What's Your Secret?

I recently came across MySecret.tv, a website set up by the evangelical megachurch LifeChurch. LifeChurch is a multi-campus church with physical locations scattered across several states that are connected during synchronized worship services by live video streams. MySecret.tv is this internet-savvy ministry’s latest venture: essentially, it is an online confessional, where people can log on to post admissions of sins they feel they have committed. Unlike the standard confessional, though, these confessions are not kept private but rather are posted in full public view, so that other visitors to the site can browse them. According to Craig Groeschel, LifeChurch’s founder, the purpose of this is to “confess to God for forgiveness but to each other for healing” (source).

Browsing the site provides an interesting cross-section of what Christians consider to be sin. The site lists over a dozen different categories of confessions, from “Double Life” and “Past Humiliation” to “Eating Disorders”, “Pornography” and “Substance Abuse”. The confessions themselves range from the hilarious to the heartbreaking to the deeply disturbing. Some examples of the first category:

I daydream (alot). I wonder/fantasize what my future will be like. I’m married with kids but I often daydream about being single again. I often wish I had made different choices when I was younger so my life coud be more like my imagination. I’ve never told anyone.

I used to have a seriously gambling problem losing almost $20 a week

I like porn and masturbate on a daily basis, I’m not sure which sin this is, but I’m sure its a sin some how…

I would like to confess that about 5 months ago while at hastings I picked up a magazine with nudity in it and fliped through it against my better judgement. I was overwhellmed with guilt and shame and put it down and walked out. I have been praying hard to get rid of the sick feeling in my stomach and have needed to confess this. I hope you all will pray for me for continued strength from the Lord so that nothing of this world will come between my wife and I’s relationship. Thank you.

Sometimes when I see other couples, I picture them having sex in my mind. I have no idea why.

I have had sex before marriage. Even though it is someone I know I want to spend the rest of my life with, I know that God wanted me to wait.

I have a hard time not looking at my girlfriend’s anatomy. Not that we sleep together or that she intentionally exposes it before me, but I stare and imagine her naked all the time. I want to overcome this before our relationship goes any further.

I like to masturbate. I would never cheat on my wife physically. When I masturbate I still think of her.

My husband’s secret became my secret almost three years ago. On a Thursday night, God compelled him to confess his 10 year pornography addiction to me. I was devastated. Not devastated like people mean when they don’t make the cheerleading squad. Devastated like Hiroshima.

Browsing the site, one rapidly notices a trend visible even from the above excerpts: the vast majority of sins confessed are related to sex. There are at least five specifically sex-related categories – Pornography, Adultery, Relationships, Sexuality and Lust – and each one of them has dozens of pages of confessions, compared to most of the other categories which usually have less than ten. In addition, several other categories, such as Double Life, Shame, Addictions (to pornography) and more, are mainly oriented toward sex-related sins.

This pattern makes an interesting point about the moral repercussions of strong belief in Christianity. Some of the acts confessed are genuinely harmful – cheating on spouses, for example. But a very great number of them are perfectly ordinary and non-harmful deeds blown completely out of proportion – people who ashamedly confess that they occasionally look at pornography, or masturbate sometimes, or cannot stop having sexual fantasies about people they meet, or had sex before marriage with the person they ended up marrying, or had physical desire for the person they were dating – as if experiencing sexual desire for others was some horrible and unnatural act rather than a normal and universal aspect of being human. Their religious belief is making them suffer needlessly by indoctrinating them into believing that this normal physical drive is a grave sin which they must battle against and struggle to overcome.

Even the people who genuinely seem to have problems, such as those confessing a genuine addiction to pornography that has ruined relationships or cost them thousands of dollars, can be explained with this hypothesis. It is no surprise that a distorted and unhealthy view of sexual desire can lead to such problems: when people try to repress basic aspects of human nature for so long, and when that repression finally fails and the underlying desire bursts out, of course it will tend to emerge in a twisted and harmful fashion, due to all the guilt and fear and self-loathing with which it has been contaminated. Such problems might never arise in the first place in a person with a mentally and emotionally healthy view of sexuality, rather than the ignorant and harmful view taught by fundamentalist Christianity.

