Christianity is a failed religion.
People notice and wonder why Christians of the literal Bible-believing kind are so angry. Doesn’t their faith provide any peace and love or uh, “Christian” spirit toward others? Yet they are known for being judgmental. And if an evangelizing Christian doesn’t get a receptive response, there is always a threat about where one will spend eternity, often delivered with a touch of “you’ll get yours” vengefulness.
But there are serious problems for a person with Christianity as a framework for living in the modern world. The anger is because it is a failed religion. The reasons for resentment are well below awareness, and taking it out on other people is not appropriate. In general, all sides appear to be rather confused about the hair-trigger emotional reactions to many issues, the rush to defend God and morality, the frequent condemnation, and the strange vitriol.
The thing is that Christianity is not just a cognitive set of beliefs. It is a worldview that completely colors reality. It works on a deep level of the mind through metaphors, images, and tacit assumptions. The Christian worldview is a closed, irrational system which is taught to small children who can’t and don’t question. It is transmitted like a virus down through generations and supported in the larger culture.
The images present in Christianity can help with understanding its power – not the words but the images, which in the human brain are more connected to emotions than language. Children and adults alike process information and act on it more easily and quickly when using symbols and metaphor rather than language. This becomes unconscious, so an all-encompassing system like Christianity can easily become a lens affecting one’s entire view of life. Picture these images:
• A powerful male god – creator, hater of sin, destroyer with flood and fire, demander of blood sacrifice, final judge – the symbol of authority and power
• A kneeling subject, head down, weak, subservient – the symbol of shame
• A bloody torture and execution of an innocent man on a cross – the symbol of guilt
• An evil, dangerous Satan, lurking and stalking with his demons throughout the world – the symbol of terror
• The world as a battlefield with a mighty fight between good and evil, the Christian wearing the “armor of God,” and life as war – the symbol of struggle.
• A heavenly afterlife with mansions and streets of gold, being with God, where the “lion lies down with the lamb” – the symbol of ultimate contentment
• Jesus’ return in force, with armies of angels, ready to slaughter and win the Battle of Armageddon – the symbol of vengeance and justice.
• Burning hell fire with people screaming in pain, lost for eternity, separated from God – the symbol of fear.
There are other images from the Bible, such as Jesus as the Good Shepherd, Jesus blessing the children, or giving the Sermon on the Mount. But in modern, fundamentalist Christianity, these are not the popular images of Jesus. Much preferred are the muscular ones having to do with his image at the Second Coming. Especially among young people, by the looks of the Christian T-shirts available for sale, Jesus the King riding on a white horse, is a far better image, almost like a superhero expected to appear in the sky.
An example on YouTube is at a revival meeting before a group sings a rousing version of “The King is Coming.” The minister says that Jesus came the first time as a baby and not many noticed, but next time he’s coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords; every eye shall see him, every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess, he says.
The problem seems to be that it’s not happening. Many years have gone by – over 2000 – and he has yet to return like he promised. From outside the belief system, like a visitor from another planet, one can pretty easily read the scripture and notice this pesky problem. It is a tribute to the power of belief, and the nature of passing on unquestioned beliefs to new generations that this issue can slide by. (Right?)
But the bald truth is the Christianity is a failure. Some religions have a cyclic concept of time and the religious concepts are largely precepts for living, e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism. But Christianity has a timetable. This is a problem. The god, Jehovah, created the world, the Fall occurred, the Plan of Salvation had to be installed, and then the plan was for Jesus to come back, win a last battle with Satan, have a Final Judgment, and send everyone to heaven or hell. Telling this story to a potential new believer is difficult if they are an adult, even from this planet. The promise of heaven and the threat of hell aren’t real enough, and there is no sign of Jesus showing up. The “signs” constantly claimed are easily disputed. In fact, to the unbeliever listening to this, using natural disasters and political upheavals as indicators of the End Times sounds more like avoiding responsibility for the world.
Christianity also does not have a track record for coming through on other promises such as answered prayer and changed lives. “Jesus Saves” doesn’t seem to mean a lot. Even the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah, while sounding amazing at Christmas, hardly announces the birth of a savior who actually saved the world. Even in terms of the afterlife, from a strict “accept Jesus as your personal savior” point of view, a tiny fraction of humanity gets the benefit of going to heaven, thanking the baby in the manger, while the rest of the globe is headed for hell. Fundamentalist Christians don’t mention this part of their theology when they rail about the “war on Christmas.”
Statistically, prayer makes as much difference as anything else when it comes to matters of health. Divorce and domestic violence is actually higher in religious families, and the incidence of sexual abuse is shocking. In general, Christians are known for lagging behind the rest of the culture in terms of progressive values like tolerance, human rights, torture, and war. Over many centuries the Christian world has opposed progress in science, and is currently waging war in public schools against evolution, which is the basis of biology and other sciences. Again, like the Christians at Christmas, the personality profile does not impress.
At present, it seems obvious that many people with a Christian worldview are deeply angry and resentful. There is much railing against the morals of society, as though the entire country is endangered. Natural disasters in various places have been attributed to God’s judgment for sin, (which is an Iron Age understanding of nature). In fact, because of the view that this is a fallen world ruled by Satan and very dangerous, there is a constant anxiety that if God becomes fed up with the rampant immorality of our nation, he will withdraw his blessing and his protection, sending us into disaster. Unfortunately for the scared Christian looking around at cultural developments, the direction of change is toward secularism, not piety. After 9-11, many Christians were convinced that America was being taught a lesson and that the proper response was to repent and change our immoral ways. Obama was even criticized for his words at Ground Zero about being strong and rebuilding.
Looking at the state of the world and at life through this lens of Christianity is thus pretty dark. Changes are out of control and pretty frightening. The images listed above overshadow all else, including worldly things like interesting developments in the arts, diplomatic achievements, or exciting scientific discoveries. This supernatural frame is radically different from a natural, secular frame on reality. The events of importance are Jesus death of 2000 years ago, and the return of Jesus at some unknown time in the future. Christians constantly hope that this return will be soon and historically have always claimed that the End is imminent. The present is not important, and the earth is not a priority. Physical bodies and pleasure are not important because the spiritual world is what counts.
Christianity teaches followers not to be invested in this life. Peace in the Middle East is not a goal because if war in that region were to escalate, it could mean Armageddon and that would herald the Messiah. The passion is not for building a better world but for escape to a different, perfect world. Unfortunately, modern believers do not understand that Jesus, if he did exist, was one of many apocalyptic prophets who was sounding the alarm in his time that the end was nigh. That was why he told his followers to not make any plans for the future and leave everything to follow him.
For the present day Christian, raised to never question dogma, Jesus’ promise, “Behold, I come quickly,” is impossible to digest with intellectual honesty. Instead, the deep grief and rage of the abandoned child gets lodged in the psyche and plays out in a plethora of unconscious ways, causing harm to the self and society. Even when spoken, as a Christian defends his faith to a skeptic, the anger is barely concealed. The promise of Jesus’ return sounds more like a threat, like the Terminator: “I’ll be back.”
Unfortunately, the best solution is also the most unlikely for hard-core believers: to achieve a level of self-awareness and insight to recognize Christianity as a lost cause and reject it as a framework for living.
By Marlene Winell, Ph.D.