“Is Christianity useful anymore?” asks the headline of a blog post by Michael Sherrard. Odd question. Was it ever useful? Perhaps for social cohesion within Christian tribes, but then, that’s the purpose every religion serves, and in most cases it does more harm than good by demonizing outsiders.
Maybe the better question is this: “Is any aspect of Christianity uniquely useful?” And the answer to that one is more straightforward: no. There isn’t a single beneficial aspect of Christianity that isn’t found in a number of other religious traditions and philosophies. In fact, every good piece of moral advice contained in the bible existed in earlier cultures, in some cases many thousands of years earlier. Their legends aren’t original either, as they borrow a lot of details from previously established stories in the surrounding areas, especially Babylonian and Egyptian myths. Jesus wasn’t even the first god-man to be born of a virgin, turn water into wine, or be sacrificed for the purpose of redeeming humanity.
In addition, the level of acceptance for Christianity in modern cultures is strongly correlated around the world with lower quality of life and greater violence. So it never offered anything new, and doesn’t provide any social benefits, and actually appears to be worse for society than nonreligious philosophies. What exactly is it useful for? Sherrard doesn’t go into that, because his article is about why he thinks young people are leaving religion behind, not why they are actually leaving.
Sherrard says: “So why have the younger generations walked away from the faith and what can we do about it? Is it merely that they don’t believe it’s true or useful anymore? I think an answer is found in Deuteronomy. The sixth chapter teaches us that it is the responsibility of the older generations to pass on the word of God to the younger generations. Particularly, it is the job of parents. Our children must learn from us what it means to follow God.”
I think an answer is found in Deuteronomy, but not the one you’re thinking of. Chapter 13, verses 6-11 can be summarized as “kill the infidels and scare everyone into following god“. Why aren’t you guys killing millennials when they leave Christianity? Is it because that would be morally abhorrent? It shouldn’t be hard to understand why we dislike a religion that idolizes a book which commands our deaths. Sure, you can come up with all sorts of excuses why that law doesn’t apply anymore, but it was still commanded by your god who never changes, who is supposedly the only basis for objective morality.
He goes on to presume that we’re just ignorant about the contents of the bible: “Virtually no young adult knows what the Bible teaches. Young adults simply don’t know anything about Christianity. I’m not sure, then, that it is right to say that young adults are walking away from Christianity. It seems as though they’ve never been introduced to it.”
Most Christians, regardless of age, don’t know what the bible teaches. They go to church and listen to a guy talk about his opinions about little bits of the bible, but they don’t really read it. If you quote passages like the one from Deuteronomy I cited, and tell them it’s from the Koran, they will be properly horrified and agree that Islam is pretty bad. You know who tends to know a lot more about the bible? Ex-Christians. Because actually reading the bible and understanding what it says is a great way to lose your faith. Almost all of the former Christians I’ve talked to would credit the bible itself as a major factor in their deconversion, and I’m no exception. In fact, my deconversion was a direct result of studying the bible deeply with the goal of finding the truest form of Christianity. Little did I know that “true Christianity” is a lie.
Sherrard thinks that leaders just need to make the religion look more appealing somehow: “I wonder. Have our young adults seen an answer to “when they are ever going to use Christianity?” Have they seen it go well for us because we have faithfully obeyed God’s word? Again, if we want the next generation to embrace the goodness of following Jesus Christ they must see it’s goodness in us. Therefore, do not only teach them the word of God, but show it to them. Display it’s power in the way you live.”
This quote amuses me, because “faithfully obeying god’s word” will not make anything go well for you. In fact, if you obey all of it you’ll be a criminal in pretty much every nation on the planet. So instead, you pick a few things out of context and ignore the rest, and construct a personal religion with your own subjective interpretations. But that doesn’t go any better, as demonstrated by the higher quality of life and lower levels of violence in less religious societies. Maybe the problem isn’t that you’re failing to show its power; maybe the problem is that it just doesn’t have any power to offer.
“Church, adults, parents- embrace the questions from the younger generations and find answers. They exist! Christianity is reasonable. It is true. It matches reality. It is the best explanation for the way things are. And it is the answer for all that is wrong.”
There’s a difference between an answer and a true or useful answer. I asked many questions about Christianity for which the answers were lies, manipulation, and self-contradictions. Just having an answer for an unanswered question doesn’t mean you have the best or true explanation. I often hear Christians gloating about how they can answer difficult questions that nobody else can. The problem is that they’re answering questions about things we cannot possibly know by making up some sort of magic to explain it. I can do that too. I’ve said before that the supernatural is an infinite range of hypothetical possibilities, none of which have any supporting evidence. Likewise, we can come up with a similar range of hypothetical natural possibilities to explain anything we want.
The important question, then, is not whether you can come up with hypothetical explanations for mysteries, but rather how you determine that an explanation is correct. The important part is turning a hypothesis into a theory by backing it up with rigorous and objectively testable data. Christians want to skip all that and simply claim their hypothesis is more reasonable than mine, yet without a foundation of data they have no basis for that claim.
Christianity has been making baseless claims for thousands of years, and in that time people following the scientific method have proved it wrong over and over again. The decline of religion in the west has little to do with parents failing to pass it on. The real culprit is our exponential scientific advancement, which again and again provides testable explanations for mysteries and then proves them, and usually goes on to turn them into new technology that improves our lives. That is something Christianity can never do. Only a self-correcting systematic exploration of reality can uncover and verify accurate explanations for mysteries, and religion is the precise opposite. Religion is rigid, changing only when outside forces compel it, and is based on assertions rather than evidence. Where data conflicts with religion, it is always the data that is disregarded or reinterpreted, until it becomes so undeniably inconvenient that the religion is forced to change and accept it.
It’s like if you had two people competing to sell me weight loss supplements, and both are insisting that their product works wonders and they know because they personally used it. Both claim that the other guy is lying. One is a morbidly obese man who ridicules me for requesting research data demonstrating the effectiveness of his product. He’s the religious one. The other is an athletic man who cites a well-designed study from a reputable source showing that a group of people using the supplement lost ten pounds more on average than the control group. He also shows me pictures from his own past when he was overweight. Who is more likely to be telling the truth? I’d bet on the one who at least has evidence for his claims.
Science gives us objectively verifiable and demonstrably useful answers. Religion gives us unfalsifiable speculation that throughout history has only ever failed when challenged by new scientific discoveries. This is why young people are leaving Christianity. They understand science, and where it has gotten us, and when they ask religion for the same level of rigorous data, they are shamed and ridiculed and expected to believe assertions without evidence.
So they leave, and find a marvelous world that actually makes sense, and start blogs so they can share their journey with others.