If we"re absolutely sure that
our beliefs are right, and those of others wrong; that
we are motivated by good, and others by evil; that the
King of the Universe speaks to us, and not to the adherents
of very different faiths; that it is wicked to challenge
conventional doctrines or to ask searching questions;
that our main job is to believe and obey then
the witch mania will recur in its infinite variations
down to the time of the last man.
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted
authorities have been shocked in the twenty first century to
discover that religion is widely regarded as an evil. This view
appears to becoming a majority view in Britain. In 2008 a Christian
charity, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, commissioned a poll
to discover what were now regarded as social evils and were
surprised to find that the “dominant opinion” was
that religion was a social evil. People regarded religion as
intolerant and used to justify persecution. They said it divided
society, caused conflict and spawned irrational educational
and other policies. “Faith in supernatural phenomena inspires
hatred and prejudice throughout the world, and is commonly used
as justification for continued persecution of women, gays and
people who do not have faith”. Many wanted to see state
funding of church schools ended*.
Although this was something of a shock to the religious authorities,
it may well have reflected the fact that people were being asked
for their opinions rather than told their opinions.
The following are some of the dangers that arise as a result
of Christian morality:
Belief is generally regarded as at least as important as meritorious
conduct in most Protestant sects faith is all important
and all forms of meritorious conduct (“good deeds”)
are irrelevant to salvation. It does not matter what we do if
our salvation depends on what we believe. This tends to lead
Christians to spend their lives in contemplation rather than
action. Moreover, action that is taken sometimes appears to
be cosmetic, as though done to gain divine merit points. Much
Christian aid to the third world has been criticised as superficial
and short term, and has arguably been responsible for more harm
than good in the long term for example destroying local
economies, breeding dependency, and causing overpopulation.
A distorted moral outlook always leads to distorted moral actions.
Here is Bertrand Russell on the subject:
The medieval conception of virtue, as one sees in their pictures,
was of something wishy-washy, feeble, and sentimental. 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*.
Making medical advances, advancing social reform, and developing
life-saving technology was, and still is for mainstream Christianity,
far less impressive than performing conjuring style miracles
such as levitating or surviving being cut in half.
In traditional Christianity moral precepts are linked to a
system of supernatural rewards and punishments. This sometimes
leads Christians to believe that they can avoid the consequences
of their actions. Many believers imagine that they can wipe
clean some sort of divine slate by confession, penitence or
prayer. The danger is that people will commit serious wrongs
without compunction if they imagine that God will forgive them
on request. Abusive priests are known to have confessed to each
other, apparently imagining that God would forgive them as easily
as their fellow sadists and rapists.
Such practices have existed since the early Christian period.
For centuries it was normal for Christians to delay baptism
until they were on their death beds. That way, baptism washed
away all of their sins and assured them a place in heaven -
or at least that is what they were told. The same idea surfaced
at the Reformation. Martin Luther himself was keen for people
to sin in order to have something that needed forgiving. Here
are a few of his words on the matter:
God does not work salvation for fictitious sinners. Be a
sinner and sin vigorously.... Do not for a moment imagine
that this life is the abiding place of justice; sin must be
Sin cannot tear you away from him [Christ], even though you
commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders.
This cartoon highlights the morality
of Christian teaching on salvation
- moral for Christians, immoral for others.
is more than a suspicion that organisations like the IRA, the
Italian Mafia, and South American drug cartels retain priests
to give absolution to murderers and other criminals. Churchmen
and other ardent believers cheer on their fellow Christians
who murder doctors for carrying out legal abortions. If a priest
or minister has forgiven them on behalf of God then the murderer's
conscience will be clear, and their place in heaven assured.
Many Christians believe that it does not matter what sins they
commit, as long as they repent before they die. Other Christians,
believing what they have frequently heard preached, are under
the impression that they can sin with impunity, assured repeatedly
that God hates the sin, but not the sinner.
Traditional Christianity has encouraged a fatalistic attitude,
now more popular in the East than the West. The reasoning behind
it seems to be something like this: God is all-knowing, he is
aware of everything that will happen until the end of time.
There is therefore no point in my trying to do anything since
my future, like the future of everything else in the Universe,
is already determined and already known to God. There is therefore
no point in my trying to avoid the plague or a traffic accident.
