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