A good tree cannot bring forth evil
fruit ... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
We have reviewed the Christian record on a number of issues
with an acknowledged moral component. Taking the moral consensus
of modern Christians as a baseline, a consistent pattern has
emerged that can be summarised as follows. (a) Pagans in the
ancient world start to develop useful ideas in the service of
humankind. (b) The Christian Church stops these developments.
The ideas are abandoned and evidence of them largely destroyed.
(c) Mistaken ideas are adopted by the Churches and taught as
the infallible word of God. (d) Forces outside mainstream Christianity,
often inspired by the rediscovery of ancient ideas, develop
new theories. (e) Despite the best efforts of the Churches these
new theories win widespread support. (f) Eventually, one by
one, the Churches abandon their discredited ideas, adopting
the new theories when they stand to lose credibility by continuing
to hold out. (g) The traditional Christian position is universally
recognised as immoral, and becomes an embarrassment that is
denied or played down by the Churches.
In the previous sections we have seen this pattern repeated
many times: with respect to a dozen major social issues, to
legal abuses, to concepts of justice and equality before the
law, to freedoms and liberties, to attitudes to sex, to medical
practices, and to numerous examples of mistreating minorities
and killing innocent people. There would appear to be a serious
problem for the traditional Christian position on morality.
Why does Christianity have such a bad record by its own current
Some possible explanations are:
There is a possible defence that goes through each of the points
made against the Church and explains them away. Thus for example
the Cathars were an evil anti-human bunch who deserved what
happened to them. The story of the Spanish Inquisition is just
a "black legend" invented by enemies of Spain. There
really was a Jewish conspiracy to poison all Christians in Europe,
and Christians did well to nip it in the bud. The Church was
merely an innocent party in various medical misunderstandings
propagated by physicians. Europe really was menaced by widespread
witchcraft, which various Churches did well to stamp out. Pagans
around the world really were devil-worshipping sodomite cannibals
whose forced conversion was a service to humankind. These are
not arguments that can be pursued here. The only answer is to
weigh the documented facts as presented in the best academic
histories available in each specialist field.
A second approach is to try to balance an admittedly bad record
with more positive accomplishments. Although the Church has
had a poor record in almost all the areas we have looked at,
perhaps this is not the whole story. For example, everyone knows
about the great work done by devout believers such as St Francis
of Assisi, Florence Nightingale, Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce,
and Albert Schweitzer, to name but a few. Perhaps they will
balance the scales.
For this defence to work, we would need to establish that there
have been large numbers of believers who have made great contributions
to humanity. The problem is that different people have different
views as to the values of the various contributions made by
believers over the centuries. Christians presumably view all
of the Christian saints as moral paragons, but non-Christians
seem to regard few of them as outstanding in the field of morality.
As Bertrand Russell observed of Christian ideas:
The most virtuous man was the man who retired from the world;
the only men of action who were regarded as saints were those
who wasted the lives and substance of their subjects in fighting
the Turks, like St Louis. The Church would never regard a
man as a saint because he reformed the finances, or the criminal
law, or the judiciary. Such mere contributions to human welfare
would be regarded as of no importance. I do not believe there
is a single saint in the whole calendar whose saintship is
due to work of public utility*.
The second problem is that when we look at the best examples
of devout Christians leading reforms and improving the world,
we are usually disappointed in one way or another. Sometimes
they were not the devout Christians they are represented to
have been. If they were Christians at all, their work was almost
always criticised, resisted or confounded by their own Church.
St Francis is often cited as proof that the Church has always
been interested in animal welfare, although in fact St Francis's
interest in animals has until recently been regarded as an eccentricity
midway between heresy and insanity. Many people like him were
burned alive for their beliefs, and he survived only because
he seems to have been regarded as relatively harmless at the
time. He was signally unrepresentative of the Church as a whole,
and his most faithful followers (the Franciscan Spirituals)
were later condemned and burned by their own Church.
