by Eric von Laudermann
This is a condensed version of a letter I once wrote to a Christian acquaintance (I hesitate to use the word “friend”). I had told her I could never be a happy Christian unless I had some sort of psychic ability to see the reality of the spirit world myself, rather than merely take her word for it. (She claimed to have such an ability; she later inadvertently proved herself to be lying about that.) She kept insisting that only Christians can truly be happy, and finally I snapped, and all of this (and more) came out.
Christianity is designed to make people miserable. I don’t understand why you’re happy with it. I don’t see how anyone can be. If you think Christianity is a source of happiness, you obviously need to read the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations again.
As a child, I never had an intuition that there was a God, never felt like some invisible entity was watching over me or cared about me. I strongly suspect that if I had never, as a child, been exposed to the concept of deity, it never would have occurred to me that there might be a God. I certainly would have eventually found myself asking “how” the world was created, but it never would have occurred to me, without prodding, to ask “who”. And yet, my mother, my teachers at school (a Catholic school, though I was too young to realize that there were other kinds of schools), everyone around me, all insisted that the force which created the universe had thoughts, emotions, intentions, and a personality.
I would have loved to be able to explore reality some more and learn about this creator-person. Unfortunately, I never got the chance. My mother is Catholic, and she had her own answers about God to fill the gaps in my knowledge which I was so eager to fill. I believed in the Catholic version of God because that’s the only version I had. The Catholics got to me first. Christianity was never my belief system; it was other people’s belief system forced upon me.
In my Catholic school, “religion” was taught alongside physics and math, as if it were just another catalogue of facts. Nobody told us they were beliefs. Nobody told us that other people have different beliefs. We were just told these were the facts, that’s why we follow the rules, and that’s how we stay out of Hell. Worshipping Jesus was an obligation, something we had to do or else. Where’s the joy in that?
Naturally any religion that outsiders would mention later would seem foolish compared to “the facts that keep you out of Hell”. Although it’s understandable that someone with an unshakable belief would teach that belief as fact, when I look back on it today it seems like a subtle form of brainwashing. Still, I knew that I was being taught to trust humans, not God. I eagerly awaited the day when I had something I could actually believe, instead of just trusting someone’s word.
There were always parts of the religion that bothered me. Many of the things I was taught in Sunday school about things that God and Jesus did seemed nonsensical and unjust, no matter how I tried to make sense of it. I recognized that my reactions would send me to Hell if I couldn’t stop, and realized I wouldn’t react this way if I understood God better. So I started asking the teachers questions. On the few occasions that my questions weren’t seen as troublemaking, the response was always the same: “Don’t worry about it. Just have faith.”
Obviously, then, faith involves not thinking and not asking questions. But my unease persisted. Since the teachers weren’t going to help me, I started turning to the source: the Bible. That only made things more confusing. The Bible’s version of justice seemed very inconsistent. As I got deeper into the meaning of Original Sin and the sacrifice of Jesus, the entire premise of Christianity began to sound unjust and evil.
The God of the Bible is, quite literally, bloodthirsty. “You killed someone? I don’t take kindly to killers! Die!” He demands that something must die and/or suffer eternal, infinite torment in Hell, for even the smallest of transgressions. “You didn’t properly dispose of your feces? Die!” Often, the transgression doesn’t seem like a transgression at all. “You spoke my name? Die!” Often, his rules make no sense. “You didn’t mutilate your newborn son’s genitals? Die!” I mean, try reading Leviticus some time.
And he’s not too picky about who or what should die, either; it doesn’t have to be the guilty party at all. It could be an innocent animal, or God’s own sinless son. As long as something dies, God’s happy. Last time I checked, punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty is unjust. It doesn’t make up for the damage done by the guilty, nor does it show the guilty how wrong they are or encourage them to change their ways. It doesn’t right the wrong by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a complete non sequitur. Of course, if God exists, he naturally has the right to deal with sin however he sees fit. But if it involves punishing the innocent, don’t call it justice.
This whole “scapegoat” practice is found in all religions involving animal sacrifice. The idea that it is not only possible, but also moral, to somehow take guilt and responsibility from a sinner and transfer it like a physical substance into the body of an innocent creature – be it a sacrificial animal or Jesus – so that the sinner doesn’t have to be punished for something he did, but the otherwise innocent creature suddenly has to be punished for something it didn’t do – is probably the biggest problem I have with Christianity.
