The Answers that Atheists Hope No One Has? (Chapter Eight)

Introduction

Of the seven or so billion human beings that currently live on planet Earth about two billion of them self-identify as Christians, that is to say, followers of Jesus Christ. With so many professing to be Christians it only makes sense that many of them will never live up to the legacy and that some of them are undoubtedly deceivers, hypocrites and arrogant judgmental jerks. For many the sins of organized religion are so numerous and the hypocrisy of its proponents so egregious that they cannot or will not refer to themselves as Christians.

It is this topic, hypocrisy and arrogant judgment, that Christian apologist Mark Mittelberg now turns his attention toward in chapter eight of The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers). Mark will attempt to address those critics of Christianity who cite hypocrisy as one of the reasons they choose to distance themselves from the Church and those who look at the haughty judgment of Christians against the sins of others as being, itself, un-Christlike.

As always I will respond to what Mark says from my point of view as a former Christian turned atheist and anti-theist. All excerpts in this review are the property of Mark Mittelberg and Tyndale House Publishers utilized under Fair Use with the sole purpose of critique and criticism.

Acknowledging the Problem

The first step on any path to recovery is admitting that there is a problem. Mark is keenly aware of all the hypocrisy performed by practicing Christians and openly acknowledges that it's a problem. From the secretly gay pastors who are often the most ardently anti-gay in their sermons to the sexual abuses swept under the rug of the Catholic Church Mark admits that there are plenty of Christians who violate everything it is supposed to mean to be a Christian.

Mark's issue isn't so much that Christians do terrible things but simply that they are misrepresenting what Christ's message is all about and turning people off of Christianity.

This is the first place where I diverge with Mark. Naturally I think the misdeeds of Christians can speak ill of Christianity as a whole but more so they speak ill of the person engaged in that activity. While some atheists might I don't blame Christ or the actual ideas of Christianity for things like sex abuse scandals, although certainly the Catholic Church is to blame for shielding perpetrators from being brought to justice. I do, however, think it is telling how rare it is to find a Christian who actually takes Christ's words seriously and lives by them. After all Christians are supposed to be the salt of the world.

Christians in Name Only

Mark begins to talk about research that suggests that so-called Born Again Christians aren't actually all the different from the average person in the country they live in. Sure they show higher religiosity. They go to church more, pray more, talk about Jesus more but when it comes to the decisions they make in their day to day lives they are almost indistinguishable from the rest of us. This is very telling of how seriously the average Christian actually takes what Jesus supposedly said in the Gospels.

If Christians aren't really following Christ why bother calling them Christians at all? They are Christian in name only.

Christ Was Against Hypocrisy

Believe it or not Mark doesn't have as steep an uphill battle as it might seem. He has openly and readily admitted that hypocrisy is rampant in Christianity and that people don't often practice what they preach. But all he really has to do, it seems, is point to all the times in the Bible that Jesus himself argued against hypocrisy.

It's true that Jesus was no friend to hypocrites as far as the Gospels are concerned and that this would no doubt include those who use his name to further nefarious goals or who carry on their lives of sin while pretending to be righteous.

So those who choose to condemn hypocrisy, Mark claims, are actually allying themselves with Jesus whether they know it or not. They share an opinion in common with Christ. Their complaints, therefore, are not rooted in arguments about the existence or goodness of God but are focused instead upon the people who call themselves Christians. While Mark doesn't really drive it home the idea he's getting at is that it's a non-sequitur to disbelieve in God on the basis of the sins Christians commit and the hypocrisy they engage in.

Judging Hypocrisy

He encourages the readers of this book to follow this similarity with their non-Christian friends to get them to see that they are standing firmly in the same corner as Jesus when they call out hypocrisy. The issue I have with this idea should be an obvious one. In the same way that it would be a non-sequitur to argue that hypocrisy is a reason to disbelieve in God it would be a similar one to say that because I can point out hypocrisy in Christians that I somehow agree with and wish to follow those Christian principles hypocrites disregard.