Catholics sometimes cite St Camillus de Lellis as the founder
of a military field ambulance that eventually led to the founding
of the Red Cross. The truth is that the Church never operated
anything as useful as an ambulance service, even after the lead
given by Camillus, or the lead given by Dominique Jean Larrey
in the eighteenth century. The symbol of the Red Cross has no
religious significance, as it is often claimed to have even
in respectable history books*.
The symbol was created by interchanging the colours on the Swiss
flag, the national flag of the organisation's strongly anticlerical
founder, Henri Dunant.
In Christian times, almost no-one sought
to help the wounded after battles and mortality rates
were consequently high. We know that this was the result
of indifference - acceptance of the will of God - rather
than the result of armies needing to move on, because
Christian armies always found the time to rob the dead
of both sides. They took anything of value. For many centuries
scavengers would remove good teeth from dead bodies to
make artificial dentures, like the one shown below.
Anglicans cite Florence Nightingale as an example of conventional
caring Christianity in action. In fact her Christianity, such
as it was, was not at all conventional. As Lytton Strachey observed
in Eminent Victorians:
... her conception of God was certainly not orthodox. She
felt towards Him as she might have felt towards a glorified
sanitary engineer; and in some of her speculations she seems
hardly to distinguish between the Deity and the Drains*.
Her beliefs were those of a pantheist, and she thought Jesus
to have been a man whose theology was badly mistaken. Her behaviour
was most definitely not an example of orthodox Christianity
in action*. Christianity
in action was characterised by the many right-thinking Christians
who considered her actions in establishing a hospital at Scutari
in the Crimea to be scandalous.
The great nineteenth century reformer Lord Shaftesbury is cited
as another example of moral Christianity, although at the time
he was anything but a conventional believer. At different times
he has been represented as a fanatical millenarian evangelical
and as a deist. He came from a family that had long been suspected
of atheism*. William Wilberforce
is cited as an example of a Christian who led the fight against
slavery, but he was neither an orthodox Christian, nor representative
of the established Church, and his fame comes precisely from
his battles with conventional Christians in the House of Commons
(where non-believers, his strongest allies, were not then allowed
to sit). In Christian schools in Britain everyone hears about
Wilberforce, but almost no-one hears about the role of freethinkers
like Thomas Paine, or Utilitarians like Mill, or even sympathetic
thinkers like the Darwin family*
- the people who changed public opinion despite widespread Christian
Albert Schweitzer has been cited as a sort of Christian ideal
in the twentieth century, serving his Church by devoting his
life to help the sick in a small African village. Schweitzer
was in fact severely disenchanted with the Church. He saw much
of the New Testament as mythical and Jesus as a m an who had
a mistaken vision about his effect on world history. He was
refused permission by his own Church to go to Africa to carry
out charitable work, and was obliged to qualify as a physician
in order to do so under his own steam.
The individuals so often cited as examples of orthodox Christianity
in action are not at all convincing. They were not themselves
conventional Christians, and were in every case opposed by conventional
Christians. It is arguable that the record of the Christian
Churches in most areas that they now regard as moral is about
as bad as it could possibly be.
The nub of this defence is that the worst atrocities were carried
out not by the Church but by evil men over whom the Church had
no control. This defence is not available to traditional Churches.
For example the Roman Church can hardly use it when its popes,
cardinals, bishops, priests, friars and followers have been
so deeply implicated in so many abominations over so many centuries.
For other Churches the defence would carry more weight if they
had made an attempt to stop or denounce atrocities carried out
in their names. As Sir Lesley Stephen, an ex-Anglican clergyman,
put it, speaking of the Church towards the end of the nineteenth
You can damn men readily enough for not holding the right
shade of belief about mysteries which you loudly proclaim
to be inconceivable; did you ever when you were strong
enough bring your tremendous arsenal of threats to
bear upon men who were making hell on earth, and committing
every abomination under the Sun in your name and for your
profit? You did not explicitly approve; or, rather, the persons
who approved in your name did it without proper authority.
But what is the good of a body which can allow its whole influence
to be used in favour of unspeakable atrocities, till its power
of inflicting them has vanished*?
