The Good of the Church

December 21, 2007 at 3:15 pm 48 comments

Thumbs DownAmong people who have left any belief system there is very often a tendency to demonize that which they formerly adhered to. We see it all the time.

  • Former Catholics seem all too happy to point at the abuse scandals and say that’s what they’d expect from the old “whore of Babylon”.
  • Former atheists become Christians and then set about declaiming atheists as the spawn of Satan.
  • In the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) I often heard former Protestants berating Protestantism as stupid, evil, dead, not even Christian, and so on.
  • Former political liberals/conservatives will begin to rant about how dumb/evil/wrong/damaging conservatives/liberals are.

Among former Christians the tendency exists too. Christianity, the Church, Christians, religion in general, all too often come to be viewed as the greatest earthly source of evil. Just look around this, or any other, atheist/agnostic/decon forum and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I think this tendency may arise from anger at abuses seen or suffered in the Church, or from a bit of a personal backlash for feeling like one was duped, and I’m sure there are other sources for it as well. However, regardless of why it happens, I’d like to go on record as saying, “I’m not buying it.”

Now to be sure, the Christian Church, now and in ages past, has plenty of horrors to answer for. And if there is a God, I do not want to be standing between Him and the Church that claimed to represent Him come judgment day. There would surely be some hot lightning bolts flying.

But let us not forget that the Church does not shoulder the blame for all the nastiness of history, or of today. I’m not even willing to grant it the lion’s share. There are just too many other claimants to the world’s evils.

X MarkConsider just a tiny listing of other candidates for history’s “big ‘n’ nasty” awards.

The entire Far East:

They’ve never been Christian, yet they’ve managed plenty of massacres, pogroms, bigotry, oppression of women, oppression by class, and so on. Shoot, they’ve got most of the world’s population. If there’s a prize for generating the most nastiness, the Oriental world ought to be a shoe-in just from sheer numbers of people.

The Middle East:
Need I even say anything? Just occasionally paying attention to what goes on over there should tell you that they’ve got murder, mayhem, oppression, bigotry, and much more in spades. They can really put the ‘evil’ back into ‘medievil’ (sic).

India/Pakistan:
Centuries of the caste system, women being burned at their husband’s funeral, death cults, despotic rulers …. this rather populous region didn’t partake a skimpy share of evilness.

The whole world even before Christianity came along:
There was no shortage of wars, slavery, oppression, genocide, raping/pillaging/plundering (somehow those three always seem to go together), royal intrigue, corrupt leadership, and so on before the Church came along. I’m not even sure the Church managed to invent anything new in these “areas of endeavor”.

The late, unlamented Soviet Union:
Aptly called the Reds; they had plenty of blood to paint the Kremlin. We’ll never know the body count these guys racked up; or the lives they ruined; or the families they wrecked. If you read any of “The Gulag Archipelago”, you got an idea of what a truly evil, nasty society can be like.

There are plenty more I’m sure could be added to the list.

I’m not saying that in 2000 years the Christian Church hasn’t tried to be competitive in this arena. But I don’t think they’re anywhere near gold medal caliber.

Check MarkBut so far I’ve just talked about the bad stuff. What about the good? What good has the Church done? And while I’m at it, who else has done similar amounts of good? …….. Let’s take a look.

Schools/Education:
Oberlin, Harvard, Princeton. Those are just a few top schools founded, funded, headed by Christians, and with Christian ideals. The Church has contributed to education in the west and east in numerous other ways. The preservation of knowledge and literacy through the Dark Ages was in no small part due to the Church (especially the Church in the East). Basic education in reading, writing, and mathematics was often done by clerics. Sure you may wish to argue that the clerics controlled education and prevented progress in learning, but I would invite you to peruse “Medieval Science, Technology, and Medicine” by Thomas Glick. Or take a look at the history of a place like the School at Chartres. Or if you want more, I have a friend who has made a study of science and philosophy in the middle ages part of his career.

Hospitals:
Name the hospitals in your city. Got a St. Joseph’s? … a Presbyterian Hospital? … a Methodist Memorial? … a Good Samaritan? Churches funded and founded a lot of health care establishments. And back in the middle ages, monasteries were often the best places to find care and medications.

Helping the third world:
Christian missionaries around the world are bringing schools, medical care, hygiene, and technology to the world’s poorest. And they can often be found in the midst of war-torn countries helping care for the wounded and dispossessed, and helping to rebuild.

Helping the poor in the first world:
Who is running the soup kitchens and flop-houses for the homeless in your city? I’ll bet churches are funding and staffing them. There may be others, but the churches are there in force.

Prison ministry/rehab:
Do you know anyone who is talking to prisoners to try to help them get out and stay out? Church and parachurch organizations and personnel are doing it. And they are often succeeding in reducing recidivism rates.

Care for members:
A lot of churches are truly marvelous at caring for their members. Picking up invalids and shut-ins to take them places, taking meals to the sick or bereaved or hard beset, babysitting or even taking in family members to other homes when a parent is hospitalized. Giving money, food, clothing, gas, etc. to help families that are financially slammed, providing free counseling in times of grief or distress. The list could go on.

Changing people for the better:
Sure there are lots of folks in churches who are horrid and not improving. But there are also folks who really have had dramatic improvements in their lives because of ministry and care by churches. Recently a poster in this blog site (suddenlylost/Erin) spoke of how she really turned around a messed up life thanks to her church and faith. True many don’t change, but some do. And what other organizations, aside from the religious, have much of a track record of changing people for the better?

