The Atheist Bible, CC-BY Fabian M. Suchanek

An Introduction to Christianity

The Christian Faith

Christianity emerged from Judaism at the beginning of the first century CE. It is based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish preacher who lived from around 7 to 2 BCE to around 30 to 33 CE in what was then Roman Israel. Jesus was called “Jesus Christ”, from the Greek word Χριστός (Christos, literally: annointed), and this title became the name of the new faith, Christianity. The religion inherited the holy scripture of Judaism (which it calls the “Old Testament”) and added a new scripture (the “New Testament”). Together, these books constitute the Bible. The New Testament contains the Gospels (books that talk about the life of Jesus), the letters by Paul the Apostle (an early adherent of Jesus who was later known as Saint Paul), and other books. All non-numeric references in this chapter refer to chapters of the Bible.

Being a religion, Christianity is collection of belief statements. These include

  1. There is exactly one god, called God.
  2. Jesus is the son of the god and a human mother, Mary.
  3. Jesus was crucified, but he was resurrected from the dead.
  4. The Bible was written by men, but was inspired by God.
Beyond these basic tenets, Christian belief systems can vary. Popular tenets include: These are just examples of different tenets that are upheld by different denominations of Christianity. Over time, the denominations have developed hundreds of other tenets, some of which we will discuss in this chapter.

History of Christianity

Jesus and Mo, 2009-03-02
Christianity gradually split from Judaism in the 1st century CE. In 135 CE, the Jews revolted against Rome. When that revolt failed, Christian leaders were anxious to convince Rome that Christians were patriotic citizens who obeyed the Roman law, and Christianity thus affirmed itself as a distinct faith1. For thousands of years, ancient cultures had envisioned religious ideas as being in the blood, passed down through the ancestors who had received them from the gods. Saint Paul upended this ancient system, by claiming that faith in the teachings of Jesus was all that was necessary for salvation. This innovative teaching was perhaps the major incentive for the spread of the movement throughout the Roman Empire. No longer tied to geography or ethnic ancestors, believers were embraced from all provinces and all classes into a collective of shared religious concepts. By the 2nd century CE, Christians could be found from Britain (and mainland Europe) to Africa and areas of Asia . At first, Christians were persecuted as atheists, because they refused to venerate the Roman Emperors as gods1. However, in 312 CE, the Roman emperor Constantin the Great had a vision that he would win a battle if he fought in the name of Christianity. He did, won the battle, and converted to Christianity. In this way, Christianity became an accepted religion in the empire, and it finally became even its state religion in 380 CE. This established the religion in the sphere of influence of the Romans, and by Middle Ages, Europe was essentially Christian. In the coming centuries, Christianity consolidated its power. It also established its own legal system, introducing the concept of free consent, and the necessity to prove guilt and innocence through rational rules of evidence rather than through magical tests such as the ordeal of the fire2.

During the Middle Ages, Christianity was imposed brutally by persecuting heretics. The religion also piggybacked on the colonization. European powers conquered foreign lands, and brought Christianity with them — to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. The Inquisition forced people to adopt and keep up the faith. This expansion made Christianity the most wide-spread religion in the world — a title that it holds to this day.

Over time, people developed different interpretations of Christianity. Aided by political struggles, these different interpretations gave rise to different denominations of the faith. The long history and the large geographical extent of Christianity have led to a plethora of different versions of the religion, which we discuss next.

Christian Denominations

Today, Christianity has about 2.5 billion adherents3. These fall into roughly 1200 denominations4. The main branches are (with numbers from 5):
Catholicism (1.3 billion)
This denomination is centrally governed by the Pope in Rome. It evolved from early Christianity through a series of declarations of faith, which take the form of creeds, papal bullets, and catechisms6.
Oriental Orthodoxy (62 million)
This denomination split from Catholicism in 451 CE, in disagreement with the Council of Chalcedon, which decided that the divine and the human nature of Jesus are distinct78. Today, Oriental Orthodoxy is present mainly in Ethiopia. The Coptic Orthodox Church is an Oriental Orthodox Church that is present in Egypt.
Eastern Orthodoxy (220 million)
This denomination split gradually from Catholicism during the first millenium CE, mainly because of political differences between the Western Roman Empire seated in Rome (where the Catholic pope resided) and the Eastern Roman Empire (with its capital Constantinople, today’s Istanbul). The Eastern churches also objected to an idea that the Western church had developed in the 6th century CE, namely that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father and God the Son (as opposed to only God the Father)9. The departure of Eastern Orthdoxy as a separate denomination, the “Great Schism”, is traditionally dated to 1054 CE. In Eastern Orthodoxy, every country has their own church, with the largest one being the Russian Orthodox Church (150 million). In this book, we use the (English-speaking) Orthodox Church of America as representative for Orthodoxy.
Protestantism (800 million)
This denomination split away from Catholicism starting with the Reformation in 1517 CE, when a German priest called Martin Luther started criticizing the concentration of power of the Catholic Church. Protestantism emphasizes the relationship between God and the individual Christian (without mediation by priests), salvation by faith alone (rather than by good works), and the Bible alone as the highest authority10. Today, Protestant denominations include the following groups:
  • Pentecostalism (280 million) believes in spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and the ability to perform divine healing11. The largest denomination is the “Assemblies of God” (65 million), which we use here as a representative for Pentecostalism.
  • Baptist Churches (100 million) believe that only (adult) believers should be baptized, and that this should be done by immersion into water12. The largest denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention (15.7 million), which we use here as a representative. We group Pentecostalism and the Baptist Churches together as “American Protestantism” in this book.
  • Lutheranism (77 million) is based on the teachings of Luther: it repudiates papal and ecclesiastical authority in favour of the Bible, insists that human reconciliation with God is effected solely by divine grace, and holds that this grace is appropriated solely by faith13. The largest denomination is the Evangelical Church in Germany (24.5 million), which we use here as a representative.
  • Other groups include Calvinism (85 million), Continental Reformed churches (30 million), Methodism (80 million), Nondenominational evangelicalism (80 million), and African initiated Protestant churches (60 million). Presbyterianism (40 million), in particular, is a subgroup of Calvinism.
Evangelicalism is an inter-denominational, but mainly Protestant, Christian movement that includes Pentecostalism. It emphasizes evangelism and the authority of the Bible36, and often goes along with conservative moral outlooks37 and a literal reading of the Bible38.
Anglicanism (110 million)
This denomination split from Catholicism in 1534 CE with the English Act of Supremacy, which accepted the King of England as head of the Church instead of the pope in Rome. One of the motivations for this split was to allow the king at the time, Henry VII, to get a divorce from his wife, which the pope refused to grant14. Later, Anglicanism developed its own theology in the English Reformation. Today, the Church of England is the main Anglican church (25 million).
Non-trinitarian Restorationism (35 million)
This group of denominations rejects the trinity of God. It includes Mormonism (17m) and Jehowah’s Witnesses (9m).
Christian denominations Psalm11918

Fundamentalist Christianity vs. Liberal Christianity

In the context of Christianity, “liberal” does not refer to “liberal moral values”. Rather, it refers to the belief that the Bible has to be read metaphorically15. Fundamentalist Christianity, in contrast, holds that the Bible has to be read literally1617. These two extremes span a wide spectrum of beliefs, which is not strictly linked to the denominations.

Liberal Christianity

Technically, the entire Christendom has been largely fundamentalist until the age of Enlightment: the stories of the Bible were considered in large parts true. That changed in 18th century: The Enlightenment had emphasized the role of reason, and had questioned religious dogma. Starting with the theologian Friederich Schleiermacher, German academic circles developed what could later be called “higher criticism”: the study of biblical documents like any other document of antiquity, without religious convictions or dogma18. In the 19th century, the discovery of evolution by Charles Darwin further questioned a literal reading of the Bible. The expansion of international trade, recreational travel, and Christian missionary efforts brought Western Christians into closer contact with other world religions, and knowledge of these traditions encouraged scholars to re-examine the relationship between culture and religion, to compare the similarities and differences between the various religious traditions, and to analyze critically the sacred texts of each19. All of this, combined with the ascendancy of deism and rationalism, led to a questioning of literal readings of the Bible, and even of Christianity in general. In 1871, for example, the American minister Henry Ward Beecher warned divinity students at Yale Theological Seminary that the Protestant ministry was “in danger, and in great danger, of going under, and of working effectively only among the relatively less informed and intelligent of the community”15.

Liberal Christianity emerged in response to this questioning of the Christian faith, as a movement within the churches that redefined the essence of Christianity to make compatible with the prevailing intellectual currents of the times19. The central tenet was that the Bible and the historic Christian creeds were cast in the language and worldview of their times and had to be interpreted critically in that light15. Thus, Liberal Christians believe that the stories of the Bible did not necessarily happen exactly as written down. Rather, these stories are seen as narratives that express a view on the world in the historical and social context of the writer. From these stories, Liberal Christians derive how we should see the connection between God and the world. Thus, Liberal Christians do not believe that the world was created in 6 days, as the Bible tells us, but tend to follow the scientific mainstream view (of the Big Bang, Evolution, and Darwinism). Liberal Christians also tend to believe that the miracles of the Bible did not necessarily take place. Rather, liberal Christians aim to understand the message that authors wanted to convey with the stories of the miracles.

Liberal Christianity was first met with opposition. In 1869, the First Vatican Council condemned the belief that “all miracles are impossible, and that therefore all reports of them, even those contained in sacred scripture, are to be set aside as fables or myths; or that miracles can never be known with certainty, nor can the divine origin of the christian religion be proved from them”20. However, in the 20th century, liberal Christianity became more popular, and the Pope declared in 1965 in order to understand the Bible, one “must investigate what meaning the sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture”21. Evolution was finally accepted as a fact in 1996. As for Anglicanism: One quarter of Anglican priests does not believe that the story of the virgin birth of Mary (the mother of Jesus) is literally true22. Rather, the story is seen as a myth that was created to emphasize the importance of Jesus.

Today, a non-literal reading of the Bible (and the acceptance of evolution) dominates all major Christian denominations except American Protestantism, Mormonism, and Jehova’s Witnesses23. As for the actual beliefs of Christians: While evolution is accepted by only half of Christians in the US and in Brazil, it is accepted by the vast majority of Christians in Europe24.

For Liberal Christians, the word “fundamentalist” is pejorative. Liberal Christians tend to see Fundamentalist Christianity as backward, un-educated, and disconnected from reality.

Christianity Light

Liberal Christianity was influenced by the German Protestant theologian Albrecht Ritschl and the Baltic German Lutheran theologian Carl Gustav Adolf von Harnack in the second half of the 19th century. They reasoned that being a Christian means essentially striving to organize humankind in accordance with Jesus’ command to love one another1925. These positions laid the ground for an extension of Liberal Christianity that we will call “Christianity Light”. It is a reduced form of Christianity, which contains in essence just three belief statements: (1) The Christian God exists, (2) Jesus was a good man, and (3) people should be nice with each other. All other tenets of Christianity or its denominations (such as the trinity, divinity of Jesus, the creation of the Earth in 6 days, or the virgin birth) are rejected. Thus, Christianity Light ressembles Deism, infused with Christian ideas. For example, when adherents of Christianity Light talk of a god, they refer exclusively to the Christian God (the loving, omnipotent deity who kick-started the universe), and not, say, to Vishnu or the horned god of the Wicca religion. At the same time, adherents tend to hold that they are “not religious” — meaning that they do not follow the dogmata of a particular Christian denomination. A distance from religious dogmata and churches is particularly popular in Germany26.

Fundamentalist Christianity

Fundamentalist Christianity is a movement that rose in opposition to Liberal Christianity in the early 20th century17, mainly among Protestants in the United States27. Fundamentalist Christianity holds that the Bible is literally true. .

Fundamentalists believe, among other things, that the Bible literally tells us how the world was created. In this view, the Earth came into existence less than 10,000 years ago, dinosaurs shared the Earth with humans, and God literally flooded the Earth with the deluge. 40% of Americans believe that the creation account of the Bible is literally true28. Fundamentalists also tend to believe that Jesus will come back. 79% of Americans believe that Jesus will have a second coming, and 20% believe that this will happen during their lifetime. Fundamentalism is particularly present among Presbytarians, Pentecostals, and Baptists.

For Fundamentalists, the words “liberal” and “modern” are pejorative in the context of religion. To them, these words suggest that the true message of God has been abandoned, or watered down with secular, modernist, or atheist ideas.

Dear Christians: Mark 16:17-18 says that true believers can drink poison and be perfectly fine. Please demonstrate your faith before you impose your religion on the rest of us.

Conservatism vs Progressivism

Christians cover a wide spectrum of moral convictions, from more conservative outlooks to more progressive ones.


By definition, conservative people favor traditional views and values29. Today’s conservatives tend to oppose gay marriage, to disapprove of premarital sex, to shun abortion, to see the family (under the guidance of the husband) as a central building block of society, and to approve of the death penalty. At the same time, conservative views usually go back only decades, not centuries or millenia. For example, today’s conservatives will usually not defend slavery or capital punishment for heresy. These values go back to too long ago.

Christian conservatives can defend their view based on the laws of the Old Testament, which do indeed punish homosexuality and premarital sex, and institute the death penalty (even though the position on abortion is less straightforward to interpret). Conservatism is found among Christian Fundamentalists (for example on the subject of gay marriage30) — simply because a literal reading of the Bible suggests conservative values. Baptists, in particular, are morally conservative, for example when it comes to women’s rights, the death penalty, and abortion. However, also the Catholic Church, which is liberal when it comes to a literal understanding of the Bible, is conservative when it comes to moral values — for example concerning gay marriage or abortion.

As for the actual beliefs of Christians, these vary mainly by geography: People in the traditionally Protestant countries of Europe tend to be on the progressive side when it comes to moral values, and the other parts of the world tend to be more conservative (see graph).

Traditionalist values emphasize the importance of religion, family, and authority. Secular-rational values give these factors less importance.
Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. Self-expression values favor environmental protection, liberal moral attitudes, and participation in decision-making.
This means that conservative attitudes are found rather in the bottom left, and progressive values in the top right of the diagram.© The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map - World Values Survey 7 (2023),


in Toronto in 2010

Progressive people encourage change in society31 and are less bound by traditional values. This attitude usually goes hand in hand with more liberal moral values, where a moral rule is not justified by tradition, but by the harm it prevents. Progressives will support gay marriage, and have more permissive attitudes towards premarital sex and abortion.

Progressive Christians, in particular, are more likely to do away with the laws of the Old Testament. They can argue that these have been abrogated by Jesus’ arrival — a theory known as “Supercessionism”32. This interpretation is based on a passage in the Old Testament where God promises a “New Convenant” that will “not be like the convenant I made with the ancestors when I [...] led them out of Egypt”[Jeremiah 31:31-40], i.e., not like the Ten Commandments and other laws of the Old Testament. This passage is picked up in the New Testament, which declares that this New Convenant has come into effect with the arrival of Jesus[Hebrews 8].

Among the main Christian denominations, Lutheranism tends to be most progressive, giving equal rights to women, shunning the death penalty, being ambivalent about abortion, and approving of birth control. And indeed, progressive moral attitudes are generally popular in Protestant Europe33.

If your religion tells you that you must have a baby due to its views on abortion, and then labels that baby as illegitimate because of its views on marriage, then maybe it’s time to reconsider your religion.

Activism vs Passivism

For some Christians, religion plays an important role life. They go to church on Sunday, pray regularly, and maybe go to Bible reading groups and entice others to follow the faith. Other Christians attach less importance to their faith. Different intensities of religious practice can be found across different denominations.


Generally, Christians in the US, South America, and Africa attach more importance to their religion than Christians in Europe: The percentage of Christians who say that religion is important to them is between 10% and 30% in European countries, whereas it is more than 60% in the other countries34. Weekly church attendance, likewise, stands higher in the US (36%), Brazil (45%), and Africa (50%+), and lower in Europe (<15%).

The importance of weekly church attendance correlates weakly with the denomination: In the US, weekly church attendance is highest among Jehovah’s Witnesses (85%), Mormons (77%) and Evangelicals (58%), and lower among Orthodox (31%) and Catholics (39%)35.