God’s apparently more interested in punishing sins than in reforming sinners. Can you imagine what it would be like if the American justice system worked this way? I can see the headlines now…
“The serial killer who has been terrorizing the East Coast was finally caught yesterday. However, the chief of police decided to let him go. ‘I don’t want to interfere with his freedom of choice,’ the chief said. ‘If he wants to be a killer, so be it.’ Of course, the people demand justice, and justice demands that someone pay for the crime. To meet the public’s demand for justice, the chief has decided to send his own son to the electric chair. He assures us that his son has been bred specifically for this purpose.”
And there didn’t seem to be a clear relationship between “sin” and “evil”. A harmless thing, such as wearing clothing made of mixed fabrics, made a person just as Hell-bound as a murderer. Why not teach people what’s so bad about the things that God finds sinful? After all, if a sin doesn’t have inherently bad consequences, what’s so wrong about it? Very often, the only negative consequence of a so-called sin seems to be God’s decision to punish it. In other words, “Because God says so.” Yeah, right. How convincing was “Because I say so” when your parents used it?
The scariest thing the Bible made me realize was that all the wacko religious groups are right. They follow the teachings of the Bible much more closely than the mainstream religions do. After all, if the Bible is God’s word, and the punishment for defying it is eternal Hell, why take chances trying to interpret it sensibly? Your soul is at stake; best to play it safe and take the Bible as literally as possible. How could taking it literally be a mistake? God wouldn’t punish you for obeying His word, would He?
So why not cut your hand off if it “offends” you, like they do in the Middle East? Why not handle snakes and drink poison, like some churches in the Southern U.S.? Why not “make yourself a eunuch for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake” (Matthew 19:12), just like the Heaven’s Gate cult? Why not deny your children medical care and rely on prayer to heal the sick, like the Christian Scientists?
And if eternity in Hell is the only punishment for even the tiniest flaws, why not go to ridiculous lengths to avoid it? When I graduated from my first college, the family took me out to the mall to celebrate. It was a Sunday, and just about the only thing open was an Orange Julius stand. They all bought celebratory drinks, but I refused, simply because the Orange Julius logo is a cartoon of a kid with horns and a pitchfork! I felt terrible about separating myself from my family like that, sitting there and watching them drink, refusing whenever they offered me some. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for my soul, right? Jesus himself said that we can only follow him by rejecting our family and friends, and Jesus was no liar, right?
Thank you Lord Jesus for such joyful thoughts! Doesn’t being Christian make you so happy?
In short, I’d feel like I wasn’t being a proper Christian if I didn’t take the Bible as literally as possible. I’d have to be a fundamentalist. But I had a lot of trouble trying to live up to God’s requirements, especially since so many of them contradict each other, are impossible for a human to follow, or make no sense. I could never figure out how to be a proper Christian; and the more I read the Bible, the more confused I became.
- Does God follow a moral standard? If so, then He is not the supreme moral authority in the universe. If not, then He is evil. A friend of mine says “God uses Himself as a moral standard.” So why won’t He let us do the same? “Because we’re not God.” All the more reason not to follow His moral standards! There are several places in the Bible where God orders the destruction of an entire race of people (and their animals!) in retaliation against the offenses of a few individuals. So killing isn’t inherently evil; God does it. If He forbids us from doing things that He does, then He is not holding us up to His moral standards.
- There’s a passage in Corinthians, that says “Love seeketh not to please itself.” Yet the God who “is love” is described as someone who does “what pleases Him” and demands that everything be done “for the glory of God.” And then there’s “Love is not jealous…” even though the first commandment clearly states “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:6). And then there’s “Love keepeth no record of transgressions”; God does keep a record of transgressions, and uses them to judge us on Judgment Day! The whole passage about love reads like a laundry list of requirements the Biblical God doesn’t meet.
- God says in Ezekiel, “the son shall not be punished for the sins of the father.” In the Ten Commandments in Exodus, God says that He does punish sons for the sins of their fathers, “down to the seventh generation”. Is Ezekiel lying? That would mean the Bible has a lie in it, and cannot be the Word of the God of Truth. Or is the passage of Ezekiel a command for us not to punish the son for the sins of the father, because that’s God’s job?
- God warns Adam & Eve that on the day they eat the magic fruit, they will die. The serpent tells them that they will not die, but they will know good and evil and become like God. (Thus, “tree of knowledge of good and evil”.) When they do eat the fruit, God admits, “they have become like us, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:22. So who was the liar in this story, the serpent, or God?
- The job of the conscience is to let us know when we’re doing evil. Thus, the conscience needs “knowledge of good and evil” to do its job. So why did God forbid Adam and Eve from taking that knowledge? Didn’t God want us to have a conscience?
