6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm

In my opinion, six mistaken beliefs among Christians cause incalculable pain, suffering, and lasting damage. I focus on these baggage issues on this blog, as summarized on my About page:

  1. The belief that the Father is an angry, capricious, vindictive God
  2. The concept of eternal punishment and torture in hell
  3. An insistence that the Bible is somehow inerrant in every word
  4. An over-emphasis on rules and doctrinal requirements
  5. Commitment to a literal approach to the creation stories in Genesis
  6. Disapproval and rejection of gay people

My good friend Christian Evolution created a graphic, based on my list, that captures these major issues very well. I feel so honored that he would do that.

Six religious baggage issues

Some Beliefs among Believers are more Harmful than Others

I know that followers of Jesus disagree on a host of issues, but I don’t think all issues are equally important. I talk about these six beliefs so energetically, not because I simply disagree with them, but because they are so extremely harmful. They are harmful to Christians who believe them, to those who are hurt by Christians who believe them, and to the church.

There are a few other very harmful beliefs I rarely address because they are outside my personal experience. Though I was raised in fundamentalism (and embraced it), developments within fundamentalism in the last few decades created abusive baggage that had little personal impact on me, such as systematic patriarchy and oppression of women; homeschooling; and purity/shame culture.

Though I cannot speak from experience on these problems, other bloggers do an excellent of exposing and dealing with them. Rachel Held Evans, for example, has a very nice list of resources for abuse at:

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/abuse-resources

How These Six Beliefs Harm Victims, Believers, and the Church

At a later time, I will examine the harmfulness of each of these six beliefs in more detail, but they all cause general damage.

The Victims

Embracing these beliefs produces a perspective in which believers see themselves in sharp distinction from those considered unbelievers or ‘sinners’, resulting in ostracization and arrogant, condescending, aggressive assault.

Often, opinions of one group about another have little significant impact other than irritation, but in other circumstances it destroys relationships, produces emotional distress, compromises civil rights and livelihood, and even leads to active oppression, injury, or death.

This is not the fruit of Jesus’ message for us to love others. Because of these beliefs, the integrity of Christian love is corrupted into ‘loving the sinner’ so much that believers condemn them, debase them, and badger them into conforming to their worldview in order to save them from hell.

The Believers

Believers who embrace these teachings, and who should be living in happy reconciliation with the Father, themselves, and those around them, are instead burdened down with heavy baggage.

Jesus invites those who are weary and burdened down to come to him and receive rest, but how can one rest when they fear an angry God and eternal torment; when they are further burdened with innumerable religious rules; and when they must isolate themselves from people who don’t meet their judgmental standards?

This is not a life of truth, peace, or happiness; it is a life of burdens. Such believers, themselves, are victims of misguided beliefs.

The Church

With the good news of a loving Father, a message of peace and reconciliation, and hope for a happiness beyond death, the community of believers should be a beacon and a refuge. Those who feel alienated or who seek a better life should flock to the community that brings such good news. Instead, they discover condemnation, unreasonable burdens, and further alienation.

From extensive reading and hearing people’s stories, I suggest a number of significant reasons why people avoid the church or leave it. Perhaps you have identified some of these yourself.

  • The angry, violent, vindictive God described by believers
  • The incomprehensibly unjust teaching of eternal torture in hell
  • The aggressive, but flimsy, arguments of young-earth creationists
  • The legalistic and judgmental attitudes of church people
  • The oppression of women, gays, and other minorities
  • The political agenda of the Christian right
  • The general arrogance and condescension of believers toward unbelievers

The church is no longer seen as a light on a hill—a beacon of hope. It is not a refuge of love and healing in a difficult world; rather it is a fortress of constant attack on those outside its gates. It is no wonder ‘sinners’ and those who think for themselves are gun-shy and defensive. For many, the church has lost its reputation, and the community of believers is, itself, a victim of this misguided and destructive baggage.

All six of these beliefs cause tremendous harm, but next time we will talk about the #1 most harmful belief among Christians.

In this series:

6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm (Today’s post)
The #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God
4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People
The #2 Most Harmful Religious Belief—the Inerrant Bible
A More Realistic Alternative to Inerrancy of the Bible
4 Huge Ways Believing the Bible Inerrant is Tremendously Harmful
How Legalism Stunts Our Spiritual Growth
How Should We Respond to Those who Teach Harmful Beliefs?

