Is it okay to disparage/debunk Christianity but not other religions?

Is it true that in the West (Canada, the USA, most of Europe) it is considered okay or acceptable to make fun of and debunk Christianity/Christians but the similar is considered in very bad form when done to Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, or Hinduism? If so, why?

Background: A friend of mine once shared his joy at discovering a book that debunked Christianity. When I said something similar should be written about Islam, he became offended. (Which I thought was funny: he’s from a Christian background, I’m from a Muslim background.) In our discussion, it became plain that he believed that debunking Christianity (which he reluctantly admitted was nothing new in the West) was okay, while debunking Judaism or Islam was a sign of intolerance, bigotry, racism, and narrow-mindedness. I argued otherwise (if it’s okay to debunk one religion, it’s okay and even meritorious to debunk them all), but the discussion ended with him giving up (because I knew more about other religions, Christianity included, than he did, and so he felt there was no way for him to convince me he was right; his basic argument was that Christianity is such a bad religion that it deserves debunking even if it’s done over and over and over again).

When I took this issue to my father, he backed up my friend. My father’s argument was that religion, as a whole, is harmful. Since most people are Christian, anti-Christian works will get their attention and help them to become free from the clutches of religion. Anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-(insert religion other than Christianity) books would not be able to accomplish the same for the vast majority of the world’s people. So, anti-Christian books are more effective in the long run. He had no response regarding freeing non-Christian people from their religions. (For the record, my father identifies with Islam, despite his above belief. Nevertheless, he reads and appreciates books written by the like of Ibn Warraq, who wrote Why I Am Not A Muslim among other interesting exposes of Islam.)

It is my perception - whether this is reality I do not know - that anti-Christian academic books are received very differently by the West than anti-Jewish academic books and anti-Muslim academic books; the one is applauded, the others are condemned. By this I do not mean gibberish ranting against a religion or its adherents: I refer to systematic demonstrations of how such-and-such religion is irrational, is flawed, cannot be true, is false, or simply is not what it claims to be.

WRS - please clear my perception or explain the reality.

Your impressions are subjective. There is no possibility of debate here, as there is no possibility of objective standards of evidence. When religion is an approach to communion with Goddess, an attempt at spiritual harmony that actualizes compassion, mercy, and love, you’re on the right track. As soon as you start thinking about it, setting up the rules and regulations, it becomes theology, and goes right into the crapper.

This is a very interesting post that touches on a multiplicity of issues - historical, social and psychological, as well as religious.

Power is the key to understanding this seeming paradox, as it is to understanding much of life. Christians - or those raised according to Judeo-Christian traditions - dominate (or, as importantly, are perceived to dominate) in modern times. Part of the manifestation of that power, or control, is the security that allows criticism of Christianity. The flip side of that power - and arguably a strong manifestation of its underlying insecurity - is that it disallows (or stigmatises - one of the functions of “political correctness”) criticism of other religions (or overt praise for Christianity).

It is a kind of smugness that members of other religions, as well as atheists brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition, are happy to trade on, resulting in such things as the brouhaha over a play that references murder in a Sikh temple.

Ask yourself how you would respond if Murder in the Cathedral - or any number of other contemporary arts performances/events - was banned for offending Christian sensitivitiesand you will appreciate the nature of this particular phenomenon.

Thank you, roger thornhill - your post was very illuminating. I never considered that Christianity’s dominance might be exactly the reason why criticism against it is permitted but criticism against others is not.

For what it’s worth, I remember from my neo-pagan eclectic solitary witch days gloating over the traditional religions in that what I practice has no binding and confining elements as theology or doctrines. But, in retrospect, that sense of pride was quite false: theology, doctrine, taboos, practices - they all were there, although certainly to a less developed level than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, which have existed for thousands of years. I just hope everyone realizes that every single religious movement or organization has its good points and its terrible points. I just get sick with people believing their movement is spotless while disparaging others. Every religion deserves to be pitted and lauded.

Anyway, I look forward to what others would like to say (or previous posters would like to expand on).


I think you’d have to define what you mean by “anti-Christian” books.

Would you consider a debunking of YEC to be anti-Christian? How about critical historical treatments of the New Testament? How about a serious, scholarly argument that Jesus never existed? How about a book which says that Jesus existed but that many of the events described in the Gospels are not historical?

Contemporary historians who study the Bible very seriously (some of them devote whole dissertations and chunks of their careers to studying a single book like Job or Mark) have determined (for good, solid and empirically defensible reasons) that the Bible contains many stories that cannot reflect literal history. That is not to say that these scholars are hostile to the Bible or that they’re out to debunk Christianity, just that when you subject the Bible to the same methodological examination as you would to Herodotus or Josephus or Homer, it doesn’t hold up as journalistic history. A good portion of it was never even intended to be taken as literal history.

