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Religion | Nov 15, 2007

Why I'm Not a Christian

I have been a religious seeker for about the past 6 years, and I want to emphasize that coming into the game I was fairly certain I was going to be a Christian. I remember telling my mother, "I think I am going to be a Christian, mom, I just want to read the Bible first." My mom was very pleased, since she and the vast majority of my family are Christian. I didn't want to just read the convenient highlights, however. I had heard that there were some unpleasant things in the Bible, so I wanted to start on page 1 and read it straight through. Boy, if more people did that we would have far fewer Christians in the world. I was horrified at what passed for justice in the Old Testament, so I scrambled to read pro-Christian materials looking for an explanation. I was again disappointed to find that the arguments and the evidence were unimpressive. I finally turned to reputable textbooks on the history of Christianity that laid out all of the archaeological evidence and explained the current state of biblical scholarship. Any hope I once had of becoming a Christian was shattered. Christians have often told me of stories of people that set out to prove the Bible false but ended up converting (like C.S. Lewis). Well lots of people go the other way; Christians just don't talk about those folks. Here is a list of the cold facts that were the source of my disillusionment:

-Jesus was executed after spending only a week teaching in Jerusalem after coming down from Galilee. He maybe had 15 followers at the time of his death, none of whom wrote down what happened to them. Even David Koresh had far more than 15 followers. The gospels themselves were written decades after Jesus died based upon an oral tradition; nobody knows who wrote them. We know this because the oldest copies we have of the gospels don't have names on them.

-Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are just traditional names (In fact, most books in the New Testament are considered "pseudonymous" in this way by scholars... a.k.a. forgeries). Additionally, they were written in Greek, not Aramaic, the language of Jesus his disciples. There are absolutely no records of Jesus written during his life, and none written by those that are thought to actually have known Jesus. Jesus is thus considered by scholars to be one of the most mysterious major figures in all of history. Of the 27 books usually included in the New Testament, only 7 of them are widely considered authentic (a few of the epistles of Paul). The rest are either controversial or widely considered forgeries by biblical scholars.

-The first non-Christian records (Jewish and Roman) mentioning Jesus were written an average 100 years after Jesus' death. The first Roman source is a letter written to Rome saying that there is violence being caused in Jerusalem by followers of a man that was executed decades prior named Jesus. The first Jewish source is by the historian Josephus as he is making lists of notable people, including lists of those that claimed to be the messiah (there were many) and the various miracles they all performed. Josephus says only a few sentences about Jesus and then goes on at long length about John the Baptist.

-The overwhelming majority of Jews did not think that Jesus was the Messiah for a second. It says in the Old Testament that those who hang from trees are cursed (Deut 21:22-23), so it was obvious to Jews that the Messiah would not be crucified. In addition, the ancient Hebrews thought from the scripture that the Messiah would be a strong leader, probably politically or militarily. Christianity had to rely on conversions of Gentiles to fill its pews. Since it was not foretold that the Messiah would be weak and suffering, early Christians had to justify the death of Jesus not by passages in the Old Testament that spoke of the Messiah, but other, seemingly unrelated passages that spoke of a righteous man suffering. In addition, the growth of the religion was slow. It appears Jesus' life went almost entirely unnoticed in ancient Israel. It took centuries before Christianity was a major religion.

-Early Christianity was extremely diverse, with different groups making totally different claims about who Jesus was. Adoptionists, Marcionites, Gnostics, Aryans... there were many groups. Some claimed Jesus was pure God, and that it was only an illusion that he suffered. Many claimed Jesus was pure man, and that it was silly and scripturally unjustified to say he was the Messiah. Some claimed Jesus was a second god, a just god that had come to replace the tyrannical god of the Old Testament (a somewhat convincing argument when you contrast the teaching of Jesus with the "jealous" and "vengeful" god of the Old Testament). Some claimed there were up to 100 gods! Some claimed you still had to keep the Jewish law, some claimed you didn't. Some claimed that nothing Jesus said was to be taken literally, and that the real truth was in between the lines. Christianity as we think of it today, with its very unique "trinity" idea, is merely the group that eventually won after over 300 years of fighting. Eventually one group was able to establish political power, after which they actively destroyed the other groups and their scriptures. This is why there are "lost gospels" that are occasionally found to this day.

