Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Selfishness of Christianity

One of the defenses we often hear about Christianity is how many good works have been done in Christ's name.  Of course, they dismiss the evil done in Christ's name because the perpetrators were not "true" Christians, or because it was so long ago it doesn't matter anymore.  Still, the generosity and good works of Christianity have indeed enriched the world.

I'll grant that hospitals, programs for the poor, and other social services are good deeds... as long as prosletyzing isn't the price the recipients have to pay and the good works really are good (More about Mother Teresa in another post)

At the root of these good works, though, is selfishness.  The motive isn't true empathy for suffering but a guarantee of a place in Heaven.  A secondary though possibly more powerful motive is to be seen to be doing good works.  If you're doing good things you must be a good person, right?  And if you do it in a group and happen to have an enjoyable time with your friends-in-Christ well that's just icing on the cake.  You'd work on a Habitat for Humanity house in a crappy neighborhood on your own, wouldn't you?  You don't need a church bus to take you there.  And then there is the whole doing-what-Jesus-says line.  Jesus said feed the poor, so obedient Christians will do it because he says to do it.  That's hardly an unselfish reason.  Getting in good with your savior, whose blessing will keep you out of hell.  Very nice.

The worst example of selfishness, I think, is prayer for some earthly benefit for oneself or one's loved ones.  A friend from Houston recently posted to Facebook thanking friends for their prayers.  They finally had rain.  Hallelujah! 

Rather than forward her selfish post to my friend from nearby Bastrop, who continues to be traumatized by the huge fire there, I sent a PM with a general skeptical view of prayer.  I also pointed out that if God was so good, why not send the recent hurricane that was a near miss all the way over to Bastrop to put out or prevent that fire?  Not to mention, why did God allow Texas to endure such a dreadful drought in the first place?  And why did he ignore Perry's prayers and that big prayer hoopla thing in Houston, but answer the prayers of my friend's friends around the country?  Why did God wait so long?  And speaking of timing, July & August are usually the dryest months in Texas, and coincidentally, God answered her friends' prayers in September, when it's much more likely for Texas to receive rain.

Well, I did make some of those points in our exchange but what I bit my tongue about was the utter selfishness of believing that God will answer prayers for better weather just for her.  Apparently none of the people who lost everything in the Bastrop fire had any friends who prayed for them, or else their homes would have been spared.

Chrisitans are also selfish in their entire theology of redemption.  In theory, you just have to be a believer to be spared the punishment of Hell.  This in itself is supremely selfish.  Character doesn't really matter if being "born again" or "saved" or baptized is all it takes.  Too often they write off the other Christians who don't live up to charitable or even moral standards as not true Christians, but then if pressed they have to admit that the standards for who can be called a Christian are very low.

John 3:16 makes it pretty clear:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

How nice for them.  That's all they have to do, just believe.  Fuck everyone else, and fuck the people who didn't get rain this month.  They didn't deserve it anyway.

Evangelicals have a bit of a claim in wanting everyone to be saved, but salvation is still a selfish concept.  What about "Do some charitable things and you'll be repaid with thanks from the people you help?"  If that's all there is to missionary work, some might do it anyway.  That's because unselfishness is as much a part of human nature as selfishness is.  This is why they fear evolution -- it might show that living in a community requires a quotient of unselfishness from every member, or at least a big enough plurality to keep the community going.  And if humans are capable of being generous, kind, and helpful without a God to tell them to do it, what do they need God for?  And if rain happens whether you pray or not, why pray?

The answer is: selfishness.  They may even know their prayers are worthless, but they do it to remind themselves how special they are compared to everyone else.  It's sickening.


Sue Ellen said...

Hmm... You might be interested in the blog I just started. There are only 4 posts so far. It is called "The Selfish Christian." It is at

BTW, it is clear you totally misunderstand Christianity. I have no problem with you being an atheist. It just seems like it would be better if you knew, correctly, what you objected to, instead of objecting to things about which you have a wrong understanding.

But, as you will see in my blog, I do agree that Christians are selfish.

Anonymous said...

Even wanting to live forever is a pretty selfish concept. As an atheist I find the concept of eternal salvation to be sickeningly selfish. I wouldn't want to live forever anyway, even in "heaven". Life ends, and new life takes over. Isn't that beautiful in and of itself?

LadyAtheist said...

There isn't just one Christianity so it's impossible to "misunderstand" it, but the concept of living eternally in heaven is pretty much common to them all.

Anonymous said...

This makes me so sad. A lot of misunderstanding here.

A Christian knows works NEVER leads to salvation or Heaven. Those are scriptures you neglected to include... It is ONLY faith in Jesus that saves and eternal life which is from God. If you are living by faith, there's nothing to gain by going out to share the gospel! You lose family, friends, comfort... It would be easier and cheaper to not go out and share the gospel and to live your own life.

