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“You’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, and, gosh darn it, god doesn’t like you!”

October 31, 2011

On fifth Sundays (the last Sunday of months that have five Sundays, happens 4 times a year most years, I think 5 are also possible, not sure about 3) the church I work at has a concert in lieu of the regular evening service/Bible studies. Since last night was the fifth Sunday of October we had our fifth Sunday night concert, a local motorcycle church’s “worship” band, with a moderately successful country music star from the early 80s as their lead singer (he had several singles in the top 10 on the country charts back then).

This is the kind of Christian event I saw a lot of when I was growing up. The singer or speaker (or often the singer does as much speaking as singing) will jump around being excited, implore the crowd to do likewise, to shout, to lift their hands, to jump around and make fools of themselves. They insinuate that you can’t really call yourself a Christian if you don’t do so. They almost always say something along the lines of, “You paint yourself in your team’s colors and jump around and holler at sporting events, why can’t you do it for Jesus!” This group even referred to it as “Team Jesus”. (I guess we’ve added zombies to the werewolves and vampires.)

This kind of thing has always rubbed me the wrong way. For one, comparing it to a sporting event never did any good for me since I am not a sports fan, and even if I were I wouldn’t be the type to jump around and shout and paint my face. At rock concerts I am the guy who stands near a wall bobbing his head, not the one in the mosh pit. Jumping around and shouting and raising my hands just wasn’t something I did, not because I felt it was improper, just it wasn’t for me. This is probably why I really enjoy jazz concerts more than rock concerts.

All it accomplished in the past was to make me feel uneasy and momentarily doubt my commitment to the Savior. All it does now is to make me feel uneasy and reinforce my unbelief. (It is, by the way, very hard to sit in a room of people who go along with this and not stick out if you don’t, so I did participate half-heartedly last night so as to not draw attention to myself. There was no jumping, just clapping at appropriate moments.)

I think this originated in the Pentecostalism of the early part of last century and the charismatic movement of the mid and latter part of last century. Even though the Southern Baptist (SBC) denomination isn’t charismatic or Pentecostal, the culture was so prevalent in the south over the past few decades it has seeped in. Most in the SBC don’t believe that you have to speak in tongues or have overly emotional experiences to be saved (in fact, the Convention asks potential missionaries if they endorse speaking in tongues, or have ever spoken in tongues,  and don’t accept applicants who do), but there is a general feeling by most people that there needs to be something emotional to the whole “spiritual experience” to make it real.

What I realized a long time ago is that people are seeking the high-energy, emotional experiences in order to feel that their spirituality is “real”. I initially rejected that because I thought that just because I don’t feel something all the time doesn’t mean god isn’t real. I then began to believe that it was a bit ridiculous to believe that just because one feels something means it is the Holy Spirit and not just the emotion we derive from being excited over something as a group.

This idea that if you don’t do this thing like this then you aren’t really a Christian, or at the least aren’t a good enough Christian yet,  pops up so much in the evangelical church.  (I can’t speak for others since I haven’t been involved in non-evangelical Christianity.) Just recently I heard the “faith as small as a mustard seed” story used. The pastor told a story about a woman who prayed daily that god would move a mountain that was between her house and her daughter’s house so she could see her daughter’s house from her window. After some time, the mountain was still there and the woman said, “I knew you wouldn’t move that mountain!”

He, of course, was using it to illustrate that most people have the same kind of faith as that woman and already assume that god won’t move a mountain even if we pray for it. In Christianity this is always used to illustrate that we need to have more faith because, obviously, our faith is smaller than a mustard seed (how, really, does one measure an intangible thing in actual dimensions?). If more Christians were honest with themselves they would see that it really points out the futility of prayer and belief. It has not been documented anywhere that anyone’s prayers, even the most devout of person, has moved a mountain.

So, though most of modern Christianity has rejected the language of Watts that we are worms before god, they still hold fast to the teachings by Lewis, Wesley, and Calvin that we are unworthy creatures before a  holy god and can never be good enough. They point out the areas where one is lacking, not being excited enough for Jesus, not having faith that god will really move a mountain if you pray for it, and say you aren’t a good enough Christian and should keep improving. The form of Christianity I was raised in doesn’t outright condemn doubt as some seem to, but when you are brought up in this environment it makes you feel guilty for doubting and I, for one, tried to bury my doubt and appear a “strong Christian” to those around me.

