Here’s the link to this article by David Madison.
Fueled by scripture’s biggest mistakes
In the second chapter of Acts we find the story of Peter preaching about Jesus, with dramatic results: “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added” (v. 41). Most New Testament scholars grant that the Book of Acts was written decades after events depicted, all but conceding that authentic history is hard to find here; sources are not mentioned, and the case for Jesus is made primarily by quoting from the Old Testament. Moreover, the fantasy factor is pretty high, e.g., an angel helps Peter escape from prison: “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared. A light shone in the prison cell. The angel struck Peter on his side. Peter woke up. ‘Quick!’ the angel said. ‘Get up!’ The chains fell off Peter’s wrists” (Acts 12:7).
The early Christians were a small breakaway Jewish sect, but there’s an attempt here to exaggerate its success: three thousand were baptized when they heard Peter speak. How would an author writing decades after the “event” have been able to verify that figure? And are modern readers supposed to be impressed that three thousand people signed up because they heard the words of a preacher? Throughout the ages many cults have gathered the gullible in exactly this way.
Scripture’s First Big Mistake
But catastrophic damage has been done by this text—and many others—by positioning the Jews as the bad guys, the enemies of God and Christ. Verse 23: “…this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.” The Christians set themselves apart from Judaism by claiming that Jesus was the messiah, and it was but a small step to assume that evil was behind the denial of this status to Jesus.
This finds expression in the nasty verse in John’s gospel (8:44)—which John presents as Jesus-script, addressed to the Jews: “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” This is pretty bad: “You Jews, your god is the devil.”
In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (called I Thessalonians; II Thessalonians is widely regarded as a forgery), in chapter 2 we find these verses, 14-16:
“For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyoneby hindering us from speaking to the gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins, but wrath has overtaken them at last.”
There was been debate among scholars about this text—is it an interpolation? —but there it is in the New Testament, with plenty of devout Christians over the centuries willing to help overtake Jews with wrath. This has to be counted as one of Christianity’s biggest sins, which resulted in the Holocaust. Hector Avalos makes the case for this in his essay, “Atheism Was Not the Cause of the Holocaust,” in John Loftus’ 2010 anthology, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails.
He quotes Catholic historian, José M. Sánchez: “There is little question that the Holocaust had its origins in the centuries-long hostility felt by Christians against Jews.” (p. 70, in Sánchez’s 2002 book, Pious XII and the Holocaust: Understanding the Controversy)
For more on this, see the Wikipedia article, Anti-Semitism and the New Testament.
Centuries-long hostility. In his essay, Avalos provides details of Martin Luther’s ferocious hatred of Jews, and William Shirer, in his classic work, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, notes that “…in his utterances about the Jews, Luther employed a coarseness and brutality of language unequaled in German history until the Nazi time” (p. 236). This is the holy hero so revered for launching the Reformation, and for whom a major denomination is named. It would seem that far too many Christians have failed to study church history. They fail to see this horribly ugly impact of verses in the New Testament. The willing, and in many cases, enthusiastic embrace of anti-Semitism is one of Christianity’s biggest sins.
Scripture’s Second Big Mistake
Another one is just as grotesque. A few days ago PBS broadcast the 2000 documentary, From Swastika to Jim Crow—which describes the expulsion of Jewish scholars from Nazi Germany, many of whom ended up in the United States. But they faced heavy anti-Jewish sentiment, anti-German prejudice here as well; most of them were shunned by major universities in northern states. They were hired by Black colleges in southern states, with largely positive outcomes. The Jewish professors could identify with their Black students who faced the brutal reality of segregation. The South lost the Civil War, slavery was ended, but the loathing of Black people did not diminish; if not loathing, then keeping them in their place away from white people. Generations of southern white folks have preserved and nurtured these attitudes, resentful that their way of life—founded on slavery—had been shattered.
