Agnostic Humanist In The South

The One Where I Get Self-Righteous About Self-Righteousness

“Have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?”

The first time I heard this question I was really confused. I mean, I was devoutly Catholic, so I understood who Jesus was, obviously; and I understood the concept of spiritual salvation, but those words in that combination confused me greatly.

“Yes? I guess?”

But in my head I was thinking, Why are you asking me this? What a weird question.

You see, I went to after school care and summer school care at a Southern Baptist Church growing up. Eventually, I learned to understand what those words meant and how people at that church viewed salvation. They believed that until I was “saved” – I was bound for Hell. I felt like this was tragic because I was growing up Catholic, and I believed NO ONE knew who was getting into Heaven but GOD. But, BUT! I was DAMN SURE if these people weren’t Catholic, they didn’t even have a CHANCE. And here they were getting all self-righteous about the destiny of their souls and I knew the truth: I had a better chance of getting into heaven because I had just gone to Confession and received Communion that day! TWO sacraments in ONE DAY! No WAY I was missing out on the train to Heaven if we all go struck by lightening and died in that moment.

Now, let’s fast forward a bit. To right now. Let’s fast forward to this moment in my house in early morning where I’m kinda pissed off at any and all religion that teaches there are paths to a LIGHT-FILLED GLORIOUS and PERFECT afterlife, and paths to eternal darkness and fiery damnation. And more specifically – I’m pissed of at the people from those religions who insist on telling my kids they’re going to Hell. But generally speaking? I’m just angry about it all. Every bit of it. Tears of anger stream down my face and I’m shaking my fists at their Heaven and saying, “SCREW ALL OF YOU.”

Hear me out.

(SIDENOTE: My focus is on Christianity because it’s what I know and it shapes the politics and the culture in our country and specifically in my home-State of Alabama. If your religion is NOT Christian and you want to chime in why it does NOT cause the problems that I feel Christianity does? I’d love to hear about it.)

Christians go to church and learn about Heaven and Hell. They learn that when you die, you go to one place or the other, depending on how you lived your life. Heaven or Hell. And because you’re in this one church hearing these words teaching about how to get to Heaven, your chances are better than anyone else who is not in a Church teaching these same words.

That’s the simplest breakdown right there. No dogma. No delineation of severity of sins. No differentiation of sacraments or faiths. Just the basic lesson of most Christian Churches: There is a Hell and people not in this Church right now have a much greater chance of ending up there when they die.

Now, there are Christian Churches (from what I understand) who don’t believe you have to be Christian to get into Heaven, BUT THOSE ARE A MINORITY. So we’re removing them from the equation. They’re a minority nationally, but they’re like an Extreme MICRO-minority here in Alabama. So for the purposes of my family and our lives and my view of the division in our country? They’re really inconsequential.

Around here? Christians believe you are bound for Hell if you are not a Christian.

So they teach this in Church and in Sunday school and they talk about it during prayers at bedtime or at mealtime. This superiority is taught early and often and then…this is the kicker: Many of these same people see the anger and hate in our country or our communities and BLAME A LACK OF RELIGION. A lack of God. They feel like if we all found THEIR God and THEIR Church the world would be better.

And guys? I’m super-pissed about this. TEARS OF ANGER, Angry.

I had to have yet ANOTHER conversation with one of my kids yesterday about why classmates keep telling them they’re going to Hell when they don’t believe in God.

And here’s where I’m taking off the kid gloves I often wear to preserve the feelings of Christians who may go to these churches. I’m taking off the kid gloves because I’m sick of having this conversation with my kids.

If you go to a church or take your children to a church that teaches that anyone who believes differently from you is bound for Hell, then you are at least PART of the problem of the divide in our country.

And some days? I’m going to be honest. Some days I feel like you’re ALL of the problem.

But I know those days are because I’m hurt by the damn teachings of your damn church. So I’m trying to recognize that.

But your Church and it’s teachings are DEFINITELY a large PART of the problem. Because they are perpetuating this “Us” v/s “Them” mentality that has us pitted against each other on a daily basis. You divide the world for your children very early on where they are BETTER because they have SALVATION and therefore they must minister to and pray for all of the souls that are lost and it teaches them to look DOWN, LITERALLY DOWN FROM HEAVEN, on anyone else and they get to carry around this knowledge of self-righteousness that tells them it’s OKAY, as a matter of fact – it’s HEAVENLY, to judge other people.

“Oh, but it’s only God who has the final judgement. My kids know that. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. We don’t judge.”

