Is church harmful? Yes.

I got into a discussion last night about the harm faith and religion and church do…and ended up going on for two hours. I told them at the beginning that my answer was “yes”, which should have made it brief, but noooo.


  1. raven says

    The fundie xians own the Dark Side of our society.

    I suppose someone has to own it but it would be better for us if it was a lot smaller.

  2. Sastra says

    One of the big problems with arguing over whether some broad and general category “is harmful” is that a broad and general category will contain a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks. There’s the claims … and then there’s the companionship and community and charity and chorus and chicken dinners. Friendship, Unity, Caring, and Kindness. If you’re against these, then you are so f.u.c.k.ed.

    Of course, the gatherings that make up a church are tribal gatherings based on the perception that these are the people who value God. Making tribes is divisive. They will always look better from the inside.

  3. Rodney Nelson says

    I listened to the entire show. I was disappointed. Where was the shrill, God Delusion thumping, militant atheist? Instead there was a soft-spoken intellectual who discussed Aristotle and Francis Bacon. Who cares about Bacon’s Idols of the Marketplace (besides me, but that’s just a hobby)? I wanted to hear creationists ridiculed, fundamentalists decried, Popes sneered at. There wasn’t a single use of snark, sarcasm or scorn.

    I want my 1 hour 56 minutes 22 seconds back.

  4. eddyline says

    Couldn’t sit through the whole thing. I was stuck on the first point where the host kept saying that there are ‘rational theists out there.’ Granted, they may run the rest of their lives rationally, but the presupposition in that whole conversation is that the new testament is worthy of deep study, and that it is a given that there is a deity of some sort. I mean, what’s the point of spending a lifetime trying to figure out what the hells they were writing about if it *isn’t* divinely inspired?

  5. says

    Yeah, sorry, next time I’ll try to yell more.

    If it helps, there’s a loon on the youtube comment thread. It’s the usual “PZ IS EVIL” stuff, but I did appreciate this comment:

    Oh, the ironing is delicious!

  6. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I listened to the entire show. I was disappointed. Where was the shrill, God Delusion thumping, militant atheist? Instead there was a soft-spoken intellectual who discussed Aristotle and Francis Bacon. Who cares about Bacon’s Idols of the Marketplace (besides me, but that’s just a hobby)? I wanted to hear creationists ridiculed, fundamentalists decried, Popes sneered at. There wasn’t a single use of snark, sarcasm or scorn.

    Yeah, our SuperHero has a tendency to hide under the mild-mannered-professor persona. Blackbeard the pirate will appear as needed however….

  7. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Oh, the ironing is delicious!

    That did not happen. But, if it did, That. Is. Excellent.

  8. shawn says

    I’m mostly just baffled at what the new covenant group is. I can’t seem to find a “cliff’s notes” version of what they are about just hours of videos and blogs and every time I try to watch or read any of it I seem to be overcome with drowsiness and confusion at what they are trying to get at.

  9. unclefrogy says

    I find discussions like these very difficult to listen to in my old age. damn it is tedious
    I really do admire the professor’s ability to speak kindly and even diplomatically to people who believe in god and churches it is a gift that I do not possess.

    uncle frogy

  10. raven says

    I’m mostly just baffled at what the new covenant group is.

    Which one?

    There are lots, who knows how many.

    The Jews used to have a covenant with god. Which went to the Catholics. Which went to the Protestants. Which went to the Mormons. The USA has one supposedly somewhere.

    But having a covenant with god is no big deal. There are as many covenants as there are people who think they want one. It’s all just make believe and let’s pretend after all. If you really want one, there must be a form to fill out somewhere on the internet and you might have to pay someone a few bucks for shipping, handling, and postage.

  11. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    @ Uncle Ebeneezer – but why the hostility then? Who could be mad at tasty waffles?

  12. says

    @Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls :
    >> Blackbeard the pirate will appear as needed however….<<

    Surely you mean Davy Jones, of the Pirates of the Caribbean variety.

  13. shawn says

    @raven 11

    Well, I understand what a covenant is. I just don’t understand what they think their’s is.

  14. kestrel says

    You know, from what I’ve read elsewhere on the internet, I expected *PZ* to be 900 ft tall and shooting lasers out of his eyes, not Jesus…

    I think it’s great that there are theists out there willing to have reasonable discussions with people of differing beliefs. I enjoyed the show.

  15. weylguy says

    I too listened to the entire program and was also disappointed. I wasn’t looking for snark and screaming, but the question as to the harmfulness of the church was largely overlooked in favor of Aristotelian and Platonic philosophy, the meanings of words and the reliability of translations.