Fellowship:
Let’s face it. Churches are places where people make friends, find spouses, and form groups of all sorts to pursue common interests and have fun. Churches are darn good at this most times too. And once in a church, there are fair odds the people will be there for you for a lifetime.

Art, Literature, Music, Architecture:
The Christian faith has inspired beautiful works of art (works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Durer spring to mind), classics of literature (e.g. Les Miserables, Paradise Lost, Silas Marner), glorious music (Handel’s Messiah, most anything by Bach), and majestic prodigies of architecture (e.g. Haggia Sophia, San Vitale, Chartres)

Question MarkAgain there is more that could be added to the list. But I want to leave off and now set forth a couple questions to ponder:

  • Who else has done as much good in any of the nine areas I listed?
  • Who else has done as much good in all nine?

Sure the Christian Church has done at least its fair share of harm. It’s all too easy to point it out. And there are parts of the Church that are little else but harmful. I’d be far less than honest to try to deny all that or try to cover it up.

But the Christian Church, across the globe and through history, has also done its fair share of good. And I’d be far less than honest to deny all that.

There’s something I noted while putting this together. I had no trouble coming up with competitors who might beat the Church in evil-doing, but I haven’t come up with any close competitors in good-doing.

The upshot of all this is that when I see folks try to pronounce the Christian Church as history’s biggest boogie-man, I just don’t buy it.

- LeoPardus

Entry filed under: LeoPardus. Tags: , , , , , .

Coming Home for Christmas (after de-conversion) The Myth of God’s Unconditional Love

48 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Richard  |  December 21, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    I feel that Christianity, the church, and religion in general are, broadly speaking, like anything that is powerful in human affairs — like technology, or government, or sex, or authority, or fire iteself: they are morally neutral things that can be used for good or used for ill.

    I really like the balance of views in your post. Too many people fall into the trap of demonizing religion because it has been used for harm, and too many people try to argue that religion has done more harm than good.

    Thats a pretty hard argument to make, however, I think. To successfully do so would entail finding some way to measure and then tally all the countless acts of good, big and small, against all the acts of evil, big and small, throughout all history. Perhaps that caclulus can be performed, but its a tall order, and whoever claims to be able to do so had better show their work, as far as Im concerned.

    For my part, I think the better, more productive answer is to identify those parts of religion that are most destructive and try to find ways to mitigate their influence.

    Nice job!

  • 2. karen  |  December 21, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    The Christian church – and all religion – is only as good, and as bad, as the people in it. Once you take out the supposed supernatural influence, it’s a human endeavor, just like government, which can be used equally for good or for ill.

    What I object to most about religion is the encouragement to rely on absolute leaders and the discouragement to think, and question, and challenge those leaders (I’m talking fundamentalist religion, of course, which is what I know). One major way to get everyday people to do idiotic things like blow up others is to have absolute rulers tell them to, and tell them that it’s “the will of god.”

    That’s dangerous and destructive, and I agree we need to mitigate those parts to whatever extent we can.

    That said, a Merry Christmas to all the de-cons and to all a good night! :-)

  • 3. the deacon  |  December 21, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you for the post. The church and those claiming to be its members have committed their fair share of heinous actions. Some argue that the few represent the whole and the whole should be judged by the few. That said, you have reminded me that every group has its villains and saints. You have rightly noted that the church and its people done their fare share of work to make their communities better.

    As with anything in life, the nature of the leadership has much to do with the quality and nature of the institution. At times the church has had manipulative self-serving leadership while at other times its leadership, from the top down the local level, has worked at challenging the membership to live lives in keeping with the higher human ideals.

    While I may not agree with the concept of a divinity and worship, reflection upon our higher nature and a responsibility to help others in need has great value. I would hate to think off my national character being summarily judged by the baseness, conduct and actions of our least noble citizens who claim to be acting in the best interest of the nation and in keeping with its ideals. I am loathed as a male to have my maleness defined by men who think and do unspeakable things to women.

  • 4. Asymptosis  |  December 21, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    On the whole I agree. Christianity has a rich and complex history. I don’t think it is a coincidence that science, industry and democracy as we know them kicked off in areas where Christianity was dominant. Christian ideas are beautiful and powerful and useful. They can promote civilisation, enshrine science and encourage individual enterprise.

    However, by singling out geographical regions for the “big and nasty awards” (like the Middle through Far East), it seems like you think of Christianity as European, and the difference between “us” (Christian-influenced) and “them” (everyone else) is something of a geographical/racial issue.

    I’m sure you’re aware that, on the one hand, Christianity in fact has a presence in all the regions you named, while on the other hand, the “problem” cultures like fundy Islamic groups exist outside of respective regions to which it appears you’ve restricted them.

    Since the topic is religion, I think it would have been better to name the religions you had in mind: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. Indeed better to name certain subsets of those religions, or (best of all) the teachings of specific individuals.

  • 5. Asymptosis  |  December 21, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Questions:

    1. Do there exist, or do there potentially exist, philosophies that can reproduce the good parts of Christianity, without simultaneously reproducing the bad parts? Eg, is it possible to transform Christianity in such a way that it again seems relevent, beautiful and useful to large numbers of people in scientific/democratic societies, without compromising either secular values or religious values? Or is it possible to authentically replace Christianity with something as powerful and enriching? (Science may evolve into this role, but it is still a long way from achieving it. And if it ever does achieve it, it will not be the science we know…)

    2. Do the good parts of Christianity truly outweigh the bad parts? Or do the claims about Christianity’s good parts, in spite of the bad, amount to a nostalgic weakness and inability to accept that the religion has indeed failed, it does more harm than good, and is beyond redemption?

