In the last few “Spirituality” posts, I asserted that we’re all being conditioned, by science, religion, media, culture, education. Science was the category that really came under the spotlight. So, in fairness, and to prove I’m as open-minded as I claim to be, this Christian is going to put his religion under the spotlight.
The first really bad piece of religious conditioning I encountered was an unfair attitude to sex. There I was, a horny seventeen-year-old, sitting in church, listening to a guest preacher say, “Young men, when you see an attractive girl walking down the street, and your eyes linger … turn your eyes away!” If I heard that from a pulpit today, I would stand up and walk out in defiance. It’s the worst example of an attitude that is taught by the church, to one degree or another. And what’s worse is, it’s not even in the Bible. It’s based on a misinterpretation of something spoken by Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-29)
What should be painfully obvious from the above passage is that Jesus is referring to married men who indulge in desire for other women. Notice it said “adultery,” not “fornication.” This is not applicable to boys and girls discovering their sexuality, nor is it applicable to any single person of any age. In a perfect world, what’s supposed to happen? We get our first ever erection on our marriage night? “Eek! What’s happening to me?” The idea is absurd. And yet ignorant preachers will carry on the age-old mission of driving this “sexuality is sinful” message home to the young. We end up with guilt-ridden teenagers who think they’re stuck with a horrible vice. It took a long time for me to realise I could look at a hot chick and think, “Phwoarrr!” without having to feel guilty.
Another issue: One of my pastor’s hobby-horses was the idea of “feelings orientation,” as he called it. When church life became uninspiring for me, and my attendance wavered, I would be accused of being “feelings oriented,” i.e. doing what I wanted to do instead of doing what I knew was right. So, believing myself to be “feelings oriented,” I would feel guilty about that and fix the immediate problem by being disciplined, i.e. attending church once again. It sounds like the problem is solved. But what you’re left with is an unhappy person, going through the motions of a spiritual life out of militaristic duty. And no one ever asks the really important underlying question: “Why is church no longer inspiring?” So the real problem gets neither noticed, addressed, nor fixed.
I should have perceived long before I did that this idea of “feelings orientation” is just some pop psychology that my pastor liked. I imbibed the idea that the “feelings” are not important. All that matters is duty. But then you end up feeling inadequate because you know you’re supposed to be joyful. And you can apply this accusation of “feelings orientation” to any problem that causes a church member to falter; you can make the problem instantly go away and turn them into obedient, guilt-driven robots once again. Cure any emotional problem by denying the importance of emotions. So, you can be a mess on the inside, but that’s apparently okay, as long as you’re going through the motions on the outside.
In more recent years, as someone who had now studied the Bible deeply, I grew sick of hearing error from the pulpit. One example: About a year ago, the pastor preached on the subject of the Sabbath, and it was terrible, conveying the idea that it was wrong to let your child play football on a Sunday. Only not just saying it outright – hinting at it in a subtle, manupulative way. Later, I heard another sermon by a younger member of the church about how “God is our friend.” When it was over, I realised I couldn’t take anything definitive away from it. It was an exercise in pretentiousness.
I was also disappointed by the distance between people in the church, or possibly the distance between them and me. Maybe it’s because I don’t belong to the shirt-and-tie brigade. Maybe it’s because I once turned agnostic, and when I came back they were never sure about me any longer. I can only guess. Maybe it’s just because I feel aloof from them because I see the poison under the surface of what’s being said and they don’t. All I know is, I don’t fit.
You might say, “Go find another church.” Been there, done that. I once wrote an article called “The Christian Book Minefield,” where I addressed the view that I think most Christian books are best avoided, because on a grand scale all those books together are a minefield of opposing and contradictory beliefs. Well, what is true of authors is surely true of preachers. We do, after all, have our Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Free Presbyterians, Methodists, Independent Methodists, Pentecostals, etc, etc. If only it were as trivial as choosing ice cream!
I know what my friend Chris would say. “Become a Roman Catholic.” 🙂 I’m not convinced about that, but I won’t close my mind to it, either. The anti-Catholic attitude possessed by Protestants is yet another example of closed-minded conditioned thinking. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to see things a little more clearly, and it’s actually pretty simple, if you’re prepared to step away from your rigid belief system and be open-minded. Think about this: Protestantism was founded sometime in the 1500s. But “The Church” has been around since the first century. And what does history tell us that Church was? Uh-oh. It was the Roman Catholic Church. So what are we Protestants saying – that God was without a true Church for over a millennium? Think about it the next time you feel the words “Roman Catholics aren’t true Christians” coming to your lips. Conditioning! Conditioning! Conditioning! Somebody wake me up!
I’m sure there are some reading this now who are thinking, “Gee, Darryl, if you believe all that, why are you still a Christian?” Because of the Bible. Because I have undeniably learned more insight about life from it than from anything else. So I’m a Christian, but I have abandoned organised religion. And I’ve decided, as of now, to stop feeling guilty about that.
If you are a Christian and you’re feeling a bit angry that I’ve got the audacity to speak out against aspects of our religion, then you need to wake up. Go watch Jesus Camp, then tell me that our religion can’t be hijacked and used as a tool for brainwashing of the young. I refuse to be afraid to wake up to reality, regardless of how much ammo I might be handing to the athiest opposition. If they want to look out from their rigid belief system and add this to their list of reasons not to believe in God, that’s up to them. They’ve got their own conditioning to wake up from, too.
My mind was recently opened up to how much I’ve been conditioned, by a certain writer who isn’t even a Christian. In fact, he is quite opposed to Christianity, and every religion, seeing them all as exercises in control of the many by the few. Nevertheless, what he’s saying in principle is right. We pretend we’re open-minded when we’re really thinking from inside a prison cell in our minds, seeking only to defend a rigid belief system and knock down an opposing argument, instead of being open to all possibility. I have actually been more inspired by this book than by any Christian literature I’ve read, period.
Who is this author? Well, he’s a famous British personality that 99% of the population once thought was completely off his rocker (and many still do). Have a listen. Are these the words of a madman? …