In my early blogging days, nearly four years ago, I wrote a post about Christianity with a more positive slant. It was called Four Things I liked About Christianity. Back then I had left Christianity, but I was still a closeted atheist. The point of that post, at the time, was to acknowledge some of the positive aspects of Christianity, and to explain why, despite all its flaws, Christianity still attracts many people.
Now I thought I’d do an interesting exercise and review my old post. I am going to add my current thoughts on the topic, just to see if anything has changed. The writing from my original post I will put into quotes. OK, ready? Let’s go.
Reason One: 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.
I still agree with James, in that your social needs can be met conveniently within a church setting, but how much of the social interaction is genuine? At church you are pressured to join the group think, it’s OK if you agree, but what if you don’t? You often face judgement and are criticised for doing so. When moving towns, it is easier to make friends in a church situation, than out of it, but this comes with a cost. I am still friends with the Christians who I have told, although there was some backlash at the time. To say that Christianity has a monopoly on community is a bit of a stretch though.
Reason Two: 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.
OK I still agree with half of what I’ve said here. People crave having a purpose (and good on them for doing so), which religion tries to fulfill. Many religions (including Christianity) advocate for being selfless and embracing self-denial (for their God, or others). In certain situations, this can be good, but often it isn’t, and it is exploited by others within said religion. So instead, you ironically end up being a slave to someone else’s purposes, which is worse than having no purpose at all. Self-love and development should be encouraged, as long as this isn’t to the detriment of others. But what ‘purpose’ does Christianity provide? You are meant to be a living vessel for God. If said God existed, then following this purpose might be worth it, but alas you are wasting a lot of time.
Reason Three: 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.
My views on what I wrote here are mostly unchanged, but I could still add to this. There are some good morals in the Bible, but there are also many terrible morals as well. Many of these morals are selectively ignored by Christians at their own convenience. For instance, anyone who is in the LGBT camp is sinful just by being there; Christianity also has rigid attitudes towards sex, and a disingenuous position against abortion. Some of the morals promoted within Christianity don’t achieve anything except for wasting your time and making you feel a little better than everybody else. Personally, I think one can follow the good morals, and do without the pointless ones which can actually be harmful.
Reason Four: 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.
Like before, I don’t believe in an afterlife – I consider it wishful thinking. Can I be completely sure about that? Nope! I can totally understand why one would wish for an afterlife, especially if they were unhappy. IF there was an afterlife, where we could see our friends and family again, I think that would be pretty cool… not the Christian afterlife though; this is where I would disagree with myself now. Many people fantasise about an afterlife, but chances are, it isn’t the afterlife promised in Christianity. Imagine this: you lived a good life, believed in Jesus, and you make your way to Heaven. Once there, you find that your lovely grandma is suffering eternally in Hell, because she didn’t believe in Jesus nor want to follow him. Or let’s say half your family is in Heaven, while the other half aren’t… would you really be OK with that? Also, the Bible is very vague about Heaven itself.
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.
I pretty much agree with the reasons here, although my situation has changed. I am more open now about not being Christian anymore, I haven’t set foot in a church for three years, and I don’t live with Christians anymore. To be honest, I wouldn’t mind if I lived with you, and you were Christian, as long as you were OK with me being atheist and didn’t try to force your beliefs on me. I certainly wouldn’t go back to living in a Christian environment though. My past experiences with that could be an interesting blog topic for another day. I still haven’t shown anyone I know this blog though, for now I’m going to keep it that way.
So that was an interesting exercise, have your views on religion changed much in the last four years? If so, how?