Overview:

Christian hope has downsides. It can encourage complacency, where Christians are unmotivated to improve a poor status quo, and magical thinking, where they drop their guard to televangelists, politicians, and other snake-oil salesmen.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Christian hope can be beneficial, but it’s only beneficial as a pain killer. It’s not like medicine that can actually remove the cause.

This was Karl Marx’s point when he said that religion is the opium of the people. Marx agreed that religion helped but only in the same way that opium does, by reducing pain. Opium (and religious hope) do nothing to solve the problem. They produce complacency, an acceptance of the status quo.

This is a continuation of a list of reasons why Christian hope is not a good thing (part 1 here).

3. Complacency

Religious complacency encourages believers to leave things alone and make do rather than become impatient with the status quo and improve it.

The religion meme likes it that way. Religion thrives in poor social conditions. Improve the conditions, and the need for religion fades. Religion acts as the canary in the mine, and thriving religion is our warning that social conditions are poor.

George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Society doesn’t benefit when its citizens use opium (or religion) to dull the pain of social problems to quiet the desire for progress. Society needs people fed up enough that they’ll attack those problems.

4. Magical thinking makes you easier to take advantage of

You want hope? There are televangelists happy to sell you hope. They simply ask in return for you to remain dependent on their message. (And they’d also like “your most generous love offering,” weekly if at all possible. Apparently, God has bills to pay.)

As an example of televangelists making ridiculous claims, consider pastor John Hagee’s hysterical declaration in 2013, “God is literally screaming at the world, ‘I’m coming soon.’ ”

The slow-motion fireworks—four “blood moons” (lunar eclipses), six months apart—came and went. Where’s my apocalypse? We got no evidence of God, just evidence that Hagee is an opportunistic fraud.

(I’ve written more about Hagee’s greedy stunt: The World Will End Soon! Again!)

Another example is the annual War on Christmas®. Ah, what I wouldn’t give for some brave politician to take the tough stand and make it legal to say “Merry Christmas” again….

Politicians are another group eager to take advantage of Christians. It’s easy for them to tune a conservative message to an eager audience—they just handwave about some imminent social disaster and declare that they are the only hope. Just give your vote to the candidate and lots of money to their campaign. For example, in the 2004 Bush/Kerry presidential campaign, voters said that of seven areas of concern, the biggest concern was “moral values” like same-sex marriage and abortion. Economy and jobs came in second place.

Abortion makes baby Jesus cry, so apparently Christian voters must step into the breach since Jesus is just a baby and can’t do anything about it. If they couldn’t claim that the sky is falling, these Chicken Little politicians wouldn’t know how to rally their base.

While this political strategy might seem new, it’s a well-worn path. Social critic H. L. Mencken said a century ago, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed—and hence clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Here’s another way of seeing the enemy that politicians push against. Christian and conservative political leaders play up the imagined threat of gays, liberals, feminists, foreigners, Muslims, science, atheists, and so on to keep their group focused inward. With no one to push against, they’d fall over. We must circle the wagons, people! Michael Shermer illustrated this in Why People Believe Weird Things with the rhetorical question, Who needs Satanic cults? Answer: “Talk-show hosts, book publishers, anti-cult groups, fundamentalists, and certain religious groups” (p. 106).

Being a sheep can be comforting, but remember that sheep can be led to slaughter. There are costs when you let someone else do your thinking for you.

Many denominations preach that the end is near, and a quarter of Americans accept that “the world will come to an end during my lifetime.” This may be the worst downside to Christianity’s magical thinking. If the world will end in your lifetime, why bother about long-term issues like the environment, third world health issues, or infrastructure projects?

A far healthier attitude is the Greek proverb that says that in a great society old men plant trees under which they know they will never sit.

Why can’t God just defeat the devil?
It’s the same reason a comic book character
can’t defeat his nemesis—
then there’s no story.
If God gets rid of the devil, there’s no fear.
No reason to come to church.
— Bill Maher

Avatar photo

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...