Conversion stories by the most fervent believers and proselytizers almost always come with some sort of “bottom.” How often have you heard a street preacher at a college or a rock concert say something like, “I was once just like you! Into pornography and drugs and sinning! My soul cried out for the Lord!” It’s not just common in places like Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s almost required to stay sober.
There are two kinds of “bottoms” that churches rely on. The first kind are the real down-and-out folks who really were homeless drug-addicts or alcoholics who hit a low in their lives that make them realize something needs to change. The other is manufactured by the church at an early age. I’d like to touch on the latter a bit.
Meeting some evangelicals through my life and watching documentaries like Jesus Camp, the manufactured “bottom” seems so morally despicable to me. You can understand why a vulnerable person would turn the the feel-good image of an all-powerful, loving being. What I can’t understand is the creation of that vulnerability in children as young as five years old. It’s bordering on child abuse.
I remember when I was twelve or thirteen going to a youth group with an evangelical boy. After the initial sermon, the kids were broken up into groups led by adults who encouraged the kids to admit their sins and how they had failed the Lord. Did they hold back on giving their testimony at school? Had they had impure thoughts? Did they talk back to their parents? Did they feel at all angry at God for any reason? The boy I had gone to the church with admitted he had felt angry at God at one point for his father leaving him and his mother when he was a baby. He started bawling. It was very awkward and not at all like the youth groups I had been to where we sang songs and laughed and played around.
I’ve heard “Christian rap” songs where the artist talks about the life of sin he left behind. It included getting low grades in school and hiding porno mags under his bed. In AA, I heard horrendous stories of people doing really shitty things to get drugs or to keep drinking. I even had my own bottom where I was homeless, burnt bridges with my family and compromised my values and principles so I could keep getting loaded. When I compare these two different “bottoms,” I laugh at first, and then I feel sad.
The church creates sin. There’s no way out of sin because even thoughts are sin. The church-goer is supposed to feel increasingly guilty over it until they hit a breaking p0int and resubmit to the Lord. For awhile they are happy, living in the Light, but still holding on to the idea that they are sinful and will fail God. The imaginary transgressions start adding up again and the person hits bottom, resubmits, and starts the cycle all over again. It’s just easier to keep people in the fold when you create their misery and their answer.