If God has ordained that I am to die today, then there is nothing
I can do to stay alive, and if he has ordained that I live,
then I cannot die, however recklessly I behave. There is therefore
no point in struggling to avoid or overcome disease, no point
in avoiding overtaking on blind bends, and no point trying to
improve my lot, or the lot of my fellow creatures. There is
no point trying to eradicate poverty because Jesus said that
the poor would always be with us. This fatalism may account
for the fact that Christians have played so little part in reform
movements whether social, scientific, political, economic, medical,
philosophical, penal, legal or constitutional, and on the contrary
have generally opposed reform movements on the grounds that
trying to improve life for people subverted the divine natural
order, “playing God” and “flying in the face
of the Almighty”.
The Churches seem to many to be preoccupied by sex and suffering,
and continue to confuse sex with morality. Concepts of morality
where sex is so important lead to conclusions at odds with mainstream
opinion (Churches are now increasingly embarrassed by their
traditional position that masturbation was a greater wrong than
murder, and coitus interruptus more serious than rape).
This preoccupation with sex has led many Christians to reject
contraceptive practices. In certain branches of Christianity
the problems of overpopulation are simply ignored. Outside these
denominations, overpopulation is widely accepted to be one of
the greatest dangers facing the world today. Among the dangers
are the exhaustion of natural resources, guaranteed periodic
famines, an increased danger of contagious diseases, plant and
animal species driven to extinction, reduced quality of life
for all, a degraded environment, more industrialisation and
more pollution. All this is of no consequence to those who know
that God wants us to go forth and multiply.
Traditionally, gonorrhoea and syphilis were regarded by Christians
as God's punishment for fornication (though it has never been
explained why the punishment extended to the innocent wives
and husbands of infected sinners). Dangers associated with sexually
transmitted diseases are still exacerbated by Christian attitudes:
examples are the Catholic Church preventing the use of condoms
where they would reduce the incidence of HIV and Christian politicians
and schools resisting vaccination programs against the human
papillomavirus virus (which causes cervical cancer) on the grounds
that sexually transmitted diseases like this provide an impediment
to premarital sex*. Traditional
Christian attitudes are reflected in the fact that gonorrhoea
among teenagers is now seventy times greater in the overwhelmingly
religious USA than it is in more secular countries like Holland
and France*. Thousands,
perhaps millions, of people throughout the world suffer and
die unnecessarily because of Christian attitudes to sex.
The history of northern Europe goes back no further than that
of southern Europe, nor does that of North America go further
back than that of South America. The question arises as to why
in each case the North should be relatively affluent.
Traditional teachings on lending money at interest (usury)
stifled economic development for many centuries, until first
Protestants and later Catholics decided to abandon this particular
doctrine. The delay appears to partially explain why until the
twentieth century at least, the largely Protestant North was
relatively affluent, inventive, clean and stable, with a well-educated
population, while the Catholic South was relatively poor, superstitious,
squalid and politically unstable, with a large peasant population.
Is it a coincidence that these areas correspond to traditionally
Protestant and Roman Catholic spheres of influence respectively?
If we look elsewhere around the world the correlation is similar.
One possible explanation is that Roman Catholicism is responsible
directly or indirectly for authoritarianism, ignorance, overpopulation
and poverty. The disparity, confirmed by objective studies,
cannot be explained by geographical location, natural resources,
or historical factors other than religion.
Attitudes to Truth and Knowledge
religious outlook is fundamentally different from the secular
humanist outlook. Secular thinkers are interested in pursuing
the truth wherever it might lead: Christians are often interested
in truth only when it leads to desired conclusions. Christianity
has therefore always subordinated rational truth to religious
The consequences of this include book burning, scientist burning,
obscurantism, suppression of evidence, rewriting history, linguistic
deceits, and hostility to scientific advances
.Churchmen are still suppressing or manipulating other
information about the Bible, about the Dead Sea
Scrolls, about ecclesiastical forgeries, and so on. As
has been frequently observed, eminent scientists have
rarely been typical of the religious traditions in which
they grew up. Religious dogma made Christianity the enemy
of science and free enquiry, and the hostility continues.
Having lost medical battles over vaccination, anaesthetics
and sexual health, leading churchmen are still fighting
rearguard actions, for example trying to prohibit research
on embryonic stem cells.
Devout Christians are still burning
books in the third millennium. Here they are burning
Harry Potter Novels in front of their church in
Alamogordo, New Mexico, USA in 2001