A number of years ago I wrote articles about my move away from Christianity between October 2007 and January 2008. I think these would prove useful background to this article so you can read them here:
Following on from this I found an equilibrium where I could accept the teachings of Jesus, try and follow them, but avoid the potential hurt and difficulty of making a commitment to a church. I simply could not put myself through all of that again.
In recent months this has become a less workable solution as some more fundamental issues with Christianity have come into focus. Something you don’t often hear from atheists is the effect that Christianity has on the individual’s psychology. Sure, they will claim that religion causes wars or that religious people do bad things, but they can’t really address the personal psychological aspects, as I suspect not many of them will have experienced it themselves. So here is my explanation of what I think Christianity does to some people.
The problem with Christianity is that the process of strengthening your own faith consists of telling yourself that you are not good enough and that you need to be punished. The only relief from this potential punishment is the offer of someone else (Jesus) taking the beating for you. But there is no objective way of determining that he has, and regardless of whether we can be sure or not, it does not leave us in any better a state. We are still bad, and still deserve that punishment. If we want to feel more redeemed then we have to feel that we are more bad. This is why Christians love stories about people who have led very wicked lives and then “come to know the Lord” because this makes them feel more redemmed. If you examine what happens in worship in a lot of evangelical churches the emotionalism is about “what Jesus has done for me”. In other words being "saved from sin" is really about being saved from punishment.
I think that this need to keep feeling redeemed and pursue continual evidence of redemption can become a sort of spiritual “Stockholm syndrome”.
Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.
The church becomes the mediator of your own redemption because that redemption is only real when someone else recognises it. Where else are you going to get that confirmation, but from other Christians?
This constant feeling of not being good enough, and being undeserving, can either result in mental health issues or willing acquiescence to cult like practices in the church to which you belong - because it is the only forum through which you can get ongoing confirmation of your redemption. You will not want to be separated from that confirming community so you will out up with behaviour you would not tolerate in any other area of life. This explains why people inside the church can't recognise the problems outsiders see in the excesses of the TV evangelists or the fantastic palaces and robes of bishops and popes.
This brings us round to the core of the issue - not being good enough.
When it comes to not being good enough, Christianity goes one step further than other religions by not blaming you for what you have done, but for what you have thought about doing, even if you have stopped yourself from doing it. If you speak to a Christian about this they will glibly talk about “original sin”. In other words, the sins of the fathers need to be visited on their children, starting with Adam and Eve. We need to pay the price for Adam’s disobedience.
Yet, even within Christianity it is clear that some people have fallen less far than others. Original sin is not the great equaliser it might appear to be. Whether it is official saints of the Roman Catholic church or the unofficial saints of the evangelicals (Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, Smith Wigglesworth et al) some appear to be less bad. And should we be surprised? It is clear from speaking to people of all faiths and none that human beings view certain types of sinful acts as more serious than others. In the Christian church issues relating to sexuality and abortion are likely to be considered more serious than fiddling your taxes. Killing someone in battle is OK, but “causing death by dangerous driving” is not.
Perhaps the lies that we tell ourselves and tell each other, in order to function as a society, are not a bad thing, or not as bad as murdering someone? Maybe we are not that bad after all and we need a new gospel? But still being caught up in the existing one we are left in a stark position: If we are not good enough, and we need to be punished; and the only way out is for Jesus to take our punishment; and the only way to get that confirmed is by people in the church; then we have the makings of a machine which will hold people captive in guilt, depression and anxiety till kingdom come.