History: 10 Religious Misconceptions & Fallacies

I think we can all agree that religion is very silly – many people argue over the realism of gods they invented. Of course, it is a coincidence that it just so happens the one they believe in is the right one and everyone else is doomed to damnation for believing otherwise, how lucky they are(!) Anyways, the validity of religious beliefs aside, there seem to be many incorrectly believed dogmas about religion itself including these 10 Religious Misconceptions. 

Religious Misconceptions: The Eye Of A Needle Was A Gate in Jerusalem

Of all biblical tall tales, this is one of the easiest to dismiss. 

According to Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”  

Whilst this seems pretty clear cut, there is a way around this, for the rich at least. With the rich seeing this, a new explanation was scrambled for, in which the “eye of a needle” was a gate in Jerusalem that could fit a human but would fail to allow entry to a larger camel unless the load is abandoned. This would mean getting into Heaven was hard but not as impossible as getting a camel through a literal sewing needle hole. 

As David Mitchell comically joked, it was Jesus being sarky and compared it to: “As easy for a rich man to get into Heaven as to get a planet into a shoe.” 

There are more than a few errors to poke holes in for this version. These include why it is the eye of “a” needle not the eye of the needle if it were a direct reference to a specific gate. On top of this, zero archaeological or textual evidence exists referencing this gate. 

Religious Misconceptions: Mother Theresa Was A Samaritan

I’m now a year and a half into my career as a professional writer and yet somehow, I’ve not dunked on the life of somebody some, allegedly, would call the biggest con of the 20th century. 

Perhaps the most famous opponent of Teresa is the legendary atheist author Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens once labelled Teresa as “a lying, thieving Albanian dwarf” – which seems a little harsh but could be seen as a more accurate review of the works of a supposed saint. 

Some of her startling views such as those on homosexuality, abortion, and contraception are what you would expect of the religious head of the Catholic church but it gets a lot worse. 

Mother Teresa - Quotes, Death & Saint - Biography
(Photo courtesy of Biography (Bio.))

Let us first start with the donations accepted. Firstly Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, a man later put on trial for crimes against humanity against his people when torturing, imprisoning, and executing tens of thousands of citizens. Embezzlement completely screwed over the poor too, with historian Alex Von Tunzelmann saying 80% of Haiti’s international aid was embezzled by the dictator while the debuts signed up to where 45% of what was owed. When exiled, as much as $900 million may have been taken with him. Another donator was Charles Keating, best known for his involvement in the 1980s loans and savings crisis which came at a price for American taxpayers: $124 billion with 21,000 people losing their life savings. Robert Maxwell also dipped into his pockets; he lived without love from even his own family and died a fraudster who had robbed £460 million from his own newspaper empire’s pension fund. Are these the people a saint should be hanging around with and accepting money from? 

Mother Teresa: Everything you need to know - CBBC Newsround
(Photo courtesy of BBC)

So of the many millions, she must have saved many lives, right? Well, Stern magazine estimates only 7% of donations went to charity work. 

The medical centres had little medicine, as untrained volunteers worked in squalid, poor conditions. There were no beds, or a communal toilet, and could not leave their ‘bedding’. Visits from family and friends were disallowed, why would that be? Even more strange was that the Missionaries of Charity was the only Indian charity to not public its accounts for public viewing. Something to hide, Teresa?

Teresa herself would not dream of being treated here, splashing out on the top private care in America. She seemed more interested in conversion than medical aid. That’s when she was not playing up her position to the public. 

She once said: “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s passion. The world gains much from their suffering.” 

Even her canonisation was little more than a hoax, a fraud. In a sped-up time of 18 months, she was canonised for an apparent miracle, something easily disproved by science. The person who claimed she had been miraculously cured’s husband said she was treated by doctors. Hitchens was right when he called Teresa “the most single successful emotional con job of the 20th century.” 

