I'm Hostile to Christianity
Notice that the heading says 'I'm hostile to Christianity' rather than 'I'm hostile to Jesus'. Very few people have negative feelings about Jesus. Most people have a good impression of Jesus even though they think his followers have screwed up.
I agree that some horrible things have been done in Jesus' name. But this doesn't explain hostility to Christianity. It only explains hostility to human beings. We can find examples of despicable behavior in all religions, in all non-religious communities, and in every conceivable walk of life.
From a logical perspective, failures of individuals do not invalidate a faith that they are identified with, although these failings can undermine that faith's credibility in the minds of others. Just because my neighbor is a crack dealer doesn't mean he's wrong if he tells me my house is on fire.
This is why we point to Jesus and say that the credibility of Christianity doesn't hinge on Jesus' followers, but on Jesus himself. And I would just like to ask you, as much as possible, to lay aside your feelings about institutions or people that represent Christianity to you, and let the focus be on Jesus. If you think of yourself as hostile to Christianity, then the issue likely comes down to this: Either (1) you think Christianity is wrong in-and-of itself, or (2) that at its core Christianity is a good thing but that it has been mishandled by its followers.
So you're angry, and your anger may be justified. I've been angry, too, about some things I've seen done by those calling themselves Christians. But I don't ditch Jesus because of what other people do and neither should you. Let's see if we can cut through the emotion and identify the real issues.
Here are the two broad areas of concern mentioned above:
(1) Christianity is wrong in-and-of itself. I agree that this is a possibility because I hold to reason, and logic tells us that opposites cannot both be true. If certain opposing philosophies are true, then Christianity would not be true, and it would be, at best, a benevolent deceit or crutch for those who want to live in the fantasy. But we need to be clear about what we mean by 'Christianity'. At heart, every religion seeks to be an explanation about the life we find ourselves living. A serious discussion must consider the credibility of both the source (founder & scriptures) of the religion and of its philosophical underpinnings. Unfortunately, many people form their opinions out of very shaky, second-hand caricatures.
Do you know what Christianity actually is? We could argue forever about versions, interpretations and impressions of the Christian faith. But at its fountainhead, Christianity is what Jesus and his appointed reps (the original apostles) say it is. This is what gets people excited about the Christian faith. Just like the first followers, we can encounter the accounts of his actions and teachings for ourselves, and come to our own conclusions about how we should relate to him. In fact, we have to encounter him directly if our experience is to be genuine.
Here's how to go directly to the source to form an understanding of what Biblical Christianity is: I recommend reading three books out of the Bible as a start; The Gospel of John, The Acts of the Apostles and Paul's Letter to the Romans (or John, Acts & Romans for short). You can think of this as the heart of the Bible. These three books are found back-to-back in the New Testament and if read in sequence lead you through the life of Christ, the formation of the early church and the Bible's most detailed explanation of the Christian life. The King James version is beautiful English, but you're likely to get the picture better if you read it in a good modern version such as the NIV (New International Version) or the ESV (English Standard Version). Of course, if your native tongue is other than English, it's best for you to get a translation in your own language. For the most part this is an easy read, and you'll find it to be pretty much of a page-turner. You can access these Bible versions online here or purchase one here.
There is a great movie about the life of Jesus that stays very true to the account in Luke. It is dated now, but accurate, and has been seen worldwide by millions of people. If you'd rather start in a visual mode, you can see it in English here, and in almost any other language here.
If you are distracted by the idea that the Bible has been changed, distorted or otherwise fabricated, sorry, but that notion will not stand up under scrutiny. It is verifiably the most accurate and most substantiated piece of ancient literature in existence. If you want to understand why you can trust it, start here.
Christianity comes out of the Bible, and to understand it we really have to go back to the source. In some strands of Christianity much has been added and changed by way of traditions over the centuries. I identify with those who are called 'Evangelicals' or who advocate 'Biblical Christianity' . We try to avoid the additions and distortions of mere tradition by using the Bible as our primary guide.
