So. I went to church.
In my very early years, I attended a Greek Orthodox church. They are calm and generally unintrusive to one's personal life, so I have little issue with them. Once I turned eight, my family went to a new church. A pentacostal church. An Assembly of God Church.
That was the church I went to yesterday.
It was for my mother's birthday. I took her out for a nice breakfast, and since she is religious I thought it would please her. It did, however the sermon displeased me down to my core and gave a strong argument in favor of the proposition that Christianity can be downright evil.
This pastor joined the church just as I was transitioning into atheism. The previous pastor had sermons that I still remember fondly. He would generally start with a Bible passage or ten, and talk about what they meant and how it applied to people today. I can't say I really "like" this pastor. This "new" pastor, is a whole different animal. The most glaring difference is the energy level. Lots of shuffling back and forth across the stage, constant humorous asides, lots of motioning and over-emphasized inflection. Much more a spectacle than a sermon.
This makes it more hollow, but I made a claim that it was legitimately evil (insert Todd Akin joke here). That came in the message itself.
The pastor began with an anecdote about him playing golf at a driving range while testing out if his injury had healed. When the caged cart drove onto the field to pick up the balls, he decided to try to hit said cart, and got so swept up in his attempt that he didn't notice his injury had flared up again. He had gotten distracted.
Apparently, that's how it can be with God . . . more importantly, that's how people can be with God, meaning some of the relationships in a Christian's life can be a distraction. The prescription: drop these people.
However the way in which he went about preaching this says a lot. No specific description of when it is appropriate to cut someone out of your life, no prescription for understanding when that time should come. The most specific example was if a significant other isn't a Christian, you need to drop them. Other than that, transgressions as small as "a friend not understanding your faith", was enough. These are vague enough to allow each individual to interpret the message in the way that is most meaningful to them. If someone is having doubts, and those doubts are in reference to a person and points they bring up, then it puts the idea in their head to dump those individuals.
So when you aren't getting any resistance, press forward. If it appears that there could be something that could cause you to change your opinion about the religion, walk away. They are literally giving them strategies designed to maintain the status quo and avoid being exposed to any ideas that differ from the church.
In addition, they don't tell people to pray on it to ask God what his will is (which could result in the individual thinking they are meant to keep going despite the danger to maintaining their belief system), or to have faith that Jesus can help them see it through (despite earlier saying Jesus can get you through all of your problems if you let him). They inform them that it is totally acceptable to cut someone out of their lives if it is the more difficult spiritual path. This is apparently one area that God will never use a way to test your faith.
Lastly, this reinforces the idea in the minds of potential doubters that people will be willing to abandon them as friends and as a social support structure if they do not conform properly or begin to challenge established dogma in any way.
It isn't that this is evil because it is a religion doing it, it's evil because it would be an effective strategy to maintain any belief system, regardless of how true or false the belief system is. If it was implemented to protect a belief in the world being round or the belief that the world is flat, it would be an effective strategy to prevent people from doubting, but has the largest benefit to belief structures run by people who understand the weakness of their position. If you have a high level of faith in the truth of your belief, you would gain more by encouraging people to not back down when they have doubts, because they faith would entail a believe that there is an answer for said doubt. Organizers that think their position is weak, however, would benefit less for such a strategy, because they would understand that there is a high likelihood people would come across disconfirming or contradictory evidence. Therefore those that believe they have the weaker intellectual argument are more motivated to use such a tactic over the other group.
This sermon was evil, because it advocates that you break up friendships, romances, and even families if it means preventing doubt from ever crossing your mind. Truth is not important, conformity and listening to the church is.