The Uncomfortable Truth About Mahatma Gandhi That Many People Do Not Talk  About | by Yewande Adeleke | Mar, 2022 | History of Yesterday
(Photo courtesy of History Of Yesterday)

Let’s also not let Gandhi off the hook for his actions. Mahatma called black people “troublesome, very dirty and liv[ing] like animals”, left his dying father’s side to have sex with his wife, he said of his wife “I simply cannot bear to look at Ba’s face. The expression is often like that on the face of a meek cow and gives one the feeling as a cow occasionally does, that in her dumb manner she is saying something”, praising Mussolini as “one of the great statesman of our time”, and sleeping naked with his 18-year-old grandniece when he was 77 to prove his chastity. 

Religious Misconceptions: Hitler Was An Atheist

A bigoted argument against atheism commonly arises that goes along the lines of “Well, Hitler was an atheist”, a conversation people likely do not want to proceed with when they learn Hitler was a Catholic.

Adolph Hitler: His Life, Ideology, Rise, and Downfall - History
(Photo courtesy of History On The Net)

One of Hitler’s first pacts after taking power was signing a Concordat with the Catholic church, an agreement of mutual non-interference. Although this can be seen more as tactical appeasement, there is a large quantity of other evidence. 

In that same year as coming to power, 1933, all atheist groups were disbanded. 

Head of the Schutzstaffel (SS) Heimrich Himmler banned atheists, which would not have happened had Hitler been atheist, remarking:  “Any human being who does not believe in God should be considered arrogant, megalomaniacal, and stupid.” 

Author Richard Weikart wrote: “It’s true that Hitler’s public statements opposing atheism should not be given too much weight, since they served Hitler’s political purposes to tar political opponents. However, in his private monologues, he likewise rejected atheism, providing further evidence that this was indeed his conviction. In July 1941, he told his colleagues that humans do not know where the laws of nature come from. He continued, “Thus people discovered the wonderful concept of the Almighty, whose rule they venerate. We do not want to train people in atheism.”

Accounts by close acquaintances such as Speer and Goebbels corroborate this as well as Hitler himself in Mein Kampf, writing: “Only fools and criminals would think of abolishing existing religion.” 

Pope Pius XII Withheld Strong Evidence of the Holocaust - Atlanta Jewish  Times
(Photo courtesy of Atlanta Jewish Times)

Furthermore, Hitler was born to a practising Catholic mother and baptised in a Roman Catholic church. 

That brings us to the point that even if Hitler was an atheist, that has no more relevance to his crimes than if he followed Rastafarianism or Hinduism and believed in Thor or Allah.

For further evidence use the link provided, which takes you to the great work of Sal Berkowitz on Twitter compiling quotes by the Fuhrer.

Hitler being a Catholic may be a surprise to some but perhaps it does explain hostility to the Jewish for the execution of Jesus Christ. Speaking of which… 

Religious Misconceptions: The Jews Killed Jesus Christ

Even had everyone involved in the physical execution of Christ been Jewish, they would not have necessary represented a larger Jewish feeling. Plus, it was not radical or evil as they were simply acting under the legal orders of the court.  

That said, Pontius Pilate, the man said to have presided over the Jesus case, was not himself a Jew, but rather a Roman. He clashed with the population of Jerusalem. Historian Flavius Josephus documented that, according to History.com: “Pilate permitted troops carrying military standards bearing the likeness of the emperor into Jerusalem, although Jewish law forbade images in the city. A great crowd travelled to the Judean capital of Caesarea in protest and lay prostrate around Pilate’s palace for five days until he relented.” 

What Do Jews Believe About Jesus? | My Jewish Learning
(Photo courtesy of My Jewish Learning)

In addition, Jesus was himself Jewish so blaming a civilisation who created their saviour seems rather counter-intuitive. Plus, it is commonly cited by Christians that Jesus died for our sins and he surely cannot have both willingly died for our sins as a martyr and been killed by villainous Jews. 

Add onto this it was in 1965 – admittedly late but never late than never – that the Catholic Church disavowed the view the Jews killed Jesus. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI stated that Jews did not kill Jesus, inquiring: “How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamour for Jesus’s death?” 

Religious Misconceptions: A Fatwa Is An Islamic Call For Death

The high-profile case of Sir Salman Rushdie popularised the term fatwa’ in the west, with many presuming this was an Islamic call to death of certain figures, often vocal Islam critics.  