A truly saddening example comes from the many confessions of people, both male and female, who experience feelings of sexual desire for the same gender but are trying to repress it, because they believe homosexuality is a sin. Many of these confessions are fraught with self-deception and denial (“I’m not really gay, but I can’t help myself”), although to an outsider, the issue is obvious.

How many times does it have to occur before it gets beaten in my life? How many times have I fallen on my face before God, begging for forgiveness, strength. How many times, do I all of the sudden go from shopping on ebay to staring at porn? As a woman, my mind, my emotions, and my sexuality are in total chaos during those times. What’s wrong with me… I have a boyfriend..I’ve talked to him, he’s loving and prays for me.. but.. why am I attracted to females? But only in pictures, never real life.

I love porn I cant help it but lately Ive been watching gay porn it is the only thing that can keep me interested and I dont know why because im not gay.

I can’t help but get homosexual images sometimes. I’d never act on that, but I fear it consuming me entirely. Pray for me.

I have always struggled with sexual behaviors. I started having sexual thoughts in junior high school, and of course they continue today even thought I am in my twenties. Don’t get me wrong, I love women. I am married and love my wife dearly. However, many of these thoughts I have are homosexual in nature. I find myself “stumbling” across gay porn on the internet and masturbating to it.

These are the saddest examples of how Christian homophobia hurts real people. Notice the denial in each of these (“only in pictures, never real life”, “can’t help it”, “I don’t know why because I’m not gay”, “‘stumbling’ across gay porn”), doubtless from internalization of the prejudice and hatred these people may well hear every day from the pulpit. Rather than teaching these people and the countless others like them to accept who they are and be happy, Christianity’s warped moral teachings turn an ordinary variant of human sexuality into a secret shame that must be repressed and hidden from the world. Both these people, as well as the many other people on this site who speak of loves lost and relationships broken up because of their religious beliefs, are denying themselves happiness needlessly and filling their lives with pointless guilt and suffering, when they could so easily find a better way. (One confession I read expressed a wish to “switch something in my mind to hate sex”. Another said she “felt like a failure” for having sex before marriage.)

I do not condone acts that harm others, but none of the above excerpts fit that description. These “sins” are ridiculous inventions, and it is past time for Christians to stop obsessing over them and start caring about the things that really matter. Theists worldwide, in fact, should discard the false religious beliefs that create this cancerous, unnatural guilt and dread of anything having to do with sex, and wake up to the recognition that there is and can be no sin in anything that loving, consenting adults choose to do with each other. The irrational obsession with sex, found not just in Christianity but in many other religions as well, is based on the bizarre notion that the infinite, omnipotent creator of the universe cares more than anything else about how people’s genitals come into contact – a notion that would be ludicrous if the harmful repercussions of believing it were not so tragic.

To be fair, it is not only sex that these confessions are concerned with. There are many examples on this site of legitimately saddening and heartbreaking stories – people trapped in loveless or abusive marriages, people with serious mental problems of addiction or eating disorders or self-destruction, people who have suffered unimaginable abuse, people who entertain thoughts of depression or suicide – that make any person of conscience wish they could step in and help. (I even noticed a few stories of people wondering if they were atheists; I wish there was some way to contact these people.) However, even here religion must bear some blame. In teaching, as it frequently does, that mental disorders like depression or addiction or self-mutilation are “sins” that can only be overcome by prayer and church-going, there is a very real danger that Christianity will cause these individuals to blame themselves for their inability to solve the problem, rather than encouraging them to get the outside help and treatment they need.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://onlycrook.wordpress.com Jude

    I looked at the site a little–it’s hard to believe it exists. Shame and guilt is the business of religion, but encouraging people to confess it on a website? That’s weird. A lot of people probably attend church as a social activity–I used to go because I like to sing. It’s when you throw in belief, especially newer interpretations of old verses, that you run into trouble. Shame and guilt.

