The Handbook: Recognizing an “Argument From X” Attempt.

We’re going to be heading back to God’s Not Dead next week, but before we do that, I wanted to finish up something we were talking about last time we covered the Handbook for the Recently Deconverted: one of Christians’ very favorite apologetics tactics, the Argument from X.

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sa...

Detail of The School of Athens by Raffaello Sanzio, 1509, showing Plato (left) and Aristotle (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A while ago, a group called the Atheists of Silicon Valley put out a list called “Hundreds of Proofs of God’s Existence.” Unfortunately they and their brilliant list seem to have vanished, but you can still find it around if you hunt–here’s a copy of it with some embellishments. One thing non-believers will notice quickly, when they survey the list, is that these are arguments we actually hear constantly from Christians. Another thing to notice is that a lot of these apologetics attempts are Arguments from X.

The “X” varies, but always it’s something generally irrelevant to the truthful veracity of the claim–or only very tangentially relevant. For example, in the Argument from Design, also known as the Teleological Argument, it goes a bit like this:

The world looks like it was designed. Designed things need designers. Therefore, the Christian god exists and did the designing.

Sometimes the person making the argument adds considerably to the bare bones of the structure of it–I’ve heard variants that postulated the existence of the Christian god by insisting that only that particular god could be powerful enough to have made the whole universe, while other gods’ mythologies don’t make them seem quite as absolutely omnipotent. Entire books have been written about the Teleological Argument alone, and others have gotten similar love from apologists.

The “X”–whatever it is–is nothing more than a distraction, but one that we are told must serve as a substitute for better evidence for a claim. In an Argument from Authority, we are told to accept a claim’s veracity because the person advancing the claim has (what are believed to be, at least) good credentials. In an Argument from Numbers, we are told that any time a lot of people believe something, that that thing must be true. In an Argument from Nostalgia, we’re told that any claim that is very old or that wants to return society to a previous era’s customs must be true. Indeed, all of these arguments fall into that category I’ve mentioned of Christians trying to argue themselves into a god.

This is the general structure of an Argument from X:

1. Some physical fact or emotional “truth.”
2. A guess about why that might be.
3. A declaration that the Christian god is the only being that could possibly have made that happen.

The jump from 1 to 2 is pretty big, but the one from 2 to 3 is so huge that it’s shocking anybody thinks this kind of argument is compelling. Generally, there is absolutely no way that any of these arguments actually logically lead only to the Judeo-Christian god or to Jesus. You could insert the name of any god or even “The Giant Pink Unicorn” into any of them and it would read about the same and make about the same sense. So this argument style flunks the Unicorn Test, yes. Most of these arguments end with some variant of “Therefore, Jesus is real and we should all totally worship him,” since proselytization is their main goal.

Learning to recognize the major Arguments from X is a good idea. Some of them can sound really persuasive if you’re not aware of them, since they play upon human cognitive biases. Many of them rhyme or have very catchy wording, which people can sometimes find persuasive, and our society primes us to find certain of these arguments more compelling than they really are (such as the Argument from Nostalgia, which gets used often by politicians and pastors alike).

Here are some of the most common Arguments from X you will likely encounter as an ex-Christian:

* The Argument from Design: covered above. Loved by science illiterates the world over.

* The Argument from First Cause: Also known as the Cosmological Argument, this one claims that the whole universe needs to have had a cause to begin existing, and anything that is caused must have a causer (like the designer, above), and that the causer has to be the Judeo-Christian god, and so therefore this god exists. Of course, any one of these claims would need to be demonstrated, and none of them have or really can be. Between this and the previous one, you’ve probably noticed Creationism lurking. (Don’t say its name three times or it pops up behind you.)

* The Argument from Authority: This source is authoritative and says this claim is true, so therefore this claim is true. The source is, variously, quote-mined scientists or the Bible or a pastor or famous person. “So-and-So thinks this, and so therefore so should you” is a favorite tactic.

* The Argument from Numbers: covered above; frequently used by Christians who don’t remember that Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are also religions followed by many millions of believers, or that Germ Theory and the Theory of Relativity both faced opposition when they were first suggested. Related: the Argument from Tradition, which argues that anything that’s been done or believed for a really long time must be true or good, which ignores all the really awful stuff (like slavery and treating women like livestock) that was done long ago.

* The Argument from Morality: Subjective morality is ickie and only Christian morality is objective and timeless, and only the Christian god could possibly have handed a moral code down to humanity, so therefore the Christian god is real. This one comes up often from evangelicals who use it to justify their overreach into other people’s lives “for their own good,” since they tend to genuinely believe that non-Christians, lacking a belief in their god, cannot possibly ever be moral on their own. Ironically, the Christians who most buy into this idea tend to be the absolute worst at behaving themselves.

* The Argument from Beauty: “This thing here is very beautiful, and only the Christian god could have made something so beautiful, so obviously the Christian god is real.” This argument pops up frequently from Christians who don’t remember all the horrifying diseases humans get or the ghastly parasites in the world. Stephen Fry put it best when it comes to this popular argument (partial transcript here):

* The Argument from Ignorance. Oh, this one is so popular it almost deserves its own post, but let’s try to summarize: I don’t personally understand this thing, so therefore a god must have done it. Used for everything from miracle claims to Creationism, this is the ultimate “god of the gaps” argument. As long as the Christian involved can maintain ignorance about whatever is being claimed, and until a good explanation can be figured out and put convincingly enough to that Christian that it will be accepted, then that Christian can maintain a belief that the answer is going to be his or her favored supernatural one. Ironically, rejecting this argument will get you called “close-minded,” because nothing’s more open-minded than leaping immediately onto whatever half-assed guess makes you happiest and then clinging to it no matter what. You might also see a variant called the Argument from Incredulity: I can’t believe this fact is true, so it must be false.

* The Appeal to Emotion. It’s called “appeal to” instead of “argument from,” but it’s the same sort of idea: an idea’s truthfulness is based upon how it makes the Christian feel about it. But I’m so happy because I believe. Therefore, Jesus exists. Or: But don’t you remember how happy you were while you were Christian? Therefore, it must be true. Not useful once the Christian is confronted with genuinely happy non-believers or unhappy believers, though there’s always the tactic of insisting that these non-believers aren’t really truly happy but just pretending–and that the unhappy believers aren’t doing something correctly.

* The Argument from Adverse Consequences. “If this fact were true, then that’d be just terrible, so therefore it can’t possibly be true.” When that Duck Dynasty asshat Phil Robertson was drooling luridly over his bizarrely-detailed rape and murder fantasy, he was making this exact argument in a graphic and unsettling way: if atheism becomes widespread, then look what terrible things could happen to your own family. (Seriously, don’t click the link if you’re bothered by this kind of weirdness.) Christian leaders are very fond of this particular argument, but it’s used more on believers to keep their butts in the pews than on non-believers; ex-Christians often report feeling frightened of losing their morality or becoming terrible people if they stop believing–though it goes without saying that most ex-Christians become more moral, not less, after deconversion.

These arguments are all incredibly weak, but their weaknesses stem from two main areas:

First, the middle part of the argument cries out for credible evidence to support itself, but almost never gets it. For example, in an argument from ignorance, we can summarize it in the three-step pattern thusly:

* I don’t understand this thing or know how it happened.
* Anything I don’t understand must be supernatural in nature.
* Therefore, Jesus is real and must have done it.

That second part is where this argument dies its first death: the person making the argument is not going to be able to demonstrate it at all. In fact, nobody ever has demonstrated the supernatural to be real in any way, so any argument whatsoever that relies on anything supernatural for its explanation is going to fail. The attempt to explain the first point is almost always going to involve something totally unsupported, something totally unsupportable, or something untrue at all.

The third part is where the argument dies its second and final death: it’s usually a non sequitur, something that doesn’t really follow at all. They’re setting up an if-then statement where the “then” doesn’t actually flow from the “if” even a little.

And what really ought to bother Christians is that often their initial observations are wrong as well–such as in the argument from design which asks us to believe that everything complex must have been designed, when there’s not really any way to test that idea and when we know that quite a lot of complex things happen without anybody designing them at all.

Let’s try this reasoning out on an argument from miracles:

* Something unusual happened to someone’s benefit.
* That bit of fortune had to be a miracle.
* Therefore, Jesus exists.

The first might well be true, and no doubt the Christian thinks it was a miracle; they are trained to think that way, so they see signs and portents everywhere–even in the most mundane and banal of coincidences. But there’s never been evidence for any supernatural explanation, and even if that Christian could adequately, credibly demonstrate that something supernatural happened, that’s certainly not proof that a particular supernatural being did it. (And if we probe deeply enough, often we discover that the initial observations were either exaggerated or distorted in the first place, as in most magical-sounding healings and financial “miracles”.)

Defusing an Argument from X

And again, this is advice for only if you want to engage at all. Nobody says you must! But if you want to, here are some good ways to deflect and dismantle these sorts of arguments.

* Double-check the initial claim; find rebuttals if they exist. In an argument from numbers, point out how many Muslims or Hindus there are, or how many people are leaving Christianity. Challenge the assumption that complex things were designed. Mention how many ghastly, non-beautiful aspects of our world and universe there are, or how totally unsuited for human life most of our planet and universe really are. If the initial claim doesn’t check out, then the rest of the argument certainly won’t either.

* Rerun the argument with different nouns to see if it holds up. In Creationism trials like the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, for example, the plaintiffs famously got big-name Creationists to admit that their arguments could also be used to make astrology look like a valid scientific discipline, and I’m betting that was a real turning point for the judge. You can also falsify the argument; in an argument from numbers, for example, it’s easy to find examples of ideas lots of people believed in that weren’t true–like homeopathy or geocentrism.

* If the ending “then” statement doesn’t actually follow, feel free to say so. Even if anything an ignorant person doesn’t understand is supernatural, that doesn’t point to Jesus being real. Even if a divine being did create the Earth and everything in the universe via magic, that doesn’t mean Christianity is a true religion with valid truth claims. Often Christians betray a certain quaint ignorance about the fact that there are many hundreds of religions in the world, and thousands of gods past and present–and quite a few of their arguments could easily be used to demonstrate the existence of one of those gods!

In the end, the best thing you can do for yourself is to be aware of these fallacious arguments. Again, we shouldn’t use the name of the arguments like playing cards in debates–rather, we should be ready to point out where the argument fails and why, so the Christian learns. Maybe. Probably not, but maybe.

The reason I say “probably not” is that these arguments sound very persuasive to minds that aren’t skilled in critical thinking. There’s a reason why apologetics, as a field, is burdened to the point of buckling under the weight of Arguments from X: they sound really good. People tend to wield arguments that they themselves think are compelling, which is why Christians and non-Christians alike seem downright flabbergasted when they advance an argument that doesn’t seem to resonate with the target like it did with themselves. Nobody likes to think that they bought into and used an argument that is irrational or fallacious. Reactions may range from anger to petulance, and I’ve seen every one of them. Get used to seeing a Christian using a fallacy get slapped down in one place only to pop up again in another place bearing the exact same fallacy as if nothing had happened.

I’d like to say one last thing. Though we don’t normally see Christians wondering why it is that they only have fallacies and pseudo-science/history with which to prop up their claims, and though it can feel really useless to bother engaging on the subject, many ex-Christians can point to a time when being challenged on our various logical fallacies and misunderstood facts really stopped us dead in our tracks. Even a forum or comment-thread squabble can have the impact of a gong being rung when it hits the right person in just the right way. It’s lightning in a bottle, to be sure–nothing you can predict–but it happens often enough that it’s becoming clear that the internet, especially, has a big impact on Christians’ belief.

And I’m willing to bet that this link between internet use and deconversion is not due only to the simple availability of information online about science and real history. I think that Christians who venture out onto the Information Superhighway are mixing it up with non-believers (and Christians who believe differently about key doctrines, for that matter) and having their ideas challenged in ways that they never would have experienced in a tight-knit community inhabiting a Christian church bubble. Thirty years ago, someone in a small town might not ever known an out-of-the-closet LGBTQ person or an atheist, or even a feminist. Today, that same person can–no matter how small the town–find, meet, and interact with all three within seconds of entering the right chat room or forum.

So gang, if you’re interested in these kinds of discussions, know that your efforts don’t always just go into a void. We’re going to talk a little next time about suggestions for making those discussions as fruitful and productive as possible, and as always, I hope to see you there.

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Related:
* 50 Reasons to Believe in God, a popular email forward from a few years ago, debunked by the folks at Iron Chariots.

* Wikipedia’s Master List of Fallacies. Much goodness to learn.

* Another List of Fallacies with interesting flavor text.

