Abuse by Christianity
by Bryan Hayward
Copyright © 1999 Bryan Hayward.
Reprinted by permission.
One of the most effective and common arguments for atheism is the "argument
from evil." Commonly stated, it asks why a benevolent and powerful god
could allow the suffering evident in the world around us. This is effective
against most common perceptions of divine beings. More specifically to
Christianity, though, the "argument from evil" can be extended to what
might be called the "argument from inflicted evil," but what I name the
"abuse argument." What I intend to show is that Christianity is a system
that, taken to its logical conclusion, sets up an abuser-victim relationship
between the object of worship ("God") and the worshipper ("Christian").
The main supports for this thesis are the defenses offered for the traditional
argument from evil. Each of these will be applied later in context, but
an introduction is in order. Such defenses include, but are not limited
to, the Free Will Defense (an Armenian concept, rejected by Calvinists),
the Unknown Purpose Defense, and the Sovereign Defense. It is interesting
to note that all are really statements of faith.
The first defense states that humans choose our own path, independent
of Gods will. Parenthetically, it is often but not always seen as
a gift from God. No independent evidence exists that our thought processes
are completely independent of our biology and environment (in fact, quite
the opposite), so this is indeed a statement of faith. The corollary to
this insistence on independence says humans are the cause of evil, because
humans always choose wrongly, eventually.
The second defense is a set of three statements of faith at its core.
The first statement says there is a plan, which we cannot fathom due to
our limited intelligence. Since God is powerful and benevolent -two statements
of faith - the conclusion is suffering must be a part of the plan, or
it wouldnt exist.
The final defense mentioned is a statement of faith as well. It is often
stated as a direct attack on the legitimacy of using the argument from
evil at all, saying that we as humans arent in a position of questioning
God. This statement is a statement of faith primarily because it is not
applied evenhandedly. Non-Christians are often told by Christians that
they reject God even though the evidence of his goodness is all around.
Yet, when a non-Christian logically shows the evil deeds and amorality
of God, they are told that we have no place in judging God. It is legitimate
in the Christian view to choose God on the basis of ones intellectual
investigation. Yet, those who reject god-concepts or God on the same basis
will be told their investigation is lacking, or that Satan is tricking
them, or some other ad hominem or non-sequitur. However, it is important
to recognize that each of these defenses is directly applicable to the
abusive relationship developed by Christian theology.
There is an important assumption I make, not only in philosophical discussions
but in life as well. I assume an absolutely unbreakable proportionality
between power and responsibility. Mathematically, it can be expressed
P^3/4 = R
where P = power and R = responsibility. The three-quarters exponent is
there to indicate that a significant amount of power must be obtained
to have a significant amount of responsibility. Children, for example,
have the power to hurt each other, but the adults are more responsible
for childrens behavior than children are. However, using the mathematical
idea of limits, as the power goes to infinity, so does the responsibility.
This is applicable to the common Christian theology of an infinitely powerful
being. Christians will often reject such an implication, usually with
an analogy comparing the creator of some item (such as a car) with God.
They ask if the human creator is responsible for the use to which the
item is put. This is rather disingenuous, because humans come nowhere
near the infinite power ascribed to God. In the case of a car, the human
creator didnt create the roads, the drivers, the weather, and so
on. God is usually considered to have created the sum total of reality
ex nihilo. I find no a priori reason why the above relationship between
power and responsibility is suspended for God. Rejecting the relationship
outright seems to me to be morally bankrupt. Therefore, I will use it
to insist that God, under common Christian theology, is responsible for
all that occurs, even if there is no direct manipulation of human will.
He is certainly responsible for everything that happens that is beyond
human capacity to control or prevent.
PARALLELS OF ABUSE
In the following comparisons, I will use the shorthand "perp" for perpetrator
or abuser. The victim is the abused. The format is as follows: the first
part is a statement of the typical characteristic of human-human abuse.
The second is how common Christian theology fits the characteristic. Note
that I will use the violent male perp/female victim case for my examples,
though this is not by any stretch the only form of abuse.
1. The perp faults the victim for the violence. For example, a perp will
get mad, hit the victim, and then tell the victim "now look what you made
me do." The victim will eventually get into this mindset as well, believing
that it was the victims fault violence occurred. ("I made him mad.")
(Ref 1, p. 58)
If something bad happens to a Christian, the Christian will often blame
him/herself, saying something like "I sinned and didnt repent, and
God is reminding me." Alternatively, s/he may say that Satan did it, and
that their faith wasnt strong enough to stay spiritually out of
his realm/control. In the latter case, the theology that God created Satan,
and has the power to utterly destroy him, is conveniently forgotten. For
example, a friend of mine, already legally blind and whose thumb is not
opposable, lost his hearing. He says God is testing his faith, which had
started to waver just before he lost his hearing. This form is usually
seen in sects that believe in ongoing intervention by God. Even those
who dont believe in such intervention will often, when pressed,
use the justification that evil is caused by a sinful world, brought about
by human sin. As previously mentioned, this is a direct consequence of
Gods actions (i.e. the form of the creation).
2. The perp will constantly insist s/he loves the victim. However, his
actions demonstrate his definition of love is complete obedience. (Ref
2, p. 8) Violence can occur when the victim disobeys the perp (often unintentionally
- sometimes merely inconveniencing the perp is enough to trigger violence),
even though the victim never displayed any lessening of expressions of
love. The victim never knows when violence will occur. (Ref 1, p. 18)
The Christian insists that his/her god loves the Christian (and everyone
else). Yet nearly the entire Old Testament is dedicated to the concept
of obedience. The New Testament is similar, in that there is still the
insistence on obedience (1 John 5, 2 John 6). The requirements have merely
been simplified. Now, instead of a book full of laws, there is only one
- believe in Christ, be a slave to God , and have eternal life (Romans
6:22-23). Reject Christ, and the result is everlasting death.
