This is an important blog. If some Christians are real enough to realize that many of their beliefs are noxious, they will be happier and safer, and so will their children, and the world will be a better place.
Suppression, Greed and Hypocrisy
People in today’s churches not only buy into Biblical belief, but bow down to those pushing it too. I think Christianity is, and always has been, a power game. Priests, pastors, and other preachers, claiming to orate with God’s authority, assume they’re the main arbiters of people’s lives. They typically take on the role of life coaches, and are gratified by the status that brings, but do they also take on the responsibility that this role requires? I don’t think so, because too often they’re egotists who revel in being admired and listened to, and are out to feather their own nests. That colors their message, because their real focus isn’t on furnishing happiness for others, but on procuring personal power, adulation and cash.
Many preachers are poorly qualified for the job of a “life coach.” Bible school, or whatever its equivalent may be, is hardly a solid platform from which to preach morality, ethics and coping skills. In fact, in my opinion, one could hardly start from a more unsound base. There’s often no good knowledge of psychology, medicine, social science or counseling required to be a preacher.
“the answers everyone needs are right here” perspective. This is a rigid, flawed approach, because it’s a one – way dialogue which ignores people’s individuality. When people have personal problems, a counselor must first listen and ask questions before suggesting some possible solutions. That never happens in church.
What assistance can a typical “man of God” give people? Other than a sympathetic ear, I say nothing specific, unless he happens to have counseling skills (which some of them do.) Yet too often a preacher’s answer is to pray, or to read the Bible, or to suppress worldly aspirations, or to take a long-term view, or to just hope. They often quote Jesus.
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you will get it.” (John 15:7, NJB.)
“Happy you who weep now; you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21, NJB.)
“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…” (Matt. 5:12, NJB.) This isn’t helpful advice, it’s oppression! They want people to stop complaining, so tell them to focus on the promise of eternal salvation, a pot of gold at the end of life’s rainbow, granted only to those special people who have faith.
I think many preachers are hypocrites. The vaunted love said to be a Christian characteristic is often not found when people are in real trouble. It’s easier to tell a punter they’ll be prayed for than do something concrete. Preachers even sometimes advise avoidance of help from the secular world. This derails the pursuit of pragmatic answers, and should NEVER happen. Sitting in a church or asking for help from a preacher is usually a surefire way to not find real solutions to personal problems.
Preachers often portray themselves as warm, caring people, and some of them are. Yet I think that deep down church leaders hope people behave like sheep. Sheep are subservient, easily scared, don’t ask questions, don’t think for themselves and are easily fleeced. Churchmen profit most from wooing flocks of people. The percent return is much higher than from counselling people with personal problems.
The master’s cold eyes stare down from the crucifix. The flock fails to figure out there’s no point pretending Jesus is their pal.
A real friend talks, but Jesus hasn’t uttered a word for nearly two thousand years. He can’t tell them to stop being so servile, because he’s dead.
The Psychological Effects
Most scams only take the victim’s money; I think Christian teachings double the insult by harming psychological health. It’s hard to measure religiosity, awkward to assess psychological damage, and finicky to prove a causal relationship between the two, but despite this, a lot of respected doctors and psychologists claim many mental health issues are caused by strongly held Christian beliefs.
Many believers feel guilty about sex and imagine they’re evil. They resent or are angry about sexual freedoms they see in the secular world. Many are frightened of hell. Some are plagued by ambiguity and uncertainty, and are reluctant to accept help from outsiders because of their beliefs. Some are resigned, sad, have low self-esteem, and go through life just pretending to be happy. Mother Theresa, a most unfortunate woman indeed, was a classic example. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/04/AR2007090401625.html). Many are agitated and stressed. Allow me to elaborate.
While humanists promote being strong, resilient, autonomous, and assertive, people in churches are told they must be subordinate to God, and that personal identity and self-esteem reside only in the relationship with Jesus. This was a recurrent theme in Paul’s writings:
“For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3, KJV,) and
“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:20–21, KJV,) and
“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3, KJV.)
