutral Muslim party, the Nusseibeh family, since Saladin entrusted them to Sheikh Ghanim al-Khazraji in 1192. Their neutrality is still closely monitored by the watchful eyes of burley monks from rival Christian factions. It is hard to believe that men and women appointed by God to spread his word should exhibit anything other than the warmest fraternity to others so inspired. Since they do not, and since no denomination seems to be noticeably better than the others, a disinterested observer might well deduce that these denominations are all equally uninspired.


    Differentiation from Other Religions

    One religion is as true as another.
    Robert Burton (1577-1640), Anatomy of Melancholy

    It should be possible to distinguish the one true religion from other belief systems. If all were equally true or false then we should expect them to be qualitatively indistinguishable from each other. If one was true and the others false then we might expect the one true one to stand out in some objective observable way. To non-members at least, Christianity does not stand out as different to other religions in any way. To anthropologists, Christianity is simply one religion among many. It fits perfectly within a network of world belief and shares many features with other religions. For the typical anthropologist the only differences are socially conditioned.

    One difficulty for religious believers may be characterised as the "comparative religion" problem. Ignorance allows members of a religion to regard themselves as specially selected by a deity. But wider knowledge of the world and its many religions invites questions. Why do our neighbours believe things different from us? How can we prove that we are right and they are wrong? In ancient times this was not too much of a problem. The Greeks for example thought that everyone worshipped the same gods under different names. Thus the Egyptian gods were explained by an incident during which the Greek gods had temporarily decamped to Egypt disguised as animals. This belief that everyone worshipped the same gods also explains the rather forced matching of Etruscan and Roman gods with Greek ones.

    For religions that make claims to represent the one true religion, the issue is more problematic. How could the Chinese have sustained such a great civilisation for so long, happily following their own religion and without knowing of Christianity, or else regarding it as just another Western barbarism? Early Jesuit missionaries were at a loss to explain a culture that they recognised as more advanced than their own, although its members knew nothing of the Christian God. Crusaders had encountered a similar problem with cultivated Muslims. It has long been known that a knowledge of other religions tends to foster scepticism. Sceptical arguments based on comparative religion had been increasingly voiced in the eighteenth century — a phenomenon that led Christian authorities to discourage travel outside Christendom.

    From a purely logical point of view we can broaden the point. We can compare Christianity with any alternative religion. Our alternative religion does not even need to be a real one. We are free to construct a hypothetical religion, however unlikely; or indeed any belief at all as long as it is not disprovable. Is there any essential qualitative difference between Christianity and a belief system that most people would accept to be obviously mistaken? For example take the claim that fairies live at the bottom of my garden. If that is not sufficiently unlikely then we may refine it: these fairies are nuclear physicists who live in an old baked bean tin. They are magic green fairies who speak Pictish. They are telepathic fairies from Pluto. We can make our claim as absurd as we like. If challenged to demonstrate the truth of our claims we can explain that the fairies are invisible. They remain silent whenever we try to listen to them. They move too quickly for us ever to capture one. They only ever communicate with people who believe in them. They perform miracles, but only for true believers. How can we tell whether these fairies are more or less convincing in any objective sense than the traditional Christian God? The simple fact is that we cannot.

    The point is not a trivial one. It raises an important question as to why anyone should believe one unprovable assertion rather than another. The question is even more relevant when we note that Christian beliefs so often echo those of other religions: Virgin Birth, great Teacher, struggle with the Forces of Darkness, Sacrificial Death, Visit to the Underworld, Resurrection, and Deification. It is rather as though we were seeing the same myth repeatedly re-interpreted.

    Popular themes recur around the world, and may even appear several times within the same religion. Accounts of fictitious saints and their imaginary martyrdoms tend to fit fairly standard patterns — and not only within Christianity. It is as though eternal myths are being adapted to current needs by changing the details but not the substance. The kind, bountiful, all-knowing supernatural father figure is one of many stock characters. Christianity has at least two of these, one for children and one for adults.