And, of course, they could look to the Bible for support. There are no Bible texts at all that prohibit slavery, or call for its abolition. Many serious thinkers have noted that this in one of major flaws of the Ten Commandments, and it would take a long time for ethical sensibilities to evolve to the point of seeing the horrors of slavery. The movement to end slavery gradually gathered strength. Those fighting to end this brutal form of human oppression encountered stiff resistance from those found their world view in the Bible.
Is this the way Christianity is supposed to work?
From Swastika to Jim Crow draws dramatic attention to how “Christian” nations fail to notice the poisonous hatreds they embrace. Love your neighbor and love your enemies have no appeal, no traction at all. The Christian advocates fail to see the dangers of relying on an ancient book that champions a vengeful god. Jesus-script includes mention of punishment by eternal fire, a coming kingdom of god that will see millions of humans killed. One of the constant themes in the apostle Paul’s letter is god’s wrath. This kind of we’ll-get-revenge thinking encourages devout people to take a severe approach toward their perceived enemies. Hence Christians in Germany and the U.S. could justify hatred of Jews, and those in the U.S. could justify hatred of Black people—were lynchings anything other than this? Laws were enacted to keep the races separate, and were enforced ruthlessly. Yes, in, of all places, the Bible Belt. What does that tell us about Bible Values? How can this not be an example of failed Christian theology?
Moreover, it certainly shows the incompetence of the Christian god. How could a powerful, wise, all-knowing god not have noticed—not have foreseen—the consequences of the dreadful Bible verses mentioned above? When this god inspired the author of John’s gospel, surely verse 8:44 would have been erased from John’s brain before he wrote it down. Surely this wise god would have added “you shall not enslave other human beings” to the Big Ten list given to Moses—and have realized that the first two or three on the list were about the divine ego, reflecting this tribal god’s jealousy, and were not all that necessary for human happiness and well-being.
One more thing to be said about the Holocaust. Religious indoctrination can play evil tricks on the human brain. Events that undermine or shatter faith can be ignored and denied, especially episodes of inexplicable suffering and death. Theologians and clergy try their best to explain what obviously seems like god’s indifference or incompetence: he works in mysterious ways, or has a bigger plan that we can’t know about or understand. This is actually an appeal to stop thinking about it, because there are no rational explanations. But still the games go on.
The argument goes that a good god could not possibly have let six million of his people be killed—intentionally murdered—during World War II. Some make this argument to protect their theologies, their conception of god; for some it is an extension of anti-Semitism. Hence we see Holocaust denialism.
Hitler’s anti-Semitism was part of public policy, and his obsession to rid Germany and the world of Jews was clear from the mid-1930s on. The bureaucracy for mass killing was put into place. Hitler hired those who were fiercely committed to this goal. They thought they were doing a great service to the world, hence kept careful records, documenting their accomplishments. Twitter is actually one way to access what we know, through the presence there of Holocaust Education, Auschwitz Memorial, Majdanek Memorial, US Holocaust Museum, Auschwitz Exhibition. The website of the US Holocaust Museum is especially helpful, including its treatment of denialism, here and here. Also, do a Google search for Holocaust memoirs. There are so many of them; those who survived or escaped felt the need to tell their stories of loss, grief, and trauma—and courage. Holocaust deniers would have us believe they’re all liars.
When we closely examine slavery and anti-Semitism, there is simply no way to let Christianity and the New Testament off the hook for these huge sins. In his essay, Hector Avalos argues that “Hitler’s holocaust…is actually the most tragic consequence of a long history of Christian anti-Judaism and racism. Nazism follows principles of killing people for their ethnicity or religion annunciated in the Bible” (p. 369).
And shame on Jesus too—for those who believe that John quoted him correctly. Hector Avalos: “It is in the Gospel of John (8:44) where Jesus himself says that the Jews are liars fathered by the devil. That verse later shows up on Nazi road signs…” (p. 378)
David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith (2016; 2018 Foreword by John Loftus) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available.
His YouTube channel is here. He has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here.