In my opinion Paul tried to make people feel small to make himself, their connection with God, look big. He promoted his own importance by controlling others, and many of today’s preachers are little different.
A commonly quoted part of scripture is
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, KJV,) probably written by a priest. People mustn’t be proud or God will put them back in their place!
Many believers have a heartfelt, perhaps subconscious conviction that their innermost self is at fault and inferior. This is particularly true for some women, who can have their self-esteem squashed by studying the Bible. This contrasts starkly with Aristotle’s humanist ethos that a healthy self-esteem, being the mean between undue humility and empty vanity, is necessary for a meaningful life.
Preachers claim people get “grace” from God. The family dog might wag his tail if patted, but pretend praise from an imaginary man in the sky can’t create real self-esteem, particularly in someone who’s been told they were born a sinner and are nothing without god.
I’ve been generalizing. Some progressive Christians stress the importance of self-esteem, and many preachers claim people are worthy and lovable. Yet they can’t deny their dogma deems that Jesus died for them because they’re so sinful.
I encourage all Christians to recognize your own power and worth. You are unique, valuable and beautiful, particularly if you decide to believe it. Your own intellect and ideals are real and valuable, and you don’t need god’s grace. Patronizing preachers put you down, and disguise it with a veneer of benevolence. Don’t let them. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ElfyYA420F0).
Thought and Emotion Suppression
“Casting down imaginations,” wrote Paul, “and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, KJV.) All thoughts not focused on obeying Christ were evil. How convenient for him, as he implied he knew God’s mind, so could control people! How convenient for today’s preachers, for the same reason.
Jesus claimed emotions such as anger or lust were sinful:
“Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt. 5:21–22, KJV,) and
“But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28, KJV.)
Jesus claimed God knows what you’re thinking. Whoever wrote this wasn’t content with laying down rules for behavior, he wanted to control people’s emotions too, so he had the celestial dictator threaten punishment for thought crime.
Emotions are natural; they help us make decisions and understand others. They are what they are, not bad or wrong.
Reliance on Faith
“For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them” (Mark 11:23–24, KJV.)
Christian literature is full of dubious anecdotal stories about the power of prayer and faith. But prayers are never answered. To pray for help is, in fact, a disempowering, desperate and lazy response to a problem. It’s a poor substitute for pursuing a rational solution.
“let’s get Mavis walking, improve her diet, and give her vitamin D so she doesn’t have another fracture.”
Paul wrote that Christ
“always causes us to triumph” (2 Cor. 2:14, KJV.) Why then can’t some Christians pass exams, find a job, a partner, or pay their bills? We only triumph when we help ourselves, not when we grovel to an imaginary sky buddy. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T69TOuqaqXI&feature=autoplay&list=PL85F1EE32A438AEB8&playnext=2).
Children and the Burden of Shame
Children in fundamentalist families are often regarded as little adults, with the same sinful tendencies, so parents may not appreciate that children progress through stages of cognitive and emotional development. Childhood issues such as egocentrism, aggression, sexuality, and teenage rebellion are labeled as sins, instead of natural, predictable problems. The “sin” is attributed to their innate nature, the child is made to feel ashamed, and is disciplined accordingly:
“You’re so selfish. What’s the matter with you? You know Jesus sees you when you do that!” The child feels they’re defective, bad, or a failure, and become filled with shame.
Shame (in this sense) is more damaging than guilt, when we feel bad because of what we’ve done, not because of who we are. Shame takes a heavy toll on a child’s self-esteem, and often becomes a part of their psyche that persists into adulthood.
On the other hand, good parents know that poor behavior is usually linked to needs, not to a flawed nature, and is to be expected as part of a child’s natural development. They focus on addressing the child’s needs rather than wounding his ego.
People are told that if they believe in Jesus they’ll be happy. If they’re unhappy, it’s often implied they don’t have enough faith, so they need to work on their relationship with Jesus. As a consequence, many believers hesitate to admit their problems. They’re so worried that others will know Jesus is ignoring them they fail to get real help. Their life becomes a charade.
