We attended a local Evangelical Christian church service on Sunday. My husband likes to check out some of the local churches to find some sort of sense of structure and community. I go to see from a new perspective what used to make up the very foundation of my life.
The last time I attended this particular church, I was in silent tears the majority of the service. I had very recently lost faith in God, in spiritual things of any kind in fact, and I felt a terribly amount of loss, loneliness, and meaninglessness. The blissful ignorance of the congregants only exacerbated and accentuated my pain. Plus, we were there in the first place to raise support as missionaries as it was during our more closeted days in which our job depended on our doctrine. So not only did I feel intense pain, but I had to feign intense joy and excitement for the “cause of Christ.”
Over one year later, my experience was about as opposite of the above as it could have been.
Not only did I feel no sense of loss or pain, but yesterday I found myself overwhelmed with anger. This anger found two causes:
- The extreme misrepresentation of unbelievers by the church and to itself.
- The manipulation to remain blindly in belief.
Let me talk more extensively about the first for a moment (the second will come in another post). The pastor firmly and sternly spoke in front of hundreds of his flock telling them these words:
“There is no hope, meaning in life, or even love without God. Christ is the source of everything good. We aren’t just some product of chance, evolved to whatever helped us survive. No! If that were true, there would be no love. Those who do not have God are completely lost.”
I wanted to scream at him. Actually, I really really really wanted to go up on the stage and offer a real, true perspective from an unbeliever. Aaaahh!! This angered me for so many reasons. First of all, as an unbeliever, I was completely misunderstood and misrepresented to the public here. Secondly, the pastor made that statement completely blindly based on his own belief about unbelievers. Had he actually met or talked to an unbeliever, he would be shamed to make such painful, blanket statements about us.
[A note about this: It’s possible this pastor has spoken to at least someone in his lifetime who hasn’t believed in God. But to make such huge generalizations based on his assumed limited experience is not only wrong ethically, it is just wrong, incorrect, untrue. ALSO, for every atheist who feels hopeless, I guarantee I can find a religious believer who feels the same. Even one with exact same doctrine as any given pastor who feels his specific doctrine is the only true source of hope!]
Thirdly, this message creates a self-fulfilling prophecy!! This very message that “all who do not have God are hopeless” drilled into my head over and over and over again by various pastors and church leaders throughout my entire life was exactly that which made me feel hopeless for so many months once I no longer believed!!! I was so confident that the only source of hope in the human life was God that once I no longer believed, I was conditioned to simultaneously feel hopeless!!
I must take some responsibility for believing that which became, very nearly, the death of me. But I feel so much anger at the Christian church for teaching me such blatant untrue things from a place of authority that, very truly really set me up for failure in anything outside of it.
Yesterday opened my eyes to new, ugly blemishes of religion previously concealed by its own self-protection. My a-theism isn’t what caused my sense of hopelessness, severe depression, and sense tragic loss throughout last year. This is further reinforced by the fact that I am as unbelieving now as I ever was, yet feel an incredible renewed sense of hope, joy, and meaning in life that I hadn’t even experienced as a believer. No. It wasn’t the loss of faith that ruined me. It was, ironically, faith itself.