bugaboo \’bə-gə-bü\ n. 1. an imaginary object of fear 2. an imaginary goblin or specter used to excite fear
“…If I know anything of the truth of God, then the objectors to Christianity, so far as I am acquainted with them, do not; their arguments, not in themselves false, have nothing to do with the matter; they see the thing they are talking against, but they do not see the thing they think they are talking against.” –George MacDonald
So I’ve had this theory lately. There are lots of people these days who pretty forcefully reject the Christian faith for various reasons. But, as I listen to them talk, I can’t find many common points between the faith they reject and the faith I, as a Christian, accept. I don’t mean just my own personal take on the Jesus thing, but every decent viewpoint I’ve come across in many years of interacting with the Bible, theology, and people of faith from every background.
That got me wondering. Wouldn’t it be strange if it turned out that people were rejecting something that wasn’t actually Christianity at all? What if it was a bugaboo, a false impression, something that looked really scary but was completely removed from the facts of what Jesus and the Bible actually teach?
All that might explain why I was interested when someone brought to my attention a pamphlet called “20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity” by one Chaz Bufe, published in 2000. (Link here.) The invective is typical of its genre of atheistic tract, though I’ve seen many that are more lucid, and I’m sure some atheists would have their disagreements with it. But the approach is more unique. Notably absent are any arguments against the existence of God or the deity of Christ; the essay focuses almost exclusively on Mr. Bufe’s perception of problems with the character of Christianity. (Toward the end he does bring up some shopworn arguments against the authority of Scripture, but almost as an afterthought.)
Now, I certainly wouldn’t blame Mr. Bufe (or anyone) for abandoning a belief system that has any of the characteristics he attributes to Christianity. In fact, I’d raise a much bigger ruckus if someone said, “Yes, that is what it is, and I believe it with all my heart!” But the presentation gives me a chance to test my theory. Is the religion Mr. Bufe encourages us to abandon the same one we can find in the words of the Bible and the life and work of Jesus? Or is it something else?
Here are Mr. Bufe’s 20 reasons for abandoning “Christianity,” each followed with some quotations from the Bible to show what it teaches on the subject. (Or, where necessary, my own interpolations; the Bible doesn’t address Pascal’s Wager, for instance.) How close is Bufe’s perception of “Christianity” to the real thing? You be the judge. Here we go:
1. Christianity is based on fear. … Throughout almost its entire time on Earth, the motor driving Christianity has been—in addition to the fear of death—fear of the devil and fear of hell.
- There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18 NASB)
- For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15 NASB)
- For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)
- [Jesus speaking] Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27 NKJV)
2. Christianity preys on the innocent. … Christians routinely terrorize helpless children through grisly depictions of the endless horrors and suffering they’ll be subjected to if they don’t live good Christian lives.
- At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:1–5 NASB)
3. Christianity is based on dishonesty. … How deep dishonesty runs in Christianity can be gauged by one of the most popular Christian arguments for belief in God: Pascal’s wager. This “wager” holds that it’s safer to “believe” in God (as if belief were volitional!) than not to believe, because God might exist, and if it [sic] does, it [sic] will save “believers” and condemn nonbelievers to hell after death.
Pascal’s Wager is not offered as an “argument for belief in God” at all, but as a statistical analysis of the hypothetical risks of adopting either a Christian or atheist position if the God Question remains unanswered. (If it’s an argument against anything, it’s against complacent agnosticism.) Also, if belief is not volitional, why try to convince anyone to change their mind? As for the Bible’s position on dishonesty, you need look no further than the Ten Commandments:
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (Exodus 20:16 KJV)
(If you really want more proof than that, Torrey lists several dozen related verses.)
4. Christianity is extremely egocentric.… Many Christians take this particular form of egotism much further and actually imagine that God has a plan for them, or that God directly talks to, directs, or even does favors for them….
Is Michelle Obama egocentric to actually imagine that she can talk to or get favors from the President of the United States? Of course not; it’s a simple statement of fact based on a real relationship. Perhaps if the relationship was a delusion it would be egocentric, but assuming that makes the argument into the circular fallacy. The Bible, however, does a remarkable job balancing the fact of our relationship with God and a due humility. One fine example:
- When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3–5 NASB)
5. Christianity breeds arrogance, a chosen-people mentality.
- You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5 NASB)
- Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud. (Proverbs 16:19 NKJV)
- Haughty eyes and a proud heart, The lamp of the wicked, is sin. (Proverbs 21:4 NASB)
(Torrey’s Topical Textbook also lists several dozen more Scriptures that speak against pride and arrogance, for those not too proud to be interested.)
