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Humanist's Guide to Religion: Christianity

Updated on September 24, 2012
"God the Geometer," 13th century manuscript illustration
"God the Geometer," 13th century manuscript illustration

The goal

The purpose of this series is to develop a reference guide for how the various religions of the world rank against humanist values. Humanism for this purpose is a secular worldview that values human happiness, knowledge and physical wellbeing, exclusively in this life and this world. We will analyze religions according to their effect on three areas: the body (safety), the mind (knowledge, rationality), and the world (material goods).

The analysis uses as much quantification as possible. Each of the religions, cults and faith communities will be considered on the following criteria:

  1. Safety: deaths and violence caused for religious reasons; weighted as 50% of the total score
  2. Rigidity: openness to and support for rational inquiry, skepticism and doubt, including natural science and its findings; weighted as 30%
  3. Material wealth: income and GDP per capita; weighted as 20%

In this hub, we look at the sects and communities of Christianity, the largest religion on earth.

The methodology

The following sources and data are used for each criterion. Each is ranked on a scale of 0 to 100%.

  1. Safety: Notable religious violence, crime and terrorist attacks over the last 20 years (from 1990 to 2010) is weighted as 60% of this score. (Every 10 people killed will count as 1 percentage point off, making 1000 dead a zero percent weight). The Pew Forum's global religious Social Hostility Index (SHI) (a higher SHI means more hostility) will be calculated for countries where more than half the population follows the religion in question, and is weighted as 40% of the safety score.
  2. Rigidity: The Pew Forum's statistics on religion in the US: (1) college completion, (2) certainty that God exists, (3) frequency of prayer, (4) literal interpretation of holy text, and (5) attitude toward homosexuality. Any notable beliefs that increase or decrease rigidity will also be considered. College completion is weighted as 60%, an average of the remaining four Pew factors as 30%, and additional beliefs will be weighted as 10% for this score.
  3. Material wealth: The Pew Forum's statistics on income by religion in the US is weighted as 40% and GDP per capita for countries where the religion constitutes more than half the population is weighted as 60%. (The GDP per capita is converted to a percentage of $100,000).

Where statistics outside the US are not available or relevant, only US data will be used.



  • 186 Protestants were killed by Catholics in the Northern Ireland "Troubles" from 1990 through 1998. Many hundreds more were injured.
  • SHI: For countries where half or more of the population is nominally Catholic, the average SHI is 18.5%
  • Score: 81%


  • 47% of American Catholics have at least some college education.
  • The Roman Catholic doctrine of Papal infallibility is a tremendous factor of rigidity. Intellectual authoritarianism is totally antithetical to free thought and skepticism, therefore earning Catholicism a score of 10% on "extra factors."
  • 72% of American Catholics are "absolutely certain" that God exists.
  • 13% of American Catholics seldom or never pray
  • 27% of American Catholics believe the Bible is a book written by men, not God.
  • 58% of American Catholics believe homosexuality should be accepted by society.
  • Score: 39%


  • 49% of American Catholics earn $50,000 or more
  • For countries with 50% or more of the population nominally Catholic, the average GDP per capita is $17,841, which is 17.8% of $100,000.
  • Score: 30%

PROTESTANTISM: Total Score=45%

*These calculations include Mainline Protestantism (including Anglicanism/ Episcopalianism) and Evangelical Protestantism. The US Pew study's figures used here are a straight average of the Mainline and Evangelical numbers (Historically Black churches are excluded).