  • 6. bry0000000  |  December 21, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Thanks for the article, Leo. I’ve really been struggling to keep my militancy against christianity in check.

    I guess the thing that frustrates me the most is that Christianity, like most other religions, attacks the mind more so than it attacks the body. In the Christian school I attended, we were taught to think that certain tenets were true just because they were true and that any logical inquiry was discouraged (ex: the divinity of the bible).

    Overall, though, we should recognize that no one religion is more evil than another. In fact, I kind of like the de-conversion philosophy that many of the posters have sort of adopted: live-and-let-live. AKA, don’t try to de-convert anyone; just provide resources for those who are skeptical. I am struggling with this, but one day I really want to be ok with Christians being Christians, Muslims being Muslims, and whatever else being whatever else.

  • 7. Iris  |  December 21, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Building on what Asymptosis said about an ‘us and them’ mentality that often arises in regards to the Middle East, it is important to note that the U.S. gov’t in particular, under the influence of neo-conservative capitalists with *christian ideologies* (The Holy war/Crusade/West vs. the Rest) are in part responsible for the ‘mess’ that is the growth of fundy Islam. We (and Israel) have intentionally funded/supported fundy religious groups, parties, leaders or dictators in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt-subverting secularists in the region. Our blatant imperialist policies (with some historical ‘justifications’ in Manifest Destiny) have also contributed to the rise of fundy Islam in the M.E. and Europe–as many who are desperately poor/disenfranchised/assaulted by sanctions or literal warfare have turned to their ‘only’ visible alternative (fundy Islam), which is in fact strengthening the ‘reasons’ for U.S. involvement in the ‘East’ (which feeds fundy sentiment, etc, and on and on).

    I say this not to imply fundy Islam is pardonable, or that LeoPardos meant to promote an Us-or-Them dialogue, or to just have a diatribe! It is not this simple either, of course. Simply to exemplify the effect geopolitics has on the ‘messiness of regions’ and that religion is certainly embedded in politics.

    Cheers!

  • 8. Iris  |  December 21, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Bry

    I also struggle with my ‘militancy’. I don’t think it is ok to say ‘live, and let live’ entirely, but I certainly don’t support suppression or forced conversion or anything like that. I think live-and let-live has too often embodied a liberalish ‘pass’ from scrutiny for the religious –or any other irrational systems, as well as an isolated reluctance to have debate or discussion. I feel as long as one is polite and the other party is up for discussion, then people who live in society side by side, who effect one another’s lives on many levels, should have to defend ‘private’ (this is debateable in terms of public policy) their beliefs. This includes atheists, who are constantly (publicly! militantly!) called upon to do so. Etiquette is of course always good. And I realize no one here really treats religion with kid gloves, and everyone is polite.

    Cheers!

  • 9. Iris  |  December 21, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    Oh, and the defense of one’s beliefs particularly applies to people who subscribe to religions that put a heavy emphasis on converting others!

  • 10. Iris  |  December 22, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Sorry, last post for a time: Asympt, I don’t think you can seperate the ‘good’ parts of Christianity from the fact that the entire system predicated on fallacy and suspending reason. Irrationality is bad for human society. We’ve lived with the idea that people will not be kind to others/work for the community/follow social order without religion (and clergy) for too long. Why separate those parts (when the goodness is present) when we can have them without demanding suspension of reason and free-thought to the people?

    One vote for ‘beyond Redemption’!

  • 11. LeoPardus  |  December 22, 2007 at 12:45 am

    Asymptosis:

    by singling out geographical regions for the “big and nasty awards” (like the Middle through Far East), it seems like you think of Christianity as European, and the difference between “us” (Christian-influenced) and “them” (everyone else) is something of a geographical/racial issue.

    I didn’t single anything out. I made a short list of candidates for the “big ‘n’ nasty awards”. Such a list could go on for miles. If you have a favorite candidate that you really want listed, add it on.

    I’m sure you’re aware that, on the one hand, Christianity in fact has a presence in all the regions you named,

    I joined the EOC. To be particular the Antiochian jurisdiction. So I’m not just aware of Christianity in those regions, I know who they are and who the leaders are. I know a bit about their history in those regions and their relationships with other religions.

    while on the other hand, the “problem” cultures like fundy Islamic groups exist outside of respective regions to which it appears you’ve restricted them.

    My wife is European. I hear about Muslims in western Europe quite a lot.

  • 12. LeoPardus  |  December 22, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Asymptosis:

    Good questions you pose.

    Do there exist, or do there potentially exist, philosophies that can reproduce the good parts of Christianity, without simultaneously reproducing the bad parts?

    Sadly I think anything humans produce will come with bad parts. Maybe good parts too, but definitely bad parts. There have been efforts to pick the “good parts” of Christianity, but invariantly bad stuff gets into the mix.

    Do the good parts of Christianity truly outweigh the bad parts?

    Ultimately an unanswerable question as Richard pointed out in the first response. I’m inclined to think the good outweighs the bad, but it’s just my opinion.

  • 13. LeoPardus  |  December 22, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Iris:

    Interesting. How much is the West responsible for the rise to prominence of fundy Islam? I really don’t know. I should bounce the question off some of my Arabic acquaintances and see what they think.

  • 14. hermipowell  |  December 22, 2007 at 1:03 am

    This is funny!
    http://fullness.wordpress.com/2007/12/18/my-inspiration/

    Live Life to the Fullest!!!!