Image credit 1: ChristianEvolution.com
Image credit 2: Henrique Vicente via Compfight cc
The purpose of this blog is to support those re-evaluating traditional religious beliefs.
If you find the blog helpful, consider following to avoid missing future posts.
In the column to the right, you can follow by email (most dependable), Twitter, Facebook, or RSS.
Have a great day! ~Tim
This entry was posted in baggage, creationism, evolution, gays, God, hell, inerrancy, legalism, sinners and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm

  1. Tom Devins says:

    I think you missed the most important one; reincarnation. The idea you get one shot at life is insane and totally outdated.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Tom, the concept of reincarnation does have a strong appeal in that it provides for an afterlife instead of being snuffed out of existence after only a limited one-time life experience, but so does the good news of Jesus.

      In addition to the benefits of the good news to us in our lifetime, there is the anticipation of eternal life–not a cyclical return to growing up repeatedly in a difficult world, but to an unending life of happiness and peace.

      Like

  2. I’d add to this list the idea that only those who agree with you in every point of doctrine are real Christians.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Good point Alan! This is a strong view among many believers, and it is very harmful. Genuine Christians are defined by a process of excluding those who do not agree with certain doctrinal views until there is often little room for ‘true’ Christians as opposed to ‘nominal Christians’–those who are Christian in name only.

      Years ago, I heard a minister mention in a sermon that, as far as could be determined, there were only about one million Christians in the entire world; this was the approximate size of his denomination.

      This severe exclusivism hurts those who embrace it, those excluded by it, and the reputation of the church.

      Like

  3. Pingback: 3 Important Considerations in Loving Others as Ourselves | Jesus Without Baggage

  4. sheila0405 says:

    Thanks for reprinting your list of six harmful baggage issues that hurt the church. The exclusionary nature of this baggage is appalling. I’m looking forward to the series as you explore all of this. It was your blog postings about hell that convinced me that hell does not exist. You always help me.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sheila, you have always been one of my greatest supporters, but I do not recall that my postings on hell had such a significant impact. I am glad they were helpful to you!

      Like

      • Happy Passer By says:

        I think hell exists as much as i think evil exists. But i just do not think hell is what we think it is and not sure if we are there for eternity. I think we can be if we choose to be…

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Happy, in your scenario what do you think it might be? And what do you think it is not?

          Like

        • Chas says:

          I think that hell is here on earth, precisely because evil exists in it.

          Like

        • baptistinboots says:

          As a baptist minister in the UK (we make them differently than in the Southern Convention, well, mostly) I think Re. Evil and Hell – it is possible to hold a view that the literal hell is not biblical and ‘made up’ later in the medieval period – Evil can be seen as a non-ontological reality (have no personhood yet evidencing itself when any group of people form any type of institution)

          Like

  5. michaeleeast says:

    This criticism of the Church is both relevant and constructive.
    It ties in well with How Can We Fix the Broken Church on PCB.
    Believers don’t seem to realize that they are turning people away.
    If only the Church could be the haven of peace and love that was Jesus’ dream.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Yes, Megan covered a lot of good ground in her article. Michael, I am so glad there are so many people pointing out that many churches hurt others and themselves with their attitudes of condemnation and rejection.

      Like

  6. Happy Passer By says:

    How about the sense that we are always sinners. I know that Jesus wipes away our sin. But I cannot help feeling that if we love ourselves, it is selfish. Even though I think not loving yourself and taking care of yourself can lead to serious self-esteem issues and depression. I think the church’s emphasis on how bad we are in our flesh is just wrong. Very wrong.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Happy, I think I know what you mean: a self-CENTRTRED love is a selfish love. If that is what you mean, then I agree that loving ourselves in that way is selfish. What I mean by loving ourselves properly is that, when we begin to grasp how the Father loves us and values us, we begin to see ourselves differently–as someone valuable and worthy of love. This leads to self-esteem and should result in less self-destructive behavior; we care more about ourselves.

      This is the opposite result of what some of us learn from those who tell us how terrible and worthless we are–like worms or filthy rags. Truly loving ourselves in light of the Father’s love should not lead to self-centeredness but to wishing the best for ourselves and others–including those who hurt us.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, Happy’s question shows a need for balance. We should love ourselves, but not more than we love other people; i.e. we should not put ourselves first (which, as you say is self-centered love). This shows that the ‘as’ in the phrase ‘love others as we love ourselves’ is important: it shows the need for this balance. As you have pointed out, self-esteem is very important, because low self-esteem can lead to self-destructive behavior, but also to self-aggrandizement, which is destructive towards other people.

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Wow Chas! You get a gold medal!

          You expressed this so well and so succinctly. I want to mention my favorite phrases from your comment but I love every single phrase. I hope all the reader’s of this post see it, and I am saving it to use in a future post.

          Thanks for sharing!

