Editor: The Texas Atheist newsletter

Copyright 1999 by Howard Thompson

Atlanta killer Mark Barton was a devout Christian. In letters he left behind, Barton asked God to take care of the wife and children he murdered.

He talked of Jehovah and being rejoined with his loved ones in the resurrection.

We grow up in a society that trains us to revere Christian beliefs. We cling to the image of a good Christianity despite contrary evidence. When Christianity proves it can produce cruelty, we often shut our eyes and quit thinking.

Mark Barton demonstrates our selective blindness. He took hammer in hand to bash the skulls of his wife, son and daughter. He then wrote letters about Jehovah, heaven, resurrection and the sins of the father. His letters revealed a link between his killings and his Christianity. Knowing our prejudice, the media then quit asking why Barton killed.

It is difficult to face disturbing truths. We must ask if Mark Barton would have killed his loved ones had he not believed in original sin, an immortal soul, heaven and resurrection. We must ask what is harmful in Christian beliefs that helps a man kill his family as an act of love.

Here are six Christian beliefs so described as to help you recognize their inherent harm.

1. IMMORTAL SOULS. The belief that our self-awareness survives death makes us discount the value of the life we know we have. Soul belief discourages us from accepting our physical lives as human flesh. It fools us into distorting our lives in hopes of a promised existence after death. Mark Barton clearly expected to wake up as a soul after he killed himself.

2. HEAVEN. The promise of a joyous place free from human suffering makes us believe in rewards for proper behavior. When our good behavior isn't rewarded, we get angry or depressed at the injustice. Living to get into heaven harms our ability to enjoy this life and to cope realistically with our problems. Heaven's promise makes the few years and difficulties of this life seem meaningless. Believing his family would go to heaven made it easier for Mark Barton to kill them.

3. ABSOLUTE MORALITY. The belief in absolute morality is an unrealistic standard for human behavior that condemns us to failure. It makes us punish ourselves with shame and guilt when we fail to behave strictly. It makes us want to punish others for treating us unjustly. It interferes with our reliance on inherited instincts and behaviors that help us establish realistic give-and-take relationships. Mark Barton may have killed less if he had expected less from others.

4. ULTIMATE MEANING. The belief that there is an ultimate meaning for life causes us to waste time seeking little green men who ain't there. It makes us devalue the meanings we do figure out for our own lives. It makes us easy prey for the ultimate meaning hucksters. We're better off accepting the reality of an indifferent nature. The only meaning in our life is what we choose it to be. Mark Barton's ultimate meaning was no doubt accepting Jesus as his personal savior, which guaranteed his heavenly reward regardless of his murders.

5. MAGIC. Belief in magical solutions and magical causes harms our ability to function in reality for our benefit. Belief in magic gives us false hope for easy ways out of our problems and diverts our energies from realistic efforts to improve our situation. Belief that magic makes things happen keeps us from figuring out what really causes things to happen. Mark Barton became a killer partly because he was confused by magical hopes.

6. LOVING JESUS. Making Jesus your greatest love harms your ability to fully experience and enjoy human love. It creates unrealistic expectations of perfection. It devalues the love given by imperfect human partners. It diverts love's energy and commitment from real human mates. People who love Jesus really love an imaginary friend in their own mind, they can't fully love others. Mark Barton may have loved his family enough to let them live had he loved Jesus less.

Christianity's harmful beliefs boil down to one big harm. Magical beliefs give you an inaccurate idea of how reality works. Your chances of screwing up increase with each inaccurate idea of reality you believe to be true. Your chances of making beneficial decisions increase when you have more accurate ideas of reality.

You can only be sure that you get the one life you now live. You can only be sure that you live in a consistent material reality where magic is unreal. I hope each of you has the courage to think clearly about the harms of Christianity. I hope you will choose to think about how reality works for yourself and let all words from others be no more than fuel for your own reasoning.

Howard Thompson is editor of The Texas Atheist newsletter.

COMMENT: It is a pity how he did not address the Christian doctrine that evil and violence and injustice arise from our human nature not our faith or religion.  Now this doctrine cheats.  If faith or religion or sacraments or prayers fail to fix us in time they are indirectly to blame.  Even more so if they do nothing at all.  And an indirect cause can be more serious and reprehensible than a direct one.  It can be cowardly.  And it is a fact that the Church itself says there is too much sin and shameless hypocrisy in faith circles. 

Christians say they identify the human evil in us and offer prayerful solutions and the help of God.  So they claim to diagnose and be a hospital for sinners.  Yet most religion sees evildoing as a mistake.  And where is the admission of these Christians that religions that say human nature is mistaken when it does harm so nobody is really evil are to blame?  Why are they not saying that religions like that are blocking assessment and thus causing more evil and violence?  They don't care.  A good religion that does not really care is only a good-looking religion.  The mirror when held up to it would crack.

If most religion is trouble it hardly matters if we include one that is not that bad in our condemnations.


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