On the other hand of the spectrum, we have Christians whose everyday life is not very different from an atheist’s. Christian rites are reduced to the “hatch, match, and dispatch” ceremonies (baptisms, weddings, and funerals). Such “passive Christians” may, for example, enjoy the ceremony of a White Wedding in church, but otherwise limit church attendance to Christmas. This is a prevalent way of life in Europe, and it often goes along with liberal and progressive views.

Charismatism vs Cessationism

Charismatic Christians believe that God works miracles also today (a belief that is called also continuationism39). Cessationists believe that God did miracles only in biblical times.


Generally speaking, Charismatic Christians believe that God can work miracles if we ask him through prayer. This belief is based on Bible verses such as the following40: In this spirit, Charismatic Christians believe in faith healing41, i.e., the healing of people from illnesses by miraculous intervention from God. Another practice associated with Charismatic Christians is “Speaking in tongues”41, i.e., the uttering of speech-like syllables that are considered an unknown language. Charismatism is often associated to an emotional approach to faith. Charismatic masses can involve speaking in tongues, dancing, crying, and uncoordinates praying aloud.

Among the Christian denominations, Pentecostalism is clearly the most charismatic one. However, also Catholicism acknowledges the possibility of miracles in our times. Charismatic Christians can be found mainly in the US, but also in Europe, Latin America, and Africa41.


Cessationists believe that God did miracles in biblical times, but hold that no more miracles occurred after the apostles39. This reasoning is justified39 by a verse of the New Testament, which reads “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”[1 Corinthians 13:8-12]. Cessationists hold that miracles that are reported today are either fabrications, natural self-healings, or exaggerations — which is also the atheist point of view. This is the dominant stance in Europe, across denominations.


Televangelist Marjoe counting his money after mass.
“Oh Jesus has been so good to me” Marjoe Movie
Televangelism is the use of television to communicate Christianity. It is particularly popular in North America, and is often fundamentalist, evangelical, and conservative42. Many televangelists ask their audience to donate money. Some of them attract huge audiences, and thus make a fortune in the process. They make millions of dollars every year, and spend it on Rolls Royce cars, houses, or private jets. Some televangelists preach the “seed faith”, where people are encouraged to send the televangelist an amount of money, large enough to be a “sacrifice”. This “seed” would serve as a proof for the faith in God, who would then react by blessing the sender with financial success 43. These sacrifices are then pocketed by the televangelist. Usually, such revenue is tax-free, because it is gathered by a religious organization. In Africa, some “super-pastors” have accumulated a wealth in the order of 150 million US dollars.

Some televangelists have been known to fake faith healings — or to record dozens of healings and show only those that work. Many of these tricks have been exposed by Marjoe Gortner, a man who was pushed into the preacher career at the age of 4 by his parents. He became a famous rich televangelist, but then had a crisis of conscience. He invited a documentation team to follow him on one of his tours with a hidden camera, and explained his tricks: how to induce motherly women to part with their savings, how to put invisible ink on the forehead so that a cross will appear when you start perspiring, and how to make the audience weep and yell, and collapse in spasms44.

The glittering palaces of Las Vegas have been built with the money of those who lost, and not of those who won.
Christopher Hitchens in “God is not great”, paraphrased

Historical variety


We will now discuss a series of Christian beliefs that evolved over time. We start with a belief that is fundamental to most Christian denominations: the trinity of God, i.e., the belief that God is a godhead that consists of “God the Father”, “God the Son” (Jesus), and the “Holy Spirit”.

Saint Paul taught that Jesus had descended from heaven as a manifestation of God himself in a human body and that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, [...] and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord”[Philippians 2:5-11]. Thus, Jesus was now worthy of worship in the same way as God. For non-Jews, this idea fitted well with their stories of their own gods traveling to earth in disguise. However, when Jesus can be worshipped as a god, Christians violated the first of their Ten Commandments (“You shall have no other gods before Me”[Exodus 20:3]), which they inherited from Judaism1. In the 4th century CE, this problem was further excarbated by a presbyter in Alexandria by the name of Arius. He reasoned that if God created everything, then he must have created Jesus as well. This demoted Jesus to a subordinate, and riots arose over this in Alexandria and in other cities. To settle the issue, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great called for a major conference in 325 CE, and invited 217 bishops to the city of Nicaea. The council had to tackle a difficult question: Was Jesus divine or not? On the one hand, Jesus said “the Father is greater than I”[John 14:28, Mark 10:17-18, Mark 13:32], that the Father gave him life[John 5:26], and that he only does the will of the one who sent him[John 5:30]. On the other hand he said “I and the Father are one”[John 10:30]. The council considered two choices: was Christ “homo-iousios”, an essence like the Father’s, or was he “homo-ousios”, of one substance identical to the Father’s? (The difference between these two words is just the proverbial iota). The Council voted on these choices, and opted for the second choice: God and Jesus were identical in essence, and Jesus was a manifestation of God himself on earth45. In this way, people could continue worshipping Jesus without violating monotheism. Arius was exiled as a punishment for his (now certifiedly) heretical views. Constantine must have been satisfied, as he himself proposed the homo-ousios formula46. This formula had a very convenient side-effect for him: as the common perception was that Constantine stood in for Jesus on earth, and as Jesus was now divine, Constantine obtained the power of God on earth45 — by a simple vote of the council he sponsored.

However, Jesus talked not just of God the Father and God the Son, but also of the Holy Spirit: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”[Matthew 28:19]. What was the role of the Holy Spirit? Its role was clarified by the First Council of Constantinople of 381 CE. It declared that the Holy Spirit is worshipped “with the Father and the Son”47. This evolved into the idea that there is one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. Technically, God is thus a godhead.

Today, almost all Christian denominations are trinitarian. However, Jehova’s Witnesses, with 8m adherents, hold that only God the Father is God, and that Jesus was a mediator. Mormonism, with 15m adherents, holds that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct beings.


Heresy is the formal denial or doubt of a core doctrine of the Christian faith. As we have discussed before, heresy was punished by death in most world religions. Christianity was no exception. However, modern interpretations of the faith have since desisted from this punishment.

Old Testament: Heretics have to be killed

The Old Testament calls for heretics to be killed: “The punishment of such a prophet or dreamer shall be death”[Deuteronomy 13:5]. More precisely, “It may be that […] men and women of thy race will […] enslave themselves to the worship of other gods. […] if it proves […] true, away with such recreant men or women to the city gate; there let them be killed by stoning”[Deuteronomy 17].

New Testament: Ambivalence

In the New Testament, Jesus said “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned”[John 15:6]. This can still be understood as a metaphor. Saint Paul also stops short of punishing heresy. He rather recommends exclusion: “Give a heretic one warning, then a second, and after that avoid his company; his is a perverse nature, thou mayest be sure.”[Titus 3:10-11].

Early Christianity: Heretics have to be punished.

Hypatia of Alexandria is maybe one of the most famous pagans murdered for their faithRachel Weisz as Hypatia in the 2009 movie “Agora”
Early Christianity punished heretics, but several voices argued against the death penalty. In the 5th century, the influential Berber theologian Augustine of Hippo (later canonized as Saint Augustine) opined that heretics deserve to be punished, but he urged the Church not to execute them. He declared that “we do not wish either to see the exercise of discipline towards them neglected, or, on the other hand, to see them subjected to the severer punishments which they deserve”48.

In the 11th century, the Council of Toulouse required that “bishops [must] search out heretics in their parishes, individual suspicious houses, subterranean rooms and additions to houses, and other hiding places” 49, so that the “heretic [be] duly punished”. However, Pope Alexander II prohibited the death penalty in a letter to the Archbishop of Narbonne50.

In 1184, Pope Lucius III declared in a papal bull that heresy was to be eradicated entirely51. Those accused of heresy were to be handed down their “due penalty”. All those who supported heresy were deprived of the right to hold public office, the right to trial, the right to draft a will, and the heritability of their fiefs and offices. The people would be required to swear under oath anything they knew about heretical activity. All oath-breakers were to be treated as heretics.

Pope Innocence III followed up in 1199, declaring that goods of heretics should be confiscated52. The Twelfth Ecumenical Council agreed in 1215, stating that heretics should have their property confiscated, shall not be admitted to public offices or deliberations, may not take part elections, may not give testimony in a court, may not write a will, and were deprived of the right of inheritance53.

In 1232, Pope Gregory IX declared that those who do not repent their heresy shall be imprisoned for life (“in perpetuo carcere detrudantur”)54. In his papal bull “Excommunicamus”, he also established the tribunal of the Papal Inquisition, concerned with finding and punishing heretics.

In 1252, Pope Innocent IV declared in his papal bull “Ad extirpanda” that no heretic shall be have the right to “maintain a bare subsistence in the country”55. On the contrary, “those convicted of heresy […] shall be taken in shackles” (Law 24). Such penalties could not be pardoned. Furthermore, “whoever shall find the heretical man or woman shall boldly seize, with impunity, all his or their goods”. The pressure is extended to every citizen, because the papal aide may “if it seem good to them, [compel] the whole neighborhood, to testify to the aforesaid inquisitors if they have detected any heretics” (Law 30). Finally, “the head of state or ruler must force all the heretics whom he has in custody […] to confess their errors and accuse other heretics whom they know — provided he does so without killing them or breaking their arms or legs”. The bull was interpreted so as to authorize the use of torture by the Inquisition for eliciting confessions from heretics .

Also in the 13th century, the Italian theologian Thomas Aquinas argued that “With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. […] Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death. On the part of the Church, however, […] she condemns not at once, but “after the first and second admonition” […] After that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.” 56.

In 1478, Pope Sixtus IV handed over the inquisition to the secular authorities. In his papal bull “Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus”, he gave the monarchs exclusive authority to name the inquisitors in their kingdoms. From then on, Portugal and Spain launched extensive raids on heretics and suspected heretics in their kingdoms. Officials could apply torture to make victims confess to heresy. The convicted were then taken outside the city walls to the burning place — a public ritual known as auto-da-fé. There, their sentences would be read. Some would be acquitted. Others would be punished. Artistic representations of the auto-da-fé usually depict physical punishment such as whipping, torture, and burning at the stake..

Catholicism: Heretics have to be killed. Today: Freedom of religion.

Since 1965, torture is a dishonor to God.

in San Francisco/USA

In 1520, Pope Leo X approved of the execution by fire. In his papal bull “Exsurge Domine”, he refuted Martin Luther’s thesis that heretics shall not be burnt alive 57. All in all, tens of thousands of people were drawn into the system of the inquisition. Thousands of people were executed.

The inquisition ended in the 19th century, with the wars of independence in the Spanish empire, the Liberal Revolution in Portugal, and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte in France. However, still in 1864, Pope Pius IX denounced the idea that “every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which he shall consider true”59. As late as 1907, the Catholic Encyclopedia explained that “to restrain and bring back her rebellious sons the Church uses both her own spiritual power and the secular power at her command”60. It also justified the inquisition, saying that “all repressive measures cause suffering or inconvenience of some sort: it is their nature. But they are not therefore cruel”. In 1917, the Canon Law still saw heresy as a crime against the church and and as an infamy61. However, it freed suspects from the need to incriminate themselves (“nisi agatur de delicto ab ipsis commisso”) 61.

Finally, in 1965, the second Vatican Council decided that, from then on, “the human person has a right to religious freedom”62. More precisely, “the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion”63. Equally since 1965, “torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself […] are supreme dishonor to the Creator”64.

Anglican Church, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy: No large-scale persecution of heretics

The Orthodox Church, the Protestant movements, and the Anglican Church all split from the Catholic Church over the centuries. They had their share of violence. However, they did not have the large-scale brutal persecution of people who did not share their doctrine. The American Protestant movements (Baptists and Pentecostals) formed after the constitution of the US guaranteed freedom of religion. Hence, they do not know penalties for heretics. They use social pressure instead.

As for Anglicanism: When it emerged in 2014 that some percentage of Anglican priests do not believe in God, the General Synod gracefully abstained from heresy trials65.

Religion comes begging to us
when it can no longer burn us.
Heinrich Heine


One of the less ugly depictions of witches Hans Baldung Grien, 1514
A witch is a woman who can do magical deeds. In an atheist world view, such people do not exist, because no-one can do magic. In the Christian world, witchcraft was first denied. Then, witchcraft was considered evil, and witches were persecuted and killed. This opinion changed later, and today, witches are no longer killed. Still, the denominations have different opinions as to whether witchcraft exists.

Bible: witchcraft exists, witches have to be killed

The Old Testament acknowledges the existence of witches, and calls for their execution: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”[Exodus 22:18] The penalty is stoning: “A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them.”[Leviticus 20:27].

The New Testament also acknowledges the existence of witches, and warns us not to follow sorcery[Galatians 5:20, Apocalypse 21:8, Apocalypse 22:15, Acts 8:9, Acts 13:6].

Early Christianity: witch-craft does not exist

Early Christianity held that witchcraft did not exist, and that, hence, women who were suspected to be witches should not be killed. The Edictum Rothari, a secular law code for Lombardy in Italy, stated in 643 that it was impossible for Christians to believe in witchcraft: “Let nobody presume to kill a foreign serving maid or female slave as a witch, for it is not possible, nor ought to be believed by Christian minds.”66. Charlemagne, likewise, outlawed belief in witchcraft as pagan, and punishable by death67. This was echoed in the 785 Council of Paderborn68. Another important document in this direction was the Canon Episcopi, a legal text recorded by Regino of Prüm in the 10th century, and supported by Burchard of Worms. This document talks about “unconstrained women” who say they “they ride upon certain beasts with the pagan goddess Diana” — i.e., about witches. The text goes on to call on the priests to “preach with all insistence to the people that they may know this to be in every way false”, because “all that whoever believes in such things, or similar things, loses the Faith”6970. This text was included in Gratian’s authoritative Corpus juris canonici of ca. 1140 CE and as such became part of canon law during the High Middle Ages.

In 1080, suspected witches were killed in Denmark because they presumably caused storms, failure of crops or pestilence. At that time, Pope Gregory VII wrote to King Harald III of Denmark forbidding witches to be put to death68.

Catholicism: persecution of witches. Today: no torture, but witchcraft exists and remains offense

in Bergen/Norway

By the 15th century, the inquisition was in place. In 1484, two German inquisitors, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, asked the pope to permit them to prosecute also cases of witchcraft. Pope Innocent VIII complied, and issued the bull “Summis desiderantes affectibus” on December 5, 1484 . It talks about men and women who “give themselves over to devils” and, by this, “cause to perish the grapes of vines, and the fruits of trees, […] hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving”. Thus, the bull acknowledges the existence of witchcraft. The text goes on to grant the inquisitors the right to proceed “correcting, imprisoning, punishing and chastising, according to their deserts, those persons whom they shall find guilty as aforesaid”7172. In 1486, said Heinrich Kramer published a book called “Malleus Maleficarum”, rendered in English as “Hammer of the Witches” and in German as “Der Hexenhammer”. It argued that witchcraft existed, and that suspected witches should be prosecuted, tortured, and punished. The book enjoyed wide-spread popularity in Europe — also thanks to the invention of the printing press. The Catholic Church, though, condemned the book.

The 17th century saw the establishment of milder procedures against witches, but upheld the existence of witchcraft and the punishment of witches. In 1623, Pope Gregory XV issued the “Declaration against Magicians and Witches”73, which was the last papal ordinance against witchcraft. Former punishments were lessened, and the death penalty was limited to those who were “proved to have entered into a compact with the devil, and to have committed homicide with his assistance”. In 1657, the Congregation of the Holy Office published the “Instruction for Conducting Trial Procedures against Witches, Sorcerers, and Evildoers”. The instruction deplores that inquisitors pass to inquisition, incarceration, and torture against witches74. The document clarifies that torture shall only be applied once the case of witchcraft has duly been established. In any case, the title of the document leaves no doubt that witchcraft was assumed to exist, and that witches should be punished.

The witch trials were of excruciating brutality. Witches would be denounced, stripped naked, tortured, drowned, and burnt alive at the stake. All in all, between 25,000 and 30,000 supposed witches were executed in the Holy Roman Empire, 1000 people in France, and 1000 people in Southern Europe. The servants of the Catholic Church did not execute all of these people themselves. However, they delivered the theological justification for the killings.

