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Discussion 3 to Meditation 82
It is reasonable to judge a religion by its followers

by: PsiCop

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In her response to Meditation 82, Simone Bixby brings up a point frequently raised by believers:

It is very sad to read that you turned away from GOD because of one man…. Its very easy to become disillusioned when a “Man that is representing God” sins out right and even more devastating when you are a young man and it was such a blatant lie.

She’s saying here that people shouldn’t be turned off from Christianity or Jesus because of what mere people say or do. After all, people are imperfect, so how can one person’s failure be used to vilify an entire religion?

The question is a sound one. Is it truly logical to condemn a package of beliefs or statements based on what individuals do? In most cases it would be fallacious to do so, since the veracity of beliefs has nothing to do with the people who hold them. For instance, even the most horrible people know that the sky is blue, and if they say so, their being evil people doesn’t make it untrue. But in the case of Christianity (and all the other Abrahamic faiths, all of which claim to foster a special, divinely-ordained morality and ethics), it is not fallacious to do so.

Christians claim that, because they follow the teachings of God, being Christian makes them “better” people. The morals and ethics dictated to them by their God grants them a certain amount of superiority over others. Christians, we are told, live “better” lives than others; they are charitable, kind, law-abiding, and so on.

Having made this claim, then, the conduct of individual Christians can logically weigh in favor of, or against, the veracity and value of Christianity. No one can reasonably expect “perfection” of human beings, but assuming Christianity has the power to change its believers for the better, one would expect that misconduct by Christians to be minimized, at worst.

From the point of view of an objective observer—someone completely new to a religion—the conduct of Christians is a signal of Christianity’s value. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Anyone can read the gospels and come up with some idea of what Jesus’ teachings were; what gives Christianity value and veracity, is whether or not those teachings have the power to make people better than they would be, without it.

Can merely being a believer make an individual “better”? Certainly. There are many people whose faith drives them to be charitable and give their lives to the service of others. And there are some who may choose not to act evilly out of fear of being judged a “goat” at the end of time (Mt 25:31–46). But that Christianity has this effect on some individuals is not at issue. What’s important is what Christianity does to large numbers of Christians.

What we see historically and in wide scale, by looking at large communities of Jesus’ followers, is that Christians are no better or worse, morally, than any other kind of believer, or non-believers. They are just as likely, overall, as any other believer (or non-believers) to be rude, inconsiderate, or downright criminal.

If one doubts this, have a look at the period in time when the largest numbers of people converted to Christianity. This would have been in classical Rome, during the century following the Edict of Milan in 313 when tolerance for Christianity was declared. From about 330 to 400 in particular, large numbers of Greco-Romans became Christians. If Christianity truly reshaped its believers morally, one would expect the Roman Empire to have become much more stable, criminality reduced, etc. But there is absolutely no evidence this happened. The very same kinds of conflict that riddled the Roman Empire before 313, continued to afflict it afterward. All the evidence indicates that there was no fundamental change in the Greco-Roman world’s overall morality.

This leads us back to the basic claim that Christianity makes its followers into “better people.” If we see that they are not, in fact, any better overall than followers of other religions or of no religion, what effect does Christianity have? It has none.

It is, therefore, a logical and fair question to ask: “If Christianity cannot effect a substantial change in the behavior of a large number of its followers, what value can it possibly have?” Christianity could, of course, evade this question, if it did not claim to make its followers more “moral” and otherwise “better” people—but so long as it makes that claim, it’s stuck with this ramification of it.

Another point Ms Bixby brings up is:

Christianity, to me, is knowing that I have a sinful nature, that I acknowledge that I need a saviour to help me through life and in my acceptance of Jesus he is my reconciliation to God the creator of mankind . That is a very simple statement of my faith. I do understand that throughout the ages, religion, in itself has been an institution made by man to keep control and order. Man is able to make a mess of just about everything.

She is saying that humanity corrupts everything it touches, so it’s natural that it would have corrupted religion. While this appears a reasonable observation, it is not if one looks, again, at specific claims made by Christianity about itself and its deity. Christians believe their God is perfect all-powerful; it is fair to ask, then, how and why it’s possible for the beliefs and teachings he provided, through Christ (according to Christians), to be corrupted by humanity just as easily as anything else? That Christians believe the “divine message” of their perfect deity can be corrupted, actually contradicts the presumed “perfection” and power of the deity they presume created it!

The bottom line is that Christianity can logically be evaluated by the behavior of its believers. Christians who do not want their religion to be sullied by the behavior of any “wayward” members of their flocks, can of course do something about it: Reform those wayward sheep, or eject them from their ranks. Telling non-Christians not to evaluate Christianity by the actions of other Christians is the same as the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy and her pals, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” It was ridiculous when Frank Morgan said it to Judy Garland on film in 1939, and it’s still ridiculous now.