Once you've taken a careful look at least at the 'heart of the Bible', it is helpful to understand how the Bible fits into the philosophical context of the modern world. Even if it is true and credible, isn't it worlds away from relevance to the modern setting? Actually, and profoundly, no. In fact, it helps make good sense of what has and continues to happen in the course of history. I would suggest two starting points to get us onto really solid ground here. Neither are short answers, but that's OK, because you're a serious thinker, right?
One well-known source is C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, which attempts to get at what essential Christianity is, and helps us see the road he took from Atheism to Christianity. Anthony Flew (the most eminent atheist of the 20th c.) was a friend of Lewis and considered him the premier spokesman for the Christian faith.
The second source I would recommend for understanding the philosophical underpinnings of Christianity is Francis Schaeffer's He is There and He is Not Silent. Schaeffer was well-nicknamed the 'missionary to the intellectual'. He lays out three questions (Is there a God? Has He Spoken? What Did He Say?) and helps us grapple with the philosophical implications that lie behind whatever answer we give to each of these questions. It's all well and good to be against a particular world-view, but then we're still left to choose what we are for. There is no neutral ground. By making any action or choice, we are necessarily choosing to believe something about the nature of the world. The mere act of living (and in some cases, dying) forces us to acknowledge something about our real beliefs about reality, and with a bit of reflection, this implicit belief statement will logically flesh itself out into a belief system. We have to choose to live in some belief system or another, and all of them have their flaws. The puzzle is; which of them inspires our confidence in best explaining the big questions of life?
Our culture is looking more and more like groups of polarized camps lobbing bombs into other polarized camps. We respect people like J.P. Moreland, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Kerby Anderson and many others who strive to have respectful interaction with those who disagree with Christianity. It is easy for any position to hide behind cliches and caricatures of other points of view. It is also easy to disguise a weak position behind a feint of disdain and self-righteous sniping. For this reason we prefer to see personal relationships steer away from mere debate and toward heart-felt discussion. If this is what you're longing for, you will find us ready to have a sincere and respectful conversation. Sending us an email is the best way to be in touch.
(2) At its core, Christianity is a good thing, but it has been mishandled by its followers.
In this case you are either put off by what you consider to be historical distortions of an initially great philosophy, or you have had encounters with people you've identified as Christians who have wounded or offended you.
In the first case, we'll heartily agree that the Christian faith has often been distorted, and our discussion with you would zero in on the essence of Christianity and the specific ways that it has been misrepresented. But we would also raise the rather obscure point that, however distorted organized Christianity has been, there have always been strands and pockets of people who understood the true heart of Christian faith and represented it well. From the outset there have been people who heard the message of Jesus and took it very seriously. The church did not invent the Bible. People treasured the words of Jesus that they heard first hand, and then were preserved through the writings of the Apostles. The writings were acknowledged as true from the very beginning by thousands of first-hand witnesses. These manuscripts were guarded and embraced as genuine for nearly 300 years before the 'official' councils began dealing with the question of scripture. There is massive evidence of the authenticity of these manuscripts --- vastly more than of any other ancient historical work. To imagine that these sources were somehow arbitrarily written or chosen or deceptively revised is simply to not understand historical reality. We can be confident that we have a credible source for original Christianity, but that doesn't mean it is understood or followed even by people who claim to do so. It is easy to find bad examples of Christianity because they usually stick out like sore thumbs. Have you ever considered looking for genuine and inspiring examples of people who are taking Jesus very seriously?
In the second case, I can say that I've had similar negative experiences with people who call themselves Christians. Followers of Jesus are very human and are subject to being very fallible (me included). Just as any family, business or organization can be more or less healthy, the same is true of Christians and churches. We've seen some horribly dysfunctional families and we've seen some horribly distorted churches. All we can say is we're very sorry this happens, and it is all the more reason to strive to understand and get close to a healthy expression of the Christian life. We deal with a lot of fallout from this problem and will be glad to hear your story. There are ways to get healed from past hurts and move on to a really positive place.
If you'd like to jump start the interaction without waiting to find and read the books that I mentioned above, here are a couple of helpful websites to visit: Christianity Explored / Christianity.net.au . We'd love for you to come back to us with your thoughts as you engage these resources or if you want to deal with more specific questions.