The witch-hunts ceased in the 18th century — without an explicit theological reason. Still in 1917, the Catholic Encyclopedia did not rule out the existence of witchcraft: “The question of the reality of witchcraft is one upon which it is not easy to pass a confident judgment. […] The abstract possibility of a pact with the Devil can hardly be denied.”68. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, likewise, condemns “All practices of magic or sorcery”75.

The Catholic Church has so far not rehabilitated the victims of the witch-hunts. However, at least witchcraft is no longer punishable by torture. This is because, since 1965, “torments inflicted on body or mind […] are supreme dishonor to the Creator”64.

Protestantism: witches to be burnt at the stake. Today: witchcraft exists.

Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, wrote that “indeed such witchcraft and sorcery there is”. He witnessed it himself, because “when [he] was a child there were many witches and sorcerers around who bewitched cattle, and people, particularly children, and did much harm”76. As for the punishment, he explains that “there is no compassion to be had for these women; I would burn them myself” (“de veneficis et incantatricibus […] cum illis nulla habenda misericordia. Ich wolte sie selber verbrennen”)77. In his sermons, he demanded that witches be tortured and burnt at the stake78. John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, likewise, acknowledged the existence of witchcraft79.

Between 25,000 and 30,000 supposed witches were killed in the Holy Roman Empire, which included the Protestant Netherlands, Protestant Switzerland, and Protestant parts of Germany. Around 2000 witches were executed in Protestant Scandinavia.

The witch-hunts in Protestant lands ceased in the 18th century, without a particular theological reason. As of 2012, the Protestant Church of Germany has not yet rehabilitated the supposed witches78. The Church has also not distanced itself from Martin Luther’s instructions to torture and kill witches. On the contrary, as of 2015, Martin Luther’s prohibition to do sorcery is still part of the foundations of the faith of the Protestant Churches of Germany 80.

In America, witch-hunts were less prevalent. The most prominent witch trial was the Salem Witch Trial, which took place in 1692 in Massachusetts and resulted in 20 executions. These took place in the Puritan society at the time, which evolved from Anglicanism and later gave rise to the Baptist and Pentecostal movements. The community regretted the executions, and 10 years later, the church voted to reverse the excommunication of one of the suspected witches. In 2001, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act exonerating all who had been convicted81. Today, the concept of witches plays no major role in the American Protestant movements. However, Pentecostalism holds that witchcraft exists, and that children should be kept away from the “darker aspects” of Halloween for that reason82. Baptists, likewise, hold that witchcraft exists, and that the Bible warns against it8384(sources linked from the Southern Baptist Convention).

Anglicanism: witches condemned to death. Today: witchcraft does not exist.

In 1542 The British Parliament passed the Witchcraft Act, which defined witchcraft as a crime punishable by death. It was repealed five years later, but restored by a new Act in 156285. As all acts, these acts required assent by the king to become law. The king, in turn, is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

All in all, between 1500 and 2000 men and women were executed as witches in the British Isles and North America during the witch hunts.

In 1735, parliament passed the opposite law: The Witchcraft Act of 1735 stated that “no Prosecution, Suit, or Proceeding, shall be commenced or carried on against any Person or Persons for Witchcraft”86. Thus, the persecution of witches ceased, and is nowadays no longer part of the Anglican faith. The Church of England has so far not rehabilitated the victims.

Orthodoxy: no persecution of witches

There were no large-scale witch-hunts in Orthodox Christianity.
I have as much authority as the pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.
George Carlin

Book Censorship

Book censorship is the prohibition of the printing, possession, or reading of certain books — under penalties in this world or the next. Keeping books out of the hands of the adherents was a popular strategy in several religions. Catholicism first engaged in censorship, but then gave up on it.

Early Christianity: burning of unapproved books

The Bible mentions that pagans who converted to Christianity burnt their own heathen books[Acts 19:19]. Apart from that, however, the Bible is remarkably liberal about the distribution of books — quite possibly because the printing press was invented only in 1440.

The First Council of Nicaea (325 CE) was concerned with the question of how God created Jesus. They decided that Jesus had been “begotten” by the Father, and not been created out of nothing. Consequently, they banned the book “Thalia” by the priest Arius, which held the second position. The writings of Arius and his friends should everywhere be delivered up to be burned; concealment of them was forbidden under pain of death87. The popes continued this tradition, and heretic books were “to be destroyed by fire, and illegal preservation of them was treated as a heinous criminal offense”.

In 1440, the printing press was invented in Europe, and books could thus be distributed and read much more readily. In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII issued the first bull that explicitly prohibits the printing of certain books. It says that he prohibits any printing without prior consent from the Curia under penalty of excommunication88. In 1515, Pope Leo X followed suit, and ordained that “henceforth, for all future time, no one may dare to print or have printed any book or other writing of whatever kind in Rome or in any other cities and dioceses, without the book or writings having first been closely examined […] by the bishop”89. Books that were printed in defiance of this regulation were to be publicly burnt, and the printers punished.

Catholicism: Systematic prohibition of books

In 1559, Pope Paul IV published the first “Index of Prohibited Books” (“Index librorum prohibitorum”). However, it was considered too rigorous, and mitigated by decree of the Holy Office in the same year90. It was replaced by what became known as the “Pauline Index”. This document prescribes punishment for all those who dare writing, printing, distributing, or reading any of the books listed in the appendix of the document91. This list contained hundreds of prohibited works, most notably the works of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

In 1564, Pope Pius IV approved the “10 Tridentine Rules”, which were decided at the 1546 Council of Trent. This council ruled that “those who possess [books that professedly deal with things lascivious or obscene] are to be severely punished by the bishops”. “If anyone should read or possess books by heretics […], he incurs immediately the sentence of excommunication. He […] who reads or possesses books prohibited under another name shall, besides incurring the guilt of mortal sin, be severely punished according to the judgment of the bishops.”92

Since then, the index of prohibited books has been continuously updated. Over the time, it contained the works by Jean-Paul Sartre, Montaigne, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal93. In 1616, the index banned all works that advocated heliocentrism (the theory that the Earth rotates around the Sun). This included works by Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galilei. In 1758, this ban was lifted for unknown reasons.

In 1832, Pope Gregory XVI still lamented against “immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, desire for novelty [...] freedom to publish” 58. However, a few decades later, in 1897, Pope Leo XIV abrogated the Tridentine rules with his Bull “Officiormum ac Munerum”. He explains that “the Church […], fearful of so great an evil, has ever striven […] to restrain men from the reading of bad books, as from a deadly poison”. However, he decided “to make [the rules] somewhat milder, so that it cannot be difficult or irksome for any person of good-will to obey them”94. He prohibited “the books of apostates, heretics, schismatics, and all writers whatsoever, defending heresy or schism, or in any way attacking the foundations of Religion”, “all versions of the Holy Bible, in any vernacular language, made by non-Catholics”, “Books which professedly treat of, narrate, or teach lewd or obscene subjects”, “the books of classical authors, whether ancient or modern, if disfigured with the same stain of indecency”, “Books [that] narrate new apparitions, revelations,visions, prophecies, miracles, or which introduce new devotions”, “books [that] defend as lawful duelling, suicide, or divorce; which treat of Freemasonry”, unlicensed “books of Prayers, Devotions, or of Religious, Moral, Ascetic, or Mystic Doctrine and Instruction”. He concludes that “No one shall venture to republish books condemned by the Apostolic See”, and that “booksellers, especially Catholics, should neither sell, lend, nor keep books professedly treating of obscene subjects”. Interestingly, these constraints apply also to non-Catholics. If someone knowingly reads a book of an apostate, or prints it, he suffers excommunication ipso facto.

The Bull “Officiormum ac Munerum” remained in force well into the 20th century. The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917 explains that “Unrestraint of intellect and will is the real cause of [danger]. The so-called freedom of the press, or the abolition of public censorship, is largely responsible for this unrestraint.”87 The 1918 Code of Canon Law prohibited books that “purposely fight against religion”, “books of any writers defending heresy or schism”, and “books which attack or ridicule any of the Catholic dogmas”95. It ruled that “forbidden books may not without permission be published, read, retained, sold, nor translated into another language, nor made known to others in any way”. In 1948, the index of prohibited books contained 4000 books96.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI restructured the Holy Office in a papal decree, and no longer mentioned the index of prohibited books. This led to questions as to whether the index still existed. This question was answered half a year later, explaining that the index still had its moral force, but “no longer had the force of ecclesiastical positive law with the associated penalties”97.

Anglicanism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy: No large-scale prohibition

Anglicanism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy have no history of prohibiting books as vigorously as Catholicism. On the contrary, Protestantism could flourish also because the printing press was invented. Hence, this denomination has been a major proponent of literacy. Historically, Protestantism explains almost all of the difference in literacy between northwestern Europe and the rest of the subcontinent2.

American Protestantism: Controversies

Among American Protestants, the advocacy of reading finds some limitations. The Harry Potter books, for example, are resented because they advertise witchcraft. Hence, members of one of the churches of the Assemblies of God have burnt the books98. The book about “The Da Vinci Code”, likewise, has attracted criticism for presenting early Christianity in a false light, and is declared “atrocious” by the Assemblies of God. Among Baptists, some consider that the movie “The Golden Compass” should be seen only by those firm in the Gospels99(linked from the Southern Baptist Convention).
Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
(Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings.)
Heinrich Heine

Reading the Bible

We have seen that the Bible contains an enormous amount of absurdity. It is not without reason that atheists quip that reading the Bible is the safest way to become an atheist. It is therefore not surprising that the Catholic Church once forbid the laity from reading the Bible altogether. This prohibition has since been turned into an encouragement to read the scripture.

Complexity of the Scripture

In the Bible itself, Saint Peter already observes that “Paul writes the same way in all his letters […]. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”[2 Peter 3:16] In 1199, Pope Innocent III agreed, and said that “such is the profundity of divine Scripture, that not only simple and illiterate men, but even prudent and learned men do not fully suffice to investigate its wisdom”100.


In 1056, the Council of Toulouse ruled that “Lay people are not permitted to possess the books of the Old and New Testament”49. This rule applied only to the local area of Toulouse.

In 1564, Pope Pius IV approved the “10 Tridentine Rules”, which were decided at the 1546 Council of Trent. This council ruled that “Those who presume to read or possess [translations of the Bible] without [written] permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed them over to the ordinary”92. This happened mainly in reaction to the Protestant movement initiated by Martin Luther and Calvin. The Catholic Church feared that a vulgarization and ubiquitous access to the scripture would give rise to readings that differed from the official Catholic one. Hence, the church insisted that the scripture should pass to the common people only through the interpretation of church personnel. The prohibition to read the Bible remained in place through the centuries, with various minor updates101.

First signs of change came in the 19th century. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that Pope Gregory XVI “seems to render it clear that henceforth the laity may read vernacular versions of the Scriptures, if they be […] approved by the Holy See”101. However, no such wording is found in his 1844 letter. On the contrary, the letter complains about Biblical Societies that “conspire to publish in great numbers copies of the books of divine Scripture. These are translated into all kinds of vernacular languages for dissemination without discrimination among both Christians and infidels”. This is called “absurd”102. The letter reminds us that, following the Council of Trent, “vernacular Bibles are forbidden except to those for whom it is judged that the reading will contribute to the increase of faith and piety”, and confirms “the prescriptions listed and published long ago concerning the publication, dissemination, reading, and possession of vernacular translations of sacred Scriptures”102.


In 1897, Pope Leo XIII declared that “all versions in the vernacular, even by Catholics, are altogether prohibited, unless approved by the Holy See”94. This decree sounds like yet another prohibition. And yet, it actually means that the laity was for the first time allowed to read the Bible — at least in the versions approved by the Holy See. The 1918 Canon Code complies, and says that “Books of the sacred scriptures cannot be published unless the Apostolic See […] has approved them. For the publication of their translations into the vernacular, it is also required that they be approved by the same authority”102.

In 1992, the Chruch changed its mind, and now “forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures”103.

The reason why you can’t read the Bible yourself, and the reason why only trained theologians can interpret a book written by God, and the reason why the Bible is actually concretely incorrect in so many places (despite any interpretation) is because God is imaginary. If God were real, and if God had actually written a book, the book would be brilliant and inspiring for everybody.


The question of salvation is whether people who do not believe in Christian dogma can go to Heaven or not. This concerns in particular Christians of other denominations, adherents of non-Christian abrahamic religions (such as Jews and Muslims), people who have not come in touch with Christianity, and those who reject it (such as atheists). Different times, and different denominations, have seen different answers to this question.

The Bible and early Christianity: Belief is necessary for salvation

[Betty Bowers]
Jesus tells us that “whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”[Mark 16:16]. This is because “he that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth”[Luke 11:23]. Saint Paul agrees, and says “God will punish those who do not know him, and do not follow the gospel of Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction [...]”[2 Thessalonians 1:8-9]. In the 5th century, Saint Augustine concurs, writing that “Salvation [man] cannot find except in the Catholic Church”104105. This formula was reiterated over the centuries by popes, councils, and papal bulls106107108, most notably by the 4th Lateran Council53.

In 1302, Pope Boniface VIII explained that “it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff” 109. In 1441, Pope Eugene IV explained that “not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics” are condemned to hellfire110. This attitude contributed to the violent wars between Protestants and Catholics in the 16th century. At the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 in France, Catholic mob violence killed the Huguenots (French Calvinist Protestants) in the thousands. In deep thankfulness, Pope Gregory XIII had a medal struck with the motto “Slaughter of the Hugenots”, showing an angel bearing a cross and sword before which are the felled Protestants. He also ordered three of the rooms in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican to be decorated with a fresco of the massacre111.

Catholicism: No salvation outside the church. Today: Salvation possible

In 1832, Pope Gregory XVI cited Saint Ignatius, saying that “if anyone follows a schismatic, he will not attain the inheritance of the kingdom of God” 112. And yet, in 1854, Pope Pius IX opened at least a door to the ignorant: “Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control”113. He reaffirmed this later, saying that “those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion […] are able to attain eternal life”114.

In 1863, however, Pope Pius IX said that it is a mistake to assume that “men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life”114. This includes the protestants59. In 1864, the First Vatican Council re-affirmed that nobody can attain eternal life without faith20. Furthermore, the faithful have to be obedient to the Roman Pope, and “no one can depart from [this belief] without endangering his faith and salvation”20. In 1922, Pope Benedict XV recalled the Athanas Creed: “This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved”. In 1939, Pope Pius XI reiterated that there is no salvation outside the Church, and explained that “in this one Church of Christ no man can be or remain who does not accept, recognize and obey the authority and supremacy of Peter and his legitimate successors”115.

For unknown reasons, the Catholic Church changed its mind in 1964 with the Second Vatican Council. The following people can now attain salvation: It is not known whether the decree has the power to transfer those Protestants, Jews, and Muslims who died before 1964 from Hell to Heaven, or whether they just remain out of luck. In any case, atheists who knowingly reject Catholicism are still excluded from salvation, because “Whosoever […] knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved”116. In 2013, Pope Francis explained that atheists are “redeemed” by Jesus Christ 118. A Vatican spokesman later clarified that this does not mean that atheists go to Heaven 119.

Early Protestantism: No salvation outside the church

Protestantism rose from the workings of Martin Luther. Luther explained that “he who would find Christ must first find the Church. […] he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. […] Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people [and] outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.”120 The Jews, in particular, are “no people of God”. Luther argued that Jewish synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes burned, and property and money confiscated121.

Lutheranism today: No hell anyway

In 1967, 78% of protestants in Germany believed that there is no hell122, which arguably makes the concept of salvation more difficult. Accordingly, the Protestant Church of Germany explains that “Hell plays no role any more”123. Thus, the question of salvation became less interesting.

American Protestantism: No salvation outside the church

Things are different in the American flavors of Protestantism. For Pentecostals, “you must believe […] that only Christ can save you” in order to achieve salvation124. Baptists, likewise, say “What must I do [to achieve salvation]? Personal faith in Christ is the answer.”125.

Anglicanism: No salvation without faith in Jesus

The Anglican Church holds that “knowledge of God, and of his will, […] is necessary unto salvation”, “requiring […] faith in [Jesus to] be saved”, and speaking of “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation”126. This declaration was ratified by the parliament, thus making it possibly binding to God. However, in a reconciliatory nod to Catholics, the Church of Scotland later decided that it “no longer affirms [that the Pope of Rome] is Antichrist, that Man of Sin and Son of Perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God”.

