What is My Motivation in Debunking Christianity?

WarrenL asked me the following two questions:

As I understand it you spent a good portion of your life assenting to Christianity and now with your book and regular articles it appears you plan to spend a good portion of it debunking Christianity.
(1) What is your motivation for this?
(2) It seems that religion will always be a part of our culture. Do you see any good or value in Christianity?

Question #1: My motivation for debunking Christianity on the web is pretty much the same as any Christian apologist, except I don’t do it to glorify God, and I’m not taking anyone to heaven with me. Christian apologists want to know that their beliefs are true, and one good way to do that is to get in the ring and argue for them. In doing so, they learn things and find better arguments to defend what they believe. This describes me too. Some want to make a name for themselves, some want the satisfaction of winning an intellectual contest (the competitive urge), while others want to gain some respect from their perceived peers, and still others promote themselves to make some money off what they write. So the motivations of us all are multifaceted.

I personally like an intellectual challenge. Can I describe what I believe in a way that makes some sense to those who disagree? That’s quite a challenge, and I like to try since our control beliefs are so diametrically opposed to each other.

I am a teacher, so I’m also against people believing in wrongheaded Christian ideas that I tend to think are based upon ignorance, although that’s the stuff that maddens me, since many apologists don’t seem ignorant at all! What is it, I ask myself, that makes us believe different things where each side has this strong tendency to think the other side is just plain ignorant? This is where discussing and debating these things intrigues me to the utmost, and so I try again to explain why I see things differently. In the process I get a better glimpse of what it takes to cross that great divide between us, and I test my own explanations of why I see things the way I do. How can we each be so sure the other is wrong? That intrigues me like nothing else I know.

I also believe that life it better from my perspective, having been a former Christian myself. I can be more...well...human. Church people are stuffy people who are so judgmental. I only realized how much this is true after leaving, although I thought it was true while still in the church. There is a life to be lived to the fullest, and Christians are afraid to do this...and once in a while to step out of bounds. I love the freedom to live like I want to without the fear of hell or the judgment of other Christians. Don’t get me wrong here, I still am every bit the honest and good person I was before (without the so-called help of the Holy Spirit), but I no longer feel guilty for what I think about, whereas Christians always seem to struggle with thoughts of hate, greed, lust, and the like. I don't have to anymore, for the most part. I only have to be concerned with what I actually do, not what I think about. I no longer have to give of my hard earned money to fund a church building in hopes God will multiply it back to me, I don’t have to worry about what Ms. Peabody thinks if I go play pool at the bars, and I no longer have to waste so much of my time attending church, reading the Bible, praying, and evangelizing, and the overwhelming guilt that used to come when I failed in these things. If I see a pretty girl I can imagine what she looks like naked if I want to, and comment on her looks to the guys, so long as I do nothing about it, since I’m a very happily married man. I can drink and get buzzed if I want to. If someone does get in my face I don’t have to be a mild mannered man, but I can tell him to get the fuck away from me, and I can say it like I mean it. I can waste away my time watching TV without guilt if I want to. I can drive over the speed limit if I want to without fear of God's judgment, although I don't speed hardly ever. I also love the freedom to think for myself without feeling like I must justify everything I believe in the Bible (have you recently tried to come up with a view of hell from the Bible that passes the moral test?). And I love the fact that my thinking is not hamstrung by fear of being cast into hell, hence I'm a freethinker. I also love being good to people just because I want to, and not because I have to, and I am. Even as an atheist I have reasons to be good without God.

Consider the medieval monks, for instance. They lived ascetic lives on the bare bones of existence, spending their lives reading a Biblical text that was false, rather than living the fullest life possible. Consider modern day Catholic priests, who live life without knowing the warmth of an intimate embrace in the arms of a woman, and the joys of being a father and a grandfather. Lacking this intimacy some of them have resorted to the crime of molesting altar boys, and have received prison sentences and the disgrace of it all. Consider the fundamentalist Baptist minister who never may know what it’s like to have a few drinks and get buzzed (or if he does, he will feel guilty for this). Consider the many nights Christians spend evangelizing others, when those same nights might be better spent with their families or friends (and as a result many a man lost his family while he was out winning the world). Consider the time many Christians spend reading the Bible, when they could enjoy the great novels of their day. Consider the joy one might have in alleviating the person who is suffering for the pure joy of it, rather than doing it for some false heavenly reward. Consider the money that was spent in building great cathedrals and temples to this false sense of ultimate reality that could be better spent on the needs of people, or with what is leftover a cruise in the Bahamas.

I also want to help people who are struggling with their Christian faith to know there are others out there like me. As I was thinking my way out of Christianity I did it alone with my books. I read things. Then I thought about them. And I read some other things. But I struggled, and struggled. I didn’t seek out anyone to talk to about my doubts, because most all of the people I knew were Christians, and I didn’t want to be branded as a heretic, or shunned, nor did I want to create doubt in anyone else, since I wasn’t sure what I would end up believing at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. So my book and this Blog are to help people discuss these things. It’s to let them know there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that others like me have come out of the tunnel and we’re okay. It’s okay to doubt. You’ll be fine. In fact, I believe it’s better over here.

I also believe there are inherent dangers with religious beliefs. They don’t always materialize, but they do have their impact in various ways. There are political reasons, which I don’t touch on here much at all. There is a large voting block of evangelical Christians in America that help elect our local and state and national governmental officials. This large block of evangelical Christians also participate in letter campaigns to change public policy in ways I don’t approve of. Atheists generally think Christian theism inhibits scientific progress, creates class struggles, sexism, homophobia, racism, mass neurosis, intolerance and environmental disasters. There are some dispensationalist Christians in America who believe the Jews are somehow still in God’s plan. So they defend Israel no matter what they do, which fans the flames of war between the militant Muslims and the US.