    When we read the ancient philosophers we do so to gain objective knowledge and insight. Church attendance and Bible reading is not objective — it’s intended solely to salve the fear of death and the unknown with very subjective authoritarian dogma (and to make money doing so). At best (and this was mentioned in the program), church is a social function in which people can get together to enjoy the company of others. The harmfulness of church is that it ultimately seeks to peddle lies as truth, and in doing so splits people up into the saved and the non-saved, with the saved ones seeking to destroy the sinners if they don’t come around.

    Church attendance is also a necessary ritual that serves primarily to reinforce communal belief. “I know I’m an idiot, but HE believes in it, so I’ll go along with it,” or “They all believe in it, so it must be true.”

  16. says

    My reaction half an hour in:
    I don’t personally care what Aristotle or Paul said, much less what they really meant by what they said. I guess I’m a little disappointed by the direction, but thanks for the video anyway.

  17. Rodney Nelson says

    All snark aside, I agree with weylguy. Out of the almost two hours of the video less than ten minutes were devoted to the topic “are churches harmful?” Everyone on the show appeared to believe that they are and several good reasons were given to support the affirmative. There was a wide-ranging discussion on such topics as the difficulty of translating Greek to whether Paul accepted the divinity of Christ, most of which was interesting. I would have liked more questions from the viewers (apparently two cell phones or iPads were overflowing with questions and comments from viewers but very few were given).

  18. says

    “Scarily nice,” as PZ commented at the end, just about summed it up. One might say, “scarily civil.” I found the conversation downright creepy. How can these two sides agree that “the church” is harmful? I think the explanation is that the linguist, his wife, and his pal, Guitar Shop Guy—all Christians—were defining “the church” more narrowly than PZ, which is ironic given the points made by both sides on the importance of agreeing on the definitions of words. The amiability struck me as as superficial, bordering on disingenuous.

  19. says

    It seems like if you are going to have PZ on your show you should spend less time praising him. PZ isn’t our pope. One of the things that annoys me about moderate theists is that they should have had pointed criticisms of PZ’s atheistic ideas. If they couldn’t see anything wrong with what he was saying then why don’t that admit that theism is bunk? It also seems to me like the idea that churches are bad is one that could be criticized a lot more than it was. Maybe churches are like the green stuff on bread that lets you know its gone bad.

  20. gregbrahe says

    I am Greg Brahe, the other atheist on the show with PZ and the person that invited him, and I have to say that – as much as I appreciated him doing the show – I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t take the reigns a bit more. It seemed like Dr. Jones wanted to carry the conversation from “Is Church Harmful?” to what he sees as the logical conclusion that faith without dogma is not as long as it is carried out with proper translations of the scriptures. I, like so many commenters, expected PZ to mop the floor with the imaginary division between “church” and “faith” as if they are independent of one another.

    The show continued a few hours later, and for the second half (once my audio started working – technical difficulties) I put on my PZ hat with another atheist friend, Troy Roberts, and we nailed Dr. Jones to the… cross? That show should be posted soon, same channel.

    Dave Silverman is slated to be the final guest in the series, March 3rd from 8-9 CST

  21. gregbrahe says

    Rodney, on the subject of comments – I am privy to some of the comment feed and, although we certainly were getting a lot, far too many of them were just fundies telling us that we were going to hell and quoting scripture

  22. unclefrogy says

    it was when the conversation swung toward translations of Paul and what Ariestoal said that I began to get bored. All of those ancient thinkers whether they were ever real or not are only interesting in a historical sense what some people thought at one time was the nature of reality.
    Why pick out some particular thinker from “the ancients” as more important or particularly relevant now? Once you start down that path you will eventually lead to dogma and faith. Much of what the ancients knew was in error, innocently ignorant but sure in their belief just the same.

    faith in religion = faith in ancient philosophers

    memorizing old words is still misleading and turns the mind off

    uncle frogy

  23. Thorne says

    I enjoyed it, for the most part. I, too, would have liked more “fire and brimstone” from the atheist side of the aisle, but when everyone is basically in agreement it’s hard to get that without sounding preachy.

    I also would have liked for someone to point out to the host that quibbling over the meaning of Paul’s words has no real merit except in a linguistic sense. The primary point for any acceptance of ideas, whether ancient or modern or anywhere in between, is how much of it is real. As PZ pointed out, we can look at much of what Aristotle said and duplicate his results in modern experimentation, making his writings somewhat relevant at least. When we look at the arguments between theists about the divinity of Jesus, there is no objective evidence one way or the other, and so there is no relevance to reality.

    Overall, I give the show a good rating. It kept me interested for the full time, at least.

  24. sharoncrawford says

    gregbrahe: “take the reigns ” Interesting idea but I do believe you meant “take the reins.”