Out of the Fullness of the Heart.

Well, those computer problems are totally worse than I’d initially thought (“so that’s what a crashed hard drive smells like!”), so I’m at that borrowed computer again to write–but glad to do it, because I noticed something yesterday that really bugged me: namely, how quickly “good people” seem to rush to make slurs and insults against marginalized people on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, or the like.

I admit: I totally don’t get how a culture that says it idolizes Jesus and is as sanctimoniously and dramatically religious as American culture is can possibly condone that kind of behavior. It seems to me that the Bible is generally pretty clear about how people should behave toward each other; though “love your neighbor as yourself” is neither unique to Christianity nor first thought up by Christian writers, it’s still a pretty good model for interaction. I still think that “the love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13, which many Christians use for their wedding ceremonies and then promptly forget exists, is one of the best descriptions of true love that I’ve ever heard outside of The Princess Bride. Two thousand years later, those ancient ideas still resonate: Love is patient. Love is kind. And just like that my eyes sting because I know that this is true, this is real, this is worth keeping.

Likewise, I like one of the New Testament’s other ideas, namely Luke 6:45: Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks. There can’t be sweet water flowing out of a bitter spring, or bitter waters flowing out of a sweet spring. Good words come out of a good person; when evil words come out of someone, that person is way less likely to be truly good. And when someone is pushed into anger or some other tongue-loosening state (“in vino veritas”), then we begin to see that person’s real and true self; the mask starts to slip a little bit.

Now, I’ve got no issue at all with profanity. I don’t regard profanity as being evil. I’m not calling people names based on their physical attributes or saying untrue things. I’m not using my words to wound innocent people or to hide wrongdoing. To me, how the word is used matters more than the word itself does. As an example, the concept of “hell” as eternal torment in a cosmology ruled by a supposedly loving god is what is truly evil, not saying the word “hell” when I’m mad at something. Some of the most hateful and virulently oppressive people I’ve ever encountered were people who refused even to use fake-cussing like “dang,” while one of the most progressive and enlightened people I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading is ex-metal-musician Henry Rollins, who isn’t exactly a person who fights by Marquess of Queensberry rules, and it sure seems like NFL player Chris Kluwe is heading that same delightfully spirited way.

This verse in Luke speaks to me because it encourages people to quit compartmentalizing and to look at ourselves as we truly are and not as how we’d like ourselves to be or what we say about ourselves. If someone use words to wound, to hide wrongdoing, to call someone nasty names, to lie, or any of those things, those are bitter waters flowing out of that person, and they flow out of a sick and diseased heart. I really think that the use of slurs is an example of tribalism, of separating people into groups of “us” versus “them” and making “them” sound as vile, weird, unpleasant, and inhuman as possible. The problem is that when we mistreat people that way, we tend to dislike them more and more, which feeds into future mistreatment of those people, and don’t you just have to wonder if that quirk of human thinking is maybe the reason why super-misogynistic Christian churches seem like they’re the worst offenders when it comes to mistreating women in their organizations?

So when I hear about stories like this gung-ho Republican man calling female political candidates all kinds of sexist slurs, or this one about a racist Florida resident opening her cross-adorned front door to shriek savage racist invectives at black children, or any of the times various Christians like pastor Mark Driscoll hiss anti-gay slurs against anybody who doesn’t conform to their ideas around gender roles, I think about that verse from Luke and what it means. The interesting thing here is that all of these people would be the first to say they’re not sexists, racists, or bigots–that’s why there’s a standard joke there about the racist mating call being “I’m not a racist but…”. How many of us have heard people chirp the most shockingly bigoted things and follow it up by saying that they actually “love” whatever group it is they’re insulting, demonizing, and dehumanizing?

Despite those protests, yes, an -ism is actually exactly what is being displayed in these situations. A racist is as a racist does, and so on and so forth. The use of demeaning language is an indicator light blinking over the head of someone who thinks that people in that class are well below him or her. And the person using this demeaning language is pulling out not only words that wound, but specifically is using the words that he or she knows will wound the most deeply. When you heard Mel Gibson a few years ago screaming at his babymama that he was sure that she’d get raped by black men because he thought she dressed too provocatively, you’ll notice that he used a variety of both vile sexist and shockingly racist slurs. He used the worst and nastiest words he could find, and I can’t help but think that he knew perfectly well that those words are the most hurtful there are to the people in those groups, just like he knew that even the threat of third-party rape is used to silence women and keep them compliant.

Mr. Gibson’s protests afterward that he’s not a racist or sexist rang completely hollow, because people who aren’t racist or sexist simply don’t need to attack people on the basis of their membership in those groups. Someone who isn’t a bigot doesn’t feel the need to single out that characteristic of a person to use in an attack on that person. It’s only someone who feels that blackness or femaleness or whatever is an inferior trait who would ever use those traits as part of a studied personal attack on someone. It doesn’t even matter if the target is actually part of the group being insulted or if the accusation isn’t actually technically an insult; I’ve personally heard feminist men get called the same epithets that feminist women receive, and just about every non-Christian has been called an atheist whether that person has expressed a lack of god-belief or not (and for that matter, I’ve frequently seen liberal Christians get accused of atheism). Bigots use what they hate most and what they think is most effective.

Indeed, feminist writers are very familiar with rape threats, sexist slurs, and demeaning speculations regarding their sexuality and appearance–all strategically deployed to wound them by misogynists who clearly feel that they are morally superior to women. I’d also say that most women by now know about “negging,” that practice popularized by pick-up artists who capitalize on many women’s body insecurities by insulting them in order to make them more receptive to the PUA’s advances. I must imagine that people of color and LGBTQ folks get similar attacks from bigots who hold a similarly lofty self-image, since the mechanics of privilege seem to function so similarly from one group to the next.

Slurs are part of the mechanics of privilege. Patriarchal types use sexist slurs; racists use racial slurs; ableists use words denigrating those with mental or physical differences; classists think that those who make less money are less worthy human beings than those who are wealthy. They are meant to remind the marginalized person of his or her Other status and to put that person back in place. And then if someone objects to the word’s use, then the excuses come streaming out: aw, you’re just too sensitive, you’re just too politically correct, oh you’re such a little Social Justice Warrior, you’re just too thin-skinned, all of them designed to make the target of the slur feel like the one who did something wrong and not the person who said the awful thing, all of them designed to normalize oppressive behavior and excuse it.

So when Paula Deen admitted that why yes she’d used some racial slurs against people of color, I heard people–especially Christians–get all baffled about why anybody would get upset about that. “It was a much earlier time,” I heard. “Everybody back then talked that way.” And I had to say that I was raised in the Deep South by a Southern mother and never heard anybody decent talk like that. And when I hear of a person getting angry and insulting people using similar slurs and insults, the overwhelming response from other prejudiced people is that everybody talks like that when they get mad, implying that gee whiz, haven’t we all been there, and I think more people need to say that no, actually, not everybody talks like that. Only prejudiced people do. I cuss like a sailor sometimes. And I still absolutely do not use that sort of language–because I care about not being “that guy.” It’s not about catering to thin-skinned people; it’s about not being an asshole and refusing to let bigots think that their behavior is normal at all or that people can do that kind of thing and still revel in the illusion of being good people.

That’s why calling out this type of hateful speech is important: because it puts a big question mark on how “normal” it really is. Just as rapists need to feel that rape is a perfectly normal thing for people to do, and just as people who commit domestic violence need to feel that domestic violence is a totally normal and common thing that people do, bigots need to feel like their words are words that anybody would use in situations of anger or impairment. When a behavior is seen as normal and typical, then someone’s going to have a harder time seeing the damage that it does and an easier time justifying his or her own participation in that behavior. I don’t seek to silence people, because I think it’s good when bigots out themselves that way and I find it useful to identify those people early, but I make my opinion clear when people use that language around me whether I was the target of the slur or not. Doing so might be uncomfortable for everybody involved in the short term, but can reap unexpected dividends, according to one study.

Even those who think they’re free of that kind of thinking have room to improve sometimes. When I began noticing how slurs can wound and dehumanize people, my personal challenge became moving away from using even socially-acceptable slurs. Even when I was obese, for example, I viewed obese people as inferior to lower-weight people. I had to grow past that thinking. The size of a given person is very rarely actually the issue, but I was taking the most offensive, the most damaging, the most destructive, the most hurtful word I could find and hurling it at that person as an attack. Obese people may well be one of the last socially-acceptable targets left in society, but that doesn’t make weight-based slurs okay. In the same way, words that denigrate mental illness or atypical functioning are slowing becoming unacceptable as well, and I think that it’s just amazing to see people start to become aware of how their language can ostracize and “other” people with those traits. Despite what Christians often say, I think humanity’s progressing and getting better, not worse!

The important thing is to keep moving forward and to keep learning and growing. We all make mistakes, but if we can learn from them and move on past them, that’s what’s most important. And if decent people speak up when slurs get used, this behavior will no longer be seen as something that “nice” people can engage in and still call themselves good people.

* Why Sexist Language matters
* Sexist Phrases We Need to Stop Using
* Your “Jokes” About Sexist Harassment
* On “Bitch” and Other Misogynistic Language

Posted in Religion, Feminism, Hypocrisy, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Oh Noes! What Would You Do?!?

I’m smack in the middle of a lot of computer issues lately, but I couldn’t help but carve out a few minutes to mention something I’ve been seeing among Christians of late in RL and in social media: asking non-believers “What would you do if you died and discovered that everything I’ve been saying is totally true?”

I’ve noticed this question half-a-dozen times on my Facebook feed alone in the last couple days–in both posts and shared memes–and non-Christian friends are also reporting hearing it. So let’s talk about it.

