Thanksgiving 2014.

Happy Thanksgiving! I don’t know where you are in your day, but I wanted to take a minute to thank you for spending some little part of it here. Today’s pretty casual over at Casa Cas–I’m doing a vegetarian dinner for just me and Mr. Captain so I haven’t even gotten started quite yet on things and just woke up a little while ago–and today feels like it shouldn’t be as easy as it has been so far.

Out of all the holidays, Thanksgiving seems like one of the most quintessentially American, doesn’t it? It’s probably second only to the Fourth of July in terms of how nationalistic it is and how closely tied to our history. I love fireworks and barbecues as much as the next person, but I’m not a real fan of being outside in the summer weather or having to navigate crowded parking lots full of drunk strangers, whereas I’m a huge fan of big lavish feasts and being indoors in winter weather. So obviously between the two I’m way more into Thanksgiving.

The holiday has some very troubling historical roots of imperialism, racism, slavery, and even genocide, which is news I didn’t learn till much, much later in my life. I’m happy to see that the way it’s practiced today has about as much to do with its earliest horrific motivations as Christianity has to do with its own earliest practices. And that’s okay. We can and should pay respect to those roots and learn the sobering lessons that history offers and even then still have a day of mindfulness revolving around understanding those lessons and learning from them. That troubling, jangling dissonance between our best intentions and our actual history is part of what makes us Americans and the addressing of and healing from that dissonance is and should be part of our journey.

It’s a good thing to reflect on our past year and to consider the coming year, and the late autumn is a good time to do that. Something about this crisp, clear weather makes the celebration of our relationships and families feel natural and inevitable. Even a humble meal–which is what today will be, for various reasons–becomes elevated when prepared and eaten with mindfulness.

I’ve got my favorite things I like to do for the holiday. I love real linen napkins and sewed a set in goldenrod yellow back when my hands still worked right, and those go on the table. I raid my grandparents’ old china cabinet (itself a marvel of 1950s engineering and every bit as precarious on its alarmingly-rickety-looking-legs as the Eiffel Tower stood upside-down; when my family moves house, I am not allowed to be anywhere near it, but I can’t bring myself to part with it) for the translucent rose-painted porcelain my mother handed down to me. The best serving-dishes and wineglasses go on the dressed-up table. Usually there are flowers, and if not there’ll be candles in the middle. Whoever’s at the table eats till we’re silly while fading sunlight plays across whatever’s in the wineglasses. And we talk. We talk about the past year, about the coming year, about how we’re doing, about how we want to be doing next year. We are thankful and take time to express ourselves.

I hear often about people who spend Thanksgiving with people they can’t stand and I admit that’s just an alien concept to me. I couldn’t do it. I’ve been fortunate in that I haven’t really had to endure something that sounds so excruciating. One nice thing about being a military brat is that my family is usually thousands of miles apart, so if there are intolerable folks I don’t like to see, there’s a good excuse for not seeing them. But one unpleasant thing about being so far away from my loved ones is that if there are wonderful people I really would like to see, it’s a lot harder to make that happen with any regularity. So I make do like everybody else in this modern age.

Today let’s remember the people we love, be grateful that we’re all here, and be mindful of the egregious mistakes our ancestors made getting us here, and learn to keep the good traditions while jettisoning the hurtful ones. Let’s take the time to say the stuff we always are too busy to say for the rest of the year.

Bringing about that expressive space is tradition, so tradition is important to me. My family porcelain and whatnot is probably one of the most important elements of my Thanksgiving. The food itself changes year to year–sometimes it’s a butternut squash* lasagna, others a full turkey dinner–but using my family’s long-cherished things makes the meal feel much more official and makes the eaters of it more mindful of the occasion than the usual stoneware I usually use.

So Happy Thanksgiving, world. We made it another year. And just think of the sheer, mind-boggling coincidences that had to collide to get us here. We truly are fortunate. We exist, and we think, and we feel, and we love, and most people who have existed never had the opportunities before them that almost every one of us has now. A million generations had to pass so we could be here just like we are now. And now for one little blip of time, for one little eyeblink of history, we are here: an expression of the universe looking back at itself in wonderment like a baby noticing its hand for the first time. This might be all we ever get. Let’s make the best of it.

I would love to hear about the traditions y’all like to maintain in your own celebrations. Is there something you really like to make sure you do?

English: Photo showing some of the aspects of ...

English: Photo showing some of the aspects of a traditional US Thanksgiving day dinner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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* I didn’t realize people actually ate non-pumpkin winter squash till I was out of college. I thought they were all just decorations, and didn’t realize pumpkin went into anything but pie.

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The Real Reason for the Season.

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

English: Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Jesus Christ’s Saving Palm Sunday

We’ve been talking lately about Kirk Cameron’s horrible new movie, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, and I wanted to touch on something I’ve been noticing all too often in toxic Christianity: this propensity toward coming up with tons of justifications for being shitbags to other people.

Jesus is supposed to have left some very explicit instructions to his followers:

* ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Luke 10:27)
* Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and beer the beerless (Matthew 25:35)
* Sell everything you own (Mark 10:21)
* Pray in private, not in public (Matthew 6:6)
* Do not resist an evil person who does something violent to you (Matthew 5:39)
* If sued for your coat, give that person your shirt too (Matthew 5:40)
* If a soldier demands you carry his gear a mile for him, carry it for two instead (Matthew 5:41)
* Whatever someone asks of you give it, and never turn down anybody who wants money (Matthew 5:42)
* Love your enemies and pray for anybody persecuting you (Matthew 5:44)

How much of this list even looks like anything in the loudmouthed varieties of Christianity we see nowadays? This list of Bible verses–all drawn from the Gospels, all supposedly stuff Jesus himself told his followers–describes a religion of self-denial, meekness, quiet servitude, and a truly alarming level of charity. Now, I don’t actually think personally that Jesus told his followers to do these things; I doubt anything ascribed to Jesus in the Bible actually is anything the founder of Christianity–whoever he was–said or did or taught. But Christians think he said those things, and Christians are ostensibly trying to follow his commandments, and even they aren’t doing any of this stuff despite being warned that if they do not, they will be cast out of his sight forever after death.

Indeed, here is the list of things in the Bible that Christians are told specifically, by their own Savior, will not earn them a mansion in Heaven, besides the obvious (the Bible verses listed cover between them all of the items on this list):

* Prophesying in his name,
* Performing exorcisms, and
* Performing miracles (Matthew 7:22);
* Eating and drinking in Jesus’ presence, as in Communion and fellowship, and
* Listening to Jesus’ teachings (Luke 13:26).

I’m listing all these things because I want to stress that even Christians, who generally believe in eternal punishments for not heeding the Bible’s threats and demands, not only totally ignore the Bible’s specific commands to them but actually practice the forms of religion that have been categorically stated to be what will keep them from reaching Heaven.

I’ve been saying for a while that modern Christianity as practiced by modern Christians bears very little resemblance to anything Jesus taught–but nowhere do we see that difference more starkly than in recent statements and actions from the Religious Right.