    Santa Claus may be seen as a junior version of Jesus Christ. Similarities between the two are striking. Both are superhuman supernatural father figures capable of miraculous feats. They both know how good or bad we have been and will reward or punish us accordingly (although in both cases the punishments for the wicked tend to be played down nowadays). They can both be in many places at the same time. Both share characteristics with earlier non-Christian gods. Both have given rise to huge commercial enterprises. Both are based on known historical persons: Christ on Jesus-bar-Joseph, a first century Jew, and Santa Claus on St Nicholas of Patra, a fourth century Bishop of Myra. Much of the detail concerning the activities of both is known to be unreliable historical accretion. The continued activities of both are matters of belief, bolstered by assurances from those in authority.


    An extreme case of confusion between the Baby Jesus and the Baby santa Claus

    These similarities are sufficient to cause many children to confuse the two, or at least identify them as belonging together: "God and Santa Claus are best friends" as one little girl put it. Some churchmen are keen to eliminate Father Christmas for exactly this reason. In 1951 French clergymen burned an effigy of Père Noël in front of the cathedral at Dijon before hundreds of Sunday school children, and denounced him as "a Saxon myth who never existed except in parents' annual lies to their children".

    Children are not the only ones liable to confuse Father Christmas with Jesus Christ. Sympathetic Japanese celebrating Christmas have been known to set up Christmas crosses in shopping arcades with crucified Father Christmases on them.

    Russian Christians address their prayers to both Christ and Santa Claus.

    Once Christian children reach a certain mental age, they are conventionally disabused of what they have previously been told. There is, they are now assured, no Santa Claus after all — at least not a literal one who brings presents and eats mince pies. The story may be true in a more sophisticated, abstract, figurative sort of way, but no saint really came down the chimney to bring presents to good children. Something similar happens with the senior version of the story for those who study modern theology. The story that had up until now been literally true, is now true only in some sophisticated, abstract, figurative sort of way, but no God ever really came down from Heaven to bring salvation to good Christians.

    We have here two stories within Western Christianity, both modelled on the same pattern, one for children and one for adults. It might seem blasphemous to compare the two, as they are so different in importance to the Christian faith. But these differences are matters of faith alone, and that is exactly the point at issue. To an outsider the stories are equally likely, equally provable or unprovable, and equally explicable. The parallel denouement, for those with sufficiently mature levels of understanding, is also revealing.


    Superiority to Other Religions

    The religions we call false were once true.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson , Essays, "Character"

    The one true religion might be expected to be noticeably superior to other religions.

    We might reasonably expect the one true religion to stand out from others in many ways. It should for example teach a demonstrably superior morality, or at least take the lead in making moral advances. It might be more vigorous, more certain, more rational, more enlightened or more appealing. It might be less given to error, less likely to follow social trends, less likely to be confounded by science, and so on.

    Let us start by comparing Christianity to Islam, its close cousin. Parallels between Christian and Muslim beliefs and practices are surprisingly close. Both accepted traditional Jewish ideas. For example both found it perfectly acceptable for believers to keep slaves, and to demand sexual services from them. Both declared that women were inferior to men, and held wife beating to be acceptable. Both religions advocated and practised flogging , physical mutilation and capital punishment. Both held their own version of divine law to be superior to ordinary human law — and both demanded the death sentence for crimes like blasphemy and apostasy. Both sanctioned the marriage of and the execution of children. Muslims sometimes adopted specifically Christian practices. For example they adopted the Byzantine Christian practice of veiling and segregating women. Both religions have been riven by schism. Both have at times displayed intolerance — practising censorship, burning books, and waging holy war. Both have advocated murder — for example Roman Catholics of Queen Elizabeth I, Shi"ite Muslims of Salman Rushdie. The only real difference is that the Christian world has on the whole become more secular — so that these traditional beliefs and practices are not now as common as they were when the Christian Church exercised absolute power.