On the other hand this defence is available to the Quakers,
Unitarians and some other liberal Churches, which have an unimpeachable
record by the standards both of modern mainstream Christians
and of freethinkers.
The idea here is that things might have been bad under Christian
hegemony, but they would have been worse under any other. For
this argument to carry any weight it would be necessary to demonstrate
that life would have been worse under any other existing religion,
or under none at all. Once again we are in the realms of subjective
opinion: Christians will presumably believe that things would
have been worse under any other hegemony, but few informed non-Christians
agree. In any case there is still a problem in explaining why
almost all improvements in Christendom have been pioneered by
people whom the Church regarded as its enemies.
All mainstream Churches have a moral record of practical accomplishment
that falls far short of the record of their godless enemies.
As we have seen Christians traditionally regarded people as
intrinsically unequal, with different rights depending upon
their parentage, their race, their sex, their wealth, their
religion, whether or not they suffered from certain disabilities,
and whether or not they belonged to the Christian priesthood.
It was a characteristically secular notion that all people should
enjoy equal rights. When the Churches opposed social reform,
human rights and liberties, and equality before the law, their
principal opponents were freethinkers. The persecution of Jews,
as well as many other forms of persecution practised by Christians,
was consistently opposed by freethinkers. The Church was obliged
to stop its mass killings as a direct result of Enlightenment
freethinkers who exposed and ridiculed its superstition, intolerance,
dogma and injustice.
Thomas Paine advocated the abolition of slavery, the emancipation
of women, animal welfare, universal education, human rights,
and a welfare state, including maternity benefit, social insurance
and old age pensions. Along with like-thinkers he is largely
responsible for the liberal Constitution of the USA and for
that country's secular system of government. It is arguable
that he alone achieved more from a moral point of view than
all of the mainstream Christian Churches put together over 2,000
years. Similar arguments could be put for the godless Utilitarians
Jeremy Bentham and J. S. Mill, or for the atheists Bradlaugh
and Besant. It is fair to say that all social advances since
the Renaissance have been supported by freethinkers and opposed
by mainstream Christians. While freethinkers were fighting for
the abolition of slavery, for penal reform, for humane colonial
policies, for improved conditions for the poor and the aged,
better working conditions and for political and universal human
rights, orthodox Christians had other moral matters on their
minds. In the nineteenth century they concentrated their efforts
on such matters as the suppression of the drinks trade (a political
Christian group called the Temperance Party was established
specifically for this end). Other important matters demanding
priority included swearing, gambling, fornication and Sunday
observance. Social reform was simply not on the agenda, except
as something to oppose.
To the extent that they have been able to, Churches have continued
to discriminate against various groups right up to modern times.
For example without a special dispensation it was not possible
to enter Holy Orders if one was of illegitimate birth, or of
servile birth, or had a physical defect. Under the rules of
some orders it was necessary to prove one's noble blood
in order to be considered as an abbot. Holy Orders were denied
to women and to people with the wrong coloured skin. On the
other hand there was a time when certain favoured five-year-olds
could become archbishops. Such discrimination was merely a reflection
of Christianity's traditional position on social issues.
The retrospective commitment to social reform appears to be
an attempt to rewrite history to match current requirements.
In reality things have not really changed much. Sociological
studies still confirm a negative relationship between religious
commitment and concern about social change*.
Concern about social issues is not the only test of moral probity.
How else can we test the quality of Christian morality? Are
there any objective standards by which we can compare the moral
record of Christians and non-believers? One possibility is provided
by criminal statistics. A review of conviction rates reveals
that Christians are more criminally inclined than non-believers*.
