Back in January, I began a project that will take me into various churches, temples and sanctuaries over the course of the next year. The project was inspired by a composition paper that I had written the previous semester, in which I compared my perceptions of my first apartment from when I lived there to my perceptions looking back on it now, almost a decade later.
Having once been a true believer, now turned strong antitheist, a similar project focusing on church services sounded like an intriguing idea. So, at the beginning of this year I began attending church services at least 3 times per month, recording my thoughts, impressions and experiences, and comparing them with remembered perceptions of similar services in my fundamentalist past.
From the very beginning, one of the most stark differences that I noticed was my perception of the huge amounts of guilt that people have heaped upon them during these services. Almost without fail, the opening prayer of every service that I have attended so far has contained some version of an admission that all of those present were born as, and continue to be, terrible, evil sinners, who could not possibly hope to lead a decent life without the help of their imagined god. During many of the services, the pastors would reiterate this fact several times throughout the sermon, seeming determined to impress upon their flocks just what vile creatures we humans really are. During the invitationals, people would cry and wail as they confessed what nasty natures they were born with, before dedicating or re-dedicating their lives to Jesus. All of this goes back, of course, to the story in Genesis, in which Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge, bringing the curse of sin upon all future generations of mankind.
Thinking back, I can remember this being a focal point when I was attending services at the First Southern Baptist Church at which I was training for the ministry over 10 years ago. At the time, on the rare occasion that I really thought about it, it seemed like a positive thing: an open, honest admission of my terrible, sinful nature, in the hopes of receiving forgiveness and eternal life from my loving god.
From my present viewpoint atop Mt. Rational, though, I can see what a profoundly negative influence the repetition of this idea must have on a person’s consciousness. The belief that you are an innately terrible, evil, unworthy person, regardless of any actions you have or have not committed is an incredibly powerful negative view to hold of one’s self. To have that idea reinforced on a regular basis might be one of the most psychologically harmful things that I can think of, especially when it’s considered that many of those present at church on Sunday morning are children and teenagers, who are at periods in their lives in which they are continually struggling to develop their senses of identity and self-worth.
So, to anyone out there who may have once been, or currently still is under the spell of this negative view of the human race that has been used as a tool of control by religious leaders for years uncounted, I would like to say this: YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL! As members of the human race, every one of you has an astounding capacity for kindness, generosity and goodness. And, not because some mythical god granted you those gifts in return for your subservience, but because YOU HAVE THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE WHAT KIND OF PERSON YOU WANT TO BE.
So, the next time that someone tells you what a terrible person your human nature makes you, let them know that your actions determine what kind of person you are, not some ancient fairy tale about a rib woman and a dirt man who ate a magical fruit.