I felt awkward as an atheist attending a Christmas Eve service with my family. I used to be a dedicated Christian and delighted in religious gatherings. My family assured me that I would probably be the only non-believer in attendance. Looking around while everyone else bowed their heads, I found their theory incorrect as I made eye contact with several other attendees who were not participating in the prayer. As the service progressed, my new-found perspective lead me to this idea: Christianity contains a negative subtext to pull followers along. Let me explain.
The Christmas Eve pastor was young, quick and witty. He held the audience with a comedian’s stylings and exuded an aura of positivity. His words, however, spoke a largely opposite message:
“Without God, you are nothing. You can only be happy through Him.”
“You are powerless without God. He is in control of our destiny.”
The congregation thrived on his message and I heard echoes of approval. Why are people so willing to accept this pessimistic worldview that removes all personal control? What is the payoff of believing that God is in control of our futures and is necessary for personal happiness? I have two theories:
1. Believing that our destiny is out of our own control removes human responsibility. When a person believes that God is using them like a puppet in life, they are exempt from personal feelings of failure when success is not found. A lack of self-responsibility can act as a sort of emotional crutch; any failures are part of “God’s Plan” and do not fall on the head of the one actually failing. This can be a strong emotional motivator in hard times.
2. Believing that God is necessary for personal happiness aids religion because it implies that one would be less happy sans religion. This promotes feelings of communal well-being in the congregation and allows people to believe that those outside the church lack their level of happiness. It allows for societal walls to be drawn between those that God has blessed with his happiness and those that he has not.
The service ended and I went home with my family. I walked into the cold, bitter air and was struck by a gust of anger as I realized what I had just witnessed. A man, no older than 30 years old, stood in front of hundreds of people and delivered a highly negative message: You have no inherent value without the help of a divine ghost. I say fuck that. Life is short and is what you make of it. We are very much in control of our destinies and happiness can be found in a plethora of ways. The world is truly our oyster and the church preaches the opposite. How is it that the church’s negative message is so much more popular than the positive message that reality really contains? Why are people so eager to hand off responsibility but shy to take initiative and find out what truly makes them happy? I am sick of religions replacing rational thought, but I am furious when they put people down simply to increase the congregation’s reliance.