The blatant fearmongering behind this question is not new, of course; Christians have been using this tactic for many years, likely even before Blaise Pascal came up with the “wager” that bears his name. It’s a cheap and easy strategy that we’ve roundly criticized in this space already.

But the way this specific fearmongering is being deployed seems a little different to me. Instead of making a statement about the sucker bet that is Pascal’s Wager, the Christian is pushing the fear out to others by asking others to put themselves into a headspace where something absolutely not proven to be a danger is suddenly a danger. And for some reason it’s caught on in the Christosphere. Did Ray Comfort use it in a program or Ken Ham talk about it in a Creationism post or something? It’s a little weird how often I’ve been encountering it lately.

This question isn’t a whole lot different from asking “What would you do if you woke up one morning and the molecules of oxygen in your room had all become banana spiders?” Or “What would you do if you were giving a presentation and your clothes simply vanished in the middle of your speech?” It asks the other person to envision this weird surreal alternate universe where something completely ludicrous not only becomes plausible but actually happens.

Sometimes it’s a lot of fun to speculate about such a question. One of my favorite books in the whole world, Ariel, engages in exactly this speculation: what if people woke up one day and magic worked but almost all technology had just stopped working for whatever reason? What would someone do in that situation? What if unicorns and dragons were real?


Ariel is hardly the only book like that though. Twilight asks what would happen if vampires were real. The Hunger Games asks what would happen if society became so degenerate it actually accepted the idea of children hunting and killing each other for people’s amusement. In fantasy fiction, this kind of question can spark a whole series of books that grab people’s attention and make their minds flex and stretch.

In gaming, especially fantasy role-playing, this kind of speculation fuels many a great campaign. After a lifetime spent in gaming and around gamers, I strongly suspect that the dynamics of tabletop gaming especially lead many gamers to learn to be resourceful and quick-witted, which are qualities that serve us well in many areas of life. If I may digress a bit, I’m still very proud of one situation I resolved by thinking outside the box: I had a low-level mage (who really should have been nicknamed “Goo Smear” for her general resilience and sturdiness) who ran into a hippogriff on a random encounter. I only had very low-level spells, which aren’t usually very effective against ginormous, super-powerful beasts like hippogriffs. But I did remember that hippogriffs like eating horses, and the mage did have a little spell for summoning mounts. She cast it, a magical horse came to her, and the hippogriff decided that it looked tastier than my mage did. While the hippogriff chased the horse, the mage escaped. Okay, it wasn’t awesome for the magical horse, but the mage survived to fight again another day.

Vampires are not real. Baby unicorns won’t ever limp out of the underbrush and demand peppermint candies from anybody. Hopefully we’ll never live in the dystopian nightmare that Katniss inhabits. And even if hippogriffs existed, I would like to think that I wouldn’t subject even magical horses to their predation just to save my own skin. But when we suspend our disbelief and work with these scenarios, we’re busy learning how to think–how to apply ourselves–how to use whatever resources we have at hand to fix a problem–how to make strategies and work around contingencies.

And these fantasy situations become safe stand-ins for real-life situations. I’ll never have to fight a giant scorpion, but I have had to deal with a tire blowing out on me on the freeway. I’ve never discovered that my mercenary’s employer was trying to poison me, but I’ve had to deal with workplace harassment. Just as small children do, we wrestle with these fantasy problems and discover that the bare bone skeletons of the solutions we create work with a variety of real-world problems.

The question being asked of us by Christians, however, is not a question designed to spark actual knowledge or help us prepare mentally for situations that might not crop up in real life but which may resemble, at least in mechanics, situations that any one of us deals with in our everyday lives. It’s just meant to frighten us into considering their propositions. There’s only one answer to this question that is satisfactory to that Christian: humiliating despair and begging for mercy from the god suddenly unveiled and a sense of being “a sinner in the hands of an angry God,” as the old saying goes. It’s meant to make the target envision the Christian mythos as true for just a few minutes and contemplate what that means for eternity.

If we do engage by answering this question, then the Christian can feel exultant that he or she actually got non-believers to briefly consider the horrific nature of the Christian religion, though judging by the answers that these Christians get, I don’t think they’re really thinking this thing through. Only that one answer I mentioned is acceptable; trying to logic the god into relenting, saying flippant or angry things, or trying to make a case for having been a decent person in life, which are the main responses I’ve personally seen, don’t work, though really the only reason they don’t is that the Christian asking the question has a very specific scenario to railroad the target through. There’s no real reason why any of those things couldn’t work just as easily, but they don’t play into the Christian fantasy quite as well: this idea of the afterlife as a game show where the contestant just chose the wrong box (and where the Christian obviously chose the right one).

You get NOTHING!

If we don’t engage, of course, then the Christian accuses us of being close-minded and intellectually dishonest–funny, hmm? Worst of all, if we ask the question back at the Christian, as in “What if you died and discovered that none of this was true?” then the Christian gets to shrug and grin and say “Well, at least I lived a good moral life and all!” as if that’s the only conceivable “shortcoming” of living an evangelical Christian lifestyle.

Here’s why I’m not really impressed with this new tactic:

First, let’s remember that Christians have no evidence whatsoever that there’s even a supernatural world interfacing with this one. Not a single bit. Before they get into “What if you died and…” there’s a whole range of implications and suppositions in that question that they need to address. In order to engage with this question, then, one has to buy into a lot of unverified claims.

Second, the question assumes that the target of the question is discovering an afterlife that fits the conceptualization of the questioner. But there are millions of Christians in the world, tens of thousands of denominations, and thousands of non-Christian religions besides. They can’t all possibly be true. There’s no reason to think that this one take on the afterlife out of so many thousands of takes is the accurate one. Even if someone learned post-death that Christianity was true, which version of it are we talking about? Being a member of one church and subscribing to one doctrine may categorically push you out of eligibility for Heaven with all the others. It seems to me that there’s a much bigger chance, just going by numbers alone, that both the Christian and the person being served the question would discover after death that they are both equally wrong about what the afterlife looks like.

Third, if Christianity were true, then we wouldn’t need to wait until death to figure this out. Christianity makes a number of claims about how the world works and what people should reasonably expect to see and experience should its claims be true: prayer would work, miracles would be documented events, and so forth. There’s absolutely no way that there could be a “personal god” of the nature Christians insist exists and us not see evidence of that god everywhere around us in the real world. But we do not have that evidence anywhere–only the purely subjective, untestable sort that Christians now insist is “evidence.” Every time Christians make a truth claim that can actually be tested and we test it, it turns out to be objectively false. For Christianity to be true, then a whole lot of things about our current reality would have to look different. (And that’s why the entire field of apologetics even exists–Christians need to explain why reality doesn’t look a damned thing like their religion says it should.)

Of course, as with Pascal’s Wager, if the Christian addresses the flipside of that question, what if he or she died and discovered that only sweet oblivion or else some other religious reality awaited, then usually the serious costs of following that kind of Christianity–the kind comfortable with making such wild suppositions and asking such poorly-conceived questions of people to manipulate their fears–are not addressed. I remember being very uncomfortable with that question when it was asked of me when I was a Christian. In church sermons, preachers would often proactively talk about it and make being Christian sound like this jolly lark that anybody sensible would pursue even if they had reservations about the existence of the Christian god or weren’t sure about the validity of our fundamentalist denomination’s claims. Christians were living clean and moral lives and doing charity and being nice to people and all that, they said, so obviously even if it wasn’t true then living that way was a good thing for absolutely everybody. This was very much the party line response to the question. (And it is also the rationalization I’ve often heard for why fundagelicals are trying so hard to force everybody to live the way they think people should live.)

Even in my most fervent stage of belief I knew that this ringing endorsement was nothing but hollow words. Even then I knew I was missing out on a lot of fun times and opportunities, putting up with huge social injustices, alienating friends and loved ones, and generally keeping humanity from progressing into liberal ideas like LGBTQ rights and feminism by following this particular religion’s teachings. It seemed very clear to me even at the time that non-Christians were having a much easier time navigating this life than Christians tended to have, and that their life satisfaction seemed perfectly fine. And, too, I was learning that non-Christians could be moral people without a god’s command and–though I’d never have said this aloud–I was starting to suspect that I had no right whatsoever to tell other people how to live their lives even if they were doing things I didn’t personally approve of them doing.

No, I lived as a Christian and did Christian things because I was convinced at the time that this was what Jesus wanted. I wasn’t expecting to have a fun and awesome life following Jesus, though I hoped that my obedience would get me those things. If I’d been able to be honest when asked this question, my answer would have been “I’d be absolutely furious that I’d lived a lie my entire life.” Indeed, one night toward the tail end of my time as a Christian, a preacher answered his question with the party line, and I suddenly felt a prick of tears in my eyes as I realized what my own answer would look like if I were being honest with myself. I don’t mean to say that every single Christian who flippantly answers using the party line is being dishonest, but I do mean to say that any Christian who says that there is no downside to being one is either deceiving him- or herself or hasn’t thought about this thing very much (or is so progressive that such a question never be asked in the first place).

Ultimately, this question is asked in hopes that nobody will realize that it is a cover for a total lack of evidence. It’s a shame that Christians pony up such manipulations rather than produce some very good reason to believe what they believe. Any time I hear someone going for emotional manipulation rather than actual content, I start to wonder what’s really happening here. Fearmongering is not producing evidence. All this question is doing is trying to make a target scared. People make bad decisions when they’re acting from a place of fear and apprehension. Frightened people can be persuaded much more easily to make decisions that go against their best interests. (Hello, Republican Party of America!)

It’s strange that a religion based around love and forgiveness would need to do that to gain converts, but I don’t seriously think most of modern Christianity is about either one of those things anymore, if it ever was. That fearmongering is such a frequent strategy for toxic Christians speaks to their own lack of love: people tend to use methods of persuasion that are compelling to themselves. If someone’s using fear to motivate a target, then you can be sure that fear motivates that person as well.