Orthodoxy: Salvation by good deeds

The Orthodox Church of America explains that, on the day of the Last Judgement, “Christ will judge all men exclusively on the basis of how they have served Him by serving all men — the least of the brethren”127. Belief in Jesus or God is not mentioned as a criterion.
I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Almighty Creator. By fighting the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work.
Adolf Hitler


In Christianity, hell is the place or state where evil people go after death. This is a popular theme in all major religions. While hell was first a place of physical torment for eternity in Christianity, these conditions have since been relaxed.

Old Testament: Hell is only vaguely alluded to

As we have seen before, the Old Testament outlines only a very vague idea of life after death[Daniel 12:2]. Hell was thought to be limited to twelve months.

New Testament and Early Christianity: Hell is a physical place

Progressive Secular Humanist
In the New Testament, Jesus introduces the idea of hell as a place of eternal physical torments. It is a place of “unquenchable fire”[Bible: Matthew 5:22, 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-49, Revelation 20:13] into which the body is thrown[Bible: Matthew 5:29-30] after sinning[Bible: Matthew 5:22, Revelation 20:30]. Hell has “weeping and gnashing of teeth”[Bible: Matthew 8:12; 22:13], “everlasting destruction”[Bible: Romans 2:7-9; 2 Thessalonians, 2 Peter 3:7], “raging fire”[Bible: Hebrews 10:27], “eternal fire”[Bible: Jude 7], and “burning sulphur”. This torment is eternal[Revelation 14:11, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Matthew 25:46, Matthew 18:8].

Throughout the centuries, people continued to believe that hell was a physical place of physical torments in eternity, as shown in numerous artworks of the Medieval Ages.

Anglicanism: Hell is eternal torments

The Anglican Church confirmed hell as a physical torment in 1646: “but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”126. While other articles of faith have been repealed since then, the one on hell has not.

Catholicism: Hell is physical torments. Today: Hell is a state of separation form God

In the Catholic Church, the interpretation of a physical hell stood all the way until 1917. As the Catholic Encyclopedia explains: “According to the greater number of theologians the term fire denotes a material fire, and so a real fire. We hold to this teaching as absolutely true and correct.”128 Furthermore, “From what has been said it follows that the hatred which the lost soul bears to God is voluntary in its cause only”, and involuntary during the process.

The fire of hell is in fact the fire of the love of God. Also, of late, it burns only the bad character traits of the sinner.

in the Cathedral of Saint Sulpice, Paris/France

The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church cites the Bible on the unquenchable fire. However, the text uses the word only in quotes: “Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, 'eternal fire'”129. In 1999, the Catholic Church decided to turn off the fires in hell. Pope John Paul II ruled that “rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy”130. The Jesuit Magazine La Civiltà Cattolica says that God does not inflict pain in hell “as illustrated in many paintings or read in the Divine Comedy” 131.

Thus, as of 1999, Hell and Heaven are no longer physical places. It is not reported what happened to the Virgin Mary on this occasion, whose body was physically moved to Heaven just 40 years earlier.

Lutheranism: Hell not important

In Lutheranism, the role of hell is less clear. Martin Luther, the founder of the movement, believed that souls sleep and do not feel pain. Today, the Protestant Church of Germany explains that, in its teaching, “Hell plays no role any more” 123.

American Protestantisms: Physical hell

In the American Protestantisms, hell continues to be a place of physical torment. For the Pentecostals, the Bible talks of hell as a “lake of fire”, and “the language of Scripture should always be taken literally”132. However, “human language is inadequate to describe either heaven or hell”, and therefore hell is described rather abstractly as a place of “eternal torture”. Are excluded from this punishment babies and those who have never heard the gospels.

For Baptists, the “biblical teaching on eternal, conscious punishment of the unregenerate in Hell” remains valid133, and hence they believe in a “literal heaven and hell”134.

Orthodoxy: No physical fire

The Orthodox Church of America holds that “God does not punish man by some material fire or physical torment”135.
It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me. It is the parts that I do understand.
Mark Twain


Abortion is the termination of pregnancy. Over the centuries, Christianity had different stances towards the question whether abortion is the same as murder or not.

Early Christianity: Abortion is not murder

Abortion was known and practiced in the ancient Greek and Roman world. During that time, people believed Aristotle’s theory of “delayed ensoulment”, which held that the fetus receives a human soul only 40 days after conception for male fetuses, or 90 days after conception for female fetuses136. Hence, abortion was not regarded as murder.

The Bible concurs: It establishes the death penalty for killing a human[Exodus 21:12]. However, for inducing a miscarriage, it just establishes financial compensation, because the miscarriage does not count as serious injury: “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely or suffers a miscarriage but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life.”[Exodus 21:22-23]

To this date, Jewish Law allows (and even requires) abortion if it is necessary to protect the mother’s health 137.

However, between the 1st and 4th century, several Christian thinkers began condemning abortion as murder: Barnabas, St. Hippolytus, St. Basil the Great, and St. Ambrose. Several synods and documents agreed: the Synod of Elvira in 306 CE, the Synod of Ancyra in 314 CE, the Apostolic Constitutions from around 380 CE, and the Apocalypse of Peter all called abortion murder.

Between the 5th and 16th century, people debated whether abortion was murder or not, because it was not clear when the fetus starts having a soul. This was one of the questions that troubled Saint Augustine: He condemned abortion in general, but conceded that “the law does not provide that the act abortion pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in the flesh, and so not yet endowed with sense”138. Another theologian, Thomas Aquinas, considered abortion murder only if the fetus was “animated”139.

Catholicism: Abortion briefly allowed, but generally condemned

In 1588, Pope Sixtus V issued the bull “Effraenatum” that excommunicated anyone who performed abortion. Pope Gregory XIV reversed that decision in 1591, and stated that excommunication was only applicable for abortions after the “quickening” of the fetus140. This quickening was placed 16 weeks of pregnancy141. This ruling stayed in effect until 1869. Thus, abortion during the first weeks of pregnancy remained legal during two and a half centuries.

In 1869, Pope Pius IX reinstated excommunication for abortion in general136. The Second Vatican Council affirmed in 1965 that “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes”142, and this decision was also pinned down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church143.

Usually, abortions can be forgiven only by bishops in the Catholic Church. However, on 2015-09-01, Pope Francis decided that abortions can also be forgiven by priests144. This offer was valid for one year only (December 2015 to November 2016).

Anglicanism: Abortion condemned, but tolerable

The Church of England condemns abortion, but recognizes that “there can be — strictly limited — conditions under which it may be morally preferable to any available alternative” 145.

Protestantism: Different opinions

The German Protestant Churches condemn abortion, but recognize that there can be several reasons that make women abort146. The churches state that they have not been able to find a definite position on the issue of abortion147.

For Pentecostals, the question of whether to abort or not “is settled by theological statement of Scripture, not by a medical determination of viability outside the mother’s womb”148. Hence, in their view, abortion is “horrendous murder”. If the mother’s life is in danger, people should pray for her, then consult a pro-life physician, and then arrive “at the proper conclusion”.

Baptists speak of the “sanctity of life”, but want to “work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother”149.

Orthodoxy: Abortion is evil

The Orthodox Churches denounce abortion as a “evil practice”, but “seek to alleviate the conditions of those tempted into such a decision because of their harsh environments or marginalized social status”150.
Catholic Church: No meat on Fridays.151
Adherent: OK, so no chicken.
Catholic Church: Correct.
Adherent: And no eggs, right?
Catholic Church: No, eggs are OK.151
Adherent: So it’s not a chicken because it has not hatched?
Catholic Church: Yes. Erm, no. Erm...

Birth Control

Different times, and different Christian denominations, have different attitudes towards the question of whether contraception is allowed or not. Most major religions warn of contraception.

The Bible and Early Christianity: Probably prohibition

Not sure whether the writer is qualified to talk about either. anonymous
Birth control and abortion were well known in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt in the 2nd millenium before Christ — hundreds of years before the Bible was written or before the Abrahamic God came into existence. The Bible tells us the story of Onan, who was commanded to sleep with his brother’s wife in order to raise offspring for him. But whenever Onan “slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother”[Genesis 38:8-10]. The story goes on to condemn this behavior: “What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death”. Unfortunately, the Lord did not make very clear what exactly he did not like. The mainstream interpretation was that God did not like the ejaculation without the purpose of reproduction. With this interpretation, Christianity is in line with many other dominant religions, which also aim to ensure that all sexual energy is channeled into procreation, so that the religion continues in the next generation.

In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII lamented against witches, who “hinder men from begetting and women from conceiving”7172. This was interpreted as a condemnation of contraception.

Catholicism: Prohibition

In 1930, “the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her” clarified that “any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin”152. Consequently, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “every action which [..] proposes […] to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil”153.

Anglicanism: First prohibition, then permission

In 1908, the Church of England regarded “with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family, and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare”154. 10 years later, sexual love started to be seen as good in itself155. Therefore, the Church decided in 1930 that “in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles”156. By the time of the 1958 Lambeth Conference, contraception was a way of life among most Anglicans155. Therefore, the Church decided to let God’s will follow suit. It declared in 1958 that “the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere; that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life”157. Finally, The Church distanced itself from the Catholic prohibition of contraception: “The Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope’s conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to periods of infecundity are contrary to the order established by God.”158 Thus, Anglican thinking changed during the 20th Century from concern about increased use of contraception to official acceptance of it155.

Protestantism: Permission

In 1938, Baptists disapproved of the idea “to make possible and provide for the dissemination of information concerning contraceptives and birth control; whatever the intent and motive of such proposal we cannot but believe that such legislation would be vicious in character and would prove seriously detrimental to the morals of our nation”159. However, in 1977, the Baptists dropped their opposition to birth control, and objected only to “distributing them to minors [without] parental or guardian consent”160.

Pentecostals believe that “there are valid reasons for delaying, limiting, or not having children”. Therefore, they “recognize the legitimacy of good family planning and the use of birth control”161.

Lutherans, likewise “explicitly approve of artificial birth control”146.

Orthodoxy: Reluctant Permission

Orthodoxy allows contraception, as long as it does “not cause an abortion”162. Still, it makes it pretty clear that “true love in marriage supposes the bearing of children”163. Hence, “the voluntary control of birth in marriage is only permissible, according to the essence of a spiritual life, when the birth of a child will bring danger and hardship”, and “the Christian marriage is the one that abounds with as many new children as possible”.


The Bible tells us that God created two humans, Adam and Eve, from whom all mankind descends. Science, in contrast, tells us that all organisms (including humankind) evolved from a common ancestor. Over time, different Christian denominations have taken different stances in this spectrum.

Bible and Early Christianity: No mention of evolution

The Bible tells us that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it”[Genesis 2:15]. Then the Lord said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”[Genesis 2:18]. And “so the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”[Genesis 2:21-22] In the coming centuries, Christianity stuck to the literal interpretation of this narrative.

In the 17th century, philosophers began proposing the idea that the universe might have developed on its own, without divine guidance. By the 19th century, this idea was supported by a better understanding of the fossil record. In 1858, Charles Darwin published his book “On the Origin of Species”, which formalized the theory of evolution by natural selection. It took Christian denominations around 50 years to react to this theory.

Catholicism: first opposition, then acceptance of evolution

In 1950, Pope Pius XII explained that the Bible “gives a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people”. Hence, “the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.”164 Thus, the pope correctly figured out that the theory of evolution contradicts the idea that Adam committed a sin that got handed down to humankind. Without such a sin, however, there is no need for Jesus’ sacrifice. Thus, evolution makes the entire Christian mythology tumble.

Pius’ insight has to be seen in the light of the First Vatican Council, which stated that “all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the church”20.

This did not hinder Pope John Paul II to realize in 1996 that “new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis”165. Since 1997, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks approvingly of the scientific consensus, noting that “the question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man”166. In 2004, the International Theological Commission of the Roman Catholic Church observed that “it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from [a] first organism”167. Adam, then, is nothing more than the “symbol” of the original unity of the human race.

Anglicanism: first opposition, then acceptance of evolution

The initial response from the Church of England to Darwin’s theories was hostile168. However, in the coming century, Darwin’s theories became more and more accepted. In 2008, the Church issued an apology to Darwin: “People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and churches are no exception […] Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still”169. Today, the Anglican Church observes that “the discovery of DNA and recent work on genome sequencing is compelling evidence for the interrelatedness of all living things […]. The mechanisms of genetic mutation and evolution are now well understood”170.

Orthodoxy: neutral

Orthodoxy regards the “story of Adam and Eve as a kind of etiological parable: a story that explains, via mythological imagery, the activity of God from the creation of the world”171. Therefore, the Bible “has nothing to say, for or against, the theory of evolution”172.

Lutheranism: Evolution

Lutheranism acknowledges that the theory of evolution “has the highest probability for explaining the genesis of life”173.

American Protestantisms: no evolution

The situation is different for the American Protestantisms. Pentecostalism holds that the Bible “accurately communicates God’s creation of the heavens and the earth”174. Consequently, the majority of Pentecostals (66%) believe that the Biblical creation account is a historical narrative175 (linked from Assemblies of God). Half of these believe that the Earth was created in six consecutive 24-hour periods less than 10,000 years ago.

Baptists, likewise, believe “in a literal biblical creation”134, and “in the direct creation and historicity of Adam and Eve”176. In the 1920’s, these groups succeeded in getting teaching of evolution banned in American public schools. They also succeeded in having the Biblical creation account taught in school in the US, under names such as “scientific creationism” and “Intelligent Design”. This was brought to an end in 2005, when The Kitzmiller v. Dover ruling concluded that intelligent design is not science.

[Scott Adams: Dilbert]

Women’s rights

Different Christian denominations have different opinions as to whether men and women should have equal rights. Some denominations hold that men and women have “equal worth”, but different “roles” in society. As it so happens, men can take all roles they wish (and are biologically capable of), while women are barred from certain roles (most notably those with a leadership function). This is a popular theme in nearly all major religions.

Bible and Early Christianity: No equal rights

Christianity is traditionally dominated by male entities. The woman was created by God only in an afterthought, and only to make man happy. All main Christian prophets are male. The Christian god is male (“Father in heaven”). The main addressee of worship is male (Jesus). Hence, most major Christian denominations traditionally gave leadership roles exclusively to males (priests, popes, bishops, etc.). This is mirrored in the following Bible verses:

Catholicism: No equal rights

Contrary to the above Bible verses, Catholicism holds since 1965 that “every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent”64. Unfortunately, this quest has not yet arrived in Catholicism itself. The denomination does not ordain women to leadership functions such as priests, bishops, or popes177.

Orthodoxy: No equal rights

Like Catholicism, Orthodoxy does not ordain women to leadership positions. And not just this: “Within the life of the family, the father must be the leader and head”, and “The wife must be totally devoted to her husband”. Also, beating the child is a role reserved for the father: “The true father loves and disciplines his child [since the Bible says that] He who spares the rod hates his son”163.

Baptism: No equal rights

Baptism does not ordain women to priest roles178. Men are considered the head of woman, and women are made for men179. Equal rights are opposed180.

Anglicanism: Generally equal rights

In Anglicanism, different dioceses have different views on the ordination of women. Wikipedia
The Westminster confession of faith contains no discriminatory wording 126. The ordination of women remains controversial, but is accepted by the majority of dioceses (see figure).

Pentecostalism: Equal rights

Pentecostalism has found 3 women prophets in the Old Testament: Miriam in Exodus 15:20; Deborah in Judges 4-5; Huldah in 2 Kings 22:14-20 and 2 Chronicles 34:22-28. It has also found 12 women mentioned as ministers in the New Testament: Tabitha in Acts 9:36; four unmarried daughters in Acts 21:8,9; Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2,3; Priscilla in Romans 16:3,4; Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis in Romans 16:6,12. From this, Pentecostalism concludes that “Paul clearly was a strong advocate of women in ministry” 181. The other parts of the Bible that deny women leadership roles (see above) are explained as mistranslations or misinterpretations. Therefore, Pentecostalism resolves to give equal rights to men and women.

Lutheranism: Equal rights

Lutheranism explicitly promotes equal rights for men and women146. Individual Bible verses saying otherwise should not be seen as proof of a particular thesis, but should be seen in their context. Since this context is the Bible, which is riddled with inaccuracies, this presumably means that the verses should be ignored.