  • http://botd.freethought.net NonProphet

    Great post – I agree with your sentiment. Are you reading ‘Church Marketing Sucks’, the Christian church marketing site? I found mysecret.tv via them a couple of weeks ago. My take on it is that it is purely a publicity engine rather than an genuine attempt to help people overcome issues. As you mention, the religion itself is often part of the problem.

    From a marketing perspective, the site is nothing more than a rip-off of Postsecret.com; one of the most popular blogs on the net (currently number 8 in the top 100) according to technorati. So, they are using someone elses idea to whip up a viral frenzy of attention (voyeurism has great appeal) and push Christianity in the process. I pointed this out over at CMS, where they were praising the idea as innovative, but they didn’t agree. Ho hum.

    There may be some positives that come out of this, however. For example, at least some of the people viewing the site will realise that they aren’t the only ones with these sorts of thoughts. Perhaps it will alleviate some of their religiously-induced guilt and reduce the hold these superstitions have on their psyche?

  • Andreas

    Great post! However, the person confessing that “I can’t help but get homosexual images sometimes. I’d never act on that, but I fear it consuming me entirely. Pray for me.” sounds more like he’s suffering from a form of Obsessive Compulsive-Disorder, popularily called “pure-o”, rather than being a homosexual in denial.

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    I’m depressed further by the woman who writes, on having sex:

    He is a Christian and part of me is really mad at him, because he is the man and he should have been stronger.

    It’s a sad mix of irrational guilt, out-dated sexism and a rather sad naivety too… one also suspects that sex is not actually going to be that enjoyable anyway if you can half-feel Satan’s pitchfork poking at the back of your neck?

  • Tommykey

    We should all go on there and say that we don’t believe in Jesus anymore.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Are you reading ‘Church Marketing Sucks’, the Christian church marketing site? I found mysecret.tv via them a couple of weeks ago.

    I’ve not heard of that site, no. I believe I found mysecret.tv through a New York Times article about it earlier this month.

    Thanks for the link to PostSecret, though! That’s a truly interesting site (in a voyeuristic sort of way). Some of their confessions are related to religion, especially this one:

    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/994/593/1600/hebrew.jpg

    or:

    http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/994/593/1600/gay.0.jpg

  • Alex Weaver

    Those links are broken.

    So, Adam finally figured out sex sells? *ducks*

    In all seriousness, I’m very familiar with this. I’m still unraveling some of the lies my now-wife told me early on in our relationship because of guilt that was, in large part, religiously induced. x.x

  • Christopher

    *The following is a parody to mysecret.tv*

    I’ve SINNED! I blasphemed the name of god 47 times while I was having sex with my girlfriend and her sister at the same time! I then proceeded to beat my girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend into a bloody pulp and now he’s in a comma! Then I shot my girlfriend’s cat! Oh my god I’m soooo ashamed of myself and I am going to hell… Please pray for me.

  • Tommykey

    You’re girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend is in a comma? What, you couldn’t have put him in parentheses instead?

  • http://beepbeepitsme.blogspot.com/ beepbeepitsme

    These people seem to want perfect lives with perfect partners. What an unrealistic expectation. Talk about setting yourself up for a fall.

  • Interested Atheist

    These people need to get out of the nineteenth century. Masturbation is no longer considered an illness.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    The links aren’t broken, I think PostSecret is just blocking outside referrers. If you go to the site, the second one I linked is right at the top: it’s a rainbow-striped wheel overlaid with the text: “I’m so mad at God for letting me be gay and not letting me be a happy, normal Mormon boy.” The other is about halfway down the page, and shows a page of Hebrew text from the Torah, overlaid with the text: “I pretend that I still believe, but now I know too much to go back to the way it used to be.”