From the media arm of the Toxic Christian wing-nut-o-sphere, we have Fox News hosts informing viewers that “your kids are getting shafted” by schools feeding the children of illegal immigrants. Her lip curled contemptuously and eyebrows raised in a very Jesus-y faux-concerned way, the verrrrry verrrry concerned (and slender, blonde, well-dressed, and tanned) Anna Kooiman fearmongered asked rhetorically concerning illegal immigrants,

Many of them are living in poverty. So, they’re going to be on free or reduced lunch. So, who’s going to be paying for that? You’re going to be paying for that.

Really? Is she really sure this is such a hardship for our government and taxpayers? Well, let’s head over to actual facts, where we discover that the federal government spends about USD$10Bn on school lunches. That sounds like quite a lot, yes. But we missed USD$92Bn by giving out corporate tax breaks in 2006, a number which grew to a simply staggering USD$154Bn in 2013. Border security costs us about USD$12Bn a year. The Iraq war alone (the one that ran from 2003-2010) cost us USD$757Bn just in direct spending alone, not counting interest on loans and whatnot. And all of that is stuff Jesus specifically stood against: materialism, commercialism, war, ostracism, and violence, whereas school lunches feed hungry children so they can learn which you’d think Christians would be all about.

Of course, for that USD$10Bn, the lunches produced on such a shoestring are of varying quality and appeal, but you needn’t worry: the Jesus Party’s self-elected ambassadors are also happy to blame kids for not wanting to eat unappetizing, cold food that nobody sane would ever want to eat–reminds one of that Disney movie The Three Musketeers where the nasty, evil, selfish king gave rotten, putrid food to the peasantry and then got angry when they wouldn’t touch it, doesn’t it? It’s quite a charming, heartwarming little anecdote of Christian mercy and charity for the current age, isn’t it? And that king is what modern Christians today are like. If that king were Pat Robertson or Ted Cruz they’d all cheer him on and openly damn those poor peasants for their lack of gratitude.

What should shock and surprise us is that Fox News, that bastion of toxic Christianity, is blaming poor people for the whole nation being higgledy-piggledy while ignoring the larger and way fatter elephants in the room. Their religion specifically told them to feed hungry people or risk going to Hell. They think their Savior specifically told them not to hurt people and not to fight against persecution. They think he specifically told them not to fight or to even defend themselves. But we’re not shocked at all to learn that they’re busy defending corporate fat cats to the skies and demonizing the very people they were told to help.

Modern Christianity is a tribal religion meant to express dominance over others. That’s it. It’s not about helping the poor or comforting those who are hurting. It’s not even about serving Jesus, if ever it was. Indeed, perhaps that ideal never really did play out in reality for most of the people who encountered its earliest incarnations. Maybe even back then people got presented a picture of a religion that posed as “the angle” that would give them a leg up that their pagan neighbors would never get.

No, modern Christianity is about controlling people in the name of doing so “for their own good.” It’s about lavishly displaying one’s wealth and resources in the name of “showing off the Lord’s blessings.” It’s about lying and deceiving people “to bring them closer to Christ.” And its adherents have evolved some truly sophisticated rationalizations for why they are totally ignoring the direct, easy-to-understand commandments of no less than their Lord and Savior.

I’ve seen them redefine love to allow themselves to hurt marginalized people, control them, deny them basic human rights, and try to take away everything they love out of sheer pernicious hatred and greed and control-lust.

I’ve seen them redefine their suffering Lord to turn him into a cutesy-poo boyfriend who just wants his woobies to be healthy, wealthy, and blissed.

I’ve seen them redefine “serving” to mean having to own a 3500-square-foot McMansion with all the trimmings (pergraniteel everything, “bonus room,” wine cellar, and a three car drive-through garage)–because huge mansions are “a gift from God”.

I’ve seen them redefine “the meaning of Christmas”–a desperately poor foreign baby born in a stranger’s barn in a strange city under the sketchiest of circumstances who was meant to unite a god with his failed creation, for good or for ill–to allow themselves to revel in crass consumerism and showy displays of gaudy, tacky, glitzy, shiny, sparkly wealth.

I regularly encounter Christians who sanctimoniously point to how utterly broken and flawed they are but follow it up immediately with a request that I not look closely at the sins they are committing but instead just take their word for it that their religion is the correct one and that its threats and promises are true even though they very clearly do not take those threats and promises seriously themselves.

We should be very wary indeed of Christians who condemn the idea of feeding the hungry and comforting the hurting and who live lives that Jesus himself–as presented in the Gospels–would condemn in nothing but the strongest terms. We should be calling out Christians who rail against charity efforts and who blame the poor for being poor after creating a system that all but guarantees that poor people will be victimized harder and harder as time goes on.

These Christian hypocrites are the symptom of the disease infecting their religion, and until this infection is stamped out, their religion is going to continue to slide into irrelevance.

Do you want to know what the disease is? I know they’re not interested in knowing–but are you?

It’s this: The religion toxic Christians say they follow isn’t valid. It makes claims that aren’t true and its practice creates an environment that is not good or healthy for people or sustainable for a civilized society. And the people who keep trying to follow it will strew only abuse and dysfunction in their wake because that is the only fruit that can possibly come of such corrupted seed.

Not all Christians buy into the toxic flavors of the religion (thank goodness!), but the ones who do are in a real quandary. If they actually follow it to the letter they will miss out on a lot of fun things, but even more importantly they will not be able to control other people quite so easily or get away with threatening and abusing them. They certainly won’t be the most important fish in the pond anymore if they lose the toxic elements of their religion. They’ll have no imagined right to dominate anybody else. And they can’t have any of that. So they put diacritical marks over their Bibles and shred them up like River Tam did in Firefly, negating and ignoring the inconvenient, problematic verses that stop them from doing what they really wanted to do anyway.

So when they get reminded that their showy, ostentatious displays of wealth during the holidays aren’t very Christian, they’ll come up with entire movies to totally explain why they should–no, why they actually totally must–have showy, ostentatious displays of wealth during the holidays.

When they get reminded that refusing to feed the hungry goes against what Jesus specifically told them to do, they’ll come up with all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t feed the hungry.

When they get reminded that Jesus also said to give shelter to the homeless, they’ll find reasons not to do that either, and the same goes for never resisting persecution or fighting back against those who try to take what is theirs. Oh, double and triple it goes for those two things. Those are really hard things to do! Best to ignore those commands or find some way out of doing them that’s both snide and hateful–oh, those most wondrous of all toxic Christian virtues! Same for getting divorced; the Bible’s pretty specific about divorce, but most Christians don’t feel compelled to follow those verses when they get in the way.

When they hear that they’re supposed to pray in private, not showboat in public, they’ll come up with rafts of rationalizations for why they need to showboat in public. Bonus points if those prayers terrify non-Christians and make them afraid for their personal physical safety, because nothing says “the love of Jesus” like making someone afraid of meeting with violence at the hands of the sanctimonious, pious, zealous, Jesus-smile-wearing ambassadors of the Prince of Peace and Lord of Love.