A slave is a person who is owned by someone. This implies that the slave (1) is physically prevented from leaving, (2) has to work under penalty of corporal punishment, (3) can be sold and bought, and (4) has their children also be slaves. Early Christianity distinguished between “just” slavery and “unjust slavery”, and permitted the former — a popular theme in different religions. Nowadays, both forms of slavery are prohibited in Christianity.

Old Testament: Slavery allowed

The Old Testament permits and regulates slavery explicitly: Apologists have argued that this type of slavery was mainly servitude to pay off debts182. However, the rules also make unrelated people slaves — the children. Thus, the Old Testament explicitly approves of slavery.

Jesus: Nothing against slavery

Jesus uses slaves in his paraboles, but never argued against slavery. He said, e.g.

If Jesus had opposed slavery he would surely have said so. Yet, he did not. When he heals a slave[Luke 7:2], he does so without any thought of freeing the slave or admonishing the slave’s owner183. This shows that he was completely comfortable with the concept of slavery.

New Testament: Slavery allowed

In the New Testament, Paul tells us

Paul also said “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”[Galatians 3:28]. Yet, this was never understood as an instruction to abolish slavery — much like it was never understood as an instruction abolish men and women. Slaves were accepted as natural parts of society just like men and women were part of society. It has been argued that Paul worked indirectly against slavery, but did not have the power to overthrow the slavery system as a whole184. This, however, is as absurd as claiming that Paul worked indirectly against religion, but did not have the power to overthrow it as a whole. Both are unfalsifiable claims. In summary, in the words of Kevin Giles, “not one word of criticism did the Lord utter against slavery”. Therefore, there was little objection to slavery from Christians.

Early Christianity: Slavery allowed

The Synod of Gangra declared in the 4th century that anyone who “teaches a slave, under pretext of piety, to despise his master and to run away from his service” should be an anathema185. Saint Augustine argued in the 5th century CE that “the prime cause of slavery is sin”186. Thus, slavery was justified as a punishment for sins. In the 6th century, Pope Gregory I, declared that slaves should be told to not despise their masters and recognise they are only slaves187. In the 13th century, Thomas von Aquinas agreed, saying that “a slave belongs to his master, because he is his instrument”188. Slavery is inherited from the mother, because “slavery is a condition of the body, since a slave is to the master a kind of instrument in working; wherefore children follow the mother in freedom and bondage”189.

The Decretum Gratiani, promulgated by Pope Gregory IX in 1234, explained that children inherit their parents’ status: a child born by a slave woman is a slave. Pope Gregory IX, likewise, decreed in his “Decretales Gregorii IX” in 1230 that the child born from a free woman is free — implying that a child born from slaves is a slave 190. Together with 4 other texts, these documents formed the Catholic Canon Law from the 13th century on . The law provided for four just titles for holding slaves: slaves captured in war, persons condemned to slavery for a crime; persons selling themselves into slavery, including a father selling his child; children of a mother who is a slave. In compliance with this ruling, Pope Nicholas V authorized Afonso V of Portugal to conquer Saracens and pagans and consign them to “perpetual servitude” in 1452 191192.

Catholicism: Slavery opposed but allowed, now condemned

In the 15th century, several popes started issuing commandments against slavery. Most notably, in 1462, Pius II declared slavery to be “a great crime” (magnum scelus); in 1537, Paul III forbade the enslavement of the Indians; Urban VIII forbade it in 1639, and Benedict XIV in 1741; Pius VII demanded of the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, the suppression of the slave trade and Gregory XVI condemned it in 1839; in the Bull of Canonization of the Jesuit Peter Claver, Pius IX branded the “supreme villainy” of the slave traders 193.

However, the popes also legalized slavery in certain cases. In 1548, Pope Paul III declared in his “motu proprio” that “each and every person of either sex […] may freely and lawfully buy and sell publicly any slaves whatsoever […], irrespective of whether they were made Christians after enslavement, or whether they were born in slavery even from Christian slave parents according to the provisions of the common law”194.

In 1866 the Holy Office issued an Instruction (signed by Pope Pius IX) that declared that “slavery itself, considered as such in its essential nature, is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law, and there can be several just titles of slavery and these are referred to by approved theologians and commentators of the sacred canons. For the sort of ownership which a slave-owner has over a slave is understood as nothing other than the perpetual right of disposing of the work of a slave for one’s own benefit — services which it is right for one human being to provide for another. From this it follows that it is not contrary to the natural and divine law for a slave to be sold, bought, exchanged or donated, provided that in this sale, purchase, exchange or gift, the due conditions are strictly observed which the approved authors likewise describe and explain.”195

In the 19th century, the abolitionist movement gained strength. Yet, Catholic monasteries still had slaves. They were the last to give up slavery, because their entire economy depended on slave labor. The Canon Law of 1917 still recognized the existence of slavery, ruling that a marriage is invalid if it is contracted with a slave without knowing so61.

For unknown reasons, the Second Vatican Council decided in 1965 that slavery insults human dignity, and that it is an “infamy”64. Even the selling of slaves, previously allowed, is now no longer possible, because “The seventh commandment forbids acts […] that for any reason […] lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise”196. The seventh commandment prohibits theft.

American Protestantisms: first pro-slavery, now against

Some Protestant denominations were particularly pro-slavery, in particular in the United States. Many prominent Protestant leaders defended slavery on the basis of biblical verses. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, argued that slavery “was established by decree of Almighty God… it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation”. Richard Furman, President of the South Carolina Baptist Convention explained that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example”. The Southern Baptist Convention, today the second largest Christian body in the United States, separated from the Northern Baptist Convention in order to uphold slavery197.

In 1865, after the American Civil War, the United States outlawed slavery. A hundred years later, in 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its role in slavery198.

Anglicanism: First active in slave trade, then against slavery

In 1539, the Anglican Church split from the Catholic Church. Its supreme governor is the king or queen of England. The monarchs consider themselves ordained by God 199. In this role, they oversaw the capture, transport, and sale of 12 million slaves by British merchants over the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1833, the United Kingdom abolished slavery. The Anglican bishops voted against the abolition of slavery200. When the Anglican Church finally had to let go of its slaves, it was reimbursed more than a million pounds in compensation for lost labor. For this reimbursement (and that of other slave owners), the Government had to take up a loan that totaled 40% of the Treasury’s annual income201. The slaves were not reimbursed.

170 years later, in 2006, the Anglican Church suddenly realized that it had made a mistake. It apologized for the role it had in the slave trade200. It did not, however, reimburse the one million pounds.

Orthodoxy: First pro-slavery, now against

The Greek and Romanian Orthodox monasteries were slave owners on a grand scale202. During the entire 15th century all big monasteries owned Gypsy slaves. In 1783, the monasteries opposed the abolition of slavery.

Since then, Orthodoxy seems to have changed its mind. Today, nearly all Christians are united in the condemnation of modern slavery as wrong and contrary to God’s will.

Death Penalty

Christianity had originally endorsed the death penalty, but some denominations are now moving away from it.

Old Testament: Death penalty is mandatory

As we have seen, the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for an extensive list of crimes including

The Ten Commandments say “You shall not kill” [Exodus 20:13], but in the light of the previous verses, this is usually read as “You shall not murder”.

Jesus: Ambiguous

Jesus approves of the Old Testament laws in principle, saying “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”[Matthew 5:18]. He explicitly upholds the death penalty in his dialog with the Pharisees: “For Moses said [...] whoever reviles father or mother must surely die”[Mark 7:1].

At the same time, Jesus repeatedly states that love is the principle that must guide all our actions[Matthew 5:43-48, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28]. He also rejects the Old Testament principle of taking equal revenge for a wrong done[Matthew 5:38-41, Luke 9:52-56], saying that we are all sinners and do not have the right to pass judgment on one another[Matthew 7:1-5].

In this spirit, Jesus saves an adulterous woman from being stoned to death, by saying “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”[John 8:10-11]. It is not clear whether Jesus meant to abolish the death penalty with his sayings, or whether he mainly intended to expose the hypocrisy of the accusers.

New Testament: Death penalty is possible

The New Testament seems to take a distance from the harsh punishments of the Old Testament, saying “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”[John 1:16-17, Romans 8:1-3, 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Romans 13:9-10]. The New Testament warns also against taking revenge for a wrong done[Romans 12:17-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Peter 3:9]. , Galatians 5:14).

At the same time, the New Testament urges us to submit to the judgment of the authorities, saying in particular that the “authority does not bear the sword in vain”[Romans 13:1-5]. Paul explicitly approves of the death penalty, saying “If I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die.”[Acts 25:11].

Early Christianity: Death penalty shunned

A church order from Rome dated to around 200 AD forbids any Christian magistrate from carrying out a death sentence under pain of excommunication. It was also forbidden for any Christian to accuse a person of a crime if that accusation might result in the person being put to death.

Catholicism: Death Penalty first OK, now not OK

In 1265, Thomas Aquinas supported the death penalty, writing “The life of certain pestiferous men is an impediment to the common good which is the concord of human society. Therefore, certain men must be removed by death from the society of men.”203.

In 1566, the Roman Catechism stated that “another kind of lawful slaying belongs to the civil authorities, to whom is entrusted power of life and death, by the legal and judicious exercise of which they punish the guilty and protect the innocent”204.

In 1911, the Catholic Encyclopedia stated that “capital punishment is not contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church”205.

In 1952, Pope Pius XII explained that “it is reserved to the public power to deprive the condemned person of the enjoyment of life in expiation of his crime when, by his crime, he has already disposed himself of his right to live”206.

However, more and more countries turned against the death penalty: Venezuela made the start in 1863, and several Latin American countries followed. European countries also abolished the death penalty (Iceland in 1928, followed by Italy and Germany after the Second World War), among them the Vatican in 1969. By 1995, 59 countries had abolished the death penalty.

In that year 1995, Pope John Paul II posited that “execution is only appropriate in cases of absolute necessity, in other words when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society”207. The Catechism of the Catholic Church at the time mirrored this position: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means.”208.

By 2015, more than half of all countries (100) had abolished capital punishment. In that year, Pope Francis started to vocally oppose the death penalty, too, saying that “capital punishment is unacceptable, however serious the condemned’s crime may have been. It is an offence to the inviolability of life and to the dignity of the human person which contradicts God’s plan for man and for society and his merciful justice, and it fails to conform to any just purpose of punishment.”209 He gave no reason for why his interpretation of God’s plan was any more trustworthy than the interpretations offered by his predecessors, who argued in favor of the death penalty.

In 2018, the teaching of the Catholic Church was officially “changed”210. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was updated to say that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide”208. Today, “the Vatican fully supports global abolition of death penalty” at the United Nations 211.

American Protestantisms: Death Penalty is upheld

The Southern Baptist Convention “support[s] the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death”212.

In the Assemblies of God, “opinion on capital punishment is mixed. However, more people associated with the Assemblies of God probably favor capital punishment for certain types of crimes [...].”213. The Assemblies of God does not make a statement on where God himself stands on the matter.

Protestantism: Against the death penalty

The Protestant Church of Germany says that “executions are a shame for mankind”214.

Anglicanism: first for death penalty, now against

In 1562, Article 37 of the Thirty-Nine Articles states that “the Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences”215.

Since 1988, however, the Church “speak[s] out against: [...] all governments who practice capital punishment”216 — without giving any particular reason for this change of mind.

Orthodoxy: Against the Death Penalty

In 1989, the Orthodox Church in America, at its 9th All American Council in St. Louis passed resolutions condemning both abortion and capital punishment as unrighteous and evil217. The other Orthodox churches have issued similar statements218.

Proofs for Christianity

The Gospels as proof

We now discuss arguments that are being brought forward to prove the truth of Christianity. The first of these uses the Gospels. The Gospels are the 4 books of the New Testament that describe the life of Jesus: the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is commonly assumed that these books were written by eye-witnesses, and hence we have a first-hand account of the resurrection by Jesus. This, however, is not true.

Written by anonymous authors

The common view holds that the gospels were written by the apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. However, none of the 4 Gospels specifies the author. They are all anonymous accounts. The tradition that the Gospels were written by the apostles was started only in 125 CE by the Bishop Papias. This means that the gospels are just texts written by people whom we do not know. There is no one to vouch for their correctness.
When I am told that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man, and that her betrothed husband, Joseph, said that an angel told him so, I have a right to believe them or not: such a circumstance required a much stronger evidence than their bare word for it: but we have not even this; for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is only reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I do not chose to rest my belief upon such evidence.
Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason”

Not written by eye witnesses

Even if the authors are anonymous, we could still believe that they were eye-witnesses. Yet, that is not the case. The books are not written in first person (“Then I saw how Jesus broke the bread”). Rather, they are written in third person, like a story (“Then, Jesus broke the bread”). In fact, none of the gospels pretends to be a testimony: Indeed, none of Jesus' disciples wrote anything about the resurrection219. Furtermore, modern scholarship holds that the Gospels were all written later than 70 CE45. Thus, all four accounts were written more than 40 years after the events they describe. This makes it even less probable that the stories were written by eye-witnesses.

Contradictory stories

The gospels contradict each other. There is not a single coherent sequence of events for the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
Who were the women who visited Jesus’ tomb?
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, says Matthew (28:1); Mary Magdalene, the mother of James, and Salome, says Mark (16:1); Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women, says Luke (24:10); or Mary Magdalene alone, says John (20:1).
Was the tomb open when they arrived?
No says Matthew (28:2), yes say Mark (16:4), Luke (24:2), and John (20:1).
Who was at the tomb when they arrived?
One angel according to Matthew (28:2-7), one young man according to Mark (16:5), two men according to Luke (24:4), and two angels according to John (20:12).
And so it goes on and on220. Thus, the authors cannot all report true information. Some of them must be wrong.

Contradiction with history

The Gospel of Luke places Jesus’ birth during “the days of Herod, the king of Judaea”[Luke 1:5], and during “the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria”[Luke 2:2]. This is, by the way, the common Nativity Narrative heard in Church on Christmas. The problem is that Herod died 4 BCE, and Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6 CE on. Thus, the nativity narrative cannot be true.

The Gospel of Matthew is not much better. It tells us that the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world[Matthew 4:8]. However, at the time of Jesus, there were thriving kingdoms in China, India, South America, and Europe. It is not possible to see them all from a mountain, because the Earth is spherical. In a similar vein, Matthew tells us that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the earth shook and many dead people came out of the tombs and went into the holy city[Matthew 27:51-53]. Had it really happened, such an event would for sure have left more traces in history and in historical writings than just 2 sentences in a single book. Thus, the Gospels contain statements that are outright false. Then, there is no reason to believe the other statements.

Not a historical account

Furthermore, the gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew share a part that is almost identical among them. This means that all writers except the first must have had access to at least one other gospel — or all of them must have had access to the same sources. At the same time, there are parts of the gospels that contradict each other. Now if the writers had access to each other’s work or to a common source, and slightly contradict each other, and if they wanted to give a historical account, then one would expect that they explain why they copied over the work of their fellow writer on some issues, but deviated from him on other issues. But there are no such explications. This tells us that the writers did not intend to give a historical account. Therefore, most scholars assume today that the writers wished to pass a theological message rather than give a historical account.

The same is true for the stories of the Old Testament, as we shall see further down.

Over 90% of Christians admit that they have never read the Bible
...which is ironically one of the ways in which you become an atheist.

Paul saw the resurrected Jesus!

Saint Paul lived at the time of Jesus, and was first an ardent enemy of the Christians. Later, he had a miraculous encounter with the resurrected Jesus, and changed his mind. He became one of the most fervent supporters of Christianity. Large parts of the New Testament were written by him. We can think that his testimony proves Jesus’ resurrection.

The problem is that Paul never met Jesus before his crucification. Paul only met Jesus after the resurrection. During this encounter, Jesus just said that he is the Lord, and left. Thus, Paul cannot testify that the person he met was the one that was crucified. They may be different people. Besides, the encounter was not a physical encounter with a real person: Paul saw a light and heard a sound and a voice, but did not physically meet a person. Furthermore, Paul was not alone at the encounter. He was traveling with his companions. Yet, none of the companions saw the light. Now look at Paul’s story like any judge in a courtroom would. Paul claims that he met a man who was known to be dead. None of Paul’s companions saw this man221. Would the judge believe Paul? Of course not! The judge would rightly conclude that Paul is saying nonsense.