    In some ways even modern Christianity does not compare well with Islam. Christianity is not as vigorous or comprehensive as Islam. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, and provides not only religion but also social, political and legal systems. It suffers much less from apostasy. Its record on supporting education, learning, scientific endeavour, and medicine is much better than that of Christianity. The giving of alms is one of the five pillars of Islam. Muslims have a great reputation for charity and freely-given hospitality — much better than that of Christians. Muslims have always been encouraged to learn Arabic so that they could read the Koran for themselves. By contrast the Christian Church spent centuries preventing ordinary people from having access to the Bible. Again, Islam also has a far better record on racial tolerance. Conflicts between black and white are almost unknown outside Christendom. So too was anti-Semitism until the twentieth century. Historically, Muslims have been not only more tolerant than Christians but also more chivalrous. We have already contrasted the behaviour of Christians and Muslims when they in turn took Jerusalem. In 1089 the Christian inhabitants had slaughtered the inhabitants, men, women and children. When the Muslims recaptured the city in 1187 not a single citizen was harmed. Time and time again during the Crusades Muslim commanders behaved honourably while the Christian leaders lied, deceived, slaughtered prisoners, and broke their word — all encouraged by bishops.

    As we have seen, Christianity is largely a mixture of Judaism and various Greek religions. In many respects the earliest Christians preferred the cruder Jewish ideas to the more refined Greek ones. For example the Church accepted the ordeal as a method of justice rather than recourse to the law courts , it adopted a primitive mistaken cosmology, and rejected Greek philosophy. Christianity is not as constant as Judaism. Apart from adding the concept of an afterlife a little over 2,000 years ago, abandoning animal sacrifice, and deciding that some of God's recommended judicial sentences were perhaps a little harsh, Judaism is largely unchanged. In contrast, Christianity has changed its doctrines and its views on almost all important matters. Again, Judaism is prepared to offer straight answers to ethical dilemmas that Christian theologians either disagree about, or else duck altogether. Furthermore, Jewish belief seems to be stronger than Christian belief. When faced with a choice between apostasy and death, Jewish communities have generally opted for death. Christians in similar circumstances have more often converted.

    If we look at Hinduism we find a religion that is older and far more tolerant than Christianity. Its texts have not been deliberately tampered with, as those of Christianity have been. It embraces beliefs from polytheism, through monotheism, to virtual atheism, and yet it is almost unknown for one group to persecute another as heretics. In truth it is difficult to find a religion with a worse record than Christianity of schism, or the treatment of heretics, or persecution. Again, Christianity's record on animal rights compares badly with those of Buddhists and Jains. Its record on ecological matters compares badly with almost all other religions, especially Taoism, Shintoism, and animist religions. Its morality and philosophy fare badly in any objective comparison with Buddhism. Christianity's certainties have been decimated by science, while the views of Buddhism have been largely unaffected. Indeed there are some scientists who find that modern theories in physics closely harmonise with traditional Buddhist teachings. Early figures in Buddhism, as in many religions, seem even to modern minds to have been perceptive, compassionate and admirable. In contrast many of the main figures in the earliest days of Christianity appear much less wholesome. Had they been alive today, many Church Fathers would probably be regarded as psychologically maladjusted, sexually disturbed, or clinically insane.

    If we compare Christianity to the teachings of Lao Tse, Confucius, Socrates, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, or a host of others, it seems to most impartial observers to be surprisingly backward. Many non-Christians were more moral, more liberal, and had their beliefs more soundly underpinned by philosophy than Christians. Christians were responsible for destroying much ancient learning, and were almost totally responsible for the long night of the Dark Ages. As we have seen, far from advancing the cause of humanity the Christian Churches opposed all progress: legal, medical, scientific, philosophical and political.

    To compare the Christian religion objectively with other belief systems is to court disappointment. Christianity is not noticeably superior to any other religion in its morality, its social record, its intellectual underpinning, its evidence of divine support, or its record of persecution and mass killing. For many people outside Christianity, there is hardly a religion in the history of the world with which Christianity compares favourably. This opinion is not of course shared by most Christians, but if Christianity were visibly superior to other religions, we might reasonably expect non-Christians to recognise the fact.



    All your western theologies, the mythology of them, are based on the concept of God as a senile delinquent.
    Tennessee Williams (1912-1983), The Night of the Iguana

    The one true religion should be a force for good in the world, in the sense that almost everyone would understand the word.

    We have already considered the moral record of Christianity in some detail (pages 325- 541), so we will concentrate here on other areas that might qualify Christianity as "good".