When they get reminded that Jesus told them to love their neighbors, they’ll just redefine love to include abusing and controlling their neighbors, especially if that redefinition lets them take vicious advantage of people’s hospitality and friendship to proselytize at them, which is a lot more fun for those sorts of Christians anyway.

When they get reminded that Jesus hated wealth and had absolutely unmistakeable opinions about rich people, they’ll come up with all sorts of reasons why it’s okay for them to be wealthy, because being poor.. well, see below, but being poor is the worst.

They’ll raise up huge, gaudy idols–sorry, monuments–to their religion and make us all wonder how many starving kids they could have fed with that money. (They’re not being graded by their god on their architecture or the size of their megachurch buildings, but on their love and charity–so I see no reason why I should evaluate them differently.)

They’ll rail against poor people and begrudge them every single nickle and penny parsed out from squeaking-tight purses, then judge any person receiving charity for every little way those poor people choose to spend that money, even screaming and yelling and sniping at total strangers in supermarket checkout lines to shame someone who’s already ashamed enough as it is–because giving someone charity automatically means that every single person in society gets to oversee the private decisions and personal lives of any person receiving that tiny bit of charity, and toxic Christians have internalized very well the lesson that all poor people, whether receiving public assistance or not, are evil scumbag sub-humans who bear the Mark of Cain and so therefore are totally safe targets to abuse.

They’ll short their own children as much as they humanly can in schools, then blame illegal immigrants for taking all the money that their oh-so-special kids should have gotten instead instead of providing enough money to feed everybody.

They’ll shriek and whine about “religious freedom” when it’s painfully obvious that what they really want is the power to trample other people’s religious choices and impose their desires on everybody else, like it or not.

In the absence of real persecution they’ll just make up first-world-style false persecution to make their own whining and hand-wringing seem less insufferable, then get even angrier and feel even more “persecuted” when nobody takes their stories seriously.

They’ll lie about science to their own children, hobbling and shackling those glorious little minds from reaching their full potential, and they will even physically hurt those children for the slightest display of courage or defiance or curiosity, all in the name of “training up a child the way he should go.” And oh, we could do post after post about how Christians hurt children in the name of “loving” them and “training them up,” but this post is getting long enough as it is.

Yeah, I think I see exactly what “the meaning of the season” is for Christians like the ones I’ve described.

It’s FUCK ALL’A Y’ALL, I’MA GET MINE.

No, thanks.

I prefer my holidays a little freer of rank hypocrisy, deliberate ignorance, and outright evil than that.

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RR Link Love: JAQing Off.

JAQing off – my newest Recovering from Religion post about how to identify and deal with Christians asking insincere “zinger” questions that they don’t really want (or even expect) answered.

Learning to Embrace Blasphemy – Neil’s newest RR post about how blasphemy was hard to handle and hear right after his deconversion. And I think he’s right. One of our lovely commenters noted a while ago (Charles?) that some of the language we experienced ex-Christians use can feel a little brash and jangly to a fresh deconvert. It takes time to lose those old ingrained habits of veneration and respect for Christian tropes and idols. But learning that lesson is invaluable because as we make that journey we learn what actually deserves our veneration and respect–and we learn the even more invaluable lesson about the sheer power of mockery. If you’re recently starting out on this highway you’ll want to see this post.

Boys Can’t Be Girls … Transitions in Transgender Acceptance – RR’s leader Sarah Morehead talks about how she explained transgender people to her kids and how she herself evolved in understanding, moving from the traditional-Christian party line to grow into a mindset that is a lot more compassionate and loving.

I Kept Calm, but I was Definitely Offended – Teresa MacBain’s reaction, as an ex-minister, to a post by our friend Deanna over at Godless in Dixie about narcissistic preachers. I can easily guess that post ruffled some feathers and really liked how Teresa deconstructed her reactions. The process she used to examine her feelings and resolve them could apply to a lot of other situations. Lots of growth and beautiful introspection in this–definite recommend.

English: The daughters of Empress Theodora bei...

English: The daughters of Empress Theodora being instructed in the veneration of the icons by their grandmother Theoktiste. Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 44v, detail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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(Not) His Personal Army.

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89

Photo taken at the 41st Emmy Awards 9/17/89 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). God’s very favorite used-car salesperson.

Sometimes it feels like it’s just too easy to run a blog that pokes fun at religion, but here we are. Kirk Cameron recently released a terrible, awful movie called Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas, and no, I have no idea if the apostrophe is meant to be a possessive or a contraction or what (though I’ll note that either interpretation makes the movie’s title even more terrible in a slightly different way). The movie centers around how Christians can totally reconcile greed, consumerism, gluttony, and showy displays of wealth with the true meaning of Christmas, something we’ll talk about soon enough. Needless to say, this pile of horseshit is doing poorly in reviews–over on Rotten Tomatoes it’s running 8% critic approval and 44% audience approval, which is just shocking; if you don’t know why it is such a surprising number, then hop in the car with me because we’ll be driving past that point. As with other shitty Christian movies, a number of the reviews of it I’ve read have been written by actual Christians who still bristled at how objectively inept the movie is in every single respect.

(If you’re wondering, Metacritic reviews aren’t considerably more favorable, and users there have given it a 0/10 rating. But it might take right-wing Christians a bit more time to figure out that Metacritic exists. This realization will probably come along about two weeks before the site closes for good.)

Apparently Kirk Cameron has decided to take the negative reception his movie’s gotten as a sign that he is being persecuted. Of course. What else could he do? And his response is to try to game the entire movie-review system. Yes, he’s asking his fans–all three of them–to go to RT to upvote his movie to give it a better score.

Interestingly, Kirk Cameron didn’t actually want to make a better movie. There’s a very good reason why these movies are such juvenile and stultifying affairs; not only can their creators not get anybody decent signed up to work on them, but there’s just not a lot of risk-taking or artistry in Christian media anyway. These movies are pretty much of a muchness and making them runs along predictable lines. Here’s how you make a Christian movie nowadays:

1. Assume the audience watches a boatload of Fox News and shares all of those right-wing talking-points.

2. Sell an overly self-serving, ego-gratifying, or fearmongering message that will resonate with first-world Christians who all secretly think they are a totally persecuted minority but who also feel completely entitled to run the whole country and every American’s private life. The story need not be realistic; the target audience doesn’t want realism anyway.

3. Make a totally awful movie that is objectively and in every single identifiable way a third-rate product. There are books and educational materials out there that tell people how to make a halfway competent movie; read these, then ignore everything they have to say.

4. Complain bitterly when reviews are really negative and blame the liberal Hollywood establishment for just being all biased and hate-filled toward anything that’s good and morally pure. They’re just jealous, and possibly demon-possessed to boot.

5. Watch as your movie’s fans Zerg-rush the comments of all negative reviews to accuse their writers of being atheists who are angry at “God.” (PS: Enter the term “Zerg rush” into Google for a fun Easter egg! I found it totally by accident just now.)