Bullshit. Those words may be taught to you and your children, but that’s not the message you carry with you. You carry the idea that YOUR soul is saved and MINE is not. And yes, you may read from the script and say to me, “I will not judge your soul! That’s only God who can do that!” But that’s not the message in the lyrics to the songs you sing, and the words to the prayers you recite. You sing and pray that you are GRATEFUL for this God that lead you to righteousness and you are GRATEFUL for the salvation of Jesus. You are blessed with knowledge of the path to salvation and therefore you are inherently better off than those who are not on the same path.

You v/s Them.

You v/s Me.

You v/s My kids.

And maybe you don’t actually believe this. Maybe in your heart you believe I’m going to end up in Heaven because I’m a good person. But does your Church teach that? Does your Church allow someone like me who tries to make the world better with kindness and love, does your Church allow me who doesn’t believe in your God or your Savior, does your Church teach there’s a place for ME in YOUR Heaven?

If the answer is, “No,” then – once again – your Church is part of the problem.

Last night Wesley broke it down, “I mean, it’s just not NICE to tell people they’re going to Hell.”

My 8-year old kid is right. Your Church is wrong. And I’m really angry that I keep having to have this conversation with my kids.

“But I believe that we are all sinners in the eyes of God. I’m not better than you.”

Yes. I know. That’s another line from your, “How Not To Look Like A Self-Righteous And Judgemental Ass” script. But your Church is teaching the message: “There is a path to Hell and it takes more than just being a Good Person to avoid it.” So while the line in that script sounds great, the through line in all of the teachings of your church divides us in the afterlife.

“But that’s because we are all sinners and we need God and The Bible and the Church to teach us how to be good people.”

Then please ask your Church teachers this:

“If someone is honestly good without God, do they still go to Hell?”

If you aren’t surrounded by a lot of fundamentalist Christian Churches then let me tell you, a lot of those Churches teach a resounding YES! to that question. That’s why my kids have the problem they have. But, there are some Christian churches around here who try to be diplomatic about it.

“We don’t know God’s final judgement.”

“But you’re pretty sure they don’t get to go to Heaven, right? That’s kinda the whole point of having a Church, right? And of Baptism? And the Bible? So that believers get the good seats in the afterlife?”

“Yeah. We’re pretty sure those people who don’t believe are screwed.”

Because that’s truthfully what most Christian Churches believe. Or else they wouldn’t bother with Church on Sunday mornings. They believe it’s helping them get to Heaven. And therefore, those NOT in that Church have a worse chance.

US v/s THEM.

YOU v/s US.

Here’s the fact: The dominant religion in our country – the religion claimed by all of our leading government officials – teaches from birth that there is superiority in righteousness. That religion teaches at Sunday school that THEY are chosen to some degree, THEY are on the path to enlightenment, THEY must pray for the souls of those not as BLESSED as they are. They teach early in these churches that there is a group of cool kids on a God-Driven train bound for Heaven. And while their spiritual goal is to get EVERYONE on a train to Heaven, they don’t actively allow for the possibility that there’s another train going that way that doesn’t have God in the lead car.

Do you know how hard it is to be an atheist and to try to care about politics in a country where all of the leading government officials go to Churches that teach these messages?

I guess these Christians are lucky, because their goal is their heavenly afterlife. So as long as they follow the playbook given to them, they’ll reach that goal. They hope that while striving for this goal that they make the world they live in now better, but that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate and final goal is Heaven. So if they make the present world shittier for a lot of us in the process, NBD.

But here is what I teach my kids about our “goal” with this life: We get ONE chance at this life and this ONE life will be better for us and the loved ones we leave behind if we make the world around us better with this ONE life. We spread love and joy and kindness at every chance we get because we all know how easy grumpy spreads. I always use the example about how if I’ve had a bad day I’m quicker to lose my patience with them. GRUMPY SPREADS, so we try to counter that with LOVE and JOY and KINDNESS. We treat people how we want to be treated and how we think we should treat people in order to MAKE THE WORLD BETTER.


Because this is it. This life. It’s all we get. When we’re dead? That’s it. Dead. Over. Done. So every day we get one more chance to spread joy. To spread kindness. To spread love. What do we do with that chance? What do we do with our day? How do we make the world better than it was when we found it?

I don’t know how many days left I have in this life. I would love to spend my days trying to bring people together with love and empathy and kindness, but how can I do that when my community is filled with people on an entirely different mission than me?

