My perspective now is very different. I see it as mostly a facade. And I was reminded of that today when, via an acquaintance on Facebook, I came across a young evangelical preacher named Clayton Jennings.
Now, I don't know this guy personally. And I'm in no position to accuse him of being dishonest, disingenuous, or anything of the sort. If anything, he just seems like a product of modern evangelical culture, and someone who's found success not because of supernatural magic, but because of a carefully cultivated image.
He sells clothes that say "Jesus Jesus Jesus" (which, incidentally, is exactly what I say when I lose a game of X-Com), with his personal brand name strategically attached to the garments. His Facebook page is littered with pictures of him praying with people or just, you know man, like being overwhelmed by the power of God, bro. Like this:
And this is what I find fascinating about all this. Here's a guy with an immaculately groomed image. He's wearing tailored clothes and expensive-looking watches. Neatly groomed hair. Athletic. He wants to convey that he's powerful, successful, and ambitious. But his message is always "Jesus Jesus Jesus, you fucking aliens!" Wait... that's X-Com again. I meant just the Jesus part. He wants to convey that his success is because of his faith. In his sermons, he credits his success to "God just [using] broken people". And I'm fully willing to entertain the notion that he sincerely believes that.
I think the more likely scenario is that his success is built on looking the part and telling people what they want to hear. He sells a narrative that life without Jesus is a downward spiral of despair, self-interest, and self-loathing. It's that old boilerplate we've all heard: No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace.
Here's the problem, though. It's a farce. Over the years since my deconversion I've searched far and wide for any kind of evidence that being more devout makes you better off in any meaningful way. If Clayton's message is true, we atheists should really be at the bottom of the sneering, self-loathing pit — you know, how we're portrayed in Christian movies!
But by any objective measure, there's not a lick of evidence that any of this triple-Jesus blathering actually helps people. Are 'saved' people better off financially? Are they less likely to suffer from depression and other mental ailments? Are their marriages more stable? Are they less likely to watch porn? Assault someone? Across the board, no.
That's the rub. It's all very well staged. Clayton came to Jesus Jesus Jesus, bro, and so can you. Find that real purpose in your life. Say some prayers, wave your arms in the air while some people strum acoustic guitars. And then go about your life, finding that it's pretty much exactly the same as people who don't Jesus Jesus Jesus. Fucking aliens.