Epicurus and Christianity

Another one of my Modern Philosophy posts. I hope I speak with some authority on this one, having been brought up in an Evangelical Christian home, attended church regularly for eighteen years, and familiarised myself with the key tenets of Christian doctrine. Having already written about Islam, I hope to complete an analysis of the three monotheisms with a post of Judaism, so look out for that over the coming months. 

On a metaphysical level, Epicureanism and Christianity fundamentally contravene each other. The former is a materialist philosophy, claiming that nothing exists beyond the empirical realm that humans can know about. There may be gods, but their activities are inconsequential to life here on earth. On the other hand, Christianity is essentially about mankind’s redemption from sin through the resurrection of Jesus, so that we may enjoy a direct relationship with God. In the ancient world, Epicureans and Christians often clashed because they disagreed on so much.

Despite their contradictory claims, both Epicureans and Christians would profess to adhere to the same standards of behaviour: compassion, forgiveness, generosity, inclusion, hospitality, love, as well as an aversion to excess. Some Christians would claim that Christianity, or at the very least formalised religion, is a pre-requisite for living a truly moral life, though that isn’t a view held by all. Epicureanism certainly never made a claim to a monopoly on morality. As an Epicurean, I think people of all religions are capable of living highly fulfilling lives. A late Christian friend of mine spends her life looking after children, volunteering to help the elderly, and participating in the church choir and band. I may not agree with her metaphysics, epistemology or ethics, but I can certainly appreciate the difference she made to the lives of those around her. Equally, the Islamic Society at Exeter University raises a lot of money for charity. So I’m afraid ascribing truthfulness to a doctrine based on the good works of its adherents is a rudimentary fallacy because virtually every doctrine can claim to have had good effects.

Therefore, it’s important to establish what sets Christianity apart. I won’t get into any obscure verses in the Old Testament; the Christian community is divided as to how to interpret those verses and their relevance for the modern day- a debate that ought to be resolved amongst Christians. As I said before, Christianity is fundamentally about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This was to satisfy an all-powerful God who cannot abide sin. But thanks to sinful human nature caused by Adam and Eve (see the first few books of Genesis to find out how this happened), people are incapable of living perfect lives, requiring God to come down in human form to die as a blood sacrifice for human redemption.

This is a totally immoral and depraved doctrine. The notion of blood sacrifice is a barbaric idea, invented when man was in a far more primitive state. It’s little different from the polytheisms that preceded Christianity, killing animals as sacrifices to vengeful Gods. The fear of divine punishment has permeated human behaviour for thousands of years. It’s largely a result of our innate sense of guilt. In the case of Christianity, you have a god that demands perfection, knowing that humans are now incapable of obeying his every whim. He then states that all of the world’s people are damned to an eternity in hell unless they accept his blood sacrifice. It’s a frightening belief, one that perpetuates constant guilt and feelings of inadequacy. Christians are forever apologising for themselves, even as they know full well they are trying to live to an impossible standard.

The truth is, humans are not in need of redemption. We are certainly highly flawed, and Christians have done an excellent job of pointing out that despite our advances in science and technology, we are not necessarily becoming more moral. We can never expect to be perfect, so there’s no point in apologising every time we aren’t. Christianity claims to absolve its believers from sin, yet Christians behave as if they are just as guilty as before, because Christianity demands absolute obedience to God, even after having believed in the resurrection.

As a result, I’ve noticed that Christianity attracts people who express a high degree of regret at how they use to live. Maybe they had a problem with alcohol or drugs. Maybe they were ill-tempered, or even violent. Perhaps they lived lives deemed to be sexually promiscuous by society, and so feel inadequate due to a new sense of shame. Christianity entices such people with the promise of absolution. But even after confession, Christians strive to improve to what are unrealistic standards, that ought never to be said if people are to live truly fulfilling lives. Christianity fails to offer a point in which the believer can be satisfied with themselves, apart from a vague promise of eternal life- a derivative notion that satisfies the base human greed and selfish desire to live forever.

The belief in blood sacrifice for the redeeming of sin has grave consequences for the modern world. Christians largely regard the non-Christian world as ‘fallen’, and therefore inherently corrupting. I’ve met Christians who have shut themselves away from the world, because they regard it as morally poisonous. In some cases, this has led to segregation, with Christians choosing to live apart from others, instead of trying to improve the world in which they live. I appreciate most Christians aren’t that extreme. But the casual dismissal of the non-Christian world is insulting to the followers of other belief systems who are only trying their best.

The worst aspect of the blood sacrifice doctrine is its effects on children. As a child, I was taught that I could never be perfect (or even good enough since God’s standard is perfection.) My only hope was to believe in Jesus and follow whatever the Bible says, or else be guilty of disobeying God. The image of hell was frightening for a child, who like most, had a vivid imagination. Christianity kept me afraid and anxious for many years. There was even one point when I cried when I couldn’t find my family, because I believed they had been taken to heaven and I was left to go to hell. In my view, instilling that sort of fear into children ought to condemned by wider society, though sadly it goes barely noticed.

