Does Jesus poison everything?

The late great atheist, Christopher Hitchens, said that religion poisons everything (God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything) “organized religion is “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children” and sectarian, and that accordingly it “ought to have a great deal on its conscience.” (Wikipedia). 

And, honestly, you can make a case for these accusations, even though it’s a bit overstated since almost all people in history held to some sort of religious belief, and still do. And atheism has had its own despots. Joseph Stalin deconverted from his Russian Orthodox upbringing while studying at a Georgian Orthodox seminary and became an atheist. And it’s estimated that Stalin slaughtered at least 60 million people and committed many other atrocities. So, if we were all honest, we would say it’s a human problem. But that’s not my point.

My question is…does Jesus poison everything?

We’ve been looking at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in my series, “Jesus’ Subversive Kingdom.” So…what if we actually followed Jesus and let Him deal with all our toxic issues: anger, sexual objectification, treachery, manipulation, revenge, enemy hatred, hypocrisy, greed, insecurity, judgmentalism, and self-centeredness… would the world be so poisoned?

Jesus was loved by sinners and hated by the religious. In fact, the religious colluded with the state to have Him crucified. His earliest followers were hunted down like wild animals, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for actually following Him.

Atheists and skeptics like to point to atrocities done in the name of Christ. But these actually come from a “Christianity” created after Roman Emperor Constantine turned it into a state religion, one that looked almost nothing like following Jesus.

Mahatma Gandhi identified the problem by his response to the “Christendom” he experienced under British rule:  “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

It’s really quite simple. Let’s think this through for a moment.

First, Jesus said this is how the world would know we’re following Him:

35 All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other. (John 13:35 ERV *)

But is this how the world sees us?

Second, Jesus said we can tell by the fruit (Matt.7:16-20). And what does this fruit look like?

22 But the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things.  (Gal.5:22-23 ERV *)

Is this how people are experiencing us?

Do you see the problem yet?

Bill Johnson said, “Everyone wants a King like Jesus. And if we will represent Him well, they’ll want His body too.”  This is both true and quite tragic when we realize  there’s over 2 billion people in the world calling themselves Christians.

The bottom line is this: Jesus isn’t the one poisoning the world. As Robert Capon rightly said, “Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion.” The problem isn’t with following Jesus, it’s with not following Him but claiming that we are.

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt.7:21-23 NKJV *)

* All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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56 Responses to Does Jesus poison everything?

  1. Great post Mel. It is indeed often “Christians” who turn people away from Christ.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Very true, Lilka. As the old saying goes, the only problem with Christianity is the Christians. This is why it’s important that we learn how to follow Christ.
      Blessings.

  2. Amen, Mel. I was really blessed to grow up within some pretty intense atheism, because it becomes a religion all by itself and so you learn that human nature is simply deeply flawed. It’s like that old song, imagine there’s no religion, “imagine there’s no heaven,It’s easy if you try, no hell below us
    above us only sky, imagine all the people living for today.”

    Well, I’d like to believe that we’d all be holding hands and singing kumbaya, but the truth is when you take away Jesus Christ, other far less pleasant things slip in to fill the void,and what you’re left with is the darkness of human nature, unrestrained, unforgiven, unled. There’s also the logical fallacy lurking behind the fact that if we reject the righteousness, goodness, beauty of Christ, it calls into question our own ability to discern what is good, true, beautiful in the first place.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen, IB. While I’m sure atheists will disagree with you, what you said here is so important… “There’s also the logical fallacy lurking behind the fact that if we reject the righteousness, goodness, beauty of Christ, it calls into question our own ability to discern what is good, true, beautiful in the first place.”

      This reveals something so incredibly sublime and yet so tragic. As Bernard of Clairvaux said, “The only reason we don’t love Jesus is because we don’t know Him.” And so we see words like “righteousness” through our darkened lens and think “perfect behavior,” when His righteousness means wholeness, fullness, and living according to our design.