- Jesus says we should be like him, and therefore like God. But God punished Adam and Eve precisely because they wanted to be like God. The same could be said for Lucifer. Make up your mind! Does Jesus actually want us to commit a punishable offense?
- The Bible (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12) admits that God “sends people strong delusions”. How is anyone supposed to trust such a God? You might tell me God only does it to people who reject Him. But it doesn’t matter; if God deceives, then He is a deceiver, just like the demons are. It seems to me that if you want someone to stop rejecting you, the last thing you would do is give them reasons to continue rejecting you. Unless God wants people to reject Him?
I didn’t like the picture of God that the Bible painted, but I was still too afraid of Him punishing me to be honest with myself about how I felt. Eventually, I learned to suppress my true feelings, and pretend I wasn’t troubled by the parts of Christianity that seemed nonsensical and unjust. Because, of course, we all know that only an evil person would find Christianity nonsensical and unjust. I was so scared of going to Hell that I was willing to subject myself to such nonsense and injustice, as long as it was all true. After all, you can’t fight the truth. It still bugged me that there was no way for me to tell that it was true, without just taking other people’s word for it. It never seemed true to me. But I figured that if it was true, I would someday find out that it was, and not have to have faith in other people, rather than God. I dared not ask God or Jesus to show me that they were real and that Christianity was true, because that would only prove that I didn’t have faith, and then God would have to send me to Hell. Of course, hiding my true feelings was just an attempt to deceive God, so I guess I was going to Hell anyway…
The Bible tells us that the very heart of man is evil, and everything the heart motivates us to do is sinful. I always wanted to get into the arts; that’s where my heart has always been. So naturally, I avoided it like the plague. I had no interest in college, but my parents wanted me to go, and I sure didn’t want to follow my heart to Hell. Mathematics always came naturally to me. If anything is my gift from God, math is. So that’s what I studied, even though I had no real interest in mathematics careers.
My ability to draw is not God’s gift to me. It took years of my own effort to gain that ability, and it’s still not always there when I want it. My art is therefore sinful. After all, I specialize in fantasy artwork: things that God did not create. How dare I enjoy something that God did not create! How dare I create! That’s God’s job! I’m trying to be like God! I’m going to Hell!
I pretty much sleepwalked through my college education. I couldn’t even choose a career, because I couldn’t be sure what God wanted me to do. If I make the wrong career choice, I’m going to Hell. Besides, on what basis should I choose my career? If I choose something I enjoy, then I’m a hedonist, and I’m going to Hell.
I felt uncomfortable making any choice without God’s approval. Seeking approval became the motivation for every major choice I made; and when I did get approval from the people around me, it was never good enough, because it wasn’t God’s approval.
Any attempt to improve my life would just show Jesus that I wasn’t willing to let him improve my life, and I’d go to Hell. Any action I took would show that I didn’t have faith that God would take action, and I’d go to Hell. Any attempt to follow one of God’s rules would end up breaking another one of God’s rules, and I’d go to Hell. Any choice I make without God telling me to is a sin by definition, and I’d go to Hell. I was too afraid of doing the wrong thing to do anything.
And by the way, did you know that it’s a sin to think you’re saved? It’s called the Sin of Presumption. I didn’t know what it was called until I heard it mentioned on a Catholic TV show, but I had already figured it out by reading the Bible. We’re not supposed be sure we’re going to Heaven; we’re supposed to “live in fearful hope”, as the show put it. I guess that kind of life makes you happy, but not me.
The Bible taught me that Satan is the lord of the natural world, so I grew to hate nature. The Bible taught me that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil”, so I grew to hate art. The Bible taught me that I can’t follow Jesus unless I hate myself, so I grew to hate myself. The Bible told me to love my neighbor as myself, so I grew to hate my neighbor.
Then, in college, I ran into a whole group of people, of various religious backgrounds, who had all already had direct interaction with their deities. It was like there was a support group for those who had “spiritual discernment”. That’s when I panicked. There I was, following the rules as best I could, still never actually making contact with God, and all these other people, half of whom weren’t even Christian, claimed to be actually having conversations with Jesus, angels, ghosts, demons, nature spirits, etc.
