Trouble with Christianity, The

Trouble with Christianity, The

A Psychological Perspective

What is it about Christianity that deters spiritually aware people from engaging with the religion?


In this book, using Eric Fromm’s distinction between Humanistic and Authoritarian Religions whose implications for Christianity the author explored at some length in his recently published The Two Faces of Christianity, he identifies what he believes to be the fundamental psychopathology which has prevented Christianity becoming an unambiguous good for humanity, namely an authoritarian mind-set.
Central to this mindset is the idea of God as a controlling force acting on the universe, but separate from it, rather than as a property of ‘all that is’. Dr Oxtoby argues that it is this ubiquitous authoritarian thinking, with its emphasis on the need for obedience to imposed authority which lies at the root of the sado-masochistic obsession with pain, suffering and death of the Doctrine of the Atonement.


The Trouble with Christianity: A Psychological Perspective by Richard Markham Oxtoby, Christian Alternative I’ve never been brought up so short by the beginning of a book (extraordinarily hard-hitting and thought provoking), but after that I’m afraid it all went downhill. After a highly technical chapter on the workings of nerve and brain cells, which is not obviously connected to the rest of the book, the author develops the argument that there are two types of Christianity: one humanistic, typified by such virtues as openness, compassion, with a non-dogmatic approach; the other authoritarian, the exact opposite. When dealing with the authoritarian variety, words like psychopathology abound and the author links this unabashedly to atonement theory and other notions such as God as a policeman in the sky. The usual villains are lined up for attack (the conservative right) and the usual issues (abortion, contraception, gay rights) are wheeled out to show that only humanistic Christians are capable of holding the right opinion on such matters. If that sounds simplistic, I’m afraid that’s pretty much the way the argument goes. The dangers of this approach are illustrated by his comments on euthanasia; he fails to notice, or doesn’t know, that euthanasia has been opposed by the disabled community and not just the part of that community with religious views. I found myself asking questions like where writers like Marilyn Robinson, Sara Maitland and others like Johnny Cash and Nadia Bolz-Webber fit on this all or nothing scale? There were some genuinely interesting points, and I share his positive reaction to certain liberating developments in the church and also his revulsion at the sort of Christianity which does not feel able to say how great they think God is without rushing to add they themselves are scrofulous curs not fit even to be admitted to the grubbiest abandoned dogs home. However it bears all the hallmarks of having been shaped too much by the American culture wars and effectively treats conservatives the same way the author claims they treat liberals. I feel his all or nothing approach is simply not true to many people’s experience of faith. ~ Guy Whitehouse, Progressive Voices

This is an amazing document Richard and an important one - I need to read it again carefully - but it drew me in and I wondered why it hasn’t been written before; such an honest and real critique and so helpful. Well done and Congratulations. ~ Rev. Peter Fox

Richard Markham Oxtoby
Richard Markham Oxtoby Richard Markham Oxtoby was a clinical and industrial psychologist who spent more than 33 years on the staff of the Department of Psychology ...
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