If you’re reading this, you’re probably a Christian or in a Christian-majority country. If so, this post is for you. If not, then I don’t know enough about your God to reject him so easily. In this post I want to set forth my reasons for not believing in the Christian / Jewish God. This includes the pantheon of Catholicism (Mary, God/Jesus, and the saints), as well as the newer Christianities that rely on the Old Testament / Torah and later books and revelations.
It is important to note that not believing in any Gods does not make you a bad person. In fact a lack of belief in Gods is highly correlated with knowledge of the Bible, highly correlated with education, and is a sign that you have done some investigation of right and wrong (Source).
Foundations of belief
Each Christian has a different foundation for their belief, but I think they are all faulty. The most logical Christians base their belief on the Bible. This makes most sense because, without the Bible as your foundation, there is nothing more than emotion, personal experience, or other fragile foundations.
Some others use Christian ethics as the foundation of their belief. Without God, there would be no right or wrong, and so to know what is right we must first learn to love the one true God and then follow his teachings.
Others use the Holy Spirit as the basis of their belief. This is a warm fuzzy feeling one gets when in a church or in a worshipful state sometimes coupled with a dark and oppressive feeling in other environments.
The Bible as foundation
The Bible is a terrible foundation. It is the sort of foundation on which you would not build a house. It is, to borrow a metaphor, the house built on sand. The first thing to get out of the way is whether the Bible is literally true. If you believe it is literally true, then you must contend with all the contradictions, failed prophesies, and provably wrong scientific inaccuracies. Time for some examples.
What the Bible claims
The Old Testament starts with a mythological story about a world created either post-dinosaurs, or with non-avian dinosaurs and humans sharing the Earth in direct contradiction of several branches of science (evolutionary biology, geology, physics, plate tectonics, paleontology). Even if we don’t dismantle the contradictions of all the observations we humans can make (there’s no firmament holding up the sky-water, biology, geology, astronomy and much more science have shown us that the universe was not created this way, etc.) there is still the small matter of the two versions of Adam and Eve’s individual creations to explain away.
After Adam and Eve, the Bible continues with an implausible story about a world-wide flood that should have wiped out all of life on the planet save one family of Jews. Genetic records prove that all humans do not descend from one couple and that the genetic Adam and the genetic Eve that we all are descended from, lived some 100,000 years apart from one another (Source 1, Source 2).
When the world flooded, the animals on Earth were saved by a single supposedly-worthy man and his family. He managed to protect the animals of South America and Australia. South America and Australia contain marsupial species (and others, such as black swans and jaguars) which evolved over long periods in isolation. He managed to protect species like the Mountain Gorilla and the Giant Panda, both of which were unknown to Westerners until the twentieth century. Once the flood subsided, Noah or magic had to return these animals to places not-yet discovered by people from the Middle East. I am deliberately skating over how the so-called ultimate good murdered almost every human and almost every animal on the only planet that is known to contain life (a form of genocide).
The Bible also describes how languages proliferated throughout the world (Genesis 11) but fails to account for:
- similar languages (such as Icelandic and Norwegian),
- linguistic evolution, and
- linguistic cross-pollination, which continues to this day.
In a later story, animals are bred to be striped based on the decoration of a wooden stick that the animals are looking at when mating (Genesis 30:39). If the Bible is literally true, we should use this for dog breeding – it would make life much easier. I am not being flippant here – if you genuinely believe the Bible is literally true, you need to have an explanation for things that are patently nonsense.
After this foundational information, the genocide, murder, God-supported slavery, and rape really ramp up. These are the Bible verses advocating rape that I could find relatively easily: Genesis 12:18-20, Genesis 19:8, Genesis 19:32, Genesis 34:6-7, Deuteronomy 22:28-29, Second Samuel 13:14, Second Samuel 13:19-20, Zechariah 14:2, Judges 20:4-5.
The genocide and murder are hardly secrets. God mentally tortures Abraham by making him such a zealot that he would be willing to kill his own child. He destroys entire civilizations on behalf of a primitive tribe who, according to the historical record, were actually groups of the same people (Canaanites).
Kings David and Solomon are amongst the worst human beings in all of literature and, if real, reflect poorly on the God that chose them. This God, by the way, who interacts on a daily basis and behaves much more like a protagonist than an ethereal being. The ethereal nature of the modern God is necessary to explain his complete absence from human life. Even those in the evangelical movement who claim to have a personal relationship with Him have less-good, or equally good lives to atheists.
I should clarify the wealth-gap: Pew Research found that only Presbyterians and Episcopalian Christians were wealthier on average than atheists. All other Christian sects were poorer (Source). This might be argued to be a sign that wealth is not everything, but in the USA’s ultra-capitalist system, wealth is the only measure that makes sense. If you are poor in America your health outcomes are lower, your education attainment is lower, and your chances of falling a victim to violent or non-violent crime is higher.
The New Testament
The New Testament has its own, unique, problems. Historians largely agree that there was a man named Jesus of Nazareth, but he was an apocalyptic preacher (Source) who believed that the Jews should prepare for the end-times. He said nothing for the gentiles, and he certainly did not appear to believe he was the Son of God (Source).
There are three synoptic gospels plus John. It is known that Mark is the oldest, Luke and Matthew are of similar age, and John is a much more recent creation. Matthew and Luke – and especially Matthew – add details that might make the Jesus they are describing seem more likely to be the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament. The Old Testament has multiple (conflicting) prophesies and Jesus only fulfils some of those with Matthew and Luke’s edits (Source). For example, Matthew invents a scene where Mary and the fictional Joseph visit Bethlehem in order to meet the needs of a Roman Empire-wide census. The census that happened in that area did not require people to return to their ancestral towns (because of course it didn’t), and it did not involve the whole of the Roman Empire. It also happened a lot later than the supposed date of Jesus’s birth, suggesting either that Jesus was born in the year 6 CE, or that it was made up, which as we know, it was.
The same is true of the resurrection. Matthew describes a whole load of dead people coming back to life in order to meet the needs of prophesy, but if that had happened, you can be sure it would be documented by the write-everything-down Romans. Without the rise of the Jewish zombies (Matthew 27:51-53) and Matthew’s embellishments, it seems much more likely that a few people made it up, or that they saw a ghost much like many other ghostly sightings.
After Matthew and Luke embellished the story of an itinerant preacher who was not descended from the potentially mythological King David, and who did not claim to be the Son of God (or God himself), the next major contribution to the New Testament was Saul, later known as Paul. Paul never met Jesus and was a fundamentalist Jew originally. But later he began to write letters about Jesus and added a lot of doctrine and dogma to the belief system. Without Paul, Jesus is a much more compassionate prophet. With him, Jesus starts to look a lot more Old Testament and leads directly to the hate-fueled right-wing of Hitler’s Catholicism and the USA’s so-called Grand Old Party.
Finally, Revelation – the source for most of the ideas about the end times and hell – is clearly the insane ramblings of a zealot. If you were given that book in isolation of your beliefs, or if you read it first, and certainly if you didn’t have a ‘kindly’ person there to explain it, you would reject it as nonsense. In fact, the book almost didn’t make it into the canonical Bible (Source). And even if you could get through it, the things it talks about, such as the seven churches, have long-since disintegrated. This despite the end-times apparently coming “soon” and happening within the lifetimes of Jesus’s followers, according to Jesus himself (Luke 9:27).
Many believe the Bible is the inspired word of God. Others believe it is inerrant, and others believe parts of it are metaphorical or not to be taken literally. Whatever your perspective, but especially if the Bible is supposedly perfect, any one of the facts above should be enough to dismiss it out of hand. And if you can accept the flaws, lies, and copying errors mentioned above, then you still have to explain how you decide which parts are the bigotry of less-enlightened ages, and which are God’s true intentions. Does Leviticus really say that gay people are not God’s people, or does it reflect a lack of awareness among its writers? Given the fact that it has taken us centuries of gradual enlightenment as a species to learn to treat the gay, the atheist, and the disabled as equals, it seems most likely that Leviticus was written by a Middle Eastern primitive, rather than an all-knowing God.
The ethical argument
As we have seen above, the God of the Old Testament is a brutal, violent, sexist, homophobic, slavery-endorsing, genocidal maniac. And Jesus was not as peace-loving as we now like to think. He tried to convince his followers to take up arms against those who were to arrest him (Matthew 10:34). If he were God, he manipulated events so that He would be executed and failed to prevent the beheading of John the Baptist and the suicide of Judas.
Maybe the God of the Bible is not ethical in a modern sense, but perhaps he has a holistic and superior ethics that we lowly humans could never understand? Or perhaps we need the Bible to give us the foundations of ethics on which all modern societies are based?
But there is not a society known – even those that are disconnected from the Judeo-Christian culture in which Europe and America are steeped – that endorses killing people outside of particular circumstances. Most Americans and some Europeans are strongly in support of military aggression and the United States still has the death penalty not only in backward states like New Hampshire, but even at the Federal level. Murder and lawful killing are separated out in the Bible in a way that most ethicists and most good people could not justify in today’s world. Indeed, ISIS’s more barbaric acts are quite in line with the acts of the Biblical actors, but they caused shock to the West when they were carried out for a different God.
Most Christians (and Christianity-based nations) do not use any of the commandments of the Old Testament as the basis for their laws. Adultery is not punished with stoning even in the deep south of the United States. The Christians you meet in 2022 are more than happy to work on either day of the weekend without fear of stoning.
Christians, especially on the right in America, claim to be “pro-life” because they are against abortions. This despite the science about the viability of fetuses, the way cells divide and specialize, and – most importantly – the risk to the mother of some pregnancies being allowed to continue. Europe has largely stopped the propagation of some genetic diseases by checking the baby during pregnancy, while America is moving back towards the dark days of banning abortion.
But this so-called pro-life group (the Republican Party) also advocates for lax gun control. Guns were involved in the death of 45,222 people in 2020 in the United States (Source). That is a rate nearly 55 times higher than in the culturally similar United Kingdom (Source). If you prefer life to death, you would choose gun control over abortion as the more important issue. And abortion can be prevented pretty effectively by educating young men about rape, by providing free contraception, and by utilizing social workers and therapists in place of police and jails.
This so-called pro-life group also advocates against providing insulin at prices that reflect international norms and humane justice. And it fights scientifically proven contraception, drug treatment, homeless assistance, mental health treatment, and incarceration, all of which result in lost lives and lives of lower quality.
American Christians have a tendency to support penal codes that, in the more secular world, are considered brutal, counter-productive, and expensive. Again, this is supported by science.
Finally, there is the ultimate immoral realm: Heaven. If God loved his people, he would not create them with critical minds and doubt and then provide them no evidence of His reality or of the ultimate threat in hell. If you ignore the absence of hell in the Old Testament, and if you accept that it exists, you are conceding that your good God advocates the eternal torture of ethical beings. I hope this is nonsense, but ethically, it must be. If God is good, he would not create or allow to persist a hell, and if he does not exist, hell probably doesn’t either. And if God does exist and so does hell, God is not good in any way that matters to me.
The Holy Spirit and how it makes you feel.
If your faith is based on a warm and fuzzy feeling when you’re singing in church, then this is more difficult to refute. The faith you have can be defined in psychological terms, but that doesn’t tell us anything about how it feels any more than describing love in physiological terms can compare to a well-written poem, or our lived experience.
Ultimately (and honestly), if you are made happy by this God, then go ahead. Just be careful to separate this feeling you have from your political or social reactions. If you fall back on your Bible to advocate for abortion-control (instead of abortion-prevention through contraceptives, education, etc.), or to isolate gay family members, to justify not having to pay taxes for universal healthcare, or to justify slavery, then you need to consider the Biblical dismantling I provided above.
Whatever your reason or reasons for believing, I hope that you read the book recommendations and source links above, reflect on your own shortcomings, and try to shake off some of the negativity that is preached on a weekly basis. The world, for example, is not a dark place but is getting better all the time. The news only tells you the bad, but the good has been beating the bad since the enlightenment (Source).
I wrote this because supposedly good people I know proudly show their religious affiliation by wearing shirts that talk about their God as some sort of cultural architect. This is beyond disgusting. The God in the Bible is vicious, cruel, and ethically bankrupt. The God of the popular modern imagination is better, but His followers, especially the evangelists, support homophobia, gun proliferation, abortion-restrictions instead of abortion preventions, and lots of other anti-science (and so false) claims about reality and policy. To advocate for a world where any of these Gods is the architect is to paint a heartbreaking picture.
The world in which Jesus wasn’t just a charismatic apocalypse-predictor and Yahweh really did murder and kill on behalf of the ancient Jews, is not a world we should wish to be true. Aside from eternal life (for a convenient few), the Bible paints a less rosy picture than does the secular reality in which we exist. It’s getting better and will continue to do so all the time we humans keep striving and keep learning what is real through observation, experiment, and mathematics.
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