One study revealed that in a population where Roman Catholics
accounted for only 35 per cent of the population, they were
found to be responsible for almost 44 per cent of thefts, over
41 per cent of offences of receiving stolen goods, over 40 per
cent of assaults and over 49 per cent of serious assaults. They
also accounted for over 38 per cent of sexual offences by school
teachers, and 39 per cent of rapes. Protestants accounted for
less than 55 per cent of the population, yet they were responsible
for over 59 per cent of sexual offences by school teachers,
and a similar proportion of rapes. They excelled at minor sexual
offences, accounting for more than 72 per cent of them. By contrast,
non-believers were vastly under-represented in all categories
of offence studied, the number of offenders being between 0
per cent and 2.6 per cent, although they accounted for over
7 per cent of the population*.
Roman Catholics are consistently over-represented in prison
statistics by a factor of two or three. In Britain Roman Catholics
account for about 10 per cent of the general population but
around 25 per cent of the prison population*.
A similar pattern may be found among juvenile delinquents. Studies
have shown consistent results, not only in Britain, but also
in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and mainland Europe*.
Apologists for Christianity sometimes explain the abominations
for which Christianity has been responsible by pointing out
that times were different then. We cannot apply the standards
of today to past centuries, they say. Life was more "robust"
then. The worst offenders were merely "men of their time".
This defence fails on several counts.
First, Christianity claims that its values are timeless, so
why should its key moral values have changed so radically? If
it opposes slavery now why did it not oppose it before the nineteenth
century? If it opposes capital punishment now, why did it condemn
millions to death? If it preaches toleration now, why has it
been so intolerant for almost 2,000 years? Churches claimed
that their views were not merely their own, but God's .
Popes claimed divine inspiration for their views, so it seems
to stretch the imagination that God neglected to mention to
any one of more than 80 popes that they might be on the wrong
tack in conducting show trials and torturing innocent people.
God instructed Christian leaders of all denominations on a wide
range of matters including penal policy, anti-Semitism, capital
punishment and holy wars.
The usual answer to this point is that God has slowly revealed
his eternal truths as humankind has advanced in understanding.
The main difficulty with this is that Christianity was often
regressive. To take an example it removed legal safeguards that
already existed. Before Christians came to power it was accepted
that justice required the opportunity for accused people to
defend themselves. Christians themselves had enjoyed this right
among them was St Paul. When Jews complained about Paul,
Festus (the Roman governor of Judea) told them that "it
is not the Roman custom to hand over any man before he has faced
his accusers and has had an opportunity to defend himself against
their charges" (Acts 25:16 NIV). When an emperor had been
asked how to deal with the problem of the Christians, he had
said that there should be no general inquisition, that serious
accusations should be properly investigated, and that all anonymous
accusations should be ignored. Again, Christian prisoners seem
to have been remarkably well treated in pagan times: Ignatius of Antioch., one of the few we know anything about, was free
to write a whole series of letters while under arrest. Christian
courts made no attempt to continue such liberties. In Christian
courts, after 1,000 years of divine revelation, the accusers
wore masks to ensure anonymity, and the accused were denied
any opportunity to mount a real defence. The pagan emperor's elementary safeguards, if implemented in Christian courts, could
have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. In Christian times
prisoners had no rights and could not expect food or light,
let alone pen and paper. Furthermore, Churches changed their
ways not when they received divine revelation, but when they
were obliged to do so by the growing secular liberalism that
they so despised. Are we to believe that God was acting through
secular humanists rather than his own Church?
in early times the idea of witches or devils creating or changing
the forms of bodies was considered absurd indeed heretical.
St Augustine had dismissed the idea, and this view was confirmed
in the canon Episcopi in the tenth century. Anyone
who thought, for example, that a man could be transformed into
a pack animal was undoubtedly an infidel*.
Yet God's unfolding revelation led St Thomas Aquinas and other
authorities to disagree. The Church in the Middle Ages taught
all manner of nonsense concerning witches and demons, and burned
people alive for supposedly turning men into pack animals. Its
return to primitive ideas that had been abandoned centuries
earlier led to countless thousands of innocent people being
tortured and executed a curious sort of divine revelation.
Before the advent of Christianity it had been accepted that
intention was necessary for a wrongdoer to be culpable. As Livy
put it: "The mind sins, not the body. If there is no intention,
there is no blame". Yet the Church prosecuted children,
insane adults, animals, and even inanimate objects. As in many
Bible stories, unwitting acts were sufficient to establish culpability.