  • 15. Asymptosis  |  December 22, 2007 at 1:45 am

    Hi LeoPardus,

    I didn’t single anything out. I made a short list of candidates for the “big ‘n’ nasty awards”.

    This is a contradiction.

    In fact, you did single out the geographical regions: “the entire Far East”, “the Middle East” and “India/Pakistan”.

    My point is that a religious discussion should be based on religious differences, not geographical ones. Hence why I suggested Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, and better yet, specific teachings therein, as targets for your ire, rather than geographical regions.

    If you are familiar with Christians in the Middle East, then there is a problem with the fact that you point out problems in the Middle East as a defence of Christianity. Furthermore, if you are familiar with fundy Islamists that do not live in the Middle East, I am a bit confused about why the Middle East made it to your short list of candidates in the first place. What did you really want to say when comparing the Middle East to Christianity?

  • 16. LeoPardus  |  December 22, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    Asymptosis:

    My point is that a religious discussion should be based on religious differences

    Ah. This is part of a misunderstanding. My post was not part of a religious discussion. I was not comparing the Christian Church to other religions, nor was I looking at it as a religion.

    I was comparing it to any other identifiable body that has done evil or good throughout history. So I could have included corporations in my list. I’m sure someone would want Microsoft and Halliburton up there.

    And you may not have noticed that I did put one candidate in the list that was not a geographical region.

    If you are familiar with Christians in the Middle East, then there is a problem with the fact that you point out problems in the Middle East as a defence of Christianity.

    First off I’m not defending Christianity. It’s done plenty of evil. My ‘thesis statement’ was, “the Church does not shoulder the blame for all the nastiness of history, or of today. I’m not even willing to grant it the lion’s share.”

    Actually I’ll grant that if someone is maintaining that the Christian Church is the biggest purveyor of evil in history, then it could be said that I’m defending the Church. Rather an irony there, eh?

    Second; how does my awareness of Christians being in the Middle East make pointing out “problems in the Middle East as a defense of Christianity”? I don’t see a connection.

    if you are familiar with fundy Islamists that do not live in the Middle East, I am a bit confused about why the Middle East made it to your short list of candidates in the first place.

    It made it to the list because I think most folks are quite aware of how bad things are there. I.e. the murderous ideologies, the oppression of women and others, etc. I could have put fundy Islam on the list too I suppose. As I said in the article, “There are plenty more I’m sure could be added to the list.”

    What did you really want to say when comparing the Middle East to Christianity?

    From the article, “There are just too many other claimants to the world’s evils.
    Consider just a tiny listing of other candidates for history’s “big ‘n’ nasty” awards.”

    So I’m saying that the Middle East and Christianity could both be candidates for the awards.

  • 17. Iris  |  December 22, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Yes it is interesting how U.S. policy has increased fundy numbers either through direct, imperialist policy/support of fundys or through what the CIA calls ‘blowback’ (which, I think, was coined in the 50’s when they deposed a democratically-leaning gov’t for a fundamentalist Shah in Iran–and the violent anti-westerner revolution that occured in the 70’s as a direct result). I think that promoting ecomomic policies (U.S., IMF World Bank) that intentionally promote desperate poverty, ignorance and violence against women are also directly responsible for the spread of fundy *anything* (See pentacostalism blazing through Latin America and Africa!) See 50yearsis-enough.org for stats on the IMF/WB if you’re interested.

    The U.S. habitually carpet bombs or funds coups in various countries to ‘spread’ freedom, while setting up dictators or fundamentalist oppressors (Pinochet on a long list), as long as they are friendly to foreign business (United Fruit Company, Guatemala). Fundamentalists are also easier to reject on ‘moral terms’ when it is convenient for our military/ruling class. Strategic support for fundamentalist religion certainly fits into this policy! And Bush’s (for whom you rejected the label ‘fascist’) strategic usage of the word ‘crusade’ after 9/11 of course falls into this wild propagandistic invention of ideals/the need for the spread of ‘freedom’ while in deed providing liberalised trade policy for the U.S.

    I know several older Chaldian and Palestinian women at my job…the Palestinian women have talked about secularism in the ME, and that there is more of it than we think there is, and that there used to be in particular.

  • 18. Iris  |  December 22, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Another interesting point I didn’t think about: liberal religious pluralism is convenient to Empire. Much like the Roman empire, a certain level of pluralism is promoted as long as their overarching ideologies prevail (Rome: conquest and tax collection; the U.S.: virtually unchallenged conquest and capitalism). I thought that was interesting; I picked it up in Harper’s. I’m drawing a blank on the author; I hope he has a book or two.

  • 19. TheDeeZone  |  December 22, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Leopardis,

    Well written.

    DH

  • 20. Asymptosis  |  December 22, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Hi LeoPardus,

    Thanks for the clarification.

  • 21. Niki  |  December 23, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Hi LeoPardus,
    I was searching for this kind of a blog for months now. Actually lost the hope of finding one, but here i am Thanks for the great articles! Looking forward for a little read after lunch.I’ll Bookmark this page.Thanks again.

  • 22. wolfshowl  |  December 23, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    I don’t think the “good parts” you named have anything to do with the religion. They have everything to do with the few people who have good hearts who still believe in the church or pretend to believe. They’d be just as good no matter what religion they were.

    On the other hand, some of the bad things about the church would not necessarily exist without it. Yes, evil people will always find ways to oppress. However, the brainwashing of people to believe in a false, oppressive god (which automatically leads to trying to emulate him) would not exist without the church.

