Three Big Items the Clergy Don’t Want the Faithful to Think About

By David Madison | 2 February 2024
Debunking Christianity

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ONE: What is humanity’s place/status in the cosmos?

It was in 1950 that Pope Pius XII declared the dogma of the Virgin Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven. We may be tempted to wonder if he was out of his mind, but no: he was very much in his mind as it had been shaped by Catholic devotion as a child. His mother had her children worship daily at a Mary shrine in their home. Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) was born in 1876, just twenty-two years after Pope Pius IX declared in 1854 the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception—that is she had been conceived without original sin. Catholic devotion to this female goddess had been enhanced and encouraged for a long time. Pius XII made precisely this point in the lengthy document (48 points) explaining Mary’s bodily assumption to heaven, Munificentissimus Deus. It’s a tedious read, a labyrinth of theobabble.

Just in recent days on Facebook, I have seen photos of spectacular Virgin Mary statues, some surrounded by the adoring faithful. Protestants, of course, find it all so bizarre.

The Mary Assumption Dogma is based on the Biblical view of heaven and earth. Heaven is up there, earth is down here. In Acts 1, Jesus ascends to heaven by floating beyond the clouds to disappear. In 2 Kings 2, Elijah was swept up to heaven in a whirlwind, on a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire. Both are fantasies.

As we have become aware that these Bible concepts cannot possible be true, theologians have suggested that heaven must be a “state of being”—instead of a specific place. It’s not unlikely the launch of Sputnik in 1957 brought awareness of outer space to many people for the first time, and the resulting “space race” even more so. But even today I suspect that very few people know what Edwin Hubble discovered about the cosmos some twenty-five years before Pius XII declared that the body of Mary went “up there.” Through careful observation using the new 100-inch Hale telescope on Mount Wilson, Hubble showed beyond doubt that the swirl of light dubbed Andromeda is, in fact, another galaxy some 2.5 million light years away. That is, the Cosmos is vast beyond imagining: we now know that there are billions of other galaxies, hundreds of trillions of stars. How many planets must there be? How many of them have advanced life forms?

So is it really believable that a creator god—with so much cosmos under management—is keeping track of every human on this planet (truly lost in space), knows what each of us is thinking and feeling? How we’re behaving or sinning? Which sports team deserves a boost to win because of fervent prayers? “But our all-powerful, all knowing-God can handle this task!” is a faith-fueled response. Yet reliable, verifiable, objective evidence for this claim is never provided.

Humanity’s place/status in the cosmos makes our confident theologies highly suspect—and that is a big item the clergy would prefer their followers not think about. They’re not about to speak from the pulpit about Edwin Hubble’s stunning discovery. Nor are they inclined to wonder what other intelligent beings “out there”—who might have been investigating the cosmos many thousands of years longer than we have—have concluded about god(s). All human-imagined theologies, which—no surprise—are in profound disagreement, have evolved in total isolation on planet Earth. But please, dear churchgoers, don’t think about this incriminating, embarrassing reality. And pay no heed to a Russian astronaut’s famous comment, after a while in orbit, that he didn’t see God up there.

TWO: Why does the church need more, and more, and more buildings?

The story is told of St. Francis of Assisi returning home, after visiting neighboring villages to help those in need, to find that a few of his monks had been busy constructing a building. He angrily climbed to the roof and began throwing tiles to the ground: they didn’t need a building to do their lord’s work. But that sentiment has proved alien to the common Christian approach to spreading the truth of its faith. Ironically, however, there is no such thing as the truth of its faith. As I just noted, theologies are in profound disagreement—and that is especially true of Christian theologies. Evidence of conflicting beliefs is obvious in the New Testament itself, and today we witness the scandal of thousands of Christian brands that have differing views of Jesus and salvation. This splintering has gone on for centuries—and so has the Christian building boom.

I am not aware of any Jesus-script in the gospels that urges his followers to construct new churches forever. In Matthew 16:18—but not in the other gospels—we find this: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” This idea of an ongoing church seems to have developed over time; Matthew’s gospel was probably written a good fifty years after Jesus. In Mark especially, Jesus announces that the kingdom of his god is about to arrive on earth (he tells those at his trial, Mark 14:62, that they will see him coming on the clouds of heaven). With a new kingdom of god on earth, what would be the need for a church? Or many thousands of church buildings?