A Christian upbringing was also damaging in other ways. Particularly when I was young, I wasn’t allowed to learn about other religions properly. I was never taught the arguments in favour of other religions, or even atheism. I wasn’t even allowed to find out bad things about Christmas. Even at A level, my mum was sceptical of me taking a philosophy course because it may cause me to ‘turn away’ from God. My parents also had a very authoritarian parenting style, demanding my absolute obedience and not allowing me to question them. Other Christian parents I knew were far worse, banning their children from anything they claimed portrayed Christianity badly, be it Harry Potter for its ‘Satanic’ influences or The Simpsons due to Ned Flanders’ ineptitude as a prominently Christian character.  Making fun at Christianity was deemed ‘blasphemous’ and resulted in severe punishment. This was a despicable way to raise children, one which I couldn’t possibly regret more. It is healthy for anyone to make fun at themselves and their beliefs, be they religious or otherwise.

Christianity still has an anti-scientific streak. Young-earth creationism, which denies biological evolution, natural selection, and the true age of the universe and the earth, is still a very prominent belief. Science denial was rife amongst the Christians I knew, even on issues like climate change that have nothing to do with Christian doctrine. I’m not at all surprised that American Evangelical Christians are more likely to be climate change deniers than the general population- the latter is at least somewhat related to the former in my view. Other conspiracies, like 9/11 being a hoax, or the Federal Reserve being owned by the Rothschilds, are disproportionately common amongst the Christian community.

At least by British standards, the Christianity I’m familiar with is quite extreme. But by world standards, it is the norm. International Christianity is fostering a culture of authoritarianism, patriarchal gender norms, heavy-handed parenting, instilling fear into people, demanding the morally impossible, total and unquestioning submission to God, and in some cases, conspiracy theories, science denial and segregated lifestyles. Even in the United Kingdom, where the Church of England is relatively benign, Christianity still affirms the doctrine of blood sacrifice because it is essential to the Christian message. Epicureans should holistically repudiate Christianity, for its practical effects as well as its beliefs.

4 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful and heartfelt critique of Christianity. I feel so sad that it affected you so badly. Most religions have a lot to answer for. My own experience during schooldays was, in contrast, benign, but I still ended up a non- believer who thought for himself, as you have done and we all should do. But the human race is still tribal, and religion is the outward and visible sign of it.

  2. Owen, I fully understand your point of view and how you arrived at it. As a
    (social) scientist myself, I despair at climate change denial, and the literal interpretation of Genesis. Fundamentalism in any political or religious discourse seems to generate division and above all, fear. Maybe, the protagonists find it difficult to tolerate uncertainty and paradox. To them, the world is perceived as hostile, and their beliefs (which are, from their point of view,) the only riight beliefs. Maybe some Christians see their religion through the prism of fear, and therefore feel they have to obey all the rules and regulations or be damned.

    The reason I was attracted to, rather than repulsed, by Christianity was Jesus himself who was a rebel. He only had two basic rules. Love God and your neighbour as yourself. He was always getting at the Pharisees who were keeping to the rules and rituals of their religion as if their lives with depended on it. Their religiosity was as “whited sepulchres”. Jesus would rather consort with tax collectors (major thieves of the day) and prostitutes than with the religious elite. No judgement was passed by him, only love and forgiveness. He will have restored their self-esteem. Experience of
    genuine forgiveness is the point where self esteem is restored. (Born again), Seen
    through the prism of love,rather than fear, there is love joy and peace as promised.

    As for aspects that have turned you off, they have given me a lot of questions too, and I am still looking for answers. Blood sacrifice was the norm in those days, as was crucifixion, the most cruel of deaths. Also I have come to the conclusion that hell is a
    pictorial way of saying life without God the love joy and peace He gives. However I am working on these various paradoxes, or is it paradoxem!

  3. So sorry that you have arrived at such extreme conclusions about Christianity. I became a Christian at 40 years of age. I have never been so free of guilt and so full of life and love in all my life.

    • I have nothing against religion, nothing against Christianity; good luck to you, that’s fine, and I’m delighted to hear from you. I was brought up as a Christian and was taught that Christianity came with moral and ethical rules of conduct, kindness and generosity. The people I object to, who call themselves “Christians”, support without apparent comment or protest, the stream of lies, the bullying, the extramarital affairs, the unwinding of health and safety standards, the financial scams and what begins to look like cooperation in undermining our election system in cahoots with the bunch of criminals in the Kremlin. If this represents Christian behaviour, fine. But be prepared for blowback from the rest of us. My best guess is that God is unimpressed. I certainly am.

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