• Deny Christ or die… or…


    The other day, at the Unbelievable? forums, a Christian user asked atheists if they would deny their atheism if it would save their life.  You know, a guy is holding a gun to your head and will shoot you unless you pretend you’re not really an atheist after all.  Personally, I’d have no problem lying in this situation.  Apart from a general love of life, I’m sure my wife and son would prefer me alive than dead.

    The question is obviously derived from a familiar scenario Christians sometimes think about:

    You’re in church one Sunday morning, and a gunman enters the building.  He comes over to you, points his gun in your direction, and says “Deny Christ or die“.  What should you do?

    I remember hearing a few sermons preached on such a topic.  And it saddens me greatly that there are true stories of such horrible events taking place in our world.  But the question is an interesting one.  It can be difficult to answer such hypothetical questions, but recalling my Christian days, I remember thinking “I hope I’d have the courage to die for my beliefs”, and I strongly believe that I would have done just that.  I was confident that I was looking forward to eternal life, so my earthly life being cut short like that wouldn’t really matter in the long run.  What’s more, my death as a martyr might just prove to be a compelling witness to others, and I might just achieve more for Christ in my death than I ever could in my life.  There’s also the possibility of a miracle.  And besides, “Not my will, but yours”, right?  So I fully understand the Christian who responds to the question by saying that you should not deny Christ even if meant your demise.

    The message seems to be that your loyalty to Christ should come above everything, even your own life.  But should it really come before everything?  How about…

    You’re in church one Sunday morning, and a gunman enters the building.  He comes over to you, points his gun in the general direction of the other church goers, and says “Deny Christ or they all die“.  What should you do?

    There’s a lot I could say about this, but I’d prefer to leave it open for people to mull over it.  I’d really like some Christians to have a good hard think about their response, without trying to avoid answering the question.  If you were in that situation, what would you do?  What should you do?  You only have two options: deny Christ and your fellow church members survive, or profess your loyalty and see them all killed.  So what would you do?  And why?

    Category: ChristianityMartyrdomThought experiments


    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Clare45

      Is this a new version of the trolley experiment? Would you throw yourself in front of the gunman or deny Christ to save x number of Christians? I think the obvious action would be to deny Christ, even if you were a believer.

      • I’d certainly have no problem lying about my position to save the lives of others. The main difference here, though, is that I’ve heard many Christians (my former self included) saying that you should not deny Christ in the more traditional scenario – and the reasons given for that seem to me to lead to the same conclusion in the current scenario – and I think that is an immoral action.

    • Copyleft

      Would I lie to save lives? Sure I would… and I’d be wary of anyone who wouldn’t. That level of–err, “devotion” is seldom the sign of a rational individual.

      • Me too – wary, indeed. In a few places I’ve posted this, most Christians who’ve been willing to actually answer the question (rather than evade it, eg by psychoanalysing the gunman) have said they’d lie, but there have been a few exceptions. I never thought about this while I was still a Christian, so I don’t know for sure what my former self would have said, but I’d like to think I’d have lied to save the other people.

        • hardlyever

          Looking back on the first 20 years of my life as a devout Christian, I think I can safely – and happily – say that I would have lied to save the other people. BUT…I also am quite certain I would have thought it was the absolutely wrong thing to do, and would have spent the rest of my life feeling extremely guilty for having denied Christ for any reason. That is the nature of being an idealist (ideologue?). It is a very simple, if not easy, path to discern when I believe my actions will be most righteously judged against an objective and singular morality – in this case, that telling the truth, and confirming the lordship of Jesus is paramount – rather than the consequences of those actions in the real world.

    • hardlyever

      Lie lie lie. To save someone else. To save myself. Or my dog. Or your dog. Or my favourite pair of shoes. I have an admittedly unconfirmed feeling that ideals are for suckers. And lazy people. Except for maybe that one ideal – that putting ideals ahead of real world consequences is for suckers and lazy people.

    • Hi James,
      I thought this thought experiment was interesting, so I mulled over it, and wrote up a response, which you can read here if you care to: http://carpeveritatemcatholic.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/martyrdom-consequentialism-and-lies.html
      It’s not particularly well-argued or coherent, sorry! (I’m on holidays and couldn’t be bothered doing a completely rigorous piece of writing) but it does put my thoughts on it in one place.

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond in detail, Monica. But isn’t your argument kinda saying “X,Y,Z would imply C, but I reject X,Y,Z, therefore C should be rejected”?

        • Touche! It does rather sound like that. Some clarifications are in order.

    • Chill Chick

      I know that “Deny Christ or die” scenarios sometimes happen in reality in some other parts of the world, but I think there’s something sick and morbid with christians’ fascination with this idea in the overwhelmingly christian US of A. I’ve heard about Jesus-type camps where the kids are constantly lectured that this could happen to them any day, and some camps even have people masquerade as gunmen and storm the chapel during service. I think brainwashing kids like this, and inculcating a false and unfounded persecution complex, is flat-out child abuse.

    • Part of the reason I started doubting what people said at church was how people took discredited rumours of the tragic death of one young woman, and turned it into a theological issue.


      After the school shooting in Newtown, Conniticuit, many preachers and religionists on facebook banged on about how this was god’s judgement for taking prayer out of schools, or gay marriage, or some other culture war issue. Apparently when god wants to take out his judgement, he does it on 6 year old children from churchgoing families. That or violent video games and movies somehow being a “destructive” force. Christian politicians in the pockets of the gun lobby will say just about anything to keep the discussion away from gun control.