Christianity does not, by its nature, cause its adherents to possess hateful attitudes or commit hateful actions. Are there instances of Christians—or Christian societies—sinning against others? Of course. But there’s a world of difference between arguing that Christians sin and arguing that Christianity causes those sins.
In 1971, John Lennon wrote a song that captured the spirit of a generation—“Imagine.” In it, he invited us to imagine a world with “no heaven above us,” “no hell below us,” “nothing to kill or die for,” and “no religion.” The result he envisioned?
“Imagine all the people / Living life in peace.”
Nearly a half century later, John Lennon’s vision of religion-less peace is as alive as ever. But the question is: Was he right?
How Did We Get Here?
There is a growing sense in the United States that strong forms of religion—such as Christianity—are the enemy of peace and brotherhood. Many Americans have now come to believe that Christianity is inherently hateful or bigoted.
John Lennon didn’t invent this view. Historically, it began around the sixteenth century, when many Europeans, tired of their so-called “religious wars,” sought to invent a liberal, secular notion of “tolerance” to counter the inherently “intolerant” nature of Christian belief.
Eventually, the growing desire for tolerance evolved into the belief that war and religion were close cousins: Abolish the latter and the former would disappear. Atheistic French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was one of the first to make this belief explicit, arguing that human beings are intrinsically good but are corrupted by strong forms of religion.
In the place of traditional religion, Comte proposed an atheistic religion that he called “humanitarian religion” or the “religion of humanity.” This religion would retain the Christian emphasis on loving other people, but strip it entirely of belief in God or any type of transcendence.