The publishing of his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses was fought with backlash over its apparent mocking and insulting of the Qur’an. Mass book burnings took place in many countries, including those that had banned the book. Many bookstores were bombed or threatened with violence for daring to sell the book.  

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called a fatwa enabling all Muslims to kill Rushdie or aid others to kill him if they could not themselves. Translators and publishers of Rushdie’s work were killed and assaulted as Rushdie was forced into hiding for a decade under police protection. Weirdly enough, he came out of protection to make an appearance on national TV on an episode of Have I Got News For You

Sir Salman Rushdie's 'fatwa years' will be a major event | The Times
Rushdie with his controversial, culture war-starting novel (Photo courtesy of The Times)

Rushdie’s life is no longer in danger as he lives in the USA; he is no longer in hiding. Technically the fatwa is still out there as these can only be revoked by the instigator Khomeini died the year after the announcement of the fatwa. Rushdie was given a knighthood since, for services to literature. 

A fatwa however is not necessarily a death sentence. A fatwa is a non-binding legal option at any point of Islamic law given by a recognised authority. 

These can be good such as a 1951 fatwa allowing Muslims to drink Coca-Cola and Pepsi, a 2014 Indonesian Council of Ulama fatwa instructing protection of endangered species, and an India 2015 fatwa against terrorist organisations such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban.  

Some are downright weird such as a 2018 Indonesian fatwa against vaccines for apparently containing pork and human cells, a 2012 Moroccan fatwa saying a man has a legal right to have sex with his wife for up to six hours after her death, and Dr Izzat Atiya of Egypt passing a fatwa allowing man and woman co-work but “male colleagues should be directly breastfed at least five times to create a maternal bond so they can work together, without having sexual urges for each other.” 

What Is A Fatwa? - YouTube
(Photo courtesy of a ‘NowThis World’ YouTube channel video thumbnail)

The popularity of the Rushdie case had led to such misunderstanding. A fatwa is not a sentence to death, however, instead of the rulings of authorities in Islamic nations, sometimes make overtly violent or grim proclamations.  

Religious Misconceptions: Mary & Joseph Returned To Their Birthplace For Their Census

The story goes that Mary and Joseph returned to their birthplace for the census under Caesar Augustus. In the Luke gospel, this is explained for a simple reason: to fulfil the prophecy. The Messiah was to be born from the “stem of Jesse” in Bethlehem.  

Did Mary and Joseph Really Stay in a Cave?
(Photo courtesy of Christianity)

Augustus ordered a census of the whole Roman world, which there never was across the whole Roman land. On top of that, as with today, there is no requirement for the return to the birthplace in any census. It is simply where you are living when taken. Mary is supposedly a virgin so this “stem of Jesse” can be of little relevance anyway. 

It is for the prophecy that Luke comments that this pilgrimage took place, with little other reason or evidence to believe it. 

Religious Misconceptions: Voodoo Sticks Pins In Dolls

Followers of voodoo do not stick pins into the dolls. The closest to this is a tradition starting in West Africa in which pegs are put into ‘bodies” to channel healing powers; voodoo is now almost synonymous with Haiti.  

Study: Voodoo Dolls Help Employees Pinpoint Problem Bosses
(Photo courtesy of SHRM)

In reality, it was European Witchcraft that stuck pins into dolls. The term for the dolls built of various materials is ‘poppets’.  

The reason for the myth is from Christian missionaries who wanted to dispel voodooism as being full of treachery such as cannibalism to encourage Christianity instead.  

Religious Misconceptions: 666 Is The Number Of The Devil

Ever Wondered What's So Evil About The Number 666? Here's The Explanation
The devil. (Photo courtesy of Scoopwhoop)

For two millennia, it was believed that the number of the devil was 666. However, the discovery of the Papyrus 115 in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt, dates back to around the period of 225-275 AD. In this – the earliest fragment of the text, Revelations 13:18 lists gives the number as 616, not 666 as it was later changed to. 