-Christianity says that we are separated from God and need to accept Christ to be saved. Why are we separated from God? Because ADAM AND EVE disobeyed God. Beyond the unlikeliness of that whole story when considering what literally occurred, I don't think it's fair that a morally perfect God would hold me responsible for something I didn't do. I think it's doubly unfair that in order to get back right with God again I have to believe something for which there is such poor evidence.

-In Christianity, you go to Heaven only for believing Jesus died for your sins, not due to anything good or bad you've ever done. I find the idea that Gandhi goes to Hell but a serial killer that dies a believer goes to Heaven repulsive. Hitler claimed he was a Catholic; am I to believe he is in Heaven but Gandhi is in Hell? I know the "there is none good, no, not one" argument and that all deserve death, but that fundamentally conflicts with my idea of the situation a just God would set up. Catholics have thought the same thing over time, which is why they invented the idea of layers of Hell based upon how good or bad you are.

-The Old Testament is rife with sexual double standards, totally absurd rules, God killing the innocent, and God behaving "jealously" and "vengefully" and not in ways beholden to a morally perfect being. Here are a few examples: The man is the head of the woman in everything (Gen 3:16, and like 20 other times in the old and new testament), if you blasphemy God (think how many times you've said "goddamn") you are executed (Lev. 24:16), if you switch to another religion you are executed and possessions burned (execute apostates – the same thing I've heard Christians condemn about Islam – Deut. 13:12), kill friends or family that try to convert you to another religion (Deut 13:7), women that have sex out of wedlock should be executed (Dt. 22:13-22), if you curse at your parents you are executed (Ex. 21:17, Lev. 20:19), women that are raped but don't scream sufficiently loud are to be executed (Dt. 22:23-24), homosexuals are to be executed (Lev. 20:13), witches are to be executed (Ex. 22:18), adulterers are to be executed (Lev. 20:20), women cannot wear jewelry or braid their hair (both the old and new testaments say this multiple times), etc. The story of Elisha also comes to mind. He was a prophet that was walking down the road when a group of young boys made fun of his bald head (2 Kings 2:24). God sends bears to maul and kill 42 of the boys! And then the great flood (which is nearly identical to the much older Babylonian Great Flood story, which is curious since the Jews wrote down the Old Testament after returning from exile in Babylon)... even the babies were wicked? Give me a break. Then there is the story of God ordering the Hebrews to kill all the Amalekites down to the "nursing child." (1 Samuel 15) There is 2 Samuel 24:15, where God kills 70,000 men because David takes a census. Also there is where God "hardens the heart of Pharoah" so he will not have sympathy for the Hebrews, then unleashes 10 plagues upon the Egyptians, finally killing children down to "the first-born of the maidservant behind the mill". God then boasts, "I have made sport of the Egyptians" (Exodus 10:1-2, RSV). The Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites are all massacred down to the babies at God's command. It goes on and on and on.

-Christians today do not follow the majority of old Jewish law (except arbitrarily, like when they condemn homosexuality). Jesus, however, did keep the law and so did his disciples. Paul, who never met Jesus (unless you count a "vision"), invented the notion 15-20 years after Jesus' death that the law did not have to be followed. In fact, Paul insisted that Gentiles that became Christians NOT follow the law. Jesus never said this nor would he. If Paul did not make this change, Christianity would not have been palpable to the Roman converts, and since very few Jews became Christians, the religion probably would have totally died out very quickly.

-Few Jews today even believe in a Heaven and Hell, and that's the way it's always been. Certain Jews at the time of Jesus believed in these things probably after being influenced by the Zoroastrians (a religion from Persia that still exists to this day). The Zoroastrians invented the concept of Heaven, Hell, Satan, and a judgment day. Sound familiar? Not believing in Heaven and Hell is yet another reason that most Jews wouldn't buy the whole believe in Jesus and you get to go to heaven story.