Posted in Guides, Religion, The Games We Play, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Definitely Dead, and Mortally Embarrassed. (SPOILERS)

When I saw the movie God’s Not Dead show up on my Netflix thingie, I knew I’d be doing this. I’ve written a couple of posts about its general ideas already–about a similar situation I found myself in, about confronting a professor who was actually kinda like the one in this movie, and about my thoughts on the movie generally. Additionally, a number of my friends have done reviews–Neil Carter, Dan Fincke among others. But I’d never actually sat down and watched the whole thing. Turns out what I’d seen was completely accurate and indicative.

*** SPOILERS AHEAD. ***

I loaded the movie up and immediately it showed an image of the most priggish Christian I’d ever seen with the most priggish Jesus Smile I’d ever seen, and I knew I was not going to be able to handle this movie sober. So I am halfway through my first glass of 2011 Masi Campofiorin, which is very good, and we are going to watch this movie and I am going to keep a running note of what I see and think. At least I’ll come out of it with at least one happy memory.

Beginning credits and soulful opening song: idyllic scenery scrolls. A soulful young man in a backpack–our hero–walks along the street and people bicycle into Hadleigh “ofcourseit’sfictionalsilly” University. A pretty girl hugs the guy in the backpack and it’s all very chaste. Also trite and boring.

There’s a Muslim gal in a scarf that covers all but her eyes, contrasting with the godless Western girl who finally chastely kisses the guy in the backpack who doesn’t seem in the least interested in anything else). While this setup is going on, I was going to say, this movie is apparently already due for a sequel, and there’s a “spiritual successor” to it out in the form of a movie called Do You Believe? which I have every reason to think is as bad as this one. On that note, the Muslim gal tears off her headscarf when her dad leaves and she looks really relieved to be free of that restriction. My hatred has just been turned up to 11. Not that I blame her for wanting to tear off the scarf, but it’s just such a heavy-handed way to talk about the issue of women’s dress in Islam. I can already tell this subplot is going to turn out really horribly in every sense of the word. Y’all know I was Pentecostal, right? “Holiness standards” and all? I knew lots of girls who did this same thing in Christianity.

The chaste guy goes up to the registration area, which is apparently held outdoors (wait what?!?) and the hip registration-dude tells him that he’s signed up for Philosophy 150 with Radisson and maybe he needs to think about something else. He’s wandering into “the snake pit,” it seems. OH NOES. By the way, I just want to say that there is no reason for this entire bit of dialogue to take place. Most universities don’t do in-person registration anymore. And there is even less reason for “Josh Wheaton” (oh my, like Joss Whedon? Or is this a riff on Wheaton College, a big-name Christian university?) to need to tell the registration dude what his elective is. But we need to have the OH NOES. Again, it’ll look good to anybody who’s never been to college, the way the registration dude looks up with his OH NOES look because he’s seen the simple little cross and Newsboys T-shirt that Josh is wearing and needs to warn this sweet young Christian lad about the persecution he is wading into. (PS I’ve never seen any university employee do anything like this. That is because even rabidly anti-theist professors are expected to do their fucking jobs and teach, not persecute religious zealots.)

“It can’t be that bad,” jokes Josh, with a strained smile, and the registration dude tells him “Think, uh, Roman Colisseum, lions, people cheering for your death.” Finally he sighs and tells Josh, “it’s your funeral.”  There’s more bullshit around registration with a Chinese guy, and then we cut to a disorganized, hurried reporter leaving her house that morning. She rushes to her car only to discover it’s been vandalized. The car, incidentally, bears bumper stickers reading “MEAT IS MURDER,” “I <3 Evolution,” and “American Humanist.”

We cut to Dean Cain, who is on the phone in an office talking about some business thing. From his assholish chuckle we know he’s a bad person. When the reporter calls him to ask for directions to her interview with some Duck Dynasty guy, Cain refuses till she tells him what’s in it for him. When she obediently complies, he praises her like a dog, saying, “That’s my girl!” And wow, he looks different from his Superman days; I guess we all do though.

A pretty lady who looks like she walked in off a Real Housewives cast meeting, Mina, visits her mother, who has dementia and doesn’t recognize her. Her mother must have had Mina at 45 or something because she is ancient, but she immediately notices that Mina doesn’t have a wedding ring on; Mina smiles painfully and tells her, “It’s complicated.”

None of these subplots sound remotely interesting.

Professor Radisson enters his classroom. He is a tough, no-nonsense professor with a mustache and goatee that looks sinister. He informs the class that if they just want an easy A for their liberal-arts requirement that they should leave. Now, I admit: I took Intro to Logic in college purely to get away from the math requirement for my major, but the class was designed for non-philosophy majors. For that matter, the instructor was a TA. My first intro to psych class was by a full professor though. Damn he was great. You know, we talked often and I visited his office regularly, but I have no idea what he thought religion-wise.

On Radisson’s whiteboard list of important philosophers, Ayn Rand is on the list and I have no idea why. Jesus, I can’t imagine a real philosophy professor putting her on a list like this. Ironically, fundagelicals heavy into politics tend to adore her, but the movie asks us not to remember that. Radisson asks what the people on his list have in common and someone guesses that they’re all dead, but no, he insists, flipping another whiteboard over for emphasis. They were all atheists, he tells the class, and Josh gets a thoughtful, pursed-lip look as he listens.

Oh my god, this guy is a terrible professor.

That’s his lead-in. He’s got the definition of atheism on his whiteboard and he’s splaining about what atheism means. He talks about strong atheism versus weak atheism, saying that strong means “to know there is no god” and weak means “to doubt this god’s existence,” which aren’t strictly accurate but better than expected (weak means more like “doesn’t see any reason to accept Christianity’s claims”). He doesn’t want to debate the existence of this god, he says, because that is a waste of time. I’d agree but not for the same reason. A philosophy intro class seems like it wouldn’t be the place for that. He demands that his intro class write “God is dead” on papers and hand it in with a signature; if they reach consensus unanimously, they can skip the part of the class devoted to arguing about whether or not there is a god because that is a thing that all intro philosophy courses do all the time.

Okay, what the fuck? I’m now seeing why Dan Fincke–who is a real live philosophy professor–was peevish about this movie.

Josh swallows meaningfully as his classmates comply without a single objection, then bravely tells Radisson that he can’t comply because he’s a Christian. When Josh continues to resist, the professor tells him that if he won’t do it, then he’ll need to defend his entire religion or else he loses 30% of his final grade. Josh negotiates that the class will decide if he succeeds or not in proving that the Judeo-Christian god exists. The professor reluctantly agrees and gives him three class periods to make his case. Very The Devil and Daniel Webster.

Gang, this is totally not how college works. (Also Radisson talks like vintage William Shatner.) I’d be furious if a YouTube-level debate was on the menu for my hard-earned tuition dollars. Radisson assigns David Hume’s Problems with Induction and Descartes’ Discourse on Method before the next class session, which I assume is in two days given that we know from the registration scene that it’s a MWF class. The Hume book is apparently about the errors in Hume’s thinking. The Descartes is about how knowledge can be assumed by reason. Those seem like really next-level books to assign right out of the gate in a freshman-level intro course. He also suggests Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian in preparation for the upcoming debate. So 250+ pages in two days. For an intro course. For freshmen. And one of those books is a criticism of Hume without the class actually having covered Hume yet.

Yeah, sure, that totally happened.

jennifer-lawrence-ok-thumbs-up

Josh’s girlfriend, the chaste hugger, is mad that he’d “risk our future” over this debate. She makes clear that she’s mapped out their entire futures together. She has chosen to attend this college instead of her first choice because she wants to be near Josh. I can see why she’s second-thinking that idea but it’s not his fault she’s a short-sighted idiot. She insists that his entire college education hinges on whether or not he loses 30% of his grade from Radisson in an Intro course. Excuse me, but I missed like 25% of my grade in Human Sexuality because I refused to watch the videos in it, and I still did fine. (I lasted all the way up till the one comparing cut vs. uncut penises, if you’re wondering, and then showed up again only to take tests.) Christians seem like they do this a lot, though, blow up huge huge huge penalties for relatively minor offenses. Wonder why? Anyway we learn that Josh wants to be a lawyer and that the Muslim girl works at the cafeteria, which is how she overhears Josh talking about this upcoming debate.

Maybe I need more wine. By the way, I’m drinking out of this gorgeous handpainted wineglass I got at a gift shop my first week in my current hometown. Love these glasses. People just amaze me with the beauty they can create. And then there is this movie.

Next, we see the Duck Dynasty werewolf and his very worldly-dressed wife get out of their luxury SUV. He’s whining about her high-heeled shoes because they make her taller than he is. Well, if he didn’t dress and groom like Cousin Itt then maybe he wouldn’t feel so inadequate next to her glamour. Incidentally, aren’t these people like Jesus Nuts or something? Why is she wearing a miniskirt tankdress with soaring high heels? And why is the werewolf dude dressed like he’s homeless while she’s dolled up to the nines? Seems disrespectful of him, especially with him whining about her choice of shoes. He sounds like a petulant, misogynistic man-child.

The reporter lady ambushes them both and asks the wife why she isn’t at home, barefoot and pregnant. She’s mad about the Duck Dynasty business of selling duck lures. He’s a hunter and that’s the worst thing in the world. Also she’s mad about the way the Duck Dynasty faux-hillbillies pray all the time on their show. OH NOES! Except I’ve never heard anybody really get mad about that. Amid soaring violin music he preaches about how life is temporary, Jesus is eternal, and well, that’s just how he is. Apparently this reporter’s entire ambush, the super-important one she told Dean Cain about, consists of softball questions about hunting and a snarky comment about a Christian’s religious devotions. Dang, she is one sucky reporter.

If you can’t guess, I seriously fucking hate this movie.

Wait, is the Duck Dynasty dude’s wife wearing high heels and a mini-tankdress to church? Yes. Yes, she is. When did Christian women start dressing for church like they’re going to a nightclub?

The Muslim girl puts her scarf back on while a white girl tells her she’s beautiful and wishes she “didn’t have to do that.” The Muslim girl says it’s for her father’s benefit. He’s a threatening asshole but he tries to make his daughter’s subjugation look like THE BONUS PLAN. This entire scene could be played out over Pentecostal holiness standards, but the filmmakers chose to focus on Muslim women’s dress because SHARIA LAW OH NOES. These people are fucking reprehensible as well as irresponsible.

Meanwhile, Josh walks around meaningfully and goes to church to FIND ANSWERS™. Josh–and the guy in charge of the church–guess that none of the kids in Radisson’s class are Christians. I don’t know why they’d think that. Kids Josh’s age are way more likely to be Nones or ex-Christians than youths in any point in history, but still 2/3 of them are statistically likely to be Christians. So that’s a strange assertion. The church guy says that this debate might be the only exposure they get to the Gospel and suggests that Josh read up on Matthew 10:32-33, which goes like this:

Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

He also suggests Luke 12:48 which seems weird, but okay, we’ll talk about it later. Josh snorts in derision but he’ll read it all later. Also, the church guy appears to be one of those youth pastors who can’t handle aging.

Josh goes home and reads aloud the Bible verses in question. His room has a Newsboys poster. Did I mention the acting in this movie is about on par with a high-school drama class? He texts the chaplain/pastor that he’s going to give the debate a shot. The chaplain/pastor beams a satisfied, beneficent Jesus Smile.

Cut to reporter lady at the doctor’s office. In between her consta-checking her cell phone, the doctor tells her she has cancer. Her response: “I don’t have time for cancer.” She is scheduled for an MRI, which seems like it should have been part of the diagnosis. I get them all the damn time–my specialist doesn’t diagnose anything serious or make sweeping recommendations without a recent one in hand. But I’m not a doctor. Feel free to correct me in comments if sometimes cancer gets a hard diagnosis without MRIs. The type of cancer isn’t specified, either, and she’s obviously in pretty good health and very young so there’s little reason to think that her prognosis is that bad, but the movie assumes the worst.

Back to Josh, studying for his debate. Josh’s girlfriend wears a purity ring in her left ring finger. She semi-apologizes for being kind of nasty earlier. It turns out today is their sixth anniversary, which means they met when they were like 12, which is creepy and weird for a movie to stress. Apparently they met at a Newsboys concert and he’s taking her to see them for the big celebration (product placement ahoy!). She issues an ultimatum: does he value her or Professor Radisson more? She’s Christian, but she wants him to sign the “stupid paper” and move on with his life. Uh oh, she’s a dreaded lukewarm Christian!

If you’re wondering, I’m actively ignoring the “African missionary trying to reach Disneyland” subplot because frankly it’s dumb, imperialistic, and vaguely racist. It’ll get a post of its own later, but basically it’s a comedy of errors where this blithely optimistic African missionary and the church chaplain/pastor dude are trying to get to the iconic theme park but every obstacle possible seems to be in their way.

