Consider more instances where the standard Christian line is one thing, but actually putting it into action looks very strange.
Do modern Christians really buy the Christian story? Prayer that really works, how you get to heaven, the logic of hell—all of it? And what about the conservative political thinking that many Christians have fallen into—the child sex ring, pro-life rhetoric, QAnon conspiracy theories, and all that?
Look just a few centuries back, and there was little competition with Christianity’s message in Europe. They really knew that there was an afterlife. But Christians today show that they’re hedging their bets and aren’t as on board as they had been.
In part 1, we explored the contrast between Christina Johansdotter, who murdered a child in Sweden in 1740, and Andrea Yates, who murdering her own five children in Texas in 2001. Both women assumed that their victims, because they were children, would go straight to heaven, and modern apologists confirm that logic.
Johansdotter committed murder to get executed herself. Her logic was that, with absolution for the murder, she would go to heaven, which was where her recently deceased fiancé was. Her culture understood that logic, and many fellow citizens surely thought that they’d consider the same route if they’d been in her shoes.
But few contemporaries agreed with Andrea Yates. Her actions were not those of a modern Christian.
One society was sympathetic and saw the murderer’s actions as, if not plausible, then understandable from a Christian standpoint. And the other society was horrified and saw the murder’s actions as reprehensible.
Let’s consider more modern examples where onlookers responded with, “Sure, that is what we say, but c’mon, you don’t actually follow through with that!”
More modern examples: do these Christians really buy the Christian story?
In these modern examples, see the tension between Christian or conservative thinking taken at face value and how modern Christians see the issue.
- Assassins for Jesus. In 2015, a shooter entered a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. He killed three and injured nine. Another example is the assassination of abortion doctor George Tiller, shot and killed during a church service in 2009. These were logical responses to Christian pro-life rhetoric that every abortion kills a baby (which isn’t true). But while this abortion-equals-murder claim is popular within conservative Christian circles in the U.S., there was no groundswell of support for these two shooters. Very few Christians deep down believe that abortion is equivalent to murdering an adult, and they understand that a month-old fetus is different in important ways than a month-old newborn. The pro-life line is just rhetoric, and it’s said with a subliminal wink.
- Abortion = murder? The work of apologist Greg Koukl also reveals this difficult knife edge. He pushes the idea that abortion is murder, but it’s a bad look to also insist on the logical consequence, that the women getting an abortion should be charged with murder. Koukl acknowledged this third rail when he said, “We can’t ever make a decision on the policy concern [that is, the punishment] unless we’re really, really clear on the moral concern.” To this I say, are you really, really certain that abortion is murder? If so, then you’ve suddenly become really, really clear on the policy response as well. The reverse is also true. If the punishment that goes along with murder doesn’t fit, then the crime couldn’t have been murder.
- Homosexual acts deserve death? Koukl also argues that homosexual acts are wrong and for proof points to the Old Testament. But of course he doesn’t want to bring along the Old Testament’s punishment, which is death. A modern sense of morality won’t sit by when an abominable moral conclusion is being considered.
- Pizzagate. Or take the shooter who fired shots in the Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in 2016. He was investigating the false Pizzagate sex ring conspiracy theory. How many Christians greeted this news with “It’s about time!”? How many were envious because they hadn’t had the courage to do the right thing? Surely very few. Overly literal interpretations like this are embarrassments to modern Christians.
- The red telephone. Years ago, I read that President Kennedy’s three-year-old son John Jr. was playing in the Oval Office while his father was working and accidentally picked up the receiver for the red telephone, the Moscow hotline. (While fact checking, I discovered that there was never a red phone on the president’s desk—that was Hollywood. There was a Moscow-Washington hotline, but in Kennedy’s term, it was a Teletype machine, and it wasn’t in the Oval Office.) But though the story about John Jr. isn’t true, it nicely illustrates the idea of a young, naïve child dabbling with immense power. That’s what we have with children and prayer. Jesus promised that prayers will be answered, but can we entrust this power to children? Those children might pray for God to kill the star player on the opposing football team. Or kill a teacher who assigned too much homework. Or kill a romantic rival. Only because no one believes that prayer works as Jesus promised do we let children pray.
- How prayer really works. Mature Christians know that prayer doesn’t work the way Jesus promised. No one anticipates success after prayer for an amputated limb to be restored. It’s not a matter of the prayers being petty or selfish. Countless prayers have been earnest and charitable, from recovery from the health crisis of a loved one to the end of a war on the other side of the world. The desired result is no more likely to happen with a prayer than not.
- Does Jesus heal disease? A church in New Zealand put up a billboard in 2012 that made headlines. It read, “Jesus cures cancer,” but the local advertising authority forced them to take it down. It’s one thing to make untestable claims for which Christianity is grandfathered in—about the afterlife, the resurrection, or the Trinity, for example—but another to make significant, testable claims like this one. Of course, if the church felt muzzled, it would have been easy to go to a hospital and heal everyone to prove their claim. But not even the members of that church would’ve been surprised that it doesn’t work that way.
Here’s an insight from Robert M. Price that might clarify how modern Christians juggle ancient mythology and modern science and find a place for each in their worldview. Price considered what pastor Rick Warren said about Noah in his Purpose Driven Life. Warren, he said, takes the Flood story literally but not seriously. That is, Warren claims that the Noah story literally happened, but he doesn’t take it seriously enough to defend or even consider its consequences.
Hell is another example. Hell is taken literally but not seriously—many Christians will stand by their literal interpretation of hell, but they don’t take it seriously enough to consider what it would mean to their afterlife even if they make it into heaven.
Or take prayer. Christians apply prayer only when a naturalistic route is unavailable. They pray for a football win or safe travels or a cure for intractable cancer, but where a proven naturalistic option is available—an antibiotic for an infection or a car with airbags or a church with a lightning rod—these are a lot more reliable than prayer, and they know it.
Unlike Christians in 18th-century Sweden, modern Christians have the phenomenal success of science to explain. From the Industrial Revolution through skyscrapers, the moon landing, computers, the internet, and all modern technology, science delivers, not religion.
Christian dogma for many Christians has become a suit of clothes—something that advertises your club, not who you really are.
- Reason 14 we don’t live in a world with a God: because not even Christians take their religion seriously
- A critique of the reliability of faith
- Silver-Bullet Argument #28: Because Heaven Is too Horrible to Endure
Contrary to their empty rhetoric
that atheists live as though their God exists,
believers live as though their God doesn’t exist.
But when they actually do read their Bible
and follow its barbaric morality
it’s additionally clear that their god doesn’t exist.
Either way their god doesn’t exist.
— John Loftus