I am not a Christian and have no desire to be one and if I were to point out some hypocrisy or irony amidst Christians that does not mean I hold to the principles of Christianity myself. Mark makes this mistake again later when accusing those who point out judgmental Christians as being judgmental of the judgmental thus contradicting themselves. But this is not a contradiction for a non-Christian to do since we are not adherents to the rules and precepts of Christianity. The point is that Christians don't follow their own religion and so why should I take it seriously?

Jesus Won't Disappoint?

Mark suggests that people should put their faith not in Christians but in Christ and in Christianity as a belief system. Rather than trying to weed out the good from the bad Christians as if either of them can prove Christianity true or false they should follow Jesus because Jesus won't disappoint them. Jesus supposedly set the perfect example for how Christians are meant to live their lives and it is that standard people should look to, not the standard set by the fallen human followers that struggled to fall into Christ's footsteps.

But I myself, a former Christian, find Jesus and the God of the Bible quite disappointing. I've mentioned before how Jesus' philosophy reflects his apocalyptic Jewish belief that the end of the world would come within the lifetime of some of the disciples.

The Kingdom was on its way and Christ told his followers to sell or outright give away their possessions and follow after him even if it tore apart friendships and families. Christ told them not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow would worry about itself. It is a philosophy that is difficult to extract from the apocalyptic beliefs of the authors and perhaps of the actual Jesus himself (although as I said in previous hubs it is difficult to say what, if anything at all, Jesus really said). So I don't know how Mark can possibly make the promise that Jesus won't disappoint.

In the last chapter Mark laid out how Jesus restricts sexual activity and how God clearly desires sex to only occur, ever, between a married man and woman. We know from pronouncements in the Old Testament that witches, pagans, Mediums and homosexuals are all evil and deserve to be executed. We know that things like bacon and shellfish aren't fit to be eaten. And even if Christians want to argue that the New Covenant somehow means they don't have to abide by these rules they cannot deny, if they truly believe the Bible, that these rules reflect the attitudes of the Biblical God.

Not only are many of these rules petty, unnecessarily restrictive and some downright silly but many rules in the Bible are outright barbaric and evil.

The Biblical God is a monster and it is Jesus who brings into sharp focus just how evil he is by introducing Hell as a concept. Not only is Jesus disappointing but he's downright sinister in some places.

The Emptiness of Jesus

Many atheists used to be Christians. I can say for myself that I never witnessed a miracle, never had God speak to me or answer me or show me anything that could be construed as a sign or proof that he really existed. Rather I deluded myself with fuzzy warm feelings during prayer, with the trance-like state of speaking in tongues and falsely believing something magical was happening.

I convinced myself with the joy of singing hymns and the sorrow of guilt driven altar calls. With the indoctrination I received and the elements of self-deception it was insidiously easy to maintain my faith and my fear about Hell that drove me deeper into the arms of religion.

Eventually though I stopped wanting to be spoon-fed by middle-men from the pulpit. And without that constant group reinforcement I began to seek the truth with more skepticism.

It wasn't the silence of the heavens or the hypocrisy of other Christians that caused me to lose faith, it was the soul-searching I did on my own, searching for the truth by reading the entirety of the Bible and researching how it was put together. It's not that any actual person named Jesus disappointed me when I was a Christian it's that I eventually realized there was never any Jesus there to get disappointed in.

There was no evidence that a supernatural being was behind the feelings and emotions sparked by rousing choirs or guilt ridden prayers. There was no good reason to think the character of God as laid out in the Bible actually existed beyond it's pages and the minds of believers. The hallmarks all seemed to be there of it being man-made, especially when those ancient writings laid horrific evils at the feet of God or put evil precepts into his mouth.

Some of Jesus' moral teachings have merit and certainly from a literary standpoint the stories themselves can be powerful, fascinating, and full of drama and suspense. But Mark and most Christians want us to believe that they aren't just fulfilling as fictional stories but that they are, for the most part, literally true accounts of things that actually happened. We are meant to surrender our souls, if we possess such things at all, to worship this thing.