Fear of 666 is called ‘hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia’, whilst realistically, anyone afraid of evil and the devil should have ‘hexakosioidekahexaphobia’, the fear of 616. A Moscow bus company ironically changed its name for route 666 to route 616, which is a tad unfortunate whilst the USA’s highway 666 was renamed 491 at great cost and time… So no matter what later versions say, the originally outlined number of the beast is 616. Somebody tell Iron Maiden! 

Religious Misconceptions: Where The Saints Are From

Although nations across the globe have patron saints, these often never come from the nation they represent on an international scale. 

As there are many examples, let us just have a brief look at some examples of these from Europe: 

  • England’s Saint George, the man who killed the last dragon and was martyred for refusing to recant his Catholicism, was born 2,000 miles away in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey). 
  • Saint Patrick of Ireland, was born in Britain around the River Severn and was likely Welsh. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. 
  • St Nicholas, the man who inspired Santa Claus, was too born in Turkey.  
  • Scotland’s Saint Andrew, who introduced foreigners to Jesus and persuaded people into sharing, was born in Israel. 
  • Spain’s Saint James was Palestinian. 
  • France’s St-Denis was born in Rome, Italy.  
  • The saint of Germany, St Boniface, a missionary, was born near Exeter, Devon, in England. 
  • In a refreshing twist, St David seems to actually come from Wales. Some others are actually from the country they were born such as saints in Russia and Italy. 
St. Patrick and the Snakes of Ireland
Saint Patrick, not from Ireland (Photo courtesy of Learn Religions)

Generally, the saints are not born from the countries of which they represent, despite what might be thought by the larger public.  

Religious Misconceptions: The Bible Says
“The Lord Works In Mysterious Ways” & “Hate The Sin, Love The Sinner”

“God” or “The Lord moves in mysterious ways” is a good out-clause for Christians when replying to difficult or unknown matters of God. It is strange then that the quote in any of the above forms is not in the Bible. 

This is a misconception of the religious hymn ‘God Moves In A Mysterious Way’ by William Cowper from 1773, based on poem Light Shining Out Of Darkness.  

The Amazingly Graced Life of John Newton | Christian History
John Cowper, composer of ‘God Moves In A Mysterious Way’. (Photo courtesy of Christianity Today)

On the topic of misquoted or unquoted Bible excerpts “Hate the sin, love the sinner” is a common defence why objection changes to the nature of Christianity such as homosexuality.  

This quote goes back to Augustine in the fifth century who commented: “With love for mankind and hatred of sins”, whilst the direct quote is from as late as 1929 and attributed to the aforementioned Hindu Gandhi. 

Although the claim of hating the sin and loving the sinner is backed by Matthew 5:43-44 and Psalm 97:10, it is contradicted by Psalm 5:5 (“The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers”) and Psalm 11:5 (“The Lord tests the righteous but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence”). Now aren’t those quite different to loving the sinner? 

LGBTQ+ Pride Flags and What They Stand For | Volvo Group
On matters such as persecution of homosexuality, this quote is used as an attempt at justification. (Photo courtesy of Volva Group)

Furthermore, for crimes such as homosexuality and being born into a different religion, this implies that are loved despite what they have done. Yet they have done nothing, they are being cursed into damnation for what they are. And what they are is totally valid, some might say more so than a religion that chooses to cast hate upon human beings for the sake of a century and a half-year-old text featuring a talking donkey, people lived well into their hundreds, Jesus curses a fig tree which withers and dies, non-virgins should be stoned to death, and a text that claims: “You may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance.” Some might say. 

Religious Misconceptions: Epilogue

These are just some of the mistruths, Religious Misconceptions, and myths about various claims about religions.  Religions are based, of course, on faith and belief but these are the select disprovable views after evaluating the weight of evidence. Religious views elsewhere are to be ridiculed but are less arguably provable than the points covered in this list. 

Believe what you want. The points above, however, disprove some conceptions about religion whether positive, negative, or neutral. So, whatever your faith, make sure it does not detail believing everything you read (well, except for what you’ve just read in this article that is!).  

Opinions by Griffin Kaye

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