Christianity

With more than two billion adherents, including more than 3 out of every 4 Americans, it is important for people of all religions (or none at all) to understand what Christians believe and how those beliefs impacts society. Particularly as a prominent political and moral voice, the implications of Christianity’s influence are substantial.

Fundamental Beliefs of Christianity

It is difficult to do justice to the many sects of Christianity and their varying beliefs so here a few of the most common overarching beliefs:

  • Monotheism – there is only one god, that of Abraham
  • Scripture – the bible is the final revelation from god
  • Messiah – Jesus Christ, son of God, died for the sins of man and was resurrected
  • Return – prophecy holds that Jesus will return at the apocalypse
  • Afterlife – the soul will face salvation or punishment after death
  • Worship – Jesus is the only way to eternal salvation

History of Christianity

The success story of Christianity’s spread from the ancient Mediterranean region to the dominant World & US religion is obviously beyond my scope here. Instead I will note a few things. Christianity grew from the religious tradition of a select middle-eastern tribal people that believed they had a specific covenant with God. The belief of Jesus as the messiah slowly emerged among many competing ideologies in the time after his death. It was not until Constantine converted and adopted the religion for the Roman Empire in the 4th century that Christianity really took off. Many fundamentals were disputed among competing sects until the first Council of Nicaea in  325 C.E.

Is Christianity true?

The issue of likelihood of truth is very important when assessing any religion. For Christianity, even without addressing the existence of God, one can contend that it has an extremely low likelihood of being true. Let’s examine why:

(1) The Bible is Fallible
The holy book of Christianity is filled with contradictions, historical inaccuracies, scientific inaccuracies, false prophecies, and was compiled by many different authors. For example, science has proven the creation story incorrect. We  know Noah’s flood didn’t happen as described by looking at tree rings, ice records, fish and plant history, and human populations. There are hundreds of contradictions from minor ones to big ones like Matthew and Luke disagreeing on Jesus’ birth by 10 years. Further, there are also parts of the Bible that promote sexism, slavery, rape, polygamy, murder, and child abuse. Some people claim the Old Testament laws don’t apply, but Matthew and Luke say they do. Plus, many Christians follow the Old Testament teachings about creation and homosexuality with fervor.

(2) No Need for Salvation
If Adam & Eve never existed as depicted in the creation myth then why do humans need salvation? More importantly, the actual argument for the existence of the soul and afterlife is very weak. We have learned that consciousness correlates with particular patterns of brain activity and without the brain there is no consciousness. If you damage an area of the brain correlated with a certain conscious activity, it ceases. Further, with no credible evidence of dead people communicating with the living, this focus on the damnation or salvation of the soul is dubious at best. There is much we don’t know about the brain, but there is no evidence yet to justify the existence of a human soul.

(3) Historical Jesus Unclear
Consider that much of Jesus’ life is very similar to other earlier savior myths, the scripture is contradictory, and there is no independent historical evidence of his existence. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t real, simply that the accuracy of the story put forward by the Gospels is not as firm as believers may contend. A provocative challenge can be found at nobeliefs.com/exist.htm. Remember that we have no personal written words, no writings or artwork about him during his lifetime, no artifacts confirming his life, no known dates of birth or death, and no known last name. We have many of these for contemporary historical figures. Further, the Gospels do not conform to standards of historical vigor and it is much more likely the historical Jesus later had mythology interwoven into his life story.

(4) Similar Claims
Up until 2011, a  man named Sathya Sai Baba was living in India with 6 million followers, who claim he was born of a virgin, can levitate, heal the sick (somewhat), turn water into other drinks, produce objects out of nothing, and more. Historically, there have been similar claims to Jesus’ divinity and miracles that even predate him as they were associated with other religious traditions.

(5) Jesus Never Showed Up
Few people realize that Jesus was supposed to return during the lifetime of his followers. In Matthew 16:28 he says “I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” He repeated the claim again in 23:36 and in 24:34 and it is also presented in Mark and Luke. Since that time hundreds of revised predictions have failed.

There are a lot of apologists that try to reconcile the facts and evidence with Christian religious claims. These attempts are often intellectually dishonest or incomplete and sometimes confuse general discussion about the existence of God with the specific truth of Christian claims.

Good and Bad of Christianity

Even if Christianity isn’t true, it has many adherents that believe its tenants. That has positive and negative consequences. In a benign form it can give context to a meaningful spiritual experience. It can promote ethical behavior through invocation of guiding wisdom or pressure of eternal consequences. It can also promote strong communities and compassion for fellow human beings. However, in a more dogmatic form it can limit education by attacking science. It can let people die through faith healing, condom opposition, or restriction of medical research. It can also justify oppression of or attacks on homosexuals.

A Christian Nation?

With the overwhelming majority of American’s identifying themselves as Christians, the United States is in one sense a Christian nation (just as we are an obese nation or a nation in debt.) That label, however, couldn’t be more inadequate. The nation was founded with no mention of Christianity in the Constitution and our government has maintained a strong and undeniable commitment to religious freedom. In 1797 President John Adams said in the Treaty of Tripoli that, “The United States government is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” Most founders were indeed Christian, others were not, but they understood the importance of distinguishing between the church and the state.

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