I came across the blog of a young man who is studying Catholic theology and challenged his assertion that suffering is invariably a lesson from God. He replied with a polite but paternal note in which he did nothing more than reiterate the point I had challenged. I wrote a second time asking him to explain what he thought God’s lesson was for starving infants and abandoned dogs. He then accused me of showing contempt for God (or at least his version of God) and for himself (I had no intention of being disrespectful), and suggested that I not visit his blog again. I apologized for having caused offense, not because my challenge was unreasonable but because I expressed it bluntly.
I respect the right of the blogger to hold any opinion about anything as long as that opinion doesn’t cause him to infringe upon the rights of others. But what is his rationale in demanding that I show respect for the opinions themselves, and did he believe that he was doing as much for me? I daresay he would argue that my opinion was sacrilegious, and that reciprocity was therefore impossible.
I was not taken aback so much by his unwillingness to address my questions as by the vehemence of his response. His blog was about love and peace, and I assumed from this that he was loving and peaceful. This tendency to take people at face value is a failing in someone of my age and experience.
…I have a great many objections to Christianity, regardless of the version offered. I have made several attempts to be a Christian, it is true, but this was not because I assented to Christianity intellectually, but because I wanted the comfort it promised; and it was this attempt to squash my intellect that eventually defeated me. I might as well have tried to squash a coiled spring or a slab of foam rubber, objects that have infinitely more patience and tenacity than I.
Even so, I might have overcome my intellectual reservations if only I had seen Christianity delivering what it promised. Namely, if Christians have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, why isn’t this evident? I have known people who were strong and people who were weak; people who were honest and people who were crooks; but I have never observed that Christians were stronger or had more integrity than non-Christians. If anything, I’ve wondered if they were as good; my speculation being that Christianity might appear most attractive to those who are weakest of character.
The “defense” of Christians about why the guidance of the Holy Spirit doesn’t enable them to stand out as moral examples runs along the lines of, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven,” but this doesn’t address the argument; it ignores it. In regard to the really bad things that Christians have done (inquisitions, religious wars, frightening children, burning heretics, etc.) I have heard Christians offer that atheists are just as bad (Communists being the example given). That Christians would attempt to mitigate the behavior of their fellow Christians by pointing out that it is no worse than that of the very people who they consider the lowest of the fallen strikes me as extraordinary. It also misses the point. Atheists don’t claim the benefit of divine guidance, and there is a vast difference in Christians persecuting people in the name of God versus atheists doing it in the name of Communism. I have yet to hear of a single atheist killing anyone in the name of atheism.
I don’t believe that the failures of Christians to live up to their own teachings is entirely their fault, and this leads me to another serious flaw of Christianity, namely that it is not grounded in reality. I’ll give an example. Jesus commanded those who are robbed of the jackets to offer the robbers their coats also. Does anyone live this way? Should anyone live this way? I see signs in church parking lots that read, “Unauthorized Vehicles Will Be Towed At Owner’s Expense.” What if, instead of towing cars, churches followed the spirit of Jesus and gave two parking spaces to everyone who took one parking space? What if, instead of calling the police when their houses were being burglarized, Christians helped the burglars carry heavy objects and gave them more than they had intended to steal?
There is practically no end to my objections to Christianity, and I don’t recall that even one of them has been answered in a manner that made the least bit of sense to me, this despite my very great desire to embrace the Christian faith. Yet, I have known many people who, though not Christians, expressed a great admiration for Jesus. Have they actually read all of the things he supposedly said? The part about abandoning your family and following him, or selling everything you own to buy a sword, or hiding the truth from those whom God doesn’t want to save?
There is the Jesus of the Bible and there is the Jesus of popular culture, and the Jesus of popular culture is kindly, patient, tolerant, peaceful, and forgiving. The Jesus of the Bible might have taught some of these virtues on occasion, but he was inconsistent in his teachings. He was also bad-tempered, humorless, prone to sweeping generalizations, intolerant of sects other than his own, disrespectful of his mother, had an adolescent zeal for offending his elders unnecessarily, insisted on teaching in parables even though his own disciples couldn’t figure out what he meant, and often acted contrary to what he professed to believe. Of course, most Christians seem to hold that Jesus meant for very little of what he said to be taken at face value. Well, okay then—I’ll leave it to them to interpret the words of their verbally challenged deity. Unfortunately, they can’t agree among themselves as to what he intended.