Their goal is eternal salvation and the teachings of their Church tell them to pity people like me as my soul will be damned eternally. Their Church teaches that no matter how many times I try to spread Love and Joy and Kindness, I’m on a train to Hell if I haven’t boarded the one driven by their God.

I know many people belong to Churches that believe that train driven by that God is the only path to Heaven – but those people DON’T believe that. They just claim that Church as theirs and believe something different in their hearts.

But as long as your Church is still delivering that message and as long as you’re not LOUDLY shouting, “I DISAGREE!” then your membership to that church silently condones that message. And my kids are going to see your membership and assume that you believe no matter how good they are, they’re still bound for Hell.

You may not believe it’s “Us v/s Them” on the spiritual path to enlightenment, but if your church does? Then you need to consider your role in perpetuating the divide in this country.

And can you please talk to your kids? It’s not nice to tell people they’re going to Hell.

14 thoughts on “The One Where I Get Self-Righteous About Self-Righteousness”

  1. This.

    “Because this is it. This life. It’s all we get. When we’re dead? That’s it. Dead. Over. Done. So every day we get one more chance to spread joy. To spread kindness. To spread love. What do we do with that chance? What do we do with our day? How do we make the world better than it was when we found it?”

    I believe that being Christian and trying to live life like you’ve described here are parts of the same goal. Be as good of a person as you can, while you are here, regardless of the religion or beliefs of the people you interact with. I struggle with the dichotomy that is presented with many churches, but I personally believe these two are not mutually exclusive. Just be kind, spread joy and love and compassion. Full Stop. If you happen to personally believe in Jesus, great. If not, great. Just be a good human. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

  2. It manifests in more subtle ways too, I had a (kind, intelligent, deeply religious) supervisor tell me that he had a hard time remembering to give positive feedback because HE didn’t need that kind of validation because he believed that his ultimate reward was in heaven.

    Well, that’s nice and all, but most human beings like/need to be told when they are doing a good job. At least occasionally. It boggled my mind that religion would be an excuse for not taking care of people.

  3. Amen! (Pun intended.) Wesley really hit the nail right on the head, there. As I was reading your (completely righteous) rant, I was thinking, “Telling people — especially kids — that they are going to hell is rude as hell!” (Pun also intended.)

    That whole “holier than thou” attitude that a lot of churches teach (even if their members don’t fully buy into it) is one reason I have a HUGE problem with organized religion, particularly in the U.S. You can believe whatever you want, but it has NO place in government. Sadly, many people fail to grasp that freedom of religion also means freedom FROM religion. I have to think it’s because these people were indoctrinated (okay, I’ll say it: brainwashed) as children. They believed what their parents told them (because why wouldn’t they?), and even when people eventually start questioning that stuff, it’s still really hard to shake something you’ve internalized to that degree.

    Maybe I wouldn’t have such a problem with organized religion if the message were just “Look, God wants us to be good, so everybody just be good. Be good to each other. Have a good heart. The end.” But the Christian sects and individual churches that DO try to spread that message (and I’m not saying they don’t exist, even if they’re in the minority) have to deviate from the “official” teachings of their religion (which include racism, misogny, homophobia, and a general sense of superiority) to do so, so what does that tell you?

    I’m just sick of all of it. And I don’t even live in the Bible Belt, so I can’t imagine how much worse you have it. It would drive me batshit.

  4. Yes!! This!! I grew up Lutheran and most of the Lutherans I knew were pretty quite about religion but now it seems they very loud about religion and politics. I don’t have the same views and have totally moved away from religion. I just can’t believe the things I was taught any more and don’t want to teach my daughter those things. I think living in a more liberal state is in our favor as well–we don’t have to deal with some of the issues you do. You are a great Mom and are teaching your kids great things–how to be good people.

  5. Kim – Thanks for writing this. This is awesome, and I wholeheartedly agree. I grew up in Huntsville in a non-religious family that never really talked about religion. I remember the pain of having kids in my classes say nasty things about me going to hell. While I don’t think I’m doing as good of a job as you are with having those discussions with my kids, I do still talk with them and try to teach them to be open minded, wherever that leads them spirituality-wise, while also preparing them for the day those sorts of comments start coming.

  6. I SO feel you on every single word of this!

    I raised my kids atheist. It was hard enough here in Southern California (known as a little “fruity” and more progressive in thinking), I can’t fathom trying to do so in your community. Holy Cow, hats off to you!