          Like

  7. Nice post. Even though I’m atheist, I accept that there are those who aren’t, that there are those who embrace Christianity. I accept that, and I’m fine with that.

    Personally, I think Christ summed up his beliefs, the path He walks, in Matthew 22:36-40: The two greatest commandments. It is my hope to encourage those who consider themselves Christian to embrace Christ’s teachings, to follow His path.

    The two greatest commandments, in my opinion, are the very foundation of Christianity. If you deviate from those two commandments, then you have deviated from Christ’s path.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Bill, I think you are right about the two greatest commandments summing up Jesus’ message. This was simply a summary, but Jesus demonstrated the importance of this in all his words and all his interactions with people. He not only taught this message, but he lived it–he walked the path, as you say.

      He also told us two other important things: that God is not angry and vindictive (which is great news for those who think he/she is) and that there is a wonderful prospect for an eternal peaceful and happy life beyond our death.

      Although I am not an atheist, I have no problem with those who are. I believe God loves and understands atheists and that they can experience eternal life as well as Christians can.

      Like

      • Brad Reese says:

        Apologies for being late to the party, but your reply does leave me with a question: How can atheists experience eternal life? If unbelievers can go to Heaven what was the point of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? Does God just sweep their sin under the proverbial rug? I’m obviously new to your blog so I apologize if you’ve covered this elsewhere. I’m genuinely intrigued here and would love your take.

        Thank you!

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Brad, I think your question is an excellent one and is one that should be considered more frequently.

          I don’t think unbelievers will be part of the eternal community of the Father, but that does not mean one must be a believer before death. I suspect that, after death, we will all have the opportunity to accept or reject the Father’s offer of eternal life with a clear understanding of what that entails, including the conditions. In fact, I don’t think there will BE ANY unbelievers at that point of clarity–there will be only accepters and rejecters.

          People who reject the Father during this lifetime are often not rejecting the Father himself, but they have inadequate information and/or comprehension to accept him. Even worse is that many believe they understand about him and reject him based on misguided ideas that his followers teach about him.

          As far as the cross is concerned, I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus demonstrates his power to provide the eternal life he promised; anyone who chooses eternal life receives it based on what Jesus did for us. This includes:

          * Those who died before the time of Jesus
          * Those from the time of Jesus until today who have not heard the good news
          * Those who did not receive sufficient and accurate information about Jesus and his good news
          * And those who ‘rejected’ Jesus based on a distorted message

          Thank you for asking this important question.

          Like

  8. Pingback: 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm | Rev Mike's Thoughts

  9. Reblogged this on Grace and Stuff and commented:
    I’m pleased to bring this excellent blogger to the acquaintance of my readers. For those who have been hurt by abusive religion, this is a breath of fresh air. Ditch the God of Perfection and come see a Jesus who says “I will give you rest.”

    Like

  10. Eva says:

    One thing that I have found in moving towards Christianity is the fact that many people ( militant atheists of which I used to count myself amongst) and the general non- committed observer, think that to be a Christian you must, by default, take on board all these harmful doctrines. Letting people know at you are dabbling with Christianity means, in my experience, that I have to regain a lot of ground in explaining that I don’t hate gays, I do believe in evolution, I don’t believe the bible in inerrant, etc.

    Is it because the most vocal Christians in society are the bigoted and exclusionary ones, or is it the fact that the media likes to focus on them? Either way, it’s a sad situation that people don’t understand that it can simply be about loving your neighbour as yourself.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Eva, the very vocal, and seemingly ubiquitous, promoters of these beliefs do create the appearance that all believers think this way. But I am so glad we don’t, and there is a constantly growing number of believers who no longer hold to these harmful beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Is it Selfish for Us to Love Ourselves? | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Charlie Bombalier says:

    You are right, it is obscene the way these religious institutions (boarding schools for “troubled teens” ) abuse these children in the name of Jesus. Paddling. mental abuse,sexual abuse,humiliation,torture.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Charlie, it is good to hear from you! Misguided use of abusive behaviors in the name of Jesus is, indeed, obscene.

      Like

  13. Pingback: 6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm | Open to everything, attached to......

  14. Pingback: #1 Most Harmful Belief Among Christians—Angry God | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Pingback: 4 Ways that Believing God is Angry and Harsh Hurts People | Jesus Without Baggage

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  17. Robert says:

    Personal studies led me to your site. I am open but guarded on a lot of what you say here. One statement seemed way out of place here. Homeschooling is a bad thing?

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Robert, sorry for the delay. I have been away from my computer for a couple weeks.