      And never receiving this revelation of His unfathomable love and beauty keeps us in the dark about love and goodness itself. It’s also tragic because so many have marred His beauty and goodness by doing evil things in the name of serving Him. It’s truly demonic. Yes, while religion might poison everything, Jesus makes everything beautiful and full of life with purpose.

  3. It’s sad, Mel, when atheists blame Christians (or religion) for the world’s problems, a lot like Trump blaming Muslims or Hitler blaming Jews.

    We really must begin to look at ourselves, something unfortunately those who blame seem unwilling to do.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, it really is a form of prejudice, putting every Christian into the same bag with the worst examples of people not following Christ.
      And, we as believers, have to look at ourselves and make sure we’re following Jesus, letting Him deal with our own hearts. The rest will take care of itself.

      • Absolutely right, Mel. Always looking at ourselves – the logs in our own eyes – first and foremost.
        BTW, I used your post as a jumping off point for a post I’ve scheduled for Monday, giving you credit for the inspiration, of course. 😉

  4. Arkenaten says:

    My question is…does Jesus poison everything?

    Hmm, that’s a bit ambiguous, Mel.
    The biblical character is a narrative construct, so the human character that he may have been based upon can hardly be held accountable for the nonsense attributed to him later on by unscrupulous theologians/theists/gospel writers
    Therefore …. probably doesn’t poison anything.

    🙂

    • Mel Wild says:

      Regardless of what you believe about Him, following the teachings would not poison anything.

      • Arkenaten says:

        Sure about that?
        Care to put it to the test?
        We could even have a wager.

        We’ve both read the bible, you know it a lot better than me, I presume … and you are a professional theologian and I’m an amateur.

        What say you , Mel?

        • Mel Wild says:

          What is there to test about dealing with our toxic relational issues: sexual objectification, treachery, manipulation, revenge, enemy hatred, hypocrisy, greed, insecurity, judgmentalism, and self-centeredness. Is confronting those things in us so poisonous?

        • Arkenaten says:

          None of the above require instruction from a character in a book, surely?
          Or are you truly saying you could not function as a healthy normal male/human without taking directions from a 2000 year old literary character with no means to establish veracity?
          And of course there are other more insidious aspects to ”following” this character as well you are aware, I’m sure, Mel.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Actually, I think we’ve proven that they are impossible to completely follow on our own. Do you know anyone who perfectly does? And what would you call the “insidious aspects” of following Jesus, Ark? And don’t just list off “Christian” history or bad doctrines again.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Are you truly unaware?
          Okay, how about the instruction to the young man to sell all his possessions if he wants to be perfect?
          gMt 19:21

          or …
          Have no thought for the morrow. gMt 6:34.

          That’s a start ….

          Care to comment?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Ironically, in Matt.19:21 Jesus was answering your comment from before…that people can inherently do these things. The truth is, they can’t, and prove over and over again that they don’t. His is what Jesus called the “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt.5:20), the righteousness of appearance or outward deeds. The rich young ruler proved by his response that his treasure was earthly wealth (greed), which is why Jesus brought it up. Jesus wasn’t condemning wealth, only when we make it an idol in our hearts.

          Matthew 6:34 deals with how we find security, and our anxiety over trying to control what is not ours to control. Another human ailment.

          These are all subsumed in the relational issues I already mentioned, which Jesus dealt with in His Sermon on the Mount: sexual objectification, treachery, manipulation, revenge, enemy hatred, hypocrisy, greed, insecurity, judgmentalism, and self-centeredness.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Actually , Jesus said that if he ”wished to be perfect” etc.
          The man had already done the things the character Jesus had mentioned.
          He is not expressing any sense of greed.
          If he was not condemning wealth then there was no need for such an order.
          He compounds this later as well when demanding followers to give up families etc.
          And of course we can see the results of abandoning everything in the nae of this character.

          It is a similar scenario should everyone simply give not thought for tomorrow, especially if one considers that he was an eschatological rabbi who believed the end of the world was just around the corner.
          And again, none of the issues discussed in the sermon on the mount require obedience to a literary figure from a book and neither are any of his sermons original n nature.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Replied on a different thread…

      • This illustrates nicely why I do hate religion but so love Jesus. It also illustrates why Ark likes to follow so many Christian sites. He is simply following the teachings of his religion.