6. PROFIT. And you probably will profit as long as the movie’s title is out-there Christian enough (which will get Christians’ attention and make their Facebook walls look pretty) and it’s a pandering-enough message. These movies are pretty cheap to make but the ones that fit that bill tend to make back many times their cost.

A "four pool" zergling rush against ...

A “four pool” zergling rush against a zerg AI opponent in StarCraft, who has not yet built a Spawning Pool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Yeah, about like this.

The thing is, normally you don’t have movie-makers instructing their fans to go Zerg-rush negative reviews. Christians are usually totally happy to go do that one themselves. Kirk Cameron has definitely crossed a Rubicon here by making that move.

The problem is, the results really are predictable. Right-wing Christians, like other deluded sorts of folks, don’t function well in environments where they don’t get to control all the variables. Remember “I am a Republican”? How about when professional snake-oil peddler Dr. Oz had his similarly backfiring social-media experiment? Or the recent one with Bill Cosby or the older but equally hilarious failed thing Robin Thicke tried to do? Or the really disgusting awful bigoted thing the Duggars did recently where they invited people to share their wedding kisses–but deleted the photos shared by couples they didn’t like, like same-sex couples?

It’s like they say this stuff and don’t even think that maybe, just maybe people will be listening who don’t agree with them, and then act shocked that those people don’t feel compelled to dance the exact same way these Christians want to dance. What we need here is a new meme about Christians not being someone’s personal army. But I don’t know if it’d do any good because the Christians who are doing this stuff aren’t exactly well-known for listening to anybody but themselves.

But there’s a bright side to this story–well, besides the simple and timeless message of “bullies and liars get what’s coming to them sometimes.” Would you like to know what one of the most certain signs there could possibly be of Christianity’s fading dominance?

It’d be this story about Kirk Cameron’s failed attempt to game Rotten Tomatoes’ review system. It’d be what happened when these sheeps’ fleecer told them to go make RT accounts to inflate his movie’s score so people would be fooled into seeing it (just like Jesus would have done, I’m sure).

Here’s the viewer ratings done as a result of his heartfelt goofy, hurr-durr-durr Jesus-smile-festooned plea. You’ll notice that almost all of them are negative. But look at the dates. Kirk Cameron made his plea on November 21. Now go look at how many RT member reviews were done before that: just one that I could find. Now look at how many got done after the 21st. Go ahead. It’s awesome. Here’s a screencap of just the bottom of the first page.

Cameron_Reviews

And it just gets better from there. As of this writing, if you look at the user-made reviews of this movie, what you will see are 116 pages of almost entirely negative member reviews. Now, some–maybe even a lot–of these are clearly done by people who didn’t see the movie, which I think applies to both the glowing and the condemning reviews. There probably haven’t been that many people who’ve seen this movie. By contrast, if you check out the similar user-reviews of the similarly awful Ouija, which came out a solid three weeks before Mr. Cameron’s bag of flaming dog doo, you’ll notice right away that the reviews are not only a lot more nuanced (with many reviews falling into two or three stars rather than the completely polarized 1-5 split that Saving Christmas got), but a lot more sparse; it’s only got 28 pages versus the other movie’s 116 pages and a 30% overall user rating. And almost all of them look like they were written by people who like the horror genre and more importantly who sound like they actually saw the movie.

If we keep ourselves to Christian dreck, though, we see that God’s Not Dead, that Kevin Sorbo howler about Creationism and philosophy, has been out since March and has garnered 132 pages of user reviews in its 8 months of animated-corpse existence and an 81% positive user rating as well as way more considered and lengthy comments than Mr. Cameron’s movie, I notice, probably because their authors weren’t told by a washed-up ex-teen-idol to go write shill reviews. The disgraced Dinesh D’Souza’s movie America: Imagine The World Without Her came out in mid-October and has 75 pages of comments and reviews and an 87% user rating, and also much lengthier comments.

When I look at these facts, I come away thinking a few things: first, that Kirk Cameron has a lot more fans than I imagined he has, but not as many as he imagines he has. I don’t know who in the world still thinks he’s a reputable source for scientific knowledge or spiritual insights, but if we charted them on a Venn diagram the circles for them and Fox News viewers would probably be damned near juxtaposed. Second, his fans do exactly what they are told to do. (Don’t you suddenly wonder how many of these exact same people were the fleeced-sheep who dutifully did the texting thing at the end of God’s Not Dead?) The problem–for him, at least–is that however many his fans are, his anti-fans (is there a word for that?) way outnumber them.

I’m not sure Kirk Cameron actually even realized that non-fans would see his plea and feel moved to go say something about the movie. It’s a little weird he didn’t think of that. It’s not like heathens and skeptics don’t show up regularly to his websites to engage him–oh, never mind, he apparently blocks and bans people who openly question him too much on his own social media pages. (I wish I could say that’s surprising.) So maybe he really didn’t realize that he’s not quite as popular as he imagines he is or that his movie isn’t quite as good as he thinks it is.

I know we’re supposed to talk about Thanksgiving and thankfulness and whatnot next, but I’d really like to talk more about that thing we touched on earlier here about how this movie seems like its entire goal is to give toxic Christians an excuse to be greedy, opportunistic, ostentatious shitbags around the holidays. I’ve noticed that these sorts of Christians especially have devised all sorts of ways to get around the explicit commandments that Jesus is supposed to have handed them, and we’ll be covering a few of ‘em. Please do join me next time.

PS: You folks are the best, hands down. I can’t tell you how much I love that y’all get me and my cussing and loopy 80s references and consta-stream of 25-cent words. And you let me talk as long as I need to talk about stuff. You really are what make me come to my keyboard every other day and do what I do. And I’m thankful that we’ve found each other.

 

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If I Can Do It, So Can You. Right?

Here’s the latest post I’ve done for Recovering from Religion: So Much For Never Getting More Than You Can Handle.

A woman thinking

A woman thinking (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve talked before about this incident, but I think it was time to revisit it and talk a little more about one of the major aspects of it that Wayne and I encountered. I know not all Christians subscribe to the idea that their god never gives them more than they can handle, but the simple truth is that most Christians do.

And this thinking is not only demonstrably wrong but can be downright dangerous.

When someone commits suicide, this thinking is what keeps Christians from showing compassion for the person who lost that monstrous fight.

When someone suffering from a terminal disease chooses death with dignity, this thinking is what keeps Christians from minding their own goddamned business and letting that person decide how much is enough to endure.

When someone commits a crime–be it a financial misdeed or whatever else–this thinking is what keeps Christians from seriously engaging with the motivations that led that person to that crime.

When someone suffers a mental illness, this thinking is what keeps Christians from compassion, sympathy, or even rational thinking regarding medications and effective therapy.

But this thinking isn’t just restricted to Christians by a long shot. When you hear someone saying that if they can do something so can anybody else, that’s the kind of thinking on display: this conviction that someone knows better than another person what that other person can and cannot endure. That’s the kind of thinking that leads someone to try to control another person or dictate that person’s life choices–or invalidate someone’s experiences or choices. “You could have done this better” is a powerful tool to use to negate somebody. “You should have just endured more.”