But as the Christian faith splintered endlessly—especially in the wake of the Protestant Reformation—each new denomination could claim legitimacy if it had its own buildings. We can be sure that clergy egos also played a major role as well: “Look how powerful I am, here I am getting a new church built as a symbol of my winning theology!” There’s also the show business factor, the need to impress followers with special shows on Sundays, with ceremonies and rituals, costuming, music, stained glass.

Allow me to ask the question that the faithful often pose: “What would Jesus do?” There is so much poverty, hunger, and pain in the world. So much of it could be eliminated/reduced if the vast sums of money spent on building churches had been used instead to improve the human condition. Cathedrals especially—huge venues for show business—come to mind. Supposedly they’re build for the glory of a god, but does that make sense when there’s plenty of Jesus-script in the gospels about helping those in need?

More and more and more church buildings are also powerful evidence that Christians do not, cannot agree on theology. All of the bickering brands must have their own buildings. The disagreements and fighting go on, and of course that is a big item that the clergy do not want their followers to think about.

THREE: Christian theology is shattered by the reality of horrendous suffering.

Anyone who gives serious thought to the extent of human and animal suffering will likely grasp the full meaning of our place/status in the Cosmos: if there is a creator god still attempting to oversee billions of galaxies, it is paying scant—if any—attention to what’s happening on our planet. The standard theobabble makes no sense whatever, e.g. God so loves the worldHe’s Got the Whole World in His HandsThe Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The catalogue of horrendous suffering is endless, and thinking about it puts faith in serious jeopardy.

To preserve faith: Please ignore the terror that happened in Nazi Germany on Kristallnacht, 10 November 1938—then move on to ignore the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of well more than six million people. In December 1941, during the siege of Leningrad, more than 50,000 people starved to death. Pay no attention to the fire bombing of Dresden in February 1945 that killed up to 25,000 people, and the fire bombing of Tokyo the following month that killed 80,000 people. Glance further back to the 17th century, consider the Thirty Years War (largely a religions conflict, 1618 to 1648) in central Europe that claimed four to eight million lives. Then we can wonder what god was doing when tens of millions of native Americans died as a result of European conquest of the New World, and what he was up to when the Black Plague in the 14th century killed up to a third of the human population between India and England. The church had no clue about why it was happening, but claimed that its god was punishing rampant sinfulness.

A high rate of infant mortality prevailed for millennia—what heartbreak for parents—until modern medicine was invented. There are flaws in the structure of the human brain, allowing for severe mental illnesses that have caused torment and suffering. There are thousands of genetic diseases. What are the implications of these facts for belief in an Intelligent Designer?

Natural calamities have struck with deadly force, e.g., the 2004 Indian Ocean that killed 225,000 people, earthquakes, volcanos, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires. Horrendous animal suffering is also built into nature: in the time it takes you to read this article, billions of animals will have eaten billions of other animals alive. The pain is beyond calculation. Does all this look like a kind, caring, competent, powerful god arranged it all—and is in charge? Christian apologists strain to come up with excuses for their god: human free will, the deity’s mysterious ways or bigger plans, even his obligation to punish sinful humans.

Perhaps there are alien civilizations that have been spying on humans for millennia. What would they have noticed? (1) The hideous capacity for violence that so many humans have demonstrated, the wars and brutality; this behavior has gone on for millennia. (2) Our unfortunate fate to be stuck on a planet that qualifies as a hazmat zone: there are so many things that can kill and maim us. (3) But surely one thing above all might have the aliens stumped: several billion humans have been indoctrinated to believe that a good, all-powerful, all-knowing god is looking out for everyone on the planet; indeed this deity is their friend. And there is a vast ecclesiastical bureaucracy working so hard to keep this delusional mindset in place.

It should come as no surprise whatever that the aliens haven’t bothered to drop by for a visit.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available.

His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.

The Cure-for-Christianity Library, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.

Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught (with author Dr. David Madison)

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)

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