The debate begins. (Let me say again that I’d be angry if I paid Professor Radisson to teach me philosophy and got a freshman student debate instead.) Josh begins by saying that nobody can “disprove” that his god exists. Um, what? Of course not. Nobody can disprove homeopathy either. Is Radisson such a shitty teacher that he lets a student evade burden or proof, one of Christian zealots’ favorite tactics? Apparently!

Josh begins with cosmology and astronomy, an odd choice given that he’s in a philosophy class. He refers to Stephen Weinberg’s description of the Big Bang, then says that the 1920s “Belgian astronomer” George Lamaitre thought the Big Bang was exactly what one might expect to see if the universe had been sung into existence by the Bible’s god. If you’re wondering, this reference is not entirely honest on Josh’s part, reflecting either a deep misunderstanding of the source material or a deliberate distortion of it. Take your pick. I despise this character and this movie so I’m going with deliberate distortion. That link includes a lot of other criticisms of Josh’s presentation so I’ll let you go look at it.

Screen shot 2015-03-23 at 9.31.35 PMI’d heard that Josh really focuses on pseudoscience on his presentations but hadn’t realized just how much he relies on it. I bet that his logical contortions sound good to fundagelicals, but they sound terrible to me. He said that people shouldn’t have to “commit intellectual suicide” to believe in “a Creator,” while he commits intellectual suicide. He says that atheists and theists alike need to answer how the universe began, but I don’t see that as a real metaphysical issue for most folks. It’s good to know our origins, sure, and we will eventually discover the answers we don’t have now, but more and more it seems like a god wasn’t required for any of it. You not only must commit intellectual suicide to believe in his nonsense, but you must also be terribly dishonest. Radisson tears him apart over Stephen Hawking, who isn’t a philosopher at all. Apparently philosophers are very concerned with astronomy. Radisson does make a good point; Creationists don’t generally have up-to-date information about science. But the thing is, Radisson is making an argument from authority and one would think a philosophy professor would be aware of that fallacy.

Afterward, Radisson confronts Josh in the hallway and blusters, “Do you think you’re smarter than me, Wheaton?” and says that there’s a god in his classroom and he, Radisson, is that god. It’s hard to imagine how this dipshit hasn’t gotten fired or sued. He even threatens Josh’s future as a lawyer. Obviously, this isn’t something real professors do; it’s just a forced dilemma to make the stakes sound higher.

Josh’s girlfriend dumps him right after this encounter. Because of course.

The Muslim girl is listening to a Christian sermon on her iPod in her room. Her little brother sneaks in, sees the iPod, and she frantically makes him swear he’ll never tell their father (but he’ll be ratting her out anyway, we already know). The reporter lady tells Dean Cain, her boyfriend, that she has cancer, and he instantly dumps her for “breaking their deal” by wanting some basic human empathy from him. The Chinese dude sees Josh at the library and asks softball questions about Christianity; he’s clearly about to convert, but Josh doesn’t even seem to care or notice, or press his advantage–a strange attitude for an evangelical lad. Also, the girl Mina with the demented mother is Dean Cain’s sister as well as Radisson’s girlfriend, and she argues with Radisson about being “unequally yoked,” meaning she’s suddenly deeply concerned that Radisson isn’t a Christian. She was fine with it at first, apparently, but not now. He insults her at dinner over the wine she’s served, and none of the guests call Radisson out for being a pompous asshole because why would they care? Atheists are so meeeean y’all.

This movie sucks so, so, so, SO bad.

As the reporter lady gets her MRI, Josh gives his next speech, this time about John Lennox. I’ll refer you back to the earlier link about the topic because as usual Josh is distorting or lying about his references, including a cherry-picked quote at the end. Why are Christians so dishonest? Note: When a Christian uses the word “Darwinist,” you know that person has no idea what science is. It’s like the perpetually-blinking turn signal of science denial.

Then we discover the truth about Radisson’s weird hostility toward Christianity: he is actually really mad at “god” for his mother’s death from cancer.

Radisson’s professed atheism has nothing to do with evidence; deep down he’s just an angry and sad believer. Though I’ve never met a real atheist who thought this way, this caricature is exactly what fundagelical Christians tend to believe atheists are like–and who could blame them, considering that most of the “I used to be a mean ole atheist but I totally really believed deep down!” figures prominently in many “ex-atheists'” conversion narratives.

Then we see the Muslim dad slapping the shit out of the daughter and throwing her out of the house for being Christian. I guess it’s okay for Christian parents to throw their LGBTQ kids out of the house or dispossess their ex-Christian kids and spouses, but totally awful for a Muslim man to do the exact same thing to his daughter. Reporter lady has a freakout over having cancer, which is totally not how a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ would act, and Radisson’s flips out when Mina dumps him and declares that he doesn’t “accept” the news. I wonder if these filmmakers know that Christians do every bit of these things they imply only atheists do?

Radisson says that he made a “mistake” letting Josh “spew propaganda” in his class and will be altering the deal, though it will turn out not to look very altered. Josh goes for the Problem of Evil this time around, using the standard-issue Christian contortion of “free will” to excuse why the Christian god allows horrific evil to exist in the world. He makes a false analogy comparing Radisson’s final exam to moral absolutism (interesting refutation here). Funnily enough, not all atheists believe that there is no moral absolute, and even when someone does think so, that doesn’t mean a god is handing morality down to humanity. Josh finally challenges Radisson, saying that he just wants the students in the class to “make their own choice” and that Radisson himself is not just atheistic but anti-theist, which is incredibly bad (and implies that Christians want people to “make their own choice,” which I would 100% disagree with–they say this, but constantly disprove their own words). Then Josh accuses Radisson of hating “God.” And then Radisson admits he hates “God” for taking away his mother.

Bazinga!

It’s the courtroom denouement scene, the pointed-finger “AHA!” that every Christian dreams of. How, Josh asks, can Radisson hate someone “who doesn’t exist?”

So there you have it. One by one, though Josh’s presentation has been terrible, the students stand and announce that the Christian god isn’t dead. I’m suddenly wondering what youth group the students in this movie came from.

Dean Cain visits his mother, that old lady with dementia, and he’s an asshole to her, but then she suddenly starts talking in a very lucid way about how sometimes people live awesome lives because Satan secretly wants them to be so comfortable they can’t think about religion. Talk about an utterly unfalsifiable belief! Reporter lady rushes up to the Newsboys before they go onstage. She asks them another softball question about how they can possibly sing about “God” like he exists, and they preach at her on cue. Seriously, she sucks at her job. They ask her where she finds hope, and she’s lost suddenly and whimpers that she’s dying. These guys, who are dressed like Murph and the Magic-Tones, cold-read her and tell her she’s got some deep spiritual need, which isn’t hard to guess given that she just told them she’s dying and is obviously as emotionally stable as an upturned pyramid. At the same concert, the Muslim girl and Josh and the Chinese guy and a host of other folks show up. Meanwhile, Radisson is reading his mother’s last letter to him–jeez, what a manipulative piece of shit this movie is–and tries to call Mina but she isn’t answering, and Radisson realizes she must be at that concert even though there’s been no hint whatsoever that she’s into teenybopper Christian pop. He leaves to go to the concert too, to find her and reconcile.

The Newsboys in their suits pray for the reporter lady before their concert. They ask if she’ll be okay, and she nods and smiles weakly in assent even though nothing has changed for her. They run off to their concert. Did their publicists pay for this movie? I’m sorry, but the only movie that did this kind of end-scene well is Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and that’s because it was Morris Day and the Time.

Meanwhile, Radisson tries to get to the concert.

And he gets hit by a car.

The missionaries are right there and while the ambulance is coming, they preach at him to convert. That’s right. They prey upon a dying man at his most vulnerable moment.

I fucking hate this manipulative piece of shit movie and every single person involved in bringing this cinematic abortion to the big screen.

This movie is evil.

Radisson dies after having been thus preyed upon, and the predatory missionaries are just happy that he’ll die and know everything there is to know about Jesus because that’s all that matters.

And then as an off-note, the Newsboys announce a speaker who turns out to be that Duck Dynasty dipshit, who tells the audience to text everybody they know that “God’s not dead.” I wonder if that’s really his accent or if he’s exaggerating it, and why he thinks this smarmy gesture is going to come off well to anybody on the receiving end of it. The movie hints that Josh is going to get together with the pretty Muslim girl while the audience does what the fauxbilly tells them to do.

Who hit Radisson? At first I thought it was Dean Cain. Here’s a discussion of it; the car does look similar and it’s something his character would do. But the license plate and lights are different. It bothers me completely that the hit-and-run driver isn’t anybody important; the whole mother/Dean Cain/Mina arc is left hanging.

Screen shot 2015-03-23 at 11.11.03 PM

This loose end and unanswered question define this movie’s shittiness in a lot of ways. The acting is terrible, the storyline is pathetic, and overall it is nothing but a compensation fantasy for evangelicals nursing persecution complexes–but how they handle Radisson is possibly the worst, meanest-spirited thing I have ever seen in my entire life.

We’re going to talk more about this movie’s various lessons over the next week, but I wanted you to have the storyline in mind before we get started. And speaking of which, have a video that is ten million times better than this piece of shit movie:

Posted in Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

The Cult of Before Stories: Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth.

If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen, that it may live
And be a thwart disnatur’d torment to her!
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is
To have a thankless child!
King Lear, Shakespeare

Two men in handshake during San Francisco Marr...

Two men in handshake during San Francisco Marriage March with banner “We all deserve the freedom to marry” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wish it could shock me anymore, seeing a family ripped apart by religion. It happens constantly in this modern age–and will probably get worse, really. But this story touched me particularly today because it hit a few all-too-familiar notes in that discordant jangle that is the Cult of Before Stories.

“The Cult of Before Stories” is a term I coined to describe that weird idolization Christians have of particularly impressive conversion stories. The more impressive the pre-conversion debauchery, the more divine grace that person had to have been given by “God.” So these stories have a distinct progression into worse and worse sin, a sudden moment of reversal, and then a glorious finale. They follow a predictable pattern–for a reason; their bearers are well aware that these stories get attention and rewards.

Christians who can spin an appropriately lurid tale of their horrible pre-conversion lives get a lot of breathless adoration from their peers. Nobody wants to hear a story about a young person who grew up Christian, didn’t really ever do anything outrageously bad or break any laws, and then rededicated his or her life to Jesus in college.

Wait. Well, that’s embarrassing. I basically just described myself as a Pentecostal convert. I guess that explains a few things about why Biff got all the attention with his (completely fictional) account of having been a Satanic Wiccan warlock and high priest who sold pornography to schoolchildren and got possessed during a totally for real sorcerous ritual. But one needn’t go that far, into obviously made-up territory. Any Christian who can tickle the ears of the folks in the pews can join the Cult of Before Stories. Right now the big boogeymen of fundagelical Christianity are atheists and LGBTQ people, whereas back in my day Christians panicked and wrung their little hands over Satanists and Wiccans, so obviously the cool kids will have conversion stories featuring lurid tales of how terrible it was to be LGBTQ or godless–and the very coolest kids will feature both.

On that note, let’s meet Heather Barwick, the latest poster child for bigotry-for-Jesus. She’s being paraded around like a puppy at church camp and doesn’t realize she’s being used to help her new tribe win the already-lost culture war they started, but I’m not sure she’d care if she knew. She’s got a cause. She’s got a goal.

Her method of reaching that goal is stripping away her own mother’s civil rights and human liberties.

“Dear Gay Community: Your Kids are Hurting,” her post opens. Shots fired!

Oh noes! Won’t someone think of the children?!? She goes on: “I loved my mom’s partner, but another mom could never have replaced the father I lost.” Therefore, she goes on to write in so many words, same-sex couples should not ever get the right to marry or be allowed to raise children as a couple.

It actually hurts my heart to see someone this hurting putting so much blame in such a totally wrong place. From her first sentence, she careens off-course. You see, she’s kinda right, but also totally wrong. Another woman wouldn’t replace her father, no, but neither would another man have been able to replace her father. By that I don’t mean that a birth parent is an exalted role that can never, ever be filled ever by anybody else. Take it from someone who got a new dad after a divorce: sometimes the new parent is a lot better (as mine was, and infer what you like from that assertion about how totally abysmal my birth father was at parenting), sometimes a lot worse, most times a mix of better and worse–and these parents can give their kids a new lease on life in a lot of ways, a lease that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten with the birth parent. But in Ms. Barwick’s eyes, that position was exalted. She might be an adult, but her childish declaration reveals that in her heart she’s still a child who is reeling from her parents’ breakup.

