In the interest of space, I will be brief, so please understand that parts of this might be better suited to a frank discussion over a cup of coffee. Which I would gladly oblige, should you require more information from me.
First, a few disclaimers:
I don't hate Christians.
There is a massive distinction that needs to be made concerning the difference between Christianity as a religion and Christianity as a spiritual guide. My main gripes concern how the church at large operates, and not with its individual participants.
I realize that there are exceptions to the rule.
I know that not all churches are the same; it would be ignorant to assume such a thing. However, I do think that there are overriding concerns with the church, especially given that it is so pervasive in American culture. When I speak of "the church", I will be speaking very, very broadly of Christian culture and citing evidence from my personal experience and current events. Obviously, this is a blog and not a venue for academic research and interpretation; therefore, I reserve the right to my own opinions without having to cite every jot and tittle.
I'm not a bitter person.
Many people who know me well may be quick to point out that my experience with Christian culture in my "home church" has not been a very positive one (which I will address in more detail later) and that I shouldn't judge based on that alone. This is fair, and to that end I would respond that I don't, in fact, base my decisions on this singular factor, but on a variety of experiences. It's no secret that my experience in the church I grew up in was quite negative at times, but I hold no bitterness towards that church in general or to its members (some of whom are more responsible than others for my negative experience).
Ok! With all that being said, here are a few of the reasons I don't attend church and Anne Rice'd it out of there:
1. I find church to be a place where intolerance is condoned and tolerance is considered sinful.
I've always been considered to be a bit of a rebel (although I am, undoubtedly, one of the lamest "rebels" in the history of rebellion), and I struggled to find my place within church culture. In high school, while attending my home church, "rebelling" meant that I liked loud, non-mainstream music, non-mainstream fashion, and, my most heinous crime, had doubts about my faith. Instead of being accepted for my differences (which, in another light may have been viewed as a very unique "in" for witnessing), I was ostracized from my youth group, which eventually led me to seek other church options.
I attended this church from elementary school all the way through high school on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights; I am still amazed that after the countless hours spent investing in this youth group (and many, many trips and activities) that I did not make a single friend. I fully admit that part of this was my social anxiety and desire to be accepted (hello, teenage years!), but I also believe that there is something deeply flawed in a culture which encourages this degree of exclusivity.
Even though it states in, arguably, the most-quoted Bible verse ever that "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son..." I have seen, over and over again, that the Christian church only seems to "love" members within the church, and individuals outside of Christian culture are exempt from this "love". Bryan and I both remember a specific object lesson, taught in both our separate youth groups, that illustrated the danger of having secular friends; ask one person to stand on a chair, and then see which task is easier: pulling someone onto the chair with you, or being pulled off the chair. Naturally, it's much easier to pull someone off the chair (something called gravity), but this was supposed to show us that we should have Christian friends to fellowship with and to be cautious of secular influences.
I understand the premise. I really do. However, this relegated me to a very uncomfortable position: I couldn't even make friends within my church group, and "secular people" were only in existence so that I could witness to them, so what was I to do? I made secular friends. Friends from other churches. Friends more radically "Christian" than my fellow youth-group goers. This divisive nature, this "Christians vs. non-Christians" attitude is deeply troubling. Although witnessing is a key part of Christian culture, this is an entirely ineffective strategy. How are Christians to influence other people (and lead them to Christ), while condemning their lifestyle or clothes or language or situation or...?
At least consider this: look around when you're in church. Who is in your congregation? Does it reflect that witnessing is reaching a diverse group of people? Are there people in the pews with different colored skin? Piercings? Tattoos? Rich, poor and in-between? People with different interests, ideas, and beliefs? Or does church just reinforce your own identity and way of being?
When was the last time you sought out a relationship with someone of differing opinion?
2. Christian culture refuses to grapple with the hate in its past (and current hate).
One of the pillars of Christianity is that, ostensibly, God never changes. However, this Christian God, who remains the same throughout the ages, is also responsible for the moral imperative behind witch hunts, the Crusades, anti-Semitism, and, more recently, Islamaphobia. History is a very, very good reminder of the abuses of the church, yet Christians seems content in a blissful ignorance of the hurt they have caused in Christ's name. When taken to task for these abuses, Christians are willing to admit that these events are the result of misinterpretations of God's word, but no one is presently guilty of the same behavior.
During the Civil Rights movement, Christians used the Bible as evidence that interracial marriage was an abomination (today we would find this rather preposterous), yet some modern theologians deny these similarities to the Gay Rights movement. Whatever banner the Church is currently flying is assumed to be undeniably correct and God-ordained, while past grievances are quickly swept under the rug. To be effective, I would contend that the Christian church needs to air these grievances and think critically about what these incidents say about Christian culture and mans' fallibility.
*As this post has grown rather lengthy, I will expand this to separate entries. More to come in the future! I hope readers will recognize that I have attempted to take a stab at this topic with dignity and caution; if I have offended, I apologize in advance.
**Also, it bears noting that many of these ideas were inspired by a recent read by Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist fame called "I Sold My Soul on eBay: Viewing Faith through an Atheist's Eyes". Although all of the above is my own opinion, I have been wanting to air them in a public space after reading his provocative and insightful book (which is a great read for all Christian churchgoers).