-Jesus was an apocalyptic Jew that says at least 3 times in unambiguous terms that the world was going to end during his generation (Jesus: Matt 24:34, Mark 13:30-31, Luke 9:27, Luke 21:32; Paul: Hebrews 1:2; Peter: 1 Peter 1:20 & 4:7; John: 1 John 2:18; James: James 5:8). In the apocalypse envisioned by the Jews, the dead would be resurrected, so Jesus' resurrection was seen by his followers, including Paul, as the beginning of the end. Early Christians were told to prepare for this imminent apocalypse. Jesus and the early Christians were all obviously wrong.

-The idea of Jesus as both man and God is paradoxical. Also, the gospels never explicitly endorse the doctrine of the trinity (father, son and holy ghost are all the one God). 1 John 5:6 is the one passage in the New Testament that explicitly endorses the idea of the trinity. There is just one problem. That passage is not in the original greek version!! Someone who believed in the trinity added it later in a Latin translation. Practically all scholars accept this.

-There isn't any good evidence that a God even exists, let alone evidence for the additional stuff required to be a Christian. I have heard many Christians say, "Well you can't prove that there is a God, but you can't prove that there ISN'T a God either." You do not need to prove a negative. For example, when examining the existence of unicorns or werewolves, you do not need to be able to prove that they do not exist to be able to say that they do not exist. If you did, you could never say that anything does not exist. It could be that unicorns exist in a cave in Nepal somewhere, but the burden of proof is on the person claiming existence. The same goes with God. The burden of proof is on those that say God exists to demonstrate it. In the absence of good evidence, the rational thing to do is to say God does not exist, just as you can confidently say that unicorns do not exist.

-One of the most basic arguments more sophisticated people make for the existence of God is that things that exist have a cause, so the materiality must have a cause (cosmological argument). Materiality must have first been created by something immaterial. This immaterial cause is the creator of all materiality, so its reasonable to call this thing God. The problem with this argument is that by saying "things must have a cause", it begs the question of what created God. God, with His omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection in His activities accross the universe must be an incredibly complex being, yet He somehow is without cause? You could say, "well, I guess there must exist some thing that is without cause - something that just always was." But then, that thing that exists without cause could just be materiality itself. God is superfluous.

-Another thing Christians tend to say is, "look at this world around us and how beautiful it is. It is so complex it just absolutely must have been created by a higher being." (teleological argument) William Paley made this argument famous in the 19th century by saying that if you were walking in the woods and came upon a watch, you would instantly know it was created, because it could not have arisen any other way. The problem with this argument is that complex things can arise through simple processes. Darwinian evolution is the best example of this. The old assumption was that when you see something complex, it must have come from something more complex. The problem here is it begs what made the more complex thing. It turns out that we had it backwards. Complex things come from simple things. The complexity of the universe did not have to have come from a designer. The complex phenomenon of the universe seem to arise from a small number of rules. Why these rules, you might ask? The rules that there are don't necessarily have any significance. The universe had to be some way, after all. But if the rules weren't just like they were, then life could not exist, you say? Well, if life did not exist then we could not be sitting here pondering about this. The mere fact that we do exist necessitates that the rules be such that makes life possible. (anthropic principle) Many physicists posit that there are an infinite number of universes out there. It could be that every possible set of physics exists out there, most of which do not have life. We just happen to be sitting in one where life is possible. God is unnecessary and, indeed, superfluous.

If any of these things historical claims sound unbelievable, I encourage you to purchase a reputable book on biblical scholarship and you can see for yourself. I simply read the Intro to Christianity textbook at my university. I should say I'm not intolerant of Christians, I do not attack my Christian friends, I only defend when they try to convert me. I'll admit that deep down it bothers me when parents raise their children strictly to be one religion or another. Whenever I see a 3-year-old in a photo in the newspaper identified as "Muslim" or "Christian", I cringe. They aren't members of those religions in any sense other than that their parents are. Kids become emotionally dependent on the ideas of a particular religion, and they hold those beliefs into adulthood even in defiance of evidence and reason. I would prefer a situation where children are raised neutrally, then left to make their own choices when they come of age. It is honestly beyond me why religion not gone into decline in the US like it has in Europe. But I am honestly ambivalent as to whether or not we should hope that it does. Even though it is rational to behave in ways that do not destroy society, I don't give most people much credit for rationality, and I worry how people would behave without an idea that an omniscient force is monitoring them.

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