Why So Serious?

    I write a lot on this site about what it costs to leave the Christian church. I myself have been relatively lucky, especially for a (former) Evangelical. I’ve lost some routine, and some prefabricated community; I’ve had to have some awkward conversations with friends and family, and had a few connections diminished or severed altogether; but, all in all, I can easily say that I’ve gained much more than I gave up. This is not always--perhaps not even often--the case for others. It is not uncommon for Christians who openly declare themselves agnostics or atheists to be totally cut off from their families of origin, to lose whole swaths of friends, to watch their marriages crumble and have their reputation maligned in front of all of their acquaintances, and even their own children. Evangelicals who leave the church are frequently excommunicated--not from the doctrine, which they chose to reject on their own, but from the social family with whom they’ve had genuine relationships that (they thought, at least) went deeper than an agreed upon mythology.

    Us apostates are not particularly surprised by stories of these kind when they happen. The shallowness, hypocrisy, and rigidity of the Christianities we experienced are part of what led us away. What I get fired up about is what the consequences for an ex-Christian leaving the church should say to Christians themselves about what kind of institution they’re participating in. What message does it send, for example, when you say you believe that God’s acceptance is unconditional, and yet those who are honest about what they do and don’t believe in are treated as weirdos, as stupid or confused, as less-than? What does it say when you say your God is all-powerful, beyond human, and yet those who have a different opinion about how the universe works are treated as sicknesses, as infections who are going to bring the whole house down. What does it say when you bet your life on a religion of love and yet prove incapable of having strong, intimate relationships with those who are not personally interested in your belief system?

    Christians’--maybe just Evangelicals’--inability to treat the stance of non-believers with respect and “unconditional love” is peculiar. Again, it’s not particularly surprising given that, for the most part, Christianity is not a universalistic religion (though perhaps Jesus himself would take issue with that); it’s more that it is concerning what the religion does to regular humans who would maybe otherwise be able to live and let live with all those around them. It is the belief system itself--well, the institution of it--that is self-preservative and thus demands its followers set up certain boundaries vis a vis the rest of the world. Certain defensive postures are taken against non-believers, often ones that patronize and offend, in order to maintain the surety of the disciple. There is a certain (and very widespread) type of Christianity that does not seem to be able to comfortably co-exist with difference, with diversity of thought, with those who--even without any bitterness or anger--choose not to agree.

    Why? That’s all I want to know: why? Not a “why?” to the church as, essentially, a business, but a “why?” to every person I’ve known who thinks a little less of me since I left the church, to every person who’s ever rejected in small or big ways those who decided of their own accord that they did not want to be Christians anymore. And, “why do you want to belong to a club that discourages you from forming bonds outside of itself (bonds that involve no goal of conversion)?” That club sounds like a cult. Actually, for all their self-righteous criticism of the LDS church as a cult, Christianity can be pretty damn cult-ish itself.

    Yeah, this is a bit of a rant. I know it's not as reasoned as some of my other posts. But this is more about my own affective experience, and my reaction to those who have suffered similar fallouts, than it is an intellectual-type analysis of the religion. I just don’t like the two-faced-ness. I don’t like that Christianity does NOT actually encourage inclusiveness when it comes to people who choose not to be Christians.  It sucks to be excluded or looked down upon, and it’s especially enraging when it comes from those who say they’re doing it in the name of "love". What do Christians of this ilk think they are offering reasonable, generally good-hearted people? What do they think anyone will see in their church when they behave like this? I mean, if churches are willing to just admit they’re really nothing more than a social club, then fine. But don’t pretend you rest comfortably in the perfect love of Christ when all you're doing is using the organization of Christianity to give you the feeling of having a leg up on the rest of us.