Absence of a guilty mind was irrelevant. To take another example,
many ancient societies regarded it as dishonourable to slay
prisoners of war, but Christians found it perfectly acceptable
for many hundreds of years. And it is not difficult to find
other examples: the paring away of women's rights since
Roman times, the abolition of religious toleration, the forcible
silencing of philosophers, the dismantling of an extensive educational
system, the introduction of trials by ordeal ... all these are
now acknowledged as backward steps.
A second problem with the Different Times defence is that Christianity
was by far the main influence in Europe during the Middle Ages.
It set standards of behaviour and standards of justice. It could
have implemented any reforms that it wanted to. The Church was
entirely responsible for canon law, which controlled matters
such as heresy, bastardy, matrimony, divorce and inheritance;
and through its own courts and gaols it set the standards for
the treatment of prisoners. The times were cruel not because
the Church was too weak to alleviate the cruelty, but precisely
because the Church was so strong that it could systematically
enforce cruelty. It managed all the levers of power. Those Roman
safeguards, such as the right for accused persons to defend
themselves, were not long forgotten peculiarities, they were
well-known checks and balances on the abuse of power, and as
such the Church wanted rid of them. The Romans had used torture
to obtain confessions only when they already had enough independent
evidence to convict. In other words they only tortured people
who were known to be guilty to clear up the loose ends.
As Tacitus had noted, torture tended to encourage false witness.
Yet the Roman Church applied torture to everyone and anyone,
and then convicted solely on the strength of confessions obtained.
The Church exported this practice from Italy to France, Germany
and Spain from the thirteenth century, so that it became an
integral part of the penal system in most of Europe*.
German law had not recognised the use of torture until the Church
introduced it. Torture became common among temporal rulers in
Europe specifically because the Church had sanctioned it. As
we have seen, the Roman Church tried to introduce its use into
England by threatening and bribing an English monarch. In England,
accused persons were entitled to a public trial before a jury
of their peers. They were entitled to legal representation and
the right to call defence witnesses. Except in exceptional cases
they could expect not to be tortured. All this was possible
because the Church was not as powerful as elsewhere in Europe,
and because England did not benefit from the attentions of the
Inquisition. As one leading historian of the subject put it:
A few words will suffice to summarize the career of the medieval
Inquisition. It introduced a system of jurisprudence which
infected the criminal law of all the lands subjected to its
influence, and rendered the administration of penal justice
a cruel mockery for centuries. It furnished the Holy See with
a powerful weapon in aid of political aggrandizement, it tempted
secular sovereigns to imitate the example, and it prostituted
the name of religion to the vilest temporal ends. It stimulated
the morbid sensitiveness to doctrinal aberrations until the
most trifling dissidence was capable of arousing insane fury,
and of convulsing Europe from end to end. .... the judgment
of impartial history must be that the Inquisition was the
monstrous offspring of mistaken zeal, utilized by selfish
greed and lust of power to smother the higher aspirations
of humanity and stimulate its baser appetites.*
Atrocities were smallest where the Church had least influence,
not only in England where the common law provided a counter-balance
to canon law and where the civil courts heard cases of witchcraft
and heresy. Another example is provided by the Netherlands,
which suffered dreadfully when the power of the Christian Churches
were at their height but escaped early from Church control.
From the sixteenth century the power of the clergy was severely
restricted and the country led Europe into the modern age. Persecution
ceased as liberty became established, leaving a tradition of
toleration that has survived to the present day.
Neither is it possible to say that the Church was only accommodating
itself to local standards. Soon after the Inquisition started
torturing people in the Languedoc, representatives from the
major towns were making representations that the process was
grossly unfair, unjust and oppressive, and that the inquisitors
were extorting lies from their victims by the use of torture*.