Christianity cultivates a culture of pretense, which is the antithesis of authenticity. To have a great life we need to be honest with each other, admit problems we have, express our emotions, and seek solutions, not from an imaginary friend, but from our fellow humans.
Fear of Hell
People are told that their life will be judged in the next. The Purpose-Driven Life, written by Rick Warren, is a very popular book in Evangelical circles, with over 30 million copies sold. He writes,
“One day you will stand before God, and he will do an audit of your life, a final exam, before you enter eternity…he will ask us two crucial questions…First, ‘What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?’…Second, ‘What did you do with what I gave you?’…the second question will determine what you do in eternity…At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you. That means everything you do…has eternal consequences.” Imagine how that affects people’s peace of mind! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m9SRbjEHrY). He sourced this idea directly from the ubiquitous Paul:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10, KJV.)
“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Rom. 14;10, KJV.) Paul even taught God could read people’s thoughts:
“We are not trying to please men but God, who can read our inmost thoughts” (1 Thess. 2:4, KJV.)
Paul presumed life was a mere prelude to the big judgment. No wonder he was so anxious!
“And this know, that if the good man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (Luke 12:39–40, KJV.) He said all secrets would be made public in the afterlife:
“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops” (Luke 12:2–3, KJV.)
For the true believer there’s no place to hide from big brother. No privacy and no freedom. God knows what you’re thinking, he’s watching when you go to the toilet and close your bedroom door, and one day he’s going to tell everyone what you’ve been up to. This is the utter arrogance of absolute power, as promoted by the meek and gentle Jesus.
God’s going to be very busy spreading gossip in the afterlife. It might be titillating to hear what one’s neighbours got up to for the first, oh, day perhaps…but after that, the novelty might wear off.
“The million dollar question. Will you go to Heaven? Here’s a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain? Have you looked with lust? Which is the adultery of the heart in God’s eyes. Will you be guilty on Judgment Day? If you have done those things, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell. That’s not God’s will. He sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for you. Jesus took your punishment upon himself: God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Then he rose from the dead and defeated death. Please repent (turn from your sin) today and trust in Jesus, and God will grant you everlasting life. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.”
I didn’t laugh because, for her, this was very serious. The sad thing wasn’t that she insulted my intelligence, but that she believed god was watching her that closely. I thanked her, wrote a repeat prescription for her anti-anxiety pill, and put it in her trembling little hand. I was doing my best, but couldn’t help her realize she was OK, and so was everyone else. I was pitted against fifty years of preaching from the pulpit.
A dog is content with a full stomach. A baby is happy if warm, fed and loved. Both are able to enjoy the present. Many people find it hard to do that because they’re too worried what will happen when they die.
Corrupt Christian autocrats concocted hell to control the public. For centuries churches have used the concept to profit from people, and this is one reason they’ve been so successful for so long. It’s time this stopped.
There’s no judgment in the after – life; no hell, and I’m pleased to say, no heaven; just a sublimely peaceful non-existence. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Wgj65-EfmoA).
Christians commonly come across challenges to their beliefs in philosophy, history, biology, medicine, archaeology, astronomy, physics, and psychology. God sure does work in mysterious ways! Lots of Biblical explanations don’t make sense – humanity didn’t begin in a garden; the bible says nothing about evolution; Christianity is only two thousand years old, whereas we’ve been here over a hundred thousand; nobody knows how multitudes got fed, dead bodies revived, blind men were made to see, and so on. Doubt is the bedfellow of fundamentalist belief.
To seriously question scripture is sinful, so churches play the faith card; which isn’t a satisfactory explanation for anything, and a rational thinker knows this. The consequence is cognitive dissonance, an uncomfortable mental state in which ideas are at odds with each other. It’s an unpleasant niggling source of anxiety. Many people try to avoid it by ignoring facts and repeating Christian creeds, which doesn’t work. No matter how loudly one sings “silent night,” the virgin birth is still absurd.