        • Mel Wild says:

          It illustrates why I hate religion, too.

        • Arkenaten says:

          What religion would that be Patrick?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Ark, what we refer to as “religion” is what Jesus referred to as the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Mk.8:15). It’s ritually based observances that actually keep us separated relationally from God. It’s transactional verses transformational. Everything Jesus came against the Pharisees for was religiously based: outward righteousness without inward transformation. They did not understand the overarching reason for the Commandments they thought they were obeying, which was to walk in other-centered, self-giving love. This is why we say that Christ didn’t come to start a new religion but to announce the end of it.

        • Arkenaten says:

          I have discussed this with you before.
          Without the church you would have no notion of the character Jesus of Nazareth as he does not appear outside of the pages of the bible,
          Furthermore , you still ”run” a church and indulge in several ritual observances I am sure.
          Prayer for one, yes?
          There is no way if you are honest that you can separate your religion from the notion of following the character Jesus of Nazareth.

          Furthermore, are you absolutely sure that Jesus followers all adhere to the same doctrine?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Your historicity “proofs” are highly debatable, and off-topic. The teachings of Jesus and New Testament letters were followed for centuries before they were canonized by the state religion of Rome, so that’s a bogus argument.

          The “church” (ecclesia) is not the same thing as organized religion. It simply means an assembly of “called out” ones. It has nothing to do with buildings, denominations, by-laws, or any emphasis on outward ritual. While these things are not bad, in and of themselves, the difference I’m talking about is whether it’s transactional or relational.

          Furthermore, are you absolutely sure that Jesus followers all adhere to the same doctrine?

          You’re assuming that following Christ is based on doctrinal agreement. It is not. It’s based on our union with Christ (John 13:35; 17:23), which is based in other-centered, self-giving love. And whether professing “Christians” are adhering to this or not, is no indication of the veracity of Jesus’ teachings. In fact, that’s my point: people aren’t following Christ; they’re following particular denominational doctrines or a religious version of Christianity which often contradict His teachings.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Your historicity “proofs” are highly debatable, and off-topic.

          Not highly debatable at all. There is no evidence whatsoever for the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth. And therefore it is bang on topic.

          The teachings of Jesus and New Testament letters were followed for centuries before they were canonized by the state religion of Rome, so that’s a bogus argument.

          Yes, but they were still followed by the ‘’church’’ .

          The “church” (ecclesia) is not the same thing as organized religion. It simply means an assembly of “called out” ones. It has nothing to do with buildings, denominations, by-laws, or any emphasis on outward ritual. While these things are not bad, in and of themselves, the difference I’m talking about is whether it’s transactional or relational.

          So you meet in a field and pray separately do you? And never read from the bible. Are you a paid/ salaried pastor?

          Furthermore, are you absolutely sure that Jesus followers all adhere to the same doctrine?

          You’re assuming that following Christ is based on doctrinal agreement. It is not. It’s based on our union with Christ (John 13:35; 17:23), which is based in other-centered, self-giving love. And whether professing “Christians” are adhering to this or not, is no indication of the veracity of Jesus’ teachings. In fact, that’s my point: people aren’t following Christ; they’re following particular denominational doctrines or a religious version of Christianity which often contradict His teachings.

          ‘’His’’ teachings all come from the bible. Documents collected, edited and canonized by the church. All gnostic, Arian and other heretical flavours removed, and you have way of knowing whether thay are interpreted the same or differently.
          So, essentially, while not following church ritual, you still follow the church’s book and you still conduct a form of service.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Yes, it is debatable in the real world, Ark. You sound like a Fundamentalist now with your Jesus myth dogma. And this, again, shows that you cannot stay on topic. You must resort to your favorite ad hominem attacks, historicity arguments, and church conspiracy theories rather than deal with what Jesus said.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Nonsense. These days I am ambivalent regarding the historicity of a 1st century, eschatological, Itinerant Rabbi called Yeshua.
          But the miracle working god-man in the anonymous gospels is a narrative construct for whom there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever.
          And it is this character – or at least what he is supposed to represent – that most definitely poisons everything.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Ha! You’re the one making a nonsensical argument! Ark, you are not arguing against the content itself but making ad hominem attacks on the subject, in this case trying to discredit Jesus by parroting historical criticism arguments by skeptics, instead of actually considering what He says.