      I don’t think homeschooling is a bad thing in itself. The problem among many Christian homeschoolers is that they are committed to harmful ideas about the world and attempt to deprive their children of a good education. The homeschooling curricula they use, such as ACE, teaches very restricted conservative religious views and does not provide an adequate education for their learners. Children are taught the correct answer to issues and are not developed to think for themselves. There are other problems with this culture as well.

      However, I have no problem with parents providing quality education for their children at home. I hope this helps.

      Like

  18. Pingback: The 10 Most Viewed Posts on Jesus Without Baggage in 2015 (through June) | Jesus Without Baggage

  19. Tony McGurk says:

    The church is no longer seen as a light on a hill—a beacon of hope. It is not a refuge of love and healing in a difficult world; rather it is a fortress of constant attack on those outside its gates. It is no wonder ‘sinners’ and those who think for themselves are gun-shy and defensive

    We discussed this at our Bible Study Group last Wednesday night. Someone asked our pastor how he viewed gay people. His reply “I love people regardless of their background. Help them to come to Jesus & then let him speak to them about it” He said that by expressing an opinion he feels that if he says he doesn’t agree with it then he’ll automatically be labelled a Hater. If he was to say he agreed with it then he’d be labelled a liberal christian who is permissive towards anything so it would put him in a “Can’t win either way” situation. In the ongoing discussion we came to the view similar to your words I quoted above. The pastor said that this particular church’s main focus is outreach so to have a judgmental condemning attitude would drive away many who have started coming to church & more importantly to Jesus as a result of the various outreach programs that they run.

    Eva said in a previous comment that many think that to be a Christian you must, by default, take on board all these harmful doctrines.
    As I’m fairly new to non-JW churches some of my beliefs are still similar but not identical to some of the JW basic beliefs. The non-existence of a fiery hell being one of them. Ideas contrary to the default orthodox beliefs are something that can be a bit controversial with many Christians, I have been to 3 different churches & have narrowed it down to 2 but I still see extra baggage with them both. I read the Bible & try to let myself be open to gaining a non-denominational/non-doctrinal understanding if that term makes sense. I go to church mainly to worship with other Christians but refuse to let them tell me what I must believe. Both these churches seem pretty tolerant of differing viewpoints.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, I think you have a good attitude toward church participation: worship with other believers but don’t let them tell you what you must believe. I like that.

      It is no surprise that you have narrowed your search for a church but still find baggage in them. I think all churches are going to have some baggage. The important issue to me is how serious or harmful the baggage is. I never expect to find a church or minister with whom I agree on everything, because if any two people agree on every religious issue then at least one of them is not thinking.

      Like

  20. Pingback: Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  21. revcopado says:

    Reblogged this on The Spiritual Blog of Rev. Michael F. Copado. and commented:
    This is dead on…
    “This is not the fruit of Jesus’ message for us to love others. Because of these beliefs, the integrity of Christian love is corrupted into ‘loving the sinner’ so much that believers condemn them, debase them, and badger them into conforming to their worldview in order to save them from hell.”

    This is an excellent blogpost, check it out.

    Like

  22. Thankyou for these words. Sadly, I can very much relate. The church is often not a place of healing, but more so a place of judgement and rejection.
    In my experience, if I share some of my Christian viewpoints with friends or collegues who are not Christian, they tend to be quite respectful and openmindend about it, even though their viewpoint is different. If I share some of my (more liberal) thoughts on Christianity with my Christian friends, they can be so judgemental, and taking God on their side too.
    How sad, as we Christians should be known for our kindness and not our judgemental attitude.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anne, I know what you mean about sharing your thoughts with certain believers. If your thoughts contradict what they have received as their interpretations from tradition and authority, it can be quite unpleasant.

      Such reactions harm believers, unbelievers, and the church.

      Like

  23. Pingback: The 10 Most Viewed Posts on Jesus Without Baggage in 2015 | Jesus Without Baggage

  24. Samyaza says:

    Several belief that I found really problematic:

    1. Being persecuted for doing ‘the right thing’ aka persecution complex.
    They act like a jerk. People don’t like it and they feel like it’s because they’re doing the right thing.
    In Muslim fanatics case, it’s even worse. They believe are peaceful and only attack when they got attacked first. But they kept feeding themselves with the idea of persecution that would lead to them to justify violence.

    2. God works in mysterious way.
    So mysterious that he created gays and refuses to heal them and blames them for being one.

    3. We cannot understand God’s love/justice.
    Redefine love and justice into something twisted and disgusting, then tells people who couldn’t accept it as not being spiritual enough.

    4. There is no justice in this world. True justice only exists in the afterlife.
    Which is why religion is the opium of the mass.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Pingback: A More Realistic Alternative to Inerrancy of the Bible | Jesus Without Baggage

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