Anonymous said...

Wow. How totally misunderstood Christianity and Christians are. I don't even know where to begin, only that I didn't find much to agree with. I do agree, unfortunately, that many Christians are self-serving, falling trap to humanity's desires for me, me, me. Christian or not, it's so hard to live for the concern for other people and not for yourself.
I wish this author really understood Jesus and His ways. With all due respect, I honestly feel sorry for this author. In reading it, I was struck by how judgmental she was and how she had completely missed it. I hope she some day understands.

E.M. said...

You have spoken my mind. i have been going to a bible study for years (I've been an atheist for many of those; I mainly go for the arguments at this point), I know the ins, outs, ups and downs of Christianity and I can say for a fact that you speak the utter truth.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as being unselfish. There are NO unselfish acts. Every decision that has ever been made is a value judgement. Every decision MUST result in value for 'self' or else the decision is not made. We can only do what we want to do based on value or perceived value, and this includes giving to charity, and even dying for a friend. This is not to say that a selfish act cannot be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Christ dies on the cross for us to be saved. That was selfish of him, because it was a means to an end. He's accomplishing HIS will, HIS wants, HIS ultimate plan. His selfish act is greatly beneficial to others. Selfish acts can be mutually beneficial. I'm a Christian.

Anonymous said...

i went from a child and teenager of deep faith in God to an adult struggling with agnotism, atheistism, to seeking God again. Church and Bible studies were short lived. I asked the pastor of a church I attended why my wonderful grandson died at 19 from an overdose of drugs - he was such a handsome wonderful young man. He answered it is about our personal relationship with God. I also asked myself why I didm't see the world and its beauty as i did as a child; why I didn't have the love for myself or others as I did as a child and young girl, where was the joy in my heart. I realized I no longer believed in God. How would I get that back - there is no proof. I made the decision that Christ was a genius in knowing manikind,
our basic needs as human beings - love, bonding, forgiveness in ourselves and by others, a purpose to value our existence and a purpose larger than ourselves to serve others. I decided my philosophy would be that of Jesus Christ. I would live my life accordingly,and the best I can, "living in the Word". i am no longer bored, I see the beauty of life and nature, my heart is joyous, I am a better wife, mother and grandmother, and friend. I don't serve others to get into heaven; serving others is my heaven. I do not live for my death and arriving into heaven. My life and purpose is here on earth. Starting from a philosophy was my journey back my fath in God and Jesus Christ. Whether one stops as Christ as a philosophy - the same as perhaps those who believe in Buddahism - or if one then journeys into faith in God and Jesus Christ you are on the right road -!t will take you places you
have never been. You don't have to prove yourself as

an atheist or a Christian when you have taken the right road in life. It will not take long to know you are on the right road, your bumpy backroad with no direction or sights will soon become paved with all the signs and
directions you need to come home to your heart and soul that will no longer be empty. You don't have to prove there is a God or not a God, or that you are a well founded atheist or Christian - that will no longer
be important.

Al Graham said...

As a Christian, I would agree that many Christians are indeed very selfish. I also agree that there is a deep-seated selfishness at the heart of a certain kind of evangelical Christian theology which seems little different from misanthropy: "as long as I'm alright and going to heaven when I die, and Jesus loves me, then sod everyone else." This pernicious attitude is well hidden behind pious phrases and attitudes.

However, I do think you are fundamentally mistaken about morality. Of course, if you believe (as clearly you do) that there is no God, then 'God' for you is merely an idea. If that is the case, then obviously it is easy for you to assume (and indeed it is a huge assumption) that Christianity is merely a psychological technique. This is a case of imposing your own atheist presupposition on Christianity and then drawing a conclusion from it. This is a circular argument. You assume atheism is true and then condemn Christianity by passing judgment based on that viewpoint. That is unfair.

The Christian gospel is not essentially about rewards and punishment, but about transformed lives. The doctrine of the grace of God (which, as far as I am concerned, is a reality) reorients the will, so that we do not do things for the reasons you cited. What you seem to be implying is that Christians are really at heart evil people, who are just performing 'good' works out of sufferance and for entirely selfish reasons. If that is true of Christians, then why not also say the same about atheists? After all, while it is possible to argue that someone may do good just to avoid punishment, it can also be argued that someone else may commit evil acts precisely because he thinks there is no ultimate judge of his life. Both are logical arguments, but it would be wrong to impose such assumptions on anyone.

There are selfish Christians and selfish atheists. There are unselfish Christians, and, I am sure, unselfish atheists. I think people should be taken on their own merits and not subject to the kind of sweeping statements you have made.

Tony N said...

Absolutely spot on. I came to this conclusion myself and wondered who else realised this, hence the search. Personal salvation is not love, it's the ultimate act of selfishness.