Evangelical teachings frequently paint life as a battle between “good” and “evil” (whatever those things mean). Putting life in that lens does more than let the faithful claim they’re doing right by the cosmos. It creates this unspoken antagonism that can remain even after leaving the faith. Because things are always a battle, there’s sometimes this sense I have that I’m always fighting for something.
Fighting implies there’s an enemy.
Christianity as it is classically taught frequently and unabashedly does this to its adherents. The world is this vile place that Christians must inhabit but try to keep separate from. People who reject the label of Christian are predators seeking to corrupt the souls of the elect and saved. Even being saved carries conditions with which one must fight in order to preserve it. All of this creates antagonism towards people one disagrees with.
So it’s really natural that, by extension, some Christians treat people derisively and with condescension. I’ve taken my share of barbs and jabs, including backhanded compliments that I’m a “nice atheist.” All of that creates a safe distance and a buffer between me and the people I chat with. It begs me to take offense so that I’ll behave like the enemy I’m perceived to be, rather than the human being I actually am.
Yeah, it’s also true for softer versions of condescension, like calling people lost or broken without a savior. Instead of kicking people to get a negative reaction, it creates a social club where only Christians can be on a pedestal. In some ways, this is a bit more dangerous, as it often leads to other claims of healing through faith rather than hard work.
This thinking can get carried out of the faith.
In the first few months after deconverting, I still had my Christian worldview. Seeing it pop up from time to time made me a little angry at myself for holding onto something for no good reason. Although I knew it was a process I’d have to go through, I wasn’t good at forgiving myself. That, perhaps, is the most Christian habit of all: making an enemy of oneself.
There I was, trying to figure out how to live godlessly in the Bible Belt, and I couldn’t even stop myself from turning a defunct faith into a weapon. It didn’t matter who I turned into an enemy. What mattered was that I had this feeling like I needed to constantly validate my ideas through rejecting others. But punishment is an empty way to live, and I never was happy with my antagonism.
When I started removing that antagonism, I found something pitiable.
Christianity as a faith really inflicts much of its misery on itself. Nobody is allowed to be happy unless they recall how they got saved by a blood sacrifice, how they antagonized people through proselytizing, or how they can denounce other people just for not following an ancient code of living that’s impossible to live by. All other kinds of things come out of the woodwork to remind Christians that they deserve pain and torture for things that aren’t even their fault. Staving off that natural inclination to loathe oneself becomes a ritual to inflict suffering on others.
As an atheist, I don’t have a belief that requires divine punishment for made up wrongdoing. For real important harms, the law is the best device we have to protect communities. Social systems provide an outlet for determining other gray areas as we all go through our lives. Underpinning all of this is my secular Humanist notions that people shouldn’t suffer for unjustifiable reasons.
It’s why Christianity saddens and disappoints me now.
Whenever I encounter someone who thinks I’m a bad person just for being an atheist, I see a person who is clawing to remain inside a cage. The sheer willpower to admit that I don’t need my own cage is terrifying, and it produces strong reactions. I am not an enemy to any Christian simply by existing; the antagonism often only happens in one direction.
Moreover, I have become quite aware at how Christianity relies on antipathy to keep people devout. That’s probably the cruelest thing about all of this. Through no effort at all, simple disagreement can fuel a person’s faith. I’m tired of seeing people light themselves on fire for Jesus, all to fight enemies that don’t exist.