When I first left the church (due to feeling disillusioned and disgusted by the behaviour of the other people within the congregation) I still felt that I was a Christian, but that the church was not the place for me. It was then that I started really reading the Bible for myself, in more depth and with a more discerning eye, with the intention of finding answers for myself and connecting with God through a deeper understanding of the teachings. I thought that if I was not being directed through the book by a preacher or church elder that it would be wise to read it much more often. Previous to this, when I had been a practicing member of the church, I would read snippets and random verses here and there, usually when looking for validation or inspiration of some kind, but the majority of my reading and subsequent understanding was from what was being spoon-fed to me at school, at church and at home. I had always felt that with my absorption in the text from all these angles, that I had a pretty good understanding of the Bible and that I knew almost the whole text. When I started to read through longer passages and entire books of it at a time, it started to unravel as I realised that I just did not believe it any more. Of course, having been indoctrinated in the belief system for so long, I was still hesitant to let it go and still maintained a vague belief for several years.
Studying Philosophy at college and university, I was exposed to arguments for and against the existence of God which I had not previously considered, while at the same time reading up on the history of Mythology through works by the likes of Joseph Campbell and how religions throughout time have evolved, crumbled and been replaced. Seeing for the first time that much of the Christian mythology is recycled from older religions and folk tales, coupled with studying the likes of Kierkegaard, was the turning point where I began to refer to myself as Agnostic. That lasted a few years, with me still clinging stubbornly to the possibility of there being a god for all it was worth. Finally, I realised that I no longer accepted even a possibility of there being a god, nor any other supernatural elements to the universe. It was something that came about gradually, but my pursuit of knowledge completely eroded any belief in the ethereal and any need for (or possibility of) any type of god. My interest in the subject seemed to grow proportionally to the evaporation of my faith, which was rapidly unwinding with further related study and enquiry. I continued to read about various religions of the past and present, different philosophical arguments and still delving further into the Bible itself. As I did so, I became more and more resentful that this mythology had been impressed upon me and had taken up so much of my life.
The time spent in churches and reading this book had robbed me of time which I could have spent enjoying life or learning useful real-world knowledge. Instead I was being threatened with eternal damnation and being told that if science contradicts the Bible, then either it’s wrong or else some kind of elaborate trap concocted by the devil.
Having previously written about certain aspects of my experiences, I wanted to expand on an earlier piece where I explored 5 Things I Miss About Believing In God. The article was generally well received and the feedback I received suggested that most people felt it to be fair and balanced. Ironically, the only verbal attacks I received for that piece were from overly suspicious atheists who, in a show of surprising paranoia, accused me of being a ‘closet christian’ who was using the piece as guerrilla evangelism. According to their comments, anything short of a direct and brutal attack on religion as a whole is an admission of belief. It was actually quite amusing that the response I expected was inverted and delivered by the very people who actually shared the same view as myself. I even had one message which told me that I should ‘read a book other than the Bible’, to which I replied ‘I did, which is partly why I’m now an atheist…’. His comment was deleted when other people mocked the irony of his advice, given that he did not seem to have read the piece he was responding to.
Anyway, I’m sure that particular contingent will be more placated by the content of this piece, as it would be impossible to explain why I don’t miss certain things about my old beliefs without being negative about them. There are, of course, many things that a former religious person like myself is glad to leave behind when they become an atheist. Some are little things, like feeling guilty for listening to bands who sing about anything other than ‘the joy of knowing Jesus’ (plus religious music in general is mostly awful). Others are bigger things like feeling obliged to bring religion into every occasion or discussion, having to go to church every week of your life or (apparently) having to hate entire groups of people because the Bible apparently says so. There’s a lot of that last one that goes around. I can’t speak for the experiences of people from any other religion, so this is based purely on the experiences that I had as a Christian, not just in one church, but across all of the churches that I attended (of various denominations) and the other Christians I personally encountered. I’m sure there are many good people who are Christian, just as there are good people in any subgroup or category of society, but there are certainly aspects to Christianity and traits which I have found to be extremely common (bordering on universal) in the church which I do not agree with and aspects of being a Christian that I look back on and regret.