And yet not only does it lack any intellectual legs to stand on but it paints us a picture of an immoral monster who demands a human sacrifice simply to forgive the transgressions of a people he made purposefully imperfect. Even if the case that Mark had laid out for Christianity stood and established everything he believes it does from the existence of God to the Bible being true to the divinity of Christ I would still never call myself a Christian. I would still reject Christianity on the grounds that it is immoral and it's God a monstrous tyrant.

Justifying Genocide

Mark continues to admit the wrongdoings of Christians including those done in the name of Christ. He admits that warlords and torturers have, throughout the centuries, done horrific things in the name of someone who is otherwise non-violent and essentially a pacifist. There does seem to be a stark disconnect between the typically peaceful positions Christ advises during the Gospels and the barbaric actions taken on behalf of Christ by Christians throughout the centuries.

The problem I have with this is that even though Jesus is almost exclusively a pacifist the God of the Bible is not. Genocide and conquest are commonplace in the Old Testament and sometimes the orders for slaughter come straight from the mouth of God. It's difficult to condemn the crusades or the burning of witches when they are so in line with the general spirit of the Old Testament as full of barbaric punishments and crushing military conquests. Jesus may not have been the sort to slaughter children but his Father didn't seem to mind it as long as he was the one giving the order.

And it isn't just foreign people, God often threatened and murdered his own chosen people in the Old Testament. Read Numbers 16, where God unleashes wrath (not for the first time or the last) on his own people. Sometimes in these stories Moses and Aaron even work to talk God out of it, becoming the voices of morality and reason in interactions with God.

I have seen many Christians justify genocide and the other evils of the Biblical God though Mark seems to have skirted around the issue at every turn. That's alright Mark, I'll be sure to keep bringing it up because those barbaric passages don't go away just because Jesus says to love your neighbor.

Christians Should be Performing Miracles

As Mark goes he doubles down on the idea that we shouldn't discount Christianity because of the failures of Christians. Christians are sinners just like the rest of us and they struggle, stumble and fall in their pursuit of salvation. In fact Mark argues it shouldn't come as a shock to us at all that Christians have such a hard time living by the teachings of Christ. The way is narrow, as the Bible says, and Christ was perfect according to Christians and so we shouldn't expect Christians to get it right all the time.

I have to both agree and disagree with Mark here. On the one hand he's right to point out that Christians start out in the same sinful boat as the rest of us and they can't live up to Christ's perfection, which makes sense from the worldview he's coming from. They're just ordinary folk who happen to believe some strange stuff, in my worldview. But the Bible suggests that Christians shouldn't be all that ordinary. They are, in fact, supposed to be walking talking testimony of God and are meant to be able to perform miracles even greater than the ones Jesus himself took on.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father." - John 14:12

So for Mark to paint Christians as just as flawed and fallible as the rest of us is all well and good except that the Bible clearly states that they are meant to be quite different from the rest of us. Christians are supposed to be in the world but not OF the world, so-to-speak. It's not that they have to be perfectly Christ-like, it's that many of them don't appear to even be interested in attempting to act like Christ. Not only that but miracles aren't exactly running amok out there when Jesus clearly tells his disciples that with even a mustard seed of faith they can accomplish pretty much anything.

Missing Miracles

So what is my point in bringing up the lack of miracles in Christianity? Well there are a few possibilities as to why we read about amazing supernatural feats in the Bible but don't hear about them today. Some Christians might argue that most modern Christians just don't have enough faith to be performing miracles, they might say there are so many hypocrites who aren't true Christians that miracles have become scarce. I don't buy that excuse for numerous reasons, not just because it is a No True Scotsman fallacy but also because I have seen attempted miracles first-hand and they have always failed utterly and completely.

You might call it anecdotal evidence but I have seen “good Christians” fail to receive miracles and I know that these miracle misses happen far more than the supposed “hits” that Christians tout. Even disregarding my own experience there has never been a scientifically confirmed miracle. Amputees still have never regrown limbs, the completely blind do not spontaneously see, and the dead certainly don't come back to life. Instead of Christianity it is the science of medicine that helps these people while faith appears to provide little more than a placebo.

