A guest post by Ian
Since telling everyone that I was no longer a Christian, I have been able to look at how Christianity affected my life; and, more importantly, why. Understanding why it was affecting me so drastically gives me a better understanding of how it was controlling me. In the end, Christianity is about control; control of our actions and our thoughts. This control is exerted by telling people that almost everything they do is a sin that keeps them from God. The good things that are done can only be done through the control of God, or they are selfish and, ultimately, a sin (the pride of life).
Christianity matters to people for many reasons. A few of the most prevalent reasons are fear of eternal torment, loss of community, and self-worth issues, in no particular order. There are countless other reasons and minor variations of these reasons. In the end, if a Christian is pressed hard enough, these are the three that will be the main reasons.
The first reason, fear of eternal torment, is a powerful motivator. People are told that, without the sacrifice of a murdered savior, they will die (like everyone else on earth) and will be tormented forever in a place of fire and brimstone. By looking at this idea honestly, you can see that this makes no sense. The basic premise for this idea is that an all-powerful God created the universe and perfect people to inhabit it. These mortal, insignificant people were able to do something so egregious that caused the all-powerful God to condemn them, and all of their offspring, to an eternity of torment, unless they believe in the aforementioned savior. Not just punishment for the two who broke the law, but a punishment, for all humans, that has spanned 6,000 years of Bible history and will continue on forever. Punishment that consists holding a dead person’s immortal soul into a place of fire and torment until a final judgment can be made. This judgment is a foregone conclusion, since a soul is unable to receive salvation or forgiveness from this all-powerful God. After the final judgment, everyone being held in this fiery place of torment will be cast into an eternal Lake of Fire. The fact that one person has suffered for 6,000 years and another person has suffered for a day before being thrown into this eternal fire has no bearing on anything. This is the work of a petty God, one who acts childish and holds a grudge.
This idea of eternal torment keeps people in church and pacified because it is such a fearful thing. The truth is that people don’t really want to do good to honor God, they want to do good to avoid eternal fire. This is not to say that some people don’t want to sometimes do good deeds for others, but the fear far outweighs the promise of a reward. Some people have called this fear irrational, since eternal fiery torment doesn’t exist; but if you are a Christian, this is a totally rational fear. (The eternal punishment idea never came from where Christianity claims its origins. The Christian idea of hell and eternal torment are easily traceable to Greek and Roman ideas of the afterlife, among other religions.) A rational person would be well advised to do everything they could to avoid such a punishment. The truth is that everyone dies and that is all there is. The fact that some evildoers in life get away with their crimes is remedied by having a place of eternal torment. The only way to escape this eternal torment is to be a Christian (of some sort).
Even Christians are affected by eternal torment. I have heard several people over the years say that they had doubts of their salvation. Usually this occurs late at night or when there is personal turmoil. Many people “get saved” more than once—I did this myself. In the back of our minds, there is no way to be 100% sure that you will miss out on eternal torment. We have been told that you can; but, until you die, there is no way to know for sure; so, people will cling to any chance they have of missing torment. And this is one of the reasons that it matters if you are a Christian.
The second reason Christianity matters to people is the community it forms. Many people are born into families that are Christian, or at least have roots in the church. Growing up in this environment means that most of the people you know are Christians and leaving Christianity means leaving family and friends behind.
Leaving behind everyone you love means two things. First, you separate yourself from them. You are no longer in close contact, or fellowship, with them. You miss out on many of the things you used to do together and you grow apart. Secondly, many types of Christians will shun you for leaving Christianity. In practice, this means you are worse than a regular unbeliever and deserve to be ignored by them. You are told, initially, that Christians are praying for you; but, when you are resistant to their prayers and pleadings, they treat you as though you are worse than a rapist or child molester. This is because you have once experienced the goodness of God but now trample it underfoot. They believe there is no redemption for you. They believe that for a person to renounce Christianity means you were never saved and you will be condemned to eternal torment.
Leaving behind all of you friends and being shunned is a strong motivation to keep people in Christianity. Being an ex-Christian opens a lot of doors and places you into unfamiliar territory. Leaving likeminded people and a pastor who tells you what to do and think means that you will have to make your own decisions, which is something many people don’t want to do. This community has been your stability, so leaving it is hard to do. You can feel as if your whole world is upside down. Many people stay, even when they aren’t particularly happy or satisfied with their situation, because they fear this shunning and loss of relationships.
Finally, self-worth issues keep people in Christianity. Christians are told that they are sinners and deserving of eternal torment. They are told that, without Jesus, all of their good deeds are nothing but filthy rags and there is “none righteous, no not one”. Being told these kinds of things for many years makes you believe that you have no self-worth outside of Christianity. No one wants to feel worthless, especially when eternity hangs in the balance.
Christians are told to be humble and to only “glory in the cross” of Jesus; the cross where a man was murdered because he was falsely accused of sedition, according to the New Testament. By keeping people enslaved to the idea of embracing low self-esteem, they feel that they are worthless. Their only value comes through Christianity and the affirmations of their pastor and church. When these affirmations are taken away, many Christians become depressed and feel that God has forsaken them. They then start a spiral into self-destruction, which they believe is because God is punishing them for not being true to Christianity. When these people “get right with God”, they were able to put away their “sins” because their self-worth was restored. This shows how insidious and powerful these self-worth ideas are.
Ultimately, these three reasons are intertwined. As I have shown, the overlap in these mindsets is a powerful tool for keeping people in bondage to Christianity. Understanding why Christianity matters to people is an important step in finally freeing yourself from its lingering grip. It will also help you understand why people are so upset when you finally announce your deconversion.