When I discovered the online atheist community a few years ago, one of the things that astounded and humbled me the most was the scholarliness of so many activist atheists. I had never before been in the company of so many people so versed in scripture, so skilled in the arts of rhetoric and argumentation, so keen to identifying and deconstructing logical fallacies. I’m not going to lie: It’s often been intimidating to be surrounded by people whose expertise in such things is so far beyond my own comparatively unsophisticated approach. As time passes, though, and I learn more and more about these subjects, I find that my basic issues with religion in general, and Christianity in particular, have not evolved to more abstract ontological questions, but have rather crystallized my inability to reconcile even the most basic and fundamental principles of Christian faith. The following, while not by any means an exhaustive list, represent what for me are the biggest head-scratchers.
1. Jesus didn’t die. Christians are always going on about how Jesus died for our sins, but if he came back after three days then he didn’t really die at all; more like being in a brief coma, which is a drag, but not exactly the ultimate sacrifice that the crucifixion is cracked up to be. And it wasn’t just his spirit that departed to heaven, but his actual physical being. If you go dig up a three-day old grave, regardless of what you think may have happened to that person’s immortal soul, odds are there’s still going to be a body in it. Jesus’ tomb, on the other hand, was empty, meaning that following his resurrection he was either a zombie or he was fully alive, neither of which is dead. Even more relevant is that when he was hanging there on the cross, Jesus knew that he was going to come back. He didn’t have to endure the fear of death that any other human being would have had to face or the uncertainty that presumably afflicts all but the most devout at the moment of death about whether there really was going to be an afterlife, or if this was lights out for good. Yes, he probably suffered physically, but he knew that death would be no more than a long nap and then he’d be up and at ‘em again. In any meaningful sense, he didn’t die.
2. Jesus didn’t have faith. Jesus was always rolling his eyes and scolding his disciples for not having enough faith. There are many verses to be found in the New Testament in which Jesus says some variation of, “Don’t trust your senses, don’t look for evidence, just accept it because I said so.” But if Jesus was the son of god, then faith wasn’t something he needed – he knew god and heaven were real because that’s where he came from, no faith required. How fair is it to command the rest of the world to accept something on faith alone, threatening eternal punishment to any who don’t believe it, when you yourself have no need of faith because you possess all the evidence?
3. Jesus didn’t take away my sins. Or did he? I am no logician, but if Jesus died to take away the sins of humanity, then doesn’t that mean that once he was crucified there was no longer any such thing as sin? If his “death” was the absolution of the human race, why do I still have to do what the bible says, or go to church, or even believe? Aren’t I already saved by his “sacrifice?” And if I am not, and there are still rules to follow and sins that could keep me out of heaven, then what, precisely, have I gained from it?
4. Jesus wasn’t a very nice guy. American Christians talk a lot about “family values,” but that concept doesn’t have much, if any, basis in the actual story of Christ. Jesus demanded that his disciples abandon their families and save all of their devotion for him and him alone – a rather narcissistic and not particularly family-centric expectation. Aside from seeming to be in direct contradiction to the commandment about honoring thy mother and father, abandoning spouses and children, while not against any commandments, still seems like a douchey thing to do, even 2,000 years ago.
5. Jesus’ dad was really not a nice guy. We all know that the bible is full of rape, murder, genocide, slavery, and every manner of atrocity – and not in a, “This is what our enemies do so don’t be like them” way, but in a “As long as you are one of mine, have at it” way. Then Jesus showed up and said, more or less, that the old laws still applied, and he wasn’t about to change them. Yes, he was willing to call out hypocrisy, and he did seem to care somewhat about social justice – at least with regard to poverty and leprosy – but otherwise he was still the enforcer of some rather distasteful rules. And don’t even get me started on Jesus being his own father – a concept that, in addition to being patently bizarre on its face, makes Jesus himself the very same god of the Old Testament that Christians like to dismiss as no longer relevant (except, of course, when it comes to hating gays).
6. Prayer is contradictory. We are told that god has a plan for everything, but then we are told to pray – for our loved ones to get better when they fall ill, for safety in the storm, for the home team to win the big game. Does that mean god will change his plan if you pray hard enough, or the right way, or get enough other people to pray for the same thing? This seems to suggest that God doesn’t have much of a plan at all, since he’s apparently willing to simply do whatever gets the most prayers or favors those who ingratiate themselves the most or who have prayed the best – not to mention that it’s a rather arbitrary, even capricious, approach to human suffering. Further, people often say they pray for things like inner peace, strength, understanding, the solution to personal problems, etc. I don’t pray, but I do a lot of introspection in search of those same things, and then I do either what my conscience tells me is right or what my objectivity tells me has the best chance for the desired outcome. I suspect that people who pray end up doing more or less the same thing but attributing their conclusion to an outside agency – in which case, how strange is it to carve out your conscience, that innermost part of yourself, the very core of what makes you you, and say it isn’t you?