The lack of miracles, I would say, suggests that Jesus may not actually be up there trying to answer prayers. I'm not saying it proves Jesus or God don't exist, that wouldn't be a reasonable argument to make, but it certainly is suggestive of the inefficacy of prayer and Christian attempts at miracles. It certainly should raise eyebrows among Christians when they are promised the power to do greater miracles than Jesus and they can't seem to do any miracles at all.

But of course there is a built-in system in Christianity to forget the misses and make anything you possibly can into a hit. Got a minor head cold, prayed about it for three days, it went away – PRAISE THE LORD. Got a severe case of flu, suffered with it for ten days with prayers doing nothing, but managed to survive it in the end – PRAISE THE LORD. Got cancer, was given six months to live, refused chemo in favor of prayer, managed to hold out for three years before finally dying – PRAISE THE LORD.

And so on and so forth, giving credit to God for everything that can even remotely be construed as good and never even wondering why someone under the protection of angels is constantly besieged by misfortune and disease just as often as the godless and wicked.

The system is designed to only focus on those things that can be superstitiously stretched to give credit to God where even sometimes the unfortunate events become minor miracles of some sort. It creates an unfalsifiable and utterly irrational belief and a life that bears little resemblance to the supposed life of Jesus who once woke from a nap on a boat and calmed a storm with a single sentence. This is why I do not shy away from considering certain Christian beliefs to be delusions though I mean no disrespect to those who hold those beliefs as I was once one of them.

Selling Jesus

Mark spends much of this chapter focused more on how Christianity looks as a result of hypocrites and scandals than he does talking about why the one true religion is just as utterly messed up as the rest of organized religion. I'm not trying to say there's anything wrong with that approach but that it does make his status as an apologist apparent. Not only does Mark have a deep personal investment in Christianity - not only does he trust his immortal soul to Christianity - but given the fact that he is a paid public speaker, apologist and author, he clearly has a financial investment in the truth of Christianity as well.

That's not any kind of indictment against Mark, it makes sense that if you had a deep personal faith and believed spreading the Gospel might save not just lives but souls you might make that a focal point of your career. But it does mean that sometimes he can come off as a bit of a salesman. That whole bit earlier where he talked about trying to convince people that they're on Jesus' side when they point out hypocrisy is a classic example. It strikes me as a smarmy sales tactic to try to turn someone on to the message of Jesus that way.

Later on he talks about how admitting your faults as a Christian is attractive to those outside the faith because it's honest and people appreciate honesty.

Mark says people are looking for the real deal, not that fake plastic religion or that hollow going through the motions sort but real, passionate and honest people. There's nothing wrong with what he's saying here in essence it's just the way he says it, as though we're including all the warts of Christians in our sales pitch and admitting our imperfections because people like it when we get “real”.

He's right, being genuine and admitting your faults and being humble are all attractive traits but then using that sort of thing to lure people into your cult seems kinda wrong from where I'm sitting. I don't know, maybe I've spent so long outside of Christianity that I can't see it any other way.

Humility and Pride

Finally Mark launches into the section about judgmental Christians going around acting holier-than-thou. Of course he agrees that this is very unattractive and indeed very un-Christlike since Jesus often portrayed himself as the suffering servant, humble despite his divinity. Christians, Mark says, shouldn't go around acting like they are better than everyone else when they are just lowly sinners who have been lucky enough to find Jesus.

Later on though Mark attempts to make it sound as if those who judge Christians as wrong to judge others are themselves judging Christians and thus are doing the very thing they are complaining about. As I mentioned before this only makes sense if the people judging Christians for their judgmental attitudes are themselves Christians who must abide by that standard.

Conclusion

This chapter is probably one of the least disagreeable that Mark has penned thus far as it mostly focuses on the fact that Christian behavior is so often counter to what are meant to be Christian virtues. Mark readily admits that Christians struggle to live up to the presumably perfect example that Jesus set for them. He admits that humility and honesty are probably needed rather than trying to pretend that those people aren't real Christians or that the true Christians are perfect.