3. The victim loves the perp, making it difficult to recognize the abuse.
(Ref. 1, p. 27 and Ref. 2, p. 33)
Christians insist that we should love God, (and they say they do) even
though (according to many Christians) the violent thing imaginable (eternal
torture) is handed out to the majority of humanity. Many other Christians
talk about eternal separation. This is equivalent to "Ill leave
you/disown you if you dont do exactly as I say." (Ref. 2, p. 6)
See also the Book of Job.
What sort of love does the Christian have for his/her God? The following
statements are common from Christians:
* Without him (God), I have nothing to live for, and I am nothing (John
15:5).* (Contrast this with the statement "He wants me to feel good whether
Im with him or not.") * I just want to be with him, forever, in
Heaven. * He cant abide sin, and unbelievers will never be with
him as I will be. * I could never love anyone else the way I love him.
* I only see the best in him. * Hes so awesome, and Im a miserable
sinner, but he loves me anyway. * He knows everything about me, and everything
I do. Im secure in his undivided attention. * I know what I love
about him.* * He keeps me on the straight and narrow away from sin.* *
God will never leave me I can always trust him. The idea of God
leaving is ridiculous and unthinkable.* (Contrast with "If there were
no God, Id be just fine.") * He brings out the best in me.* * He
has all the qualities I value, and I would like to develop them in myself.*
* I like to hear about the salvation of others.*
Many of these statements compare well with what is called "romantic" and
"addictive" love. (Ref. 2, p. 31-35) While some statements humans make
about human love dont apply at all (God isnt normally seen
as "dating") the comparison is instructive. It is interesting to note
that, of the statements in the list that relate to nurturing love (with
asterisks), there is an even split between nurturing and anti-nurturing
ideals. An analysis to show the origin of the face-value positive statements
isnt necessary to show that the Christian concept of Gods
"love" is indeed flawed.
4. The perp will maintain a stream of ego-reducing invective. This is
sometimes couched in apparently loving terms, yet will invariably reiterate
the lack of worth of the victim. ("Here, let me help with that. You know
youre hopeless when it comes to machinery.") It can also be brutally
direct. ("You are a stupid lazy shithead. Get your lardass moving and
get me a drink.") The abused :
* doubts his/her own worth, and feels punishment is deserved * is very
susceptible to criticism * lets others give him/her direction because
s/he feels without purpose and/or feels incompetent to fulfill goals.
The Christian insists that his/her god loves everyone, in spite of the
fact that the Christian Bible constantly tells us we are unworthy of such
love, that we are all miserable, wretched sinners, who have all fallen
short. (Genesis 6:5, 1 Kings 8:46, Romans 3:23, Proverbs 20:9, Isaiah
53:6 and 64:6, 1 John 1:8)
6. Normal socializing by the victim may be seen as a threat to the perps
control. The victims same-sex friends are viewed with deep suspicion,
and there usually are no opposite-sex friends. If there are, contact with
them without presence of the perp usually provokes violence. This social
battering occurs when extreme possessiveness and jealousy cuts the victim
off from activities not involving the perp. (Ref. 1, p. 22) The abused
thinks that s/he isnt complete or successful or secure alone. (Ref.
1, p. 59)
Christianity tells you God is all you need that without him, nothing
is possible, with him, everything is possible. The Christian god is very
jealous of his followers (Exodus 20:5), and they are strongly discouraged
from marrying outside the faith. (2 Corinthians 6:14) According to literalists,
he is exceptionally harsh on those who give any indication they like another
god, even if it is just some platonic respect. (Note that everyone except
Jesus, to this sort of person, is an agent of Satan. Moderates of course
ignore this idea, and can appreciate the teachings of Buddha, for example,
even if they dont agree with everything.)
Some may argue that I came up with a conclusion, and then made this list
to fit. This is only partially true. I have long seen the parallels between
the Christian notion of a "relationship to God" and a standard abusive
relationship (man-woman). I did indeed try to find as many parallels as
I could in writing this list, but I know that I have missed one or two.
However, I did not have to force the parallels.
I understand that some people will say that anything bad is Satan and
not Yahweh. This is theologically unsound, as far as I can tell, because
Yahweh is supposed to be sovereign over everything from start to finish.
Some will say that we are not fit to judge him as abusive, but that is
merely a "might makes right" argument, which is the most obvious characteristic
of an abusive relationship.
Some will say that since I havent "taken the Holy Spirit" into myself
that I cant see the love of Yahweh. This is the very same point
I made above, where the victim insists that there is a love relationship,
while an outside observer can see the pattern of violence. There may be
love there, but it is strongly overshadowed by a perverse hate.
Finally, some will erect the knee-jerk "free will" defense. However, in
this case (according to Christians) we do not have the free will to be
sinless. Many try, but none succeed. We merely have the free will to accept
or reject Yahweh. In the case of an abusive relationship, the victim can
reject the perp and leave.
In Christianity, there really is no place to run, because Yahweh will
get you and toss you in Hell (whatever that means to each individual).
The only real escape for the Christian from mental abuse inflicted by
this theology is to reject it completely.
1. Rue, Nancy N., Coping with Dating Violence, Rosen Publishing Group,
NY, 1989, ISBN 0-8239-0997-2
2. NiCarthy, Ginny and Davidson, Sue, You Can Be Free, Seal Press, Seattle,
1989, ISBN 0-931188-68-7