These are the five things that I don’t miss about being a Christian:
- Institutional Bigotry
In my previous piece on religion, I mentioned the ‘us vs them’ mentality of being religious and how it makes you feel like ‘one of the good guys’, because the belief is that you are on the side of the ultimate good. This is a double edged sword because cultivating this type of mentality also breeds a natural sense of rivalry with anyone outside of your insulated group. This cultivates an atmosphere of xenophobia, hatred or condescension to non-believers and those of different faiths, plus instils the arrogance to try to impose the Christian interpretation of God’s will onto others. People who believe they are on a crusade for a higher authority (and are therefore operating under the impression that they are saving people’s eternal souls) will naturally think they are doing other people a favour by imposing their beliefs onto society. Their self-righteousness attitude and belief that everyone else is morally corrupt is a natural extension of believing in a benevolent, omnipotent deity because they think they are being heroes to the world. Unfortunately this tenacity just causes a further spiral of division, with people inside the faith opposing the rest of society and people outside the faith resenting Christians for trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else.
As well as this general sense of division, there are specific groups of people (aside from non-believers in general) that Christianity encourages its followers to hate, with the most prevalent being the LGBT community. Many a time I have listened to men with shaved faces, wearing clothes made from blended fabrics talk about the evils of homosexuality, completely ignoring that their grooming habits and fashion choices are in violation of rules in the same book. Regardless of the hypocrisy on the superficial level, I was personally never able to reconcile the idea of condemning people for loving each other with the central teaching of the new testament to love your neighbour as yourself and treat others as you wish to be treated. It ended up being the deciding factor in my stopping going to church in the first place. (For the record, I am a heterosexual male so this hatred was not aimed at me directly, but certainly at people who I cared about.)
- Shallow Competitiveness
In every church I ever attended there was a competitive atmosphere, whereby everyone wants to be seen as the best/most perfect Christian. You would probably assume that the idea of fellowship was to build each other up and encourage each other, but it was always much more important for churchgoers to show their superiority. Whether it be seniority in their tenure at the church, trying to prove a superior knowledge or relationship with God or simply making themselves the center of attention, it can manifest itself in many ugly ways. It usually centers around a vocal and highly visible minority, who interject themselves into every facet of the church community, volunteer for roles in Sunday services and host prayer meetings etc etc. That being said, there was always a trickle down effect to the others in the congregation. I would see the ideas of ‘judging not lest ye be judged’ and ‘letting he without sin cast the first stone’ completely dismissed on a weekly basis, unless of course they could be dusted off to use as a snappy condescension.
From the louder-than-necessary singers, to the fainting evangelists who speak in tongues and get thrown around by the Holy Spirit like a ragdoll every week, there are certainly no shortage of attention seekers in the church. In the case of the latter, they are literally falling over each other in their bids for attention.
- Culture of Guilt
This can probably be said of any religion which has a concept of sin, but without a doubt it is a huge part of Christianity as an institution. Sin is the cornerstone of Christian ethics, teaching that certain behaviours are inherently wrong and that natural desires, urges and emotions are against God’s will. Sin is the reason that non-believers will ultimately go to Hell. It is the reason that Adam and Eve were cast out from the Garden of Eden, the reason for the great flood and usually the main motivation for most of the major actions and decisions which appear in the Bible. There is even Original Sin – the idea that we are all born as sinners, somehow guilty by association with Adam and Eve for their famous transgression – for which the price was the sacrifice of Jesus. Basically, the idea is that without Jesus, we would be punished and pre-judged for being human.