    As a force for good, Christianity has opposed the exposure of unwanted infants, reformed the calendar and promoted charitable works, but it is not easy to extend this list far. Of these three the first (saving lives) can be accepted as an unquestioned good, the second (the calendar) was certainly useful and to that extent it qualifies as good, the third (charity) can be accepted subject to qualifications. Charitable works that are claimed to characterise Christianity are less convincing than they are often proclaimed to be. Other religions also carry out charitable works, as do agnostics and atheists. Also, Christian charity is not always freely given; it is often part of a proselytising programme, which means that it is arguably not charity at all, more a sort of investment.

    Apart from these three areas it is not easy to find evidence of any positive influence exerted by the Christian religion. Are there any other ways of objectively establishing whether Christians are more inclined to do good than others? As it happens some sociologists have looked at exactly this question. In one experiment students were exposed to a simulated re-enactment of the parable of the Good Samaritan. While passing from one building to another they came across a groaning man, slumped in a doorway. Those with strong Christian beliefs were found to be no more likely to stop and help than others. Indeed, even Christians on their way to deliver a talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan were no more likely than others to offer help*. Only around 40 per cent of them asked what was wrong and offered assistance. Of the remainder, some not only ignored the stranger in need but also stepped over the slumped and groaning figure. Other studies suggests that churchgoers are less compassionate than non-believers, and also generally less open-minded. On the whole they are less tolerant of homosexuals, unmarried mothers and conscientious objectors*. They are even less tolerant of political dissent*. It also seems that Christians are motivated to appear more honest than others, although they are not*. As we have already noted a review of conviction rates reveals that in different countries Christians are consistently much more criminally inclined than non-believers*. These, and similar findings, are difficult to square with the moral superiority claimed by Christians.

    If we look to the past, when the Church was more influential than it is now, the picture is grimmer still. Christians were brutal, even by the standards of the day. The Church and its children were responsible for some of the greatest abominations in human history. Christianity's record on human rights must be as bad as any other organisation ever to have existed. The Church history we have reviewed is one of corruption, indoctrination, genocide, political expediency, war-mongering, anti-Semitism, forgery, censorship, intolerance, brutality, torture, judicial murder, hypocrisy, cultural vandalism, authoritarianism, and self-aggrandisement. Examples of "good" behaviour to counterbalance these features are more difficult to find. We could cite numerous cases of Churches torturing and killing thousands of innocent people. But how many cases spring to mind of a Christian Church giving aid to those it perceived as its enemies? It is easy to think of opportunities to do so, but not ones that have been taken.


    Intellectual Respectability

    To become a popular religion, it is necessary for a superstition to enslave a philosophy.
    William Ralph Inge (1860-1954), Dean of St Paul's (1911-1934), Outspoken Essays

    The one true religion should not be intellectually dishonest.

    Dorothy L. Sayers remarked of the Athanasian Creed that by the time it had informed you that God the Father was incomprehensible, Jesus Christ was incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit was incomprehensible, you were perfectly justified in concluding that the whole thing was incomprehensible. But is Christianity incomprehensible because of human limitations, or because the Churches have deliberately manufactured an incomprehensible product?

    As we have seen, Church teachings that give rise to contradictions and incomprehensible conclusions are traditionally labelled as mysteries. Christianity is widely regarded by philosophers and other non-Christians as being less than intellectually respectable, and not only because of the acceptance of these "mysteries". We have already seen that Churches claimed to have logical proofs of the truth of Christianity, and some still do, even though the consensus among philosophers is that these proofs were demolished centuries ago.

    The Church's attitude to various sciences is another area that, according to many observers, also smacks of dishonesty. A fair summary is that the Church fought one battle after another against a series of scientific discoveries, and lost them all (see pages 597- 280). Each time it retreated and retrenched, rationalising its defeat, without ever admitting to it. After a long series of defeats, retreats, and abandoned positions theologians shifted ground altogether and started claiming that Christian teachings were not what everyone had always held them to be. A few examples concern the age of the world, the movement of the planets, the reality of Adam and Eve, and the literal infallibility of scripture. Claims to intellectual integrity also become difficult to sustain when Christian apologists are determined to arrive at certain conclusions, and are clearly experiencing difficulty in formulating credible premises that will produce them. According to leading philosophers, theologians have employed linguistic deceits in place of genuine logical argument and have gained a reputation among academic philosophers for dishonesty and obscurantism.

