This has been on my mind a lot lately, considering the proliferation of billboards in my area that ask me to consider going to a church or reconsider my beliefs about deities. All of this signage is on top of church signs, church groups, and church advertising in media. Unless I stay completely shut in, I will see a reminder somewhere of what the dominant religious beliefs are in northern Alabama.
To put this in perspective, the population of the entire county is roughly 346,000 people. One directory of churches I found listed 344 churches in the area. That’s about one church for every 1,000 people. They all operate with donations from church members, so each church has at least enough resources to keep the lights on and print bulletins every week.
It’s too easy to get reminded of why I don’t believe.
Sometimes it’s the sheer audacity of something on an ad. Lately, it’s also the lack of any other religion advertising in the area. Then there’s the cold, dark realization that a secular group probably couldn’t advertise even a positive message without generating controversy. Thus, the signs aren’t a reminder just of what I’m trying to let go of and forget; they’re a reminder of how hostile the local environment is to non-Christians.
Staying away from it all can be incredibly difficult.
To be fair, “staying away” has to have a more flexible definition where I live. Unless the local Christian population wakes up one morning and realizes that there might be people out there who need to recover from what they believe, the amount of advertising isn’t going to change. For me, I’m trying to figure out how to remove the association of what this advertising says and what it means. Therefore, staying away is a difficult mental exercise.
Patience in these things definitely is a virtue. At times I am able to drive past church advertising or ignore a commercial for the local non-denominational cult. However, there will be other times where I will see a promise that can’t be kept or an outright lie. Maybe I’ll see a church preying on people who just need sympathy and not indoctrination. Those times used to grievously unbalance me, but I’m getting better with practice.
There are other people in my area who also have been trying to cope with this. They’re doing a decent job in their own specific ways. Sometimes drawing strength from them helps me out tremendously. Sadly, there are probably others who don’t even know how to connect with others who leave religion behind. To them, seeing all these messages for Jesus are like seeing the bars on the cage.
The most important thing to remember: they can’t make you believe.
Christianity only has the power a person gives it. Without belief, there is no invisible omnipotent force ready to force itself on anyone. All the claims in the world about how real this deity is are as meaningless as the monster underneath a child’s bed. No grand puppet master pulls the strings. It isn’t a bad thing to not believe.
Yes, people where I live can be hostile to non-Christian belief. Despite that hostility, they can’t do the one thing they need the most. They can’t force me to believe again. It might not change the world in a drastic fashion, but not believing has changed me for the better. Living where I live, this can be too easy to forget.
When I do remember this, it makes staying away from the trappings of Christianity incredibly easier. Nobody has to save me because I’m not lost. The cage my old faith has built doesn’t keep me in.
It now keeps me out.