At church this week (I go to keep the parents happy) I felt extremely uncomfortable with the message. It was another perfect example of how churches emotionally manipulate people.
The speaker began by asking the congregation some questions:
“Who has back pain?”
“Who has a bad memory?”
“Who is tired?”
“Who feels stressed?”
“Who has relationship problems?”
By the end of it, everyone had recognised the imperfections in their lives. He brought our problems to the forefront of our minds and reminded us that life isn’t “how it was meant to be” because of these woes.
Then, he explained why life is imperfect: it’s our fault. It’s because we sin. We turned our backs on God and decided to live our own way and that is why there is suffering and wrongs in the world. It’s not God’s fault, it’s something we freely chose.
By this point, everyone was feeling very guilty and hopeless. We were primed for the Good News. Then comes Jesus Christ. He’s born, he dies for our sins, he rises again, we are forgiven and restored. Cured of the disease of our sins.
This is a pretty standard format for a sermon, and I really do despise it. It makes you feel unnecessarily shit about yourself and your life, because if you feel shit then you will be more responsive to the message of Jesus. They pile on the guilt and the hopelessness until you turn to him in desperation.
Being freed from the guilt and shame that I felt as a Christian has been one of the most life changing aspects of becoming a nonbeliever. Before, I would think about sexual things or accidentally say a swear word and I would be so upset because I had let down the Maker of the Universe. He died for me, and I couldn’t even stop sinning for him. The emotions I felt daily because of my faith were completely exhausting. Now, I no longer have to feel guilty simply for being human. Instead of focusing on the imperfections of my life, I try to be happy about all of the things that are good. I am a truly lucky person to have the life that I do. I am not a dirty, sinful, inherently bad and selfish failure. Rather, to quote Ehrmann:
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars; you have a right to be here.”
I still make mistakes, commit “sins.” But I am free from the impossible expectations of a sadistic god. Sure, my life isn’t perfect, but in many ways I feel like that is what makes it so beautiful. Don’t let Christianity take that away from you.