6. Christianity breeds authoritarianism. … If your nonintrusive beliefs or actions are not in accord with Christian “morality,” you can bet that Christians will feel completely justified—not to mention righteous—in poking their noses (often in the form of state police agencies) into your private life.
- But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28 NKJV)
- [Jesus speaking] “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37 NIV)
- “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Romans 2:1 ESV)
7. Christianity is cruel. Throughout its history, cruelty—both to self and others—has been one of the most prominent features of Christianity.
- [Jesus speaking] “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43–45a NIV)
- [Jesus speaking] “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 ESV)
- [Jesus speaking] “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36 NASB)
- “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…” (Colossians 3:12 NASB)
8. Christianity is anti-intellectual, anti-scientific.
- It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. (Proverbs 25:2 ESV)
- Jesus said to him, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37 NKJV)
Dr. Werner von Braun, the astrophysicist whose work is responsible for the success of the Apollo space missions, was just one example of a brilliant intellectual scientist who was also a Christian. He’s hardly an isolated case. Even if you’re just thinking of the creationist movement here, think again. The creationist group Answers in Genesis offers a list of scientists of the past and present who are on record saying they believed in a Creator; it reads like a partial Who’s Who in scientific history. This doesn’t prove that Christianity or creationism is right, of course, but it does prove that an intellectual scientist can believe it.
9. Christianity has a morbid, unhealthy preoccupation with sex.
…said the pot to the kettle. Show me a human being who isn’t a bit too preoccupied with sex and I’ll show you a eunuch. But who’s more preoccupied? Try this simple test: Look at the cover and contents of any issue of Christianity Today, a magazine that broadly reflects conservative Christian thought. Compare it with the cover and contents of any issue of Cosmopolitan, a magazine that, um, doesn’t. Then spend a while reflecting on this saying of Jesus:
- “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3–5 NIV)
10. Christianity produces sexual misery.
Three words, and three words only: The first is “Song,” the second is “of,” and the third is “Solomon.”
11. Christianity has an exceedingly narrow, legalistic view of morality.
- Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35–40)
- [Jesus speaking] “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
- Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8–10 NRSV)
12. Christianity encourages acceptance of real evils while focusing on imaginary evils.
- “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 14:18–19; Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61:1–2)
- “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:67 NIV)
Like Bufe, I’m also growing pretty tired of certain Christians who make a huge deal out of (say) gay marriage and no deal at all out of broader social corruption and injustice. (Not that gay marriage is “imaginary,” but whatever.) But that’s a problem with a few outspoken Christians, not with Christianity.
See also The Sermon on the Mount.
13. Christianity depreciates the natural world.
- God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31 NKJV)
- How many are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24 NIV; read this psalm in its entirety for a celebration of God’s creation of the natural world.)
- The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the waters. (Psalm 24:1–2 NIV)
- A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. (Proverbs 12:10 NASB)
14. Christianity models hierarchical, authoritarian organization.
- And [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:25–27 NASB)
- And [Jesus] sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35 ESV)
- “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:10–12 NASB)
15. Christianity sanctions slavery.
- He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 21:16)
- …for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:10–11 NIV, Gk. andrapodistes = “kidnappers” or “man-sellers”).
The “slavery” referred to elsewhere in the Bible refers to a very different social system than what one might have seen in the antebellum South; it was closer to what we might call indentured servitude. In fact it was usually entered voluntarily as a kind of bankruptcy protection. It’s also worth noting that Bible-believing Christians have always been at the forefront of abolitionist movements in England, the U.S., and in the present day. (Think William Wilberforce and Henry Ward Beecher.) For a fuller historical discussion, read here.
16. Christianity is misogynistic. Misogyny is fundamental to the basic writings of Christianity. In passage after passage, women are encouraged—no, commanded—to accept an inferior role, and to be ashamed of themselves for the simple fact that they are women. …
- “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV)
- So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 NRSV)
- Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church…. (Ephesians 5:25, 28–29 ESV)
- And Mary said:“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46–48 NASB)
The Bible does speak to the obvious fact that men and women are distinct yet equal; only on a painfully superficial reading can those passages be taken to say that women are inferior. The overriding tone of Scripture is the one above.