Consider parents who deny their son is a homosexual. They may tell him god didn’t make him that way, pray for him, or threaten him with god’s retribution. This exacerbates guilt and shame, might wreck their relationship with him, and won’t change his inclination. If, on the other hand, they accepted his orientation, they could still have a loving relationship with their boy.
Power in Families
In the Bible, people are ordered to obey God, and punished if they don’t. In Ephesians 6:1, Paul states that children should obey their parents, as if it were a universal and infallible truth. It’s no surprise that parents feel justified in lording it over their own children, and that the abuse of power is a serious issue in many fundamentalist families.
Good parents know that good parenting requires thought and effort. Interactions with children need to be perceptive, individualized, and developmentally appropriate. Fundamentalist parents often avoid the effort and complexity of this responsibility. Rather, doctrinal rules are applied, and fear of punishment used for control. The family is deprived of the constructive process of developing rules, values, and mores. Children can fail to learn how to take on the personal responsibility of making choices about life issues later in life.
Physical and Sexual Abuse
Physical punishment is sanctioned in the Bible:
Some parents take this to extremes, believing it’s necessary to break the will of their children to gain their respect and obedience. This dictatorial attitude is typically patriarchal, and reliance is often placed upon Paul’s mantras on women and children for justification.
Some fundamentalist wives have difficulty stopping the cycle of physical abuse in their marital relationships because of biblical beliefs about marriage and sex-role stereotypes.
Sexual abuse occurs in many strictly religious families, for a number of complex reasons. In my opinion fundamentalist beliefs can inhibit true emotional development and compromise communication skills. An inability to communicate in a mature fashion impairs normal adult-to-adult sexual intimacy; which may be why some adults turn to children for sexual gratification. This fits with the fact that pedophiles are often emotionally immature.
The fundamentalist mother, often taught to treat her husband like a little god, is less likely to question or interfere with the father’s behavior, or report him to the appropriate authorities.
Children are told to be obedient and to revere their parents, especially their fathers, so they’re more vulnerable and less likely to seek help.
Lack of Critical Thinking
To be happy, it helps to exercise critical thinking skills. Curiosity helps us learn about the world, so we should question and explore everything, even our most cherished beliefs.
“Where are any of our thinkers today? Do you see now how God has shown up the foolishness of human wisdom?” (1 Cor. 1:20, JB.)
God has thought for you, provided a package of beliefs you are to adhere to. Independence and original ideas are for fools.
This attitude sometimes spreads to all aspects of life such that people perceive it wrong to objectively examine any new idea. They’ve been told that faith is superior to thought. For example, many believers are wary of new technology, reluctant to take medicines, or change their diet. They’re not open to innovative ideas because they’re not in the habit of using thought to solve issues. They’ve been robbed of the confidence to think!
Another reason people can be closed-minded is that since their childhood they’ve been told to believe a spiel for which they’ve never seen any real evidence, so have subconsciously become cynical about everything they’re told.
The human body isn’t regarded with respect in the Bible. Sexuality is denigrated, the “flesh” is evil, passion is sinful, and one’s libido is suspect. Health, beauty and physical pleasure are secondary to belief in God. There are no prizes for guessing who promotes these ideas:
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:16–17, KJV.)
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal. 5:19-21, KJV.)
Church leaders know that suppressed sexuality can be channeled into piety and harnessed for the purposes of the Church. If a person’s sense of self, their innermost nature, what’s healthy, instinctive and natural, is wounded, to control them becomes easier.
All of us are sexual beings, yet the victims of a Christian upbringing often display circumspection, disdain and even outright condemnation of sexuality. There are some predictable results, such as self-loathing, denial over sexual orientation, frigid relationships, guilt, loneliness, anger, and regret. Secular society is usually left to pick up the pieces after the damage has been done. I have many patients, particularly older people, who still have sexual problems due to their Christian upbringings, and it’s sometimes very difficult to help them. How tragic and unnecessary!