    This is why the church must go. It is teaching people lies. It is acclamating people from a young age to just accept what they are told. This opens them up as adults to be led about by whatever people happen to be in power in their country/culture. Any group that teaches people how to not use their brains is the most dangerous threat to our society indeed.

  • 23. LeoPardus  |  December 24, 2007 at 2:15 am

    wolfshowl:

    *Let me play “Angel’s Advocate” :) to what you said.*

    To begin with what you say is merely your opinion. (I.e. you think people would do the same good no matter what religion.) But you have nothing to back that.

    And think on this. In the article I asked:
    Who else has done as much good in any of the nine areas I listed?
    Who else has done as much good in all nine?

    I contend that the answer to the first question is, “Very few.” and the answer to the second question is, “No one.”

    Unless you can come up with some recognizable body to stand up as an example, your assertion (to wit: People would be just as good without the church”) would seem to fall.

    Next you assert that some of the bad things wouldn’t exist without the Church. As near as I can tell you intend examples of those bad things to be brainwashing, acclimating from a young age, being led by whomever is in power, and teaching people not to use their brains. These, I gather are bad things that you assert would not exist without the Church.

    Yet….. Communist China has all of those. Fundy Islam does too. Hinduism does pretty well with them. And the list could go on.

    So have you got some better examples of “bad things about the church that would not exist without it”?

    Lastly: Any group that teaches people how to not use their brains is the most dangerous threat to our society indeed.

    I agree. Can i count on you to help eradicate the media, television in almost all forms, talk radio, most of the US education system, ….. ?

  • 24. confusedchristian  |  December 24, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    LeoPardus, you present the most compelling argument for Christianity I have ever found. Leo, if you don’t mind me asking, where did you look to find what positive things other religions have done or even the nonreligious?

  • 25. wolfshowl  |  December 24, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    LeoPardus,
    Evidently, I was not entirely clear.
    Replace anything I said about “the Church” with “Religion.” That should clear a few things up (ie, yeah Islam does the same thing, duh). As for your (pathetic) example of communist China (which everybody always throws out there, Mr. Creative), notice I said that “evil people will always find ways to oppress.” Hmm, this would imply that even without religion, evil would still exist. Imagine that. Just like the fact that no religion can eliminate evil, no lack of religion can either.

    Next, you challenge me to come up with a non-religious, recognizable body that does these supposed good things the Church does. Now, really, if I was being as trivial as you I could simply say “any Jewish synagogue has similar outreach.” Yet, this would be ignoring my own point about all religion. I won’t play dumb and pretend to not know what you’re talking about. So, you want good without religion. Well, as I tried to explain before, this good exists not because of the group but because of the good people within the group. Within any evil group, you can find good people who struggle to work within the constraints of that group to accomplish good. We are hard-pressed to find a nonreligious group accomplishing these tasks, because the West is so religious.

    Finally, for your pathetic attack on the media, anybody with half a brain can tell that there is a difference between purposefully bringing your child to a “place of worship” where they are brainwashed to believe lies and allowing them to watch a few hours of television which you then discuss. The purpose of church is to brainwash people to listen without thinking. The purpose of the media is to allow for freedom of speech and content. Some of this speech is bad (Fox news anyone?), but some of it is good (History Channel, Discovery Channel). As for the US education system, since when is it about brainwashing? Now you sound like a paranoid lunatic. Alright, so if the US education system’s goal is to make us mindless idiots, they are clearly failing miserably. After all, they have us for around eight hours a day, five days a week, for about twelve years, and this is the best they can do? The church does better with one day a week. So, either they are really bad brainwashers, or you are paranoid. I’d go for the paranoid.

    Finally, what the hell are you doing defending the church anyway? This is supposed to be a decon site, not a “well, really, the church isn’t so bad” site. I’d suggest if you wish to continue writing articles like this, that you go crawling back to your fundies. If you think they’re so good, why’d you leave in the first place?

  • 26. LeoPardus  |  December 24, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    confusedchristian:

    Thanks for the compliment. :)

    For most of the good and bad I listed, I used my own memory. That’s why I’m interested in what others may come up with especially in terms of good deeds by other bodies.

    Actually that would be an interesting task. Come up with what others (i.e. not the Christian Church) are doing by way of good deeds. Just offhand I’d put forth the Peace Corps and the Gates Foundation.

  • 27. lostgirlfound  |  December 24, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Leo, you’re right. “The Church” in general has done good in God’s name. But “the church” (individual, power-hungry people who only care about their own advancement in the micro-cosim that is the “local church”) are really no diffferent than anyone else that wants to advance themselves at the disposability of people around them.

    I’ve had great friends and known great people that are Christians. I’ve also known people in the church that use their religion as a poor excuse for being bastards. The ratio is no different “inside” or “outside” in my opinion. So, if Christians claim that Jesus makes a difference in their lives … how?

    I’ve said this many times: only let your mouth speak what your life will reflect. Christian, Athiest, whatever. I guess that’s my biggest beef with “the church” is that many of good church people will say, “Jesus is the way,” yet they live exactly how they choose, and disregard the example he set for them in their Bible. Weird …

  • 28. Thinking Ape  |  December 24, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    wolfshowl,
    I don’t mean to sound like a hippie – but where’s the love?

    Whether you are Christian, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, Hindu, or Jew, bitterness and hatred is a poison in our mental atmosphere. The purpose for recognizing the good within religion can help de-converts come back down to reality – religion is not “evil” nor immoral nor unethical. It is amoral with no ethical value, until that an individual or group attributes said value to that category. Religion is not an entity unto itself. Religions are categories of human acts and belief systems, of which some of those acts and ideas have been used for both altruistic and selfish reasons. Saying “Religion is that” or “Religion is this” only shows utter ignorance of the complexity of the subject.