17. Christianity is homophobic.
- “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11 NKJV)
Christianity teaches that, like any other good thing, sexuality has to be used according to its designer’s intentions and instructions. As G. K. Chesterton whimsically put it, there has to be a boundary around a playground. So it is true that certain sexual behaviors (or the right thing at the wrong time) are off-limits for those who follow God. But the label “homophobic” is wrong, because the Bible does not single out any sexual sin as better or worse than any other. While clearly establishing boundaries, Jesus offers a message of grace and new beginnings to all of us who struggle with any kind of sin or sexual brokenness.
For an encouraging look at the subject, check out this article: God Loves Gays.
18. The Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s teachings. Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, was written at least 30 years after Christ’s death, and the newest of them might have been written more than 200 years after his death. These texts have been amended, translated, and re-translated so often that it’s extremely difficult to gauge the accuracy of current editions—even aside from the matter of the accuracy of texts written decades or centuries after the death of their subject.
- “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Luke 2:1–4 NRSV)
- “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you…” (1 John 1–3a ESV)
- “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16 NASB)
Mr. Bufe raises some valid points, and they all prove exactly the opposite of what he would have us conclude. 30 to 200 years is a remarkably short time, historically speaking—an analogy would be a modern-day biography of Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln. A biography that was filled with fables, fiction, and errors about those men would be severely rejected by the multitudes of people still alive who lived with, remembered, or studied them. So the fact that the Gospels were written within decades after the death of Jesus and became the favorite reading material of His closest followers is proof positive that they must be very accurate representations of what Jesus really said and did.
Also, the fact that the Bible was “amended, translated, and re-translated so often” means that it’s impressively easy (comparatively speaking) to “gauge the accuracy of current editions.” In the science of textual criticism, the more copies you have of a text, the easier it becomes to determine what is the original reading and what is a mistake or addition; you have a broader field for comparison, which means your comparisons and conclusions can be more accurate. The early manuscripts of the New Testament number well into the tens of thousands, making it the best-documented book in all of ancient literature.
19. The Bible, Christianity’s basic text, is riddled with contradictions. There are a number of glaring contradictions in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, and including some within the same books.
- [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16b NIV)
- [Jesus speaking] “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40 NASB)
This charge of internal contradictions seems serious until you take the trouble to examine the evidence. Bufe offers some examples that are not “contradictions in the Bible” at all, but places where the 400-year-old King James Version could have used some better editorial work. As one example, Bufe cites the KJV’s statement in Genesis 22:1 that “God did tempt Abraham” as contradicting its rendering of James 1:13, “neither tempteth he any man.” But look in any other Bible version at all and you’ll see the solution: “God tested Abraham” is the literal translation from the Hebrew, and the one that you’ll find in any translation that was made less than 400 years ago.
What’s surprising is Bufe’s unwillingness to accept this simple and obvious solution:
Christian apologists typically attempt to explain away such contradictions by claiming that the fault lies in the translation, and that there were no contradictions in the original text. It’s difficult to see how this could be so, given how direct many biblical contradictions are…
Sorry to have to say it, but it’s only “difficult to see” if you know absolutely nothing whatsoever about linguistics. If you found a contradiction in a Portuguese translation of the U.S. Constitution, and someone checked the original and told you that it was not a contradiction in English, would you consider it proof of an error in the Constitution? Isn’t the answer ridiculously obvious? If you can’t see that, I suspect it’s because you don’t want to.
There’s a lot more that can be said on this subject, ranging from the absurdly simple (look at the words in context!) to the academic and abstruse (examination of variant readings from ancient papyri). But it’s nothing that hasn’t been said before; Bufe’s three other examples are thoroughly debunked in a book I know of from 1907, and I’m not a fan of beating dead horses. (Nowadays, I refer those interested to the Christian Think Tank.)
Anyway, so what? If there were a genuine contradiction in Scripture (and I’ve never seen a contender that stood up to thoughtful study), it would merely prove that, as well as being the Word of God, the Bible has a human element to its authorship. That has the advantage of being what every well-informed Christian believes already. The person and work of Jesus Christ, not the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible, is the foundation of the Christian faith.
20. Christianity borrowed its central myths and ceremonies from other ancient religions. …To cite but one example (there are many others), consider Mithraism, a Persian religion predating Christianity by centuries. …
Sigh. The Mithras / Christ parallel is an urban myth with absolutely no basis in serious Christian or Mithraic scholarship. (Short article here. Detailed analysis here.) Just thought you might like to know.