Her attack piece continues on from there–and it is an attack, make no mistake here. She writes extensively about how she thinks that gay people are “my people,” (emphasis hers), before going on to say that she doesn’t think her people deserve the same rights that straight people take for granted. Specifically, Ms. Barwick doesn’t want her mother to be able to legally marry the person she loves and cherishes, the person she raised her children with, and the person she wants to spend the rest of her life with. If that’s how she treats her people, I don’t want to see how she treats others.

Oh, she insists, but it’s totally not because she’s a toxic zealot with an ungrateful heart full of vitriolic bigotry against gay people for being gay. She insists it’s totally got nothing to do with them being gay. She strangely issues a nonsensical non sequitur about how much she totally loves her mother and totally isn’t opposing her mother’s right to choose her marriage partner because her mother is gay. Oh no.

It’s because “traditional marriage and parenting” (by which she means straights-only marriage and parenting, using language straight from toxic Christian playbooks in a blatant logical fallacy, the appeal to tradition) seems to hold more “beauty and wisdom” for Ms. Barwick now that she’s had a pack of children of her own with her male spouse. Because the everyday reality of growing up in a same-sex household doesn’t hold the same subjective “beauty and wisdom” for her personally, her mother shouldn’t be allowed to access her right to marry a same-sex spouse. Presumably her mother thought her household had plenty of “beauty and wisdom” and likely thinks that her daughter’s newfound bigotry is horrifying and ugly, but only Ms. Barwick’s opinion matters when it comes to deciding what’s beautiful or wise, and only her opinion should have legal weight. That’s when this attack suddenly swerves into disturbingly familiar territory and becomes a conversion narrative.

She goes on to talk about her childhood as the daughter of two women who were immersed in the gay-rights movement of her area, even briefly touching on seeing Christian bigots demonstrating against LGBTQ people and how much that had hurt both her feelings and those of her parents. But none of that matters, because she’s still hurting inside herself about her parents’ divorce and has some issues to resolve about it, so therefore her mother should not be allowed to access a basic human right: the right to freely choose a marriage partner. That makes sense, right?

Well, no. Not to rational people who know, thanks to actual science that doesn’t rely on anecdotes and ancient books of superstition to handle big questions, that (among other things) when parents stay in miserable marriages “for the sake of the children,” that’s actually worse than if the parents just divorce!

A demand like Ms. Barwick’s makes perfect sense, though, if you happen to be a fundagelical Christian writing for a fundagelical audience that will cluck and coo and nod and feel outraged on her behalf at the mean, shallow, selfish mother who cared more about having a gay relationship than she did about staying in a bad relationship to make her daughter happy. The daughter feeds into every one of the negative stereotypes and nasty opinions that toxic Christians hold against LGBTQ people, validating their bigotry and fanning their flames. She’s doing it to build a case for how terrible her life was in a household that didn’t correctly worship Jesus.

Strangely, however, she takes pains not to drag religion into her attack. Christianity appears not even once in her post except for a confusing bit at the end of it about how Westboro-style picket signs were very hurtful for her to see as a little girl but that their language doesn’t apply to her or “us,” whoever that is. I’m seriously not sure what she’s talking about at all there. Does she not believe her mother is gay? I know that some Christian bigots don’t even believe that it’s possible to be gay, but she doesn’t make herself very clear here. If that’s what she was going for, we can add it to the huge pile of coded-language phrases she uses.

The Federalist piece doesn’t actually specifically mention her religious convictions at all. But opposition to LGBTQ rights is almost exclusively a Christian idea. Indeed, Ms. Barwick uses every single dog-whistle those bigots-for-Jesus use in her post: talking about how much better “traditional marriage” is for children; trying to find a non-religious-sounding excuse to bar LGBTQ Americans from the right to marry; separating being LGBTQ from having a same-sex relationship; falsely insisting–repeatedly at that–that an opposite-sex marriage is “the best and most successful family structure” in which to raise children; and worst of all, repeatedly claiming that other children of same-sex households are being silenced by some massive gay conspiracy and are too terrified to talk about how devastated and depressed they are about how they’ve been deprived of mixed-gender parents.

Hell, she even appropriates LGBTQ language to announce her bigotry: she’s “letting [herself] out of the closet” to announce that she simply cannot support equal marriage. Now, I’m not opposed to using that language sometimes, obviously; ex-Christians use that terminology too. But it’s a little weird to hear a bigot using it to describe holding a position that demonstrably damages, harms, and persecutes a marginalized group. It’s like saying that she’s letting herself out of the closet to announce that she’s not a racist; she just doesn’t think black people should be allowed to vote. Putting it the way she did, using the language of liberation and freedom to describe the dead opposite of liberation and freedom, is so insensitive and tone-deaf that one has to wonder why she ever thought it was a witty inversion to make. She’s punching down, to put it mildly.

Her contortions were all for naught, anyway; when I read it I immediately knew she was Christian–very likely a fundagelical Protestant, from the coded language used. I knew long before I even looked her up online what I was going to find. Not all Christians are anti-LGBTQ bigots, but I’ve yet to run across an anti-LGBTQ bigot who wasn’t a fervent Christian. But when I first made that connection, I told myself, “Cas, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s not completely fair. Maybe she’ll be the first, who knows?” So I did a little legwork, and it didn’t take long to turn up what I wanted to know: she’s using the language of liberation and freedom because she’s making a case about becoming free somehow. She’s just not doing it strictly honestly in this piece.

I’d like to walk y’all through my reasoning.

The Federalist, is, first off, clearly trying to be a right-wing mouthpiece without dragging religion up in overly transparent terms, sort of like a slightly more intellectual Fox News. I’ve seen that a lot lately, especially with regard to the twin hills that fundagelical Christianity is currently dying on–LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights; the religion’s writers, speakers, and thinkers have clearly figured out that phrasing their arguments in definitively religious terminology turns off more moderate listeners and readers, so they’re scrambling to find more secular ways to express their overtly religious ideas. Forced-birthers have been doing that for a very long time, long enough that there are plenty of non-Christians who have totally absorbed and internalized the movement’s fallacious arguments and pseudoscience, but anti-gay bigots have only been at it a short while and they’re still so bad at it that one would term their efforts “comical” if those efforts weren’t trying so hard to cost Americans their rights. If this website isn’t a thinly-veiled Christianist site, I don’t know what would be.

On her Federalist author-bio page, Ms. Barwick describes herself as a “former gay-marriage advocate turned children’s rights activist.” She never says she’s a Christian, but she hardly needs to. In fundagelical-land, those two fields are completely mutually exclusive. The more outrageous and bombastic ends of conservative Christianity, especially, have been trying to tie homosexuality to every serious social evil under the sun for decades–from Scott Lively flat-out asserting that the Nazis’ most powerful members were gayer than gay to Mike Huckabee linking gay people to pedophilia. None of that is true–but you’d never know it to talk to toxic Christians.

Implying that children need extra protection from LGBTQ people is a favorite tactic of right-wing Christian hatemongers, so specifically claiming that she stopped being a gay-marriage advocate to focus on children feeds directly into that demonstrably false ideology. In truth, gay-marriage advocates are very much children’s rights activists; in fact, the material and emotional damage done to children because of bans on equal marriage have formed the basis for most of the lawsuits overturning those bans. Every lawsuit discusses (and offers evidence for) exactly this issue: that not allowing same-sex parents to access their right to marry actually hurts children considerably.

But the way she specifically describes herself here, with the word “turned” implying that there was some U-turn from “gay-marriage advocate” to “children’s rights activist,” speaks to a conversion narrative. She used to be this, but she turned into that. Yeah, that’s a convertin’.

And here we find exactly what we seek: Ms. Barwick specifically phrases her story as a traditional conversion narrative elsewhere. She left out religion from her story on Federalist, but on the much more overtly Christian World News Group website, she feels free to let the Jesus-fication flow in a totally standard “testimony” format. First she describes how worldly and outlandishly antithetical to evangelicalism her childhood was; secondly, she talks about how terrible her life was; and thirdly, at last, she shares how she found “healing” only after dedicating herself to Christianity and now everything is perfect:

Barwick said she only found healing for her “father wound” after she began attending church with her future husband. “It really wasn’t until I came to Christ that I felt that burden lifted off of me. And I’m not bitter. I’m not angry,” she said. “I forgive my dad.”

At the end of the day, though, this bigot-for-Jesus is at heart a hurting child deep down, as I mentioned earlier. “If we say we are hurting because we were raised by same-sex parents, we are either ignored or labeled a hater,” she writes, blithely unaware that the problem wasn’t that she was raised by same-sex parents. I do not ignore her, nor do I think she hates her mother. She’s bought into a flawed and hurtful faith system that taught her these things, just like I did many years ago, but she doesn’t need to hate LGBTQ people in order to be perfectly willing to sacrifice them for her childishly simplistic solution to and explanation of her suffering.

And the right-wing-Christ-o-sphere was happy to let her do it. Just as they spread the urban legend about how the guy who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace” had his 180-degree turnaround, they point to how a little girl who grew up as the centerpiece of a real-life Heather Has Two Mommies has now turned around and is spouting the proper fundagelical party line now about her very own parents. That’s the kind of turnaround that gets their attention!

Very obviously something went a little pear-shaped in her rearing. Something that really needed to be addressed wasn’t; something the family needed to discuss went unspoken. It’s very sad that she’s latched onto this magical fantasy of hers–that if her mother had only either stayed married or chosen a man to marry next, then everything would have been totally perfect and awesome and wonderful and unspeakably lovely–instead of addressing her very real hurts and pains in a constructive and realistic manner. I know exactly how that goes; my little sister spent most of her formative years openly fantasizing about our birth father returning to rescue us from our adoptive father. Our childhood did not look traditional or idyllic, and she was sure that when–not if–he swooped in to save us, everything would be perfect again.

The nice thing about childish fantasies is that they roam in a child’s mind unfettered by the cruel reality of logistical issues. In one lonely child’s mind those fantasies coalesce into a talking stuffed-tiger pal; in Ms. Barwick’s, they manifest as a rock-solid conviction that if only same-sex couples had remained stigmatized, her life would have been totally different and better. Her happiness depends on depriving other people of their rights, and just as forced-birthers are perfectly content with the society that results when sometimes someone’s rights are negligible and disposable, she’s content with what will happen to LGBTQ people if they remain marginalized. Her narrative all but depends on them remaining so.

As it is, one can hardly imagine the pain her poor mother is going through, having a daughter basically say in so many words that she thinks her own mother doesn’t deserve the same rights her daughter was raised to expect without even requesting them. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth, indeed.

I guess that’s why the Federalist piece seemed like it was missing something. It was. She was spinning a conversion narrative, a witnessing-style testimony, but for some reason had to leave out the overtly religious bits. It was a safe risk to take; her chosen audience would fill in the blanks, while leaving the post enough plausible deniability to avoid an overtly religious label and this hopefully form part of a secular argument against equal marriage. Does she really believe that banning equal marriage would have made her childhood happy? Does she really think that the whole problem here was that her mother was legally allowed to ditch her husband and then go on to form a partnership with another woman? Possibly; the euphoria of religious conversion can convince people of a lot of nonsensical ideas.

Either way, it’s quite clear to me that she’s confused, a sentiment echoed by a great many detractors of her original post. As one of those detractors has put it, “denying a huge swath of American citizens our civil rights is not an answer.” Another notes, correctly, that while her pain is absolutely valid and not to be dismissed, she’s really aiming at the wrong people here.

I wish it all surprised me anymore. As long as Christianity rewards its adherents for creating these kinds of stories for themselves, we’re going to keep seeing them. And as LGBTQ people continue to be mistreated by Christians, more and more of those narratives are going to hit all the buttons of what they think LGBTQ people and relationships–and families–are like, and more and more testimonies are going to offer them a glimpse into that forbidden world that they so ache to see.

And the funny thing? As I said, this battle is already lost. They can trot as many testimonies as they want out in front of people, but the vast majority of kids raised by same-sex parents will know the truth–and so will their friends, families, and neighbors. And rights are rights; if someone has the right to marry, then that’s that. These testimonies not only don’t impact an essential right, but backfire by demonstrating just how necessary those rights are to protect.

The author of this testimony might not realize what she’s really communicating here any more than her target audience does, but the rest of us do.

PS: I’m trying hard to restrain myself from discussing her genuinely creepy and off-putting Jesus Smile, because I know I’ve mentioned it a couple times in the past about other Christians-behaving-badly and it’s probably getting old, but…. Y’ALL. SERIOUSLY. DAT JESUS SMILE. Look at how happy she is denying her very own mother her basic American rights. Just grinnin’ ear to ear with how amazing that grace is that is poised to slash her own mother’s freedoms. Ain’t Jesus wunnerful? Awww, so sweet.