    I recommend some contemporary scholarship on the subject, including:
    Guide to the Study of Religion (ed. Braun and McCutcheon)
    Between Heaven and Earth (Orsi)
    Crossing and Dwelling (Tweed)
    The Invention of World Religions (Masuzawa)

  • 29. confusedchristian  |  December 24, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Hey Thinking Ape, I don’t even have a High school education, are there any good books on religion you would recommend to those who are academically challenged?

  • 30. LeoPardus  |  December 24, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Wolfshowl:

    Replace anything I said about “the Church” with “Religion.”

    I thought that might be the case. However, in the article, I’m talking about the good and bad of Christian Church. So if you’re talking about religion in general, we are trying to have an “apples and oranges” comparison. That won’t work well.

    As for your (pathetic) example of communist China (which everybody always throws out there, Mr. Creative),

    Where did someone set up the rules, “be creative and original; don’t use communists; don’t use Nazis”?

    Now go back and read what I wrote. You said, “that some of the bad things wouldn’t exist without the Church.” Then you gave what I took to be a few of those bad things. Then I gave counterexample. So you made a nearly universal statement, and I put forth some specific examples that seem to be exceptions to your universal.

    notice I said that “evil people will always find ways to oppress.” Hmm, this would imply that even without religion, evil would still exist.

    Given that I cited several examples of evil by bodies other than the Church, it would seem we are entirely agreed here. So what does your statement do to advance the issues at hand?

    Next, you challenge me to come up with a non-religious, recognizable body that does these supposed good things the Church does. Now, really, if I was being as trivial as you I could simply say “any Jewish synagogue has similar outreach.”

    Actually that’s a good example. Have you more?

    Yet, this would be ignoring my own point about all religion.

    The article at top isn’t about all religion. It’s about the good and bad of the Christian Church. Let’s keep it that way. So other religions are good comparators. Especially since Christianity considers itself the only true way to God.

    I won’t play dumb and pretend to not know what you’re talking about. So, you want good without religion.

    Actually good outside the Christian Church is what I was after.

    Well, as I tried to explain before, this good exists not because of the group but because of the good people within the group. Within any evil group, you can find good people who struggle to work within the constraints of that group to accomplish good.

    Fine. It would be hard to quantify that, but you may try if you like. I was actually looking for groups (companies, organizations, countries, religions, ball clubs, whatever) who sponsor good deeds on a par with the Christian Church.

    We are hard-pressed to find a nonreligious group accomplishing these tasks, because the West is so religious.

    So why confine yourself to the West? I made no such stipulation.

    Finally, for your pathetic attack on the media, anybody with half a brain can tell that there is a difference between purposefully bringing your child to a “place of worship” where they are brainwashed to believe lies and allowing them to watch a few hours of television which you then discuss.

    Actually I don’t think 5 words comprises a discussion of television. Perhaps expansion would be in order though.
    Television tends to present things in a very unrealistic way. E.g. if your mom and dad are a lawyer and doctor respectively, they would not be at home almost all the time. Or…. Blowing people away in vengeance doesn’t make you a hero.
    Then there’s the presentation of actual events. If you ever see, “the following story is based on the true life adventures of….” you can be almost certain that it’s highly inaccurate to the real events.
    Now to be fair, TV is supposed to be fantasy much of the time, so it’s not deliberate brainwashing. But I contend that it does generally have the tendency to dumb down its audience. And your beef was with “Any group that teaches people how to not use their brains”.

    The purpose of church is to brainwash people to listen without thinking.

    I think that by and large I’d agree. It’s not the purpose people have in mind, but it does tend to work out that way.

    The purpose of the media is to allow for freedom of speech and content.

    I agree that is the purpose. I’m not so sure that is the outcome though. Most of the media presents things from a bias. Hence they are out to make you think a certain way, or to not think in a certain way. They also tend to cover things selectively, and often inaccurately (or at best incompletely). If you’ve ever been at an event that later was reported in the media, you’ve probably wondered if they are actually talking about the event you were at, or talking about something on another world.

    If you want anything close to accuracy from the media, you have to access multiple sources, with different biases, and then try to fill in the blanks. Not exactly encouraging free, honest, open speech and content in my estimation.

    As for the US education system, since when is it about brainwashing?

    Kindly read what I write to you. For that matter, read what you write to me. Then you won’t go off on rabbit trails that have nothing to do with the topic at hand.

    In respect to the US education system, I listed it in response to your statement, which I copied right above the list. Here is what you said, “Any group that teaches people how to not use their brains is the most dangerous threat to our society indeed.” After citing that statement of yours, I listed some groups that, at least in part, teach people not to use their brains. [Note now, that I was not listing groups that brainwash. Again I implore you to pay attention to both what I write and to what you write.]

    if the US education system’s goal is to make us mindless idiots, they are clearly failing miserably. After all, they have us for around eight hours a day, five days a week, for about twelve years, and this is the best they can do?

    Remember now, we’re not talking about brainwashing. We’re talking about teaching people how not to use their brains. Try asking your local grad to perform some mathematical functions, or to construct an essay with good grammar and syntax, or to connect events in history. Then go ask the teachers to do so. Many will. Many others will fail utterly. But they still get diplomas, or teaching certificates as the case may be.

