Guest post by Adrian Alexander, brought to you by the generosity of our Patreon donors
In the years since I turned my back on religion, I’ve lost track of the long list of reasons why, but one thing has always stuck with me. In the face of the abundance of sexism and homophobia I’ve witnessed from people claiming to be filled with the love of God, the one thing I was never able to fully understand or explain away was the simple fact that religious teachings tell people regularly that they’re worthless. According to religion, you are singularly incapable of being good, kind, talented or worthy. And yet people keep going back.
Allow me to explain: clearly there are the explicit ways religion reaffirms our innate worthlessness. Stories about original sin leave you knowing you were born dirty and undeserving. But what always confounded me were the subtle messages, the little hints couched in positive speech but ultimately serving to humble you. We’re told to praise God for every positive thing that happens. God is the ultimate quarterback of the universe; he gets all the praise when things go right, none of the blame when they go wrong. Get a promotion? Thank God. Find money you thought you’d lost in the wash? Praise the lord. Have a stranger stop on the side of the road to help you change a flat tire? It was Jesus working through them. Because no stranger is capable of being good innately; no one would help or be kind to you simply because you’re both human beings.
I recently fell on hard times unexpectedly. But having the group of friends that I have, it was easy enough to work through. When I needed food, my friends came through in a pinch and took me grocery shopping without a second’s hesitation. When I told my mother, who is still very much a good church-going lady, she rushed to tell me how much I should thank God for this kindness. Never once did she stop and say that I should thank the friends who helped me.
When my luck shifted and I finally got the job I wanted so desperately, she was quick to tell me about how she’d made sure to get her entire church to pray that this situation would work out for the better. Never once did she show any respect or appreciation for the hard work I put in to getting the position in the first place. I might as well not even have shown up to those interviews, God had this one in the bag for me.
I don’t think that my mother believes I’m a worthless, talentless hack who is completely incapable of taking care of myself without the intervention of her super hero in the sky. But I also don’t believe that her religion allows her to stop and think about what it means when she insists that all the good I’ve acquired is due to divine intervention. She, and the people of her ilk, don’t seem to understand that when they attribute the kindness of strangers (or even of friends) to the glory of God, in some way what they’re really saying is that people are not good, are not capable of goodness, without God. She may not believe that I’m useless, but when she implies that I only got this job because she prayed for it, she’s saying that I wasn’t good enough to get it without that intervention.
I left the church in part because of the extreme bigotry and genuine hatred I saw within the congregation. I left the church because it was easy for me to find much better things to do with my weekends than sitting in a stuffy room with people I didn’t like, listening to a lecture I didn’t care about. But more than any of that, I left the church because, at my core, I believe that humanity is capable of good and wondrous things. And I believe that I am smart, and talented, and capable of good and wondrous things. But I didn’t see many instances of the church affirming that, and I don’t want to be part of a club that seems to enjoy telling us all that we’re worthless without them.