Posted in Feminism, Guides, Hypocrisy, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Science Denial Has Become Christianity’s Cheap Marker Belief.

I was reading Neil Carter’s excellent post, “Will Evangelicals Ever Learn to Embrace Evolution?” and something occurred to me:

The original complete skull (without upper tee...

The original complete skull (without upper teeth and mandible) of a 2,1 million year old Australopithecus africanus specimen so-called “Mrs. Ples” (catalogue number STS 5, Sterkfontein cave, hominid fossil number 5), discovered in South Africa . Collection of the Transvaal Museum, Northern Flagship Institute, Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). It’s going to get harder and harder for fundagelicals to explain away evidence like this skull–but also funnier and more tragic the harder they try.

Not only has denial of evolutionary theory become one of the hills that fundagelical Christianity has chosen to die on (the other is control of human sexuality via opposition to abortion access and LGBTQ equality), making it an in-group marker belief, not only is it a cheap marker belief, but it is a marker belief that really encapsulates neatly Christian culture’s total lack of discipline and follow-through (if not that of our culture in general’s).

A marker belief is a way to differentiate one group from another. It’s a quick, easy way to tell who is in the group and who is out of it. If you’ve ever seen a woman from an Amish or Pentecostal community, you’ve seen in-group markers in action, but marker beliefs may or may not result in an outward sign visible to the eye. In Christianity, the 41,000 reported denominations of the religion have to differentiate themselves somehow–and they do it with marker beliefs. Trinitarianism vs. Oneness, water baptism vs. sprinkling, saints or no saints, tongues or no tongues or sometimes tongues, holidays or no holidays, Saturday or Sunday worship: the list goes on and on of the different beliefs. If there weren’t any differences between denominations then there’d be very little reason for that group to exist as a separate entity.

And when one group brushes up against another group, unless they’re on their best behavior there’s likely going to be some wrangling–hopefully good-natured, but maybe a little less so as each group realizes that the other group isn’t budging. But the verses are so clear, so very clear! Except the other group doesn’t agree. And that wrangling goes into each group’s identity and builds up over time, each member convinced that those on the other side simply don’t understand the Bible verses–or, more sinisterly, are deliberately ignoring or distorting them because of some sinful desire or other.

In the past, in-group marker beliefs were big, sweeping, and could get someone hurt. In some places they still are. Protestantism is, itself, a series of marker beliefs differentiating itself from Catholicism. Holding Protestant ideas was dangerous; the Catholic Church regularly persecuted those who dissented, sometimes even murdering them. Later on, Protestants themselves branched into groups holding their own marker beliefs, each group persecuting the others whenever possible and lording their dominance around just as the Catholics had earlier.

But what I see in Christian culture now is a real unwillingness to take on beliefs that will require a lot of sacrifice or that might genuinely cost them in any tangible way. I almost wonder if they’re saying, sotto voce, that they know that it’s nonsense and aren’t willing to stick out their necks for nonsense anymore. Still, it’s almost comical how outraged they get when their behaviors get them in trouble. It’s like they want to hold the marker belief, but are completely unwilling to face any consequences whatsoever for holding it:

* OKCupid discovers that talking about religion backfires bigtime; commenters go absolutely berserk with butthurt rage and indignation. Being godly in every single way and Jesus-fying even one’s search for romance is mandatory, until it costs Christians replies to their hollas at total strangers.

* Ken Ham wants to discriminate against non-fundamentalist Christians in his hiring practices for his stupid science-denial theme park, but doesn’t want to lose his tax breaks–so he’s actually suing the state of Kentucky, claiming he’s being discriminated against for being forced to follow the same rules as literally every other outfit getting tax breaks. Discrimination is godly! Unless it costs someone money. Then it’s discrimination not to let him discriminate. (Does Kanye West know about this?) This case is less about Creationism than it is about discriminatory hiring practices, which is why it’s on my list here.

* “Meet the new victims of so-called ‘Marriage Equality,'” whines World News Daily, forgetting all about the victims of their bizarre crusade against LGBTQ people. Christians have a major hard-on for “traditional marriage,” by which they mean straights-only marriage, but they still want to work in the marriage industry. Much like that idiotic nurse who opposed contraception but still wanted to work for a clinic that helped women obtain contraception, it’s hard to see these sorts of lawsuits and explosions of rage from bigoted Christians without wondering what on earth they’re rabbiting on about. If you can’t follow your state’s laws about non-discrimination in the workplace, then don’t start a business there. Find a state that allows discrimination. But these overzealous bigots want to have a business there; they just also want to discriminate illegally. When they are not allowed special exemptions from all the rules that everybody else has to follow, then they cry “religious freedom” in their quest for legal discrimination. If someone holds a marker belief like “LGBTQ people don’t deserve the same civil rights non-LGBTQ Americans take for granted,” then of course putting that belief into practice will be costly in some cases.

* On that note, it’s “intolerant” to force bigoted business owners to publicly hang signs proclaiming their desire to discriminate against LGBTQ customers, proclaims one bigoted Christian who wants to enjoy being a bigot and discriminate against people he demonizes and thinks are subhuman sinners, but also thinks it’s meeeeeeeeean to have that desire be publicly announced so that these business owners never even have to deal with demonized, subhuman sinners. The whole point of this sanctimonious showboating is to discriminate, and what’s the use of discrimination if you can’t lord your holiness and superiority over the people you want to discriminate against? What’s the fun of it if you can’t see their poor little faces fall when they get told they can’t be served like anybody else? What’s the point if you can’t see them walk out the door all dejected-like? What’s the use in being a sanctimonious bigot-for-Jesus if you can’t feel smugly justified in turning a few people down for your exalted attention? Gosh, you can’t have businesses post signs like that; it might cost them customers among the straight, Godly people they want to serve. They know that there aren’t a whole lot of same-sex couples clamoring for wedding-related services in the first place, but they also know that a solid majority of Americans–especially young people–support marriage equality and would certainly find somewhere else to patronize for their cakes and flowers and photography if such signs were posted. They want the bigotry, just not the loss of that much business for it. I can’t imagine why, if they really think that bigotry is what their god wants, they’d be ashamed to proclaim to the very skies their compliance with that god’s desires.

* Last year, a Christian bigotry group announced that they were going to hold their breaths till they turned blue to strong-arm their god into magically making equal marriage stop happening, in the form of a fast. In Christian parlance, denying oneself food in a fast is like showing up in person at the office of your local congresscritter–it’s a serious expression of desire to the Christian god, and he is supposedly far more likely to do what his children demand in response. Immediately, however, the rationalizations about just what the word “fast” meant began to flow. It became obvious that none of these bigots actually wanted to abstain entirely from food or were intending to do so. They wanted the display of having done so–numerous news reports blossomed at the time, as well as photos of beaming Assholes-for-Jesus wearing their prettiest Jesus Smiles as they discussed how they intended to temper-tantrum their way back to the Good Ole Days where LGBTQ people hid in terror of TRUE CHRISTIANS™’ tender godly love and knew their place and weren’t uppity. I don’t imagine most of them actually did starve themselves for forty days, though. Maybe that’s why their tantrum failed. Yes, that must be it.

* Also last year, right-wing fundagelical nutjobs became the laughingstock of America when their “Operation Spring” rally drew not 10-30 million right-wing nutjob Americans to Washington, D.C., but rather like a few hundred. This turnout was especially disappointing given that apparently a solid million people had promised they’d be there. One of the nutjobs’ leaders blamed a couple of inches of rain on the low turnout. They might absolutely hate the President, they might absolutely seethe about how “their country” is slipping through their fingers more quickly by the hour, but they’re certainly not going to get off their asses and drive cross-country to a muddy field to get wet protesting or anything. I’m sure that the million “patriots” who’d RSVP’d had every single intention of showing up, but then as they were packing the van they realized that they’d be getting wet and maybe burning their families’ summer vaca to WDW.

I could go on and on and on and on, but you get the idea, I hope. Their statewide prayer meetings and homophobe rallies draw smaller and smaller crowds; their boycotts seem to result mostly in increased sales for the companies they’re boycotting so vehemently (and quite a lot of mockery); their attempts to destroy traffic don’t seem to do much at all to interfere with other motorists’ use of taxpayer-funded roads; their extremist national-level political candidates are best summarized by the phrase “a confederacy of dunces”.

It’s really hard to read these sorts of stories and not come away from them thinking that overall, a great many Christians really want to hold extremist and distinctly non-mainstream views–but they don’t actually want to face any blowback or hardship as a result of holding their views. This ain’t new, either; back in my own Christian days I noted a certain lack of follow-through from my peers. Not much has changed. In that regard such Christians don’t seem a lot different from any other group holding those sorts of views–but isn’t that the point and the problem here? Why isn’t “Jesus” making these Christians willing to endure anything for their views? Why are they so singularly incapable of follow-through for their beliefs? Why are they so upset about losing tangible benefits like tax breaks and first dates, if they really think that what they’re doing is the right thing in the eyes of their god? Hell, why can’t they at least even own their beliefs and be proud of them (in the case of the outrage over the sign amendment) if they think those beliefs are mandated by a real live living god? I’d really expect them to be all “forget this, you don’t gotta force me to hang a sign, I’ll put up the biggest one I can get my HANDS on!” rather than whining about persecution and intolerance over the idea.

But the problem is that bigotry is starting to become expensive, and they know it and don’t like it.

That’s one of the reasons why fundagelicals still cling to Creationism as a marker belief. It’s an incredibly inexpensive one, as they go. With a few exceptions like the story of Ken Ham above, an adult who holds Creationist views will, at most, receive social disapproval for holding that view. A Creationist Christian won’t normally lose a job over it, or a friend or spouse. That adult can still get a flu shot and try to lower their impact on the environment while holding those beliefs, and still consider him- or her self a Creationist. A child indoctrinated with that belief might have a much tougher time, but children don’t normally voluntarily choose that belief without their parents pushing them toward it. And the pushback that Creationists get allows them to feel special and persecuted, spurring them to new lows to sneak their pseudoscience into public schools. These Christians don’t yet realize just how costly this belief could become for their areas, but that realization is starting to dimly occur to some of them.

The same dissonance goes double for being anti-abortion. It’s a cheap belief to hold in our country because the right to access a safe, legal abortion is part of our national law. A “pro-life” fundagelical woman can still feel perfectly justified in obtaining an abortion for herself should she need one; there’s a reason why “the only moral abortion is MY abortion” is a saying. I once chatted with a clinic escort who estimated that fundagelical Christians made up a good half of the women in her clinic’s waiting room at any given time. The people fighting so hard for “precious babies” always find a way to rationalize their own transgressions against their moral codes, and whenever the matter comes to a vote–as in the frequent attempts to sneak “personhood” amendments into state law which would definitively impact ALL women’s lives, not just those of heathen slutbunnies skipping merrily into women’s clinics to use abortions as contraception because they have no idea what’s going on in their bodies and want to escape their rightful divine punishment for having unapproved sex (as the false narrative frequently claims)–even the most misogynistic, oppressive, sex-negative, ignorance-celebrating states repeatedly reject those measures. When push comes to shove, very few zealots actually want to live in a society where the law gives fetuses more rights than actual people get. That belief, put into action, would simply become too costly.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it is a bad thing that regressive Christians are so bad about follow-through. It’s good that Christians are starting to make some real connections between what they say and what happens to them socially and culturally, and between their stated beliefs and the effort required to put boots on those beliefs. As it stands, they’re only just now starting to connect their behaviors with their membership numbers and public standing. Many of them are still kicking against the pricks, as the Bible verse goes, and are lording that exact shrinking membership and faltering public standing as signs that they’re doing everything perfectly right in their (coincidentally equally bigoted and discriminatory) god’s eyes and that the end of the world is coming.

But you can also see, reading between the lines, their outrage and disappointment that they’re no longer members of the Cool Kids’ Club. Though American congresspeople are still frantically trying to appease this dwindling bloc, Americans as a whole no longer really give a shit what fundagelicals think or want or do–unless those fundagelicals force them to care, which backfires every single time by making those selfsame fundagelicals look even worse than if they hadn’t thrust themselves into and onto mainstream Americans’ attention. Right now their leaders are finding ways to spin-doctor this phenomenon as a good thing, but that’s not going to last forever. Sooner or later these leaders are going to realize that they cannot survive as a group doing what they’re doing, and they’re going to find some way to reconcile themselves to social progress.

Though I have peers who privately express fears that that way is going to involve violence, I don’t think it will for the most part. Christians have been showing us for years that they’re not willing to really stick their necks out for their beliefs.