This is one of the things that led me to hide my unbelief from even myself for so long. I denied my own doubts in order that I could try to make myself feel like more of a Christian. Obviously if I tell myself the same thing over and over it will eventually become true, right? Maybe it would have worked better if I had worn ruby slippers and said, “I am a good Christian, I am a good Christian, I am a good Christian.”

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2011 9:16 pm

    Ah, but if you had told yourself were a good Christian, you wouldn’t have felt enough guilt to make you appropriately malleable. You would have been ‘complacent’ and not felt your need for god, or worse: if you didn’t think unanswered prayers were your fault, who would you blame?

    • November 12, 2011 5:38 pm

      I never actually thought unanswered prayers were my fault. I just said, “Well, that wasn’t God’s will.” I did, however, often feel overly guilty and in need of god’s salvation.

  2. barleighgirl permalink
    November 11, 2011 3:28 pm

    I love this post. Everything you said totally speaks to me.

    “but when you are brought up in this environment it makes you feel guilty for doubting” – I saw my mother struggle with this for years – always feeling like she wasn’t good enough, like she wasn’t ‘right enough’ with God, and always trying to get there. It made her miserable, and it really messed her up, caused a lot of mental anguish.

    Seeing all of that made me decide that if that’s what God was like – someone who required that all your ducks be in exact little rows to his specifications, before he would pour out blessings, or love and accept you, or save you, or whatever – then I wanted NO part of it. I am who I am, and he can take me or leave me – and if he leaves me because I’m not to his liking, well hey, it’s no skin off my nose. How utterly psychologically messed up do I have to be to change who I am to beg someone to like and accept me?

    And from there I did a lot of thinking about being theologically ‘correct’, and world religions, and history, and the whole house of cards naturally fell apart. I realized that I had probably been an atheist all along, but because it wasn’t an option as I was growing up, and in my environment, I hadn’t considered it before.

    “This kind of thing has always rubbed me the wrong way. For one, comparing it to a sporting event never did any good for me since I am not a sports fan, and even if I were I wouldn’t be the type to jump around and shout and paint my face. ”

    This is very interesting, because I believe that religion *is* a kind of ‘sports team’. Or really, sports team loyalties spring up out of the same part of the brain as tribal religious loyalties. Different side of the same coin. Humans seem to need to divide things into ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, and both religion and sports (also nationalities, and sports is simply a microcosm of that) scratch that itch.

    I am not a sports fan either – I’ve never understood those who are, especially to any large degree. I mean, I can enjoy watching feats of athleticism, but I don’t give a rip whose uniform someone’s wearing when they accomplish it. I would like to see some statistics, see if there’s any correlation between non-sports-fans and atheists – I wonder if there’s less of a need for divisiveness (or something) that might underpin both. (I’m not explaining myself well, hope you understand.)

    “What I realized a long time ago is that people are seeking the high-energy, emotional experiences in order to feel that their spirituality is “real”.”

    Yes – because those experiences hit certain centers in the brain, and cause certain reactions – and those reactions form the basis of what we call ‘religious experience’. Again, not explaining it well, but I read the book Why God Won’t Go Away (http://www.amazon.com/Why-God-Wont-Go-Away/dp/0345440331), and “What they discovered was that intensely focused spiritual contemplation triggers an alteration in the activity of the brain that leads us to perceive transcendent religious experiences as solid and tangibly real.” Now, these researchers then jumped to the conclusion that because we perceive it as real, the brain *must* be picking up on something that’s actually real. But I (and other reviewers at Amazon, I see) kind of got just the opposite from it – that the brain can create its own ‘reality’ that feels just as real as the tangible world around us.

    So, to go back to your quote, in order to tap into that ‘mystical experience sensation’ and feel ‘at one with the universe’, people seek out those high-energy emotional experiences. It’s all brain chemistry.

    In that vein, your jazz concert vs. rock mosh pit thing is interesting too – jazz is more mathematical, I would say – it’s something the brain can chew on, has to think on – whereas rock (and a mosh pit) might be more ‘sensational’ – meaning, a little broader, more accessible to accompanying physical and mental sensations?