Even so, these scholars (many of whom are Christians or Jews) still respect the Bible, care about it deeply and study it because they love it. This kind of scholarship needs leads to a lot of naive misunderstandings about motives and agendas.

I would also point out that historical Biblical criticism has been quite tough on a number of key historical assumptions important to Judaism. Archaeological research has led to a widespread abandonment of such fundamental events as the Exodus, the conquest of Canaan and the United Kingdom of David and Solomon. For that matter, David and Solomon themselves are in doubt.

Would a book such as The Bible Unearthed which explains the archaeology and the reasoning behind these conclusions be considered “anti-Jewish?”

As for more philosphical arguments against Christianity, I think it’s just a de facto result of the US being a country where Christians are such a huge majority. People argue against the religion they’re most confronted with, but I would also say that most any non-theist who argues against Christianity would do the same against historical or “miraculous” claims made by any other religion if challenged. It just doesn’t happen that much. You don’t see books debunking Hinduism at Barnes and Noble because Hindu fundamentalism has not made many inroads into American culture.

Christian authors often already criticize other religions such as Islam, Buddhism, Mormonism, JW’s, etc. The Bible itself already criticizes/confronts Judaism… e.g. it says that you don’t have to follow all the things God told Moses that the Jewish people should do, and the NT says that Jesus is the Messiah - even though non-Christian Jews don’t believe that.
I don’t know much about other religions and they don’t have much negative effect on my lives anyway. Well some Moslems have a negative effect on the world but there are lots of Moslems who are against what those extremists believe in… I just can’t be bothered learning all about Islam.

BTW, I question (in a mocking way) those who believe in reincarnation quite a bit… or those who believe in the afterlife - though if their beliefs are unusual I might just ask sincere questions.

You come up with interesting questions, man.

I think there are a couple of layers of the question to be addressed, honestly; I’ll try to unpeel them a bit.

First of all: as a general rule, some fraction of the devotees of any religion will be devoted to critical thought and contemplation about the nuances of their faith. This is one of the places the evolution of both thought and practice comes from; my personal feeling is that a religion worthy of taking seriously will inspire this level of critical thought in some of the people involved with it.

This will lead to a certain amount of divisiveness within the religious community, between those people who want to think about the details and nuances of their religion and those people who just want to get on with it. (I think a religion really needs both of these groups; however, one of the sure tests of my compatibility with a religion is whether I find its fiddly bits worth poking at.) Also, many people outside a religious community will presume that there are no people doing the theological work within that community, for a number of reasons, and will thus (presuming they share my gut feeling about the importance of critical analysis) consider the entire thing frivolous.

Second point: I tend (and this is one of my own prejudices) to have a hard time taking folks seriously who have no sense of humor about their religious beliefs. It comes across to me as a serious lack of perspective. (And I’m reminded of a conversation I had a while back about the subject of when humor is appropriate; one of the participants pointed out that one of the most highly respected gods of her pantheon has attested in the ancient lore the epithet “Shithead”.)

At the same time as this, though, I think it important to keep in mind that humor is often used as a means of attack, with the defense available of “It was a joke!” (Thus attempting to spin the insult in such a way that whoever is bothered by the so-called joke is perceived as humorless or bad-tempered.) It is possible to joke respectfully or, for that matter, use humor as a tool for critical analysis (in part by deflating the overblown); many jokes targeted at religions or religious people are neither, but thinly veiled insults. This is especially likely to sting members of religious minorities.

Now, getting into specific religions:

My first thought is that attempts at “debunking” Judaism in particular are going to be very difficult to distinguish from anti-Semitic screeds. (Note that I separate “debunking” from critical analysis and theological study.) In fact, my first assumption regarding a “debunking” attempt would be, in that case, anti-Semitism. My first assumption about an attempt to do the same with Islam would be a similar anti-Moslem or anti-Arab sentiment, especially lately.

My first assumption about someone attempting it on Christianity is proselytising atheist; I consider this moderately more benign than the first two, which supports somewhat the notion that it’s more socially acceptable. At the same time, I consider it as maddenly obnoxious, tedious, and bordering on offensive as any other person who’s trying to get me to abandon my religious beliefs for ones they prefer, especially since they so rarely have an argument that applies to my religion.

I tend to think that most of the people who are driven to debunking are people who have had bad experiences with the religion in question; thus, presuming an even distribution of bad experiences (and people who react to them with the debunking response), more people will feel this way about dominant religions than minority ones. (I would suspect that this is enhanced when people feel that they had no meaningful choice about their religion in whatever time period it was generating bad experiences, as being trapped is likely of itself a compounding bad experience.)