Christian inclusivist scholar, Charles Kimball, argues that certain tendencies within religions cause evil. “Religious structures and doctrines can be used almost like weapons.” (p. 32). Religion becomes evil, according to Kimball, whenever religion: 1) has absolute truth claims; 2) demands blind obedience; 3) tries to establish the ideal society; 4) utilizes the end justifies any means when defending their group identity; or 5) when they see themselves in a holy war. He says, “A strong case can be made that the history of Christianity contains considerably more violence and destruction than that of most other major religions.” (p. 27) [When Religion Becomes Evil (Harper, 2002)].

According to Bertrand Russell, “one of the most interesting and harmful delusions to which men and nations can be subjected is that of imagining themselves special instruments of the Divine Will.” “Cromwell was persuaded that he was the Divinely appointed instrument of justice for suppressing Catholics and malignants. Andrew Jackson was the agent of Manifest Destiny in freeing North America from the incubus of Sabbath-breaking Spaniards.” Of course, such a political program “assumes a knowledge of the Divine purposes to which no rational man can lay claim, and that in the execution of them it justifies a ruthless cruelty which would be condemned if our program had a merely mundane origin. It is good to know that God is on our side, but a little confusing when you find the enemy equally convinced of the opposite.” “Belief in a Divine mission is one of the many factors of certainty that have afflicted the human race.” “Most of the greatest evils that man has afflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.” [“Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind,” Unpopular Essays (Schuster, 1950), pp. 146-165)].

As far as the second question of WarrenL goes, yes I do see some good in Christianity. It has saved marriages headed for divorce (although it can create an oppressive family structure where the wife is dominated and must obey her husband). It has changed rebellious teenagers who were hell bent on doing drugs, sex, and crime (but there are other down-to-earth reasons why they should change). It offers a heavenly comfort (even if it is a false one) in believing that God can help Christians and will bring them to heaven (although it also requires believing that our neighbors, friends, mother, father, siblings, and cousins might spend forever in hell, however conceived). Christianity inspires kindness to needy people and motivates them to give to help others out but see this.

However, I just don’t see where a Christian society is a better one. And even if Christianity was the main motivator in starting most all early American universities, most all of our hospitals and many food kitchens, and the like, these things still would have been started anyway, if for no reason other than necessity. It just so happened that Christianity has reigned in America for a couple of centuries, that’s all. Besides, these things were probably not started by Christian churches out of altruism, or any desire for a better society, but as a way for those churches to convert people. After all, who are most vulnerable to the Christian message? The sick (hospitals), the poor (food kitchens) and young people leaving home for the first time to enter the world as adults (universities). Most of the earlier universities were all started to train preachers who would evangelize.

Christians have a false and irrational hope, but just don’t know it. They are simply deluded into thinking their lives have some grand ultimate purpose. So who’s better off? Someone who lives a life of delusion, doing things because they think it will matter for eternity, along with the daily guilt for not having lived up to those standards, or someone who lives with his or her feet planted squarely on the ground with the only reality that is to be had? Atheists have offered suggestions why people turn to religion. Sigmund Freud claimed that religion is an expression of the longing for a father figure. Ludwig Feuerbach claimed that God didn’t make man in his image, but rather we made God in our image. Karl Marx taught that religion is the opium of the working class people. It is funded and pushed by the rich class in order to numb the working class from trying to right the injustices put on them by the rich class. Religion keeps the working class focused on a hope of bliss in the hereafter. Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that religion endures because weak people need it. For Jean Paul Sartre, God represented a threat to authentic morality. If God is autonomous, in the Calvinistic sense, then human beings cannot be responsible for themselves. He argued that the rejection of God makes morality and freedom possible, for only then can people take responsibility for their own choices.

Listen finally to Robert W. Funk and Robert M. Price's motivations:

Robert W. Funk in his book, Honest to Jesus (p. 19) wrote: “As I look around me, I am distressed by those who are enslaved by a Christ imposed upon them by a narrow and rigid legacy. There are millions of Americans who are the victims of a mythical Jesus conjured up by modern evangelists to whip their followers into a frenzy of guilt and remorse—and cash contributions. I agonize over their slavery in contrast to my freedom. I have a residual hankering to free my fellow human beings from this bondage. Liberation from fear and ignorance is always a worthy cause. In the last analysis, however, it is because I occasionally glimpse an unknown Jesus lurking in and behind Christian legend and piety that I persist in my efforts to find my way through the mythical and legendary debris of the Christian tradition. And it is the lure of this glimpse that I detect in other questers and that I share with them.”

Robert M. Price: “We are viewed as insidious villains seeking to undermine the belief of the faithful, trying to push them off the heavenly path and into Satan’s arms. But this is not how we view ourselves at all. We find ourselves entering the field as the champions and zealots for a straightforward and accurate understanding of the Bible as an ancient text. In our opinion, it is the fundamentalist, the apologist for Christian supernaturalism, who is propagating false and misleading views of the Bible among the general populace. We are not content to know better and to shake our heads at the foolishness of the untutored masses. We want the Bible to be appreciated for what it is, not for what it is not. And it is not a supernatural oracle book filled with infallible dogmas and wild tales that must be believed at the risk of eternal peril.” [The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave (Prometheus, 2005), p. 15].

I hope this helps explain.

To read Part II of why I am debunking Christianity see here.