Astyages's Weblog

May 26, 2011

What Christianity Can’t Teach Us About How To Live

What Christianity Can’t Teach us About How to Live


David L Rowlands

(This article was first offered to the ABC for publication in response to Joel Hodge’s latest article, “Christianity can teach us the meaning
of life”. As ‘Aunty’ has apparently declined to publish it, I have decided to publish it here instead; and also at the Pigs Arms.)

This article is a direct response to Joel Hodge’s latest article on the Drum/Unleashed. It seems to me that he should not be allowed to get away with using the ABC to preach a lot of immediately observable and easily disputable falsehoods.

As someone in the comments section to his article has already pointed out, the upshot of this article appears to be “Okay, chaplains have been caught out preaching and proselytizing in direct contravention of the guidelines; so what, it’s probably good for you…”

It is apparently impossible even for Joel to imagine that atheists might actually have every right not only to be atheists, but also to bring their children up as atheists if they so choose. Part of this right is the ability to send their children to a supposedly secular state school without fear that their children will be exposed to preaching and proselytizing by arrogant and self-serving religions.

Joel also appears, when it suits him, to think that all ‘beliefs’ are of equal value; suggesting that scientific conclusions and discoveries made with the use of logic and reason are somehow of equal value to fairy stories about sky-pixies and the like; that metaphysical suppositions about an imagined life after death are somehow equal to scientific theories formulated after much empirical observation and reasoned analysis; that magical rituals like cannibalistic human sacrifices are somehow as efficacious as scientific processes.

Then, using this supposed equivalence as the basis of his argument that christianity – and only christianity – should be taught in schools, because, as he puts it in his title, “Religious education can help uncover the meaning of life…”

Now Joel evidently also feels that christianity is not only the sole perspective capable of delivering the ‘meaning of life’, but that it is completely adequate to the task, though he himself, however, declines to actually enlighten us as to what he feels the ‘meaning of life’ to be’.

As soon as I realized this, the thought occurred to me that if I could therefore find just one single lesson in life (and spiritual growth), that christianity was simply not capable of teaching, then this would serve to defeat the pitiful argument he uses to explain why it should be that christianity – and only christianity – is allowed to break such protective guidelines in order to gain free and unfettered access to our children’s minds; often in spite of he expressed wishes of parents.

I didn’t have to think very hard about it at all; indeed the answer came to me as immediately obvious:

There is one lesson, taught by many ancient Greek traditions, that could never be taught by christianity: that the only people who are actually worth ‘saving’, in any sense of the word, are those who have the kind of kind of courage it takes to defy the very gods themselves. This is the inner meaning of Homer’s Odyssey: Odysseus steals Zeus’ cattle and injures Poseidon’s son, the Cyclops, Polyphemus. It is for these reasons that Odysseus is made to wander for another ten years before he finally arrives home, more in spite of the opposition of the gods, than as the result of their help.

Another god who is traditionally defied in several of the greek epics is Hades, the god of death. Following the tradition established by the Sumerian legend of Gilgamesh, Orpheus, Heracles, and Odysseus all descend into the underworld only to return to life again after completing their respective missions in the underworld. Again the message is that true heroism requires one to have the kind of courage which will defy not only death itself, but even the god of death… Christianity, with its omnipresent fear of death and the twin psychological levers it derives from this fear (the carrot and stick it calls heaven and hell) cannot possibly teach this; to be unafraid of dying is something they fear to cultivate within the hearts of their believers because christianity depends on that very fear as its means of social control.

This is also why the early christians embellished on the Greek notions of ‘Tartarus’ in order to create ‘Hell’ and thus make death even more scary.

A third god, or rather, goddess, who is defied is Circe. That Odysseus declines her offer of immortality (ie. ‘godhood’) and insists on returning to his human wife, Penelope, is particularly significant: here Homer is telling us that it is humanity that human beings should strive to achieve; not godhood; another lesson christianity is incapable of teaching. The ultimate lesson in all these stories tells us that there are times when, not only is it necessary to defy the gods, but when any other path will lead to destruction; when only defiance of the gods will suffice…

And, just as it is only when a teenage boy finally learns to start to stand up to his father and defend himself and his opinions against the dictates of someone who has thus far been a godlike figure, in order to assert his own will, that the teenager finally ‘grows up’ into full manhood, just so the Greek heroes show us that it is only when we learn to stand up to our gods that we achieve our full humanity.

This is something that christianity is fundamentally incapable of teaching because it is anathema to them. The same god who can even get his followers to find any and every possible excuse for why he allows the continuation of evil in this world, cannot be allowed to be defied, for fear of limiting, and hence disproving his omnipotence. Of course, since this lesson is one thing the christian god can’t teach, this lesson itself disproves that omnipotence; if Epicurus’ famous formulation has not already dispensed with it perfectly adequately.

But even though I have just proven that there is at least one lesson that christianity is totally incapable of teaching (in fact, I’ve given three examples!), there is a much more powerful argument for keeping religion out of our state schools: the right of atheistic parents to send their kids to a secular school for a secular education without any fear that they are going to be proselytized at by mind-benders who make a virtue of dispensing with reason and logic and  teach children to do the same. Christians demand their right to freedom of religion; fine! Let them have it… there are already plenty of schools where they can send their kids if they think schools ought to support their religion; but give us atheists and agnostics our freedom from religion.

Or do atheists have no rights at all?



  1. Reblogged this on An Atheist in Adelaide and commented:

    It’s been a while since I actually published anything I’ve written that’s actually about atheism. I was just perusing my old blog and came across this article I wrote some time ago. It was written in response to an article on the ABC’s ‘Unleashed’ blog (RIP, ‘Unleashed’!) by Joel Hodges, who was making excuses for the fact that, as predicted, were caught proselytizing to the children they were supposed to ‘counsel’… against the expressed wishes of atheist parents, whose wishes appear to be of little or no importance to Mr Hodges.

    What I wrote then in response to Mr Hodges post is as relevant today as it was then. I hope it provides food for thought.


    Comment by astyages — December 7, 2016 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

  2. well said, well said.. running from fear will produce no progress, and conquring fear will take you where you want to go..

    Comment by achapin3 — July 11, 2015 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

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