        • Arkenaten says:

          We have no way on knowing the veracity of the context firstly.
          One cannot discredit a literary character but we can discredit the anonymous authors.
          And in fact the gospels discredit themselves all over the place, as well you know, but are unlikely to admit.
          So, yes, it is this ”Jesus” that poisons everything.
          And I suppose we can also lay some blame at the feet of Saul.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Again, your answer is based on an a priori premise from skeptics. You can’t argue with my point so you go off on your historicity and ad hominem attacks. You can’t deal with Jesus so you have to discredit Him instead. Typical trial lawyer stuff.

          So, what precisely is so poisoning about Jesus’ teaching? And don’t go off on your rabbit trails again, or we will have to end this conversation.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Not in the least.
          We have to start with known facts, not faith.

          There is no ad hominem of a fictional character. That wuld be silly, like attacking Harry Potter as if he were too were real.
          As I stated.
          But we can attack and discredit the anonymous authors of said text for creating or at last embellishing and developing this divine character.
          That is where we must start.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Again, all biased assumptions that are debatable. I disagree with your conclusions. And again, OFF-TOPIC. You simply cannot handle what was said, can you. Your only defense is discrediting the witness.

          If you continue parroting your Jesus myth dogma, we’re done here, Ark. You obviously can’t stay with the actual point I was making. Did Jesus poison everything?

        • Arkenaten says:

          Did Jesus poison everything?

          My very first response answered this. So what on earth is your problem?
          I said ”no”, remember?

          If you want to continue to argue against this then be my guest.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Okay, so you have no problem with Jesus’ teachings, as they are presented to us? If so, fine. We’ll end it there.

          All your other arguments will get us nowhere. It’s pointless to drag it all out.

        • Mel Wild says:

          And you did say this when I said that regardless of what you believe about Jesus, following His teachings would not poison anything:

          Sure about that?
          Care to put it to the test?

          I answered your question (“Sure about that?”) which, apparently, you are agreeing with in principle now, but then you went off on everything but Jesus’ teachings. So, again, we’re done here.

    • Mel Wild says:

      [@Ark. This is from the other thread]

      Actually , Jesus said that if he ”wished to be perfect” etc.
      The man had already done the things the character Jesus had mentioned.
      He is not expressing any sense of greed.

      Not true. The man proved he couldn’t put God before His wealth by walking away. That was the whole point, Ark. Jesus had other wealthy people follow Him that He said no such thing to because that was not their issue. All these things have to do with what we make most important in our lives.

      Second, Jesus was answering his question about being “perfect” through His self-efforts. The answer is, it’s impossible for man, but all things are possible with God (Matt.19:26). He was also dealing with common false belief at the time that wealth proved one was righteous and in good standing with God. Wealth is neither bad nor good. It’s the heart that determines that.

      It is a similar scenario should everyone simply give no thought for tomorrow, especially if one considers that he was an eschatological rabbi who believed the end of the world was just around the corner.

      Again, not true. First, the context is worrying over issues everyone else in the world worries about…how am I going to provide for myself? What if I lose my job, etc., etc.. Second, Jesus was NOT a rabbi who thought the end of the world was around the corner. While Jesus did specifically predict Jerusalem’s demise and the end of Temple worship (70 AD), He explicitly said He didn’t know when the world would end.

      • Arkenaten says:

        Second, Jesus was NOT a rabbi who thought the end of the world was around the corner. While Jesus did specifically predict Jerusalem’s demise and the end of Temple worship (70 AD), He explicitly said He didn’t know when the world would end.

        Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened

        • Mel Wild says:

          But what things, Ark? It’s pretty clear He was talking about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem itself. We know that happened in 70 AD.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Sorry, are you struggling with the term ”This generation?”