The worst iniquities of the Inquisition were carried out in
contravention of town charters, customary laws and numerous
principles of established secular jurisprudence. The same is
true of the Spanish Inquisition, as a number of nobles, scholars,
municipal councils, diplomats and victims pointed out at the
time*. Diplomats, even
from Italy, considered the Spanish Inquisition to be tyrannical.
Churchmen also noted the impact of its innovations. Here is
a sixteenth century Jesuit writing about its early days:
What caused the most surprise was that children paid for
the crimes of their parents, and that accusers were not named
or made known, nor confronted by the accused, nor was there
publication of witnesses: all of which was contrary to the
practice followed of old in other tribunals*.
The Church ignored all safeguards, including its own. In theory,
tortures should not have caused death, or permanent physical
disability, or the effusion of blood, yet they frequently did.
Torture should have been permitted only once for each victim,
yet it was applied repeatedly, sometimes over years, until the
required admissions were obtained. Torture should not have been
applied to children or pregnant women, but it was.
A third problem with the Different Times defence is that if
it were valid, we would expect to find Christians in the vanguard
of reform. But as we have seen, the mainstream Churches opposed
all manner of reform and changed their views only when it became
impossible to maintain their traditional ones. The Papal States
continued their practices: trials in camera, denial
of natural justice, secret executions, and so on, long after
other states in Europe had abandoned them as inequitable anachronisms.
Leading Christian scholars, like Dom Augustine Calmet, were
still affirming the reality of vampires in the eighteenth century.
Christians were still roasting Jews on spits while Enlightenment
humanists were pioneering modern morality, including equal rights.
The sovereign states ruled by the Pope were the last to abandon
Jewish ghettos despite the efforts of secular forces. When French
armies occupied Rome in 1798, secular rulers let the Jews out
of the ghetto and gave them equal rights. When Pius VII was
returned to power he immediately had them driven back to the
ghetto. The same thing happened again in 1809. It happened a
third time, in 1848 this time, under Garibaldi's forces. It
was only in 1870, when Rome the last remnant of the Papal
States was taken away from the papacy for good, that
Jews were released from the last ghetto in Europe. One of the
first acts of the New Italian kingdom after the liberation of
Rome was to tear down the ghetto walls. It was a similar story
with burning supposed witches. All of the early critics of witch
trials were vilified and persecuted by the Church throughout
Europe*. Methodists were
still calling for witches to be killed long after society had
discounted the existence of witchcraft. Again, the Church maintained
that a prostitute could not be a victim of rape. It continued
to hold this position long after the Emperor Frederick II had
decreed in his Constitutions of Melfi in 1231 that
men who had sex with prostitutes without their consent were
guilty of rape. Similarly Frederick incurred the wrath of churchmen
by declining to impose the usual Christian restrictions on minority
groups such as Jews, Muslims and homosexuals.
If vampires really existed and lost their
power before the Christian cross, then Christianity must
This was one incentive for Churchmen promoting belief
Below is a vampire hunking kit
Such kits are no longer available since churchmen decided
that vampires do not exist after all
story that the Church has led social reforms is simply untrue.
Of all the English reformers it is difficult to find any of
note who was an ordinary believer in a mainstream Church. Far
from leading the world from darkness into light, the Churches
have traditionally been doing exactly the opposite. Christian
morality did not lead mankind out of darkness and into light,
but tried, arguably, to lead it from semi-darkness into total
darkness. If God really had planned the moral development of
humankind from barbarity to civilisation, then the Christian
Churches appear to have done more than any other organisation
to frustrate his aims. The poet Shelley gave a summary of the
difficulties with this line of thought:
It is sufficiently evident that an omniscient being never
conceived the design of reforming the world by Christianity.
Omniscience would surely have foreseen the inefficacy of that
system, which experience demonstrates not only to have been
utterly impotent in restraining, but to have been most active
in exhaling the malevolent propensities of men. During the
period which elapsed between the removal of the seat of empire
to Constantinople in 328, and its capture by the Turks in
1453, what salutary influence did Christianity exercise upon
that world which it was intended to enlighten? Never before
was Europe the theatre of such ceaseless and sanguinary wars:
never were the people so brutalised by ignorance and debased
The record of all mainstream churches is much the same, although
the Eastern Churches have a better record than the Western Churches,
and arguably Protestants have a better record than Roman Catholics.