On a personal note, my general rule is that I don’t much care about other people’s religious assumptions unless they want to play around with them in a theological bullshitting session. That changes as soon as they expect me to change my beliefs on their say-so, and at that point I consider countering them to be fair game.

I think Roger Thornhill’s right. Some of it is due to a perception of power. I mean, you don’t hear about Jews in America boycotting stores because they failed to wish shoppers a “Happy Hanukkah” or Muslims protesting the teaching of evolution in schools. While no doubt there are followers of both religions who are fed up with the secularization of America, it’s the Christians who are making noise about it, just it’s Christians who are the noisiest (or at least get the most media coverage) about wanting prayer in schools.

Last December, while riding a Greyhound bus from Cincinnati to Columbus on a Sunday morning around 8:00, I had the misfortune of sitting one seat in front of a man who was bragging rather loudly on his cell phone about his recent work as a missionary which involved converting a Catholic to Christianity ( :eek: ), “driving the demon of homosexuality” out of a man and counseling a woman who wanted to have an adulterous affair with a minister. When I objected, he tried to convert me to Christianity, despite the fact that the whole reason I was on the bus in the first place was so I could get home to attend an Episcopal church function. In my opinion, behaviour like his does a lot to damage the image of Christianity in America and reinforce the image of Christians as people who are determined to force their views on everybody else. Would I have objected as strongly if the man were of another religion? Well, I certainly wouldn’t have used a quote from the New Testament to quiet him, and I wouldn’t have considered him as much of a hypocrit (that because of converting a Catholic to Christianity and his views on homosexuality versus adulery), but I would have objected to him making it harder for me to sleep. It would also have been less personal. I mean, after all, it was my religion I saw him as damaging.

When I worked downtown, I would regularly see people standing on street corners trying to convert people to various forms of Christianity. I wonder what would happen if the local Pagan Alliance tried that to try to get people to convert to Paganism (yes, I realize that goes against what most pagans believe). Public pagan get-togethers have been protested against as being evil and satanic; I can’t see that happening with Christianity. I can mention my Christian faith in public or wear a cross without being judged immoral, as a rule; that’s not necessarily a given for a friend of mine who’s Wiccan, as he reminded me when he came to my company’s Christmas party. I’ve heard someone say you can’t be a good person unless you’re a Christian; I’ve never heard that said of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, or any other religion.

Look, I’m a hardcore Christian and, when push comes to shove, my relationship with Jesus (and the Father and the Holy Spirit – it is a Trinity, after all) is the most important thing in my life. I don’t like to be ridiculed for my faith, and I do get tired of saying “Not all Christians are like that.” Unfortunately, it’s the ones who are who get the media coverage. We bring the ridicule and debunking on ourselves, sometimes. It seems to me some of us act like we’re an oppressed minority while trying like blazes to oppress others.

Excuse me. I’ve rambled like mad, and I’ve got Christmas cards to write!

I don’t think it is true, certainly not in Europe and certainly not where I studied.

No, they are not, because nothing that really can count as an academic research or publication can be “anti” anything. If you start with the goal to “debunk” something hiding behind an academic title, you are exposing yourself for nothing else then a clown. Doing research and coming up with conclusions (or even only theories) that go against mainstream interpretation is not “debunking” anything and has not the goal to “debunk”. It’s goal is to give an other perspective that can be right or can be wrong, but that nevertheless opens new ways of approach and thinking. Even when the theory itself shows itself to be wrong in the end.

What is perceived as possibly leading to further insight or opening an interesting new perspective for further research, is not “condemned”. That certain approaches are commented on or criticized by others in the same field of interest and scholarship is only a normal procedure. Simply because a theory - how interesting and new it may be - gives not a proof. It needs to be compared, tested, commented on by others to be able to prove itself as valuable or to be corrected or even proven false (unless a theory is someting clearly ridiculous, this last one is not as simply done as you might think).

I do this since I choosed my fields of study and interest.

Salaam. A

I gotta say it’s pretty rare to see anyone getting their knickers in a twist over Epsicopalianism, Siege: I don’t think you bring it on yourself :). Folks who paint with too broad a brush are the ones doing you a disservice, not the tweakers whose Christianity is so appalling.

Similarly, I’d be pretty annoyed at anyone who set out to debunk Reformed Judaism; however, if someone set out to debunk the sort of Judaism that claims that Israel is the holy land that God gave to the Jews and that God’s gift should be accounted for in international politics–well, I have no problem with that debunker.

And someone who sets out to debunk Wahabbism (sp?), the branch of Islam that calls for the establishment of vicious theocracies, is in this respect my ally.