    Sorry but I “did time” in the US educational system. It makes one despair. So it’s a bit of a hobby horse of mine. No one need ride along if they don’t want to.

    Finally, what the hell are you doing defending the church anyway?

    Once again, if you’d read what was written…… I started off with Let me play “Angel’s Advocate”. I figured you’d get the joke.

    This is supposed to be a decon site, not a “well, really, the church isn’t so bad” site.

    Correct. This site is primarily for skeptical, de-converting, or former Christians to think about and work through whatever issues they may have. My experience has been that many decons demonize the Christian Church as the greatest source of evil ever. I contend that this is an inaccurate and unbalanced belief. Many people here wish to be truthful and accurate in their opinions or beliefs. So I wrote this article in hopes that readers would be encouraged to avoid the inaccuracy of utterly demonizing the Church. That, I believe, fits well within the purposes of this site.

    I’d suggest if you wish to continue writing articles like this, that you go crawling back to your fundies.

    Once again I must berate you for failing to read thoroughly. Here is a sentence just a few lines into the article: ”In the Eastern Orthodox Church (EOC) I often heard former Protestants berating Protestantism as stupid, evil, dead, not even Christian, and so on.” That should have clued you in that I didn’t crawl out of the fundies. Of course in the interest of complete accuracy, I did leave fundyism years ago. When I departed Christianity though, it was from within the EOC.

    If you think they’re so good, why’d you leave in the first place?

    Over in the forum site, you can find my bio. Feel free to read it.

  • 31. LeoPardus  |  December 24, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    lostgirlfound:

    I agree completely. ’nuff said.

  • 32. LeoPardus  |  December 24, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    confusedchristian:

    TA will probably have some resources for you. If you don’t mind, I’ll toss in two that I think would fit.

    World Religions: The Great Faiths Explored & Explained by John Bowker.

    This next one I’ve never read, but it seemed too cute not to mention:
    The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions, 3rd Edition (The Complete Idiot’s Guide) by Brandon Toropov and Father Luke Buckle :)

  • 33. Thinking Ape  |  December 24, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    confusedchristian inquires,

    Hey Thinking Ape, I don’t even have a High school education, are there any good books on religion you would recommend to those who are academically challenged?

    Check out “Between Heaven and Earth” by Orsi – it is an academic book but it is also fairly easy to read. It comes from an ex-Catholic perspective on how to study religion and what it means to study religion. Also, many academics also put out books for the general public such as Prothero’s “Religious Literacy” and anything by Bart Ehrman. Although, it does depend on what you are interested in. There won’t be too much for the general population in regards to the theory of religious studies, but there is plenty out there for the historicism of Christianity.

  • 34. wolfshowl  |  December 25, 2007 at 12:03 am

    ThinkingApe,
    For your information, I have actually recently completed my minor in Religious Studies. I have studied them and clearly understand them better than you ever will.

    LeoPardus,
    I really have nothing further to say to you than, quit defending evil institutions.
    Also, you simultaneously denied and admitted coming from the fundies. Methinks you still have some issues to work through about that.

    In regards to the whole site,
    I am so disappointed in this article. There is nothing wrong with demonizing an institution that is bad. There is no place in this world for religion. You all clearly have a lot of thinking left to do. I’m pleased at the moves away from fundamentalism, and bitterly disappointed at any support of Christianity being demonstrated on this site. Consider yourselves to have lost a reader.

  • 35. bry0000000  |  December 25, 2007 at 12:14 am

    Wolfshowl,

    Actually, I would argue that by making the good/evil dichotomization, you’re much more religious than any of us.

    Oh, and I think Religious Studies was one of TA’s majors if I remember right. So based solely on credentials (which I think, in general, is a mistake), he has you beat :).

  • 36. wolfshowl  |  December 25, 2007 at 1:12 am

    bry0000000
    You idiot. Thinking Ape brought up the credentials first.

    Second, there is such a thing as evil. Religion isn’t about good/evil, it’s about believing myths. Evil institutions are a fact. Nazism anybody?

    You people clearly can’t handle having anybody criticize you.

    Many of you are ex-pastors. I can see that loud and clear.
    Pretentious assholes one and all.

  • 37. Greg  |  December 25, 2007 at 1:47 am

    The biggest problem I have with this idea is that altruism is a fairly basic human trait. Most of us have it, in varying amounts. Many of the positive things the church does it does because someone has to, and the church seems or seemed an obvious candidate. However, we can never know that they aren’t actually monopolizing philanthropy, and possibly even having a negative effect.

  • 38. LeoPardus  |  December 25, 2007 at 2:33 am

    wolfy:

    Consider yourselves to have lost a reader.

    Yay! Nyah-nyah-nyah-boo-boo! Phhhhbbbbttttt!

  • 39. LeoPardus  |  December 25, 2007 at 2:36 am

    Oops. Missed this bit:

    You people clearly can’t handle having anybody criticize you.

    I’m rubber. You’re glue. Your words bounce off me, and stick to you.

    Anyway, I’m trying to reach you on your own maturity level. Ya grokkin’ me yet?

  • 40. bry0000000  |  December 25, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Actually wolf, read Nietzsche.

    And for someone who isn’t reading the site anymore, you’re visiting quite a lot.

  • 41. The Myth of God’s Unconditional Love « de-conversion  |  December 25, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    [...] peace on earth but resulted in wars and fear. However, as LeoPardus recently pointed out, there are some good things that can be attributed to birth of the [...]

  • 42. Thinking Ape  |  December 25, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    wolfshowl,

    ThinkingApe,
    For your information, I have actually recently completed my minor in Religious Studies. I have studied them and clearly understand them better than you ever will.