In the end, I agree with Neil entirely:

It doesn’t really matter which reworking of Adam and Eve will win out. What I’m fairly certain of is that somehow it will happen. It will because it must. They don’t really have a choice. Churches will have to evolve on this matter or they will die by virtue of complete irrelevance. The ones who cling to the old literalism will take their views with them to the grave. Perhaps like the snake handlers some of them will keep an alternate reality alive among networks of tiny churches scattered across the Appalachian foothills or in the deepest pine forests of rural Mississippi and Alabama. But the rest of the world will move on and the churches that find a way to make the Bible fit with modern science will make it into the next generation.

These Christians will adapt, or their way of life will die out entirely.

Either way, humanity wins.

Eyes on the prize, friends. It’s going to happen, slowly but surely.

Posted in Feminism, Hypocrisy, Religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Handbook: Wishful Thinking in Apologetics.

In the Handbook for the Recently Deconverted, we’ve talked lately about some of the apologetics that are trending among Christians–stuff we’re likely to see as ex-Christians. You can see a more scholarly look at the four traditional classifications of apologetics here from a Christian who seems to know what he’s talking about, but I take a more pragmatic approach to the topic that I think reflects how non-believers actually experience the attempts by Christians to persuade us. I’ve noticed that most apologetics enthusiasts tend to blend these styles, when they actually try anything that sophisticated in the first place. So I’ve chosen to look at the subject a little differently.

After a birds-eye overview of the field, we dove into the ways Christians try to argue themselves into a god, and then we took on the various ways that apologists try to fuse real science and history with the Bible.

Today we’re talking about the apologists who create arguments in favor of Christianity by appealing to what Christians really wish their god was like–in other words, by playing upon believers’ wishful thinking.

I’m not talking about all those “arguments from X” bits of disingenuous skullduggery that Christians often pull, though we’ll be taking those on next time. I’m talking more about a way of describing Christianity in its perfect, idealized state to make people want to remain Christians or become so.

Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been thinking all week about how I’d characterize the apologetics of the well-loved author C.S. Lewis. Though non-believers (and quite a few believers) likely know him only as the author of the Narnia series, he also wrote some very well-received books of apologetics like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. His body of apologetics work has influenced Christians the world over for decades; Christianity Today ranked Mere Christianity third in its list of the most influential apologetics books for evangelicals–quite interesting considering he wasn’t anything close to an evangelical himself during his lifetime, but then again, they did go gaga for Mitt Romney–a Mormon–just a few years ago, so who knows what they’re thinking at any given time. Whatever his actual views on Christianity (and those views sound like a very genial form of Anglicanism, which was his chosen denomination), he has been absorbed into the Borg Collective at this point; they think of him as one of their own.

Definitely C.S. Lewis makes some of the same junior-grade mistakes that we see among any evangelical apologists. Don’t get me wrong–I love his writing, even his Christian writing, and it’s not easy to say this, but seriously, his apologetics leaves something to be desired (which I kinda think even he thought). His famous “trilemma” is nothing more than a false dilemma, presenting the options of “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” without even considering any other options like “Jesus was sincere but mistaken” or even “Jesus was a completely made-up character or was seriously embellished by later authors.” But modern apologists like Josh McDowell regurgitate this argument without even crediting C.S. Lewis for it–which I suspect is less a desire to steal from a legend than a reflection of how deeply engrained in fundagelical Christian culture this argument has become.

Mere Christianity is a compilation of three lectures that Mr. Lewis gave. Most of them concern themselves with an argument from morality–something non-Christians are quite familiar with by now. The idea goes like this: Human beings simply couldn’t have evolved a sense of morality on their own, and whenever they try to put together a code of ethics and morality by themselves, without referring to a Great Objective Morality Handed Down by JesusGod, they get totally messed up. So only by referring to a Great Objective Morality Handed Down by JesusGod can human beings be properly moral. Yes, it’s that tired “you can only be good with God/can’t be good without God” thing. But what one really gets from his writing is a sense that he really wants Christianity to be based on some kind of objective morality. He really wants this religion to be the one that offers him the all-singing, all-dancing feeling of having total structure. And I can totally understand that desire. The problem is that since he wrote his book, advances in science–especially sociology and anthropology–have advanced our understanding of morality and ethics; I wonder what he’d say now if he knew about some of those advances. But then, that’s what you get for taking your information about how humans could or couldn’t have evolved from a person trained in history and theology, as C.S. Lewis was. Amazing, isn’t it, how often Christians make that mistake? It’s almost as if they can’t get real biologists and anthropologists to agree with their position.

The statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the ward...

The statue of C. S. Lewis in front of the wardrobe from his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in East Belfast, Northern Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This book is not only Mr. Lewis’ argument from morality but also an attempt to pin down what he thought were the ultimate basics of his religion: to define a “mere” Christianity, so to speak. One of the main drawbacks to this attempt is that there isn’t any belief in Christianity that could be considered a universal one. For every single one that could be named–even ones that most people would consider totally basic to the religion, like “Jesus is divine” or “believers will go to Heaven”–you can find Christians who don’t buy into it and go the opposite direction. Other apologists go this route as well–for example, N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian, which is ably critiqued by Steve Shives on YouTube. Any time you get wishful apologists, you’re likely going to see this idealized Christianity described–and often the results look totally different, one apologist to the next.

One can’t help but get a whiff of yearning from these authors–they wish there really was a Christianity like that. I remember very well what it was like. That’s why I ended up in more and more extreme versions of Christianity–I was trying to find what I thought of as “the original Christianity,” the real one, the true one. I knew that what I was seeing around me wasn’t what I sought, because I couldn’t imagine the real one leading to so much abuse, hurt, division, discord, and hatred among its followers. There’s no way that a real god, a true god, a loving god could ever allow such a thing.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Christians were arguing about doctrines and practices from the get-go. There wasn’t an original, real, or true Christianity, not even when the anonymous authors of the Gospels first put quill to parchment. It was always fragmented and contentious. It was never smooth and easy or obviously divine, any more than its morality was ever objective or perfect. It was a religion that looks exactly like one would expect from ignorant people trying their best to figure things out with the information they had right then.

And this god apparently jolly well did allow this festering chaos to linger all through the centuries. Now all these evangelicals are charging in announcing that non-believers are inferior because they operate with a “subjective morality” (when they differ from evangelicals on key ideas)–when these Christians are not snidely insinuating or outright stating that non-believers must secretly believe in Jesus (when they agree on key ideas), because only belief in Jesus could ever produce a good person, except when it doesn’t in which case that person’s not really a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.

The merry-go-round involved in this wishful thinking makes me dizzy.

It’s almost secondary, whether or not the god behind all these arguments really exists. If that mattered to the apologists using these arguments, then they’d certainly go about figuring out just how to nail down this “objective morality” and figure out if it really is unique to Christianity or caused by Christianity–and then would work out whether or not this “objective morality” really has a beneficial impact on the societies practicing whatever they happen to think it is this year. And for that matter they’d be asking some hard questions about “yes, but how do we know that there’s a supernatural being handing out purposes like watery tarts lobbing swords at kings?”

So when we look at arguments like those C.S. Lewis puts forth, or any of the other apologists arguing from a position of morality or joy or purpose or meaning, we need to see these arguments for what they are: an expression of their hearts for something like that, and an inability to see those qualities anywhere else. That’s why The Screwtape Letters could become such a classic in Christian literature and its concepts could become accepted canon even within fundagelical circles without C.S. Lewis ever once demonstrating that demons even exist. That’s how Christian apologists can insist that only belief could produce morally good people. And that’s how Creationist assholes can spew filth everywhere about how rejecting Creationism will inevitably lead to disaster and crime everywhere:

That’s the world that would exist if their god actually existed and if their beliefs were actually true.

It’s not that they wish crime and chaos on the world; it’s that such awfulness would bolster their arguments considerably and demonstrate the truth of their words, so it gives them a certain creepily eager quality as they pant and moan over what the world will look like as people continue to discard Christianity, and why they seem so damned eager to see disasters that they think would “cleanse” the world of the people they hate most–and who, by wild coincidence, their god hates as well.

That’s also why they seem so totally freaked out over what equal marriage and abortion-on-demand would do to our society: those are the two most visible signs of people’s rejection of fundagelical control and culture at this point, since the total control over people’s lives and sexuality have become the twin hills that fundagelical leaders have chosen to die on. If their god were real and actually looked and acted like they imagine he does, then absolutely these two issues would likely provoke that being into terrible action. But if one or the both of their imaginings aren’t true, then obviously we won’t see any sort of widespread awfulness–and indeed we are not.

Unfortunately–or fortunately, depending on which side of the church door you’re on, as the years march on and nobody seems to be suffering as a result of widespread acceptance and practice of these two rights and rejection of Christianity’s other claims, as the world seems to be doing just fine (if not better) as more and more people turn away from religiosity toward secularism, Christian leaders are starting to sound more and more out of touch with reality as they threaten and bluster about the terrible risks humanity is taking (and their god is starting to sound more and more grotesque and barbaric, but to fundagelicals that’s another feature, not a bug, of their faith system).

These apologetics are likely the easiest to deal with, though also likely to be the most dearly-held by those who offer them as “proof” of a god. Familiarity and experience are the dread enemies of wishful thinking. All we need to do–if we choose to engage, of course, always; we might not and that is totally our right either way–is establish what the Christian in question is claiming will happen if his or her claims are true, and debunk them. For example, of the many states in the United States that have allowed same-sex couples to access their inalienable right to marry, none have actually been hit by a meteor as Pat Robertson has threatened on behalf of his invisible bully friend. And at this point most people know a lot of non-Christians who are perfectly good people who nonetheless reject every single one of Christianity’s spurious claims–as well as a great many Christians who are absolutely terrible people who are very gung-ho and hardcore in believing those same claims.

I really don’t think Christians realize that this style of apologetics, more than any other, is intended for them, not for non-believers. I hear these sorts of arguments quite often, but the people wielding them never seem to notice that in order to buy into their claims or agree with their conclusions, the audience has to agree with the entire series of nested assumptions they’re making in order for the argument to work. Even more than presuppositional arguments that just assume that it’s all true to make obfuscated, scholarly arguments to argue themselves into a god, the wishful apologists assume dozens of facts about the supernatural and about society–while ignoring vast swathes of easily-available information and and easily-obtained data–to make their own arguments sound persuasive. And it can sound quite lovely, their vision for what the world would look like if Christianity were true and if it actually did for believers what most Christians think it does, and even moreso their vision of this unified, properly-understood Christianity that totally makes everything perfect.

A pity it just isn’t true.

Signs of a wishful apologist:

* Phrases like “objective morality” and “post-Modernism.”
* Claims that Christian societies are more functional or that rejecting Christianity leads to crime or dysfunction.
* Excessive rumination about what a post-Christian society would look like, especially if there’s some Tribulation-style fantasizing going on.
* Speaking over non-believers’ experiences by claiming they all secretly believe in Jesus if they’re decent people. (It’s the Bizarro No-True-Scotsman; you’re a Christian whether you like it or not, if you are a good person.)
* Claims that the Bible is very easily understood and put into practice.
* An insistence on there being some very clearly-understood, accessible version of Christianity that is universal, Biblically sound, and morally tenable.
* A certain amount of ignorance about what human beings are actually like–in or out of Christianity.
* A blithely insulting view of non-Christians.

The second someone points out that Christians can be terrible just as non-Christians can be wonderful, the argument falls apart and now the apologist has to account for why that might be–in the doing making another series of assumptions and ignoring yet more information and data. But that’s not the only way to defuse this type of argument.

Some questions you might ask about a wishful argument:

* Exactly what parts of this claim can be tested and observed to be true?
* Exactly what happens if this claim is or isn’t true?
* What is the falsification of this claim and how does that pan out?
* Do people really act like that?

As you can tell, a lot of this wishfulness happens in the course of creating an “argument from consequences,” which is a fancy way of saying that Christians are arguing about what would happen if their claim were true or untrue rather than actually demonstrating whether or not the claim itself is true.

Ultimately, our task as humans is to do what we can with the information we’ve got. Even if that information makes the universe seem a little scarier, wishing it was different doesn’t make it so. If there isn’t a Universal Law-Giver, as Christians imagine their god to be, then it’s on us as people to try to figure out how to get along and how to get what we want out of life while stepping on as few people as possible. It might not be quite as glamorous as having a god loftily handing down laws and precepts, but it does save us the trouble of having to spend books upon books upon books, and centuries after centuries after centuries, trying to bash an ancient book of mythology into a half-assed guide to life in the modern age. We can cut straight to the chase as we work out a morality that works for our society and advances us in knowledge, compassion, and justice without wasting that time and effort.

Next time we’re going to look at more of these “arguments from X” apologetics attempts–hope you’ll join me!

Tangentially Related:
* “Red Jacket on the Religion of the White Man and the Red”: a Native American punctures the balloon of idealized Christianity presented to his council by an aspiring missionary. No punches pulled, but amazingly diplomatic as the speaker outlines why he rejects Christianity.

Posted in Biography, Guides, Religion, The Games We Play, Theology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Weekend Edition: Stuff I Wish I’d Seen.

I know I’ve joked about compiling a list of “Bible Verses I Wish I’d Seen While Christian,” and today we’re going to do it because the concept is tickling me pink for some reason today.

It’s a solid fact that a great many non-believers know the Bible better than TRUE CHRISTIANS™ themselves do. Spin that however they like, the religion’s leaders have to contend with the simple fact that though almost every single Christian alive believes that the Bible is the inspired word of a real live god and that it is that god’s instructions and desires for humanity, they don’t think it’s interesting enough to read.

Some of the stuff I’m going to list here is stuff I didn’t have any idea existed, and some of it’s stuff I vaguely knew about but didn’t read in-depth for myself. Nor do I present any of these myths and legends as anything I think literally happened now. I also don’t include the really awful commandments around rape, torture, slavery, and whatnot because I knew about those–and yes, they bothered me, but I had more than enough talking-points to rationalize them as being compatible with a benevolent, loving god. Oh, and be aware that Christian apologists have hand-waving ad hoc rationalizations for every one of these, from their favorite trump card context to attempts to weave modern sensibilities into these tales of wonder and bizarreness. When someone’s really invested in making their holy book look divine and perfect, the level of intricacy these rationalizations achieve is truly something to behold.

But in no particular order, here is the list:

The Road to Emmaus appearance, based on Luke 2...

The Road to Emmaus appearance, based on Luke 24:13-32, painted by Joseph von Führich, 1830. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

* Jesus, the trickster godling. (Luke 24)
According to the Gospels, Jesus’ death was a total shock to his disciples. After he died, some of them lit out for a nearby village called Emmaus; we aren’t told why, but it sounds like it was home to at least one of them. And Jesus showed up on the road to walk with them. Now, he didn’t actually tell his beloved followers who he was. He just let them rabbit on and on about his death and how upset they were. He wasn’t even planning to stay in Emmaus that night except that they asked him to stay for dinner–as hospitable folks do and should–and it wasn’t until the dinner that the disciples realized who he had to be. He’d been asking them about his own death all day long and remonstrating with them for their lack of faith, and he hadn’t whispered a word to comfort them or assuage their deep grief. I don’t know about you, but if a dear friend of mine had died and hung out with me all day long without telling me that s/he hadn’t really died, I’d be torqued–even hurt. When I saw this story, I couldn’t help but think of how mean it was that he didn’t comfort his followers and dry their tears, but instead let them believe he was gone. Had I seen these verses as a Christian and understood what they were saying, I know that would have been problematic for me.

Also, this story makes Jesus sound like a teenager on MySpace who pretends to die just to get extra attention and see all the upset messages that follow.

* The Great Jewish Zombie Uprising. (Matthew 27)
This one I know for sure I didn’t see until after deconverting. In it, after the Crucifixion, at the moment Jesus is supposed to have died, Jerusalem goes through a shuddering series of disasters that would have fit well in any Roland Emmerich movie. Rocks split and heave out of the ground, the curtain of the temple rips in two, and in the cemetery, tombs split open and dead Jews get up and wander around Jerusalem chatting with people. It’s funny that as a Christian, I knew about the curtain tearing, but I totally didn’t notice the last part at all.

This story also presents some obvious challenges to the literalist crowd. Stones and graves cracking open, the main temple facing an obviously unnatural desecration, and a bunch of dead Jews wandering all zombie-like around one of the biggest cities in the area, one that moreover had a huge Roman presence with literate and educated people all over the damned place, and yet I’m expected to believe that this happened while not a single one of those literate people thought to mention a single one of these huge events in any letters or documents of the time? Yeah. That raises a few questions for me.

* Are you kidding? God LOVES abortion! (Numbers 5)
In this story, “God” commands Israelites to force abortions on wives suspected of infidelity. The women are force-fed a “bitter potion” whose ingredients sound supremely sketchy. If the woman cheated on her husband and she’s pregnant by another man, then the potion will make her miscarry. If she doesn’t miscarry, then obviously she was innocent.

To be fair, what “God” loves seems more to be controlling women’s bodies and forcing women to abide by their menfolks’ decisions about whether and when and how their bodies will reproduce. Abortion is just the ultimate means to that end–just as it is today. Trying to rob women of their own sovereignty about reproduction works both ways. The problem here isn’t abortion; it’s that the woman in question was forced to undergo this ritual and then commanded to agree to her own victimization (note that grotesque bit at the end where she has to say “Amen, so be it”). And to all the Christians who may right now be thinking of all the rationalizations that toxic Christian leaders undoubtedly have prepared to explain away this grisly, repulsive little ritual, let’s keep in mind that this god could easily have told his people to quit treating women as property and stop seeing sex as a defiling act.

* Just how old did you think that girl was? (Numbers 31)
In this myth, the Jewish soldiers fall upon the hapless wretches of Midian and murder every single man, boy, and older woman there. They destroy the Midianites’ cities and fields and steal everything that isn’t nailed down. But Moses commands them to keep the virgin girls for themselves. Now, most folks learn in Sunday School that marriage happened at a much earlier age than it does today in Biblical days. How old do you suppose a virgin girl would be in Midianite culture before she got married, and how often do you suppose an of-age girl remained unmarried in that culture? And how exactly would the Israelites have been testing these girls to see if they were really virgins? I’m sure it was a polite conversation and nothing more invasive than that. I’ve heard some Bible scholars admit that these Midianite girls would have been very young, probably a lot younger than we’d consider acceptable today.

Come to think of it, there’s not a single verse in the Bible advising men not to fuck little girls. There are rules about everything under the sun in the Bible and as a fundamentalist I believed that every single life situation was covered there, but there was not a word breathed in it that I know of (or knew of then) that covered the important question of “how old people should be in order to get married.” (–which would mean in essence “having approved sex.”) It’s hard not to imagine that the lack of guidance in this area is in big part why so many fundamentalists have trouble with that question; I know that in super-fundie circles the girls are encouraged to marry way too young, and sometimes a pastor will get caught dragging underaged girls across state lines in order to take advantage of another state’s lower age of consent. So yeah, there’s a lot about this particular myth that really bothers me now, and I would have been hugely bothered by it then.

* That sounds fair. NOT. (Deuteronomy 21:1)
What a just, merciful, fair, and loving god. Any man who’s been emasculated or has been seriously hurt in the junk is not allowed to enter the congregation with everybody else. This would have bugged me because I knew even as a Christian that life back then could be really violent, and such injuries do happen. Even today, accidents can cost men their fishing tackle–but in the OT’s view, that’s enough to stop them from even going to church. It seems distinctly unfair that a physical blemish of some kind was enough to make a Jewish man unclean in his god’s eyes. Then again, given the Old Testament’s obsession with genitals in general, maybe I wouldn’t have been that surprised. It’s not like Christians today tend to be much different.

* The really weird, pagan-sounding shit. (2 Kings)
There’s some downright oddball stuff to be found in 2 Kings all the way around, but two incidents spring out at me now as defining that weirdness. (YMMV, of course.) In 2 Kings 6:1-7, there’s this weird-ass little story about how the prophet helped a guy recover his iron axe head by throwing a stick into the water where it’d sunk to make it float by magic. I’m sure the myth has some great significance (and I’ve seen some of these explanations, but they raise more questions than they answer), but it underscores for me how genuinely pagan that “old time religion” really was. If I were from a religious tradition that didn’t consider the Bible not only inerrant but prescriptive, things might have been different, but the axe-head story makes the early Hebrew religion sound downright magical in nature.

The other story is in 2 Kings 13-21 (linked at the beginning of this section) and involves a guy who came back to life when his corpse touched the bones of the long-dead prophet. It’s hard to think of a single other thing about the Old Testament that covers how strangely non-Christian this entire religion sounds. And I get that it’s not supposed to sound Christian; it’s just hard to even imagine how a religion like modern Christianity could come from one that actually has myths buried in its source documents about this kind of miracle. The idea that someone could be so magical and holy that even their bones could resurrect dead people is just so bizarre to me. I suppose nowadays Christians continue that fine legacy by treating faith healers like they were magical bones.

This isn’t the only place that the strange ancient paganism involved in early Judaism rears its head. In Genesis 30, Jacob throws peeled branches near the watering hole of some herd animals, who see the peeled branches while they mate and produce speckled, spotted, and striped young. That’s an interesting view of animal husbandry, but it certainly doesn’t sound much like how genetics really works. Of course, the Bible was written by superstitious herdsmen many thousands of years before we knew about genetics, but stories like that only highlight just how ignorant people were.

* Prophecy by fleece. (Judges 6)
In another weird pagan moment, Gideon tells the Hebrew god that he’ll put a sheep’s fleece out next to him while he sleeps, and if it’s wet in the morning while the ground is totally dry, then he’ll know that this god is trustworthy. And in the morning, lo and behold, the fleece is soaking wet! MIRACLE! Yeah. It’s not like Christians don’t do this exact sort of thing constantly. Seeking signs and portents exactly like this myth describes are rife in the culture and I did it myself all the time. But it would have seriously jarred me to see my god’s coyness spelled out like that, because my church (as most do) taught that testing “God” that way was bad. Sometimes I heard this myth referred to as “putting out a fleece,” but I didn’t really read about it till much later after I’d deconverted. When I did, it shocked me that something so picayune and small was taken as such a big portent by Gideon. What if he’d accidentally spilled water on the fleece at night or someone else did? What if there was some perfectly natural explanation for its wetness? It seemed weird that he hinged so much on something that didn’t seem that remarkable to me.

Strange how this god relies on stupid shit like that instead of being more forthright with his followers, isn’t it? I remember very clearly thinking things like if the next person who walks by smiles at me then obviously I have to do such-and-such thing or if it rains tomorrow then obviously “God” means for me to stay home from work or the like. But I never once wondered why I relied on such signs or wondered why this god couldn’t communicate clearly.

Bonus Round:

* Wait, they were how big? (Ezekiel 23)
You don’t often get that sense of lewd earthiness from the Bible, except maybe from the veiled language in the Song of Solomon, but this verse puts it right out there:

19 “Yet she multiplied her harlotries, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the harlot in the land of Egypt. 20 “She lusted after their paramours, whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys and whose issue is like the issue of horses. 21 “Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians handled your bosom because of the breasts of your youth.

That’s not the only place where Egyptian men are specifically mentioned as having big cocks, either. The whole story kind of reminds me of a neckbeard Nice Guy™ frothing at the mouth over the idea of sexually-free women having sex with men who aren’t them. There’s so much hate bound up in these verses about women who know what they like sexually and who, even worse, go for certain men who had a little extra something that Jewish men at the time didn’t. Were the Israelites feeling a little, uh, inadequate back then? You just wish you had a time machine to go back and tell them “Don’t worry, it’s not the size of the wave but the motion of the ocean.” (I have no idea what the current folklore is; I know there’s been a lot of intermarriage and moving around since the OT days so I make no judgment at all about the state of Jewish men’s equipment as it is now.)

This verse wouldn’t have bugged me, but it would have seemed weird that stories comparing the nation of Israel to a size queen got allowed into canon, but somehow this god totally forgot to mention that women should be a certain age before they have sex.

So what are your favorite weird, troubling verses–the ones that never seem to make it into these kinds of lists?

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The Vast Comfort of Literalism.

Sometimes it still shocks me that I ever converted into a fundamentalist, literalist religion after having been raised Catholic. Last time we talked, I touched on some of the science- and history-based apologetics techniques as part of our Handbook for the Recently Deconverted and wanted to break this out into its own post for a bit. Usually when you run into a Christian using those sorts of arguments, you’re dealing with someone who buys at least to some extent into the idea of Biblical literalism, and I want you to know what’s happening under the surface of those interactions.

Childhood indoctrination covers a lot of ground regarding why grown adults think that the world was created some 6,000 years ago by an invisible wizard trickster who planted dinosaur bones and sped up the light reaching us from faraway stars, all to fool everybody into thinking the universe was much older. Usually you have to be a kid to believe that sort of nonsense; older people know better. (And not even all kids fall for it!)

But that doesn’t quite cover people like me, who knew perfectly well what the prevailing scientific consensus was about the subjects of evolution, geology, astronomy, and paleontology–and still converted to a religion that has now become known for its self-serving science denial. I’ve had to give a lot of thought to just how I landed in something like that.