    Not to veer too far off topic, but I read a book on introversion (vs. extroversion) that explains the difference as a variance in the way the brain processes chemicals like dopamine and adrenaline. That extroverts crave ‘sensation’ because their chemical processes dull it to an extent, and introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much ‘sensation’.

    It would be interesting to see what the numbers might be on introvert thinkers and atheism, versus extroverts who broadly collect experiences for the senses.

    I don’t know – that was kind of a lot of thought vomit there, I’m sorry! I just found your post interesting, and it made my brain wander a bit.

    • November 12, 2011 5:36 pm

      Thanks for the comment! I totally understand what you’re saying about sports and religion being forms of tribalism. In fact, I recently heard or saw religion described in that way (not sure if it was in a blog or in one of the discussions I’ve had recently) and the comparison is very apt. I also like your thoughts on introvert/extrovert and the sensation factor. It does seem to explain a lot.

  3. jms permalink
    November 13, 2011 9:41 am

    Enjoyed this article. I never felt comfortable in emotional church services.

    • November 14, 2011 7:06 pm

      Me either, that’s probably why I went from Southern Baptist to Presbyterian as soon as I was out of college. :)

  4. WRX2NV permalink
    January 27, 2012 1:40 pm

    I hope that I can make a comment here. I am a born-again Christian and I definitely agree with you on the things that you covered. I wish you weren’t in the spot you are in now with your beliefs but in all honesty, I can totally see what put you at the spot you are today.

    See, I am going through the same thing in my life. I have a local church that I used to go to, that makes me feel like I’m never good enough and I always miss the mark. As a Christian, I understand that I was born into sin but wasn’t that why Jesus was sent to this earth by God? Doesn’t Christianity teach us that Jesus hung on that cross, died and rose again to be that ultimate sacrifice so our sins could be forgiven? That’s what I always learned in church.

    A lot of the people from this church that I speak of seem to forget that they had a past and in that past, they committed sin and even today in their righteous clothing, they are still sinning but they use James 5:19-20 as an excuse to point out to you that they have a right to point out to us sinners what we are doing wrong. For those of you that don’t feel like looking up the scripture I am talking about, I pasted it below. :)

    19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul[f] from death and cover a multitude of sins.

    I’m not trying to impress anyone and I’m not allowing them to get me to the point where I give up my relationship with God, it just really bothers me how people act when they become “righteous.” My father always had a good saying about these kind of Christians “I’d rather be a heathen than a hypocrite.”

    I really hope I don’t offend anyone by anything I typed. I am not an atheist but I see a lot of valid points in your post. I wouldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t say that I will pray for you and that God loves you JUST LIKE YOU ARE! YOU DON’T HAVE TO CHANGE!

    • February 2, 2012 3:05 am

      Of course you can make a comment here. The only time I plan to censor comments is when someone just can’t treat other people well/is obviously a troll. I will not tolerate flaming or trolling on my blog. I will, however, tolerate Christians posting comments in a civil manor. :)

      As for what put me in the “spot” I’m in today, it wasn’t so much the way other Christians act toward unbelievers that made me stop believing. That was one of the many things that caused me to take a second look at my beliefs, but it was not the issue. If that were the case I would probably have found another, less judgmental, flavor of Christianity or sought some other form of spirituality.

      What has brought me to unbelief has been the application of logic and rationalism to the idea of a god or gods. I simply cannot believe in any of the many deities that have been proposed by the numerous religions. I honestly don’t think that I could believe in any being that would be worthy to be called a god.

      That said, thank you for stopping by and commenting, I hope you will continue to read and that you will seek the truth and not simply rely on what you are taught through religion or what you feel to be true about god.

  5. WRX2NV permalink
    January 27, 2012 1:43 pm

    to add to my comment, I also want to tell you another thing that kills me that Christians say. When you have a certain view of something and they tell you that you have this view because you are “Worldly” and we are becoming friends of the world. The thing is, as long as we occupy this world, we have to do “worldly” things. There are things and places that I choose to not do or go to but there are things out there that you HAVE no choice but to participate in.

    Sorry for my rambling! I’m done!

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