The person suffering gets told to just “man up.” “Suck it up and drive on.” Just handle it. Just use some willpower. Just tell the street-harasser honestly that you’re not interested. Just forego the junk food. Just ignore the depression. Just pray to become straight. Just do this, just do that. The people saying this shit say it like it’s the first time, the very first time!, that anybody has ever thought of this stuff and like the person they’re addressing never once ever thought of trying that.

And oh it gets worse; the implication here is that the person giving this sage advice did that and it totally worked like aces so we should all just do it this way and we’ll have the same exact result.

How insulting!

We beat ourselves up with this thinking too. “We should have just been able to handle this problem,” we tell ourselves when our world crashes around our ears. “We shouldn’t have succumbed to that temptation.”

It’s not true, and it just makes the stress worse. That’s why that meta-study about prayer that I mentioned recently found that some people who knew they were getting prayed for actually did worse than people who either didn’t know or hadn’t been the recipients of prayer. I’m betting the people who got prayed over thought they should have been improving more than they actually were, and when they didn’t improve more, it devastated them.

In the same way, when I was Christian of course I had setbacks and stresses like anybody else (almost as if there was no god preventing me from having them!). Knowing that I should have been able to handle those stresses without freaking out, losing my temper, or committing a sin of some sort just made those stresses worse. Clearly I was doing something wrong–but I didn’t know what. And every time I heard about a suicide or someone who’d had a major stress episode or whatever, it made me wonder why that person had gotten more than they could handle–and how that person had known that it was too much.

Christianity, as a religion, as a whole, tends to push the idea that someone always knows us better than we know ourselves. The concept of “dictating someone’s experiences” isn’t unique to the religion, but it’s almost impossible to run into a really toxic Christian who doesn’t do this with every breath. It can be a real challenge for ex-Christians, once we’ve left the religion, to disentangle ourselves from that bad habit.

And I know it might really challenge Christians to know that why yes, actually, their “god” regularly seems to give people more than they can handle–that really bites hard into the entire myth of Boyfriend!Jesus, the loving father-god who just wants his followers to be blissfully happy, luxuriantly healthy, self-actualized, romantically-attached, and wealthy. When someone doesn’t show those attributes, many Christians will assume that their peer is doing something wrong, or sinning somehow. But stress is a reality of the human condition.

Moving away from the myths might be painful at first, but in reality we really are on our own here and sometimes we do get more than we can handle. That’s why I say we’re all in this thing together: when that happens, when we realize that there’s more there than we can handle alone, there are resources out there for us to reach out for, and people out there who will stop whatever they’re doing to help us get through those patches.

There really isn’t anything that we’re truly alone in facing. Someone, somewhere, has our back.

About the only mistake a suffering person can make is thinking that this someone is a god.

Posted in Religion, The Games We Play, Theology | Tagged , | 5 Comments

When Is It Wrong? (Never.)

Hi, y’all! Are you getting ready for my favorite holiday of the entire year? We will be having an open recipe thread on Turkey Day, so feel free to hang out with us and share any recipes you especially love (and if you’re one of those sorts who will take your favorite recipe with you to the grave, don’t take this the wrong way or nothin’, but I can’t help judging you). Today we’re going to talk about the biggest problem there is with supernatural claims: the fact that they are specifically built and structured to be impossible to prove wrong.

English: Lodge and entrance at Braehead House ...

English: Lodge and entrance at Braehead House in South Lanarkshire A Divine healing service is held each week in Braehead House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not long ago we talked about a Christian who had a habit of faking serious diseases and injuries over in Australia, and I briefly touched on the fact that various Christians around Mike Guglielmucci had had visions and prophecies that they thought were from their god–telling them privileged information about his rapidly-advancing cancer and foretelling his divine healing from it. Their church culture–like that of most Christian denominations–definitively believed in the idea of divine healing as well as visions and prophecies. That friend I mentioned last time, John, who was a youth group member under “Pastor Mike’s” care, told me that a number of people in that church reported having had these visions all through the two years that the charismatic youth pastor claimed he had cancer. (PS: WTF is it with youth pastors? This is like the umpteenth one we’ve talked about on this blog!)

The problem, of course, is that there was no cancer in the first place, much less a need for divine healing from cancer. So these visions and prophecies were clearly in the wrong. (A “vision” is just an observation about something that hopefully couldn’t be obtained any other way, like watching a supernatural television show; a “prophecy” is a prediction about something that will happen.) Either the divine being providing these supernatural visions and prophecies had been fooled by Mike Guglielmucci, or else the people who claimed to have received them had totally misinterpreted something. (There’s a third option, of course, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.)

But visions and prophecies have been around in Christianity for as long as there’s been Christianity. Most religions provide some method of communicating with the spiritual world and interpreting its words back to this world. The exact mechanism might vary, but the general idea remains the same. Even people who aren’t terribly spiritual otherwise might get into things like reading their horoscope in the paper every morning–an activity so mundane by now that it barely even counts as sinful anymore to most Christians. I suspect there’s just something about us humans that makes us want to think we have some kind of mystic help available to us. I don’t think it even occurs to the people using Ouija boards or watching medium shows that the “spirits” might be lying to or teasing us; their truthfulness is taken as a matter of fact.

Religions that existed when Christianity got rolling weren’t any different in this respect. Here’s a reference to a pagan goddess who never failed to give her adherents mystic visions during sleep. Here’s a bucketload of citations about other gods who gave visions and prophetic dreams to people. When Paul discusses in his letters the vision that converted him, he isn’t talking about anything unusual at all to people of the time.

When I was Christian, one of the things that really jump-started my journey right out of Christianity was the death from brain cancer of my church’s co-pastor. Daniel was in his early 40s and had married the daughter of the older pastor a few years previously, and when the older pastor began getting on in years Daniel was invited to help lead the church to lessen the burden. Not a year later he began having seriously bad migraines and that’s when he–and we–discovered he had that especially awful form of brain cancer that gave him less than a year to live.

Naturally, the Christian Prayer Machine leaped into action. I really don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that our older pastor was one of our denomination’s biggest names; apparently he’d helped found the whole thing. Our church considered itself to be one of the centers of the denomination as well and was one of the largest in terms of membership. So Daniel–being the son-in-law of that pastor and co-pastor of that church–very likely had tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of Christians praying very earnestly for him.

Of course, I was one of them. I prayed till I wept many times for his healing at the direction of our older pastor. And in church services, when we had prophecies in tongues, inevitably those prophecies would involve Daniel being healed. We were told repeatedly to expect this healing. We were told to demand it through a process called “claiming,” which means exactly the same thing as claiming your coat from a nice restaurant’s coat-check room, and we were told to live our lives as if it had already happened because in “god’s” time it already had. People repeatedly had visions of seeing Daniel happy and healthy again, too, and shared these visions like Magic: The Gathering collectible cards.

