In my previous post—January 8—I discussed some aspects of Christianity which might explain why people might find it so offensive—it’s supposed dangerousness, blatant irrationality, and the exasperating nature of some Christian people.  None of these factors really explain the anger and hostility so often directed at Christianity.  So what is the explanation?  Since Christianity provokes people much more than Judaism or Islam (or generic theistic belief), there must be something about Jesus himself or the gospel message that bugs people so much.  What could that be? 

I suspect (as some readers intimated in their comments) that the resentment really has to do with the implications of Jesus’ crucifixion—the idea that he had to die (and resurrect) for our sins.  This implies, of course, that there is something wrong—terribly wrong—with humans which needs fixing.  Specifically, we need to be forgiven, and our offenses are so egregious that they called for a blood sacrifice.  And not just any blood-sacrifice.  Killing a toad or even an AKC-registered poodle wouldn’t do the atoning work.  In fact, not even a human child sacrifice would do.  No, it had to be the execution of a morally perfect person—God incarnate.  Now if that isn’t insulting to our pride as a species, I don’t know what is. 

Of course, this moral insult is well-deserved, if we are as naturally depraved as Scripture teaches.  But for those who think there is nothing wrong with human nature (despite the constant wars, human trafficking, ethnic cleansing, child molestation, and countless other evils all over the globe), I can see how this would seem ridiculous and even be a rather annoying claim.  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul said, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). 

Lest we forget, the Christian story is also a profound compliment—that God loves us so much as to provide that sacrifice himself.  Again, to quote Paul: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  And, as it turns out, this is the only way to reconciliation with God, as Jesus declares, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Yet this, too, is a blow to human pride, as it implies that we cannot save ourselves; even the most perfect repentance, apart from Christ, would be ineffectual in avoiding God’s judgment. 

So whatever else might bug people regarding Christianity, the ultimate source of offense is human pride.  People are offended by Jesus because his crucifixion represents both a divine condemnation of our sin and a statement that we cannot escape that condemnation on our own.  Again, I do see why this would bother people who think the Christian message is false.  If the Christmas and Easter stories are fictions, then our worldview is merely a profound insult; and as Paul says, “we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19).  But if Jesus really was the God-man and really did die and rise from the dead for us, then, well, that is wondrous—mind-boggling, in fact, and should make us very, very glad.  Far from being offensive, it is the best possible news.

4 Responses to “The Real Offense in Christianity”

  1. Adam Lehman


    Jim (do i still have to call you Dr. Spiegel if i’m not a student of your anymore?).

    While i do think that there are certain people who will find Christianity offensive or at least wrong, i find my real world interactions to be so much different.

    As a waiter at TGIFridays, i found people very open to discussing faith. I would say that all the people I worked alongside SHOULD have found Jesus offensive (or at least some of his teachings) but they didn’t seem to.

    What was offensive to them was Christianities doctrines and values and beliefs being imposed on them without any sort of love. They didn’t like people expecting them to act like Christians without being cared for.

    Which brings my mind to a parenting principle that i’ve heard over and over: “rules without relationship equals rebellion.”

    In my opinion (which is probably worth 2 pennies), there has been a fairly unbalanced proportion of rules and relationship being pumped into the public eye from churches and “christians.”

  2. Lezlie


    Jim , I thought this might be interesting to you in light of this post. This is a comment from one of the people with whom I have been having an online discussion. She is responding to my saying I was a pretty angry person when I stopped believing in God. Here is what she had to say of her experience:

    I truly believe that my early upbringing and religious training was detrimental to me in many ways. My family was very conservative, and the themes of many Sunday sermons was the sinful nature of humans, how horrible we all are and how we need God to save us. If you are a child who is sensitive to criticism and eager to please, it’s very easy to come to think of yourself as fundamentally flawed and unworthy. I didn’t get that message from my parents at home, but I certainly got it at church on Sunday (and Wednesday and Sunday evening). No 7 or 8 year old child should think of themselves as sinful. I have come to understand that a lot of what the Christian faith considers “sinful” is merely part of the learning and maturation process (especially in the sexual arena).

    She is clearly offended (and able to say so clearly) by the notion that humans are sinful. While I still think some of the other points you brought up weigh in heavily on the offensive nature of Christianity, (for instance, it’s MUCH more offensive to be told you are sinful by a Christian who does it in a prideful, arrogant way…) being called sinful is clearly a problem for many people. After reading your thoughts here, I can see how much (though not all) of the sentiment from non-Christians I have read lately can be boiled down to, “I’m just fine, thanks.”

  3. Gary


    This is the problem with debating Christians who believe they can sense the presence of the resurrected Jesus within them:

    Regardless of the quantity and quality of the historical evidence that we skeptics present, evangelical Christian apologists will ignore it if it challenges their personal experience of Jesus living within them. In addition, they will ignore any majority scholarly opinion which they perceive contradicts their personal experience of a resurrected Jesus living within them.

    Therefore, the majority scholarly opinion that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor by the close associates of eyewitnesses is rejected. Since their personal experiences tell them that Jesus did rise from the dead, the Gospel stories must be historically accurate. Their historicity is unquestionable.

    Bottom line: No amount of historical evidence is going to convince a Christian apologist that Jesus is dead if he perceives the resurrected Jesus living within him.

  4. Cody Cheyenne Newman


    Why can’t you just have faith, just believe in #1 God, #2 Jesus snd more importantly the HOLY spirit?(which is in essence the fuel that makes you believe in something bigger than yourself, read a collection of stories that were first recorded over 6,000 years ago and beleived to have been first told around campfires over 30,000 years ago)hence how the heck could early humuns make something up so that later you “ATHEISTS” could say our European ancestors made it all up to control the population, to have faith all will be ok just have in your heart you truly believe and here are the commandments the rules of GOD, why would A GOD THAT LOVES US , ALL MERCIFUL AND ALL THAT give us RULES OF LAW????? WHY???? BECAUSE THATS PROOF you really believe or trying to believe in GOD A 1 true lord, its Spirituality but Satin (not a real and he loves us Everlasting and no matter if we sin we can still be forgiven


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