Some fundamentalist Christians have an obsessive preoccupation with other’s sexual preferences, thereby externalizing their own inner battle against sin. A classic example is a noisy preacher, himself a closet homosexual, babbling on about the evil of being gay.
Religion Replacing Love
“I could never feel really loved and cared for by Jesus. Intellectually I believed that he loved me, but I needed someone to hug me and tell me that I was important. If my own parents couldn’t or wouldn’t do that, why would Jesus? I wanted physical nurturing, not just some fantasy of love. But, because my parents were neglecting their children supposedly for God’s work and to save people from going to hell, how could I complain or ask for more of their time without feeling terribly guilty?”
—Nick, the son of a minister
There’s nothing more crucial to a child’s emotional development than natural love and affection from parents and family. Some parents use religion to compensate for what’s lacking in their own repertoire of parenting skills. Not good at expressing love or even affection, they use prayer as a substitute, presuming their children will benefit from a “personal relationship with Jesus,” and in doing so push them away. Children feel rejected, as they assume they aren’t good enough for their parents. The faith is at fault, because it over emphasizes the relationship with God, and too often downplays the importance of interpersonal love.
As a consequence, fundamentalist families can be unaffectionate, lacking fun, spontaneity and laughter. There isn’t enough “realness” and self-confidence to freely give the hugs, compliments, and unconditional love that children so desperately crave and need. Individuals become burdened with self-esteem issues and difficulty expressing their own affection for others.
In the New Testament it’s repeatedly stated that to be a good person one has to be a Christian, and all nonbelievers are evil and will burn in hell. Is it any wonder the smug fundamentalist ignores humanist appeals for tolerance of other’s religious beliefs? He thinks the best advice comes only from his God.
Most moderate Christians have distanced themselves from this type of thinking, yet it still poisons plenty of personal relationships, and international relations.
Uncertainty about the Future
According to the Bible, God has a plan for everyone’s life, and everything that happens has a divine purpose. Yet we all live in a sometimes cold, unfriendly and unfair universe. So some people think God allows terrible things to happen, and ask questions such as
“Why did my friend commit suicide?”
“Why did a little girl get run over?”
“Why were people killed in a tsunami or an earthquake?”
“Is God angry? Am I being punished for not having enough faith or for having wicked thoughts?”
God never answers questions like these because he doesn’t talk any more.
Rather than imagine there’s an omnipotent cosmic manipulator controlling everything, we should accept that the world’s sometimes harsh and unfair, and there’s no “big daddy” to one day even things out. Anger about injustices can then soften into grief, and the pressure to feel naively positive is removed. Reality dawns: people are flawed, and always will be, and shit happens.
The notion that the laws of nature and the vagaries of chance respond to wailings and incantations is pathetic. Instead of cowering before an imaginary master who moves in mysterious ways, we should analyze what went wrong and why to prevent a repeat. That means putting our thinking caps on and asking for help from our fellow men, who, unlike god, will answer back. That’s productive and self-empowering. Praying isn’t.
Some lazy people find it easier to ask God to work on their personal problems than find solutions for themselves. Relationships can be left in limbo because of the belief there will one day be an eternity to spend with loved ones. They may neglect to look after their appearance or health because they fancy all will be fixed when they meet their maker.
Some people don’t respect the planet because they believe one day God will restore all things ruined. Or they think the earth will be destroyed in a massive cataclysm anyway, so why bother preserving it now? A toxic world can be left for future generations by people connvinced they’re soon to meet their maker.
In many fundamentalist families, troubling “un-Christian” emotions such as anger or frustration are denied. People are told to pray, rather than discuss issues. The emphasis is on being “right with God” and “good” according to the Bible, rather than allowing individuals to express what they intuitively feel. “Emotionality” is suspect, and there are always “higher” concerns than personal feelings.
