Degrees of delusion

I’ve been having an interesting debate with some atheists (well I think it’s interesting and this is my blog afterall) over at the Friendly Atheist after the Friendly Atheist himself made this claim:

“Now, how do we shame those people who believe in reincarnation?

Or those people who believe that Heaven or Hell are actual places?

Or those people who believe that a god created the world in a week, that Adam and Eve were actual people, or that Jesus came back to life after being killed and has any ability to cleanse us of sins now?

It’s all the same degree of delusion

Emphasis mine.

I didn’t like the idea that Christians, who are monotheists, are as delusional as either pantheists those who see God in everything, everywhere (eg Hindus who, crudely speaking, believe in reincarnation because spiritual matter can not be lost), or polytheists who believe in many Gods.

I think as soon as you add the word “degree” into a statement like that you have to show that all these beliefs are equally ridiculous. I think it’s patently clear that they’re not. Mostly because there are certain beliefs that are universally ridiculed – like Scientology.

I think it’s funny that atheists seem quite happy generalising about Christians using the most crazy fundamentalist doctrines they can find while at the same time refusing to allow Christians to generalise about atheists – because they’re all different.

In the discussion I put forward a proposition, which I think was a good one, and as yet nobody has addressed it in their responses… I’ll reproduce it here.

“I often wonder if the atheist cause would be better served by supporting the Christians who are trying to teach other Christians good doctrine rather than throwing out the proverbial baby and bathwater.”


Jeff says:

The only atheist cause that might be agreed upon by atheists is to have a place at the table of life. To support this cause, many atheists, with the help of the internet, are starting to become more vocal and visible. To support the return to more orthodox Christian doctrine may only serve to return the world back to a time when atheists have to return once again underground and keep their non-belief hidden. It is probably unreasonable to expect many atheists to want to help the orthodox Christians clean up their own theological house. Some atheists may even see opportunity in social acceptance with with the repercussions of the rise of the right-wing evangelical movement (at least in the US).

st_eutychus says:


Correct Christian doctrine shouldn't be afraid of criticism.

For starters – the Bible was written first to a people group who were a minor country in the Middle East, and second to a group of people with the expectation that they be a persecuted minority.

The idea that Christians should be in the ascendancy and imposing their belief system on others rather than convincing people of the truth personally is a relatively new idea.

st_eutychus says:

And an idea relatively foreign to anybody outside of America. The political system in the US has been pretty messed up by bad doctrine. Fix the doctrine and you (hopefully) fix the politics.

Jeff says:


I'm curious. What year in Christian history would you consider the most exemplary time as far as doctrine? If Christianity has become a victim of its own success and forgotten its origins, how far back does one need to go to have a good example of the true spirit of the movement? 600 AD? 300AD? 100AD? Or does one only need to look back a hundred years or so?


st_eutychus says:

This is a good question Jeff. And I've been thinking about it since you posted it. It deserves a longer answer – and I'll probably turn it into a post.

I don't think Christians have ever nailed down doctrine perfectly. Each generation brings new and different struggles for Christians. I'll answer your question assuming, for a moment, that Christianity is true, and that the Bible has a significant role to play in guiding both our understanding of God and our conduct as his people.

In the early centuries – prior to Constantine – Christians were facing terrible physical persecution by the state. The Bible has a lot to say to these people because it assumes that Christians will function as a cultural minority. We have problems today when we extrapolate things written to the original audience (and I believe one of the first principles of understanding the Bible is understanding its meaning for the first readers). The early church didn't have to deal with issues of separation of church and state because they were quite clearly in opposition to the state. And yet they were told to pray for them and respect their authority.

They also didn't have the benefit of having the Bible as a singular book – instead relying on teachings of the early church and a smattering of letters – the texts that were later collated into one book for easy reference.

Clearly from the point the church was institutionalised by the Roman Empire it became a tool for two masters – Rome, that wanted to extend the empire/political power, and Christians who wanted to see the gospel taught.

I would see the period of time where the church played an active role in suppressing the populace, and treating the Bible as the realm of priests alone, was a particularly dark period. I think there were genuine Christian churches in that time – but I think history shows us that the church was a vehicle for terrible atrocities like the Crusades born out of either greed or a bizarre dispensationalist theology that taught that the physical Israel had some value to Christians.

There have been bright lights throughout history that I think are great examples of Christianity being "on track" or exemplary. I think the reformation was great, I think moves to make the Bible accessible and available in the common language were good.

It's difficult without committing what you might consider to be the No True Scotsman fallacy to distinguish between the acts of those calling themselves the "church" who ran around wearing crosses on their armour and those who actually were the church (ie the body of believers).

I don't think "Christianity", defined as following the lordship of Jesus Christ, has forgotten its origins. I think other people have harnessed the guise of Christianity for their own agendas. And this has been harmful.

Paul from Brisbane says:

That's what you wonder huh?
My interests s an atheist can never be served by anyone believing in a god or gods. We can look after ourselves and need no advice from those who promote superstition and mythology.Is not wanting your help smug? Or isit that warm feeling you get when you know you are right and are surrounded by a muddleheaded, brainwashed mob.