Apart from this being extremely hard to reconcile with the idea of a benevolent creator, this all-encompassing culture of guilt is an awful concept to impress upon children (or adults for that matter). It makes people feel guilty for being human, for experiencing completely natural things like greed, envy and lust. While these are definitely not good traits and should not be acted upon in 99% of circumstances, they should be seen as completely normal and not something that sends you running to find repentance for fear of being cast into Hell. The fact that temptation itself is a sin means that thoughts are deemed equal to actions in terms of reasons to chastise ourselves. This systematic undermining, threatening and insulting of a person is, without question, a case of institutionalised psychological abuse. It is a system and environment which I am glad to have left behind.
- Religious Music
There were several issues that I had with religious music when I was growing up as a Christian. Firstly, the very fact that most non-christian music is condemned for being too profane, too sexual, too violent or being otherwise lacking in spiritual value leaves you in a situation where you are likely to enjoy something that you are ‘not supposed to’ and therefore feel guilty. This relates straight back to the previous item on this list about the culture of guilt. Apart from that issue, you then have the even more dire situation of what is left. There are obviously some individual songs, artists and bands which are exceptions to the rule and are actually decent, but in general Christian music is a landscape of utter crap.
We may as well start with traditional hymns, usually written by Charles Wesley or some other equally uninspiring composer, who churned out painfully boring dirges and should have been long forgotten. Then of course, you have the more modern but equally awful counterparts which usually attempt to be more upbeat (although agan, there are slow dirges here too) but would never have seen the light of day if composed for a mainstream music audience. Essentially, the music is always designed to be so middle-of-the-road and accessible that it just can not possibly be objectively good. Then you have the more specialist acts, like Christian metal bands and Hip-Hop artists, who always fall short of their secular peers because it is often hard to take them seriously and even when you can, they often lack the life experience or the diversity in their songs to be able to sustain a wider audience. In each of these instances, the result would be the same: I was constantly surrounded by music which I thought was awful while being made to feel guilty for liking things I was naturally drawn to.
- Blindness To Science
One thing which I look back on as being detrimental to my personal development is the conditioning from Christianity to doubt the authenticity of science. This became more and more of an issue as I got older and naturally more curious and skeptical, because the more I would question religion from a scientific perspective, the more I was discouraged from doing so; often being encouraged to think of science as being a faith-based belief system in itself, rather than demonstrable and verifiable knowledge. Often, science itself was argued to be a conspiratorial system by which atheists were attempting to subvert the absolute truth of Christian doctrine.
The most prominent example of this is with the Theory of Evolution, which is fundamentally opposed to Christian doctrine and is summarily dismissed despite evidence. The main issue I had with this was the propensity for Christians to hurriedly point out that it is “only a theory”, which does not stand as an argument on its own because the principles of gravity and relativity are theories in the same way but are accepted as fact. I also could not simply dismiss a widely accepted and scientifically backed idea which seemed completely viable, even to someone like myself whose knowledge on the subject was patchy at best at that time.
Then there is the issue of the Big Bang Theory, which is another that many Christians dismiss as ‘merely a theory’ while others accept it under the condition that it was caused by God. Either way presented an issue for me for several reasons. Firstly because those who dismissed it were arguing against something which has been calculated, tested and accepted by far superior minds to their own. Meanwhile, those who accept it as fact only do so with the caveat that it was caused by God, which I saw as a completely transparent God-Of-The-Gaps argument, because the way I saw it, if that was the means of creation that God used then that is how it would have been described in the Bible. Finally, the very fact that there were issues such as this which still divided Christians when the rest of the world was able to agree based on the evidence and facts was in direct opposition to the idea of the faith as being an indisputable truth. How can a belief system be seen as an objective truth when the only people who are divided by new evidence are the followers of that belief?
That slight digression aside, this anti-scientific bias was something which never felt quite right to me when I was a Christian and was something which I struggled with. It did not help that I was discouraged from reading anything other than Christian texts on the subjects and only gaining knowledge of them through a singularly focused perspective. I feel like this severely hampered my intellectual development and wasted so much time when I could have been gaining real-world knowledge.