  • 277 Catholics were killed by Protestants in the Northern Ireland Troubles from 1990 through 1998 (the year of the peace agreement).
  • 300 Mulsims were killed by Christians (mostly Protestants) in Nigeria in early 2010. This is in addition to dozens killed in previous years in Nigeria. We can easily estimate an additional 100 killed since 1990, for a total of 400 killed by Protestants in Nigeria.
  • The SHI for countries where at least nominal Protestantism accounts for more than half of the population: 17%
  • Score: 53%


  • 51% of American Protestants have at least some college education.
  • Absolutely certain God exists: 82%
  • Seldom or never pray: 10%
  • The Bible is written by men, not God: 18%
  • Homosexuality should be accepted by society: 41%
  • Mainline Protestantism features one of the most senior church officials to be openly gay in Christian history (Gene Robinson, of the American Episcopal Church). But the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, among some Mainliners and especially Evangelicals, contributes significantly to rigidity and criticism of scientific findings that clash with the Bible. This is seen, for example, in the questioning of evolution and the age of the earth. Extra factor: 40%.
  • Score: 41%


  • 48% of American Protestants earn $50,000 or more.
  • Countries with 50% or more of their population nominally Protestant have an average GDP per capita of $20,645, which is 20.6% of $100,000.
  • Score: 32%

ORTHODOXY: Total Score=33%


  • Thousands of Muslim Albanians were killed in Kosovo in 1998-99 for exclusively religious reasons by Serbian Orthodox forces
  • The SHI for countries where at least half the population is Orthodox is on average 42%
  • Score: 23%


  • 68% of American Orthodox have at least some college education.
  • Absolutely certain God exists: 71%
  • Seldom or never pray: 16%
  • The Bible is written by men, not God: 29%
  • Homosexuality should be accepted by society: 48%
  • The Orthodox are more democratic than their Catholic counterparts (there is no equivalent to "Papal Infallibility" for instance). However, the authority of tradition plays just as important a role in the Orthodox world, contributing to rigidity. Extra factor: 30%
  • Score: 53%


  • 57% of American Orthodox earn $50,000 or more.
  • Countries with 50% or more of their population Orthodox have an average GDP per capita of $11,685.
  • Score: 30%

MORMONISM: Total Score=72%

Safety: The Mormons are a largely peaceful religious community, with little religious violence to speak of in the last 20 years. The exception to this rule is the oppression and abuse of girls and women within the fundamentalist wing of the religion. Deaths have not been caused by Mormons for religious reasons. The SHI measure is not applicable because no country has more than half the population as Mormon. Score: 95%


  • About 60% of American Mormons have at least some college education.
  • Absolutely certain God exists: 90%
  • Seldom or never pray: 5%
  • The Bible is written by men, not God: 4%
  • Homosexuality should be accepted by society: 24%
  • Mormonism places great emphasis on the authority of church leaders and officials, potentially stifling dissent and skepticism. This effect is exaggerated among Fundamentalist Mormons, who nevertheless comprise a minority of all Mormons. Extra factor: 50%
  • Score: 44%


  • 54% of American Mormons earn at least $50,000 per year.
  • No country has more than half the population Mormon.
  • Score: 54%

JEHOVAH'S WITNESS: Total Score=61%

Safety: Jehovah's Witnesses are a peaceful religious community, known for their conscientious objection to military service. Religious violence has played effectively no part in their history over the last 20 years, although there have been allegations of some toleration of domestic violence, in the context of strongly patriarchal values. Score: 95%


  • 31% of American Jehovah Witnesses have at least some college education.
  • Absolutely certain God exists: 93%
  • Seldom or never pray: 1%
  • The Bible is written by men, not God: 1%
  • Homosexuality should be accepted by society: 12%
  • Jehovah's Witnesses are kept on a tight intellectual leash by their leadership. Anyone who slightly disagrees with official doctrine is banned. The authoritarianism is effectively total, and thus more severe than in Catholicism. Extra factor: 0%
  • Score: 20%


  • Only 35% of American Jehovah's Witnesses earn $50,000 or more.
  • Although Jehovah's Witnesses are found in many countries, they do not constitute half of any country's population
  • Score: 35%

CHRISTIANITY: Total Humanist Score= 54%

This is the average of all the scores, weighted by global population of adherents (population estimates for: Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses).

Christianity's total score on each measure are as follows:

Safety: 72%

Rigidity: 40%

Wealth: 31%


Christianity appears as a moderately humanist religion. Its score is heavily influenced by Catholicism, which accounts for the majority of all Christian adherence in the world. Catholicism is largely peaceful, with the exception of Northern Ireland in the 1990s, but suffers from mediocre and low rankings on rigidity and especially material wealth.

