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    A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit ... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
    Matthew 7:18-20


    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 standards?

    Some possible explanations are:


    The "Not that Bad" Defence

    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.

    Roman 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 opprobrium.

    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 "Not Us" Defence

    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 century:

    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 "Better than Others" Defence

    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*.


    The "Different Times" Defence

    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?

    Again 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 be true.
    This was one incentive for Churchmen promoting belief in them
    Below is a vampire hunking kit
    Such kits are no longer available since churchmen decided that vampires do not exist after all

    The 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 by slavery*.

    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 century.

    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 genocide.

    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.


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    Beyond Belief: Two Thousand (2000) Years of Bad Faith in the Christian Church
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    §. Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian, p 33.

    §. For example the following "The great red cross which the knights wore on their white mantles has become the chosen sign of modern ambulance work.... ". Deanesly, A History of the Medieval Church (590-1500), p 110, referring to the Templars" red cross.

    §. Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, Penguin (1986), p 154.

    §. Margaret Knight, "Florence Nightingale's Religion", Question, vol. 10 (1977), pp 52-58.

    §. Suspicions of the Second Earl of Shaftesbury's atheism, or at least atheist sympathies, were raised by his citing famous atheists such as Lucretius, Hobbes and the Earl of Rochester. Redwood, Reason Ridicule and Religion, p 39. He considered a scientific study of religion, which he discussed in terms of anxiety and illusion.

    §. Both sides of Charles Darwin's family were active opponents of slavery for generations before abolition. His maternal grandfather Josiah wedgewood was an active campaigner. He had medallions struck showing a black man in chains along with the words “Am I Not A Man And A Brother” and it was acts like this that changed public opinion over the next two generations.

    §. Sir Lesley Stephen, "Dreams and Realities" in An Agnostic's Apology and other Essays, 1893, cited in Knight, Humanist Anthology, p 71.

    §. Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi, The Social Psychology of Religion, p 111.

    §. The figures that follow are from 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 these patterns, pp 148-9.

    §. Other studies in the USA have found that unbelievers make up 0.5 per cent of convicts, while they represent around 7 per cent of the general population. Basil et al (eds.), On the Barricades, p 372, citing the American Sociology and Research Journal (May-June, 1949).

    §. Nicolas Walter, New Humanist, vol. 94 (1978), number 1, p 5, and number 2, pp 44-45. Also the British Report on the Work of the Prison Department, 1978.

    §. Michael Argyle, Religious Behaviour (1958), also Antony Flew "Against Indoctrination", The Humanist Outlook, ed. A. J. Ayer (1968)

    §. Augustine, City of God, Bk. XVIII, Ch. 18.

    §. Scott, A History of Torture, p 62.

    §. H. C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, 3 vols (Harbor Press. 1955) p 650.

    §. Roquebert, Les Cathares, vol. 5, pp 396ff.

    §. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, pp 55, 76, 179-180 and 297.

    §. Juan de Mariana, Historia General de España, Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, Madrid, 1950, XXXI, p 202 cited by Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 70.

    §. There were numerous critics of witch-hunting in Europe, among them Johann Weyer of Cleves; Cornelius Loos, Friedrich von Spee and Johann Mafurth in Germany; Roger Bacon and Reginald Scott in England; Gianfrancesco Ponzinibio in Italy; and later Alonzo Salazar de Frias in Spain.

    §. Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Refutation of Deism, 1814, cited by Knight, Humanist Anthology, p 51.


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