Of course, this sort of active debunking–setting out to devastate a particularly atrocious sort of religion, whether it’s Wahabbism, Dominionism, or Aum Shinrikyo (my spelling is terrible this morning)–is different from reactive debunking. I would never set out to tell someone that their Quakerism is based on an untruth, but if they asked me my beliefs, I’d be willing to share.


In the United States, at least, part of the problem is that you’ve also got some Christians whofeel a sense of entitlement – they believe (mistakenly) that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation” with “Christian values,” and see turning the country into Jesusland™ as A Good Thing™. After all, if the Jews can have Israel and the Muslems can have Saudi Arabia, why can’t the Christians have the USA?

Of course, this attitude completely annoys those of us who’ve actually studied civics and realize they’re out of their tree, but when you try to educate them, they start railing about how they’re being persecuted by the evil “secularist organizations” who want a “godless version of this nation.” Never mind that that was the very intent of the Founding Fathers… :rolleyes:

Since I have experience with both Judaism and Christianity, I’ll comment on those. I have experience with Buddhism too, but not on its home turf, so I’ll leave that alone.

Part of the desire by some to debunk Christianity is no doubt based on the fact that it is a proselytizing religion. There are Christians who proselytize toward those of other faiths, or no faith, and there are those who target other Christians, as noted by Siege. If you are on the receiving end of such gentle ministrations;), I think it is difficult to restrain the impulse to fight back.

By contrast, Judaism does not go much for proselytizing, at least towards non-Jews*, so what’s the point of debunking it? Besides, secular anti-semitism has such durable legs that it hardly seems profitable to go after the religion, particularly if your religion acknowledges a debt to Judaism.

Another minor point is that, in my experience, Jews have a lot more “give” in their attitude toward their religion than do Christians. They argue more, ask more questions, crack more jokes. Attacks on Judaism may well just be met with a shrug. Jews aren’t so cock-sure they’re right, they’re just pretty sure you (the debunker) aren’t.

*The Chasidic groups, particularly Chabad, do target other Jews.

I once had the pleasure of getting into a theological discussion in which I was the token pagan; all the other (half-dozen plus) participants were Jewish, of various stripes. We eventually came to the conclusion that, despite our notable differences, we had one critical principle in common, specifically “What good is a god you can’t argue with?”

All organized religions are nothing more than lying scams, so there shouldn’t be any hesitation whatsoever on the debunking aspect. If someone is offended by it, they need to get a clue.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I await yours.


Originally posted by Aldebaran

Oh, come on. You know perfectly well what happens to someone who makes fun of - or even criticize - Islam, don’t you?

Several of our citizens have police protection 24 hours a day.

Two politicians are in hiding and have to go to a different safe place every night.

**One film director got shot to death, sliced open his throat and had a letter with Q’uoran verses with a knife planted into his stomach. **

I haven’t seen any christians, Jewish or Buddhists doing that, lately. :rolleyes:

I don’t think it is accurate to say that the Founding Fathers wanted a “godless nation”. Spirituality, with a particularly Protestant slant, had a profound impact on the development of this country. I think it is safe to say that they certainly didn’t want any particular organized religion having undue influence over the country. The US, however, was markedly influenced by Christian teachings and ethic and it can still be said that it is a Christian country.

It seems from what has been written that, by far, the reason Christianity is lambasted (and considered acceptable to do so) is because it is the dominant religion.

“Debunking” Judaism is a touchy subject because there’s a fine line between critical commentary on Judaism and anti-Semitism. Furthermore, Jews make fun of themselves enough to not need any outside forces to loosen them up. (And I absolutely love Jewish humor.)

Islam is a different case. In the West, Islam is a minority religion, so Muslims feel defensive about Islam and would not comfortably countenance any criticism of Islam. In addition, the firm conviction of Islam’s rectitude means that Muslims in Muslim lands may not debunk Islam either. (I would venture to say that of the major religions, Muslims take themselves the most serious, moreso than Christians. The reason why Christians can get away with criticizing Christianity but Muslims cannot get away with criticizing Islam is that Muslims interpret such criticism as blasphemy, which should be punished; Christians do not like blasphemy but cannot do anything about it due to the secularization of power structures.)

America is a Christian nation insofar as the majority of Americans are Christians. But this doesn’t help Christians any because Christianity is so fractured. If Christians began uniting and working together, then there would be cause for concern. Nonetheless, people feel threatened by displays of Christianity because of a fear that it will overrun their beliefs. In addition, there is a certain level of intolerance that Christians exhibit towards people of other faiths (although to be honest it is not all one-sided) - this gets people very upset.

And, yes, some Christians do make a sincere effort to evangelize the world. This is also seen as a threat, which causes a reaction of debunking Christianity in order to discredit it and thereby neutralize it as a threat. Since other religions are not as active, there is no sense that they need to be discredited.


It’s not seen as a “threat,” just as obnoxious.