As for my own answer to this question–“What would I do if I died and discovered that Christianity was true?”–I wouldn’t play manipulative fear-games with people to advance my agenda when simple facts didn’t do the trick. I’ve got to believe that any truly good deity would respect my need to see evidence and would not penalize me for constructing my moral code and making my life decisions based on the evidence I have available. Any deity that was not like that would not be worth anybody worship in this world and in this life.

I have no reason whatsoever to fear whatever comes after this life. Until someone comes up with some reasonable reason to worry about it, I’ll spend my time on questions that actually have a chance of being possible, like unicorns wanting candy from me.

We’ll come back to identity construction, I promise, once the computer’s back together again and I can do proper research. This was just on my mind today.

* One atheist’s answer to this question.

Posted in Biography, Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Unequally Yoked Club: Dale’s New Book

Good news for folks in the UYC! Dale McGowan’s newest book, In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families is coming out soon. I wanted to start talking about it, since I have a personal connection to this book due to being one of the folks featured in it. (Also, I’ve come to consider him a friend and think he’s a really awesome person as well as a great writer. Consider that your disclaimer.)

Observant readers may notice that yes indeed, “Cassidy and Bill” are featured in the book and a few posts from my blog have been condensed and reprinted therein. This is completely with my permission; Dale asked me if he could use my writing with attribution and I eagerly consented because I’m really excited about this project.

c. 1729

c. 1729 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As you may know, I began the UYC series on this blog because I noticed how few really accurate and respectful resources are out there for couples who find themselves in mixed-faith relationships. It’s not that there aren’t a lot of people writing about mixed-faith marriages–it’s not hard to find bloggers aplenty as well as books and other media materials talking about it–but they are geared toward Christians in relationships with deconverted spouses. And these materials are in my opinion not only worthless in terms of practical value but also hugely disrespectful and even insulting toward the non-believing partners. In some really egregious cases, these materials even seem like they’re deliberately trying to get couples broken-up; it’d be funny to read them if one didn’t remember that way too many people take their idiotic chirpings seriously and don’t realize that they are written for bubble-dwelling Christians wearing Bible blinkers, not real people living with other real people in the real world and trying to get along with each other.

Generally speaking, the goal in those existing resources is to get the non-believer reconverted so that Everything Can Go Back To Normal Again, not to find equilibrium in the relationship as it is now. They’re about recovering the Happy Christian Marriage facade, not finding or rediscovering common ground. I don’t find this to be an honest way to conduct a marriage. I’m not really enthused with those illusions in the first place; even when two people who are fervent Christians engage in these facades, there always seem like there are cracks in it that show the real people behind it struggling to fit themselves into those plastic molds and be happy with that life script whether it suits their individual natures or not. But when one person deconverts, or even just changes a little in how they once practiced the religion, it can tear down the whole illusion and expose the marriage’s very faulty foundation-blocks.

It’s not respectful to treat someone’s deconversion like it’s just a road-bump in the journey, a detour that must be worked around so that the vacation can proceed. It’s not loving to demand that a deconverted spouse sacrifice his or her integrity and sanity just to make the still-Christian one comfortable again in the facade. But that’s what these materials usually suggest that Christian spouses ask of their mates.

And for people who follow a holy book that makes its feelings about divorce fairly clear and which makes its opinion of mixed-faith marriages crystal-clear (1 Cor 7:12-17, which advises Christians absolutely not to divorce disbelieving spouses unless they choose to leave first), Christians are very quick to leap to the idea of divorce should their mate refuse to reconvert–or at least indulge them in the Happy Christian Marriage facade often enough to make things seem like “normal” again. I’ve even heard about ministers who advised panicked Christians to dump their deconverted spouses or kick them out of the shared home to make them suffer, which is thought to make the spouse reconsider converting to get his or her family back together again. I can’t imagine a more monstrous thing to do to ex-Christians than to hold their family hostage like that, but when someone’s desperate and doesn’t recognize boundaries, it’s not inconceivable that that person might grab at any straw no matter how monstrous. As Biff said… well, you know by now, right?

All that said, though, there are so many rays of hope–and sometimes folks in the UYC don’t know about them. This book showers a whole rainbow of them down upon people who might be feeling a little trapped. I found my eyes pricking with tears from time to time as I read because some of this stuff is new even to me–and very welcome to see.

I am really liking how Dale describes situations from a bird’s-eye view. I liked his characterization of “high-tension” dynamics and how couples might seem like they’re in danger of getting into one of those dynamics–and how to perhaps either avert that tension or short-circuit it so it doesn’t get so extreme. That idea really illuminates a lot of things I’m thinking about lately and comes in very good time to explore a few topics we’ll be covering soon, so I’ll just leave it at that for now.

For folks who are maybe new to my blog, Dale doesn’t talk much about what happened after the story, so I wanted to kinda fill you in: After a period of increasing tension, I ended up leaving my Christian spouse, who did not, ahem, take my leaving all that well. Things worked out for the best; my ex-husband remarried very quickly after our divorce and as far as I know is much happier. Obviously I’m fine as well and am in a very stable marriage.

Biff and I had no business being married in the first place, being that we fit into quite a few of the categories that Dale describes as being “high-risk factors” for divorce–we married way too young (20/22), had extremely different ideas about having kids (I didn’t want any; my spouse wanted at least a few if not more, though this was many years before that Quiverfull bumnuggetry got popular), had a history of divorce in our own parents, one of us had an addictive personality, we had disrespectful communication styles, and low life satisfaction and especially low marital satisfaction (at least on my part).

We’d always had a very dramatic and tumultuous marriage in our ten years together, but things came to a downright explosive head when I deconverted.

At the time, nobody really knew anything about ex-Christians or deconversion. There’s a lot more about the subject nowadays, even if a lot of it is about as low-quality as the mixed-faith-marriage stuff I’ve mentioned, but this was in the mid-90s and I was the only person I even knew who’d definitely and explicitly walked away from Christianity. We were all flying by the seat of our pants without any kind of plan; we were all sort of figuring it out as we went along.

If most of the advice for mixed-faith marriages is horrible now, think about what it would have looked like back then! Then make it even worse than you’re imagining and you’re about halfway there to how doomed my marriage was. So I’m really glad that more people are talking about how to really find peace and happiness within a mixed-faith marriage and how to really find a graceful approach to communicating and living together that honors and shows respect to both parties involved.

I’m still devouring this book–I’m about halfway through it so far–and I can already say that I really think that UYC members will find a lot to like about this book. Dale uses a lot of actual facts to support his ideas, and he’s expressing those ideas in a way that even the most religious people will likely find respectful and inoffensive. I haven’t seen anything in it that looks questionable or seen any arguments that aren’t solid. The case studies he presents are gloriously multifaceted, with a number of different types of couples represented. They’re not even all Christian/atheist matches. Some don’t even feature deconversions; as in his own marriage, some of these couples married knowing they were mixed-faith in some way.

In today’s world just as in yesterday’s, the conventional wisdom is that mixed-faith marriages–the Unequally Yoked Club–is automatically doomed the second the people in it realize that they don’t believe the same things. But this so-called wisdom was wrong in my Christian days, and it’s wrong today. Religion doesn’t have to divide us unless people, in their ignorance, shame, and fear, let it do so.

Posted in Biography, Guides | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Predators Go Where the Prey Grazes.

(CN: Elder abuse, religious abuse, and emotional manipulation.)

If you needed a good mad for the day, here’s all you’ll require to get it: a story about how young evangelists have been recently spotted happily preying upon vulnerable elderly people in nursing homes.

Armed with zeal and canned proselytization scripts (which not even all the nursing home residents can actually follow along with, according to the story’s link there, but that’s as if lack of comprehension bothers or stops zealots because magic spells are magical even if the targets don’t understand them), these young people troop from home to home, exhorting old people who are about to die to get saved so they’ll go to Heaven. They intrude upon these residents, take up their time, and proselytize at them whether they can understand the language or not or can actually even hear them or not, all in hopes of making some last-second conversions for Jesus. And then they leave like a swarm of locusts and high-five each other for doing such wonderful, valuable work for DA LAWD and share war stories about the miracles they think they’ve seen and unleashed.

And the nursing homes let them do this vile work.

You can’t see me right now, but rest assured I am absolutely livid and spluttering. I’m trying to even find words for my reaction to this news and all I can do is curse. This blog post represents the most civil response I can muster to this story.

The news isn’t all bad. Critics even include ministers, one of whom was quoted for the story and who characterizes these evangelists’ efforts as “disrespectful.”

la tieta │la tía soltera │the old maid

la tieta │la tía soltera │the old maid (Photo credit: jesuscm). A toxic Christian would see this woman as a big bullseye target.

I can see why. There’s no mention whatsoever of these young people going to the nursing homes for any reason other than to evangelize. They aren’t visiting with them just to be loving and friendly. They’re not bringing nice things to eat or new bathrobes or slippers or whatever nursing-home residents would like to have. They’re not putting on little shows or playing music or even just playing cards and listening to their elders. And they’re certainly not reserving a main room to allow interested people to come to them first to hear their message if they want to hear it. I wouldn’t even mind if they were doing it that way. That’d be totally fine. When I was in my teens, there was a story going around that the US Navy was setting up kiosks at theaters playing Top Gun to entice young people into looking into joining, and my sister ended up in JROTC as a result of one of these, apparently (I seem to recall her saying something like that and it was at about the right time, but don’t quote me on this). People got mad about what the Navy was doing, but I didn’t see the problem; they were capitalizing on people’s nationalistic fervor after seeing a movie that (if they joined) they’d quickly enough discover had next to nothing to do with real Navy service. But they weren’t forcing anybody to join or even to listen to them. Voluntary things like that are fine with me. But that is not what is happening now.

