The catalyst of this post is a discussion I have been having with someone in the comments of one of my posts over at the SCCB. But it's handy apologetics any time of the year!
1. Christianity makes one worse, or at least hasn't made the world better.
2. It doesn't matter whether you are religious or not. You can be a perfectly good person without 'God.'
3. All religions are the same.
4. The Church is about power and money.
5. The Church's teaching on sex is (a) harmful (b) motivated by the psychological dysfunctions of its leaders.
6. The Church has corrupted Jesus' teaching.
7. Faith is irrational and thus misanthropic.
I could go on and on, but these are some of the big contemporary criticisms. Let's examin each briefly.
What all of these assertions have in common is that they are not based on data, but are conclusions drawn from thin air. The intellectual daring (timerity!) by which these are maintained by people who have no background in history, theology, sociology, etc., is truly astonishing.
1. How does one measure worse and better? This was one of the essential problems with Dawkin's famous book, The God Delusion, he was trying to play both sides simultaneously: there is no objective right and wrong, there is an objective right and wrong. So, how can he say that the Church / Bible is wrong about x, y, and z? He appeals to emotional reaction of people biased by their own presuppositions. Does he accept the possibility, for instance, that homosexuality is unhealthy? He does not. When contemplating the question - has Christianity made the world better? - if we do not know what better looks like, we are incapable of answering it. I say that a world with saints is better than one without. I say that a world personified by St. Francis better than that personified by Pliny the Elder, Plotinus, or Aristotle.
2. Logically you can be, but statistically you won't be. Religion is the only real assurance that people will do things non-categorically, i.e. without some selfish motive. Secular people often start out altruistically, but perseverence is another matter. Let's contrast here Doctors without Boarders and missionaries. A missionary will never move on to another career, one purchased from ones gnawing conscience by a few years of good, selfless work.
3. No, they are not. In what sense are they supposed to be the same?
Christianity's turn the other cheek somehow matches up with its polar-opposite, eye-for-an-eye?
Luther left the Church is no small part because of its committment to reason (against faith, he said). Buddhism does not have a place for faith in God or in creeds.
4. Some of what has happened in the history of the Church can be explained this way, an important element cannot. Thus, as a descriptive statement it is pretty shallow. If what is meant is that there is sin in the Church, no one would argue that. That's the whole point: we are sinners in need of a Saviour.
5. How is it harmful? Usually it is said because it fosters guilt. Ever meet a non-Christian suffering from guilt associated with sex? Of course. Sex is by nature a difficult and delicate thing, as it focused on the good of the very fragile heart. Thus, guilt that is oriented to healing the heart is good. Of course, as in (4) above, error and sin does creep in and ruins the good that the Church's teaching is meant to secure. We need better catechesis, certainly, and human formation. The answer is not to call that which is bad for people good. The harm of objectively destructive practices is far worse than the unpleasant effects of healthy guilt. If we called these things good we would only be fooling ourselves for a short while, as the APA is currently fooling itself.
Our leaders can have sexual dysfunctions: they are free, fallen beings just as in need of salvation as the rest of us. There is nothing about church leadership and celibacy that foster dysfunction. Ever meet a healthy, loving spinster? A Roman Collar does not intrinsically corrupt; a piece of plastic is incapable of such an effect.
6. If so it is doing a very poor job of it. There have always been notions of this ilk circulating. A funny thing is, secular religion critics don't realize that they have actually entered into the Protestant polemic against Catholicism with this one. Nice job at getting sucked in you victim of others' thinking! If the Church is attempting to hide Jesus' teaching, is this a formally stated plan? If so, I have not been informed. Is it an intrinsic tendency - we just do and say what is better for us, and this has led to the abandonment of His teaching, again, this might explain certain elements of the Church's history, but leaves great explanatory gaps: martyrs, ancient, modern, 16th century, 18th century, and especially 20th century. And how does the Church's extremely unpopular stance on contraception help it politically?
7. A logical failure here. In fact, I would assert that reason alone is extremely misanthropic. How does one derive morality from reason? If you can answer that, there's a professorship at Oxford waiting for you. How does one conduct family life, civic life, marital life on the principles of reason alone? Good luck with that. Love, mercy, kindness, trust - these are greater when not calculated. It is just as true that reason is misanthropic as it is to say faith is.
In conclusion, this is a dispute with partially educated critics of the Church. They have bought into the current myths of our secular culture. It's time they assess the data for themselves. I know they will be surprised by what they will see.