Death-wish theology

All of us, at some time or another, have heard the claim that, whether the Christian narrative is true or not, Christian teachings are good. No, they aren’t; a just-posted piece by Bruce Gerencser goes to my objections and is well worth your time.

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:25)

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (I John 2:15)

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

For those of us raised in Evangelical churches, these verses are quite familiar. We likely heard countless sermons about loving God and hating the world. We likely heard our pastors and teachers tell us that if we love our lives, we will lose them, and if we hate our lives, we will save them.

The goal was to cause believers to fear losing their eternal reward; to change the focus of their lives from the present to the afterlife.

There is not much direct talk nowadays about Original Sin, but it is always implicit in talk about ‘salvation’ and your need for it. All of Christian thought and teaching rests upon a simple premise: You’re no damn good; you were born no damn good, and you can never be any damn good. That’s the whole of it. All the millions of sermons preached in the last 2000-years, all the tens of thousands of books about theology written in the last 2000-years … at bottom they have no more to say than that: You’re no damn good. Christianity is innately predatory and degrading, and what it feeds upon is your confidence and dignity. You must become as a mote of dust blown this way and that and “die to self” — abandoning utterly the idea that you should set your own direction.

Bah. Bertrand Russell got it right.

We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.

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