Saturday, March 7, 2009

I was a happy Christian

At the hotel this weekend there is a Christian youth conference. I'm not doing anything for it - I'm not even going to be here for most of it - thank goodness. Not because they're Christians, but because they're kids. 600 high school kids who are staying in a hotel with limited adult supervision... that's a recipe for a very bad weekend. This has brought back a flood of memories of when I was a high school kid staying in hotels with limited adult supervision.

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
I went over this list again and again. I believed them like I believed the multiplication tables. And yet I remember telling people that, although I knew these things in my head, I did not really feel them in my heart. And I wanted to so badly. I really wanted to be lost in faith, I wanted to feel God's presence, I wanted to know that he was there. Embarrassingly, I did not question further. I just accepted these things as fact, although I did start to prune the more shameful elements of the Bible out to fit today's society. And over the years, the lack of God's presence in my heart led to lack of interest and I stopped being religious at all. It just wasn't very important to me, although I did feel a slight twinge of guilt every Sunday as I slept in, went to work or did anything but go to church.

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.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Nathaniel,

Since you posted on my blog I was somewhat drawn to take a look at yours. What I read was very saddening to me but it wasn't until I came across this post that I felt I had to post a comment.

I'm sure I'll never convince you of anything other than what you currently believe, as the saying goes, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still" and I'm quite sure at this point you do NOT want to be convinced that Christianity is true given your current beliefs. But one thing that it took a while for me to realize is, it's not our believing that God exists our that he sent his or any other of those items you had on your checklist that makes us a Christian, it's only through Him drawing us to Himself. "With man it is impossible but with God all things are possible." Mt. 19:26 "No one comes to Me (the Son) unless the Father who sent Me draws Him." Jn 6:44

These were just two verses that came to my mind but they are by no means exhaustive of what the Bible has to say on the subject. My younger brother's blog usually has some good information about that deals with this very subject if you'd care to read it, there's a link from my blog.

Now please don't misinterpret this comment, I'm not trying to be preachy and I'm not trying to start an argument, I just wanted to share something that I felt the Lord had laid on my heart.

Praying that someday the Lord may work a miracle in your life and call you to Himself, because only He can.

Kevin