    My best “mommy” friend lived two doors down from us. My daughter (now 20) played daily with her daughter and son. They are very Christian. My friend knew my views…I wasn’t just apathetic, I was openly atheist. It wasn’t like I just hadn’t made up my mind or didn’t care about raising my kid with religion one way or the other. It as a BELIEF, just like her belief.

    And yet…she gave my daughter a necklace with a cross on it for her third birthday. She gave my daughter a BIBLE for her 6th birthday. He son was constantly saying to her, “Your mom is going to hell,” and she did nothing about it.

    I finally lost it with her when the Bible gift happened. I was angry the way you are right now. I stormed to her house and handed it back to her (it was given to my daughter when I was not present!) I told her I had ALWAYS respected HER right to raise her kids how she saw fit, and never tried to sway them to my “religion”, but if she persisted I would respond in kind. I said, “If we were Jewish or Hindu, would you be doing this?” She had no answer.

    If it makes you feel better, I will tell you my daughter grew up just fine. In a way, I think the exposure to them was good…it taught her the importance of tolerance and respecting other people’s beliefs, because she experienced first hand what it feels like when someone doesn’t.

    Hang in there…

  7. I am a Methodist and go to a contemporary church. We sing about Gods love and Grace. We serve by serving the community. We teach about Christ through our works and our words.If I cannot spread the message of Christ with my mouth closed, then I am not yet doing it right. Christianity is about striving to be Christlike. To accept all people and serve them through outreach. We as Christians are here to help people and provide for others. I will share about the God of Grace, not of condemnation. I do not believe that non-christians will go to Hell or burn for eternity for their sins or for not believing as I do. I don’t believe that Satan is constantly working against us. If I ever tell anyone that they will be going toHell for any reason, I hope someone slaps me. That is not something that should ever said. There is only 1 judge and it is not me. God is a God of grace and we are all Gods children. He didn’t claim just the Christians. I believe that I am going to Heaven, but not because I earned it. If you believe something else, thats fine too. You live by the beliefs that you have. Everyone has a belief system, including no belief. One of the best stories that my Father-in-law the devout Catholic told was This. He was watching a late night talk show. There was a fundamentalist Christian preacher (Jimmy Falwell , I believe) and a Jewish Rabbi on. The preacher told the Rabbi , that if he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God , that he would be going to Hell. But Norm said, the Rabbi just sat there smiling because he knew that Gods son had not yet come to earth. Norm also had some choice words for JF!

  8. So the lead singer of The National said this: “People talk about spirit, but I have this idea that when we die, we’re gone. All that lives on is our memory and how we affected people, the way we changed people throughout our life. Whether you’ve had a good effect of a bad effect on people, that’s your afterlife—the people who live on after you.” And that resonated with me so much. I thought you might appreciate that sentiment, too.

  9. This! All of this. You said it so well, Kim! When I was growing up I was raised by hippie parents. My Mom taught us the “Best Stuff” religion. That’s what we called it anyway. She taught us about all the different religions she knew about: buddhism, hinduism, catholicism, etc…And she told us to take the parts of them that we felt were true in our hearts. Most of what we took away was like your beliefs. Be kind, help others, make the world a better place…
    But still, we were surrounded by people who would tell us that we were going to Hell, and not just other kids! I’ll never forget when my third grade teacher told me I was going to Hell in front of the whole class. It was awful and hurtful. But that night, my Mom and I talked about Hell specifically. She asked if Hell felt true to me like it was part of my “Best Stuff” religion. And I said absolutely not! It honestly seems silly, like a made-up idea to get people to follow rules. (I realized that at 8 years old!) That’s when she told me that I didn’t need to be sad when people told me I was going to Hell, because Hell doesn’t exist, so just smile at them, because they are so silly and don’t know better yet.

  10. Kim. Yes. Thank you. Church/religion wouldn’t teach “the way” if there was no Other. I’m so proud of you for saying all of this.

  11. I commented on this but it didn’t show up. I tried commenting again and I got an error saying I already commented but again it didn’t show up.

  12. Reading this breaks my heart for you. I am so sorry you have had to deal with what you have. I am a Christian, and I firmly believe that that only one who knows who is going to Heaven is God himself. And might I add, Jesus came into the world not create a religion, but to abolish it. Everyone wanted Jesus dead because he didn’t fit into religious legalism and norms. His message was one of love–yes, justice was a part of his message–but the reason he was so profound was because he came with a message that challenged religious leaders of the time. You and your children are very loved.

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