Summing Up


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    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 so.*

    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.


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    §. Russell's writings on Christianity are collected together in a book entitled Why I Am Not a Christian and other Essays (1957) reprinted as Why I Am Not a Christian, Unwin Hyman Limited ( London, 1979). See in particular "What I Believe" (1925).

    §. Sir Alfred's views on religion may be found throughout his works. His comment that he thought Christianity wicked is taken from Gerald Priestland, The Case Against God, Collins, 1984, p 18.

    §. Religion is the New Social Evil, Robert Watts, The Sunday Times, 20 th April 2008. See also

    §. United Nations" Human Development Report (2005), discussed in more detail by Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p 45.

    §. Gregory S. Paul & Baltimore, MarylandCross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies A First Look (para 18), Journal of Region & Society, Volume 7 (2005), ISSN: 1522-5658.

    §. Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, pp 22-3.


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