For people who haven’t ever tangled with fundamentalism, here’s what “prophecies in tongues” means. During a lull in an especially rowdy church service, someone stands up and yells very loudly in “tongues”, typically a ROSHANDA-LOSHANDA sort of outburst that is supposed to sound vaguely Arabic or Hebrew (at least as far as a monoglot uneducated middle-aged xenophobic American fundamentalist thinks it’d sound), then sits down again feeling very smug indeed. Then everybody fidgets and wonders who’ll interpret it, because a prophecy always has to have a translation or else it’s just “of the flesh” which is really bad. Finally someone will stand up–in fact several people might, but only one gets to be the Cool Kid of the moment–with the “translation” to the initial outburst. The “translation” is supposed to be the direct words of Jesus, but in actuality it’s usually just generic rah-rah like “My hand is upon you right now” or “Everybody start looking busy because the boss is coming back any day now” or something, and then everybody celebrates having been touched by the supernatural attention of a god.

And these sorts of outbursts, which were always fairly common, suddenly began happening all the danged time in that church. I’m not even kidding. For months we had people talking about having had visions of his healing and we were getting prophecies about how that cancer would be found to be in remission any moment and it’d be this huge, momentous healing and miracle and everybody around the world would hear about it and know the glory of the Lord.

Daniel, of course, died miserably and painfully anyway–and considerably earlier than he’d been told to expect.

That left the whole church just reeling. I was especially struck hard by it. I’d always liked Daniel and his family was pretty nice too. I had very little experience with someone close to me dying–Biff’s mother had died shortly before our wedding, but she hadn’t been a particularly strong Christian whose death had been preceded by months of prophecies about her magic escape from death. It’s not that Daniel had ever been super close to me, but he’d been our pastor, and our churches tended to be really emotionally invested in our leaders. But one of the hardest things about his death really was that I kept remembering all those visions and prophecies and how they had not come true at all.

Typically, when a Christian starts edging too close to the truth, there are legions of rationalizations and apologetics tricks to keep that person from seeing it. Most ex-Christians (and Christians too, if they’re being honest) are very familiar with the “yes/no/maybe” rationalization about prayer but there are many, many others. God had answered–he just hadn’t said yes. Or he had said “not yet.” Or his answer was yes but it wasn’t the yes we’d expected. Or the request hadn’t been his will in the first place. If nothing else, an inventive Christian can blame the person doing the praying for praying “in the flesh” (which means praying with an ulterior motive of some kind, like pride), which would have instantly nullified whatever that Christian might have gotten otherwise. During the months after Daniel’s death I even heard the failure of all these prayers and prophecies blamed on there having been someone having a smidgen of doubt somewhere in our churches somewhere in the world, and that tiny bit of doubt had totally stymied our omnipotent god’s healing power. One person out of hundreds of thousands of Christians who had even one tiny iota of skepticism was enough to do the trick to block his will and might, apparently.

Every one of these rationalizations is meant to soothe Christians who have come face to face with the fact that prayer in the real world does not operate even one little bit like the Bible says it should. The only way to arrive at these rationalizations is to ignore the Bible’s repeated and explicit promises about prayer, which was a little weird for me to realize given that I belonged to a fundamentalist church that said it fully believed that the Bible was 100% right about 100% of its words.

What my church was doing in the wake of Daniel’s death was nothing but rationalization to explain why all those prophecies and visions had been totally wrong.

What we were doing with all of these rationalizations was coming up with ways to make those visions and prophecies totally non-falsifiable.

I didn’t know what falsification was for quite a while, so maybe you don’t either. It’s the process of working out the conditions under which a statement is shown to be false. Pretty simple, right? A claim needs not only the conditions under which it can be shown to be true, but also the conditions under which it could be shown to be false. For example, if I said that it was raining outside my house, then the falsification of that statement would be if someone in my house looked out the window and saw that it was not in fact raining outside the window. Without that way to falsify what I was claiming, there wouldn’t be a way to test that statement at all to know if it was true–no way to “rightly divide the truth,” as the saying goes.

And Christians really don’t like any attempt to create a method of falsifying what they think is from the divine. I sure didn’t, I realized then, and I knew even then why I didn’t: I was pretty sure that any real attempt to to test what I thought was divine communication might well show that it wasn’t divine at all. There really wasn’t anything at all in the religion that could be credibly demonstrated to be false, so that meant there really wasn’t anything in it that could be credibly demonstrated to be true, either.

That’s why most of these visions and prophecies hedged their bets so much. When someone says “Daniel will be healed of brain cancer,” just like “the Rapture will happen on such-and-so date,” that sets up a condition that could be definitively tested. If Daniel died of brain cancer or the Rapture date came and went, then obviously the prophecies about those events were failures. Not a single one of these prophecies I ever heard as a Christian (or for that matter since my deconversion) actually gave knowledge that could not have been gotten otherwise or foretold an event that any fool couldn’t have seen was going to happen anyway. That’s why almost all of these prophecies were just exhortations or general warnings to behave ourselves. The second one got given that could be falsified, well, it got shown to be false.

Indeed there are not many falsifiable claims Christianity makes. The Bible promises huge miracles upon demand, but in the modern day Christians don’t take that very seriously–because time has taught them that miracles don’t really happen at all, much less as a result of prayer. Studies that get done of prayer show that it doesn’t do anything tangible at all–or even hurts the people being prayed for, which I guess is good since most of these prayers aren’t exactly taking advantage of the Red Bat-Phone to God that Christians say they have. Some of the most heartbreaking stories to come out of Christendom involve Christians taking those promises too seriously.

But I don’t even know of any similar studies about visions and prophecies. Wouldn’t you think that Christians–especially the really gung-ho ones that think their religion has reams of proof for itself–would be the first people in line to study whether or not visions and prophecies really happen? Wouldn’t you think that they’d be downright eager to see actual credible peer-reviewed objective evidence that they really are getting word from a supernatural realm?

I’d say “you’d be wrong,” except the question isn’t even being asked. You and I both know that Christians are not in fact lining up or eager to see this claim tested. It’s actually the last thing they want to do, right behind throwing orgies in the sanctuary every Wednesday. Every one of them skirts away from the idea of testing these “divine” visions. Not one of them wants to seriously look at how many of these “divine” prophecies–of the few that really get specific enough to test at all, remember–really turn out as promised.

And I think that this fear of falsification pervades most of Christianity and teaches Christians not to trust their perceptions and observations when it comes to evaluating truth claims. When a Christian claims that he or she is behaving lovingly, then nobody is allowed to assess that person’s behavior or say that what is going on here isn’t loving at all. When a Christian claims that he or she has had some hugely miraculous experience, nobody’s allowed to ask probing questions about whether that experience was really divine or a lie or just a trick of the light. Just asking for that evidence is considered rude and gauche as hell–and the implication is that the person asking for that evidence doesn’t have much faith. Christian culture has become built around never asking questions and never asking for proof of anything–and its members bitterly resist any tests at all of their various and many claims.

