Christianity itself declares that
the worth of the tree is to be determined by the quality
of its fruit.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Refutation
of Deism, 1814
The record of the Church is often cited to support arguments
that underpin Christianity. For example Christians are frequently
assured that their morality is superior to the morality of others
and are taught a version of history that appears to verify this
view. According to this version of history, Christians suffered
great persecution with almost supernatural forbearance, while
they themselves were always merciful to others. Furthermore,
for centuries the Church kept learning alive and provided education
while holding at bay the twin threats of the heathen barbarians
and the Muslims. Christianity was a great respecter of other
civilisations, cultures and beliefs. Christianity led mankind
out of darkness and into light, taking the prime role in a long
series of social reforms. It protected the weak. It championed
justice. It had a consistently positive influence in areas such
as education, legal reform, political reform, human rights and
medicine. It was far superior in all respects to the intellectual
conceit of selfish godlessness. Such views are still central
to many Christian denominations. We are taught them at school.
We hear them in churches. We hear them confirmed every Sunday
night on the wireless and the television.
But not everyone shares this view. Some educated people hold
views about Christianity that contradict all of the assertions
just made. Some hold views not far from those of Nietzsche,
who, in The Antichrist, expressed himself as follows:
I call Christianity the one great curse, the one enormous
intrinsic perversion, the one great instinct of revenge, for
which no means are too venomous, too underhand, too underground
and too petty I call it the one immortal blemish of
It seems hardly credible that Nietzsche could be talking about
the same great faith that we hear so much about throughout our
lives. How could he have formed such a negative view of Christianity?
Mention of historical Christian enormities has been rare until
recent years, and every mention by a public figure still raises
storms of protest even in the twenty first century. Even relatively
anodyne assertions of well established facts raise protests,
as when Barack Obama, President of the USA, said at a prayer
meeting on 5 February, 2015*.
From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have
seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess
to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up
for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a
brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion,
carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism -- terrorizing religious
minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a
weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority
for such actions.
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and
Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African
Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in
Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.
So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities
- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion
and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside
those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout
human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think
this is unique to some other place, remember that during the
Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds
in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim
Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.
The President was massively understating the case both against
Islam and Christianity, yet his words still drew a storm of
In this section we review the Christian record, and compare
it to that of freethinkers, and see if we can find a clue as
to why Nietzsche formed the view he did, and also what the President
of the USA was hinting at.
Some possible explanations
for and defenses of the record of Christianity
Widespead sexual abuse in the Church
has been widely known about for centuries.
This is a cartoon from the early trentieth century.