The paranoid side of Christianity

There is a cohort of Christianity that is almost obsessively eschatological in its focus. A member of this cohort, whose blog I read regularly, just quoted a passage from the writings of talk show host Paul McGuire. Not only is this man quite clearly off his rocker, making all sorts of paranoid predictions about an imminent Nazi-esque persecution of Christians in the United States, but he’s obviously making a decent living pedaling this nonsense to others (see here).

On reflection, it’s not surprising that Christianity should appeal to people who have a tendency toward paranoia. It has a built-in doomsday story of epic scale that leads very naturally to all sorts of scary conspiracy theories. Part of paranoia is the belief that one is being persecuted, and Christianity provides the perfect symbol of persecution: Jesus on the cross. Christianity also has a very real history of persecution, especially in its early years.  As a result, some Christians almost seem to relish the idea of being persecuted, as if it’s a necessary part of the Christian identity.

Unfortunately, facts must be regularly ignored in order for these paranoid beliefs to flourish. It does no good to point out that, for instance, the overall level of violence in the world is steadily declining, as Steven Pinker painstakingly demonstrates in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature. It also does no good to point out that religion is practiced freely in the western world, including in public schools, universities, churches, homes, and the work place.

Finally, it does no good to point out that for the last 2000 years, every single generation of Christians has included those who have incorrectly thought of the apocalypse as immanent.

None of this has any effect on the Christian who is determined, evidence be dammed, to cast the world as an increasingly dangerous, evil place full of religious persecution, because that’s what one particular manuscript from the ancient Middle East tells them to believe.

Luckily, the practice of Christianity in the United States and elsewhere in the western world is mostly harmless (indeed, a great deal of good is done by Christians). But if ever there were potential for harm, it must surely lie in the Armageddon-obsessed brand of Christianity that has convinced itself that the great battle against Satan is nigh.

My personal hope is that violence continues to decrease, and that we can all live in a more rational, less paranoid state. This is something we should all be actively working toward. What we should not be doing is behaving like so many Chicken Littles, telling everyone that the sky is falling. Not only is this untrue, but it does nothing to further the goals of peace and freedom that most people wish to achieve.

— UPDATE:

I just noticed that Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism discussed this topic in a post of his three days ago. Take a look.

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2 Responses to The paranoid side of Christianity

  1. Keith,

    The following report is very revealing about violence in the United States, now as opposed to fifty years ago. It is definitely worth a review to see how things have changed.

    http://www.thepeacealliance.org/tools-education/statistics_violence.html

    The next link shows us the Crime Rates in the USA from 1960 to 2010. Now I’m not a stats wizard but it sure seems to have increased across the board to me. Of course, population has increased as well, but crime appears to skyrocketing, based upon what I’m reading.

    http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/uscrime.htm

    This next link tells us that there are soaring rates of rape and violence against women; I wonder if this has anything to do with the influx of available internet pornography? I bet it does.

    http://www.hrw.org/news/2008/12/18/us-soaring-rates-rape-and-violence-against-women

    I could go on… but why?

    I think it’s very clear that we have a problem with violence in America — a serious problem.

    I believe it’s also more than clear that our American men and women are increasingly becoming addicted and impacted by internet pornography, to the point that it’s affecting their job performance and these individuals are surfing porn on their employer’s dime. This problem with porn is destroying marriages and causing divorce to skyrocket, which only harms the traditional family as a unit further.

    All of these issues point to a society that is becoming increasingly hostile, immoral, violent, and devoid of compassion and concern for other human beings. Society is increasingly depressed and taking drugs for depression in the attempt to numb themselves emotionally. Poverty is increasing because of an inability to find employment. All of these things contribute to the cycle of violence and a surge in immorality. You don’t see this because to you morality is in flux and is a personal standard one determines on one’s own. There is no standard in the secular world. Morality is a subjective concept. This is exactly why America is going down the drain.

    The states you’ve cited show that religiosity is decreasing and that people are becoming more secular in their perspectives, choosing not to align with any religious belief at all. The stats above don’t show this to be a good thing for society, Keith; in fact, it is quite the opposite. As I’ve already stated in part on your blog and on various posts on mine, the rash of school shootings, the increase in violence toward women, the increase of issues with internet pornography, all of these are the consequences of a society that is moving further and further away from God — and the teachings of a moral standard that was beneficial to Americans, that the USA was founded upon at one time.

    • Keith says:

      Warrioress:

      Thanks for the reply. I think we can probably both learn something about the stats here, since I was wrong about one thing, and I think you’re still wrong about another. Here are my conclusions:

      – Crime rates have, as I originally stated, been steadily declining since 1990. Please go back to your Disaster Center link and have another look at the data. In all ten categories of crime, the number of crimes has been decreasing steadily since 1990 despite a growing population.

      – Despite the decrease in crime over time, crime is still a problem in America, as your Peace Alliance link shows. I do not dispute this. Crime levels in the U.S. are generally higher than in other western countries. But if anything, this strengthens my own argument, because it shows that the most religious country in the west can nonetheless also have the highest crime rates. Religiosity, in other words, does not correlate with more moral behavior.

      – You are right in that there seems to have been a spike in domestic violence in the last two or three years. This is very likely due to the economic recession. This is a trend that is often observed (see here, here).

      – My last, most important point has to do with correlation and causation. This point is two-fold:
      1. You seem to be claiming that the recent spike in domestic violence, and an alleged increase in pornography addiction (which you give no evidence to support) are due to increasing secularism and the loss of morality associated with it. However, you have shown no such causal link.. In fact, I am unaware of any study that shows a causal link between secularism in the U.S. and immoral behavior. I encourage you to find some data supporting your hypothesis if you want it to carry any weight.
      2. As I’ve already noted, if you want to see what is possible under secular western democracies, look to countries like Sweden that have among the highest happiness levels and lowest crime rates in the world. These countries’ governments are also the biggest contributors to foreign aid, as a fraction of their GDP, while the U.S. is among the most stingy. How can you claim, then, that immorality is a necessary consequence of secularism, when it clearly isn’t?

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