Oh no. Instead, they’re going from room to room with their scripts to interrupt and bother these vulnerable people, reciting their scripts at captive audiences who are probably not at their sharpest or most perceptive or most capable, and then gleefully scribbling down tallies to keep track of who accepted the sales pitch and recited the canned magic incantation–er, Sinner’s Prayer at the end. They have websites devoted to teaching folks how to find nursing homes on Google and how to go about this “evangelism.” It is hard to imagine someone being more opportunistic than this.

One of these scumbags (and I apologize to tender ears for use of such a loaded word but I think it is the correct word for this type of person) earnestly recounts how she blatantly and very deliberately preys upon these people’s fears of death to manipulate them:

“Do you know, for sure, that you will spend eternity in heaven?” Rowe would ask a typical resident . . . “There’s no more ‘I’ll do it next year,'” said Rowe, who has traveled with Howard-Browne’s ministry to nursing homes as far as California. “There’s no more ‘I’ll decide about this in 10 years.’ This is it.”

Did your jaw just hit the floor? Mine did. Scared the cat. (He’s a bit on the nervous side anyway, but still.)

I cannot even imagine a more purposeful attempt to frighten and threaten someone who has done his or her time and deserves only rest and good treatment for the remainder of a rapidly-dwindling life.

This is obscene.

I’d even call it evil.

And it is a terrible thing done in the name of good, which makes it even more obscene and evil. It takes a lot to surprise me when it comes to Christianity, but this story managed to do it.

The worst indictment of these predators’ behavior comes from their own mouths, as usual. From one of the leaders of these absolutely sickening hunting trips we hear this rationalization:

To those who question their mission, [Pastor Eric] Gonyon said the ministry answers to a higher power. “We have no response to those who are critics other than obeying Jesus and the Great Commission to preach the gospel regardless of the physical condition of the hearer,” he said. “Eternity will answer their questions!”

Oh no, make no mistake at all here, friends: these are the words of a bullshit artist trying to wiggle out of criticism and deflect scrutiny. Of course he must point to “eternity” to “answer their questions.” He certainly cannot do it himself, because if there isn’t a god or heaven at all, then his actions become inexcusable and he knows it.

When someone believes, truly believes that he is acting at the command of an unimpeachable, unquestionable, absolute authority, any overreach at all becomes totally acceptable. The ends justify the means. And when eyes get squinted at this pastor, all he has to do is point to someone who cannot even be discerned, let alone questioned. He’s certainly not the only one using that rationalization; scan the comments on that link, and you’ll see dozens of Christians all happily chirping the same song.

Even the most deluded of bubble-dwelling toxic Christians know at this point that happy, well-adjusted, stable, financially-secure healthy people don’t go into a bibble-babble religion like fundagelical Christianity. They have to find the frightened, the lonely, the sick, the vulnerable, the mentally vague, the poor, and the weak. A nursing home must look like a barrel full of fish to them.

One baffling element to all of this is that elderly people are already, by and large, Christian. Studies consistently tell us that older people skew religious at the moment (though this might change dramatically as our current crop of young people age). It’s hard to imagine someone heading into a nursing home expecting to find a bunch of atheists and pagans. These elderly folks have grown up in a Christian-dominated society and have heard this message many times. “The Good News” is not going to be news at all to them.

So if they’re not new to the message and they’re probably not actually terribly hostile toward it, why aren’t these missionaries going somewhere really challenging and bothering people who are more than capable of fending off their emotional blandishments and manipulation? I leave that question to you, since I think we all probably have some ideas about what the answer to it would look like.

And can I just say this? It’d really suck if this pastor and his crowd of bright-eyed hunters ever discovered that the Great Commission they rely on so heavily to excuse and rationalize their evildoing is a much-disputed later addition to the Gospels in the first place, and was very likely not part of the original writings. I must wonder if a similar hunter, seeking to excuse his behavior, stuck that idea in there long ago. It certainly became popular very quickly, and it holds up even today because it is the ultimate get-out-of-criticism-free card. “Sorry! We just can’t help ourselves! The boss told us to do it!” is an excuse that’s been valued by zealots for many years. I’m sure you can think of a few other times it’s been deployed to excuse evildoing. The more evil the deed, the more fervently this excuse gets trotted out. It wasn’t my idea. It was all his fault. I can’t be a bad person if I’m just doing what I was told. Blame him if you want to blame somebody. Don’t blame me. I’m a good person and didn’t realize these orders were evil and terrible. And it’s all a coincidence that I totally don’t mind carrying out orders that allow me to strong-arm, needlessly frighten, and shamelessly manipulate others.

That’s about all I’ve got to say right now on this subject. I don’t want to even think about it. But I must, because–you see–I have the liberty and the good luck of relative health and relative youth not to be stuck as a captive audience for these sharks. For those of us not affected by this story, we have the luxury of moving past our anger. The people who are stuck there having to put up with these evangelists’ shit do not have any of those graces, and clearly no advocates among the staff in their homes who will stop this abuse from happening. It’s entirely possible the staff haven’t even considered what these people are really doing; many people just see “Christians want to come talk to people” and assume it’ll all be fine. They may not know that these young zealots (and if I go by what I’m seeing in photos, the people doing the evangelism itself are all pretty young) are threatening these elderly residents and baldly playing upon their fear of death to terrorize them into joining their religion.

I will tell you one thing though: I will never, ever, ever allow one of my relatives to be housed somewhere that would allow such an opportunistic hunting of them at their most vulnerable time. That’s going to be a hard question I will be asking of the staff if I have any input at all into the decision. I’ll also be looking closely at situations that may likewise look like captive audiences to fundagelicals. I’m sure there are many of them that we just don’t notice in everyday life–people who maybe don’t ping our radar but who represent fertile fields to toxic Christians just like prisoners, homeless people, children, the terminally ill, and the elderly do.

Ultimately I’m glad I found out about this story, because now I know something new to guard against. I wish the list of “things I must guard against around Christians” wasn’t so goddamned long, but the comfort here is that this new wave of evangelism marks another desperate last gasp of Christianity. Many of these young people will be “nones” before too long (remember, something like 60% of them will pull away from overt expressions of faith by the time they finish growing up), and their youthful days of harassing and frightening senior citizens will be part of “ex-timonies” that they’ll recount with a grimace of distaste and lingering shame, just as I recount much of mine.

It cannot happen soon enough. I wish there were a god to pray to, so I could help make it happen faster. If gods can’t help the most vulnerable among us, then what the hell use are they?

Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

It’s So Romantic.

(CN: Religious abuse, domestic violence, stalking.)

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most sickening aspects of modern Christianity: this idea that the Christian god “woos” people by abusing and hurting them.

Romance isn't just for teenagers...

Romance isn’t just for teenagers… (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

“To woo someone” means to seek the romantic favor of that person. Normally this is done by doing sweet and thoughtful things. When you or I woo someone, we give that person presents or wash his or her car or draw cute notes with lots of hearts on them. That sweet first rush of romantic love pushes us to do all kinds of things, but they’re all meant to win someone’s heart and show off our very best side.

Uma Thurman is The Bride

Uma Thurman as The Bride (Photo credit: luvi). This is not the Christian Bride of Christ, and I don’t care how many of them seem to think so.

Seems pretty simple to me, but apparently quite a few Christians don’t know what “wooing” means.

The Bible is sometimes called a god’s love-letter to his people. “God is wooing us to marry us,” oozes one Christian blogger, and this isn’t a new idea; I heard the same kind of talk back when I was a Christian. “It’s not a light matter to be wooed by God,” exhorts another rather self-important fellow as he introduces a weirdly sexualized and lurid post about this divine wooing he imagines is happening and how “the Bride” is supposed to respond to this wooing (spoiler alert: She’s supposed to do what she’s told and go where her Groom tells her to go). Another sets up this premise: “A thorough reading of the sacred scriptures, reveals a God in love Who is continually and persistently pursuing to draw His darling Bride (us) into a holy love affair. [sic]” Of course, he doesn’t mention where Job fits into this wooing, nor the Great Flood, nor the whole Hell thing that this god allows people to suffer through, or the Holocaust, or the many Christians being killed in religious wars and conflicts all over the world.

This strangely sexual, romantic language is shot and woven through modern fundagelical culture; Christians talk about this “wooing” with open longing, women are encouraged to find men who’ll treat them just like Jesus treats the church, and Christians envision human courtship the way they envision Jesus courting the church (which is creepy enough considering that last link’s copious amounts of misogyny and gender policing). Christians are totally hooked on this “wooing” idea. They think it’s just awesome.

I even had a “wooing” experience of my own when I was Christian. While I was praying once in my teens I heard a crystal-clear male voice in my head telling me that I was to be the “Bride of Christ.” I hadn’t heard about the Book of Revelation at that point that I remembered, so I thought I was really going to be the one single Bride of Christ, as in I’d be in a white dress and I was going to marry Jesus. Far from being happy about this idea, it actually freaked me out because by now Biff and I were very heavily involved and thinking about getting married. This sort of bizarre event may well be how fringe cults get started, but thankfully I was a little too sensible (and a little too non-predatory) for that; now I think I must have heard the phrase on my first go-round in Pentecostalism, since it’s something Pentecostals say very frequently, and I just internalized it. I wasn’t prone to hearing voices, but it was a very emotional prayer session in a large group, so auditory hallucinations wouldn’t be totally unexpected in that setting. But at the time, it made perfect sense that my god was viewing me–and (as I learned very soon after that night) all of humanity–as his bride and that he was doing his best to “woo” us before our marriage. We just weren’t supposed to think a whole lot about what the wedding night was going to look like.

