This blog post is going to be quite different from the rest. Before I dive in, let’s start with a disclaimer: I’m not a Christian anymore, and I am not thinking of going back there again. But there are a few things I hate to admit I miss about it. These reasons may be partly why leaving religion is so hard for many, I know it was for me. But even now I don’t feel that I have fully left yet, simply due to the fact I haven’t “come out” as an atheist to most of my friends. The following reasons may also explain why Christianity and religion in general still exist and thrive in this intellectual age. Most of my blog is quite critical of Christianity, it’s why I started it after all, to vent off some steam and hopefully challenge others who are considering leaving it. Despite this, I must also acknowledge that Christianity and religion has its positives and that it can still benefit society in some ways, despite all its flaws.
1. Christianity has a monopoly on community.
Recently I read a book called Leaving Your Religion. In it, James describes religion as the Walmart of meeting social needs. Religion is like Walmart in that all your social needs can be conveniently met in one place; the need for acceptance and love, community, bonding with people who have similar hobbies etc. Leaving religion is like moving from the city to a small town. All of your needs may not be met in once place anymore, and instead you must visit a bunch of different shops.
I have to admit that James’s analogy is pretty accurate. When I was a Christian, making new friends was relatively easy, especially when having to move town. Sure, many of those people were only friends on the surface (they weren’t friends outside of church), but I also developed some lifelong close friendships from being involved in church. I am still good friends with these people now, but will these friendships stand after I come out to them? We will see…
Of course you can make friends outside of Church, but it can require a lot more effort.
2. Religion gives people a purpose in life.
Christians believe that they are part of a divine plan – actors in a play orchestrated by God. Because of this, it gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Because we as humans are ‘made in God’s image’, there is this desire to look after ourselves and the environment, and for self improvement. Of course, I don’t believe in a divine plan now, but I do genuinely believe that we as humans benefit from having some kind of purpose in our lives. Not necessarily a divine purpose, but we create our own purpose. Life is meant for more than just surviving. Coming up with your own purpose in life might sound cliché to many, but you are the one pulling the strings and are in full control of your life, and isn’t that better than having someone else or some other religion decide for you? In summary, humans have always craved having a purpose to life beyond working and eating.
3. Christianity promotes morals.
For all the bad rep Christianity gets, there is some good advice in the Bible. Love others, treating others as you would like to be treated, don’t lie or steal etc. All of this advice is still applicable today. Christianity didn’t come up with morals, but a lot of their teachings certainly promote good morals. Many Churches are community focused and helping out other people in need. For this reason, I have no problem with other people being Christian, provided they don’t embrace a fundamentalist or extreme version of it… The flip side of this, of course, is that many Christians believe that all morality comes from God. The implication of this is that no one can really do good without God, so non-Christian acts become mostly worthless from a divine perspective. This causes many Christians to develop an ego and believe that they are somehow better than non-Christians by virtue of being saved.
So what can I say about all this? One doesn’t need to be religious to have morals, but religion is certainly a good promoter of it.
4. The Afterlife.
One of the great attractions of Christianity is the promise of an afterlife. The promise that there will be no more tears, pain and death. If your life is going shit, then rest assured everything will be made right again. Some of your friends and relatives died? You’re going to see them again! Does life make no sense? One day you’re going to find out life’s mysteries and all will be revealed! The belief in an afterlife motivates many when they are feeling downtrodden.
This is one of the main reasons I WISH Christianity were true. A week ago I was enjoying a solo walk and I felt sad all of a sudden. Realising that there would be no magical afterlife as promised, that not everything would be made right again, and that we as humans would have to make things right ourselves. After believing in an afterlife for most of my life, it really struck me, and made me a little disappointed.
I’m not saying I’m an unhappy person, my life is generally going good at the moment, but I really wish there was an afterlife, where we could get second chances. I don’t think there is though, the belief in an afterlife seemed to birth from wishful thinking.
Why I won’t/can’t go back.
People leave religion for a bunch of different reasons, for me, these reasons were mostly intellectual. This is why I couldn’t go back. To me, it’s like a kid finding out Santa is no longer real. How can that kid go back to believing in Santa again? He could pretend Santa is real, especially if it meant his Santa-believing friends still accepted him… but it wouldn’t be the same. He would be lying to himself and others.
For quite a while, I WAS that lying kid. It was around 4-5 years ago that I started to consider myself agnostic, but I still went to church regularly and most of my friends considered me Christian. For a while, I enjoyed being part of a Christian community… but it started to eat away at me. Just this year, I have decided I am an atheist, and I have stopped going to church, apart from the occasional rare visit. One day, I want to be more honest with my friends about this. In my current living situation though, this is not going to work too well. When things change, I will be more prepared to come out to my Christian friends and tell them what I believe… maybe even point them to this blog.