This is the reason that non-specialists are justified in accepting scientific theories outside their disciplines as the best current explanations of observed phenomena: those who developed the theories were following standard scientific practice and reasoning—and if they deviate from that, other scientists will quickly call them to task.
No matter how much fundamentalists might protest to the contrary, there is a world of difference between “faith” in scientific theories (produced using the scientific method, and subject to near-continual testing and scrutiny) and faith in the entirely unsupported myths recorded 3000 years ago by slave-holding goat herders.
For centuries, the Abrahamic religions has had an exceptionally unhealthy fixation on sex, to the exclusion of almost everything else (except power, money, and the infliction of cruelty). This stems from the numerous "thou shalt nots" relating to sex in the Bible. That the Ten Commandments contain a commandment forbidding the coveting of one’s neighbour’s wife, but do not even mention slavery, torture, or cruelty—which were abundantly common in the time the Commandments were written— speaks volumes about their writer’s preoccupation with sex (and women as property).
Today, judging from the pronouncements of many Abrahamic leaders, one would think that "morality" consists solely of what one does in one's bedroom. The Sunni and the Catholic Church are the prime example here, with its moral pronouncements rarely going beyond the matters of birth control and abortion (and with its moral emphasis seemingly entirely on those matters). Also note that the official Sunni and Catholic view of sex—that it's for the purpose of procreation only—reduces human sexual relations to those of brood animals. For many centuries the Sunni and the Catholic Church has also been the driving force behind efforts to prohibit access to birth control devices and information—to everyone.
The Catholic Church, however, is far from alone in its sick obsession with sex. The current Abrahamic hate campaign against homosexuals is another prominent manifestation of this perverse preoccupation. Even at this writing, condemnation of "sodomites" from church pulpits is still very, very common—with Abrahamic clergymen wringing their hands as they piously proclaim that their words of hate have nothing to do with gay bashings and the murder of gays.
In addition to the misery produced by authoritarian Abrahamic religions intrusions into the sex lives of non-Abrahamic believers, they produces great misery among its own adherents through its insistence that sex (except the very narrow variety it sanctions) is evil, against God's law. Abrahamic religion proscribes sex between unmarried people, sex outside of marriage, homosexual relations, bestiality, and even "impure" sexual thoughts. Indulging in such things can and will, in the Abrahamic view, lead straight to hell.
Given that human beings are by nature highly sexual beings, and that their urges very often do not fit into the only officially sanctioned Abrahamic form of sexuality (monogamous, heterosexual marriage), it's inevitable that those who attempt to follow Abrahamic "morality" in this area are often miserable, as their strongest urges run smack dab into the wall of religious belief. This is inevitable in Abrahamic adolescents and unmarried young people in that the only "pure" way for them to behave is celibately—in the strict Abrahamic view, even masturbation is prohibited.
Even after Abrahamic young people receive a license from church and state to have sex, they often discover that the sexual release promised by marriage is not all that it's cracked up to be. One gathers that in marriages between those who have followed Abrahamic rules up until marriage—that is, no sex at all—sexual ineptitude and lack of fulfilment are all too common. Even when Abrahamic married people do have good sexual relations, the problems do not end. Sexual attractions ebb and flow, and new attractions inevitably arise. In conventional Abrahamic relationships, one is not allowed to act on these new attractions. One is often not even permitted to admit that such attractions exist. The dilemma is even worse for gay teens and young people in that the Abrahamic religion never offers them release from their unrequited urges. They are simply condemned to lifelong celibacy. If they indulge their natural desires, they become "sodomites" subject not only to Earthly persecution but to being roasted alive forever in the pit. Given the internalized homophobia in the Abrahamic religion teachings inspire, not to mention the very real discrimination gay people face, it's not surprising that a great many homosexually oriented believers choose to live a lie. In most cases, this leads to lifelong personal torture, but it can have even more tragic results.
