I just read this article
about how fundamentalist Christian boarding schools are luring in Chinese exchange students with promises of sound economics and repaying them with religious indoctrination. This quote from one such student struck me:
“Before, what I believed, what Chinese people believe, is that people are innately good,” she said. “I realized that I was sinful. I was lying, not loving. Those are as bad as killing someone. There’s no difference between me and a murderer.”
Warning: You are about to embark on a rant. It may or may not be coherent or orderly. And it certainly won’t be “nice.”
I‘ve said this before: Christianity offers a solution to a self-created problem. Evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity is only good news once you’re convinced that you are no better than a murderer and deserve to die and suffer in hell. Only then can Christianity offer its good news.
What’s more, they know this. A common fundamentalist and evangelical proselytizing method is called “The Romans Road.” Here are the first three steps:
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
We all have sin in our hearts. We all were born with sin.
We were born under the power of sin’s control.
– Admit that you are a sinner.
Romans 6:23a “…The wages of sin is death…”
Sin has an ending. It results in death. We all face physical death, which is a result of sin. But a worse death is spiritual death that alienates us from God, and will last for all eternity. The Bible teaches that there is a place called the Lake of Fire where lost people will be in torment forever. It is the place where people who are spiritually dead will remain.
– Understand that you deserve death for your sin.
Romans 6:23b “…But the gift of God is eternal
life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Salvation is a free gift from God to you! You can’t
earn this gift, but you must reach out and receive it.
– Ask God to forgive you and save you.
Do you see what’s going on here? Step one, you’re a sinner. Step two, you deserve death. Step three, God can save you. The first step is always to convince the potential convert that he or she is a sinner and deserves to die.
This is what I grew up with. I was taught that the first step is understanding that you’re a sinner, and that in bringing in converts your first step was convincing them of that as well. I was convinced that I was worthless, sinful, and completely evil. I was convinced that my only worth came from being “saved” from the punishment I “deserved.” It was only in God, only in Jesus, that I had any merit or value. But attaining this new sense of worth meant viewing myself as completely worthless outside of it. And that is what the teachers at the Christian school attended by the Chinese girl quoted at the beginning of this post set out to convince her of as well. Now if you’re a Christian, or specifically a conservative Christian, there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with this. After all, conservative Christians believe that all people are sinners and therefore honestly, truly, and justly deserve to spend eternity being tortured in hell. But here’s how ridiculous this idea sounds to an atheist:
Imagine you are strolling down the sidewalk and a man excitedly calls you over to his front porch to share some “great news,”
The man’s got a gruesome torture chamber in his basement, Barker said, but you don’t have to go down there. Instead, you can come over, hug the man’s son, say you love him and you can all move in together in the attic and tell them how great they are forever.
Or to but it another way: “You’re a sinner, just as bad as a murderer or a child rapist. God has declared that you deserve to be tortured for eternity. But guess what? He’s found a way so that he doesn’t have to send you to hell to be tortured for eternity! If you just make your life his, and do whatever he wants, you can instead go to heaven and spend eternity praising him! Isn’t that great?”
Um. No. Just no. It’s like telling your three-year-old that because she’s been bad, you need whip her and then shut her up in a dark closet for three days, and then expecting her to be grateful when you decide that you won’t do it after all.
Some will justify it by saying that God made everyone, so he can do what he wants with us. But I’m sorry, I’m not big on humans being owned. We call that slavery, and we don’t smile on that. Besides, saying that God can do what he wants with us because he made us is removing him from any ethical restraint. Why? Because God defines
what is just. If he says torturing people for eternity because they weren’t his standard of perfect is just, then it’s just. But the thing is, that’s complete bullshit. We humans have done a much better job of coming up with ethics and morality on our own. We outlawed slavery, not God. We condemned genocide, not God. We have outlawed, not God. We condemn rape, not God. You’d think if the Bible was supposed to be the greatest book of morality and ethics, it would have prohibited these things. You’d think the ten commandments would perhaps address them. But no. The Ten Commandments are more interested in jealously commanding people to worship God or else to even touch on issues like child abuse or rape. So personally, I’m happy to leave God completely out of morality and ethics, and I actually think the two are way better off without him.
Anyway, that’s the rabbit trail reading that article, and especially that one passage, took me down. Sometimes, living in a world where I see people as valuable and full of potential, it’s painful to take this walk back to the past and remember what I used to believe. In some ways, it’s like Alice fallen down the rabbit hole – and remembering that that is where she used to live.
Note: Moderate or liberal Christians generally follow different proselytizing techniques. Most often they believe that they should just lead their lives and be an example for others – that if someone notices they are especially joyful or especially fulfilled, that someone will ask questions. Moderate and liberal Christians generally don’t believe that non-Christians will not be automatically tortured for eternity. However, their proselytizing tactics are rendered rather invisible compared to those of more conservative Christians and without the ability to threaten hellfire and brimstone they have a decreased number of tools to use to convince a non-Christian person that he or she should become Christian. The plus side, though, is the focus on the positive (the offer of community) rather than on the negative (the threat of torture).