(CN: Rape threats and religious abuse.)
Y’all probably know I’ve been friendly with the Christian who runs the website/blog “Quiet Christianity”, who I call “TQC.” With his permission I wanted to talk a little bit about that emerging friendship.
I can be quite leery of Christians wanting to be friendly with me. Most of the time these friendly overtures have some kind of agenda sparking them that has nothing to do with me as a person.
Sometimes they want to be friends because they have an overt wish to proselytize. This is called friendship or relationship evangelism and it’s a mean and obvious thing to do to someone; as that CARM link puts it so well, it is neither friendship nor evangelism, nor is it actually very concerned with relationships. It’s just baldfaced opportunism. It’s not a whole lot different from the tactics employed by Nice Guys™ who are nice to women only while they believe that they might get sex as a reward for their niceness. I fell for friendship evangelism once in my teens at the hands of a Southern Baptist schoolmate, but I’m a lot more careful nowadays. Thankfully, once I make clear to the Christian trying this tactic that I’m not really interested in being a project for anybody, the Christian usually vanishes from sight.
Sometimes they want to be friends because they have an opening in their demographic roster. They want to think of themselves as open-minded, and that requires them to surround themselves with a variety of people. The slot labeled “non-Christian” happens to be open, and I’ve been elected to fill it. They think they’re terribly evolved because they’re seeking out differing opinions, but in truth they aren’t planning to listen to those opinions. They act like they want to learn from me, but they don’t actually ever seem to do so. I’ve fallen for this one as recently as this year at the hands of an evangelical lay-minister, but I’m not going to ever again. I’m not someone’s token non-Christian “friend” and I see no reason to be friends with someone who doesn’t recognize my rights or dignity. If they want to learn, then they can go get that education for themselves.
A lot of decent people happen to be Christian. I don’t survey my friends to figure out their religions, but there’s probably a few in the pack. After leaving Christianity, I tried to develop the habit of not asking that question and letting people be themselves. I don’t know what religion many of my friends have, if any religion at all, and not knowing doesn’t bother me. Even my closest friends don’t tend to know where I’m at religion-wise. I lived once in a world where someone’s doctrinal soundness was the most important thing about that person–in fact the first thing one asked that person! Since leaving that world I’ve been very shy indeed about making any more moves that feel too similar to that old one. I get the sense sometimes that it’s a bit of a relief for some people that I don’t talk about that topic in private life and in that manner offer a respite from what can be for many Christians a constant battle. It’s not that I’m peeling away something important to someone; it’s just that if religious identity is supremely important to someone, that person probably isn’t going to be attracted to the idea of a real friendship with me because I really don’t want to deal with religion in my private life. I’ll engage with that subject in a lot of other ways, but I’ve learned the hard way how easily such discussions can go from 0 to 60 with hurt feelings–even when someone deliberately starts and wanted those discussions. (It only took me like 25 years to learn it, too– ugh.)
I’m telling you all this so you know what I was thinking when TQC began emailing me to chat. When someone who’s very up-front about holding Christian beliefs starts being very friendly to me in the context of my blog or social media accounts, where I’m very up-front about not holding Christian beliefs, you can bet I consider carefully how to respond to such overtures.
TQC’s group was one I discussed here on the blog a while ago to demonstrate why Christians often alienate outsiders. His ideas were meant well, but the way they were worded often ran at odds with his stated goal, which was to be kind to people. To my astonishment, he took my criticism very graciously–amending a lot of his site’s wording and attitudes to reflect what I think he actually meant. I’ve got no trouble with the site at this point. I don’t agree with his theology, and I can safely say that no amount of niceness will make me think of joining Christianity, but it’s certainly not doing any harm to his religion’s street cred and may end up repairing some of the damage his more rambunctious peers are wreaking.
It’s very clear to me, when surveying his blog, that his approach is speaking very loudly to the people he says he wants to reach; non-Christians show up regularly to comment and they are generally very positive and friendly toward him. But I’m told that the landscape looks very different when he surveys the responses of his fellow Christians toward what he’s trying to say.