The idea we were taught then and that Christians are still being taught is that this god is bashing his brains out to court us. He wants to convince us humans to love him and want to marry him. So we began viewing the world in those terms. Every rainbow was a bouquet of flowers; every good bit of luck was a god slipping us a break so we’d get all gooey over him. Every gorgeous vista was handpainted and made by him to make us realize anew how much he loved us.

But this wooing takes a really dark turn when one considers what this romancing looks like in reality. The “wooing” idea suffers the same shortcoming that “intelligent design” faces, when you get down to it. For every so-called gotcha zinger like the incredible intricacy of the human eye, there are hundreds of horrifying cancers and flesh-eating microbes and genetic diseases that afflict humans. For every rainbow, there’s a tsunami killing thousands; every bit of good luck for us reminds us that there are people in the world who can’t even get enough food to eat every day. Gorgeous vistas are nice and all, but huge chunks of the Earth are all but uninhabitable and we’re facing some serious problems with arable terrain. If you’re going to talk about wooing, you also have to talk about the serious things this god is apparently totally ignoring to create Potemkin villages to impress people.

And you also have to talk about some seriously stalker-ish things Christians not only think their god is doing but also totally approve of him doing.

Here’s one of those things (and what prompted this blog post): I’ve got a lot of ex-Christian friends who have family members who are actively praying that terrible things happen to these apostates so they’ll reconvert.

You heard me. It takes a lot to surprise me, but that did it. They’re throwing their beloved ex-Christians under the bus. These “loving” Christians genuinely think that their god will do these terrible things to these apostates so they realize how much they need divine protection and love. Once they do, then they’ll come rushing back into this god’s arms.

“Please, God, I love you! Now please stop hurting me!”

I guess that’s the wooing process for a god. Be sweet and adorable till you realize that the little lady simply won’t cooperate, then lose your shit and attack her so she realizes how much you love her. Or let something terrible happen to her so she realizes that you’re really very wonderfully protective and nurturing and figures out how much she needs you.

That idea just gives me the chills!

Now, we know that prayer doesn’t really work, but inevitably bad things are going to happen to people. Bad luck rains on the just and the unjust, as the saying goes. But when that bad luck rains upon the “unjust,” meaning non-Christians, then that bad luck takes on a really morbid and uncomfortable turn. These terrible events are seen as happening for a reason, and that reason of course is that this god is “wooing” these prodigals and wanderers. I can’t help but think about how, when I was Christian, we’d hear about a resistant non-Christian having terrible luck and rejoice because now that person would be more likely to convert. Christian missionaries routinely prey upon very sick people and prisoners because they’re more vulnerable to religious entreaties, and fundagelicals have told me many times in all sincerity that they think that their current success in third-world hellholes is a sign of victory and even validation for their religion, not a sign of just how far absolutely desperate people will go to try to find some kind of help for their situations and of just how predatory fundagelical Christianity really is. Other ex-Christians have told me that they’ve heard preachers discuss some terrible hardship that’s occurred to someone out of the church with great pleasure and discuss how best to use this event as an “in” to get that person back to Jesus. The mindset entirely lacks empathy and compassion, but so does fundagelical Christianity, so hopefully nobody’s surprised there.

The message we take away is that the Christian god is happy to “woo” people with lovey-dovey stuff, but if those people insist on not loving him back, then he’s happy to ravage and abuse and brutalize people if that’s what it takes to win his girl. The ends justify the means, and if the end is winning the girl, then any means is acceptable, condoned, and even encouraged. If you’re wondering, this idea played out in my personal life as well; my then-husband Biff did all kinds of romantic things for me while he thought being wonderful would work to reconvert me and make our marriage solid again. But when he realized that that tactic wasn’t working, then he pulled out the threats and stalking. He justified it to me by whining “I had to try something, didn’t I?” In this extremism he was just doing what the Christian god does. He came by this attitude honestly. I saw it play out many times in other ways with other people.

For all the talk about “free will,” Christians don’t tend to know that they don’t have much of it. On one hand they’ll talk about their god being “a gentleman” and not forcing himself on anybody, but on the other will say that he allows this or that catastrophe or horrific event to occur because he’s mad that schoolchildren can’t be forcibly indoctrinated or because gay people can get married now. And Christians sometimes don’t even understand that what they are describing is not free will at all because free will can’t grow in ground where there exists duress and threats. At least one blogger fully recognizes that the Christian god doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about free will, and I agree fully (though not about why or what that lack-of-caring means; that piece insists that people’s wills aren’t free because they’re “enslaved to sin,” which makes it totally okay for the Christian god to force people to do things, and wow, that’s just awful). The Bible’s filled with references to the Christian god changing people’s minds and pushing them to think and do particular things.

For a deity who’s been wooing people for thousands of years, the Bible’s god sure doesn’t seem to understand what wooing actually means.

Christians must know this truth deep down, or else they wouldn’t pray for their god to do terrible things to people (or allow terrible things to happen, which is functionally the same thing as far as anybody should care) to get them to convert or reconvert. It’s nothing more than cosmic extortion and bullying–like this god is saying “Nice life you got here… it’d be a shame if anything were to, uh, happen to it through your refusal to love me…” And if people refuse to love the Christians’ god, then he is fully justified in unleashing terrible tortures upon them to make them love him. Somehow Christians still think their god is good like this blogger does even when acknowledging that why yes, he lets terrible things happen to people. I’ve given a donotlink there, so if you go there, please do note the first comment there, where an oblivious Christian chirps that these terrible things happen specifically so that non-Christians will start believing in this god–and if the terrible things kill believers so they go to heaven too, well, that’s just a bonus all the way around; the second comment is just as bad, with a spewing-forth of atrocity apologetics. I’m horrified that I used to think this way as well and praise such an inhuman monster and think that disasters and horrible events were some kind of cosmic love-song crooned by my deity to a disbelieving human race.

It’s really not very loving to pray for something bad to happen to someone, even if the Christian doing it is convinced that it’s for the “greater good.” It’s really not very loving to try to relabel a horrific event as a good thing to the people suffering from that event. It’s a denial of people’s dignity and humanity to treat their entire lives as nothing more than playthings in the hands of a capricious god who is getting awfully tired of your shenanigans, little Missy. This behavior is nothing more than actively wishing harm upon someone and doing it through an imaginary intermediary, as if that makes it all totally okay. When these Christian family members and friends say they’re praying for terrible things to happen to an ex-Christian, they are expressing nothing more than control and dominance in the same way that an abusive spouse would do it.

I sincerely wish that Christians would realize what they’re really doing when they pray for their god to “woo” someone in this obscene manner. They are describing a stalker god, not a loving god. Their god is evil. Thankfully, he’s not real, but if he were real and he did condone this kind of stalking (and this part is by no means an established case, granted), then I would reject him categorically just as I once rejected Biff–and for the same reason. Their god hurts people to comfort them afterward, in the same way that Biff would sometimes piss me off just so he could make up with me.

This kind of wooing isn’t love and it should never be confused for courtship. Hurting people to make them do something, especially something like returning to a relationship, is actually hugely abusive. In the real world we’d call that a form of domestic violence. Performing romantic gestures toward someone who is not interested in a relationship and has categorically rejected the person doing the gestures is not wooing either. It’s stalking.

Stalking and domestic violence are about control and power, not about love. It’s about dominating someone through fear.

Love can’t be anywhere near those things. I’m not sure it’s even possible to love that which threatens you or that which you fear.

I don’t worship or love bullies and stalkers. I refuse even to negotiate with them. Someone who threatens me even through an imaginary friend is showing me such supreme disrespect that I’m not sure I even want to dialogue at all with that person. I certainly do not take such behavior as loving no matter how much that person gaslights me to try to make me believe that it’s loving.

And I just want to add here that I think it’s insanely selfish and egocentric for such prayers to get said at all. It’s just astonishing to me that of all the things that Christians could pray for, of all the things they could ask their god to do, in a religion that stresses that Christians will get whatever they pray for, they choose to pray for their god to hurt people. If I knew I had a god who answered prayer on my side, I’d be doing nothing but praying for world peace or an end to hunger, not for one single person to experience serious misfortune to make them see how empty life is without Jesus. When I was Christian, see, I spent most of my time on prayers I thought had a good chance of happening (I phrased it as “in line with God’s will,” but that’s what it meant). At first those prayers were very grand indeed (world peace, an end to hunger, and mass conversion of the world), but over time they became more generic and possible (general wishes for well-being, location of lost stuff, and healing of minor injuries and sicknesses).

It’s pretty telling to me to see that these Christians are wasting any amount of time on asking for their god to do terrible things to people. It makes me think that maybe they know that they’ve got a better chance of seeing that happen than they do of seeing an end to hunger. Or even, dare I even think it?–These Christians could be asking their god to pony up some evidence for all these claims they keep making. I mean, wouldn’t that be a little bit more loving than hurting someone to force them to convert? They’d rather strong-arm someone into believing and worshiping this god than present that person with any kind of good reason for doing so?

In conclusion, Christians need to learn what wooing is and quit thinking that hurting people is a form of courtship. The Christians talking about this kind of “wooing” are just showing the world that they have no idea what love even is. And considering their savior told them to love their neighbors, considering their god is a god of love, their inability to recognize–much less show–real love is a glaring and downright bizarre blind spot in their faith system.

Until then, I reckon I’ll keep using the word “wooing” as a way of weeding out the most toxic of toxic Christians.

Posted in Biography, Feminism, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Night My House Was Exorcised, Sort Of.

Have you ever had a really embarrassing deed haunt you for years? This is one of mine. Set the Wayback Machine for the late 1980s:

English: Devil's door at St Illtyd's These doo...