As it stands, when a vision or prophecy gets received by a Christian, there are few ways at all to tell if it’s a divine thing or just an over-active imagination–which you might notice is exactly the case as well with anything supernatural. When I was Christian, every single person I knew in church including myself got regular word from what we thought was a god–but which turned out in the end to be just our own over-active imaginations. Biff had been told repeatedly by “God” that we were going to get stinking filthy rich in Japan–and of course we failed even to procure full-time employment; numerous people thought that “God” had told them that Biff and I were meant to be married and would have a great marriage and lots of kids together–and obviously the marriage disintegrated amid huge awful drama and there were no children at all. I’ve had a couple of male friends who thought they’d gotten visions of themselves married to me–which obviously didn’t materialize.

When I look back at it all I get angry at the mistakes I made thinking I was doing a god’s will. Opportunities wasted or mistaken; relationships begun or ended between people who had no business doing either; tons of decisions made on the stupidest grounds imaginable that turned out to be utterly disastrous. This Christian conceptualization of supernatural communication certainly has a lot of collateral damage strewing the ground in its wake, but still the religion’s leaders encourage this nonsensical thinking among their followers. One can see why. Even the most well-meaning of leaders stands to benefit from followers who don’t exactly apply a lot of critical thinking to their decision-making process, and the most evil-meaning of leaders stand to benefit most of all. The only question I’d have is whether it was done deliberately or whether the stripping of critical-thinking skills from Christians was just a happy by-product of the religion’s indoctrination process.

Back then, when I realized that I was scared to test things I thought were divine, of course I began testing them. I didn’t think my faith had anything to fear from an honest examination. Indeed, Christians are told to test things to prove or disprove them, from Doubting Thomas all the way to the Pauline letters–except when it comes to proving or disproving anything, in which case Christians are told to shut up and believe anyway because evidence is for people who don’t have enough faith and Christians shouldn’t care about it anyway. Meanwhile they leap onto any half-shred of semi-maybe-plausible fake “evidence” for this or that super-minor claim like white on rice (as in all of “Biblical Archaeology,” which arrives at half-baked conclusions entirely independently of any actual real archaeological methods to demonstrate preconceived doctrinal points) and ignore the bigger tests they could be making of their claims.

What are we to make of all of these failed visions and prophecies? Do we imagine that all these Christians are just hearing their god’s voice wrong? In the Bible, Jesus is supposed to have said that his followers will always know their master’s voice. But obviously quite often those followers get his voice totally wrong. Are they, therefore, not really his followers? Because if so, then every Christian alive is not really his follower–and if that’s the case then I can’t imagine that this religion is anything but the dickest of all dick moves on the part of its dick of a deity.

Or, of course, we could start skirting and edging closer and closer to the rim of the abyss itself, crane our necks to sneak a frightened peek into its depths, and start thinking that there’s no such thing as a divinely-granted vision or prophecy.

And that’s exactly what I ended up thinking.

It’s almost funny by now how many Christians I’ve run into who’ve thought they’re getting some kind of divine word about me as a person, what happened to make me deconvert, or what it’d take to make me reconvert. I’m serious, it happens all the time; when I was Christian we called this kind of cold reading a divine miracle and thought it was a god spoon-feeding us information to help witness to people. I’m a lot more experienced now, though, and forced to think either they’re egomaniacs or that their god is a twit.

Now when I hear a Christian claim to have had visions or prophecies from their “God,” the first thing I look for is whether or not there’s a fail condition built into the supposedly-divine statement. If there isn’t, I give it about as much credence as I give the horoscope in the newspaper. If there is, then I make a mental note to see whether or not it turns out to be true. It never does though.

I’m open to the idea of visions and prophecies, but it seems strange that in thousands of years, not a single one of these has turned out to be anything but rah-rah, vague could-be-anything announcements, after-the-fact hindsight, stuff anybody could guess, urban legends, or flat-out false. And with every single false prediction and false vision that comes and goes, the chance of any of them being supernatural in origin gets lower and lower. I think it’d be totally neat to be able to talk to another universe. I just don’t think anybody so far has figured out how to do it–if it’s possible at all.

And you know what? I think maybe it’s better that way.

I’d rather we be on our own than think that it’s this damned hard to get a straight answer out of a being who could supposedly help us but just doesn’t. Instead of wasting time trying to talk to this being, we could use our time a lot more constructively. Like learning to make a really good, smooth chocolate ganache. Or playing a video game. Or learning a language. Or looking at kitten pictures on Imgur. Or having sex with someone who likes us. There are literally millions of things we could do that use our limited time on this planet more effectively than wasting time worrying about how to communicate with supernatural entities we don’t even know for sure exist. If we ever do figure that out, I’ll revisit this opinion, but for now it seems like I’m on solid ground!

So this Thanksgiving week, let me kick this thing off by saying this:

I’m thankful that visions and prophecies aren’t really real because that makes humanity responsible for itself and able to use critical thinking to evaluate truth claims.

Posted in Biography, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Unequally Yoked Club: Second Fiddle.

Today I read a downright heartbreaking post (that now seems to have disappeared, alas, sorry gang) (re-ETA: see comments, someone found it again!) about an ex-Christian man who is rightfully upset that his significant other is getting more and more involved in religion. It was called “I Won’t Play Second Fiddle to Religion,” and it made me want to talk a little bit about how that felt for me as well.

Christian views on Hell

Christian views on Hell (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Not shown: Marriage.

A “second fiddle” is a romantic term that means a person who takes a back seat to another person or obsession. When you’re a second fiddle, that means a first fiddle is more important–that the target of your affections cares much more about someone or something else, and that your needs and desires will always take second place. The target of your affections will always make that clear either implicitly or explicitly.

In this case, the target of the writer’s affections is a woman who puts religion way above her husband in terms of how much time and energy she gives it. He senses as well that if he gives her an ultimatum (“me or church”), she might well choose church over him and end the relationship. And he is definitely not the first nor the last ex-Christian to be put into that kind of a bind.

In most flavors of Christianity, marriage is supposed to be centered around religion. The two participants both agree that the most important thing to them is their religious sentiment, and they both agree that they will allow their partner to put religion over each other in every single particular. “Jesus first, spouse next, me last” is the formula you’ll hear repeated over and over again like a magic incantation. It’s not workable, of course. Human pride will eventually be stung at getting treated like a doormat or second citizen, and Christianity doesn’t respect or encourage the formation of healthy boundaries so inevitably one partner will get treated that way. That stung pride inevitably breeds contempt. Love can’t exist where that sort of contempt dwells. But Christians have been getting that nonsense drilled into their heads for generations by now, to the point where a great many of them don’t have the faintest idea how to conduct a marriage without that mantra. It sounds very Jesus-fied and sanctimonious so questioning it is all but impossible.

Indeed, one blogger even says that if a person refuses to put religion first in a marriage, why then that person “is a stranger to the cross”. Imagine that! And talk about idolatry! Not buying into this belief means someone isn’t even really Christian, to that guy! And he’s not anywhere near the only one saying stuff like this. Hell, he’s not even the most extreme example I could possibly cite; I chose that link because it’s about the most representative of the lot. This is stuff I heard through my entire time in Christianity, and stuff I’ve been hearing Christians say for over twenty years since deconverting.

As an added bonus, do you want to guess how long that blogger has been married, according to his wife’s page?