You’d think “stop being an asshole to non-Christians and start concentrating on what Jesus actually told his followers to do” would be a fairly straightforward sort of sentiment and that Christians would deeply value being told exactly where they’re going wrong with how they’re impacting outsiders, wouldn’t you?
Well, you’d be surprised.
Christianity stopped being about charity and kindness some time ago. Now it’s about chest-thumping and dominance. I’ve come to think that Christians don’t care about whether or not people actually convert to their religion. If some people do, then that’s nice, that’s welcome, they’ll take converts even on those terms. But most people won’t convert because of those tactics. It’s hard to see Christians acting out on forums and in RL and think that anybody would be enticed by that behavior. And Christians have come to think that their tactics are divinely-approved, which means they refuse to even consider changing course. Even if it alienates 99% of the outsiders on the planet, if they think Jesus said to do something, then they’ll take pride in alienating 99% of the outsiders on the planet. They’ll consider it “spiritual warfare” to behave like they do, and will wear their badge of assholeishness with honor. Pushback means that obviously they are right, and obviously that demons are trying to impede Christian progress, and obviously that they should drill down harder on being assholes.
There are oases in that desert, though. Entire movements are sprouting up around community service and trying to pull Christianity back from the dominant voices in the religion. I think it’s a doomed effort, but it’s not my call to decide how someone spends his or her time.
It distresses me to hear about such decent folk getting the abuse they get from Christian chest-thumpers. I’ve talked before about how angry I get when I hear about sane, loving good Christians getting a good taste of “Christian love” from their fellow tribemates at any perceived step away from the party line. And I do get angry. It hurts my heart to hear some of the stories I’ve heard about how loving Christians get treated by the Christian body of believers–the people who should have their back all the time, the people who should be most interested in finding consensus and community with each other. Instead they get threats and wrath and passive-aggressive taunts and jibes.
And for what, we ask again?
“Stop being an asshole and start concentrating on what Jesus actually said to do.”
It’s a simple, short, and sweet sentiment. One could base a whole religion on it, don’t you think? You’d think there’s nothing really controversial about it. And again, you’d be wrong.
It seems to amaze my Christian friends that I really don’t get a lot of pushback on this blog. I rarely get outraged Christians showing up here–usually on the blog entries about various Christian idols, weirdly enough. I’ve only had a few message me privately with demands that I justify my existence or explain all about my deconversion to their satisfaction. It’s been quite some time since the last passive-aggressive Christian smugly informed me that she’d be praying for me. And I’m not a tiny blog anymore. We get enough visitors that at least some of them must be outraged Christians. They just don’t usually talk to me–not in comments, and not in private (where comment moderation wouldn’t matter).
That said, I’ve come to suspect that I don’t get a lot of pushback from Christians because I’m not really a big threat to their worldview. I’m an ex-Christian. Most Christians can easily find some way to dismiss what I have to say and invalidate me as a person. I know how that works because I was Christian once. When I say “Christians can be real assholes to outsiders and I wish they’d stop,” they’ve got a million different ways of countering that statement to rationalize why they simply must be assholes to outsiders.
But when a Christian says the exact same thing, that’s a real challenge. That Christian doesn’t fit into the box very easily. The chest-thumping act gets shown for what it is. It’s easy to dismiss an ex-Christian; the Bible even appears to instruct Christians to do exactly that. Ah, but any Christian who talks like me is a threat to the order. Toxic Christians need everybody to be on the same page for their game to work.
That’s why Sally Quinn, the Washington Post’s own religion editor, says that it’s Christians who treat her the absolute worst. Her experience mirrors my own; when someone threatens me with rape, it’s a Christian. Other Christians report similar bad treatment from Christians for disagreeing with whatever those Christians think is real Christianity. For that matter, one of this blog’s dearest friends is a minister who used to keep a blog that, while filled with touching vignettes, also constantly detailed how abominably his own sheep treated him.
How long is it going to be before people realize that Christians are definitely not being changed for the better by a god of love?