But I'm not someone who thinks that Christ was perfect, or that Christ was God or that a God even exists and despite his best efforts Mark has not presented a good reason for me to change my mind on any of that. Mark has consistently failed to provide anything new or clever in regards to establishing the reality of God, the reliability of the Bible or the divinity of Jesus and his take on evolution was a laughable demand that science first explain the origin of everything.

We are quickly coming to the end of this book and for those that have followed this series I thank you very much I know these have been much longer than my usual hubs. “Tune in” next week when Mark will attempt to cross over to the other side and convince me that Heaven and Hell are real.

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rjbatty profile image

rjbatty 9 months ago from Irvine

Really powerful blogging. Not much to say. But here is something.

I'm into my early sixties now and I basically have only two remaining friends -- both of whom happen to be Evangelicals. I don't know what this means, if anything.

Even if Christianity is just another farce, people believe this stuff and try to walk a narrow path of behavior. They may be intellectual fools, but they keep trying to maneuver themselves down a narrow road of morality. The God and Jesus they believe in may be an elaborate hoax, but it affects them -- mostly toward leading good, benevolent lives.

We have to endure the good and bad of the worshipful. Yeah, you don't want to look back on the Dark Ages when religion and politics were intertwined. This was a time when it made sense to destroy all cats ... I guess because they were nocturnal or had 6x ability to see into darkness or their basic character seems aloof. And as you know, by killing cats in a wholesale manner, the rodent population escalated -- a population that carried fleas bearing bubonic plague upon Europe. That was a fine sign of our intelligence.

But as much as I'm put off by Christianity, I still see some value -- in that it does give some a path to follow -- a narrow road of conduct. We can deconstruct their beliefs in the Bible but we may do so at some risk. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a Godless universe. What if we were to convince some millions of Christians that they were being led around by their noses? Would the world be a better place? I fear not.

Marx referred to religion as the opium of the masses. What happens when you go off a drug addiction as powerful as opium? It isn't pleasant. Without Jesus, what would become of the lot?

From previous correspondence, I understand that you think/believe that humanity could go on fine without God/Jesus. And maybe it could. But the transition would have to take generations. Weening ourselves off of the God concept would bring with it all sorts of withdrawal symptoms -- maybe more severe than getting off opium.

In all frankness, I'd prefer to be living in a world where everyone was an opium addict. What do we have instead? Alcohol -- available at every grocery store. Beer, wine or spirits -- you have some choices here, but cumulatively it amounts to if you want to become an addict -- just become alcoholic. It's legal, easily obtainable and doesn't cost a fortune. Or you can find religion and feed on that.

Can we make it without God, yes probably, but we might end up with more alcoholics than fathomable.

Someone said that if God did not exist, man would invent him. A large portion of our population needs God -- a self-invented fiction at best. But they really need this sense of something fatherly watching over us. The fact that we have so many believers is daunting. You and I hold a thin minority opinion. That alone is pretty scary.

Even though we've been able to separate church and state, people "of faith" get into the White House. You can see this in Jimmy Carter and as recent as Bush junior. It is well known that Nancy Reagan regularly consulted with an astrologist and probably gave her husband certain advice. Scary stuff.

I look forward toward your next chapter. Keep up the good work. I cannot denounce God or Jesus, and you are not simply trying to do this. You have a focus, a very sharp focus. As I've said before there is only a sliver of difference between us -- and that comes down to openly criticising Christianity or being mute on the subject. You are delving into material that I'd be too afraid to address. Why? I suppose it goes down to a difference in our philosophy re. mankind. While you feel we'd be in a better place without religious beliefs, I am hovering at the boarder. I did write one Hub about God -- or his nonexistence. I think I got a zero response. The zero response wasn't surprising. People seem adverse toward leaving comments -- pro or con. But to go after a Christian apologist in this amount of detail really takes courage.

You have to realize that you are going against the grain. Christianity has its own zealots. By rubbing against them -- if they even bother to read Hub postings, you run the risk of having your brains shot out. What did John Lennon do to deserve being killed while walking on the streets of NY City? The guy who killed him professes that he was a big Beatles fan. There are lunatics amongst us.

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