Question: Christianity has added to the pain and suffering caused by crime by convincing mankind that it has rebelled against God and broken His laws. The threat of eternal punishment haunts everyone who comes under Christianity’s influence. Wouldn’t the world be better off without these delusions?
Response [Edited for space]: It’s not true that Christianity has created the feeling of moral guilt and coming judgment that haunts mankind. Man is an incurably religious creature, and the religious practices that are found in every race and culture around the world all involve a sense of guilt and the attempt to erase guilt through some kind of sacrifice. It can be traced back in every culture through thousands of years and thus cannot be blamed on Christianity at all.
Even among those brought up in a so-called “Christian country” such as the United States experience this. Although their sense of guilt may have been reinforced through contact with Christianity, that is certainly not the sole source. The universal guilt that haunts everyone would haunt Americans even if Christianity were unknown here. In fact, only Christianity can deliver man from the guilt that haunts him. Turning over a new leaf and vowing to live a morally upright life in the future can’t deliver one from the guilt of past sins. True deliverance comes only through faith in Christ, the One who paid the full penalty for our sins and effected a full pardon on a righteous basis. Only then can we realize the magnitude of our guilt and can thus thank God all the more for our salvation.
Contrary to your suggestion that Christianity creates an irrational fear of eternal punishment, it alone delivers from such fear all who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ! No one who believes that Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for sins lives in fear of God’s judgment. Christ promised that all who believe in Him have eternal life and will not “come into condemnation” but have “passed from death unto life” (Jn:5:24) and are delivered from the very fear that you blame upon Christianity. Nor do those who have heard and rejected that gospel worry very much about God’s judgment. If they were truly concerned, they would have accepted His offer of mercy. Take a poll of those who were once under Christian influence but who rejected the gospel, and you will find individuals who have little if any fear of judgment because they don’t believe in it.
The truth is that those who know little or nothing of Christianity are the ones who are haunted by fear of coming judgment! All non-Christian peoples, from pagans to idolaters, have that fear. Conscious of their sins but without hope in Christ, these poor people visit the witch doctor or rely on fetishes or amulets, or make some other attempt to earn salvation and to appease whatever gods or spirits they imagine exist. When such people believe in Christ, they are delivered from such fear. Religious practices among all non-Christian peoples everywhere and at all times in history always involve a sense of guilt and the attempt to erase it through some kind of sacrifice, sacred pilgrimage, or other ritual. Such practices are similar worldwide and trace back thousands of years before the advent of Christianity and therefore cannot be attributed to it.
Perhaps you came to your conclusions by observing Roman Catholics whom you thought were Christians. Many if not most of them are plagued with the very hopeless sense of guilt to which you refer. Catholicism dogmatically claims that the Church dispenses the graces of Christ through its sacraments—graces that can be lost by failure to live up to its rules—so there is no way to know for sure that one will make it to heaven. Therefore, Roman Catholicism involves its members in many forms of attempted appeasement of God in order to earn heaven and/or lessen one’s punishment. Endless Masses offered on behalf of the dead are paid for by their survivors in the hope of lessening the purgatorial suffering of the deceased. There is no peace in this practice.
The late Cardinal O’Connor of New York stated that neither he nor Pope John Paul II nor Mother Teresa (nor anyone else) could know with certainty what their eternal destiny might be. He declared this to be official teaching of the Church. Obviously, such a dogma creates the fear to which you refer—but this isn’t Christianity! We need know nothing more than this to identify Roman Catholicism as a non-Christian pagan religion. There are priests and monks and nuns today who (just as in the Middle Ages and Dark Ages) wear haircloth undergarments, flagellate themselves, and endure other self-inflicted suffering, hoping to thereby earn forgiveness of sins and become worthy of heaven. Millions of Catholics all over the world make pilgrimages to shrines, light candles, pray to saints in heaven, wear scapulars and medals, and employ crucifixes and other means to “appease” God in the hope of meriting His forgiveness.
True Christianity delivers from guilt and fear of judgment. The gospel promises forgiveness of sins and eternal life as a free gift of God’s grace, not by works or sacraments but to all who will believe. Catholicism involves numerous pagan practices, and the fear of judgment it creates cannot be laid at the door of Christianity.