        • Mel Wild says:

          No, are you struggling with my direct answer? I said that Jesus predicted the Temple’s destruction and invasion of Jerusalem within their generation. It happened in 70 AD, which is within their normal definition of a generation (about 40 years).

        • Arkenaten says:

          Did he really? If you read the preceding verses you will see there is nothing about the temple or the 10th legion. destroying Jerusalem. Your argument is an old Apologetic bit of hand waving nonsense and it is fallacious.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Ark, you love to use the term, “hand waving” to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you, but it means nothing. The main context is the destruction of Jerusalem.
          Mark 13:1 Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!”
          2 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
          “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?”
          30 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

        • Arkenaten says:

          No. That is an apologist answer and not one maintained by biblical scholars, as I am pretty sure you know.

          And now you resort to cherry picking?
          I’d say you were being disingenuous but being typical is probably more accurate.
          He got it wrong . Period.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Now, you are arguing scholar’s opinions. Which ones, Ark? Your agnostic, liberal ones? Conservative scholars? Preterist scholars? Futurist scholars? I know you drank the skeptic Kool-aide, but you don’t know what you’re talking about here. But again, off-topic.

        • Arkenaten says:

          How about proper biblical scholars who don’t have any sort of Christian bias?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Haha! “Proper” scholars? “No Christian bias?” What world do you live in, Ark? There is NO such thing as “unbiased” in any world! If there’s anything we’ve learned since the historical criticism experiment of the Enlightenment it’s that there’s no such thing as a disinterested observer who has no effect on what he or she is observing. Non-Christian scholars have their own a priori bias.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Of course there is.

          They simply read the text without any preconceived notions and deduce their answers from that.
          As an example:
          We know the virgin birth prophecy is nonsense ; ripped off from Isaiah and was never meant to suggest the birth of the character Jesus, but was directed at King Ahaz. Even you know this.
          When this was first revealed, apologists then tried to suggest is was a double prophecy. Some still do, for goodness sake!
          And they do a similar thing with the ”this generation shall not pass,” verse.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Haha! Whatever…you’re digging yourself deeper in the hole here. There is NO such thing, Ark. No preconceived notions? You mean like, we begin by not believing anything supernatural because we can’t measure it on…natural instruments? Right, whatever… All you’ve given me here is opinions and biased conclusions.

          Okay, I think we’re done here. You simply cannot stay on subject. I have a lot of other things to do.

        • Arkenaten says:

          Really?
          I have no preconceived ideas concerning Jainism as I know almost nothing about it.
          Are you suggesting a scholar could not approach the bible in the same manner?
          Why would you view/treat the Resurrection of the character Jesus of Nazareth differently than Mohammed going to heaven on a winged horse.
          I wouldn’t. Not for one second.
          Unfortunately, the fact is that, your entire worldview is based on untenable preconceived ideas.
          If you have an ounce of integrity you will acknowledge that your religious beliefs and much of your worldview are based on faith. Period.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Again, whatever. And your atheist worldview is myopic and narrow-minded. You deny what you cannot see in the physical world, even though we now know there is a far bigger reality outside of time and space. If you applied the same criticism principles to all works of antiquity, then we can know nothing of anyone who lived then. It’s all just fiction in your mind. Sorry, I don’t buy it. Period.

  5. Cindy Powell says:

    “The problem isn’t with following Jesus, it’s with not following Him but claiming that we are.” That really is at the heart of all harm done in His name. And, sadly, most of it done with sincere conviction. That fact always gives me pause–both in having grace for others and in continually searching my own heart. Maybe one day when we really do start to follow Him on a broad scale, the world will see us as the antidote and not the poison. Blessings!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen Cindy. There have been people who actually follow Christ throughout history but they were the minority voice. But, like you said, if we did on a broader scale, Christianity would have a very different look and reaction from the world.

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  7. Daniel says:

    While there have been many bad representatives down through the years, I find that Christians are generally kind people, much kinder than the version God they often believe in, and this more than anything has kept me in the faith.

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