However, C. S. Lewis raised an interesting point along these lines: While Christians (of course) consider their beliefs to be true, they have no obligation to believe that every other belief system is absolutely 100% wrong. A given belief might have 25 or 50 or 75 or even 90 percent truth from a Christian perspective. So even if there were strong parallels between Christianity and another religion, that wouldn’t prove that Christianity got it wrong, but only that somebody else got it partly right.
As though to illustrate the point, in one memorable sermon to some Greek philosophers, St. Paul quoted a line from a pagan hymn to Zeus and said that the principle is true of God:
- “As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill.” (Acts 17:28b–29 NIV)
What does all this mean? I think it shows that what Mr. Bufe identifies as “Christianity” and the religion actually taught by Jesus and recorded in the Bible are two entirely separate species. (Let’s call the one “what Jesus taught” and the other “Bugaboonity”, to be clear.)
Sadly, I don’t think Mr. Bufe is willing see the reasons for distinguishing between what Jesus taught and “Bugaboonity.” In a very revealing conclusion to his essay, he tips his hand:
A Final Word: These are but some of the major problems attending Christianity, and they provide overwhelming reasons for its abandonment. (Even if you discount half, two-thirds, or even three-quarters of these arguments, the conclusion is still irresistible.)
That’s a truly amazing statement: “Even if three-quarters (or all?) of my arguments are discounted, even if the evidence overwhelmingly points against them, that doesn’t change my conclusion! My mind’s already made up; don’t confuse me with facts!” There’s a term for that, and the term is blind faith. You know—sheer, prejudiced, closed-minded, irrational blind faith apart from all facts, that thing that atheists like to pick on Christians for having. If it wasn’t so pitiable, it would almost be laughable. Yet when I think that that blind, irrational faith in a bugaboo is keeping Mr. Bufe and people like him from seeing the beauty of God’s love as revealed in Jesus, I could cry.
The lesson for the skeptics should be clear enough. Certainly, if there is a belief system out there that’s fearful, predatory, dishonest, egocentric, authoritarian, cruel, anti-intellectual, oversexed, repressive, narrow, misogynistic, self-contradictory, and all the rest, it would be a belief system very well worth abandoning. The mistake is not in wanting to abandon it; the mistake is thinking it’s the one Jesus taught and His followers practice.
Of course, you may very well be able to point to some examples of people who called themselves Christians but behaved more like “Bugabooians.” Does that prove that Christianity is the same as “Bugaboonity”? Of course not– it simply proves that some people may call themselves Christians but be very unclear on what Jesus actually taught. The term for that is ignorance, hypocrisy, or (if they’re hurting other people too) Spiritual Abuse. Sure enough, Jesus taught against that kind of hypocrisy too, pretty ferociously I might add. (I wrote a more detailed article about Christian hypocrisy here.) Anyway, you can’t get by logic from “Mr. H doesn’t follow what Jesus taught” to “I shouldn’t follow what Jesus taught.”
I’m not asking anyone to accept any religious beliefs they don’t want to. I am asking you to find out what Jesus actually said and did before rejecting Him. In fact, if you repudiate “Bugaboonity,” you’re already showing that you’re a lot closer to Jesus than you might like to think. All genuine followers of Jesus reject “Bugaboonity,” so if you do too, we’re in very strong agreement.
The lesson for us Christians? The very fact that any people at all are capable of confusing “Bugaboonity” with what we believe shows that, to borrow the title of a popular blog, Jesus needs new PR. That any person can seriously mistake the views of “Bugaboonity” for the message of Jesus demonstrates that we, as Jesus’ followers, have not been doing a very good job getting that message out. This is your wake-up call. Time for a little soul-searching, repentance, revival, rededication, and right living. And if you think any part of “Bugaboonity” is a good thing, shame on you.
The lesson for all of us? Let’s listen to each other and take the trouble to find out what other people actually believe, especially if you don’t think you agree. We may all have more common ground than we realize. And beware of the bugaboos.
Whenever you meet a bugaboo
Remember what Isabel used to do.
Don’t scream when the bugaboo says Boo!
Just look it in the eye and say Boo to you!
That’s how to banish a bugaboo;
Isabel did it and you can too!
Boooooo To You!
[Originally published January 23, 2009.]