Orthodoxy, the lowest-scoring sect, suffers tremendously on this scale from the thousands killed in its name during the Kosovo conflict. It performs just as poorly as Catholicism on material wealth, although scoring the highest of any sect on openness to skepticism and reason.

The relatively obscure belief systems Mormonism and Jehovah's Witness are the highest scoring Christian communities principally because of their peaceful nature, which is the most important factor from a humanist standpoint. Next in the series will be the Humanist's Guide to Islam.


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    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Lol, is that right? I've always known they were different from each other.

      Thanks, Onus. Glad you liked it.

    • Onusonus profile image


      8 years ago from washington

      I'm glad to see that you distinguished LDS from JW's. Most people tend to lump us together.

      This is a very thought provoking series.

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Thanks, Austinstar. Appreciate it.

      The main reason they score so high is the violence/ safety thing--which I don't think is unreasonable to weigh as half the full score. Although I am definitely open to criticism on those points.

      It's interesting to compare the sects in the other two areas as well. Rigidity and wealth are very negative for Witnesses.

      I am aware of the blood transfusion issue. I suppose that this could be counted as "people killed for religious beliefs" although it clearly is not caused by persecution of foreign religions or bellicosity. My best guess would be that it takes points off in the rigidity category, but then they're already down to zero in the extra factor there.

      I thought it was important to take into account a variety of issues for each faith community. But I agree, the backward beliefs on medicine are deplorable and detestable. I'm not so sure it should even be legal, but that's another whole issue.

    • Austinstar profile image


      8 years ago from Somewhere near the heart of Texas

      Sec10, this is a very good article and I'm surprised I didn't comment on it before. It looks like a lot of time and research were put into it.

      I was very surprised that Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses scored so high. I've been to Salt Lake City, worked with Mormons and had some good friends who were Mormon. They did seem to be happy with their church. That surprised me too.

      I have no love for the JW's however as they have forced me to watch their children die because of their beliefs. See "A Christian View of Blood". That being said, it would take some Herculean faith to watch your infant die a horrible death and they seem to accept that it is the right thing to do. And I do respect the opting out of wars. That part is great.

      I'm off to read about Hindus now as I work with several of them. Maybe I can learn something new :-)

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Thank you, Jane. I hope this series can serve as the beginning of the discussion. In my research, I didn't really find much in the form of a quantified measurement of the various religions from a humanist standpoint. So maybe this can inspire some interest.

      The toughest part, as I mentioned to Tony, was to determine exactly how to measure these things, and what studies to use. I would have preferred to actually place less emphasis on America overall (especially in the rigidity department), but the stats are just so inconsistent and unreliable on international studies.

      I originally wanted to consider self-reported happiness as a fourth measure, but decided against it.

      I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      What a lot of thought and research has gone into this secularist. You deserve a pat on the back for these efforts. It'd make for a handy pocket guide.

      "human happiness, knowledge and physical wellbeing"

      Sounds good to me.

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      "The fact is that the "Rule of Law" the "university" and "wealth" all three are derivatives of the Christian Faith."

      Hmmm... I would check those "facts," James.

      The rule of law began a little before Christianity ever existed, you know the Ten Commandments, the Code of Hammurabi and all that jazz?

      The modern university has its roots as much in Islam as it does in Christianity.

      And on wealth, call me crazy, but I seem to remember something about "wealthy" civilizations in Greece, Rome, Anatolia, the Near East, India, China, Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Christian Americas... so basically everywhere prior to Christianity. Huh. That's funny.

      I seem to also remember that the majority Christian world didn't start to become really wealthy relative to other civilizations until about one thousand and seven hundred years after it was formed. Huh. That's funny, too.

      "I'd say that makes it a score of... 99%"

      This article deals with modern Christianity. I don't think you want me to analyze historical Christianity. With the thousands killed by Christians for religious reasons, and the centuries of economic stagnation and depression in the Christian world during the Middle ages, I have a hunch that it wouldn't score very high...

