I was never much of a skeptic. I was far too trusting and optimistic - I still am, to tell the truth. I remember having what some might have called doubts when I was about 15 or 16. I remember being concerned because I had never felt the Presence of God. I assumed that it was because of a lack of faith on my part, so I went over everything like a checklist:
- God exists (obviously!)
- I am a sinner
- God loves me, sent his son, etc
- And now that I have gratefully accepted Jesus' sacrifice, I am forgiven
- I still sin, but the Holy Spirit is in my heart, changing me, fixing me, etc
When I came out as an atheist, I remember several of my old friends telling me that they were saddened but not surprised. That was interesting, because I had no idea that I was anything less than an earnest (if liberal and lazy) Christian until about six years ago.
I mention all of that to set the stage for the memories that came flooding back to me with the arrival of this Christian youth conference. I had such a good time when I was a kid. Because I was home-schooled (not recommended) until high school, my only real socialization came at church. As a result, church groups became my life. The religious message of the events were ancillary to the friendships. Still, we did plenty of religious events: we went to several Dawson McAllister conferences, attended tapings of videos and even went to Night of Joy at Disney World. As a brief aside, I have to wonder if Contemporary Christian music has changed at all in the past decade. I can hear the music that the band is playing in the hotel and it sounds identical to the stuff that I heard when I was a little Christian myself. It's a very mid-90s, post-grunge sound that is like an anesthetized version of Matchbox 20.
My point, if I have one, is that young kids are easy emotional targets. They want to believe. They want to trust the adults because they want to be adults. Kids feel guilt and shame for things that are natural and normal and innocent. I believe that it is wrong to manipulate kids, to leverage their instinctive trust in order to make them feel guilty about things they cannot comprehend. At this point I'm thinking of long, drawn out slow penance-type songs that involve closed eyes, raised hands and swaying. Peeking around, I'd see girls with tears streaming down their cheeks, convinced that they were worthless and that God was the only way to be good. Boys felt that too, but they were simply less inclined to tears. Despite all of the tight-throated moments and unearned guilt and shame, I had a good time. I still remember those times with happiness. And it makes me sad that my old friends (most of whom I have located on Facebook) and I have almost nothing in common anymore except for the past.