Christianity is a very broad group of more than 2.3 billion people throughout the world, and there is tremendous variation in doctrinal beliefs among us. What we have in common is that we all, in some way, recognize Jesus as God’s anointed one sent to us by God. It might be nice if we agreed on everything we believe, but we don’t. And I have no problem with that.
People come to different conclusions on just about everything because we are different. We have different experiences, different ways of thinking, different understandings and insights, and different perspectives. Therefore we often arrive at different conclusions, and religious beliefs are no exception. It doesn’t bother me (and I don’t think it matters to God) that we don’t agree on everything.
But what does concern me is when religious beliefs become harmful—when they begin to hurt either those who embrace them or those who do not embrace them.
Harmful Christian Beliefs
I sometimes refer to harmful beliefs in my writing and even have lists of those I consider most harmful. The first is a list of what I consider foundational beliefs that harm people:
Five Foundational Beliefs that do Great Harm
1. Angry God. God is angry, demanding, and vindictive toward us
2. Inerrancy. The Bible is essentially written by God and every word is inerrant propositional truth
3. Punishment in Hell. God will punish those in eternal fire who do not measure up to his expectations
4. Legalism. God has specified a host of specific rules for us to follow in order to please him
5. Penal Substitutionary Atonement. God poured out his wrath for our sins on Jesus at the cross
From these foundational beliefs derive other beliefs that also do great harm:
Five More Beliefs that do Great Harm
1. Homophobia. God rejects and condemns gays and other LGBTs
2. Christian Patriarchy. God’s plan is for men to lead and for women to be subservient
3. Satan and Demons. Satan and demons oppose God, God’s work, and God’s people
4. Young Earth Creationism. The earth was created about 10,000 yeas ago and evolution is a lie
5. Rapture and End-times Theology. The Bible reveals end-time events, and we must be careful to not miss the rapture
Now you might embrace every one of these beliefs and not feel you are being harmed at all. That’s okay; I am only concerned for those who ARE harmed. I was taught all of these beliefs as a young Christian, and I can witness to the pain and damage they caused me and others. My objective is to assist and support those who were taught these beliefs and now question some of them. Those who are happy with these beliefs are not my primary audience.
In What Ways are these Beliefs Harmful?
I understand these misguided beliefs to hurt people in several ways, and some beliefs tend to lead to one harmful result more than another while others promote more than one harmful result. Three very significant damaging results are:
2. Unnecessary religious burdens and restrictions, and
3. Judgment, condemnation, and rejection
Today we will consider fear. Do you ever experience fear in relation to your spiritual life? I hope not, but millions of believers do; and it is all unnecessary.
I think fear is perhaps the most harmful result of some of these beliefs—fear of angry god, fear of eternal hell, fear of failure in following all of God’s commands, fear of missing the rapture. And I am not talking about that fear which is the awe, respect, and reverence we feel for God; I’m talking about being afraid—very afraid!
The message of Jesus, as God’s representative, is GOOD NEWS! It should not generate fear.
Are we afraid of Jesus? Of course not. Jesus’ teaching and example are based on large measures of love—not fear. And as God’s representative to us I think Jesus demonstrates God’s own attitude toward us, which is love—not fear. I agree with author of 1 John 4:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
One More Common Fear
For many among those who tend to embrace these harmful beliefs there is an additional common fear—the fear of being wrong; they feel it is dangerous to be mistaken in their beliefs and behavior.
This fear is used to prevent people from questioning beliefs they have been taught with such warnings as ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ and ‘Lean not on your own understanding’ [Lean to the understanding of our tradition instead].
In other words: ‘Don’t question’, which essentially means ‘Don’t think’. The concern is that if we try to think for ourselves we might come to a wrong conclusions and cause God to be unhappy with us—and this is a terrible prospect in the minds of some people.
But not everyone who believes and teaches differently is a predatory false prophet. And often it is a very good idea to question and investigate our religious beliefs in order to validate them or to discover problems and seek better, alternative perspectives.
More Specific Issues with These Harmful Beliefs
We will discuss the harmfulness of some of these specific beliefs in future articles. But let me say now that I think religious fear and anxiety begin with a misguided view of God’s character. We will talk about that next time.
Jesus without Baggage exists to assist and support those questioning beliefs they have been taught in fundamentalist, traditional evangelical, and other groups. If you know someone who might find Jesus without Baggage helpful, feel free to send them the introductory page: About Jesus without Baggage.
Articles in this series:
How Some Misguided Christian Beliefs are Very Harmful
Belief in Angry God is Perhaps the Most Damaging, Misguided Christian Belief of All
If We Are Free to Approach God Without Fear, What Becomes of Our Other Religious Fears—Like Hell?
Hopeful Universalism and a Gentle Alternative
A Gentle Alternative to Punishment in Hell for Those Who Reject God’s Offer of Eternal Life—Conditional Immortality