As a consequence, people struggle to reconcile their need for love and recognition with an acute feeling of shame whenever they, rather than God, are the focus of attention. They avoid dealing with real issues until the point is reached when emotions boil over. Then there are explosions of anger, followed by intense feelings of guilt, but a refusal to talk about what happened. The cycle is often repeated, producing a family of deeply emotionally scarred, angry, poorly self-expressed people.
I acknowledge the following sources, from which some of the above information was derived:
– Merle Hertzler’s website, (http://webspace.webring.com/people/xq/questioner/mhealth1.htm), and
– Marlene Winel’s book Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion (http://www.amazon.com/Leaving-Fold-Marlene-Winell/dp/1933993235/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1352717373&sr=8-1&keywords=marlene+winell).
Are there any psychological benefits to being a Christian?
Some Christians give credit to Jesus for better marriages, family life, relationships and stronger characters. They claim Christians are less likely to suffer from stress, depression or suicide. I’m not aware of any objective evidence for these assertions. My own (admittedly anecdotal) experience in medical practice suggests the opposite.
Some Christians claim their beliefs will help them face death. Yet more often than not, when people are dying or bereaved, they discover how utterly hollow, banal and disappointing Jesus’ empty promises really are. I’ve looked after many Christians as they’re dying, and they rarely talk about Jesus.
When the world is cruel, when a person loses their friends or family, there’s always one last person to turn to who might, in a second rate way, make you feel special and loved; Jesus, the default generic imaginary friend. Skim through a book, repeat a few prayers and accept a friend request from the invisible man. He doesn’t hear your problems, let alone answer back, but “he” may be better than no-one. Average Joe thinks he’s special, a shining light, but that’s only in his own imaginary world, and deep down he’s never totally satisfied. It takes a lot of wishful thinking to feel loved if the person sending the vibes is nothing more than a statue in a church. Joe kids himself he’s better off than the godless rationalist, (who usually puts in some effort to find real friends,) but Joe never feels quite like the winner he’s supposed to be.
Joe gets to pray. Prayer may be a useful type of meditation; a conscious effort to relax. Yet it’s talking to oneself. During prayer Joe admits his sins, which is just crystallizing what’s bothering him. He half clears a guilty conscious by confessing that which he regretted doing. But he asks forgiveness from an imaginary magician, thereby forfeiting the path to self-improvement, and he’s done nothing to repair the relationship with whoever he’s sinned against.
There are some social positives associated with Christian groups. Most Christian people, the ones who fill the pews, care about others, and their churches can provide them with the social structure in which to do it. The Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and Saint Vincent de Paul do genuinely help people. So do good priests and pastors, often in smaller churches, who live out their humanitarianism through religion.
It’s sometimes claimed that life is given meaning and purpose for those who belong to a church. That may be true, yet it says more about the individual than the church. For many people their church may be the one place where they know they’ll always be welcomed. Yet it may, in fact, be the main reason they haven’t ventured out to find friends elsewhere.
There’s no doubt there can be a sense of belonging in Christian groups. People often find companionship in Christian communities. Yet they could get the same nice feelings from secular groups in which like-minded people get together, but without the theological nonsense and preaching.
Friends are sometimes found in church because people are naturally social, not because of the institution or the Bible. In fact, if the teachings of the key biblical characters, Yahweh, Jesus, and Paul, are considered in their totality, they don’t promote social harmony, but rather the very opposite.
Christians sometimes claim to love their fellow followers, but this is usually a manufactured benevolence that doesn’t take into account people’s real feelings for each other. It may, but often doesn’t, help some people “open up” to others, but this is an act in which they are seen to be doing the right thing. It’s rarely a real expression of affection. In my experience, genuine unconditional love is a sparse commodity in most churches. Congregations are commonly full of cliques, and people delight in gossiping about and judging others, and there’s a lot of backstabbing. The real humanitarians, who are genuinely good at getting on with their neighbors, usually aren’t wasting their time in church.
I think that when good things happen in Christian communities, they do so despite Christianity, not because of it.