Which is it, is man one of God's blunders
or is God one of man's?
Christians have a poor record on a wide range of moral issues,
even by their own current standards. By contrast many non-Christians,
and notably people most reviled by right-thinking Christians,
have a much better record. It is true that there are some issues
where the moral questions are still argued, but for the most
part the freethinkers are recognised to have been consistently
on the morally superior side, and an ever-increasing number
of Churches are abandoning their traditional position on the
remaining contentious matters. A few of the many examples of
areas in transition are contraception, divorce, the acceptability
of cruelty to animals, euthanasia, the status of women, and
the relative seriousness of masturbation, adultery and rape.
Whatever one's own beliefs, it is indisputable that mainstream
Churches are slowly migrating towards secular opinion on all
of these issues.
The record of the mainstream Churches has been so bad that
many of the greatest thinkers have held Christianity in contempt.
After the time of Celsus the critics' voices were silenced by
force within Christendom, though they were heard outside it.
Since the eighteenth century these voices have been heard again
in Christian countries. Voltaire defined the first divine as
"the first rogue who met the first fool". Modern philosophers
have expressed similar views, if less colourfully. Bertrand
Russell's views on Christianity were scathing. He regarded
it as a disease born of fear, and a source of untold misery*.
A. J. Ayer regarded it as positively wicked*.
For many Christians, such views will appear both surprising
and shocking. And yet they are common enough among those who
have studied the history of Christianity. They are also gradually
filtering into general population at least in Europe.
A poll in April 2008 uncovered a widespread belief
that faith was intolerant, irrational and used to justify persecution.
Pollsters in the UK asked 3,500 people what they considered
to be the worst blights on modern society. They found that the
“dominant opinion” was that religion was a “social
evil”. Many said religion divided society, fuelled intolerance
and spawned “irrational” educational and other policies.
A typical opinion was that: “Faith in supernatural phenomena
inspires hatred and prejudice throughout the world, and is commonly
used as justification for persecution of women, gays and people
who do not have faith.”. Many respondents called for state
funding of church schools to be ended.*
Sociological studies show many consistent patterns, which the
Churches might reasonably be asked to explain. The least religious
countries on earth are precisely those that have the longest
life expectancy, highest adult literacy, highest per capita
income, highest educational attainment, greatest gender equality,
lowest homicide rate and lowest infant mortality. The fifty
nations at the other end of the scale are all strikingly religious*.
In almost all studies the USA stands out as exceptional in being
the only developed nation to score highly for religiosity and
also the only one to score badly on many social indicators.
Here for example is just one paragraph of one study:
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator
correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early
adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and
abortion in the prosperous democracies.... The United States
is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies,
sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly
.... No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity
and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal
health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human
evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction,
and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.
None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies
is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In
some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms
of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially
comparable secular developed democracies. In other cases,
the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly
One effect of this is that what is considered normal in the
US is regarded with bemusement or horror in other economically
developed countries. Secular Europeans for example are bemused
by populations who reject scientific knowledge. (More Americans
believe in flying saucers than accept the theory of Evolution).
Again, in the US it is unremarjkable the norm even
for politicians to believe that they are able to communicate
with a divinity. For secular Europeans such beliefs are little
different from evidence of a potentially dangerous mental illness.
Why the US should be so different from other developed countries
is beyond the scope of this book.
A separate moral argument can be made comparing Biblical Christian
morality with that of other religions. As Sam Harris put it,
taking just one comparison:
.... we need look no further than the Jains; Mahavira, the
Jain patriarch, surpassed the morality of the Bible with a
single sentence: “Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave,
insult, torment, torture or kill any creature or living being.”
Imagine how different our world might be if the Bible contained
this as its central precept. Christians have abused, oppressed,
enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people
in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a theologically
defensible reading of the Bible. It is impossible to behave
this way by adhering to the principles of Jainism. How, then,
can you argue that the Bible provides the clearest statement
of morality the world has ever seen?*
If Christianity had been responsible for only 1 per cent of
the horrors described in this section we might still see why
Nietzsche should have regarded it as the one immortal blemish
of mankind. Certainly, it would be an ambitious advocate who
tried to justify the Christian religion by reference to its
moral record, and it is notable that few who know anything about
Christian history are prepared to try.