I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again: there are many different versions of Christianity. Personally, I think this should give sectarian Christians (who view their own tradition as the “right” tradition) pause, but that’s a story for another day. I rant and rave about Christianity’s errors on this blog. How do I reconcile that ranting and raving (actually, I try to make reasoned posts, but, you know) with the acknowledgment of multiple targets? After all, some Christians think atheists are basically right about the god of fundamentalists–but they don’t worship that god (see here, for example).
Well, let me say this much. Traditional Christianity, by which I mean the lived faith of most Christians in most of the world, centers, as far as I can tell, on or around the following points:
(1) There is an afterlife. For some (Christians, narrowly or broadly defined) it will be wonderful. For others, it will be dreadful. Going to heaven (or “being resurrected” or whatever) requires something on my part (belief in Jesus, baptism, the Holy Spirit, a “personal relationship” with Jesus/God, and/or whatever–varies from denomination to denomination).
(2) The universe does not exist of its own accord, but was rather created (and is presently sustained) by a personal Creator, who gave the universe its general structure (at the very least), and perhaps also controls much or all of what comes to pass on Earth (as Reformed folk tend to believe). For this reason God deserves our praise, love, and worship.
(3) The Creator God cares about me as an individual. He has a plan for my life. He wants my worship, and unless I explicitly reject him (perhaps even after that) he will “woo” me. This means my life (at least insofar as I am in line with God’s Purpose) has Meaning (given to it by God).
Those are what I would call the big three. Concretely, this is what drives most people. God created the world. God loves me. God wants me to x.
I suppose we could also add these doctrinal afterthoughts (afterthoughts for most Christians, that is):
(a) Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and walked in first century Palestine was and is one with this Creator God. We know the Creator best and most through Jesus. Jesus is therefore metaphysically unique. He is radically unlike other wise folk (Socrates, Buddha, etc.) throughout history.
(b) Jesus performed an act of spiritual and moral magic on the cross (the “atonement”), reconciling those of us who “accept” it to the Creator God.
And there are many, many others. Of course.
When I attack Christianity, I attack it because I think it can be shown that (1), (2), and (3) are false. (a and b are false too, mind you, but they don’t drive most Christians.) There is no evidence to suggest that we should expect the conscious experience to continue beyond death. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary (from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and psychology, primarily). The claim about God’s “creating” and “sustaining” the universe is philosophically problematic. The claim about God deserving worship is morally problematic, because there is no valid inference from the fact of the universe’s existence to the alleged “goodness” of God (which is presumably a prerequisite for being legitimately worshiped). And finally, there is no reason to suspect that anything other than the generic laws of physics govern our everyday experience. Psychologists have amply documented the way in which we misattribute meaning and purpose to what in fact occurs merely by chance, or through otherwise well understood, non-mysterious, and non-supernatural means. I’m not aware of a single peer-reviewed article documenting rigorous research on ESP, the efficacy of prayer, or anything else Christians and other theists associate with God’s existing and being the God Christians believe he is that supports those beliefs.
For these reasons I say here and I will say again and again, there is no evidence for Christianity.
For what I’m calling “traditional Christianity”, that is.
But maybe, just maybe, this is a straw man. Liberal Christians do not view God as a personal being, perhaps. They do not view prayer as changing anything in the world outside of the mind’s dispositions. God is something else. Jesus’ significance isn’t in his skills at metaphysical moral voodoo. Being a Christian isn’t about believing things at all, but about looking at the world in a certain way, being a certain kind of person, loving others. Etc.
Ok, fine. If that’s all God and Christianity are, maybe there is a god. I’m not sure what the assertion means, if it’s good for anything. But there you have it.
But here’s the counterpoint: pick a Christian at random. From your Facebook friends, say. Tell them: there is no afterlife. There is no personal being governing the realm of human affairs. Jesus didn’t erase an invisible moral “debt” on the cross. And then tell them you’re a Christian. How do you think that conversation will go?