The event may have been a vision, a dream, a hallucination, or just a lie — but clearly not a proof for the resurrection of Jesus. This is even more true since Paul wrote his letters between 50 CE and 60 CE — fully 20 years after the events219. In fact, there is no reliable proof for the resurrection of Jesus at all. Not a single historical source independent of the Bible ever mentions that Jesus was resurrected222 .

Why doesn’t Jesus appear to everyone and prove that he is resurrected, just like he appeared to Paul? If Paul needed a personal visit from Jesus to know that Jesus was resurrected, then why wouldn’t you?

Jesus died for us!

In the Christian belief system, Jesus died for our sins. This is, in the Christian view, more than enough of a reason to follow him.

However, we have no reason to assume that Jesus died for our sins. According to the Bible, Jesus himself never claimed to have died for our sins. The idea was developed only later by Saint Paul. Paul, however, never met Jesus.

I'll die for my own sins, thanks.

The Bible is the Word of God!

A common argument goes that the Bible is word of God, and that, therefore, it must be true. Once it is true, the truth of Christianity follows.

Fictional story

Atheists see no reason to believe that the Bible would be the word of God. For example, the Bible talks of serpents that speak. Serpents cannot speak. Snakes (and reptiles in general) have neither the physical structure nor the brain power to speak. There simply are not enough neurons in the reptile brain to process language223. Therefore, it is clear to atheists that the Bible is a fictional story. It talks of fantastic things that did not happen in reality. The Bible is just like a Harry Potter book, the fairy tale of Cinderella, the story of Gaia, or the myth of Persephone. They are all great stories, but we have no reason to think they are true.

Unknown authors

Even if we were willing to accept the talking serpents, there is the problem that we do not know who wrote the Bible. As we have seen, we do not know who wrote the New Testament. We also do not know who wrote the Old Testament. Take the creation account: The only eye witnesses of the creation were Adam and Eve. However, they could not have written the book of Genesis, because it states that “Adam lived 930 years, and then he died”[Genesis 5:5]. A person cannot write about their own death. Thus, we conclude that the book of Genesis was not written by Adam. It was written by later authors, at least 900 years after the creation. Then there is no reason to assume that these authors got right what happened 900 years before they started writing, and after the death of the principal witness. In the same vein, people used to believe that the first 5 books of the Bible (which include the book of Genesis) were written by the Prophet Moses. However, one of these books says that “no one knows where Moses’ grave is”[Deuteronomy 34:6]. This means that Moses cannot have written this set of books. This means that the creation story is just a story of which we do not know the author. There is no reason to believe a story of which we do not even know who wrote it.

People say that the Bible is inspired by God. However, we do not even know who wrote it. Then, how would we know that this person would be inspired by God?

Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis but an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of down-right lies. The story of Eve and the serpent, and of Noah and his ark, drops to a level with the Arabian tales, without the merit of being entertaining; and the account of men living to eight and nine hundred years becomes as fabulous as the immortality of the giants of the mythology.
Thomas Paine in “The Age of Reason”

Wrong data

There are other reasons to believe that the stories of the Old Testament are fiction. The book of Genesis[Genesis 1], for example, tells us that the plants were made before the sun was made — which is just plain false. Furthermore, the sun was allegedly made on the 4th day — which means that these 4 days cannot have passed, because there was no sun in the first place. The entire creation account of the Bible is just nonsensical.

The same holds for story of the Israelites in Egypt. This story tells us that hundreds of thousands of Israelites were held in slavery in Egypt, and that they were then led back home to Israel. This story has no historical foundation. The figure of 600,000 adult males[Exodus 12:37] would imply a flight of 2 to 2.5 million people, when the total population of Egypt at the time was 3 to 4.5 million. Had such a catastrophic demographic outflow taken place, it would have been recorded in Egyptian writings. Yet, it is not224. Thus, the Bible is just wrong.

Or take the story that God made the Sun stop for about a full day during the battle for Canaan[Joshua 10:13]. This, likewise, does not make any sense. Even if we admit that it was actually the Earth that stopped spinning, the rotational inertia would have pushed everything on the surface of the Earth eastwards at the speed of about 1000km/h. We thus have several parts of the Bible that cannot be factually true. Then there is no reason to believe the rest of it either.

If I was God, at the end of the Bible, I would have leant in and gone “Oh, and tell them it’s round!”.
Jim Jefferies

The Bible is metaphorical truth!

Adherents of liberal Christianity argue that many parts of the Bible are metaphorical. In their view, the Earth was not literally created in 6 days, and Moses did not really part the waters with divine power. Thus, liberal Christians tend to see the Bible as a metaphorical rather than a factual account. This does away with many of the problems of the Bible.

Surprisingly for atheists, these very same Christians exempt specific parts of the Bible from the metaphorical interpretation. They hold that the parts where God created the universe and where Jesus rose from the dead are still literally true. Atheists argue that such a choice is completely arbitrary. Why would some supernatural bits of the Bible be metaphorical, and others not? Once we abandon that the supernatural claim that the Earth was created in 6 days, we have no reason to cling on to the other supernatural claim, that Jesus rose from the dead.

If we agree that the entire Bible is metaphorical, then we have no reason to believe in Jesus or the Abrahamic god at all. This is because our only reason to believe in the Abrahamic god is the Bible. Remove it from the equation, and Christianity implodes.

I once had a fundamentalist evangelical Christian explain to me that when Lot’s wife looked back, it was a metaphor for how she yearned for her old, sinful life. This is probably a correct interpretation. Now all I have to do is explain that the rest of the book was written in much the same manner.

Jesus did miracles!

Christians argue that Jesus did many miracles. This proves, in their eyes, that Christianity is true.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Jesus did these miracles. Our only source for this claim is the Bible. The Bible also says that the plants were created before the sun[Genesis 1], which is wrong. The Bible is thus not a very reliable source.

Furthermore, very few people in the Western world actually believe in miracles. For example, 1% of pregnant teenage girls in the US say they have had a virgin birth225. Still, for unknown reasons, nobody believes them. So then why should we believe in a virgin birth that was reported 2000 years ago? The same goes for other miracles. I can show you a picture of a man who hovers in the air (it is in the Chapter on Proofs for God). You will not believe that this is a miracle. Much less would you believe me if I tell you my grandfather saw a man who hovered in the air. You would think this is just some nonsense story. Even less would you believe me if I tell you that my grandfather heard that there was a man who hovered in the air. And if an ancestor of mine heard about the hovering man in ancient times, thousands of years ago, then you would believe me even less. And you would declare me crazy if I believed the story if it was not even told to an ancestor of mine, but just to some random person whom I don’t even know. And this is how it is with the miracles of Jesus: they were reported by some people thousands of years ago of whom we do not even know who they were.

Is there any evidence that Jesus exists today? As you think about this simple question, you will realize that there is not. Everything else that you believe in has left behind some sort of evidence that proves its existence. But with Jesus there is nothing. There is no physical evidence of his existence.

The Bible contains true prophesies!

One proof for the truth of the Bible that is often brought forward is the list of prophesies it makes. For example, the Old Testament says that the Messiah will be born from the descendants of David — and Jesus was indeed born from the descendants of David.

From an atheist perspective, both the Old Testament and the New Testament are fictional stories written by human authors. In such a setting, it is easy to fulfill a prophesy: Just make your character do whatever a previous part of the story promised. The Old Testament says that Jesus has to be born from the stem of David? Fine, write in your story that Jesus is born from the stem of David. Nobody is going to check the genealogy of a baby born out of wedlock in some remote Jewish village. In the same way, all other prophesies can be fulfilled. This, however, is no proof of divinity.

How difficult would it be to improve the Bible?
Anyone in this room could improve this supposedly inerrant text scientifically, historically, ethically, spiritually… in moments.
Chris Harrison

Jesus is love!

For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate symbol of love: a man who sacrifices himself for the good of mankind. Such a powerful symbol convinces them that Christianity is the religion to follow.

From an atheist point of view, things are a bit different: Jesus may indeed have been an exceptionally charitable and kind person. Many atheists will acknowledge the good works he did. Even if we are not really sure whether he did what the Bible says, we can still appreciate the metaphor of a man who helps the poor. So far, atheists and Christians can actually agree.

Now, it is a long way from there to the existence of a God, the creation of the Earth by supernatural power, the belief in resurrection from the dead, and the obligation to not work on Saturdays. Atheists see no connection from “There was a (possibly mythological) good man 2000 years ago” to “Gay people should not marry”. The fact that Jesus was a good man does not logically entail that the Bible is true (only the converse works).

Was Jesus really love?

The idea that Jesus is love is not uncontroversial. Jesus’ love finds an abrupt end if you do not believe in God: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”[Mark 16:16, John 3:18]. Jesus can eat with sinners of all kinds, but not with atheists. That is not exactly “love”.

Furthermore, Jesus did much worse than he could have done. At the very least, Jesus could have transcribed passages into the Bible that would have ended sexism, racism and slavery forever. In the same way, Jesus could have chosen women to be six of his apostles and made several speeches on the topic of women’s equality. This would have been a great and courageous sign of love for his female disciples. Furthermore, if he really loved the Israelites, he could have taught them the basics of medicine, biology, and physics. This would have been a really generous sharing of divine knowledge, which could have saved many many lives, and could have inspired a scientific approach to life. He didn’t226.

Jesus invented hell

Finally, one of Jesus’ achievements was to introduce the concept of hell. Before Jesus, hell was only weakly alluded to[Daniel 12:2]. Hell was thought to be of limited duration — at most 1 year. Furthermore, there was no torture on Sabbath days.

It was only Jesus who introduced the concept of eternal physical tortures[Matthew 5:22-30, 8:12, 18:8-9, 22:13, 25:41-46, Mark 9:43-49, Luke 16:19-31]. He came up with the idea in the first place. This means that Jesus doesn’t love his enemies at all. In fact, you don’t even need to be an enemy — even those who would rather not “believe in” Jesus are condemned to eternal torture in a lake of fire227[Mark 16:16, John 3:18]. This is the exact opposite of love.

“Hello, my name is Jesus. I love you deeply. I have loved you since you were conceived in the womb and I will love you for all eternity. I died for you on the cross because I love you so much. I long to have a loving personal relationship with you. I will answer all of your prayers through my love. But if you do not get down on your knees and worship me, and if you do not EAT MY BODY and DRINK MY BLOOD, then I WILL INCINERATE YOU WITH UNIMAGINABLY TORTUOUS PAIN IN THE FIRES OF HELL FOR ALL ETERNITY BWAH HA HA HA HA HA!”

Christian values

The Western culture and value system has inherited large parts from Christianity: The idea of humans as individuals, the concept of charity, and (maybe most importantly) the abolition of the retaliation law. These concepts have been picked up, developed, and propagated by early Christians. This could be seen as an argument to follow that religion.

Atheists do not share this perspective. First of all, Christianity has also produced values that we no longer uphold today. These include slavery, the suppression of freedom of thought, book censorship, disdain for people of other life stances, and the prohibition of birth control. Thus, even if we share some of the values of early Christianity, it is clear that we can no longer share all of them. Then there is no reason to glorify a religion that has produced at least as many controversial values as good values.

Second, appreciation for some values does not mean that we would have to buy the entire package of Christianity. We can, e.g., renounce the law of retaliation (as Christianity advocates) without being obliged to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, it is only through the analytical dissection of Christianity that humanity came to crystallize the values of a humanist society. Atheists have taken this dissection a little further, and have dispensed not just with the ancient values, but also with the Christian god.

Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.[Proverbs 23:13-14]

Why doesn’t a book written by an omniscient being leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement? If you are reading a book written by the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator of the universe, wouldn’t you expect to be stunned by the brilliance, the clarity and the wisdom of the author?

Instead, opening the Bible inevitably creates a feeling of dumbfoundment. Have you ever noticed that? Instead of brilliance, much of the Bible contains nonsense. Do these passages leave you with the impression that they were written by an all-powerful, all-knowing God? Or was this book written by primitive men? Try the experiment yourself and see what you find.

Christian Culture

Much of our Western Culture is based on ideas, literature, and artwork from Christians. Thus, we may argue, Christianity is a very inspiring religion.

And yet, the abundance of Christian art is not so much a sign of the inspiring power of Christianity as it is a sign of the suppression of alternative forms of art. During much of Christianity’s history, non-religious art was either unpopular or deprecated or both. Unbelievers were persecuted as heretics. Thus, any contribution to society had to happen necessarily in the frame given by the religious authorities. Hence, in retrospect, any creativity appears to be based on Christian thought. But that does not mean that Christianity was the best source of inspiration. It just means that all other sources of inspiration were systematically suppressed.

Oh, how delightful Christian art is!

in the Renaissance exposition “Heures Italiennes” in Chantilly, France

Even within the frame of Christianity, the choice of subjects was deplorably limited. The majority of the art produced during the Medieval period was religious in nature and made use of Catholic subjects and themes228. And indeed, to a casual observer, most of the European artworks between the 8th century and the 14th century seem to be either about Jesus' birth or about Jesus on the cross (see picture). There are hardly any depictions of the beauty of nature, for example. All expressions of femininity were channeled onto the virgin Mary and other puritanical women — what a loss! And indeed, Medieval art can be found today mainly in churches and museums — not in people’s homes.

This observation does not prevent atheists from appreciating the Christian contributions to our culture. It just defies the argument that Christianity would be a particularly inspiring religion.

Stop talking about this “Christian Culture”. Christianity has been a force against knowledge and culture for much of its existence. Our occidental culture is, in large parts, born from the opposition to this force.
Arno Schmidt, paraphrased

God is there and loves us all!

In the Christian world view, God is there and loves us all — no matter whether atheists believe in him or not.

Atheists retort that this is actually not true. God asked us explicitly to kill the apostates[Deuteronomy 13:1-10, Leviticus 24:14-23]. This is not exactly what atheists would call love. Even if this commandment has been abandoned since 1965, this is of little comfort since God has neither retracted the original commandment, nor issued an apology. Thus, the reproach still stands.

In any case, God’s love is not love in the human sense. This is because it has no effect whatsoever on this world. What does it mean that God “loves” us, if he watches people die in the millions every year of diseases, natural disasters, and pverty? Finally, claiming that some fictional creature loves you does not pop that creature into existence. Harry Potter loves you, too. He really does. But he does not exist.

What is it the Old Testament teaches us? — repine, cruelty, and murder. What is it the New Testament teaches us? — to believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.
Thomas Paine, in “The Age of Reason”

There are so many other arguments!

We treat other arguments for the God, which are not specific to Christianity, in the Chapter on Proof for Gods. Arguments pertaining to the birth of life and the universe are treated in the Chapter on the God of Gaps.

We discuss the advantages of adhering to a religion in the Chapter on the Benefits of Religion.

Christian Oddities

The Abrahamic God

We now discuss aspects of Christianity that appear odd to the atheist. We start with the Abrahamic god. As we have already seen, this god has accumulated an impressive variety of contradictory properties over time: he is “loving”, but never speaks; he is universal, but revealed to only a handful of people at the fringes of civilization; he is benevolent, but causes harm; he is perfect, but his creation is imperfect; he is omniscient, but regrets he created humankind; he loves his creation, but condemns it to hell; and he has committed extraordinary brutalities. These oddities apply to all Abrahamic religions. Let us now look at one aspect of the Abrahamic god that is specific to Christianity: the change from the brutal god to the loving god.

In the Old Testament, God is brutal, vengeful, and thirsty of human sacrifices. In particular, he kills all of humankind (except one family) in a global flood. And yet, God seemingly changes his mind in the New Testament: He now loves all humankind, including the sinners; he sacrifices his own son instead of asking us to sacrifice other people; and brutal punishments (by both God and humans) are nowhere to be found.

To an atheist, such a narrative is inconsistent: God first erases his entire creation in a universal genocide and then suddenly talks of love. How can one trust such a being? And why does he first ask for human sacrifices and then stops doing it? Was it never right in the first place? Then why did he ask for it?

To the atheist, this smacks more of a man-made compilation of stories than of an eternal revealed truth. The books of the Bible reflect the the times in which they were written: The Old Testament was compiled in a time when the Jews were in exile. Hence, its authors had every interest in presenting God as a vengeful character who ruthlessly punishes those who go astray. Jesus, in contrast, was able to gain adherents with the message of the loving god. But the writers of the New Testament could not simply cut away their religious and historical heritage. Hence, they presented the new ideology as a continuation of the old one — however inconsistent this was. By linking back to the Old Testament, Christianity could legitimize itself based on the common heritage. That the god became an inconsistent character in this process was apparently the price to pay.

Are you saying that the smartest person in the universe once wanted us to kill every adulterer and homosexual, but then changed his mind? That somehow makes it better?

The Trinity

Let us now look at another unique property of the Christian god: the trinity. In 325 CE, the First Council of Nicaea decided that God was triune: he is a single being of three distinct beings, namely God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.

For an atheist, such a concept is literally unbelievable: Something cannot be one and three at the same time. This becomes obvious when we consider the actual meaning of the concept, which is (in the definition of this book) the set of all of its logical consequences. One of these consequences is that God is his own father. He impregnated a human woman to be born from her womb. This alone is a logical impossibility in atheist eyes. Another consequence is that, as God sacrifices Jesus, he literally sacrifices himself. Thus, God killed himself so that he can forgive humankind. When Jesus laments “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”[Matthew 27:46], he is basically saying “Myself, myself, why have I forsaken me?” 229. This is completely absurd.

Atheists thus suspect that Christians cannot really imagine the trinity either. They just say they do. This is because the concept is nonsensical. It was made up by the theologicians — just like the rest of Christianity.

One may say with one’s lips: “I believe that God is one, and also three” — but no one can believe it, because the words have no sense.
Leo Tolstoy (Лев Николaевич Толстoй)

The Bible

Atheist World
Christianity bases its belief on the Bible. If it were not for the Bible, there would be no reason to believe that God created the world, that Jesus was his son, or that he was resurrected. For a proof, look no further than America: Before Christian missionaries brought the Bible there, the Indians had no reason to believe in Jesus and the Christian God.

At the same time, the Bible is a very unreliable source:

In summary, it contains an enormous amount of non-factual or even outright absured claims . From an atheist perspective, it is a foolish idea to base one’s entire life on a book that is so unsourced and inaccurate. Liberal Christians say that the Bible is merely metaphorical. Yet, once some part of it is metaphorical, there is no reason to assume that the rest is not. Once everything is metaphorical, there is no reason to believe in it at all.
You believe in a book that has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, and people walking on water — and you say we’re the ones that need help?
Dan Barker


Christianity knows the concept of the Original Sin: It is the hereditery guilt that resulted from the fact that Adam and Eve (the ancestors of humanity in Christian mythology) ate a fruit from a tree that God forbade them. As the Bible explains: “By the one man’s disobedience [=Adam’s] the many were made sinners”[Romans 5:19, 3:23]. Saint Paul introduced the idea that Jesus' death atones for the Original sin[John 1:29, 10:11, Mark 10:45, Jesaja 53:8, Epheser 1:7, Romans 3:23-24].

To an atheist (and to a Humanist in particular), the idea that an unrelated person has to suffer in order to clear some inherited sin is completely repulsive. Sin (in any common sense) cannot be cleared through suffering or death. If someone did harm, then it does not help at all if some other unrelated person is tortured. Anybody who draws comfort from such a thing is a sadist. As Thomas Paine said230:

The Christian story of God the Father putting his son to death, or employing people to do it, cannot be told by a parent to a child; and to tell him that it was done to make mankind happier and better, is making the story still worse; as if mankind could be improved by the example of murder; and to tell him that all this is a mystery, is only making an excuse for the incredibility of it.

From an atheist point of view, the idea of atonement is just an attempt to make people thankful to Jesus: We first invent a problem (the Original Sin), and then present Jesus as the solution to that problem. This is a well-known pattern to make people emotionally attached to a religion.

I don’t even understand the connection with “died for your sins”. He died for your sin, well, how does one affect the other? “I hit myself in the foot with a shovel for your mortgage!”
Doug Stanhope

Original Sin

Jesus and Mo, 2013-09-04
As we have discussed, the “Original Sin” is humanity’s state of sin in Christianity, which resulted from the fact that Adam and Eve (the ancestors of humanity in Christian mythology) ate a fruit from a tree that God forbade them[Romans 5:19, 3:23].

The word “sin” means “an offense against religious or moral law”232. And indeed, the concept is used to make people feel guilty: “There is no one righteous, not even one; […All] have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one”[Romans 3:10], and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”[Romans 3:23-24]. Instilling guilt is a well-known pattern to bind people emotionally to a religion.

The idea of inherited sin makes no sense, of course: A person cannot inherit the guilt of another person. Even the Bible itself says so: The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child[Ezekiel 18, Deuteronomy 24:16, Psalm 47:16]. Therefore, theologians have re-interpreted the word “sin”. Suddenly, “sin” came to mean no longer an active offense, but “a state of weakness”. Thus, it became an empty word: It was re-interpreted to mean something else, but it keeps its reproachful connotations. It keeps suggesting that humanity is guilty of something, even without having done anything. That, by itself, is wrong and manipulative in atheist eyes.

Another blow to the theory of the Original Sin came in the 19th century, when Charles Darwin discovered that there was no ancestor couple of humanity at all. Naturally, the Christian Churches at the time opposed this idea, and some still do today. However, a few hundred years later, most major branches of Christianity have accepted the idea of evolution. This means that Adam and Eve never existed. Consequently, they cannot have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, and, in turn, cannot hand down the Original Sin (in whatever sense). The entire concept of the Original Sin just implodes. This, however, means that Jesus cannot have died to clean us of that sin. Without the Original Sin, the entire story of the Atonement makes no sense any more. Darwin’s insight thus shatters not only the concept of the Original Sin, but Christianity as a whole.

Remember, if you don’t sin, then Jesus died for nothing.
Ricky Gervais

Cafeteria Christianity (1)

Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
Leviticus 19:28 Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord. Atheist Cartoons
Conservative Christians believe that we should follow the values of the Old Testament. They cite verses from the Old Testament to prove, e.g., that homosexuality should be punished. Even liberal Christians use the Old Testament as a reference — e.g., when speaking of the 10 Commandments. The Bible also clearly tells us that “the word of our God stands forever”[Isaiah 40:8]. And Jesus agrees: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”[Matthew 5:17-20]

And yet, the Old Testament contains a surprisingly large number of rules that are incompatible even with conservative values. Consider, e.g., a verse[Deuteronomy 22:28] that says: if a man rapes a woman, he has to pay money to the father of the woman, and gets to marry the woman. By most people’s standards (conservative or not), this is an outrageous rule: it totally disregards the suffering, the self-determination, and even the existence of the victim as a human being with rights. This rule rarely appears in Christian discourse today. It is just ignored. (That is regrettable from an atheist point if view, because it would provide a very short path to the conclusion that the Bible cannot be the word of a benevolent god.) The same goes for a vast array of other rules from the Old Testament: they are just ignored and appear nowhere in contemporary Christian discourse. This phenomenon is called “Cafeteria Christianity”. It is illustrated by recent episode where Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a radio personality of Orthodox Jewish faith, held that homosexuality is immoral because it is condemned in the Old Testament[Leviticus 1:9]. An anonymous writer on the Internet replied to this claim as follows233:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan.

Cafeteria Christianity (2)

We have seen that Christians routinely disregard instructions from the Old Testament. Progressive Christians can still argue that the Old Testament was superseded by the New Testament. However, even the laws of the New Testament are disregarded. Let us look at the following examples:

Even though the Bible is supposed to be God’s eternal word[Isaiah 40:8], we completely ignore it:

We do all of this in direct defiance of God’s Law in the Bible234. This shows that we all know too well that the Bible is nothing more than an ancient man-made collection of stories and rules.

It’s almost as if the Bible was written by racist, sexist, homophobic, violent, sexually frustrated men, instead of a loving God. Weird.
Ricky Gervais


The Bible contains a beautiful story about how the Prophet Elijah defeated the followers of the competitor god Baal[1 Kings 18]:
Elijah said to them, “[…] Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” […]

They called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” […] He stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, […] Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord — he is God! The Lord — he is God!” Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.

This story suggests that it is permissible to ask for evidence for God. However, nowadays, there is no evidence for God. God does not do verifiable miracles upon demand. He does not even answer prayers. This shows, by Elijah’s argument, that the god does not exist. Following Elijah’s example, we should therefore abandon the belief in him, and proceed to slaughter his prophets.

Christians argue that one shall not test the Lord. They will also say that God has to remain “hidden”. However, the Bible contains more stories of people who doubted the existence of God or the divinity of Jesus. In each case, God does not remain hidden at all, but provides a visible proof:

Thus, even the contemporaries of Jesus doubted his miracles. Hence, atheists reason, we are also entitled to question his miracles. We are even more entitled to question his miracles, because we know of them only by reports of people who lived thousands of years ago. If the ancients did not believe without evidence, then neither should we.

The problem is that there is no evidence for Jesus’ miracles. All we have are reports by people whom we do not know. That would not have convinced the ancients, and much less should it convince us.


Charismatic Christians believe that God continues to work miracles. This belief is based on Bible verses that promise God’s response to prayer.

Unfortunately, prayer works only ever (if at all) for things that can happen by coincidence anyway: people pray to win a match, to find lost keys, or to recover from an illness. Whenever such a thing happens after a prayer, Charismatic Christians see it as a proof that prayer works. However, prayer does not work for things that cannot happen by conincidence: Prayer will never restore the limb of an amputee235. Prayer does not alleviate the world’s hunger spontanously either — even if millions of people pray for this every day.

Marshall Brain illustrates this by the following story: There is a Christian housewife in Pasadena who firmly believes that God answered her prayer this morning to remove the mustard stain from her favorite blouse. She prayed to God to help remove the stain, and after she washed it the stain was gone. Praise Jesus! [Now, ] if God is removing the stain, then why doesn’t our housewife pray for poverty to dissappear too? Why doesn’t she watch tomorrow as the world magically transforms itself into a poverty-free utopia, in the same way that her blouse became mustard-free? 236

Charismatic Christians come up with a large number of rationalizations why such prayer does not work: It is not God’s will. It is not part of his plan. The prayer is “too big”. The prayer is “too obvious”. The Lord works in mysterious ways. The prayer will be answered later. You are not sincere enough. God will eventually inspire scientists to erase all forms of poverty, etc. 237.

These explanations, however, can equally explain why prayer to any other god works (or does not work). Let us pray, for example, to the Hindu god Vishnu. If we pray to Vishnu, then some of the things we ask for will just happen by coincidence. These prayers are “answered”. Other things will just not happen. Then it’s not Vishnu’s will. Or it is because it is not part of Vishnu’s plan. The probability of something happening will be exactly the same — no matter whether we pray to God or to Vishnu238. To spin this idea further, we can even pray to a jug of milk. If what we ask for happens, then our prayer is answered by the jug of milk. If the prayer is not answered, our wish was not in the jug’s plan. Again, the prayer to the jug is as effective as the prayer to God. No matter whether we pray to God or to the jug of milk, the probability of the prayer materializing is the same. This means that the jug of milk has the same powers as God, or, conversely, that God has the same powers as the jug of milk — namely no powers at all.239

And it seems that we all know that prayer does not work. If prayer really worked, we would not need hospitals. We would not need health insurance. We would not need seat belts, glasses, or helmets. And yet, even Charismatic Christians use all of these. This shows that they do not believe their claim of effective prayer either.

We thus find ourselves confronted with a claim that is not true (“prayer works”), and with people who say they believe in it, but who act in every way as if they did not believe in it. Everybody knows that prayers do not work. And, according to atheists, prayers do not work because there is no one who listens.

The man who prays is the one who thinks that god has arranged matters all wrong, but who also thinks that he can instruct God how to put them right.
Christopher Hitchens


Spiegel: With all respect, the resurrection is a naive child belief.

from Der Spiegel, 2017-04-15

In Christianity, a person without sin goes to Heaven after death. In particular, dead infants must go to Heaven, as they cannot sin.

And yet, when an infant dies, believers do not rush to congratulate the parants upon this successful transition to paradise. They do not celebrate infant deaths as the fastest means to bring a person to eternal bliss. The parents do not rejoice for their child either. They should be happy that the child is spared earthly suffering, and goes directly to Heaven, where they themselves will later join. Ever since Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Lutheranism abolished physical suffering in Hell, this joy should extend to any death, not just infant deaths. Whenever someone is dying, believers should queue up to congratulate that person. People should rejoice that one of their lot “made it”. Yet, this does not happen.

There are some rare cases where the death of a person is celebrated: Some Islamists blow themselves up in the expectation that they will go to paradise. Such behavior usually causes consternation. Most people cannot understand how someone can be so sure of Heaven that they are ready to kill themselves in order to get there. And yet, if the Islamist belief promises Heaven for killing infidels, then the Islamists’ behavior is only logical. Nevertheless, people are unable to understand it.

At least in Western culture, this conundrum has a simple answer: People fully well understand that Heaven is just a pious wish. They know that it’s just a story that we tell each other in order to allay our fear of death. Atheists conclude that even Christians do not believe in their stories.

The Catholic Church

In memory of the women who were abused in the Catholic Magdalene Laundries

in Galway/Ireland

The Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination. And yet, the Catholic Church has made a number moral mistakes in the recent past. These were considered so serious that the UN Committee on Rights of the Child has issued a damning report them240. The report criticizes in particular:

These positions are in grave contradiction with the rights of the child. They are also in grave disagreement with the Human Rights or any harm-based moral framework. Therefore, Humanists cannot agree on such policies. This disagreement extends to the present, because the Church did not abandon the above positions. On the contrary, in its reaction to the report, the Church “regrets to see […] an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching” 242. This divergence between Humanist values and Catholicism has a long history: Pope Gregory XVI opposed liberty of conscience, freedom to publish, and the separation of Church and State243. Pope Pius IX declared it an error for the pope “to reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization”59. The Catholic Church’s initial response to the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” was complete rejection 244. This position has changed in the 21st century. Pope Francis praises the Human Rights 245. However, the Vatican is the only European country that has not signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights . Thus, Humanists and the Catholic Church continue to be at disagreement.

I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.
James Baldwin

Papal Infallibility

The First Vatican Council defined that “the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra [...] operates with [...] infallibility [...] and so such definitions of the Roman Pontiff from himself, but not from the consensus of the Church, are unalterable.” 246. This infallibility has been much criticized. However, from the perspective of this book, it is only natural that the pope is infallible when he speaks in matters of faith, because he defines the faith. It is a bit like when the French scientists defined how heavy a kilogram is — they cannot err because they defined it. Furthermore, the infallibility of the pope applies only when the pope speaks “ex cathedra”. This notion is not explicitly defined, but the consensus is that it applies only when the pope explicitly evokes divine authority. This has so far happened only two times.

However, in the Catholic belief system, the Church still has the highest moral authority. Priests can deliver absolution for sins. When they do so, they speak in the name of Jesus Christ, i.e., in the name of God himself1. The formula is “ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti” — “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. This is not a request to God. It is a declaration by the priest in the name of God. This is based on a Bible verse, where Jesus told his disciples: If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven[John 20:23]. The pope has even more divine power: He is the “guardian of [Jesus'] entire flock in His own place”, and the “Vicar of Christ [, a title] which he bears [...] with vicarial power derived from Him” 247. More succinctly, the pope “hold[s] upon this earth the place of God Almighty” 248. Thus, the priests, and even more so the pope, can speak in the name of God himself. The Church itself “was instructed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles and that all truth was daily taught it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”58.

If this authority decides (or ever decided) something that is in grave contradiction with the Human Rights, then God would surely have withdrawn the right to speak in his name from this authority. He did not. This could mean that God does not like the Human Rights. More likely, however, it means that the Church just claims the ability to speak in God’s name. That is easy to claim, because nobody can check it. This means that the Pope is just one more person who wrongly claims divine powers.

More succinctly, one cannot uphold the Human Rights on the one hand, and believe of the Catholic Church as a divinely inspired institution on the other.

Amoris Lætitia

There are other reasons to doubt that the Catholic Church is in any way connected to God: It was common practice that divorced people could not receive the Eucharist. This was re-affirmed in 1981: “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. […] Reconciliation […], which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who […] take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.”249.

However, in 2016, Pope Francis published his “Amoris lætitia”, which seems to suggest that divorced people may receive the Eucharistic Communion in certain cases without the requirement of abstinence. The Vatican’s own newspaper Osservatore Romano affirms this interpretation (“Una persona separata o divorziata che vive una nuova unione arriva […] a riconoscere e credere di essere in pace con Dio, non le potrà essere impedito di accostarsi ai sacramenti della riconciliazione e dell’eucaristia (cfr. Amoris lætitia, nota 336 e 351). […] Non è da escludere che queste persone possono essere ritenute idonee per essere padrini e madrine”)250251252.

This has led to an open discussion among clerics about whether the communion for divorced and re-married people would be allowed or not. 45 clerics asked the pope in an open letter to “repudiate” what they see as “erroneous propositions” in Amoris lætitia253. Other bishops, scholars, cardinals, and dioceses have offered their own interpretations, ranging from outrage about the Amoris lætitia to guidelines of how to apply the letter.

Now think about this for a moment: If the pope were really guided by God, would he publish a document that gives rise to so much dispute? Would he not, by divine guidance, be able to formulate the document in such a way that it is clear and does not require guidelines? Vice versa, if the critics of the document really believed that the pope were guided by God, would they dare criticising the document as “erroneous”? And, if these people believed in the power of prayer, why did they not ask God directly to sort it out?

The obvious answer is that neither party in this process is guided by anything divine. The document and the ensuing criticism are the results of ongoing discussion in the Church of how to deal with the reality of divorced couples. What drives this discussion is the desire to remain attractive to the adherents in a modern world, to reconcile the previous position with the future positions, and to support divorced couples without antagonising the conservative circles of the Church. This just shows that the Catholic Church has no connection whatsoever with anything divine.

Historical Diversity

In this chapter, we have discussed a wide historical diversity of beliefs in Christianity. Over time, numerous convictions were first upheld, and then abandoned: Slavery was once universally approved, but is now universally shunned. Witches were once persecuted and killed, and nowadays nobody talks about them. Heresy was once severely punished, and is now a non-issue. All of this shows, in atheist eyes, that the believers had no divine guidance whatsoever. The Christian authorities were straying in the dark just like everyone else was straying in the dark — and even longer than everyone else.

Take slavery: Atheists do not understand how a religion that once approved of slavery can claim divine moral authority today. The institutions obviously made a grave moral mistake in supporting slavery — a mistake that most of them explicitly regret today. This means that these institutions did not act in divine guidance. They were wrong — just like everybody else. But they were not just wrong, they also claimed to speak in the name of God. That makes them worse than everyone else.

If the Bible got that one moral question wrong on which we all agree, that slavery is harmful, then why should we trust it on all the other questions?

Contemporary Diversity

Christianity has shown a remarkable diversity of opinions over time. But today, Christianity is not united. There are hundreds of denominations, and each of them holds a slightly different view on a wide range of topics: Shall we execute a murderer or not? Can God work miracles today or not? Is contraception allowed or not? Is hell a physical place or not? Can non-Christians go to Heaven or not? Is abortion allowed in some circumstances or not? Shall women have the same rights as men or not?

Atheists reason that if people had a connection to God, they could just pray to him and ask for an answer to these questions. This way, everyone should have the same beliefs. However, this is not what happens. Everyone believes that God wants something different, and every one believes that God wants exactly what he wants. To an atheist, this just shows that everyone imagines his own god in his own head. God exists only in the believers’ minds.

An Atheist view on Christianity

Christianity for Atheists

We now discuss in atheist point of view on Christianity. Technically speaking, Christianity is is a religion, i.e., a set of beliefs. The core beliefs are the belief in one god, in Jesus as the son of the god, in the crucification and resurrection of Jesus, and in the god-inspired nature of the Bible. Beyond these tenets, Christian beliefs vary both across time and across different denominations.

These beliefs are inspired by the Bible. The Bible, however, talks of many physically impossible or false things: talking snakes, people who walk on water, a creation of the world in six days, and many other such things. Thus, the Bible cannot be a factual account of things. Since it is not a factual account of things, there is no reason to hold for true what the Bible says. However, the Bible is the main source of the Christian beliefs: If we remove the Bible, there is no other source that would tell us about God, Jesus, or his divine nature. Thus, without the Bible, there is no reason to believe that God exists, that Jesus was his son, or that Jesus was resurrected. In other words, there is no reason to believe in Christianity.

For an atheist, the Christian God is nothing more than a fictional character in a fictional story. The proofs that Christians bring forward for their beliefs do not convince atheists, as we have seen in detail. On the contrary, atheists find Christian beliefs unconvincing, and we have seen a number of reasons.

This does not mean that it would be useless to study the Bible. The book contains an enormeous wealth of stories, parables, values, and historical allusions. Furthermore, it is one of the most impactful books ever written. We will therefore now look at the Bible from an atheist perspective.

Bin the book
and the god is gone.
the Candid Atheist

The Old Testament

The Old Testament is a collection of stories. We do not know who wrote these stories. We just know that one of the characters in these stories is the Abrahamic god. As we have discussed in the Chapter on Gods, atheists hold that the Abrahamic god is a fictional character. He appears in the stories of the Old Testament much like the good fairy appears in the story of Cinderella. Both are human inventions. In the Old Testament, the Abrahamic god is a rather revengeful and brutal character. This is possibly because the authors lived in more brutal times than ours, and hence they could not imagine their god in any other way. They might also have promulgated the image of a revengeful god to keep the early Jews in the religion while they were in exile. Later, in the New Testament, God becomes a loving and kind character. This is most likely due to the attractiveness of Jesus' message, which had to be legitimated by claiming continuity with the god of the Old Testament. We discuss this evolution in detail in the Chapter on the Abrahamic God.

The stories of the Old Testament mix historical content with myths and parables. Some of the stories were borrowed from other religions. For example, the story of Adam and Eve bears striking similarities to the story of Mashya and Mashynag in the old Persian (Indo-European) religion that preceded Zoroastrianism254. Like Adam and Eve, Mashya and Mashynag were the first human couple created by the deity. Both lived in a kind of paradise on Earth, before listening to an evil spirit, and being evicted. The Biblical story was thus most likely inspired by the Zoroastrian one255. Or consider the story of Moses — a prophet who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. As a baby, Moses was abandoned, and placed in a basket on the river. This story was most likely taken from the legend of Sargon of Akkad256. He was the first ruler of the Akkadian Empire, and lived 2300 BCE. Legend has it that he was also abandoned as a baby and placed in a basket on a river. It is thus possible that the writers of the Old Testament picked up this idea, and applied it to their own figure. The idea to have a revelation on a mountain was most likely borrowed from Zoroastrianism255. That said, the story that Moses led the Jews out of Egypt most likely never happened in reality. The Israelites were never slaves in Egypt, as we have seen. There is thus no use speculating whether Moses parted the waters leading the Israelites out of Egypt — they were never slaves there in the first place. The story was most likely written to make the early Jews thankful to their god[Exodus 20:2] (and thus obedient to their priests).

The Old Testament also contains stories about the origin of the universe: According to the Old Testament, God created the universe, the Earth, and people. From an atheist point of view, these stories are pre-scientific attempts to explain nature. They have little in common with what we know about the universe today.

The Old Testament also contains laws and rites. As we have seen and as we will see in the Chapter on Criticism of Religion, these laws are often incompatible with modern Western values. At the time of their writing, however, they had a fundamental impact: They helped forge the Jewish identity. In around 600 BCE, the Jews lived in exile, because they were chased out of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. In this difficult time, the stories, values, rites, and etiological parables of the book gave the Jewish people a common identity. This common identity was consolidated into the religion of Judaism. Judaism later gave rise to Christianity, Islam, the Bahai Faith, and Spiritualism.

Ever wondered why God never had people throw stones at rapists? The Bible was written by men.

The Gospels

Isis and Mary

by anonymous

The New Testament starts with the Gospels — 4 different accounts of Jesus’ life. It was commonly assumed that the gospels were written by the companions of Jesus. As we have seen, this is not true. The stories were written by anonymous writers. They were written down decades after Jesus died1. During these years, the stories were kept alive by word of mouth. Stories that travel by word of mouth are often enhanced and mystified as they are passed on. We have seen several examples of this in the Chapter on the Founding of Religion. The gospels are most likely no exception, and so it comes that the gospels ascribe many miraculous things to the Jesus character.

The first of these miraculous things is that Jesus does not have a human father. He was born from a human mother (Mary) and God. From an atheist point of view, this story is made-up. The authors of the New Testament (or some intermediate story teller) just invented the story. The reason for inventing such a story was most likely that many leaders at the time were considered divine as well. The Egyptian pharaohs, the Roman emperors, and the Greek kings were all considered divine257. So it appeared plausible that Jesus should be divine as well. One way to achive this was to give him God as a father — again a common motive in the mythology of the surrounding peoples. As for Mary herself: She seemed to be unaware of the supernatural birth. The Bible tells us that she has no idea what Jesus talks about when he goes to the temple and says “I am in the house of my father”[Luke 2:41-52]. Had she really been impregnated by God, she would for sure have remembered that.

The Gospels go on to tell us that Jesus then became a preacher. In this role, he performed many miracles: He walked on water and healed the ill. Again, from an atheist point of view, these miracles never happened. They were just added to the story by the people who passed it on. This view point is shared today by mainstream Christianity in Western Europe, as we have seen.

Finally, the Gospels tell us that Jesus was crucified by the Romans. If this really happened, it must have been devastating for his followers. Hence the myth of his resurrection was born: The Gospels tell us that Jesus rose from the dead, and walked the Earth for several more days, before ascending to Heaven. Jesus' death was explained as a sacrifice for humanity. His resurrection was a sign of the victory of life ver death. In this way, the eraly Christians made a virtue out of necessity: the death of their prophet became the anchorpoint of Christian theology. From an atheist point of view, this story of the resurrection is, of course, made up. People cannot survive their death. We have seen that, indeed, there exist no first-hand testimonies of the resurrection.

What did the Romans do when Jesus came back to life?
Léonard (age 2)

Inspiration for the Gospels

The main message of the Gospels is that God is a loving god. We have already discussed in the Chapter on the Abrahamic God that this image of God does not fit easily with the revengeful god of the Old Testament. To bridge the gap between the two testaments, the writers of the New Testament linked their stories to those of the Old Testament: Whenever the Old Testament made a prophecy, the writers made sure that this prophecy happened indeed in their stories of the New Testament. This way, they could legitimize the rise of Jesus on the basis of the old stories. Jesus is presented as the Messiah announced in the Old Testament.

Possible role models for the Jesus characteranonymous
The writers of the New Testament also borrowed ideas from other tales of the region:
I think basing an entire life philosophy on the testimony of a pregnant teenager who really stuck to her story is pretty weird in itself.
Rick Thorne on Quora

The New Testament beyond the Gospels

The part of the New Testament that follows the Gospels was written mainly by Saint Paul. Initially, Paul was an ardent enemy of the Christians. The New Testament tells us that, after Jesus’ death, Paul was traveling on a long desert road. On that road, he suddenly met Jesus. This encounter changed his life, and he became a proponent of Christianity. This story has parallels to the story of Aristeas, which dates to the 5th century BCE: Aristeas was a semi-legendary Greek poet in the city of Proconnesus. He entered a fuller’s shop and died. The fuller closed his shop and went to fetch the kinsfolk. Word spread about the city that Aristeas was dead, but the story was denied by a man of Cyzicus who had lately sailed over to Proconnesus from Artace; he protested that he had met Aristeas, who was on his way to Cyzicus; moreover the two travellers had conversed together. When the shop was opened, there was no Aristeas, dead or alive. Later, in the seventh year, Aristeas reappeared in Proconnesus.262. These elements can be found in Saint Paul’s story as well.

Saint Paul was the one who came up with the idea that Jesus died for our sins. He also codified the decision of the Apostolic Council of 49 CE that made circumcision optional[1 Corinthians 7:19, Philippians 3:2] — clearly a strategic advantage for a proselytizing religion.

Besides Saint Paul, other people also wrote stories and letters for the New Testament. This led to a large number of books, and people wrre unable to decide which books should be the true books. For centuries, they could not agree whether the Book of Revelation was part of God’s word or not. The decision was finally made 1500 years later — not by God, but by the Council of Trent263.

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.
Douglas Adams

An atheist view on the Bible

We have seen that the Bible is a collection of stories. These stories mix truth with claims and fictional content. In this way, they codify the beliefs, the understanding of the world, and the value system of the respective writers. The writers did certainly not collect these stories with a bad intention: they may have seriously believed in these stories, or they may have intended the stories to be told as tales. In this sense, they can still inspire people today. And yet, from a factual point of view, there is no reason to believe in them.
The story of Jonah and the whale [...] was intended to try what credulity could swallow. For, if credulity could swallow Jonah and the whale, then it could swallow anything.
Thomas Paine, in “The Age of Reason”
The Atheist Bible, next chapter: Islam


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  80. Martin Luther: Der Kleine Katechismus / Die Zehn Gebote / Das Zweite Gebot
  81. Britannica: “Salem Withc Trials”, 2024
  82. Assemblies of God: Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?
  83. New Age
  84. Low-tech path to clean water reveals God’s love
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  86. Witchcraft Act of 1735 / 2
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  88. Pope Innocent VIII: “Contra impressores librorum reprobatorum” / page 7 / “Sub excois latæ sententiæ…”, 1487-11-17
  89. Pope Leo X: “Inter Sollicitudines”, 1515-05-04
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  92. Council of Trent: “Rules on Prohibited Books”, 1546
  93. Index librorum prohibitum, 1948
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  98. Joan Rhoden: “What’s Harry doing in the Potter’s house?”
  99. Garrett E. Wishall: “The Golden Compass is a blatant attack on Christianity, Mohler says”
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  106. “Salvation Outside the Church?”
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  108. Religious Tolerance: “Can non-Catholics be saved, according to the Roman Catholic Church?”
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  110. Pope Eugene IV: “Cantate Domino”, 1441
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  125. Southwestern Baptist theological seminary: “Man’s Need for Salvation”
  126. The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647
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  129. Catechism of the Catholic Church / 1 / 2 / 3 / 12 / 4 / § 1035
  130. Pope John Paul II: “Catechesis at the General Audience”, 1999-07-21
  131. New York Times: “Hell Is Getting A Makeover From Catholics”, 1999-09-18
  132. Assemblies of God: “Heaven, Hell, and Judgment”
  133. Southern Baptist Convention: “On The Reality Of Hell”
  134. Southern Baptist Convention: “Resolution On The Book Early Man”
  135. Orthodox Church of America: “The Orthodox Faith” / Volume IV - Spirituality / The Kingdom of Heaven / Heaven and Hell
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  145. Church of England: Abortion
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  147. EKD: “Im Geist der Liebe mit dem Leben umgehen”, 2002
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  149. Southern Baptist Convention: “Resolution On Abortion”
  150. Orthodox Church of America: “Life, The most sublime expression of God’s creative activity”, 2016-01-21
  151. Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis: “Why don’t Catholics eat meat on Fridays?”, 2023
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  157. Ninth Lambert Conference / Resolution 115, 1958
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  174. Assemblies of God: “Doctrine of Creation”
  175. Mike Tenneson and Steve Badger: “A Brief Overview Of Pentecostal Views on Origins”
  176. Southern Baptist Convention: “On Biblical Scholarship And The Doctrine Of Inerrancy”, 2012
  177. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Inter Insigniores”, 1976-10-15
  178. SBC: “Resolution On Ordination And The Role Of Women In Ministry”
  179. SBC: “Resolution On The Place Of Women In Christian Service”
  180. SBC: “Resolution On Women”
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  184. Paul Copan: “Why Is the New Testament Silent on Slavery — or Is It?”
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  211. National Catholic Reporter: “Vatican 'fully supports' global abolition of death penalty”, 2015-03-12
  212. Southern Baptist Convention: “On Capital Punishment”, 2000
  213. Assemblies of God: “Capital Punishment”
  214. EKD: “Hinrichtungen sind eine Schande für den Rechtsstaat”, 2011
  215. Church of England: “Articles of Religion”
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