Christianity not only reduces, for all practical purposes, the question of morality to that of sexual behaviour, but by listing its prohibitions, it encourages an "everything not prohibited is permitted" mentality. So, for instance, medieval inquisitors tortured their victims, while at the same time they went to lengths to avoid spilling the blood of those they tortured—though they thought nothing of burning them alive. Another very relevant example is that until the latter part of the 19th century Christians engaged in the slave trade, and Christian preachers defended it, citing biblical passages, from the pulpit. Today, with the exception of a relatively few liberal churchgoers, Christians ignore the very real evils plaguing our society—poverty; homelessness; hunger; militarism; a grossly unfair distribution of wealth and income; ecological despoliation exacerbated by corporate greed; overpopulation; sexism; racism; homophobia; freedom-denying, invasive drug laws; an inadequate educational system; etc., etc.—unless they’re actively working to worsen those evils in the name of Christian morality or "family values."
Organized Christianity is a skillful apologist for the status quo and all the evils that go along with it. It diverts attention from real problems by focusing attention on sexual issues, and when confronted with social evils such as poverty glibly dismisses them with platitudes such as, "The poor ye have always with you." When confronted with the problems of militarism and war, most Christians shrug and say, "That’s human nature. It’s always been that way, and it always will." One suspects that 200 years ago their forebears would have said exactly the same thing about slavery.
This regressive, conservative tendency of Christianity has been present from its very start. The Bible is quite explicit in its instructions to accept the status quo: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." (Romans 13:1–2)
In addition to its morbid preoccupation with sex, Christianity creates social myopia through its emphasis on the supposed afterlife—encouraging Christians not to be concerned with "the things of this world" (except, of course, their neighbors' sexual practices). In the conventional Christian view, life in this "vale of tears" is not important—what matters is preparing for the next life. (Of course it follows from this that the "vale of tears" itself is quite unimportant—it’s merely the backdrop to the testing of the faithful.)
This focus on the afterlife often leads to a distinct lack of concern for the natural world, and sometimes to outright anti-ecological attitudes. Ronald Reagan’s fundamentalist Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, went so far as to actively encourage the strip mining and clear cutting of the American West, reasoning that ecological damage didn't matter because the "rapture" was at hand.
Christianity is perhaps the ultimate top-down enterprise. In its simplest form, it consists of God on top, its "servants," the clergy, next down, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom, with those above issuing, in turn, thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots backed by the threat of eternal damnation. But a great many Christian sects go far beyond this, having several layers of management and bureaucracy. Catholicism is perhaps the most extreme example of this with its laity, monks, nuns, priests, monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and popes, all giving and taking orders in an almost military manner. This type of organization cannot but accustom those in its sway—especially those who have been indoctrinated and attending its ceremonies since birth—into accepting hierarchical, authoritarian organization as the natural, if not the only, form of organization. Those who find such organization natural will see nothing wrong with hierarchical, authoritarian organization in other forms, be they corporations, with their multiple layers of brown-nosing management, or governments, with their judges, legislators, presidents, and politburos. The indoctrination by example that Christianity provides in the area of organization is almost surely a powerful influence against social change toward freer, more egalitarian forms of organization.
The African slave trade was almost entirely conducted by Christians. They transported their victims to the New World in slave ships with names such as "Mercy" and "Jesus," where they were bought by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Organized Christianity was not silent on this horror: it actively encouraged it and engaged in it. From the friars who enslaved Native Americans in the Southwest and Mexico to the Protestant preachers who defended slavery from the pulpit in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, the record of Christianity as regards slavery is quite shameful. While many abolitionists were Christians, they were a very small group, well hated by most of their fellow Christians.
The Christians who supported and engaged in slavery were amply supported by the Bible, in which slavery is accepted as a given, as simply a part of the social landscape. There are numerous biblical passages that implicitly or explicitly endorse slavery, such as Exodus 21:20–21: "And if a man smite his servant, or his maid with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money." Other passages that support slavery include Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9–10, Exodus 21:2–6, Leviticus 25:44–46, 1 Peter 2:18, and 1 Timothy 6:1. Christian slave owners in colonial America were well acquainted with these passages.
This misogynistic bias in Christianity's basic texts has long been translated into misogyny in practice. Throughout almost the entire time that Christianity had Europe and America in its lock grip, women were treated as chattel—they had essentially no political rights, and their right to own property was severely restricted. Perhaps the clearest illustration of the status of women in the ages when Christianity was at its most powerful is the prevalence of wife beating. This degrading, disgusting practice was very common throughout Christendom well up into the 19th century, and under English Common Law husbands who beat their wives were specifically exempted from prosecution. (While wife beating is still common in Christian lands, at least in some countries abusers are at least sometimes prosecuted.)
