by Matt Slick
Sometimes critics of Christianity will elevate certain aspects of its teachings, remove them from the context, quote radicals as representative of the whole, and try to say that Christianity is a cruel and intolerant religion. These same critics often speak against Biblical moral absolutes, sexual purity, the condemnation of homosexuality, and other Biblical principles.
First of all, cruelty is willfully and knowingly causing unnecessary pain and suffering upon someone. However, this definition doesn't work because not all suffering is bad. We can cause suffering to someone for a greater benefit. Resetting a bone, an injection of medicine, disciplining a child, etc., can cause pain and/or discomfort, but they are not cruel because they are intended to help people.
So, how would we determine if Christianity is cruel? Is it the fact that it causes discomfort by restricting peoples' aberrant behaviors and selfish desires? Is Christianity cruel because it advocates loyalty, fidelity in marriage, and sexual purity? Christianity teaches that lying is wrong. Is it cruel to require honesty and integrity? Is it cruel to tell people not to steal? Is it wrong to have children obey their parents and honor them? Such requirements might be uncomfortable at times, but would anyone say that they are cruelties?
Misrepresentations of Christianity
Sometimes critics will say that Christianity promotes guilt, penance, and self-harm. First of all, feeling guilty for something you've done wrong is not bad. Guilt can be a necessary precursor to confession, repentance, and healing. Second, penance is un-biblical. It is not taught in Scripture even though it is advocated by the Roman Catholic Church. So, penance would be a misrepresentation of what Christianity actually teaches. And self-harm? Well, through the centuries many Christians have inflicted physical harm on themselves and others in the name of Christ. Just because someone does this, doesn't mean it's what the Bible actually teaches. If Christianity teaches self-harm, then please provide those verses in the New Testament Christian Scriptures that support the idea. Don't misrepresent the Christian faith by elevating misguided "Christians" who behave in a manner not taught by Scripture (1 Cor. 4:6).
Critics need not make the mistake of taking some of the aberrant adherents of the faith as representations of the whole. Take, for example, Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. That particular church is often cruel, judgmental, and mocking. It does not represent Christianity properly but that has not stopped critics of Scripture from elevating them and saying that is what Christianity is. It is not.
It is easy to pick and choose perceived negativities and say that they represent Christian teaching, but this is a fallacious approach. What do the critics do with the teachings of Scripture that say to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39), to consider others more important than yourself (Philippians 2:3), to correct others with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24), to be free from the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3), to be patient and kind (Galatians 5:22), to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), to be compassionate and forgiving (Colossians 3:12-13), etc? Would the critics of Christianity care to elevate these teachings as representative of the faith, or is their agenda to ignore that which is godly and holy and misrepresent the faith by focusing on the unbiblical actions of people throughout history?
The truth is that many who claim to be Christians have violated what the Scriptures themselves teach. Christianity is not a religion that advocates cruelty. However, it does teach that all who reject Christ as Savior will face the ultimate punishment of eternal Hell. If they want to say this is cruelty, then I would respond by saying that it is justice.