I had always hoped that Christianity’s truth would eventually make itself known to me. Suddenly I was confronted with a whole range of belief systems which, if the people could be trusted, seemed a lot more valid than one about an invisible, absent, silent, Christian God. I wanted the kind of experience with my God that everyone else was having with theirs. The Bible had always led me to expect it. But if only one religion is true, how could all these different people be interacting with all these different gods? Perhaps they were deluding me. Perhaps they were deluding themselves. Perhaps God was deluding them (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
I realized that the surest way to avoid coming to false conclusions about the nature of God is to never automatically believe what people say. Humans can make mistakes, and humans can lie. I had to get to know God for myself. But the Bible clearly states that God “calls” some people to Him, and doesn’t call others. So salvation is entirely up to Him; it’s got nothing to do with our morality or our free will. And the book of Revelations mentions that the “Book of Life”, containing the names of everyone who will be saved, was written at the beginning of creation. Everyone’s fate has already been decided. God punishes us for not being one of the people He decides not to punish. For all I knew, my lack of intimacy with God was a clear sign that He has already decided to damn me, and nothing can change that, not even Jesus.
So now, I wasn’t just on the verge of being a fundamentalist; I was on the verge of being a fundamentalist who’s convinced he’s damned. Isn’t that a portrait of joy and contentment.
Yet for some reason, the Christians were happy with being Christian. Apparently, one needs the help of the Holy Spirit to understand the Bible properly. My own understanding led me to conclude that God is unjust, so I asked the Holy Spirit to change my understanding. Instead, my feelings toward Christianity got worse. At that point, I did start asking the Christian version of God to show himself. He didn’t. I nearly drove myself insane trying to figure out what I was doing wrong.
Whenever I asked people why God didn’t answer my prayers, the answer was, “God always answers prayers. But sometimes the answer is NO.” I prayed for Jesus to come into my life. He said NO. I prayed for Jesus to save me from Hell. He said NO. I asked God if He loved me. He said NO.
I cried myself to sleep at night. What a joyful religion you have!
As long as I acted on the assumption that the Christian God was real, I was running around in circles, hating myself for being unable to reach Him, hating myself for how the Bible made me feel about Him, and feeling like God hated me because I seemed to be the only one He was leaving out of the loop. You say being an atheist and living without Jesus is depressing? Imagine being a Christian without Jesus. I assure you it feels much worse. Christianity taught me self-loathing.
Christians kept giving me advice that seemed to contradict other Christians, and also contradict the Bible. For any action a human being can possibly do, there’s always a way of seeing it that makes it look sinful… and God is all-seeing. I couldn’t avoid the notion that the reason all men are sinners is that, to God, all acts are sins. I was paranoid, and I saw some big nervous breakdown on the horizon.
Until I realized that my misery was my own damn fault for taking seriously all the conflicting advice I was getting. If my mere humanity makes me too limited to understand the Bible properly, then that’s all the more reason for me not to follow it; acting on my misunderstanding would only make things worse.
I guess I’m lucky that my mother didn’t yank me out of ancient history classes, the way Christian Scientists yank their children out of health class, or Creationists yank their children out of biology. I learned that there have been many different stories throughout history about gods creating the world, and someone has taken each story just as seriously as the Bible is taken today. I could see that the book of Genesis looked – and felt – like just another myth in a long line of myths. Eventually I realized that the only reason I used the Bible as a guide to truth was because people were telling me to. The very idea that the Bible is a more accurate guide to the supernatural world than any other book of mythology from any other religion, did not come from my own feelings, or even from God. Humans gave me that idea. And as I said above, humans can make mistakes, and humans can lie.
Eventually I realized that since I had no proof that God existed, it was possible He didn’t. Now, instead of just two possibilities (one: God is evil; two: God isn’t evil, He just hates me), I had a third. I decided, for the sake of my mental health, to put some distance between myself and Christianity. Realizing that only God could make things clear, I asked Him to do so one last time, but with one condition: that I wouldn’t risk Christianity again until He did.
And that’s pretty much where I am now in my “quest”: waiting for God to speak up for Himself for a change. Giving credence to anything less would be dangerous. (I could tell you about a friend of mine who chose Jesus over sanity…) I realized I couldn’t please God, so I stopped trying. Which is, itself, a sin. I still feel that all acts are sins, but I take away the fear’s power over me by reasoning, “There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just accept it. I’m going to Hell.” Acceptance: the last stage of grief.
While waiting for God, I decided to try participating in my life for a change. I started taking film classes at night, and really enjoyed it. I’m fascinated with the decision-making involved in filmmaking, working out which pictures and actions tell a story best. I never felt so at home as I did on a movie set. I’m now attending art school full-time. Technically I can’t afford it, but I don’t care, as long as I’m learning how to do something I love. One teacher, who supposedly never gives out compliments, told me that I have a natural talent for sculpture. I certainly never would have discovered this (God-given?) talent if I continued to follow the God who made art a sin. (Exodus 20:4 “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Maybe that’s why I prefer fantasy subjects for my art.)
I’m certainly happier than I ever was as a Christian, so it’s hard not to be offended when someone offers me a chance to return to despair.