English: Devil’s door at St Illtyd’s These doors, always in the shady north wall of a church, would be opened at baptisms for the exorcised devil to escape! They were usually blocked up in less superstitious, and more draught-conscious, times. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was 17 years old and had been dating Biff a few months. I’d been Pentecostal a year or so previously, but had drifted out again–to my family’s great relief. A few months after drifting out, I began dating Biff, who was not Christian in any way. He leaned eclectic Wiccan, but not the friendly fluffy sort; rather than shopping at Lucia’s Garden, the one-stop shopping source for friendly fluffy Wiccans in Houston, he bought his crystals and whatnot at the (Magick? Witch’s? Green? Can’t remember) Cauldron, which sold mostly the same stuff but had a more serious, darker vibe and thus was way cooler.

During casual conversation with him one hot, lazy Sunday afternoon, I mentioned that I’d been Pentecostal for a while before we met. He leaped on the idea with a ferocity that shocked me. He was suddenly convinced that he wanted to go to the Sunday night service that very evening and mock the Christians.

I should not have been surprised, in retrospect; it was the 80s, and “freaking the mundanes” was something people did. We’d go to the airport in full Renaissance Festival garb and gear–yes, even swords and knives. It was a much more innocent time; if someone did that now that person would be arrested, I’ve no doubt. These attention-getting stunts weren’t nearly as awesome in reality as they felt to do at the time, I’m sure. But this desire to go to church to challenge Christians wasn’t coming out of the clear blue sky, is what I’m getting at here.

I genuinely think that Biff was convinced that he’d go to church, right into the lion’s den as it were, mock the church people and get a rise out of them, and convince them that Christianity was totally wrong because he, at 19, knew all about it. I had a lot of misgivings about this idea, but I couldn’t talk him out of it. He was desperate to impress me by showing me how silly and foolish my old crowd had been, as if I needed to know that, and I think it bothered him that I still identified as Christian even though I wasn’t doing a whole lot with that identification at the moment.

Despite his many entreaties, I refused to accompany him because even I realized how lame this idea was. So he went off by himself, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

A few hours later, he returned to my house freshly-baptized and claiming he’d been exorcised of a demon of lust at that service. He even had a church-recorded tape of him growling and snapping at people during the proceedings and whatnot; I didn’t listen to it for years, but he offered it up as “proof” to anybody who doubted his conversion story. I was furious at first, but over time, convinced I was in love and that this religion was the best way to follow Jesus, I followed him back into my old church–though this time there was a way different manifestation of faith than I’d experienced that first time.

This time, the emphasis was upon spiritual warfare–specifically, warfare against demons.

I’m sure my church had had that push beforehand, but it reached a crescendo in the new crop of converts they got that year. There was a Rapture scare coming (though really, there are always Rapture scares at any given time in a Pentecostal church) and there’d been some Christian fiction books printed about demons infesting towns and people and whatnot. These books were criticized for being “Christian porn” by some of the folks in my church, but that didn’t stop people from simply devouring them. The Rapture scares were downplayed as much as possible by church leadership, who’d been through many such scares over their lifetimes, but always with a nod and a wink like they were discussing a chain letter, with the attitude of “Well, it might not work, but who knows? Better to be safe than sorry! Just hit ‘Forward,’ everybody!”

The Daughter of of Emperor Gordian is Exorcise...

The Daughter of of Emperor Gordian is Exorcised by St Triphun ( ) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This new brand of Pentecostalism wasn’t much like the sweet, Amy Grant-infused one I’d been involved in earlier. It was more militaristic, more vital, and more dedicated. It postured a lot more, too.

A big part of the posturing people did involved demons. Demons were to blame for everything. If anybody was having any kind of difficulty or trouble in life, it was demons. Can’t stop watching pornography? Demons. Can’t stop lying? Demons. Depressed? Demons. Business is down? Demons are somehow stopping people from needing whatever it is that business does or feeding them a competitor’s name. Demons were very powerful, and in the absence of discernible action on the part of either angels or the Christian god, they were strong “evidence” to us Christians that the supernatural realm was really real. There could not be demons without there also being angels and everything else, after all. Fighting demons was pretty easy, since all it required was decent suggestibility and an imagination, and such battles kept us from having to confront the deep societal and psychological issues that brought about the situations we were blaming entirely on demons.

We even had classifications for possession, which blows my mind now considering we’d never even verified for sure that demons existed. A person could be demon-possessed, which was the true-blue kind of possession where demons made that person do weird or anti-social things (and even physically impossible things, like in the movies). A person could also be demon-oppressed, which meant that you weren’t like totally possessed, but the demons still influenced you to do weird or anti-social things. I suspect now that we used “oppressed” in situations where the behavior wasn’t too outrageous or if the person in question would have been hopelessly offended at the idea of being possessed, and for that matter exorcism worked on both situations, so here I’ll just be calling both situations “possession” if that’s okay.

The idea behind exorcism was that once a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ had exorcised these evil spirits, normalcy and Christianity would return. I wasn’t ever sure just how far this demon stuff really went. Biff blamed a great number of his previous misdeeds on the demon he thought had possessed him, but it’s worth noting that every one of those misdeeds were things he kept doing after his exorcism, with the only difference being that now he expressed shame and guilt after committing them–and in this he was not alone at all; I never met anybody in the church who had been freed of demonic influence who saw any really big changes in his or her life. At the time we explained away this problem by saying that the demons had simply returned to their old haunt, which made me wonder even then why my god wasn’t powerful enough to get rid of the demons for good.

Exorcisms’ total lack of effectiveness didn’t stop me and my fellow Christians from seeing demons absolutely everywhere. Every ill in society was caused by demons. Demons waged war for every single soul and every single advance for secularism. Just as they were responsible for every problem in an individual’s life, they were also responsible for every problem in society. Bill Clinton’s election? Demons. Women wearing pants and wanting equal rights with men? Demons. Secular education? Demons. Israel’s problems? Demons. Every crime was sparked by demons. Every slapping-down of Christian privilege was caused by demons influencing society’s leaders.

And all that stood between these horrific demons and the world was a ragtag group of scruffy but totally dedicated TRUE CHRISTIANS™. It was like in the movies, but better because it was really truly happening, sort of.

This mindset continues even nowadays, with at least one Republican candidate for office suggesting in all sincerity that anybody who doesn’t like being inside a church should be forced to undergo an exorcism, since obviously the only reason anybody would ever dislike being in a church is because demons are possessing that person and there certainly could never be any other reason someone might not enjoy church services:

“If the atheist complainer is so uncomfortable when they walk into a church that there’s something inside of them squirming and making them feel these feelings of hatred toward the cross of Jesus Christ,” Klingenschmitt said, “don’t you think it’s something inside of the atheist complainer that’s wrong?”

Notice the wording there–“something inside of them.” That’s very deliberate wording. He really believes there really is “something” inside non-Christians (a group he conflates with atheists–a common mistake for fundagelical Christians to make), and once that “something” is cast out by a TRUE CHRISTIAN™–and trust me, I’m sure he knows exactly who fits that bill–then that person is then (in his words) “free to enjoy the worship of Jesus Christ.” Despite such Christians generally believing that humankind is very sinful, naturally we gravitate to churches and love being around them–unless demons are possessing us. I’m sure this mindset embarrasses a lot of Christians, but it’s still a popular view among a big swathe of ‘em.

And of course not only people but also countries, businesses, organizations, and buildings could be infested with demons.

Buildings like my house.

I lived at the time in a small Spanish-style ranch in a huge subdivision in Houston. It was a nice enough house; my family wasn’t living on base, and this was the home they’d chosen to rent. It was a little strange to be living out among non-military people and far from the base. My mom had to drive an hour to Galveston to her job, and my dad had a similarly long drive to wherever his base was (I never visited it and don’t actually know where it was or what it was even called). As far as the house went, it was a bit on the dark and dank side, like a lot of tract houses built in the 70s; its windows were way too small and few in number and it had dark carpeting. But to Biff, those aspects took on some very sinister connotations.

My boyfriend was convinced, you see, that my dad liked porn because the house was infested with demons. We’ll ignore that Biff himself dug porn even after his own exorcism and that my dad had liked porn ever since I could remember. Biff still saw my dad’s porn collection as a symptom of possession. (Quick note for young’uns: Back then, before the internet, if someone wanted to see porn, he or she had to acquire magazines or cheap videotapes.) Dad had a few videos, but mostly he liked magazines–specifically magazines with X-rated comic strips and cartoons in them (think Oglaf in print form but nowhere near as well-drawn, and if you’ve never seen Oglaf before then please be aware that this link is really, really NSFW). My dad had a bunch of these magazines, but I don’t think he was particularly obsessed with porn. To Biff, though, these normal behaviors seemed more sinister than they really were–an alarmist attitude we see in Christians nowadays, come to think of that. Porn especially is one of the great bugbears of Christian thinking, with its adherents indoctrinated to believe that all pornography is demonic and evil. So because my dad liked porn and had some porn magazines, that obviously meant my whole house was a-fluttering and choked with demons.

Our church had a procedure in place for how to deal with this situation, and Biff decided to follow it to rid his “lady’s” home of demons so she could live there in peace and maybe get the fam converted. With his bottle of Pompeiian olive oil in hand (I’m not sure why this brand was the preferred brand but it was all my church ever used for anointings; maybe its name sounded more 1st-century or something, maybe it was just the fancy brand at the time, maybe we’d scored a bulk discount, but whatever the reason was, I never unearthed it), he descended upon my home one evening while my folks were out.

To our surprise, my younger sister was home. Usually she was out–she was even more busy during the week than I was with her various extra-curricular groups and friends. I can’t remember why she was home that night. Biff was momentarily surprised, but he recovered quickly and decided that this was the perfect time to get her saved too.