About eighteen months.

Yep, we have us another newlywed Christian husband here telling the whole world all about how to be married the right way. He’s apparently a minister of some sort, but even so I wonder how long that insistence is going to last in the face of reality. This bizarre insistence really is one of the most toxic aspects there is to modern Christianity, and it’s got to sound downright insane to ears that have never had the dubious pleasure of hearing Christianese. That insistence means that if one person starts going way overboard with church attendance and activities involvement, the other person isn’t really allowed to say much about it. Ideally, both partners will be involved with church a lot, but not so much that they’re not paying enough attention to their spouses. They will be a very visible couple at church, but people won’t be wondering when they ever find time to say anything to each other every morning over their cornflakes.

It can be hard to find that “sweet spot” of involvement even when both spouses are totally on board with this illusion. Resources abound to help spouses find a good balance. One site openly discusses the feeling of tension that results from being out of balance, while another admits that even ministers aren’t quite sure where that balance might lie.

Because so much of the religious worldview of Christians is subjective and not subject to falsification, it can be hard to teach people how much involvement is too much. Married Christians share story after story, as “Rose” does on this link, about losing and endangering their marriages over their excessive church involvement. Many Christians have internalized the notion that their church involvement is their religion in a lot of ways, and that can be heartbreaking to a non-believing spouse who doesn’t want to dictate someone’s religious feelings but does want to feel special and important to their believing spouse.

Before I deconverted, I was married to a lay preacher who wanted to go into full-time ministry. Because Biff was not a “made man”–he had not attended the right Bible College, did not belong to any of the scions’ families in our denomination, and had not even married into any of the big name pastors’ families–he had to work extra-hard to prove himself worthy of a ministerial position. (Looking back on it now, I’m surprised that he really thought he’d make it big–getting into a cushy pastor job in that denomination was as impossible for a man of his circumstances as becoming a big Mafia name would be for a non-Italian man!) He was extremely busy with church activities. And for a while, so was I. When we moved from our huge church to a much smaller planted church, I ended up feeling obligated to start helping out. There were only a few families in that whole church so it was a lot more obvious when someone didn’t volunteer in some way. I couldn’t sing for beans and I couldn’t play any instruments, and we all already picked up and cleaned the church every week–so I got roped into teaching Sunday School. You can totally see me doing that, right? Yeah, it was absolutely awesome. The kids were lovely if noncommittal; of their parents, only their mom was totally thrilled about attending church.

After I deconverted, though, I couldn’t keep doing that with a clean conscience. Telling kids they were Hellbound for just, well, being kids–that felt like abuse to me. I pulled away from church and quit going altogether, which left Biff in a very uncomfortable position.

I could easily see why he got more involved at church after my deconversion. He got affirmation of his religious ideas from church that he simply didn’t get from me. He could lose himself in altar calls and bombastic preaching sessions and forget for a little while that his wife was going to Hell. Just as someone with a bad home life might get way into reading or playing video games to escape an unpleasant reality, he was using religion to self-medicate in a way, I think. I’m sure at the time he thought he was doing all this stuff to get his god to strong-arm me into believing again or something, but it’s hard to fathom how that was going to work given Christianity’s emphasis on a truly good, loving god-figure.

It took me a while to realize that I was being deliberately and ostentatiously excluded from his religious practice. A number of new practices for him emerged as part of his attempt to drag me back into religion with him. Let me stress: what I’m about to describe are things he only started doing after my deconversion. He’d pray in our bedroom closet but he’d do it so loudly that I’d clearly hear every word across the house. He’d have friends over from church who I didn’t know and have deep spiritual conversations with them in our living room–acting like I wasn’t even there at all, to the point where even the church friends felt uncomfortable with how he was shunning me. He got super-involved at church and then babbled to me constantly about every single tiny detail of every single “breakthrough” he had and every “miracle” he saw, just like any World of Warcraft addict bores people to tears blathering about their favorite character or the raid they did last Saturday. I’m still not sure totally what he was aiming for–maybe to make me long for those breakthroughs and that euphoria or joyous fellowship with fellow believers–but it backfired dramatically at every turn.

After a while, I began to think that he was doing at least some of these things for himself, not necessarily doing them at me. I began to think that his excessive religiosity was feeding some need of his.

Religiosity comes from somewhere. As societies grow more dysfunctional, they grow more religious. As societies grow more functional, they grow less religious. I don’t know if we’ve quite figured out which happens first–does the dysfunction decline first and then people need religion less? Or do people quit relying on religion and figure out how to get real answers for their problems? Whichever the case, that relationship between dysfunction and religiosity plays out on the personal stage as well as the national one. That’s why religions prey upon the sick, the elderly, the poor, and the marginalized like they do (except LGBTQ people of course, but I’m sure once Christians get over their terror of such folks they’ll be along in short order to capitalize on their feelings of stress and alienation). That’s also why just education doesn’t do much to eliminate religiosity. The core needs are still there, and until those are addressed, the religiosity doesn’t necessary just vanish into thin air once someone is presented with enough facts contradicting the existence of deities and supernatural stuff.

Religion provides its own sort of benefits and rewards. When someone’s getting way too into religion, that’s someone who isn’t those getting benefits and rewards anywhere else. Actual real rewards from somewhere else would feed those needs, but in absence of reality-based rewards, imaginary rewards work just as well for some people. And one of those rewards may well be the easing of personal stresses and worries and fears–such as those produced by a deconverted spouse.

Sometimes those stresses, worries, and fears can be so intense that all that stuff about a couple being one flesh goes right out the window and one person could very well start seeking solace elsewhere–like in the arms of religion. I’ve heard from a number of my ex-Christian friends who have mentioned that their significant others stepped up religious involvement or fervor after a deconversion, so I don’t think this development I saw in my own marriage was unique to me.

I was heartened to see someone on that link (the one with “Rose) encouraging married couples to put each other first. That is a very bold move considering church culture’s insistence on “putting Jesus first.” That steps quite against Christian culture and looks firmly to reality for advice on how to make marriage work.

Because let’s not mince words here: Christian culture is not reality, not even a tiny bit, and it is not where people should be looking for advice about marriage.

Christian ideas about marriage are unworkable. If Christians actually had considerably lower rates of divorce and domestic dysfunction that’d be one thing, but they totally do not. No, these worthless platitudes and mantras are just a vast social experiment done on the backs of ignorant, overly-trusting sheep, and that experiment has strewn the roadside with the bloated, rotting corpses of countless divorces and unhappy marriages.

And one of these days, the people who’ve borne the brunt of that experiment are going to ask some very hard questions of their leaders about why this experiment got done on them. Dogma is very fine and good for some folks, but it will never love anybody back like a spouse can. I have to wonder how many Christians lose their marriages over religion and look back years later and wonder why they were ever so stupid. Until then, second fiddles everywhere fret and worry and agonize over just where they stand in their spouses’ affections and esteem.

But hey. Nothing’s more Christian than hurting and destroying the person you swore to love and cherish till death do you part, now is it?

What better witness could there be to a lost soul?

Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments