Refuting individual branches of Christianity


I got a message on Facebook, and I hope the author won’t mind if I respond publicly, without identifying him.

The relevant paragraph asked:

I was wondering if you may know where I can find some material on Eastern Orthodox Christianity (critique mainly), as I’ve lately been confronted with a lot of opposition from orthodox Christians defending their faith during debates with the “oh, we’re not like them (catholics, protestants), our teachings bring only peace and prosperity and we didn’t have any Crusades, et cetera…” argument. But I’m more than certain that there actually were executions and burning at the stake ordered by the Orthodox Church (but I can’t find ‘em!), so if you could give me a brief list (articles or sites) I’d be uber happy.

No, I don’t know of any specific works regarding Orthodox Christianity, although I’m sure you can find some. As I have recently grown fond of pointing out, there are 38,000 sects of Christianity. Debunking every one of them individually would be a pretty time consuming task. If I wanted to see the history of a particular church, I would probably start at Wikipedia and search outward from there.

Rather than reject the whole thing as a package deal, in your situation I would fall back on Matt’s favorite question: “Tell me what you believe, why you believe it, and why I should believe it?” It’s one thing to speak in generalities about how Christian offshoot X is “not like those other Christians”; it’s another thing entirely to identify the individual beliefs and try to defend them.

Personally, I couldn’t care less how many atrocities this or that group committed, as opposed to some other group. It’s not as interesting to me as finding out whether they make claims that are true, and how they think they know that the claims are true. What you’ll probably find on further investigation is that they believe many of the same unsupportable things all religions believe: That you can’t explain the complexity of life without a god, that somebody had to start it all, that it feels nicer to believe in a higher power, etc., etc.

If you can get them to bring these up, you are on much more solid ground. Instead of having to denounce an entire group based on the actions of some representative — which always makes you look mean! — you can go after the arguments on their merits. At that point, I’d refer to something like Iron Chariots, or Guy Harrison’s book, for ideas to respond to those claims.

Comments

  1. says

    Amen, brother? :)As I've pointed out to theists that I've talked to, none of the peripheral stuff matters. It doesn't really matter if the religion has a shady or glowing past or present, if it makes people happy or not, whether it helps them kick drugs or get through tragedy or anything else. All I care about is whether or not there's a good reason to believe that the religion is true or not. Feelings aren't a way of knowing things, and nice people can be just as wrong as evil people.

  2. says

    If I may dig a bit deeper, I have to point out that the "apologist" response comes up usually on moral grounds, as in "our Church's doctrine compared to other Christian denominations adheres a lot more to the original teachings of J.C. and upholds ancient traditions". The problem pops up when you try to expose immoral acts committed by Christian religion (even in general), so they automatically switch to the "we're not like other Christians and we don't commit evil acts, being the real Christians that we are". Without factual evidence it's really hard to formulate an adequate response…Virtually all other major denomination have some issues with committing immoral acts, but with Orthodoxy it's more complicated as it's not well known in Western culture, thus a lack of popular literature.I do agree that it would be wiser to address the "what do you believe and why?" and other relevant questions/arguments but the lack of moral/immoral analysis leaves an empty space in the argumentation, thus weakening it generally.- Elijah

  3. DavidCT says

    It makes little difference weather or not a person's superstition is or was good or evil. If it is based on faith which is belief without evidence, there is no reason for an outsider to respect these beliefs. It is the assertion that faith is something deserving of deference and that is unacceptable to people with a rational worldview. We hold that we can have various beliefs but if the evidence goes against those beliefs we have to be willing to change our minds. It is clear that human beings have, hard wired into us, the predilection to misperceive reality. Faith is a denial of this part of our humanity and leads to a false sense of absolute certainty. A particular brand of absolute certainty may be benign today but the overall track record is not that good. The problem is always there whether the faith is in a religion or one of the pseudo-religions such as communism or fascism. Faith can too easily be manipulated and thus deserves no respect.

  4. says

    Any comprehensive history of the Byzantine Empire will give you ample information about the slaughter of heretics which was very common in the empire. I'd suggest of the Byzantine Empire: Vol. 1, 324-1453 (Paperback)~ Alexander A. Vasiliev.It's a fascinating read. The early Orthodox Church was intertwined with the government. The emperor was head of the church and schisms were generally settled with lots of beheadings.

  5. says

    I agree that addressing individual beliefs and their justifications is a far better way to discuss matters of faith than paint whole organisations with a broad brush, but there is some small merit in considering an organisation's history.If a church did teach something atrocious, like "kill all the unbelievers" AND people followed that teaching, then it would have a noticeable effect on the behaviour of members of that church. So the past behaviour of members of that church can lend some small support to the claim that their teaching is good, or at least better than another church's.On the other hand, if the teaching of the church causes something unfortunate but not extremely terrible, for example crippling guilt over mundane sexual attraction, then any effect on the behaviour of church members will probably be swamped in the noise of other cultural variation.In conclusion: Saying "my church never committed genocide" may have merit but "my church's teachings are all good", not so much.

  6. says

    Sectarian diversity noted, there ARE certain core doctrines which may fairly be said to constitute a basic, irreducible Christianity.One of these is Original Sin.Every so often you'll hear someone trying to play this off as "a Catholic thing" – in fact, it was tried in a previous thread here – but it's not so. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches OS just as the RCC does. Martin Luther believed in it as did the Protestants who followed and took inspiration from him…

  7. says

    "Sectarian diversity noted, there ARE certain core doctrines which may fairly be said to constitute a basic, irreducible Christianity.One of these is Original Sin.Every so often you'll hear someone trying to play this off as "a Catholic thing" – in fact, it was tried in a previous thread here – but it's not so. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches OS just as the RCC does. Martin Luther believed in it as did the Protestants who followed and took inspiration from him… "Sadly this doesn't fly with liberal christians. They don't think ORIGINAL SIN is an actual taint that pre-damns everyone as a wretch. Original Sin is an "allegory"

  8. says

    @Ing-Following this logic of liberal Xians, I always found strange that Jesus camed to save us from… an allegory. I mean, an allegory, really? When I do bad it is because of an allegory? Did Satan had his word to say on writing that part?Anyway, I always think that the "oh but not ALL Christians think like that and you don't know about our specific denomination" is the same argument Ufologists or paranormal believers use to shut up their critics: "Oh but we don't believe that aliens landed in Roswell, however we DO know about Saint-Marie-de-Monnoir, where we have proof aliens landed on, and which you know nothing about, na, na, na, na, na!". It's an excuse an argument at the details to hide the whole picture because it is the whole picture that is being criticised. But whatever the specifics they so ostensibly show, there are core beliefs that can be and should be challenged and criticised. Okay, so what if my neighbours don't believe in the authority of the pope if they still think it is believers that will go to Heaven, and that there is a Heaven to begin with?

  9. says

    "Following this logic of liberal Xians, I always found strange that Jesus camed to save us from… an allegory. I mean, an allegory, really? When I do bad it is because of an allegory? Did Satan had his word to say on writing that part?"I asked waht the allegory was for "Man's relationship with god"I then asked again since that told me nothing"The fall is when humans started hording and separating people into haves and have nots, gorging and keeping others out in the cold to starve and turning away from empathy"Now, the speaker thought this was in-line with science and all and all new scientific explanations about the nastiness of man could be chalked up to this. However, and I didn't point this out, it's absolute 100% bogus. From everything we know of history and evolution, putting ourselves in competition with others is not a "fall" it is status quo. Animals compete, animal populations compete. Humans competed for resources. If anything civilization and our decision to empathize and reduce this blood sport is a NEW thing. We weren't noble savages who fell and became dumb cave men rape bastards, we are a race descended from dumb cave men rape bastards who have dragged ourselves out of the mud and muck and gotten a sense of decency and civilization. Humanity's history isn't one of a fallen race, but a race pulling itself up. Objectively if their allegorical Eden exists it is in our future not past. Pure bogus.

  10. says

    Talking to Orthodox Christians is obnoxious sometime because they try to hide behind the "we are the best and true Christians and we didn't do any witch hunting etc, those were the catholics we are pure", but at the same time they do allot of stupid things.For instance in Romania. I think you've all heard about Vlad Dracula and that he impaled people. That was a common practice and another ruler Stephan the great, used to impale people. Except that in Vlad's technique people died almost instantly. In Stephan's technique people would suffer allot until they died. BUT. Stephen built a huge amount of churches and that's why he was declared a saint.

  11. says

    "Humanity's history isn't one of a fallen race, but a race pulling itself up."Indeed. Even as an allegory, especially as an allegory, the Christian view of life and humankind is inacurate.

  12. says

    "think you've all heard about Vlad Dracula and that he impaled people. "What most people don't know is that Vlad Trepes II was a lap dog to the pope and loyal soldier in the Christian Army. He earned his stripes fighting against the Muslims and got a reputation for being fairly brutal.

  13. says

    @Tanuki and Ing-Didn't Vlad Tepes converted to Catholicism when it was politically convenient? Anyway, about him, it is interesting to know that Stoker probably knew close to nothing of the Wallachian prince when he wrote Dracula, only Vlad's surname, which Stoker thought sounded nice for a villain, and a few details of Vlad's biography, which he picked up from the footnote of a history book.

  14. says

    @ GuilHe pretty much knew Vlad had the moniker Dracula, impaled people, and was rumored to drink their blood. Vlad Trepes himself is probably closer in characterization to Dr. Victor Von Doom than Count Dracula.

  15. says

    "Talking to Orthodox Christians is obnoxious sometime because they try to hide behind the "we are the best and true Christians and we didn't do any witch hunting etc, those were the catholics we are pure""Coming from a Greek Orthodox background, I second that. However, isn't that pretty much the stance of every christian on sectarian matters?"Me thinks that it's possible that the Orthodox Christian church did a better clean up job of their fucked-up-tivity than the Catholic church did."One of the major differences in Orthodox christianity compared to Catholicism was the deregulated status of its churches. The various bishops are basically equal in standing, with no "pope" figure among them. I have more knowledge of the Greek orthodox church, who after the Byzantine empire fell to the Ottomans, changed allegiances, and remains largely unharmed, but with little external pull. However, the church is using that time, as well as deeds issued from the Ottoman empire to lay claim to real estate in Greece. For more information for anyone concerned, I urge you to visit the greek atheists forum at forum.atheia.gr. The forum is in Greek, but there are plenty of english speakers there.

  16. says

    @Ing-About Dracula, you can read Elizabeth Miller on the subject, but Stoker most likely didn't know of Dracula's real name, title, ethnic origins (in the novel Dracula is a Székely) and nothing of his way of empaling people, as there is no mention of such detail in the novel. Putting a stake through the heart was a traditional way of dispatching vampires. Had Stoker known about the Dracula being "the Empaler", he would have mentioned the irony, most likely. But he literally got the name from a footnote, which pushed him to move the setting of his story from Austria to Transylvania.

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