    All this is consistent with other examples of intellectual dishonesty. As we have seen, Christian scholars over the centuries are known to have manipulated evidence for their own ends. They have tampered with the holy scriptures. They have suppressed inconvenient writings. They have destroyed material that did not match their requirements. They have assigned false authorships. They have burned books that contradicted their beliefs. They have bolstered their favoured line by quoting authorities out of context and by circulating forgeries. It is also clear that evidence against those the Church considered its enemies was largely trumped up. Just about anyone and everyone who disagreed with the Church was branded a Devil worshipper, a cannibal, a child murderer or a sexual deviant (usually guilty of indulging in orgies, sodomy, adultery, and incest as a minimum). Cathars committed all these crimes, so did Jews and Muslims, the Templars, Freemasons, hundreds of unrelated dissenting sects, witches, Native Americans, the Chinese — everyone in fact who did not accept the Church's current orthodoxy. The truth seems to be that none of these groups was guilty of the crimes attributed to them. The evidence was fabricated, and we can sometimes see how it was done, because the method was so crude. For example a group of supposedly heretical canons was accused by a monk, Paul of St Père de Chartres, of various abominations in 1022. His account of these abominations is lifted from St Justin Martyr's description centuries earlier of false accusations levelled at early Christians*. Sometimes accounts are copied word for word from earlier ones, and as the centuries roll on the charge sheet becomes ever more comprehensive, standardised and obviously fabricated. Descriptions were copied verbatim from old texts to provide the charges against new groups*.

    The English language reveals that it is not only academics who are critical of intellectual dishonesty. Obscurantism is the name given to the active opposition to intellectual enlightenment from religious motives. The Jesuits acquired such a reputation for it that the word Jesuit can be applied to anyone who equivocates. Dictionaries define the word Jesuitical along the following lines "dissembling, practising equivocation or mental reservation of the truth". Other words reveal other traditional theological characteristics. The term theological argument is applied to any argument that is abstruse and pointless. The term theological odium (or odium theologicum) denotes a type of extreme hatred that only theologians have ever manifested. Sometimes the change in a word's meaning speaks of the Church's role. Originally the word indoctrinate meant merely to teach. Its use by the Christian Churches has given the word its current meaning to imbue with an opinion, or even to condition using mind control, a concept approaching brainwashing. An inquisition was originally merely an inquiry. But the Church's Inquisition was the most feared secret police force the world has ever seen, and the word has acquired this new connotation. Dogma was no more than revealed truth as defined by the Church. Now, to be dogmatic is to be blinkered, closed and authoritarian. To pontificate, to speak like the Pontiff (i.e. the Pope), is to behave in a pompous, dogmatic and ill-informed manner. The slang word bull, meaning nonsense, is reputedly derived from papal bulls. (Papal documents came to be called bulls because they were sealed with lead seals, known as bullas.) The Western Church was also responsible for the word propaganda. It is derived from the title of the Roman Church's Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide (Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith), the first body of professional propagandists in the world.

    The important point here is not whether the mainstream Churches are intellectually honest or dishonest, but that according to independent outsiders they do not have much of a reputation for intellectual honesty. Few, if any, objective outsiders would accept that the record of any mainstream Church in the field of intellectual probity provides convincing evidence of its divine appointment.


    Looking at our original list of expectations, it is probably fair to say that Christianity does not satisfy all of them, and there is a respectable argument that it does not satisfy any of them.


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    § It could be claimed that we do not know what Jesus taught because the New Testament is so unreliable. This is true, but Christians have long accepted Jesus" teachings as set out in the New Testament. If Jesus" teachings were quite different but somehow lost in early times then we should be forced to conclude that modern Christian teachings are not those of Jesus — which is a less defensible position for apologists than accepting the New Testament at face value.

    § Mark 10:9 (cf. Luke 16:18) forbids divorce in any circumstances. Matthew 19:9 sanctions remarriage for men whose wives have been unfaithful.

    § We are deliberately avoiding the question of temporary holding areas like Purgatory and Limbo to make the example as general as possible. Roman Catholics believe in these areas, while Protestants do not, and the Orthodox are uncertain, but all agree that the ultimate destination is either Heaven or Hell.

