The other day I stumbled across the site JesusNeverExisted.com and was blown away. The site is fantastic! It puts the words to my own rejection of Christianity and backs words with facts I only vaguely knew/suspected. The site and its author brilliantly attack the foundations of Christianity and its many claims through logical and historical arguments, most of the time using the church's own writings/teachings to make the points. The site also offers fascinating contextual information about how the bibles were shaped, and upon what other documents and religions they were based.
I wanted to hate this site, when I first clicked the link to get there I expected the worst, the title being so "in your face". Arguments against Christianity (from atheists, especially) usually feel exhaustingly and frustratingly religious (in their own way), without any real facts, but this site instantly had me hooked because it lays out the arguments and the facts so well (and the facts are often conflicting quotations from the bible).
This site is unlikely to convince any true believer that they have been mistaken, but it surely would give a nudge to someone already on the fence.
If the Old Testament is divinely inspired by God, even a little bit, then I do not understand how it can sanction and promote so many egregiously wrong ideas, such as slavery:
As for your male and female slaves whom you may have: you may buy male and female slaves from the nations that are round about you. You may also buy from among the strangers who sojourn with you and their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you, to inherit as a possession forever; you may make slaves of them, but over your brethren the people of Israel you shall not rule, one over another, with harshness. – Leviticus 25.44
How can a "good" book say such a bad thing. How can a modern day Christian, many of whom purport to believe in the bible as the divinely inspired and (to many) inerrant work of God reconcile these words with our modern opinions on slavery. These (and others) are the words which emboldened and succored southern slave owners up to and during the American Civil War; these are the words which kept the "coloreds" in their place, separate and unequal.
The bible advocates many ideas and policies which we have (thankfully) long ignored, including stoning people to death for things such as working on the sabbath. If this work is divinely inspired why do the faithful not follow it more closely? If this work is divinely inspired by an omniscient God, how could it become so quickly outdated?
Christianity (in particular) puts quite a lot of emphasis on "faith". Preachers love to talk about how faith is a requirement, that we cannot require or expect proof from God, at least not in the same way we might expect and require proof from a scientist talking about his new discovery. To be a true follower of God you must believe in Him, largely on the basis of faith.
But what seems so odd to me is that few of the figures mentioned in the Old and New Testaments were required to have the sort of faith we are now expected to. The key figures in both Old and New Testaments all had direct and unambiguous contact with God, Jesus, and angels. This direct contact was not made only to the deeply faithful, it involved those who had no faith, those who had only marginal faith, and those with whom the concept of faith didn't even apply. God proved Himself to Moses by His appearance through the burning bush. God spoke directly to Abraham. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to the Apostles and many an average citizen by walking among them and performing indisputable miracles in their very presence. God (as Jesus) proved Himself to Saul (who became Paul) by converting Him through a personal appearance. God appeared, sent angels, or sent visions to most of the other major figures in the Old Testament (Adam & Eve, Cain, Abraham, Job, Isaac, Mary, etc.). How could these people in the Old and New Testament not believe in God when He was directly interacting with them, proving Himself to them by His words and His deeds? If Jesus appeared before me today and raised someone from the dead I, too, would absolutely believe. If God appeared and spoke to me tomorrow through a burning bush (that was not consumed) I would surely believe. If God spoke to me from the heaven's to ask me where my brother was, I would believe. How could anyone doubt what was so self-evidently true? But why are we now expected to forgo the proof and/or validation provided to all these figures we are taught to respect, emulate, and admire? Why did God or religion change these requirements? Why are we expected to be more "faith"-ful (in the sense of believing without proof) than the Apostles, than Saul (Paul), than Moses, than Abraham. I do not believe I can or should do that.