At about the same time that English Common Law (with its wife-beating exemption) was being formulated and codified, Christians all across Europe were engaging in a half-millennium-long orgy of torture and murder of "witches"—at the direct behest and under the direction of the highest church authorities. The watchword of the time was Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and at the very minimum hundreds of thousands of women were brutally murdered as a result of this divine injunction, and the papal bulls amplifying it (e.g., Spondit Pariter, by John XXII, and Summis Desiderantes, by Innocent VIII).
Given this bloody, hateful history, it's not surprising that women have always held very subservient positions in Christian churches. In fact, there appear to have been no female clergy in any Christian church prior to the 20th century (with the exception of those who posed as men, such as Pope Joan), and even today a great many Christian sects (most notably the Catholic Church) continue to resist ordaining female clergy. While a few liberal Protestant churches have ordained women in recent years, it's difficult to see this as a great step forward for women; it's easier to see it as analogous to the Ku Klux Klan’s appointing a few token blacks as Klaxons.
As for the improvements in the status of women over the last two centuries, the Christian churches either did nothing to support them or actively opposed them. This is most obvious as regards women’s control over their own bodies. Organized Christianity has opposed this from the start, and as late as the 1960s the Catholic Church was still putting its energies into the imposition of laws prohibiting access to contraceptives. Having lost that battle, Christianity has more recently put its energies into attempts to outlaw the right of women to abortion.
Many of those leading the fight for women's rights have had no illusions about the misogynistic nature of Christianity. These women included Mary Wollstonecraft, Victoria Woodhull, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Margaret Sanger (whose slogan, "No God. No master," remains relevant to this day).
Christianity from its beginnings has been markedly homophobic. The biblical basis for this homophobia lies in the story of Sodom in Genesis, and in Leviticus. Leviticus 18:22 reads: "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination," and Leviticus 20:13 reads: "If a man lie with mankind as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."
This sounds remarkably harsh, yet Leviticus proscribes a great many other things, declares many of them "abominations," and prescribes the death penalty for several other acts, some of which are shockingly picayune. Leviticus 17:10–13 prohibits the eating of blood sausage; Leviticus 11:6–7 prohibits the eating of "unclean" hares and swine; Leviticus 11:10 declares shellfish "abominations"; Leviticus 20:9 prescribes the death penalty for cursing one’s father or mother; Leviticus 20:10 prescribes the death penalty for adultery; Leviticus 20:14 prescribes the penalty of being burnt alive for having a three-way with one's wife and mother-in-law; and Leviticus 20:15 declares, "And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast" (which seems rather unfair to the poor beast). (One suspects that American Christians have never attempted to pass laws enforcing Leviticus 20:15, because if passed and enforced such laws would decimate both the rural, Bible-Belt population and the cattle industry.)
Curiously, given the multitude of prohibitions in Leviticus, the vast majority of present-day Christians have chosen to focus only upon Leviticus 20:13, the verse calling for the death penalty for homosexual acts. And at least some of them haven’t been averse to acting on it. Throughout history, homosexuality has been illegal in Christian lands, and the penalties have been severe. In the Middle Ages, strangled gay men were sometimes placed on the wood piles at the burning of witches (hence the term "faggot"). One member of the British royalty caught having homosexual relations suffered an even more grisly fate: Edward II’s penalty was being held down while a red hot poker was jammed through his rectum and intestines. In more modern times, countless gay people have been jailed for years for the victimless "crime" of having consensual sex. It was only in 2003 that the Supreme Court struck down the felony laws on the books in many American states prescribing lengthy prison terms for consensual "sodomy." And many Christians would love to reinstate those laws.
Thus the current wave of gay bashings and murders of gay people should come as no surprise. Christians can find justification for such violence in the Bible and also in the hate-filled sermons issuing from all too many pulpits in this country. If history is any indication, the homophobic messages in those sermons will continue to be issued for many years to come.
Christian apologists typically attempt to explain away such contradictions by claiming that the fault lies in the translation, and that there were no contradictions in the original text. It's difficult to see how this could be so, given how direct many biblical contradictions are; but even if these Christian apologetics held water, it would follow that every part of the Bible should be as suspect as the contradictory sections, thus reinforcing the previous point: that the Bible is not a reliable guide to Christ’s words.
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