Posted by on 11 August 2008 at 11:36 pm  Politics, Religion
Aug 112008

[Originally posted to Politics without God, the blog of the Coalition for Secular Government.]

In a totalitarian society, individuals lack any kind of private life. Individuals are only a means to the end of society, everything — from one’s purchases to one’s friendships — is the province of the state.

That same totalitarian impulse is present in American churches today, as illustrated by this news story on a pastor’s prophetic sermons:

Last Sunday, pastor Irwin Alton, 62, preached against several specific sins during his sermon. Some people in the audience gasped with recognition. “When he talked about skipping mid-week service to go to the lake, and buying a new boat when you haven’t tithed, I felt nailed to my pew,” said one man. “It was like the Holy Spirit was speaking right to me.”

But it wasn’t the Holy Spirit — it was the man’s own blog where he had posted photos of himself and his buddies on his new boat on a Wednesday evening.

Pastor Alton, who cultivates a reputation as a computer illiterate techno-phobe, is actually an avid reader of MySpace pages, blogs and personal websites of the people in his congregation. “I appear, shall we say, un-hip,” he says. “Therein lies my advantage.”

Though he publicly refers to the Worldwide Web as the “Worldwide Waste” and e-mail as “sin-mail,” in his home office is a bank of computer screens with more than 170 bookmarked sites — personal web pages, blogs, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr and more. Each week Alton surfs the sites for hours to find evidence of questionable behavior by people in his church. He jots offenses down and incorporates them into his Sunday sermons.

He even checks the blogs of friends of people in his church. That’s where he found photos of Emily Dotson, 31, at a local sports bar. During the service last week Alton paused mid-sermon to say, “Some of you have been visiting places you shouldn’t be seen in as a Christian, drinking establishments and the like.” Emily was taken aback.

“He was speaking right to me,” she says. She came forward and repented for being at the sports bar, even though she’d been celebrating a girlfriend’s birthday. “I knew I shouldn’t have lingered in that environment,” Emily says. “I could have gone in, said hi and left.”

[Update: Doh! It's actually a satire, even if a bit too close to real life for many Christians.]

Liriodendron quotes a portion of that article, then writes the following:

As for my own personal experience, I spent one year in a church that was dangerously close to Pastor Alton’s. Right after college, I accepted a teaching position in a private Christian school in south Florida in order to take a year off from my education. In my incredible naivete, I assumed that the school would be as free-thinking as my Christian college had been, and I was assured that I would be able to teach evolution. Nevertheless, the school that I taught at was incorporated along with the church. As a condition of our employment, we were required to attend church weekly, “voluntarily” tithe 10% of our pre-tax income to the church, and serve on at least one church charity or ministry project. As someone who accepted the premise of altruism [at the time], I had no problem with these rules.

My students got a good dose of actual education about evolution, but not without some parents discussing this matter with the administration. It became apparent that I was only to teach evolution from the standpoint of exposing its supposed fallacies. My most important lesson was learning what a consistently Christian life was all about. If your life is lived consistently according to religious values rather than your own implicit values, it becomes an agonizing web of deceit and dishonesty — both with oneself and others. It was the worst, most stressful year of my life. There were several aspects of my personal life that I kept very secret, dreading the day when some church member might find out about it. One day I was confronted by the school/church administration for using the word “crap” in my classroom — a student had reported that. I can’t possibly hope to communicate with others who think Christianity is benign how oppressive a consistently Christian life is. It is something you must experience for yourself.

If Christians choose to live in such personal confinement within the bounds of their own church, that’s their right. However, they have no right to use government force to herd the rest of us into a such confinement via controls on obscenity, drinking, drugs, blasphemy, abortion, birth control, homosexuality, dress, and the like.

For those of us who reject Christian morality — who regard Christian values of faith, sacrifice, suffering, and submission as positively immoral — such a life would be intolerable. That’s precisely why I formed the Coalition for Secular Government: I do not wish to attempt to eke out an existence in an airtight Christian world.

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