08 August 2015

A blast from my uber-Christian past

I don't remember what sparked it, if anything, but for whatever reason I was thinking about the 90s Christian pop band DC Talk. I was a teenage evangelical when they made the transition from totally goofball hip-hop to fairly respectable alternative rock. As a teen who was pretty obsessed with early-era Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and other such alt-rock megabands but who — like many evangelical teens, I imagine — wrestled with the guilt of listening to secular music, I dug "Jesus Freak". But honestly, I was more of a Jars of Clay fan, and I never really gave up listening to secular rock. The side of guilt was just the cost of listening to music I liked, I guess. 

Then last night I was on Facebook and spied some of my religious friends talking about some event going on at Church on the Move, a pretty good-sized contemporary evangelical church here in Tulsa. Just for shits and giggles, I watched one of the sermons (well... some of it). It was pretty standard evangelical boilerplate: pop psychology straight out of the 90s self-help section of Borders interspersed with a few Biblical analogies.
A scene from a 'revival' at Tulsa's Church on the Move.
A SCENE FROM A 'REVIVAL' AT TULSA'S CHURCH ON THE MOVE.
I'll be honest, though: a small part of me missed it. Yeah, it's trite and mostly disposable 'advice'. It's a plethora of pithy platitudes propagated as profundity. And worse of all, it's just bullshit. The worst part about the Bible is that it's not, you know, true. But in all honestly, in the evangelical church where doctrine is sacrificed on the alter of inclusiveness, whether a monotheistic deity sacrificed himself to himself in a blood ritual to fulfill his own covenant in which he paid his own price for redeeming humanity from a curse he placed upon us is all rather beside the point. What matters is that people feel good. They feel connected as a community, connected by their love of God and goodness. 

To some small, tiny degree, I miss that.Then I snap out of it and remember that the whole thing is a farce, anyway. One of the preachers said that he had this three-minute testimony in which he described his life before and after Christian salvation that is meant to persuade curmudgeonly heretics (not his exact words, needless to say). But statistically, it's just a lie. There's precious little evidence that being a Christian makes you happier, more law-abiding, healthier, or — in any of the ways we commonly understand the term — more moral.

For example, Christians are about as likely to divorce as atheists [1]. They're apparently more likely to watch pornography [2]. They're no less likely to go to jail, to have sex outside of marriage, or to oppose torture [3], nor do they appear to be any more charitable [3, 4, 5, 6]. Religion, unto itself at least, doesn't even make you happier [7]:
Diener and Seligman found that statistically controlling for social relationships eliminates the association between religiosity and well-being. In other words, religious people report having more social ties and if you take this into account statistically, religion by itself does not predict happiness.
.... and this doesn't even mention the myriad problems with self-reported happiness.

So religion doesn't appear to actually make you a better, happier person. What's the draw, then? That you'll go to The Good Place when you die? Well, what if the whole idea of Heaven is chock full of gaping holes in logic? Maybe mortality isn't so bad, and we ought to just suck it up and accept it. Besides, somehow I think that if evangelicals cut out the sermons about the good life and just preached about death and judgement, the auditoriums would be a fair bit emptier.

There are times, like last night, when I see friends who are still deeply entrenched in the type of religious community of which I was once a part, and there are certainly aspects of it that are easy to like. But now that I've pulled the curtain back and realized that it's just a man(-made institution), I'm glad to embrace my non-religious life — which, I'm happy to self-report, is quite charmed.

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