  • http://dark-sided.blogspot.com Dark Sided

    I had a post on this site ready to go @ Dark Sided but never published it. I trolled the confessions searching for people confessing that no matter how hard they try, they just can’t believe in God and think church is a waste of time. There were a few like that, but not enough for me to build a case that their own site was backfiring on them, so I never posted it.

  • Uber

    I have never understood how porn harms a relationship. In honesty I could see it if you where spending money joining a bunch of sites or purchasing lap dances/videos etc or as a springboard to other partners but I think it’s harmless escapism for the majority of glancers.

    I think it helped save 2 of my friends marriages when the physical went south on them for a few years with their wives. If it wasn’t for a few moments of self satisfaction i doubt they would have seen it through the tough times.

  • Montu

    Great post. Adam, if you haven’t done so yet, you should see Jesus Camp, it would follow up perfectly with this post. It was probably one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen concerning the Religious Right, and there’s alot concerning making children feel guilty, as well. All of this is just so sickening and depressing…

  • Alex Weaver

    I think it helped save 2 of my friends marriages when the physical went south on them for a few years with their wives. If it wasn’t for a few moments of self satisfaction i doubt they would have seen it through the tough times.

    Not the mention the numerous couples who watch it together…or so I’ve heard *coughs*

  • Lori

    I love porn and I’m a girl. Sometimes, if my boyfriend is in the mood and I’m not, all I have to do is watch a few minutes of porn and I’m ready to go. Porn enriches sex lives. Now, if my boyfriend or I spent all of our time watching porn and ignoring eachother, then I would say it’s a problem.

  • Alex Weaver

    Lori: any titles you’d recommend? My wife and I are interested in exploring it, but as we’re kind of on a limited budget…

    Errm, I suppose somewhere else would be appropriate for that discussion, heh. azzathoth at yahoo dot com, if you’re feeling indulgent…

  • Kat

    I’ve never been to church in my life and no one has ever explictly told me “sex before marriage is bad” but I still inexplicably feel that way. It’s particularly obvious now b/c I’m at college and it’s obviously quite prevalent, but I still find myself looking upon others who do it as “bad” or sinful. Our society is just too powerful if it can manipulate me, a free thinker, so unnoticably. It’s a subconscious thing.

  • Alex Weaver

    Identifying the problem is the first step in solving it.

  • Truthgiver

    A confession of guilt is not wrong. We all know that there is, of course, a seperation between believers and non-believers. When dealt the fact that God may exist and judge us according how we have lived our lives, sometimes a believers only way out is confession. How do we know God exists, you ask? Well, don’t we hope of a glorious eternal resting place and fear a eternal damnation that we all know as hell. Sure, one can believe that you may cease to exist at the point of death, but what if you’re wrong. Death is certain and eternity is forever. God gives us a promise that we can hold on to as FAITH, which is only believing in something you can’t see. You may think that I am some Jesus holy roler or something and that I hope you all go to hell, but the truth is, I love all of you, and would love to see you all in Heaven someday. God changed me and has blessed me in ways words cannot describe. God can do the same for you. Once you get passed all the intellectual “why’s” and begin to seek God, He will show up in your life.

  • Alex Weaver

    A confession of guilt is not wrong.

    I think the point is that the things being confessed here are nothing to feel guilty about. I also think this was made perfectly clear. Did you actually read the piece?

    We all know that there is, of course, a seperation between believers and non-believers.

    Unless you’re referring to purely human psychological and sociological constructions…we don’t “all” know any such thing.

    When dealt the fact that God may exist and judge us according how we have lived our lives, sometimes a believers only way out is confession.