None of these reasons I’m about to give could be considered any kind of prevailing one; I don’t know if there even was a prevailing reason that dominated all the rest. Nor are they given in any order of importance, nor to be considered universal, though I’ve noticed that they’re common. I only want to give outsiders–those who’ve never been involved in anything like fundamentalism or evangelicalism–some idea of what the attraction is to some fundagelicals, so maybe they can engage better with those who are or who have been there.

Here is why I found myself drawn to the idea of a literal Bible:

* I was primed to believe in the idea of magic and magical thinking.
I use the term “magic” not in the sense of D&D-style wizardry, but more like psychologists use it: to mean the idea some folks have that doing some specific act or saying some specific words can have an effect on something totally unrelated to those words and deeds–like prayer or Wiccan rituals do. My entire world was permeated with magic from a young age. I was raised with fairy tales and mythology. When I was told as a child about angels and Jesus and everything else, I believed it 100%. I trusted the people around me to tell me the truth about the world and how things worked. Though I’m sure the vast majority of the adults in my life were well-meaning and believed what they were telling me, I got raised thinking, as they surely had before me, that invisible friends were real and that magic really happened. I got raised to distrust my senses and believe things for no good reason whatsoever. Even into adulthood, I struggled hard with this early indoctrination. I didn’t have a real way to evaluate magical thinking because I’d been taught that some magical thinking was okay (even great!). Because magical thinking isn’t based on reality, there’s nothing stopping someone raised that way from sliding further into the fundagelical pool.

* I didn’t understand science or critical thinking very well.
Even educated in a public-school system, I didn’t know much about what theories really are or how we know the facts we do about the universe. Certainly I never learned how to analyze Christianity’s claims on any kind of critical level. It didn’t even occur to me back then that people could sound very, very, very certain about a subject that they didn’t understand. I certainly never even imagined that someone might lie–be it by omission or commission–about something important like religion.

* My misunderstanding of the Bible led me to believe that “lukewarmness” was bad and that it meant “anything less than total freakout zealotry for Jesus.”
I’m sure a host of youth pastors across America are sort of regretting this tactic now. When I survey how young people especially are handled in fundagelical churches, it seems very much to me that their instructors and mentors are trying to inculcate them with as much rah-rah as possible so when the kids get older, they’ll hold onto that enthusiasm at least a little bit as adults. Youth groups are generally a lot more fun than adult church services, and the activities are a lot more relevant to kids and teens. Between mission tourism and camps and Vacation Bible School, kids get a lot of attention. I can’t speak for every church out there, but at the ones I attended, Sunday School, CCD (that’s the Catholic version of Sunday School), and the like were used to instill in children a sense of wonderment and devotion that would hopefully carry them through later in life. “Extreme” was a good word, not one that might alarm anybody. When I ran into the Pentecostals, I’d been disillusioned with how little fervor I’d seen among the churches I’d attended–and how much hypocrisy and blatant sinning I saw there. Fundagelicals seemed very different, and I didn’t notice till much later that all that fervor hid exactly the same hypocrisy and sinning–and maybe more of it. All I saw was the “on fire” part. The Bible said a lot of bad things about lukewarm Christians, and I didn’t want to be one. The last thing anybody could say about the Pentecostals I met was that they were anywhere close to lukewarm.

* Fundagelical culture–based as it is on what such Christians at least think is a “plain” reading of the Bible–is extremely structured especially for women, and I think I needed some kind of structure in my life.
Much like how the military provides aimless young people a strong sense of structure and purpose in life, fundagelical life provided me a lot of structure in my own. I’d grown up military and had moved a lot. I felt awkward and poorly-socialized, and it wasn’t till years after graduating from high school that one of my friends from back then let me know that I’d actually been popular and well-liked; I sure had not thought that during my time there. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I didn’t have the faintest idea how to adult. By giving me a firm sense of direction and solid expectations for interaction and behavior, fundagelical culture provided something to me that I’d never had in my life. I didn’t know that what it prescribed for women was deeply unfair in practice, and I sure didn’t know that what they said all women wanted was far from a universal life-path for all women. My leaders said that it was fair, divine, and universal, and I took their word for it because I had too little life experience to know better.

* Literalism made a great many promises to me about the benefits I’d see from being a literalist.
I was taught that I’d be physically safer and face fewer tragedies and losses in my life by holding this worldview and complying with it. Women who dressed in a “worldly” way, men who drank or smoked, people who didn’t tithe, you name it–there are a lot of penalties thought to happen to those who don’t hew to the fundagelical model. I’ve seen Creationists threaten society with rapes everywhere if Creationism is rejected; I’ve seen pastors threaten the Earth with meteors and school shootings and worse if their literal interpretation of the Old Testament isn’t made law. Threats worked great on me because I had been raised with a lot of violence, uncertainty, poverty, and chaos. I felt I needed protection, and what gave better protection than a god? (What, indeed!)

* Literalism provides a solid sense of certainty to its believers–and feeds into fundagelicals’ near-paranoid distrust of anything new or different.
Quite a bit of literalism is talking points and groupthink. These talking points are quick, catchy, and simplistic–and that appeals to a lot of folks in fundagelical denominations. Book after book after book comes out regurgitating the same simplistic talking-points, logical fallacies, historical revisionism, and pseudoscience, to the point where this bullshit becomes all but Biblical canon. None of it is meant for non-believers, though; it’s meant for believers, who will read it and become more and more certain of their belief. When I read the writings of Christians, what springs out at me most is their yearning for certainty in a fast-changing world. I remember feeling that way too. Even in the late 1980s, the world was changing so quickly that it seemed like it’d be all but unrecognizable to me soon. When I sang “Give Me That Old Time Religion,” it was with the most heartfelt possible aching for something that was familiar and would always be familiar. I sank further and further into literalist churches and dogma seeking what I thought was “the original church,” and I loved best the Bible verse that talked about “God” being “the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.” When people accuse fundagelicals of being trapped in the past, fundagelicals only wish aloud that that could be true.

* Literalism made me feel smart and superior.
I wasn’t stupid, but fundagelical culture made me feel like a mental giant compared to all the people around me who didn’t know what I knew. I was like one of those weird conspiracy theorists. I knew the world was going to end soon. I knew that the Rapture was going to kick-start Armageddon. I knew that there’d come a massive and awful persecution of Christians. I knew that the Bible was literally true, every word (somehow). I knew, I knew, I knew that there was a Hell and a Heaven–and that I could tell who was going where. I knew about types and shadows (which is how the Old Testament “predicted” the life of Jesus–as if it’s especially difficult to fire an arrow and then paint a bulls-eye around it! Also see this about whether those “predictions” hold water). Nobody else knew or understood what was really going on, not even so-called “experts” in theology. With very little effort and reading, I could make myself feel like ten times their superior. I could feel like an expert. That was appealing to someone like me, who wasn’t really good at failing and got frustrated fast with not understanding stuff.

* Literalism made me feel a lot more sure of my faith.
I didn’t need to grapple with the total lack of support for the veracity of the Bible’s mythology–my faith system was filled top to bottom with junk history and pseudoscience to support that it’d all really happened. I didn’t need to ponder why the Bible had so many contradictions in its pages–talking points handled that. I didn’t need to wonder why a divinely-written or at least divinely-inspired book had so many atrocities or barbarities within its myths–there is always a way to dismiss those or to read something miraculously-modern into its verses. It’s a very simplistic way to look at Christianity, and it’s popular for a reason. One thing I admire about Judaism is that there’s none of that nonsense in it; quite a few of its scholars know the source material is filled with problematic passages and don’t care if it’s totally authentic in its history or science. They wrestle with it and try to figure it out and fit it all together, and they accept that sometimes there’ll be some uncertainty. They don’t pretend to have all the answers, and they don’t pretend there’s some one-size-fits-all aphorism or folksy bit of wisdom that’ll explain everything just right. I’ve seen some Christians go that route as well, and they tend to be really decent folks. I just couldn’t, is all.

* Literalism made sense to my rather black-and-white way of looking at the world.
I’m not sure if I was that bad before Pentecostalism got to me, or if I got that bad after getting into it. But I can tell you that I was that bad a very short time afterward. I was “all or nothing,” “go big or go home.” I didn’t want to do anything halfway. Literal interpretations of the Bible present themselves as an all-singing, all-dancing, end-all be-all comprehensive way of seeing Christianity–and the world itself and society. The problem with this sort of interpretation is that if even one bit is wrong then it’s all wrong, but as long as nothing is demonstrated to be wrong then everything is okay.

* Literalism gave me an excuse to feel both dominant over other groups and persecuted by those selfsame groups.
Ever notice how weird it is that fundagelicals treat LGBTQ people like vermin (usually cloaked in pious-sounding declarations of “love”), and yet insist that there is some massive conspiracy on the part of LGBTQ people to destroy America or take away Christians’ Bibles or behead TRUE CHRISTIANS™ or something? That in a nutshell is where I was,decades ago. As a fundagelical, I was part of the vanguard of Christians meant to rule America and take care of all those lesser non-Christians (and not-so-true Christians). But I also saw that selfsame America as a very inhospitable place to my kind of Christianity. There was a conspiracy afoot to destroy the true religion of Jesus, and we had to stop it. That kind of weirdly militaristic apocalyptic thinking was very common in my denomination–and it seems like it’s only getting worse now. I didn’t have a whole lot of reasons to feel superior–remember, I thought I was gawky and awkward, and I knew I wasn’t a genius or a supermodel–and religion gave me that reason. I had to learn at great cost where I stood in the world and I’m glad I did, but religion kept me from having to confront my strengths and weaknesses by exaggerating (or creating from whole cloth) the former and letting me ignore the latter. When I deconverted, I came face to face with reality in this regard, and it was not a fun or happy time for me.

Sewing 01

Sewing 01 (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Creating something out of whole clo–OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT MARKER DOING THERE NEXT TO ALL THAT WHITE FABRIC?!? IS SHE MAD?!?!?

There you have it, friends. That’s a lot of what I got out of being a fundagelical Christian. Literalism–in the form of fundagelical teachings and culture–formed the backbone of a lot of my self-delusions and fed my illusions of how the world worked. Remember that saying we’ve talked about here before? “When someone’s paycheck depends on not understanding something, you can bet that person won’t understand it.” My paycheck was huge, and it depended utterly on buying into the false promises and assurances made by what I thought was a literal reading of the Bible. So yes, you bet your ass I held onto it for a long time even in the face of constant reminders that it wasn’t quite right.

Please notice I said–and often say–“what I thought was” a literal reading. Given how little we really understand of the Bible, its cultures, its languages, and its context; given how little we know about the provenance of much of its passages; given how long ago this stuff happened and how hard it is to corroborate anything about it; given how much Christians have clouded up and shat all over what we do know, I don’t think there’s a single chance in the world that there is a “plain” reading of anything about the Bible, much less any “literal” way to follow its commands.

I know what I’ve listed here might seem downright weird-sounding to outsiders. It sure doesn’t make my younger self look really bright! But I stumbled my way into fundamentalism and its weird literalist fetish at a time when the worldview it presented sounded infinitely superior to the one I was operating with before then. I needed structure and certainty; I needed to know how to fit myself into society. I wanted reassurance and a sense of community. By buying into this way of viewing the Bible, I bought into not just a general viewpoint but an entire way of life–one that pandered exactly to what I needed most.

That’s why it’s not as easy as just showing a fundagelical Christian why there’s no way the Exodus could have happened, or knocking down Creationism, or pointing out how drastically unfair and nasty a lot of its culture is. You’re not just dealing with the raw facts of the Bible. You’re dealing with an entire mindset and more than that, a mindset that makes its adherents feel smart, certain, superior, and correct. It’s a mindset that justifies any amount of overreach–and even encourages it. It’s an entire lifestyle and a sense of community with like-minded believers. It forms the foundation of one’s entire belief in Christianity and is often the only way its adherents believe is the correct way to practice the religion–and remember, deconversion means eternal torture. Losing one’s grip on literalism threatens so much that a literalist Christian holds dear. Even one’s sense of purpose and place becomes lost when that mindset is lost. That’s why fundagelicals struggle so hard to let go of literalism.

I’m nothing but happy that I found my way out, and nothing but happy that I got knocked down those necessary pegs. I’d rather build my sense of self and my opinions on what’s real than what I wish was real.

With this post I want to share why someone might get dragged into literalism. With that said, I want to reiterate that this kind of Christianity is declining fast–and I’m sure a lot of folks leaving its churches are, like me, more interested in the truth than in a worldview built upon the foundation of sand that is literalism.

We’re going to return to the Handbook next time, with a list of sources I use to educate myself about Bible-related stuff. Please do join me on Saturday!

Posted in Biography, Feminism, Guides, Religion, The Games We Play | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments