Our religion can “hell-ify” us by inspiring in us an impenetrable sense of rightness or even superiority. That sense of rightness can inoculate us against humility, infusing in us an excessive confidence or addiction to certainty that keeps us from seeing our mistakes until after the harm has been done – to others (including our children) and to ourselves. Our religion is right, we believe, which makes us right. As a result, the more devoted we are, the more stubborn and unteachable we become. And everyone can see it but us, because we’re blinded by our sincerity and zeal.
The stories we typically tell ourselves about Christianity keep us living in our comfortable delusion of innocence. For example, as a young Christian, I was taught that heroic Christians like Willaim Wilberforce ended slavery. ( I wasn’t taught that other Christians gained unimaginable wealth through slavery, or that the vast majority of white Christians in the South defended slavery either actively or tacitly, or that America’s largest denomination formed to perpetuate slavery as a biblically-sanctioned practice.)
I was taught that devout Christians like Sir Issac Newton were responsible for many of humanity’s great scientific breakthroughs. (I wasn’t taught how their fellow Christians mocked, persecuted, and opposed many brilliant thinkers, from Copernicus and Galileo to Charles Darwin and Rachel Carson.)
I was taught that Christians like George Mueller and Mother Teresa had been champions of orphans and widows, the downtrodden and poor, the sick and destitute. ( I wasn’t taught that their fellow Christians, including many of their major donors, created, profited from, and defended the systems that produced so many orphans, widows, downtrodden, sick, destitute, and poor.)
I was taught that Christains like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu courageous fought to overcome the American and South African versions of apartheid. (I was never told that their fellow Christians created those very systems and defended them with elaborate theological justification, deceptive legal machinations, and plenty of violence, too.)
I was even taught that Christanity was the incubator of humanity’s greatest art and literature, from DaVinci and Rembrandt to Bach and Handel to Shakespeare and Donstoyevsky. (I was seldom if ever taught to appreciate the magnificent art of other traditions or acknowledge the proliferation of Christian schlock.)
I was taught the heroic stories of Christian missionaries, of special interest to me because my paternal grandfather was a Scottish missionary to Angola. (But I was never taught about the harmful legacy of much missionary activity or about the catastrophic effects of European colonialism, to which the modern missionary movement was often fused at the hip.)
I was taught that Christians saw the earth as God’s handiwork and that we were its stewards. (But I had to discover for myself how Christians use doctrines of “dominion” and “the Second Coming” and “election” as excuses to exploit the earth since God gave it to “us,” and besides, since God is going to destroy the earth soon anyway, we might as well use it all up while we can.)
I was taught about the heroic Christian martyrs who faced toruture and death with courage and equanimity. (But I wasn’t ever taught about how often Christians had made martyrs of others, torturing and killing both people of other faiths and their fellow Christians in the name of God, Jesus, the Church, the Bible, and Christianity.)
Through sermons, books, radio/TV “ministries,” and other media, I was repeatedly informed about the worst atrocities across history committed by non-Christians. (But about our own Christian atrocities, I was kept shockingly ignorant.)
In short, I was taught my religion’s historical upsides and few of its downsides, and I was taught about other religions’ historical downsides and few of their upsides.
That’s a perfect recipe for creating ignorant and arrogant religious jerks.
From “Do I Stay Christian: A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned” by Brian McLaren