    §. There are other characteristics that a philosopher might expect to find in a true religion. See for example Keith E. Yandell, "Religious Experiences and Rational Appraisal", Religious Studies 8 (June 1974), pp 185-6.

    §. The one occasion when Jesus is reported to have prayed for his enemies — "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34) — appears to be an addition to the original text. It does not feature in all early manuscripts. See the footnote to the text in the New International Version of the Bible.

    §. Leviticus 19:18. A similar injunction is also given in Tobit 4:15. The principle (mitzvah) was described as the great principle of Torah by Rabbi Akiva.

    §. Hugh Montefiore, Some Elements of the Religious Teachings of Jesus, Macmillan (1910), p 93.

    §. Vermes, G., Jesus the Jew, pp 74-78.

    §. Georgina Harkness, Christian Ethics, (New York, Abingdon Press, 1957), p 48.

    §. C. H. Dodd, The Authority of the Bible, p 190.

    §. See Mark 4:10-12, Matthew 13:10-13 and Luke 8:9-10,

    §. See Mark 9:50, Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34-5.

    §.Arthur Schopenhauer, trans. T. Bailey Saunders. "Religion: A Dialogue". The Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer.

    §. For the position of the Anglican Church see articles 11 and 12 of the 39 Articles.

    §. Jesus" followers declare the imminency of the Second Coming on a number of occasions. See for example 1 Thessalonians 4:15, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, 1 Peter 4:7 and James 5:8-9 (also Hebrews 9:26 and 10:37, 2 Peter 3:12-14, 1 John 2:18, Revelation 1:1, 3:11 and 22:7).

    §. Paul was reputed to have been immune from snake bites (Acts 28:3-6), and many members of snake handling sects make similar claims, but no claim has ever been verified.

    §. This was a literal promise: St Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Neocaesarea (died c.272) managed it according to Bede's commentary on Mark 11 {MM p 392}.

    §. See for example Luke 18:9, Mark 10:30 and Matthew 19:29.

    §. Jesus purportedly healed the sick by forgiving their sins. For example he healed a paralysed man by forgiving sin (Mark 2:5, cf. Matthew 9:1-8 and Luke 5:17-26).

    §. Luke 13:32, Mark 1:32-34, Matthew 8:16, Luke 4:40-41, Mark 5:1-13, Matthew 8:28-32, Luke 8:26-33, Mark 9:15-27, Matthew 17:14-18, Luke 9:38-42, Mark 1:23-26, Luke 4:33-35, Mark 7:24-30, Matthew 15:21-28, Matthew 9:32-34, Luke 11:14-15, Mark 6:12-13, Matthew 10:1 and 10:7-11, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:17-20 and Mark 9:38.

    §. The existence (and ease) of divorce is confirmed in the Old Testament at Deuteronomy 24:1, Leviticus 21:7, 21:14 and 22:13, and Numbers 30:9.

    §. The problem of evil is rarely discussed in public by senior churchmen. Both Cardinal Hume, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, and Dr. Robert Runcie, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, have been asked for explanations but neither was able to proffer one. Gerald Priestland, The Case Against God, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd ( London, 1984), pp 21-22.

    §. The Sunday Inependant ( Ireland), 16 January 2005, Analysis p 27 “God is now in the dock and he looks pretty guilty”. “.... when it seems to be God who is the problem — dooming the most wretched on earth to suffer appallingly just because, like some dodgy builder, He apparently couldn"t make the tectonic plates of His own earth fit together properly — then they [his followers] take refuge in rhetorical clichés about God's unknowability”

    §.A spectacular example of the public destruction of Catholic images by other Christians was the "Chute na santa" (Portuguese: Chute na santa - "kicking of the saint") incident on 12 October, 1995. A controversy erupted in Brazil , sparked by a live broadcast of a Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) minister kicking the image of a Roman Catholic saint.

    §. That baptism is a prerequisite for a place in Heaven is stated in John 3:3-5.

    §. Canon 747 of the Roman Catholic Church's 1917 code of canon law required baptism before birth if there was a danger of the baby dying. The requirement was dropped in 1983, although the practice probably continues. The present code of canon law (canon 867) is less explicit than the old one.

    §. Daniell, Death and Burial in the Middle Ages, p 192, citing Philip Ziegler, The Black Death, Penguin Books (1982), pp 128-9.