I should mention that nobody in my family had followed me into this new faith. No matter how hard I tried–and I tried very hard and was a real pain in the butt, I’m sure–they just didn’t see the truths I saw. A few people at church had blamed my family’s recalcitrance on demons, and Biff had clearly taken that idea to heart. He didn’t even explain what was about to happen to my wide-eyed sister or me, but rather just began the exorcism ritual.

This ritual apparently involved rubbing olive oil liberally across every window and doorway in the house and praying very loudly and speaking in tongues to command all the demons in the house to depart. I tagged along a few feet behind him; I wasn’t in on the ritual so I didn’t know what he was doing and couldn’t participate, so I don’t remember doing much besides praying out loud.

My sister tagged along a few feet behind me, her eyes just huge. She had no idea what to make of all this spiritual warfare and her reaction made me second-guess the validity of what was happening. Clearly whatever demons were in this house, they weren’t infecting her. She was a fairly oblivious, innocent teenager.

Regardless, Biff finished in my parents’ bedroom, slathering their window with the olive oil and by this time all but screaming his prayers and commandments that the demons flee the house. I didn’t enter the room, but watched with my sister from the doorway. Biff stood in the bedroom with his hands raised ceiling-ward and prayed a few minutes more, and then he let them fall and smiled across at me like he’d just finished some great endeavor and had done it well. Not for the first time I got that powerful feeling that we were just playing pretend games like small children, that nothing we’d done was real, that he’d been yelling at the ceiling and addressing imaginary foes. But he at least seemed to think that he’d won some huge battle. He so wanted me to tell him I was proud of him and that I thought he’d done a good job.

I don’t remember if I did or not. I was pretty shocked by this whole display. I had been raised a nice Catholic girl and we just didn’t do this kind of thing in my family. We were pretty quiet people overall, spirituality-wise, and regarded excessive displays of religious fervor with a great deal of skepticism and distaste. I tried to be polite and encouraging but that’s all I could muster.

He left a little while before we expected our parents back home, after a chaste hug and kiss from me. My sister avoided me studiously, though I know we were both watching my parents to see if they acted any differently. Biff had assured me that my dad would be remarkably different and both my parents would want to go back to church and my whole family would probably be getting saved any day now because he’d removed the demons that were stopping this happy event from happening.

Obviously, none of those things occurred.

I watched my dad like a hawk and waited because I was totally convinced, despite how silly the exorcism had been, that Jesus would be “convicting him” (that’s Christianese for “making him feel really guilty”). I didn’t think Biff had really exorcised anything, but I still believed in the power of prayer–and we had prayed quite a bit for my dad to change. So that at least I was sure would happen.

I don’t know if my parents ever found out what’d happened. I sure never told them, but my sister might have. They certainly never discussed the matter with me, and my sister never wanted to even talk about it. I was pretty embarrassed by it all so I didn’t bring it up. And of course my dad didn’t act differently, and of course he and my mom never went to church with me even once after that night. And of course none of my family converted.

Nobody really thought anything else would come of that night, right? It bothered me quite a bit that the prayers hadn’t worked, but all I got from my church was vague hand-waving around why they hadn’t–all centering on us doing something wrong or “God’s time” being different than ours.

All I could hope was that my sister had forgotten about everything.

Naturally, she hadn’t.

Many, many years later, after my mom died, my sister blew into town for the funeral. While we sat in a restaurant waiting for our food to arrive, she tentatively brought up the exorcism Biff had done and told me that it’d really freaked her out and made her realize that I was involved with a bunch of whackjob nutbars. If anything, what we had done had driven her even further from what I had thought at the time was salvation. She’d known from the get-go that there weren’t any demons in that house, and she’d known that my boyfriend was just talking to and yelling at the ceiling. She’d been perfectly aware that he was just posturing and acting, but that he’d been doing it in the name of religion had really weirded her out. But she had a bit of an eccentric spiritual side herself, and what Biff–and by extension her big sister–was doing was all kind of scary for her. She wasn’t furious or anything about it, but that night had become a wedge between us; it was that night that she realized that we’d grown apart, probably for good.

I have not often gotten the opportunity to apologize for the weird stuff I did as a Christian. To be honest, I was grateful that she’d mentioned it. I took her hands across the table and told her I was really sorry for having frightened her. I was sorry I hadn’t stopped Biff when I realized what effect he was having on her. It was my home and he was a visitor, and I could have stopped him at any point when I realized my sister was getting scared by him and that she obviously wasn’t into this display of religiosity at all. She had not consented to being part of this ritual and we had steamrolled her without caring what impact it might have on her.

People live and learn. I eventually learned that it was all bullshit. Also, I’d never do anything like that now to someone who wasn’t consenting to the festivities. It bothered me a lot that 20 years later she was still remembering that night with such obvious distaste, so I think we were both happy to clear the air a little.

That fear and horror of demons I had propelled me to do and excuse a lot of overreach as a Christian, and that same fear and horror is propelling many other Christians to do the same thing today. You’d think that as Christianity fades in influence that its adherents would chill out about exorcism, but if anything the practice is growing even more popular. Pope Francis has made exorcisms official Catholic practice and thrown his support to a large group of priests who do tons of exorcisms; Catholicism has a love-hate relationship with demons and exorcism, so this support came as quite the surprise to many Catholics. It’s a little weird for me to hear that Francis, who is the teddy-bear darling warming the hearts of even many fundagelicals and atheists, talks “incessantly” of demons and is apparently fanatically interested in exorcism.

Over in Protestantism, Bob Larson, who has lost quite a bit of credibility over the years due to various debunks of his various ventures, is using exorcism to propel himself back into relevance; though popular with low Christianity‘s fans, he is having less luck with mainstream folks. He had been signed to star in a reality series (on Syfy, natch) about his exorcisms, but it got pulled right before it was supposed to air. I should just feel fortunate that Biff’s desire to grandstand religiously didn’t result in any deaths, as happens way more often than anybody’d like to think–especially to vulnerable, helpless children. Of course, Bob Larson’s hardly the only offender in that area, with exorcisms still being a totally acceptable method to some Christians of, among other things, turning gay people straight.

Of course, consent isn’t a really big deal to demon-happy Christians anyway. The whole idea of demonic possession is that demons overtake a person and make that person do and say stuff that person would never do unless thus possessed.

So much for free will, huh?

Between the Christian god strong-arming folks into doing stuff (in the guise of “wooing” them to convert to Christianity) and “something” mucking with people’s heads that must be driven out, it’s amazing people ever manage to get anything done.

Maybe the truth is nowhere near either of those two extremes. Maybe people are just, well, people, and maybe sometimes we do stuff that doesn’t always make a lot of sense even to ourselves, but there’s nothing supernatural making us do any of it.

If or when someone comes along who finds support for the very existence for the supernatural, I’ll certainly rethink things. Until then, I’m going to hang on to the “people being people” idea because it’s the only explanation I’ve heard that doesn’t entirely rely upon entire worlds of unseen, unproven beings wanting to mess with us, having the ability to do so, and reaching into our heads to twist us around as they please. It might be a lot scarier for Christians to imagine that there aren’t actually demons everywhere, but if that’s reality, then we’ve just got to get used to it as best we can so we can start addressing the very real problems people face in a way that’s actually effective.

We’re going to talk next time about this “wooing” idea, since I’m seeing it in play a lot lately. I hope you’ll join me–see you soon!

* An account of a fellow who was fundagelical around the same time I was.

Posted in Biography, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Way Through the Briar Patch.

Two friends

Two friends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(CN: Rape threats and religious abuse.)

Y’all probably know I’ve been friendly with the Christian who runs the website/blog “Quiet Christianity”, who I call “TQC.” With his permission I wanted to talk a little bit about that emerging friendship.

I can be quite leery of Christians wanting to be friendly with me. Most of the time these friendly overtures have some kind of agenda sparking them that has nothing to do with me as a person.

Sometimes they want to be friends because they have an overt wish to proselytize. This is called friendship or relationship evangelism and it’s a mean and obvious thing to do to someone; as that CARM link puts it so well, it is neither friendship nor evangelism, nor is it actually very concerned with relationships. It’s just baldfaced opportunism. It’s not a whole lot different from the tactics employed by Nice Guys™ who are nice to women only while they believe that they might get sex as a reward for their niceness. I fell for friendship evangelism once in my teens at the hands of a Southern Baptist schoolmate, but I’m a lot more careful nowadays. Thankfully, once I make clear to the Christian trying this tactic that I’m not really interested in being a project for anybody, the Christian usually vanishes from sight.

Sometimes they want to be friends because they have an opening in their demographic roster. They want to think of themselves as open-minded, and that requires them to surround themselves with a variety of people. The slot labeled “non-Christian” happens to be open, and I’ve been elected to fill it. They think they’re terribly evolved because they’re seeking out differing opinions, but in truth they aren’t planning to listen to those opinions. They act like they want to learn from me, but they don’t actually ever seem to do so. I’ve fallen for this one as recently as this year at the hands of an evangelical lay-minister, but I’m not going to ever again. I’m not someone’s token non-Christian “friend” and I see no reason to be friends with someone who doesn’t recognize my rights or dignity. If they want to learn, then they can go get that education for themselves.

A lot of decent people happen to be Christian. I don’t survey my friends to figure out their religions, but there’s probably a few in the pack. After leaving Christianity, I tried to develop the habit of not asking that question and letting people be themselves. I don’t know what religion many of my friends have, if any religion at all, and not knowing doesn’t bother me. Even my closest friends don’t tend to know where I’m at religion-wise. I lived once in a world where someone’s doctrinal soundness was the most important thing about that person–in fact the first thing one asked that person! Since leaving that world I’ve been very shy indeed about making any more moves that feel too similar to that old one. I get the sense sometimes that it’s a bit of a relief for some people that I don’t talk about that topic in private life and in that manner offer a respite from what can be for many Christians a constant battle. It’s not that I’m peeling away something important to someone; it’s just that if religious identity is supremely important to someone, that person probably isn’t going to be attracted to the idea of a real friendship with me because I really don’t want to deal with religion in my private life. I’ll engage with that subject in a lot of other ways, but I’ve learned the hard way how easily such discussions can go from 0 to 60 with hurt feelings–even when someone deliberately starts and wanted those discussions. (It only took me like 25 years to learn it, too– ugh.)