    There’s no objective or rationally justified reason for believing God exists (I assume we have agreement that a being must necessarily exist in order to judge us?), and even if the atrocities, absurdities, and inconsistencies in the Bible are purely the work of humans, God, if such a being as is usually meant by the term exists, has clearly created a universe filled with so much evil and suffering that for him to condemn anyone for anything would be like a chunk of pure obsidian buried in the deepest depths of a coal mine frozen under the polar ice caps of a dead planet orbiting a dying brown dwarf in intergalactic space calling the kettle black. And believers have a way out by recognizing what I have just explained.

    How do we know God exists, you ask?

    So we do. Let’s see if you really answer it; apologists usually don’t provide much in the way of evidence, and emotional arguments aren’t going to sway anyone who’s already dedicated to reason.

    Well, don’t we hope of a glorious eternal resting place and fear a eternal damnation that we all know as hell.

    Okay, I won’t. There, that was easy.

    Sure, one can believe that you may cease to exist at the point of death, but what if you’re wrong.

    Then we’re honestly wrong, and God, if such a being exists, has a hell of a lot of explaining to do before he has any business passing judgement on us.

    Death is certain and eternity is forever.

    Your point?

    God gives us a promise that we can hold on to as FAITH, which is only believing in something you can’t see.

    Or hear, or touch, or smell, or taste, or detect with any instrument ever developed, or observe causing effects on the world clearly distinguishable from a universe that progresses through purely natural processes, or, really, find any objective evidence for the existence of (may I remind you that the burden of proof is on the affirmative?). This statement patently begs the question, and you have so far failed to establish a difference between “FAITH” and wishful thinking. And frankly, if you actually think this sentence is telling us anything that we haven’t heard before, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.

    You may think that I am some Jesus holy roler or something and that I hope you all go to hell, but the truth is, I love all of you, and would love to see you all in Heaven someday.

    I do think you’re a “Jesus holy roler” [sic], since you feel the need to come here and proselytize, and frankly, given the patronizing ignorance of the previous sentence, I think a fire-and-brimstone speech or something in the style of a relatively typical Creationist email might be preferable.

    God changed me and has blessed me in ways words cannot describe.

    How convenient. Even if words fail, please try. In what ways, exactly, have you been changed and blessed that not only necessitate an appeal to the supernatural to explain them but clearly implicate the Judeo-Christian God, as defined by whatever branch of religion you follow as the agent thereof?

    God can do the same for you.

    God is defined as omniscient. If so, he has my number. If he wants to make a call I’ll be happy to listen to what he has to say.

    Once you get passed all the intellectual “why’s” and begin to seek God, He will show up in your life.

    In other words, once you accept the premise of an argument as true–whether or not it has been established–the argument seems sound. In other words, “once you’ve made up your mind, you’ll stop being confused by the facts.”

    Incidentally. These last few statements not only beg the question but ignore the fact that the majority of Atheists, at least in America, were at one time Christians–often conservative or even Fundamentalist Christians–and were, in fact, sincere believers. If what you say about God is true, then why on earth would these people have come to doubt him (and what the hell was he doing asleep at the wheel when they did, if he wants people to believe in him?)

  • Shawn Smith

    Alex Weaver,

    Your fisking was enjoyable, but I seriously doubt that Truthgiver would be able to read your statements as anything other than an attack. So, and I ask this with sincerity and not to be a smart-aleck, what did you expect to accomplish with the fisking? Was it the practice? Was it the condescending tone of Truthgiver’s remarks? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Alex Weaver

    Good question. A combination of practice and the belief that, as a matter of principle, inaccurate statements should be corrected and obnoxious statements should be…”dealt with appropriately”.

  • http://nes-ramblings.blogspot.com/ Nes

    Sure, one can believe that you may cease to exist at the point of death, but what if you’re wrong. [sic]

    Ah, one of my favorite arguments. Assuming that God is as kind, loving, and forgiving as most Christians claim he is, then he would certainly have no problems forgiving me for an honest and understandable mistake that I made, and would allow me into Heaven anyway (assuming that I’d want to get in; it would depend on the company).