7. The bible doesn’t set the moral bar very high. Let’s face it: Don’t rape people, don’t own people, don’t hate people, and don’t hurt children are kind of no-brainers when it comes to morality. Our friend Jesus and his old man not only failed to make these things clear, but in many instances they encouraged, condoned, or commanded them. Sure, Jesus said a few things about loving your neighbor and being kind to strangers, but he also said that not believing in him was the worst offense a person could commit and that anyone who didn’t believe would burn in Hell for all eternity. And seriously, the Ten Commandments as a basis for all morality? Checking out your neighbor’s wife is worse than raping his daughter? Taking the lord’s name in vain is worse than owning slaves? Nice priorities. Add to this the fact that god himself does not follow his own rules, to which Christians usually respond that mere mortals cannot understand or judge the morality of god. But if the bible defines morality, and god has a different set of rules for himself than for humans, and we are not allowed to know or understand his rules except that we are expected to do as he says but not as he does, then how exactly does that provide any kind of moral baseline whatsoever? For a group that loves to point fingers at atheists for supposed moral relativism, what could be more relative than that?
8. Christian love is rarely very loving. We hear a lot about Jesus’ love and god’s love and how god so loved the world that he gave his only son yada yada yada. We already covered the part about him not really giving up his son at all, and enough has been said by people smarter than I am about the questionable necessity of having a baby, leaving him be for 30 years, torturing him to death, and then bringing him back to life a few days later as a way of forgiving humanity instead of – oh, I don’t know, just saying “I forgive you.” We covered too that this supposed forgiveness isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if I’m still considered a sinner and an apostate and bound for hell for not believing. But if we set that part of the contradiction aside, how loosely are we defining love if we are applying it to the bible? “I love you so much that I will torture and murder my own son as a symbol of something I could just give you without the bloodbath. I love you so much that I will reward you with an eternity in heaven, but you have to suffer and die in this world first. Salvation is yours, so long as you swear your devotion to me and only me. And believe what I say even if it sounds like nonsense because I told you to. And admit that deep down you are a rotten piece of garbage who doesn’t really deserve my love. And if you don’t do all of these things you will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity. But seriously, I love you.”
9. Terrible things happen to good people. A quarter of a million people died in the tsunami of 2006. Twenty first graders and six adults were slaughtered at Sandy Hook. People die of starvation, are killed by war and disease, are raped or beaten by people who have power over them, and suffer in countless other ways. If there is an omniscient, omnipotent god who is also loving, as Christians would have us believe, why do these things happen? Why do children suffer and die? Why are there droughts and floods and famines and pestilences and earthquakes and wars? Why couldn’t god just make people nice? Why create natural disasters? Why didn’t he set forth better, clearer rules to eliminate ambiguity about how we are supposed to treat each other? God either intervenes or he doesn’t; god is either omnipotent or he isn’t. If he does and he is, then suffering exists because god intends for it to be that way. If he doesn’t and he isn’t, then he isn’t in control of anything, including the minutiae of how we live our daily lives. How is either a god worthy of worship?
10. It’s all just way too convenient. Got what you prayed for? He answered your prayers. Praise Jesus! Didn’t get it? He has another plan. Praise Jesus! Don’t have the answers? You’re not meant to. Praise Jesus! Figured out the answer? He chose you. Praise Jesus! Sad about the deaths of your loved ones? They’re in a better place. Praise Jesus! Sad about how much your life sucks? You’ll be happy once you’re dead. Praise Jesus! Honestly, when the answer to every question is exactly the thing that makes you feel best / most comforted / least in need of using your own intellect, should that not send up a huge red flag that maybe you’re not being completely objective?
I am not, of course, the first person to make these observations, and no doubt there are many who have made them better. But as someone who has lived an entire life without religion, the exercises of engaging apologists, philosophizing, or running ontological obstacle courses seem – perhaps naively, but seem nonetheless – to be almost beside the point when the most basic premises of religious belief are so deeply flawed and, not to put too fine a point on it, rather ridiculous. These irreconcilable contradictions explain a lot about why religious indoctrination is necessary at a very young age, and sadly, they explain a lot about why the world is in the sorry state it is: Because they make people adept at rationalizing the irrational, believing the unlikely, and justifying the immoral.
This article first appeared in Atheist Survival Guide in December 2014.