No matter how fervently some Christians writers try to change Christians’ awful behavior toward each other, Christians can’t seem to give up treating each other like crap. Comment threads of these links I gave you are chock-full of Christians rationalizing away why they treat each other like crap–blaming atheists and non-believers for not being better people (as indeed Ms. Quinn makes the point that atheists don’t treat her a whole lot better than Christians do, just minus the rape threats) and saying that well, the boss ordered it, so neener. And if they’re treating each other like they’re all feral cats in a box, then we can’t have a lot of hope that they’ll treat people wholly outside their “tribe” any better.
That still doesn’t make me less angry and sad that the few decent people in the religion who are raising their voices and trying to make a positive difference are getting treated that way.
I wish Christians realized that it’s not just us outsiders that are watching. It’s other Christians themselves too. And sooner or later they’re going to wonder why it is that people who claim that a god is making them moral and superior people don’t act either way. Maybe they’ll wonder why a group under the threat of Hell for not following its holy book’s commands of loving their neighbors and turning the other cheek and doing charity till they’re bankrupt don’t feel a little bit more driven to actually follow those commands. Maybe they’ll start thinking about why it is that Christians have a Savior who told them to love everybody no matter what, but have evolved dozens of asterisks to handle why they don’t want to do that.
Let’s make this clear: people don’t leave Christianity because its adherents are jerks. Give folks a little credit. Eternity is forever, as the saying goes, and nothing that happens in a few finite decades could possibly matter in the face of one’s eternal fate if that claim actually turns out to be true. That said, I do think that the sheer number of Christians who are jerks feeds into a certain amount of curiosity and questioning about how that can possibly be the case if the religion’s got a real live god involved in its followers’ lives. These assholes are a symptom of Christianity’s problem, not the problem itself. They’re alienating not only outsiders like me, but also Christians like themselves. While researching this piece I ran into comment after comment from people who said they loved Jesus and do their very best to do what he said to do, but they just couldn’t belong to or identify with a group so downright evil, nasty, and hateful. Many even said they refuse to publicly state their religion because of how others now perceive the label.
When Christian leaders and the loudest voices of the religion do actually dimly perceive this situation, their solution is to try to strong-arm and manipulate these dissenters into rejoining their toxic tribe, as TQC, Sally Quinn, and a host of other Christians have discovered. But I don’t perceive these efforts as effective at all. The time when Christians could threaten, pressure, and bluster and get their way is fast fading along with the religion itself. It’s time for a radical rethinking of those tactics, and I’m not sure these toxic Christians are up to the task. Instead, it is the people they abuse and vilify who are reshaping the religion into something that might possibly maybe survive the coming century.
So yes: I’m going to keep supporting people who are saying things that matter and that are going to improve the human race, no matter what religion those people do or don’t subscribe to. And I’m going to choose my friends not on the basis of religion but on the basis of what kind of people they are.
What might surprise people about my friendship with TQC is that we don’t talk about religion all that much. We talk about books and about blogging in general and stuff like that; when we interface with religion it’s in the context of our blogs, not as personal statements. He’s never once tried to proselytize at me, and I’ve never done that back at him. I did once refer to his deity in a rather mocking way, but I apologized for it; he wasn’t offended, though, just a little startled I think at my general irreverence toward something he felt a great deal of reverence toward. I don’t think it’s very loving to casually denigrate something someone else holds important, whether it’s kids or religion or diet systems or whatever else; I don’t have to bow before it along with that person, no, but I can at least be polite.
Speaking of which, hey gang, a bit of housekeeping: last time we talked I discussed a particular internet culture and was way less than charitable toward its members. It was wrong to talk like that. I won’t be doing it again.
Next time we’re going to talk about spiritual warfare a bit more–specifically, about exorcisms. I wrote early on in this blog about Biff’s claims of having been demonically possessed and exorcised, but I was involved in an exorcism or two myself as a fundamentalist. Exorcisms are a very important idea in Christianity, and we’re seeing the concept get a lot of play in the news recently, but I’m not sure outsiders know a lot about the subculture around this idea. So I’ll be shining a light on some of the darkest corners of Christianity next–and hope you will join me.