    §. Indulgences are still granted, both partial and plenary. See the Roman Catholic code of canon law, canons 992-997.

    §. Daniell, Death and Burial in the Middle Ages, cites a number of examples in Chapter 1.

    §. See for example Aquinas, Summa Theologica , Pt III supplement, q79, a2. Liberal sects have shifted away from the traditional position, but the Roman Church approved a catechism at least as late as the 1970s which stated that a believer would be resurrected "as the same person he was, in the same flesh made living by the same spirit". Quoted by Paul Badham and Linda Badham, Immortality or Extinction?, Barnes & Noble (New York, 1982), p 5.

    §. Claims about God having a special place for little children are becoming less common as more people find the idea absurd and offensive. One such claim following a massacre of school children in Dunblane in Scotland in 1996 inspired national criticism: see for example The Daily Telegraph, "Weekend" section, p 2, 13 th July 1996.

    §. Augustine, City of God 22, 15. Apparently others believed this too. In much Western European art the resurrected are all depicted as being around 30 years old.

    §. Jesus himself was reputedly asked about resurrection after multiple marriages: Matthew 22:23-32.

    § Christ's many similarities with earlier gods is discussed in detail elsewhere on this website. Father Christmas inherited his habit of coming and going in the smoke of the chimney from northern shamanistic beliefs. His food offerings were inherited from Odin, as was his white beard, his white horse (recently replaced by reindeer) and his habit of distributing presents and punishments.

    §. "Salus extra ecclesiam non est" ("there is no salvation outside the Church"), St Cyprian (c 200-258), Epistle Ad Pomponium, De Viginibus, 73.21. "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus", St Augustine of Hippo (354-430), De Baptismo contra Donatistas, 4.

    §. In 1302 Pope Boniface VIII issued Unam sanctam, which included the statements "There is but one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church outside of which there is no salvation or remission of sins" and "We declare, announce and define that it is altogether necessary for salvation for every creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff".

    §. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 218, citing Peter Dressundörfer, Islam unter der Inquisition. Die Morisco-Prozesse in Toledo 1575-1610 ( Wiesbaden, 1971), p 64, n171.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 93, citing a number of studies in the UK and USA.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 94, citing a number of studies in the UK and USA.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 147, citing a number of studies in the UK and USA.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, pp 71-76, citing a number of studies in the UK and USA.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, pp 68-70.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 163, citing G. E. Lenski "Social correlates of religious interest", American Sociological Review, 18, pp 533-44 (1953).

    §. At the time of writing, the last widely publicised brawl between rival Christian factions at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre took place on 9 th November 2008. After kicking, punching, throwing things and damaging supposedly holy property inside the Church, Christian monks had to be separated by the Israeli police. The police arrested the more violent monks. See for details and a video. After an earlier brawl on Easter Sunday in 2005 ( an official of the Greek Church commented “The violence in the Church was unfortunate and we regret that this happened, but in this case, and others, we have just been asserting our rights in the holy places” (The Sunday Telegraph, 20 March 2006, p28 “Is nothing sacred?”).

    §. The point is known to modern American philosophers as the "Great Pumpkin Objection" after the Great Pumpkin that comes to believers in certain circumstances each Hallowe"en. See Peterson et al, Reason and Religious Belief, p 124.

    §. Robin Crichton, Who Is Santa Clause?, Canongate ( Edinburgh, 1987), p 102.

    §. J. M. Darley and C. D. Batson, " “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: a study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behaviour", Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 27, (1973), pp 100-8.

    §. C. Kirkpatrick, "Religion and Humanitarianism: a study of institutional implications", Psychological Monographs, 63, number 309 (1949).

    §. S. A. Stouffer, Communism, Conformity and Civil Liberties, Doubleday, New York (1955), p 142.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 121.

    §. W. A. Bonger, Race and Crime, Columbia University Press, New York (1943), cited by Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 149, which also cites more recent studies confirming the same patterns, pp 148-9.

    §. Richards, Sex, Dissidence and Damnation: Minority Groups in the Middle Ages, pp 58-9.

    §. See Norman Cohn, Europe's Inner Demons (St Albans, 1976).


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