      "Secular Humanism has accomplished nothing except an explosion of depravity"

      I suggest you read the second sentence of this article before commenting on it. Here, I'll save you the trouble of scrolling up:

      "Humanism for this purpose is a secular worldview that values human happiness, knowledge and physical wellbeing, exclusively in this life and this world."

      News flash, James: the concepts of humanism and secularism have changed a little since the 19th century.

      Maybe in your world human happiness, knowledge and safety constitute "depravity."

      I don't think most would find that vision very appealing. :(

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      8 years ago from Chicago

      This is very interesting. The fact is that the "Rule of Law" the "university" and "wealth" all three are derivatives of the Christian Faith. I'd say that makes it a score of . . . 99%. Secular Humanism has accomplished nothing except an explosion of depravity. Score? 1%. :D

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Ah, but they say that religion is the simple answer! To my mind it's a lot simpler to explain things based on the natural world and human reason.

    • ZxRed profile image

      Red Fernan 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      I agree. Moreover, "Christian" interpretations differ from each other. Most of it, if not all,we're tainted with personal biases of some sort. Now that makes religion so complicated and self-contradictory. There's suppose to be a simple answer to everything. Don't you think?

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City


      "How could we call Christians those people who even contradict Jesus Christ's teaching."

      This is a great question. First of all, Jesus Christ's teachings are not 100% consistent. It is true that there is a lot in his teachings that are peace-oriented, but there is also plenty that is supportive of intolerance and can be interpreted as violent.

      If Jesus was just a person like any other, then this might not be such an issue because we would be able to ignore or discard some of it. But since he is God, every single word he utters must be taken with the utmost seriousness, without exception.

      Secondly, there is a lot more to Christianity than Jesus' teachings. There are many doctrines, beliefs and ideas in Christianity that originate with other sources. These include the teachings of the early Christian church, the endless volumes of practices and customs and protocols in the church that have developed over the centuries (especially for Catholics, Orthodox and similar groups), the entire Old Testament, as well as modern Christians' interpretations in light of new developments in modern society and a changing world.

      There are also different books included in the Bible depending on the Christian sect, the many motifs and interpretations that have developed over the years, a literal interpretation of Scripture vs a metaphorical interpretation, the relationship between revelation and modern reason/ science, etc. And many more.

      All of these things compose a religion. Jesus may be central to it, but one cannot just focus exclusively on the figure of Jesus because there is much more to it than that.

    • ZxRed profile image

      Red Fernan 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      Does believing really makes someone a Christian? I don't think Jesus would even commend Christians who fight and kill each other. It's even hostile to conscience. I think Jesus taught of love and grace and the practice of such. How could we call Christians those people who even contradict Jesus Christ's teaching. :)

    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 

      8 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      "it's pretty straightforward to define who counts as a Christian."

      I agree with you, God has hidden His believers in 31,000 different places!

      And my hopes remain high!


    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      ZxRed, thank you.

      Confessed Christians vs Real Christians. I would just say that for the most part this is simply theological infighting among the sects, as when a Protestant calls a Roman Catholic "not a real Christian" or vice versa.

      Other than that, it is very difficult for anyone to say this person is really a Christian and that person is not really one, because so many beliefs can be justified by the Bible and Christian tradition--from violent to peaceful, from tolerant to intolerant, etc.

      As far as I'm concerned, one is a Christian as long as one subscribes to the essentials of the religion--belief in God, that Christ is God, Jesus was born to a virgin and rose from the dead, the Bible contains God's revelation, etc.

      There is admittedly some fuzziness, such as the Trinity--which is essential to Catholicism and Protestantism, but not accepted by Mormonism.

      But for the most part, it's pretty straightforward to define who counts as a Christian.

    • ZxRed profile image

      Red Fernan 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      Nice hub. Well, there are people who said that there really is a difference between "confessed Christians" and the "real Christians"? Any comment on this?

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Ha, don't get your hopes up, buddy. :)

      "See, we both wear different eyeglasses!"