    Is this really something you want to say? You completely destroy any credibility of your self-proclaimed academic credentials by resting on them for your authority. The only reason I would ever bring up credentials is so that we know where each other are coming from. I don’t speak to someone with no academic training the same way I would debate someone with a PhD, for obvious reasons. I find it humourous that you think that attaining a minor in any academic subject (which is anywhere from taking 4 to 8 courses in the subject over 4 years) allows you to say something as ignorant as “[I] clearly understand them better than you ever will.” Even my academic supervisor, who has studied under Jonathan Z. Smith himself, would never say something so bold and unprofessional.

    We have been called a lot of things on this website, but pretentious ex-pastors who want to crawl back into fundyism is a new one. Perhaps you should read some of our other posts and shut your ignorant trap.

  • 43. Anonymous  |  December 27, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Iris said,

    it is important to note that the U.S. gov’t in particular, under the influence of neo-conservative capitalists with *christian ideologies* (The Holy war/Crusade/West vs. the Rest) are in part responsible for the ‘mess’ that is the growth of fundy Islam. We (and Israel) have intentionally funded/supported fundy religious groups, parties, leaders or dictators in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt-subverting secularists in the region. Our blatant imperialist policies (with some historical ‘justifications’ in Manifest Destiny) have also contributed to the rise of fundy Islam in the M.E. and Europe–as many who are desperately poor/disenfranchised/assaulted by sanctions or literal warfare have turned to their ‘only’ visible alternative (fundy Islam), which is in fact strengthening the ‘reasons’ for U.S. involvement in the ‘East’ (which feeds fundy sentiment, etc, and on and on).

    I would agree that the US government’s foreign policy leaves a lot to be desired. But let’s not forget the fact that although there is a lot of American bashing going on in the Muslim world, the vast majority of Islamic militancy and violence occurs between different sects of Muslims. In fact, the goal of Islamic militancy is to make Islamic shariah law the sole religion of the world. I would argue not to lay a disproportionate amount of blame on anyone but the fundamentalist Muslims who have bastardized the Quran to impose their distorted view of religion upon others. The poverty and disenfranchisement that Islamic militants may feel has less to do with American foreign policy and more to do with their own society’s ardent refusal to adapt to the modern world that has completely passed them by.

  • 44. karen  |  December 27, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    Speaking of non-Christians doing good, I recently realized that three of the world’s top philanthropists are atheists! I’m talking about Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Bob Geldof.

    Many other, lesser non-theists also devote their lives to helping others in one way or another – they simply don’t have the organizational structure or the size or the PR to get noticed, like the larger Christian denominations do.

    Certainly not arguing that Christianity hasn’t done loads of good for the world – it’s clear that it has. However, one has to balance this with the fact that over the last couple of millennia it was not only unpopular to be a nonbeliver, it was actually illegal! So there were likely always atheists, but I imagine that most/all of them were in the closet for many centuries.

    It’s really only been since 9/11 that coming out as an atheist has started to be reasonably acceptable. In many families and communities, of course, it still is not acceptable. I think that if we continue moving toward more tolerance for the non-religious, we’ll start to hear more about atheists and agnostics organizing to do good, or at least visibly contributing to other secular efforts to make the world a better place.

    The other thing I would mention in terms of good works are Buddhist charities. I don’t know a ton about them, but I know in my old neighborhood there was an office of the Tzu Chi Foundation for Compassionate Relief. They did global charity work on behalf of Buddhists.

  • 45. LeoPardus  |  December 27, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    Karen’s post (#44) prompted me to do a little snooping to see what I could come up with for large charities/philanthropies. A couple links.

    http://www.forbes.com/lists/2005/14/Revenue_1.html

    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m5072/is_1_28/ai_n15999434

    There are number of sizable, non-religious groups in the lists. And of course these lists are almost exclusively US. So I’m sure there are lots more in the rest of the world.

    There are some caveats to these lists.
    -There are 1000’s of organizations, religious and non, that aren’t on the list. No one really knows how much money they all account for.
    -Information on some things are very hard to find or to assess in terms of just where the money, time, etc go. One example would be missionary spending. Another would be things like the handouts given by the US military during foreign operations.

    Anyway, I’ve now come up with a fair chunk of non-religious giving.

  • 46. Michelle  |  December 29, 2007 at 5:27 pm

    Refreshing… Thank you.
    I don’t like being considered the “boogey man” because I’m Christian. I try not to pigeon hole people with differing beliefs in that way.
    As I said in a previous comment:
    Either you have faith or you do not- neither option intrinsically makes you good/bad , smart/ignorant, backward/progressive.
    So Geldoff is Atheist, Bono is Christian and I appreciate the work both have done.

  • 47. boxofbirds  |  December 31, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    I agree with your main point that converts usually emphasize the bad of their previous position. But, I do have to strongly disagree with you on your statement that “the preservation of knowledge and literacy through the Dark Ages was in no small part due to the Church…”

    I would have to say that the exact opposite is true. One could reasonably say that virtually all humanistic and scientific advancement was severely and intentionally halted or destroyed by the Church.

    I think Richard Carrier outlines it best in this blog post:
    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2006/11/science-and-medieval-christianity.html

  • 48. On Dealing With Christians « de-conversion  |  February 3, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    [...] 3, 2008 Partially as a response to the thoughts of LeoPardus and partially from the evolution of my own psychology and philosophy over the past year or so, here [...]

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

de-conversion wager

Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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