Mainstream Christianity's reading of the New Testament says, "You can only get to heaven if you've accepted Jesus Christ." If this had come in the form of an announcement delivered in a booming voice from the heavens to every living creature back in 32 AD, fair enough, but what about the billions of people who were born and died since 32 AD without ever having been exposed to a Christian, let alone Christ's message? God would have known how fast and far His message would spread, having only introduced it to one specific region (the middle east) at one specific time. He could have set and explained the new rules to Noah and his family during their time on the ark, so that all people would be informed and could choose their fate with full knowledge of their options and consequences. He could have set and explained the new rules to Adam & Eve in the garden so they could instruct their children and thus all humanity. God is all knowing, so how could he not know he would want to implement these rules at a future time? I find it hard to believe in a God who would knowingly create a situation in which large numbers of his beloved children would be doomed as a result of geography and a lack of world-wide communication networks.
(From what I understand, some believe that on judgment day everyone gets a second chance at giving their final answer about whether or not they accept Jesus as their lord and savior. If this is true then that is marvelous, and alleviates some of my concern, provided those souls are allowed to make an informed choice, presented with information which would reasonably allow one to conclude Jesus truly is real. Regardless, what puzzles me a bit is that if anyone can accept Him at this final moment, why then is it important that people accept Him during their life here on Earth. It would be preferable, sure, but so many Christians seem truly frightened when the relatives they love die (or look as though they may die) without having accepted Jesus.)
It seems reasonable to me to expect that people who love and follow the Lord would be happier and better people than those who don't. If God was real, and His laws were real, and His lessons were real, and faith in Him manifested changes, and prayer to Him worked, and His love was powerful, then how could His people not enjoy better lives and be better people? If His intervention was not a factor then simply their living a life in sacred resonance with a universe He made and they better understood would seem to guarantee some improvement.
And yet, I can find no significant evidence of this. I've known bad people of every faith (and lack therein). I've known unhappy people of every faith (and lack therein). All I've noticed is that the happiest and best people seem to be those who question and explore their religious beliefs (whether they believe or not). I certainly can't argue that the atheists or agnostics might be barred from entering heaven upon their death, but here on this good Earth God seems to show them no particular disfavor in the form of excess misery, death, poverty, etc. This lack of a strong difference between the lives lived, in or out of accordance with His wishes, does not encourage me to believe.
The God of the Old Testament made his presence directly and unambiguously known in many people's lives. He spoke directly to various Biblical figures, sent angels to speak on His behalf to various others. He was a very hands-on God. And while He changed His interaction significantly in the New Testament (sending Himself in the form of His son to directly interact with people), he was still very hands-on. But for the last two thousand years His approach has been decidedly hands-off. Now admittedly it depends somewhat on which faith or at least sect you subscribe to. There are Christian sects who believe in the visitations of other prophets, visitations of angels, and miracles, but even among these groups I think it's fair to say that fellow parishioners would look askance at any one arriving Sunday morning claiming a previous night's visitation by an angel bearing a great revelation. Something changed in God's interaction with us, or perhaps in our interaction with God. In either case I find the change hard to reconcile, and belief discouraged as a result.
Listening to the Christian radio and television spokespeople you'd believe all Christendom was falling apart, with heathens attacking the pious followers of Jesus on every side. And it's just not so. In certain places on Earth Christians are absolutely persecuted (e.g., the recurring outrages against Christians in predominantly Muslim Pakistan). The persecution of anyone is horrible, and all persecution should be opposed. But every group is persecuted somewhere, and suggesting by way of omission or commission that Christians are uniquely or especially targeted is just not accurate. While it's true that society in the US has become more secular in these last hundred years, it takes some chutzpa to say that's unfair or even necessarily a bad thing. Many rotten things have been done in Christ's good name (e.g., Salem witch trials, Biblical defense of slavery/segregation, hateful attitude towards gay people), and the separation of church and state was intended to protect our very good republic from the grave evils of that.
While Christians decry the removal of the Decalogue from the state and court houses, fume at the cessation of prayers in public schools, it remains as clear as ever that a winning politician is a church going politician, and one who goes to a "sanctioned" church. Despite a lifetime of good deeds and treating his neighbor as himself, no atheist, no agnostic, no unorthodox Christian (e.g., Mormon, Seventh Day Adventist, etc.), no Jew, and certainly no Muslim will soon be President of the United States. Until and unless any of those groups stop being excluded from that role by the largely baseless bias of our numerous and vocal (often evangelical) protestant citizens, I'm not going to buy the mainstream and fundamental Christian arguments about their persecution here at home.
Standing up on a street corner proclaiming that you believe in Jesus Christ will definitely get you some annoyed stares (most of them from moderate Christians) but it's nothing to the hateful glares you'd get standing in the same spot declaring your conviction that Jesus Christ is as much of a fantasy as the previously worshipped Greek God Apollo. Thus I encourage Christians to focus less on their sense of persecution, and more on the joy of their continued majority; enjoy it while you can.
I can't help but reflect on the similarity between majority Christians feeling persecuted and majority white men feeling persecuted. The plum line of social equality set in significant motion most significantly back in the 1960s will oscillate back and forth a bit until it points the way to a new and equitable normal. It will for a time be somewhat unfair to all, but every day less and less unfair. I certainly encourage white men to not settle for less than equality, we need you to defend your rights, but for goodness sake make your case with a contextual and historical awareness so that you don't sound so pathetically whiny.
I sometimes enjoy listening to evangelical Christian radio when I drive. I am not a Christian, but it is familiar to me. I went to an Episcopalian school from 3rd grade through 12th, my school was on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral, and my house was across the street from that. My mother was a holiday Christian, and my dad was a devout new age Christian. I've always had a fascination with religions (and cults), and (to some degree) an admiration of the religious (and the spiritual). Most of my fascination with listening to Christian radio relates not to its familiarity, but to the fact that I hear their arguments and I can't agree with their conclusions. And I generally enjoy the process of listening to the other side of an argument, trying to see things from the other person's perspective, trying to isolate the critical link of difference in the chain of reasoning that divides us. But I digress, I just wanted to explain why I listen, and enjoy, evangelical Christian radio.
On this particular day I was listening to a female preacher talking to what seemed to be an audience of young, perhaps troubled, women. In the context of the lesson, the preacher was identifying common failings of men, particularly young men. No doubt most of the women could identify. The key failing she was identifying was that the men of their past weren't, and the men of their future weren't likely to be, there for them when they most needed them. And that's why, she argued, these women should put their faith and turn their love towards Jesus, because he would never treat them like those men have and will.
From my perspective, this logic is a bit of beautiful, peculiar bit of nonsense. Because the reality in the world of external actions is that all of her complaints about these men could be turned around and directed at Jesus instead. The only thing that differs is that she ascribes to the men a malice or disregard that she naturally doesn't to Jesus, but the non-subjective reality is of an arguably similar nature. If a girl asks her boyfriend for something reasonable and he fails to do it, that would be read by this preacher as a sign of his poor and unreliable nature. If a girl asks Jesus for something reasonable and He fails to do it, that's just His ineffable divine plan. No one is allowed to require anything of Jesus or God. Many feel Their presence, feel the warm embrace of His love, but no one can expect anything specific of Him; He does as He sees fit, and faith promises that is how it was meant to be. These ladies' men aren't afforded the same lack of expectation. If the women were able to apply a similar faith with these men, turning their variance from expectation into a piece of some grand plan of theirs, they would likely find a greater solace and be less critical. Viewed from this misplaced (but arguable) faith, anything he does can have a positive spin. A man who leaves a girl when he finds out she's pregnant is merely providing her the opportunity to discover and nurture her inner strength; he would not have put her in that situation if she couldn't handle it. Similarly, a man that cheats on a woman could merely be teaching her an important lesson about the transitory nature of attachment. Anything he does can be cast in some defensible light.
And I do understand that the preacher sees a quite fundamental difference, that the big He is to be trusted and worthy of faith, infallible, while the little he is not any of these things, though both may refuse to be judged according to expectations.
(Anyway, I likely haven't done this argument justice, the people who agree with me will likely understand immediately what I was trying to say but didn't quite, and those that disagree will have no great trouble finding faults with my hurried argument.)