      No doubt. But mine are sharper.

      Anyway, thanks for coming, and you are welcome back anytime.

      Take care.

    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 

      8 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      See, we both wear different eyeglasses!

      Intrigued by the opening line.... "as long as God keeps air in my lungs!"...... hmmmmm!

      Anyhow, I am not attacking you, nor defending anything, it's a good hub and a well thought out idea.

      Stay Blessed.


    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Haha, thanks John Aguasilver, I plan to as long as God keeps air in my lungs! LOL

      Anyway, Christianity is the second-highest scoring religion (after Judaism) in the whole study. That is largely because of superior marks on safety, especially Catholicism.

      But you said that a believer would prefer a lower score. My point was that a lower score here means more violent, more irrational and poorer.

      No, Evangelicals most certainly were included in the sample. As I wrote, I included responses from those who call themselves Evangelicals in the Pew study, and by definition all Protestants globally includes global Evangelical Protestants.

      Evangelicals tend to be more violent in developing countries, such as Nigeria and other African countries.

      On the rational thing, you are correct. That is why Evangelicals as a group have relatively low rates of college completion in the US. If you want to see that as a badge of honor, well, go right ahead, lol. Meanwhile, the rest of society moves forward.

      On the poverty issue, I disagree somewhat. It is true that it has little relation with "spiritual wealth" from what most religious people report (which is really just a dimension of human happiness). However, studies consistently show that happiness/ contentment is strongly correlated with material wealth, on an individual level and a country level.

      Material wealth is important to consider not because we like lots of money, but because it leads to superior medical outcomes, longer lives, better health, more options for leisure, more peace and stability in communities, more opportunities for productive work and fulfillment, more knowledge of the world, and more scientific discovery. That's pretty good, in my estimation. If you want to call all that as "excessive attachment to the world," then we see why devoutly Christian medieval Europe was mired in economic and political backwardness for centuries. As Christianity decreased, prosperity and freedom increased.

      "You can also be forgiven for grouping together a few sections of religion who claim title to Christ, yet ignore His commands and edicts."

      This is simply your theological view, which goes back to why there are these different sects in the first place.

    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 

      8 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      Violence or at least Churchianity approved violence has been hard to find in your study from Evangelicals, which were not really included in the sample, sure there are some nuts who want to picket soldiers funerals and seem anally retentive about homosexuals, but generally all of the evangelicals I have come across are peaceable and will hit you with nothing more than a scripture verse.

      Rational..... depends on which side of the fence one looks from, for what is rational to your eyes is probably illogical from any evangelical standpoint, which reflects what scripture states rather than what the (rational) world believes.

      Poorer is another relative point, for wealth is no indicator of spiritual health or personal satisfaction, indeed some of my more content periods of my life have been during my poorest moments, and vice versa.

      As you have obviously never experienced what a believer has, that moment of revelation that brought an inner knowledge of truth (to the believer) you write, you must write, from a secular perspective, as your name indicates.

      But for any believer, who has truly 'seen the light' (to use vernacular) the secular world is nothing but an illusion which deceives the people of the world.

      So obviously the two will not concur on most anything.

      You can also be forgiven for grouping together a few sections of religion who claim title to Christ, yet ignore His commands and edicts.

      We could equally apply the same filter to (say) Europeans, comparing the Germans, Belgians and English.

      The Belgians would undoubtedly win hands down in all categories, yet they are the most inept nation.

      Anyhow, peace and love, and long may you secularize away in good health and happiness!

      John ;0)

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Aguasilver, really?

      Hmmm, more violent, less rational and poorer is better?

      Not sure about that.

    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 

      8 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      Ironically, from a believers point of view the lower we score the better we like it!

    • secularist10 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from New York City

      Thanks, Tony!

      I appreciate that coming from you. Just published the article on Islam.

      The biggest problem I have is getting reliable measures of openness to skepticism/ reason across multiple countries. That's why I've decided to rely heavily on the US data even if the vast majority of the adherents don't live in the US.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting and thought-provoking! I will read the others with interest.

      Love and peace



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