In my opinion, there are six mistaken beliefs among Christians that cause incalculable pain, suffering, and lasting damage. On this blog I focus a lot on these baggage issues, as summarized on my About page:
- The belief that the Father is an angry, capricious, vindictive God
- The concept of eternal punishment and torture in hell
- An insistence that the Bible is somehow inerrant in every word
- An over-emphasis on rules and doctrinal requirements
- Commitment to a literal approach to the creation stories in Genesis
- 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.
Some Misguided 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 emphasize these six beliefs, 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 reputation of the church.
There are other very harmful beliefs I address, such as Christian patriarchy and oppression of women, sexual and emotional abuse of women within the church, and abuse of children (see Resources on Christian Patriarchy, Abuse, and Fundamentalism).
Rachel Held Evans also has a very nice list of resources for abuse at:
However, in my opinion, these are the BIG SIX harmful issues. They are widespread, deeply ingrained in many believers, and cause no end of harmful impacts.
How These Six Beliefs Harm Victims, Believers, and the Church
I examine the harmfulness of each of these six beliefs in more detail in other articles because each of them causes tremendous damage to three different groups.
The Victims (‘Sinners’)
Embracing these beliefs produces a perspective in which believers see themselves in sharp distinction from those they consider unbelievers or ‘sinners’, resulting in the ostracization of people and in arrogant, condescending, aggressive assault.
Sometimes, opinions of one group about another group have little significant impact beyond creating irritation, but in other situations these opinions destroy relationships, produce emotional distress, compromise civil rights and livelihood, and even lead to active oppression, injury, or death.
This is not the fruit of Jesus’ teaching that we 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 own worldview in order to save them from ‘hell’.
‘Loving the sinner’ does not feel like love at all but rather like aggressive attacks.
The Misguided 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. Matthew 11 reports:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
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 Reputation of the Church
With the good news of a loving Father, a message of peace and reconciliation, and hope for 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 often 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 legalistic and judgmental attitudes of church people
- The oppression of women, gays, and other marginalized people
- The aggressive, but flimsy, anti-science arguments of young-earth creationists
- 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. Also, see the remaining articles in this series below.
In this series:
6 Religious Beliefs that Cause Tremendous Harm
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?
The purpose of this blog is to support those questioning traditional conservative religious beliefs. If you know someone going through this process who might benefit from assistance and support, consider sharing this post with them.
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Have a great day! ~Tim