Some sects of more recent foundation do not have such bad records,
but then they have never had the opportunity to exercise power
as the older Churches have. There is a clear relationship between
the date of founding of a Church and the degree of persecution
practised, but this may well be attributable to the influence
of freethought. The more recently Churches have been founded,
the more they have been constrained by secular opinion. If the
Methodists had been allowed to, they might well have burned
as many people in the eighteenth century as Protestants did
in the seventeenth, or the Roman Church did in the sixteenth
It is fair to say that, with the exception of Unitarians and
Quakers, all large denominations have engaged in persecution
precisely to the extent that they have been able to. This alone
provides a rebuttal to the Different Times defence.
The "Invisible Church" Defence
When its record is cited as evidence of the true nature of
Christianity, a common response is that all of these evils were
brought about not by Christianity, but by the Christian Churches.
The distinction is that Christianity is divine, while the Churches
are human creations. Being a human creation, the Church is flawed
and has made mistakes. But true Christianity is not flawed.
It is perfect. This defence allows apologists to claim that
true Christians belong to an "invisible" Church, the
membership of which is known only to God. Baptists, Orthodox
Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and so on, are members
of humanly created Churches and may or may not belong to God's one, true, divine invisible Church.
This is an ingenious defence, but not a strong one. In the
first place it is not available to those who belong to an organised
Church that purports to be God's own Church (as most do).
One cannot simultaneously hold that one's own Church is
catholic (i.e. universal the whole of the one true Church
appointed by God), and that there is another invisible "one
true Church". Either the two Churches are identical (in
which case the invisible Church is just as culpable as the humanly
created Church) or they are not identical (in which case the
man-made Church is not really God's own Church at all).
Also, the argument is unsustainable if it can be shown that
Christian belief, rather than individual organisations, lies
at the root of much of the damage done. Critics claim that mere
belief in the Christian God seems to be enough to cause people
to become immoral by modern standards, if not by traditional
Christian ones. Thus for example, reliance on an omnipotent
and omniscient God leads to fatalism. There is no point in trying
to change the world or improve the lot of humankind if God is
taking care of all our needs. This largely explains Christian's traditional reluctance to try to eradicate poverty, to find
new medicines, or to improve social conditions. So too, some
Christians are willing to overpopulate the world without regard
to the consequences, because God has promised that all will
be well. This line of argument only works if one accepts that
the consequences (such as overpopulation) are themselves bad
which many Christians would deny. An alternative line
is to note that different mainstream sects all have almost equally
bad moral records. This suggests that the underlying cause is
the religion rather than any individual organisation. As we
have had cause to note several times already, the only sects
that everyone agrees have good records are the most marginal,
and arguably not really Christian at all (Unitarians, Quakers,
and the like). Can this be a coincidence?
Yet another problem for the defence is that much of Christianity's record is perfectly in line with God's wishes, as revealed
for example through the Bible. We could cite yet again such
issues as slavery, capital punishment, corporal punishment,
and so on, so here is a different tack. Linking morality to
a system of supernatural rewards and punishments produces a
system of morality that is immoral by normal standards. If people
believe that salvation depends upon obeying God's commands
irrespective of the moral value of those commands, then they
are apt to behave in a way that most other people would regard
as immoral. Thus for example Jesus" injunction to resist
not evil has led to Christians being willing to accept
without opposition evils perpetrated by their fellow believers,
such as forcible conversions, the Crusades, persecutions and
A final difficulty with the invisible church defence
is that it is only a defence for some unknowable invisible organisation.
The humanly created Churches are just as blameworthy as ever.
Inspired by the ideal of Christianity, controlled and manned
by professed Christians, they have a deplorable record by their
own current standards. It is not really tenable that God's inspiration should have caused the mainstream Churches to behave
so much worse than many other organisations that make no claim
to divine inspiration.