I’m telling you all this so you know what I was thinking when TQC began emailing me to chat. When someone who’s very up-front about holding Christian beliefs starts being very friendly to me in the context of my blog or social media accounts, where I’m very up-front about not holding Christian beliefs, you can bet I consider carefully how to respond to such overtures.

TQC’s group  was one I discussed here on the blog a while ago to demonstrate why Christians often alienate outsiders. His ideas were meant well, but the way they were worded often ran at odds with his stated goal, which was to be kind to people. To my astonishment, he took my criticism very graciously–amending a lot of his site’s wording and attitudes to reflect what I think he actually meant. I’ve got no trouble with the site at this point. I don’t agree with his theology, and I can safely say that no amount of niceness will make me think of joining Christianity, but it’s certainly not doing any harm to his religion’s street cred and may end up repairing some of the damage his more rambunctious peers are wreaking.

It’s very clear to me, when surveying his blog, that his approach is speaking very loudly to the people he says he wants to reach; non-Christians show up regularly to comment and they are generally very positive and friendly toward him. But I’m told that the landscape looks very different when he surveys the responses of his fellow Christians toward what he’s trying to say.

You’d think “stop being an asshole to non-Christians and start concentrating on what Jesus actually told his followers to do” would be a fairly straightforward sort of sentiment and that Christians would deeply value being told exactly where they’re going wrong with how they’re impacting outsiders, wouldn’t you?

Well, you’d be surprised.

Christianity stopped being about charity and kindness some time ago. Now it’s about chest-thumping and dominance. I’ve come to think that Christians don’t care about whether or not people actually convert to their religion. If some people do, then that’s nice, that’s welcome, they’ll take converts even on those terms. But most people won’t convert because of those tactics. It’s hard to see Christians acting out on forums and in RL and think that anybody would be enticed by that behavior. And Christians have come to think that their tactics are divinely-approved, which means they refuse to even consider changing course. Even if it alienates 99% of the outsiders on the planet, if they think Jesus said to do something, then they’ll take pride in alienating 99% of the outsiders on the planet. They’ll consider it “spiritual warfare” to behave like they do, and will wear their badge of assholeishness with honor. Pushback means that obviously they are right, and obviously that demons are trying to impede Christian progress, and obviously that they should drill down harder on being assholes.

There are oases in that desert, though. Entire movements are sprouting up around community service and trying to pull Christianity back from the dominant voices in the religion. I think it’s a doomed effort, but it’s not my call to decide how someone spends his or her time.

It distresses me to hear about such decent folk getting the abuse they get from Christian chest-thumpers. I’ve talked before about how angry I get when I hear about sane, loving good Christians getting a good taste of “Christian love” from their fellow tribemates at any perceived step away from the party line. And I do get angry. It hurts my heart to hear some of the stories I’ve heard about how loving Christians get treated by the Christian body of believers–the people who should have their back all the time, the people who should be most interested in finding consensus and community with each other. Instead they get threats and wrath and passive-aggressive taunts and jibes.

And for what, we ask again?

“Stop being an asshole and start concentrating on what Jesus actually said to do.”

It’s a simple, short, and sweet sentiment. One could base a whole religion on it, don’t you think? You’d think there’s nothing really controversial about it. And again, you’d be wrong.

It seems to amaze my Christian friends that I really don’t get a lot of pushback on this blog. I rarely get outraged Christians showing up here–usually on the blog entries about various Christian idols, weirdly enough. I’ve only had a few message me privately with demands that I justify my existence or explain all about my deconversion to their satisfaction. It’s been quite some time since the last passive-aggressive Christian smugly informed me that she’d be praying for me. And I’m not a tiny blog anymore. We get enough visitors that at least some of them must be outraged Christians. They just don’t usually talk to me–not in comments, and not in private (where comment moderation wouldn’t matter).

That said, I’ve come to suspect that I don’t get a lot of pushback from Christians because I’m not really a big threat to their worldview. I’m an ex-Christian. Most Christians can easily find some way to dismiss what I have to say and invalidate me as a person. I know how that works because I was Christian once. When I say “Christians can be real assholes to outsiders and I wish they’d stop,” they’ve got a million different ways of countering that statement to rationalize why they simply must be assholes to outsiders.

But when a Christian says the exact same thing, that’s a real challenge. That Christian doesn’t fit into the box very easily. The chest-thumping act gets shown for what it is. It’s easy to dismiss an ex-Christian; the Bible even appears to instruct Christians to do exactly that. Ah, but any Christian who talks like me is a threat to the order. Toxic Christians need everybody to be on the same page for their game to work.

That’s why Sally Quinn, the Washington Post’s own religion editor, says that it’s Christians who treat her the absolute worst. Her experience mirrors my own; when someone threatens me with rape, it’s a Christian. Other Christians report similar bad treatment from Christians for disagreeing with whatever those Christians think is real Christianity. For that matter, one of this blog’s dearest friends is a minister who used to keep a blog that, while filled with touching vignettes, also constantly detailed how abominably his own sheep treated him.

How long is it going to be before people realize that Christians are definitely not being changed for the better by a god of love?

No matter how fervently some Christians writers try to change Christians’ awful behavior toward each other, Christians can’t seem to give up treating each other like crap. Comment threads of these links I gave you are chock-full of Christians rationalizing away why they treat each other like crap–blaming atheists and non-believers for not being better people (as indeed Ms. Quinn makes the point that atheists don’t treat her a whole lot better than Christians do, just minus the rape threats) and saying that well, the boss ordered it, so neener. And if they’re treating each other like they’re all feral cats in a box, then we can’t have a lot of hope that they’ll treat people wholly outside their “tribe” any better.

That still doesn’t make me less angry and sad that the few decent people in the religion who are raising their voices and trying to make a positive difference are getting treated that way.

I wish Christians realized that it’s not just us outsiders that are watching. It’s other Christians themselves too. And sooner or later they’re going to wonder why it is that people who claim that a god is making them moral and superior people don’t act either way. Maybe they’ll wonder why a group under the threat of Hell for not following its holy book’s commands of loving their neighbors and turning the other cheek and doing charity till they’re bankrupt don’t feel a little bit more driven to actually follow those commands. Maybe they’ll start thinking about why it is that Christians have a Savior who told them to love everybody no matter what, but have evolved dozens of asterisks to handle why they don’t want to do that.

Let’s make this clear: people don’t leave Christianity because its adherents are jerks. Give folks a little credit. Eternity is forever, as the saying goes, and nothing that happens in a few finite decades could possibly matter in the face of one’s eternal fate if that claim actually turns out to be true. That said, I do think that the sheer number of Christians who are jerks feeds into a certain amount of curiosity and questioning about how that can possibly be the case if the religion’s got a real live god involved in its followers’ lives. These assholes are a symptom of Christianity’s problem, not the problem itself. They’re alienating not only outsiders like me, but also Christians like themselves. While researching this piece I ran into comment after comment from people who said they loved Jesus and do their very best to do what he said to do, but they just couldn’t belong to or identify with a group so downright evil, nasty, and hateful. Many even said they refuse to publicly state their religion because of how others now perceive the label.

When Christian leaders and the loudest voices of the religion do actually dimly perceive this situation, their solution is to try to strong-arm and manipulate these dissenters into rejoining their toxic tribe, as TQC, Sally Quinn, and a host of other Christians have discovered. But I don’t perceive these efforts as effective at all. The time when Christians could threaten, pressure, and bluster and get their way is fast fading along with the religion itself. It’s time for a radical rethinking of those tactics, and I’m not sure these toxic Christians are up to the task. Instead, it is the people they abuse and vilify who are reshaping the religion into something that might possibly maybe survive the coming century.

So yes: I’m going to keep supporting people who are saying things that matter and that are going to improve the human race, no matter what religion those people do or don’t subscribe to. And I’m going to choose my friends not on the basis of religion but on the basis of what kind of people they are.

What might surprise people about my friendship with TQC is that we don’t talk about religion all that much. We talk about books and about blogging in general and stuff like that; when we interface with religion it’s in the context of our blogs, not as personal statements. He’s never once tried to proselytize at me, and I’ve never done that back at him. I did once refer to his deity in a rather mocking way, but I apologized for it; he wasn’t offended, though, just a little startled I think at my general irreverence toward something he felt a great deal of reverence toward. I don’t think it’s very loving to casually denigrate something someone else holds important, whether it’s kids or religion or diet systems or whatever else; I don’t have to bow before it along with that person, no, but I can at least be polite.

Speaking of which, hey gang, a bit of housekeeping: last time we talked I discussed a particular internet culture and was way less than charitable toward its members. It was wrong to talk like that. I won’t be doing it again.

Next time we’re going to talk about spiritual warfare a bit more–specifically, about exorcisms. I wrote early on in this blog about Biff’s claims of having been demonically possessed and exorcised, but I was involved in an exorcism or two myself as a fundamentalist. Exorcisms are a very important idea in Christianity, and we’re seeing the concept get a lot of play in the news recently, but I’m not sure outsiders know a lot about the subculture around this idea. So I’ll be shining a light on some of the darkest corners of Christianity next–and hope you will join me.

Related: John Shore’s letter to survivors of Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) cults’ abuse.


Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments