Why I am not a Christian by Peter Meyer
I was born in a nominally Christian country, and at an early age attended "Sunday school", where well-meaning people tried to indoctrinate me in the Christian religion. It never made any sense to me.
My parents were not religious. My mother occasionally attended church because she had a good voice and liked to sing in the choir. As I recall, my father never set foot in a church except for the occasional wedding. My paternal grandfather had no time for religion, but my paternal grandmother was a devout Protestant (my maternal grandparents had departed before I arrived). When I was about nine years old my grandmother gave me books with many pictures illustrating biblical themes. Being a curious lad I read these, but they made no great impression on me. She died when I was thirteen and her religious influence upon me, such as it was, promptly ceased. Thus the religious indoctrination of children by their parents, which warps the minds and blights the lives of so many innocent children, was not practiced upon me as a child by my parents, thank God.
The nearest church to where we lived (in a large city) was just down the road — it was a Methodist church (though even now I have no idea of what distinguishes Methodists from, say, Presbyterians, and really couldn't care less). Since it was the closest, I was sent (at a young age) to church there each Sunday, until at the age of twelve I announced that I wasn't going anymore. My mother was only slightly scandalized, and after a token objection said no more about it. My father only smiled at my announcement and, I suppose, felt pleased that his son was no fool.
Thereafter I had only the usual exposure to Christianity that anyone coming of age in a modern, largely secular, Western society has. The occasional visit at the front door by a Jehovah's Witness, earnestly seeking to save my soul, produced in me only disdain for that sect. I did feel a yearning for spiritual truth but found nothing satisfying in Christianity, except in the writings of the Christian mystics, in particular, Meister Eckhart (who was regarded as a heretic by the Catholic Church in his time). But the more I learnt of Christian doctrine the less that religion appealed to me (not that it ever did), and I can truthfully say that I was never a Christian.
A good word, however, should be put in for some forms of art of a Christian nature. Renaissance Italian art is full of Christian scenes, and much of the music of J.S.Bach (e.g., his St. Matthew Passion and his exquisitely beautiful Cantata BWV82, "Ich habe genug") has explicit Christian content. But the beauty of the art created within a particular religious context does not imply the truth of the doctrines of that religion. The artists would have created their art with or without benefit of religion, provided that they were not prevented from doing so by political repression (as happened in Stalinist Russia).
Unfortunately much of Christian art consists of depicting the sufferings and agony of Jesus on the Cross. This reflects the obsession of Christianity with the Crucifixion, so much so that Osho referred contemptuously to Christianity as "Crosstianity". The obsession with "our sins" having been "washed away by the Blood of the Lamb" would be regarded as evidence of a serious mental illness in an individual within any sane society, but when this is an obsession of millions of people it becomes "religious faith", held by many others (curiously) to be something that should never be criticized.
My (fortunately) few conversations with Christians about their faith usually left me with the impression that (a) it was desperately important to them for some reason that others shared their beliefs and (b) that they were insane. Their favorite strategy is to assume that the Bible is literally true, and then justify their beliefs because "God says so in the Bible". If so, God contradicts himself, as in the inconsistencies in the Gospels regarding the birthplace and ancestry of Jesus. Christians conveniently forget (if they ever knew of them) many passages in the Old Testament which are repugnant to ordinary moral sense, such as that if a woman marries and is found not to be a virgin at the time of her marriage then she is to be killed (Deuteronomy 22:13-21). But you can't argue with someone who has faith because for them there can be no possible refutation of what they believe, so rational argument is entirely useless. They cling to their belief so strongly that they make no distinction between who they are and what they believe.
If a Christian were to suggest to me that the only way to save my soul from eternal damnation was to embrace the Christian Faith, I would not point to all the murders and genocides which have been committed in the name of the Christian God (and there are so many that it should be enough to make anyone who is aware of them ashamed to call themselves a Christian) or to the crass obsession with wealth and lust for power exhibited by the popes of the Catholic Church since at least the time of Stephen III. Rather I would reply that I am not a Christian because not only is Christianity repulsive and morally offensive, it is absurd, as its core statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, reveals.
Christianity these days comes in many varieties, but all trace their roots to the Nicene Creed, which was produced by the Council of Nicaea. If a person does not subscribe to the Nicene Creed then they are not a Christian, in the sense of being a member of the Christian Church. Someone who admires Jesus Christ greatly might call themselves a Christian just as someone who admires Richard Wagner greatly might call themselves a Wagnerian. Such self-styled "Christians" may in fact be quite unaware of what the Nicene Creed says, and so be merely nominal Christians.
The Nicene Creed is:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
What evidence is there for any of this? Only the first sentence (minus the metaphorical "father" and "maker") might contain some truth, insofar as it makes some sense to posit a source for all existing things, a "ground of being".
But the remainder of the Creed is ridiculous. How can any sane person believe this stuff? It has not even been established to the satisfaction of modern historians that the Jesus of the Bible ever existed as a person. Even granting that there was such a person, the claims made regarding his "being of one substance with the Father" who "came down from heaven", died, "rose again" and now "sits on the right hand of the Father" are (if they make sense at all) highly implausible assertions with absolutely no supporting evidence. That many millions of people have believed these absurd claims provides no evidence that they are true.
Furthermore the Creed explicitly asserts what is repulsive, namely, that we are all inherently sinners (in other words, criminals in the eyes of God), that we are in need of salvation, and that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself (in a most horrible manner: crucifixion) so as to save us (why was such a sacrifice necessary at all?). Implied is that anyone who does not believe this will be condemned (after death and subsequent bodily resurrection, despite one's body having rotted in the grave, if not destroyed entirely by fire) by Christ himself to eternal damnation and torment. Such a doctrine, which is clearly pathological, can only have been formulated and propagated by sick minds (foremost among whom was womanizer-turned-"saint", Augustine of Hippo).
There is no point in examining the curious details of the Creed (e.g., that Christ was "begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father") because the Nicene Creed is simply a statement of faith (as it was intended to be) and there is absolutely no reason to suppose that it is true (in fact, since it is absurd it is very likely to be false). One is asked to believe but no reason is given, or evidence presented, for why one should believe. (Understandably not, because there is usually an ulterior motive underlying any admonition to believe something. In the case of religious belief the ulterior motive is usually social control or the financial benefit of some part of an organized religion.) Believing with no evidence to support belief is not a virtue but rather a sign of stupidity. Anyone who says, as Barack Obama did in August 2008 at a "Faith Forum" in California, "I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins, [and] that I am redeemed through him", or as John McCain said at the same event in response to the question of what his Christian faith means to him, "It means I'm saved and forgiven" (for bombing, strafing and terrorizing Vietnamese peasants?), is either mendacious or intellectually deficient.
It is true that there are people whose intellectual abilities are such that we cannot say they are unintelligent and yet who regard themselves as Christians. This is because, although there may be no reason to believe the Nicene Creed, there are conditions under which a person will accept and cling to it. This may be the occurrence of some emotional "crisis" but mainly results from childhood conditioning, in which parents with Christian beliefs inculcate these beliefs in their innocent and unsuspecting children, before the minds of those children have developed to the point where they can intelligently decide about the truth of what they are being told. (The same thing happens, of course, in all religions.) If a person values their upbringing by their parents then they will be inclined to maintain the faith taught to them by their parents, unless they are sufficiently intelligent to be able (upon mature reflection) to distinguish between the love and support that they received from their parents and the false teachings that were given to them before they had developed the mental ability whereby to accept or reject those teachings.
Oh ... about prayer. A scientific study (reported in the American Heart Journal, April 2006) discovered no beneficial effect of prayer, but rather the contrary: that sick people who know they are being prayed for tend to fare significantly worse than sick people who are either not being prayed for or who are unaware that they are being prayed for, with no difference between these last two groups. However, like paranormal phenomena, the efficacy of prayer is unlikely to be demonstrable in the laboratory. But many people claim to believe their prayers are answered, and that they believe in "God" because (they assume) "God" answers their prayers. But even assuming that their prayers are answered, this does not show that the biblical "God" answered them. Fact is, the universe is a magical place, although this is denied by the modern scientific view of the world, which assumes that reality consists only of atoms, molecules, radiation and their interaction. But this view, known as physicalism is a false view of the world. The universe is more like a vast, super-intelligent, living being (on many levels) — call it (with Einstein) "God" if you wish, just don't confuse it with the Christian "God". Sometimes the universe, or some part of it, in its limitless artistic creativity, mysteriously accords with our wishes, and desirable things happen which were rather improbable. To attribute this to a biblical "God" answering one's prayers is not only unjustified but also displays a lack of imagination and a very limited mentality.
But if I ever felt inclined to self-identify as a Christian I would do so as a Russian Orthodox Christian. But at present that seems unlikely.
One should, however, distinguish Christianity from Christendom.
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