When people receive information that challenges a cherished belief, they have at their disposal a number of methods to help them negate that information. We call those methods antiprocess. The further from reality the belief is, the more antiprocess believers bring to bear to protect it–so you can imagine that authoritarian Christians bring their A game to that task! Today, I’ll show you how antiprocess works, how it looks in the wild, and what it means for Christianity’s future.
A Quick Review of Antiprocess.
When we consider information and take it on board, building it into our existing framework of supports for our beliefs, we process it. By the same token, antiprocess represents that arsenal of techniques people deploy to negate or ignore potential contradictions to their beliefs.
All of us–be we woke or be we fast asleep, metaphorically–build defenses around our most-cherished beliefs. When we encounter something that confirms those beliefs, we welcome it with open arms. If we encounter something that runs counter to them, however, we immediately bristle. Our defensive shields start to slam down.
We more readily welcome confirmations of one of our beliefs than contradictions of it. The more important the belief is to us, the less we welcome potential contradictions.
Ironically perhaps, the less connected to reality a belief is, the more techniques fill a believer’s arsenal for dealing with contradictions. That has to happen. Otherwise, the idea would never rise to the level of becoming a belief.
We can’t really help deploying antiprocess. But by becoming more aware of how it works, we can try to defuse some of its potency.
A Wild Google Alert Appears!
The other day, I ran across a Christian blog that mentioned my takedown of Ed Stetzer’s side hustle. After I got over the sheer shock of my blog somehow showing up on a Google Alert for “revitalization,” I began examining his ideas. And I discovered that he utilized a treasure-trove of antiprocess to negate what I had to say.
(Shocking, right? We’ve never once seen a Christian do that!)
I don’t normally respond to stuff like this. This time, though, the post ties in to a topic that had already appeared on our dance card. So I pencilled his post next to the quadrille and went to work.
The blogger in this case, morrowmusings, started promisingly. He agreed with my assessment of Stetzer’s $297 “revitalization” course for pastors. We both thought Stetzer was cynically taking advantage of a trend he could not possibly affect in any meaningful way. That’s good, because that’s exactly what Stetzer is doing.
And then I could all but hear his antiprocess shields slamming down.
Aww, His Widdle Heart Hurts for Me.
After complimenting my writing skill, he slams me with a negation:
This lady can flat-out write. She also happens to be self-described “post-Christian” and is clearly more than a little angry at the church. (which has no doubt wounded her deeply at some point *sigh*)
I’m not angry at “the church.” That’s simply a meaningless Christianese term. It means whatever its user wants it to mean right then.
Rather, I’m angry with Christians who dupe the vulnerable, scam and prey upon the needy, promise stuff they cannot possibly deliver, constantly try to destroy people I care deeply about, and continue to grab for complete, unilateral control over my life and every one of my personal decisions.
His implication is that I wouldn’t hold the opinions I do, or write about the topics I do, without having some kind of huge, personal grudge against poor widdle TRUE CHRISTIANS™ as a monolithic group.
Why “Hurt by Christians” Is Such a Non-Starter.
Morrowmusings attempted, here, to invalidate my post’s message by impugning my motives.
But you could not find a single person in the world who has not been hurt, injured, duped, preyed upon, maligned, scammed, lied to, or mistreated in some other way by a Christian, if not by a great many Christians. (Yes, even the Sentinelese!) Ever since someone created morrowmusings’ religion out of a slurry of mystery religion beliefs, Judaism, and Hellenism, people have noted Christians’ deep and abiding hypocrisy and nastiness toward others.
Accusing me of holding my opinions because of mistreatment might make morrowmusings feel better, but the accusation is ridiculous even on its face. Millions of Christians experience the exact same mistreatment I have. Many have been abused and injured even worse–and they still believe. The mistreatment isn’t the problem so much as what that mistreatment points to: the lack of any gods informing or inhabiting any part of his belief system.
But pitying me for those imaginary wounds helps him ignore my message. Thus, that pity–unasked-for, unwanted, unneeded–becomes a powerful tool of antiprocess.
An Attack on Qualifications.
Nor can I allow to pass his side-swipe at my label.
Morrowmusings rewrote my label from None, which is literally written in my bio after every single post I write, to his preferred label for me, “self-described ‘post-Christian.'” That rewrite functions as another negation. Christians never use the term on themselves! When they use it to describe others, it means that they don’t think their victim really fits that description. Sometimes they even seek to imply that their victim doesn’t understand what that label even means, so is simply leaping onto a bandwagon trend. Putting “post-Christian” into scare quotes completes the zing attempt.
I have no idea what morrowmusings means by “post-Christian,” of course. He never explains the term. I know what Barna Group means by the term, because they explain it. Their explanation might not be great and some of their criteria might be largely meaningless, but at least they try. But not this guy.
If I called him in turn “a self-described ‘Christian,'” how would that alter how people saw him in the post? How would he feel about my re-labeling of his state? I wouldn’t blame him for bristling over it. It’d certainly knock him down a few pegs in perceived credibility. That’s why Christians do it. They constantly gatekeep who is and isn’t allowed to use labels, and they do it because it gives them a way to knock their perceived enemies down a few pegs.
And thus, these attacks on people’s labels function as antiprocess.
What’s “Doomed to Fail” Exactly Here?
I titled one of my sub-headings in that post “Doomed to Fail.” In that subheading, I made a case for these sorts of “revitalization” strategies as being doomed to fail. But in morrowmusings’ hands, that subheading became a prognostication about Christianity itself. In a mid-post listicle of six takeaways, he manages to accurately restate my position on five particulars. Then he ends with this combo breaker:
For all these reasons and many others, the Christian faith is “doomed to fail.” As she would have us to believe, all our birds are finally coming home to roost.
Alas! He had such a good streak going!
But here’s the reality he dislikes so much:
The efforts that Christian leaders are making to fix their membership decline are what is “doomed to fail.” The religion itself will likely continue for quite some time, despite further declines in membership as the years pass. Christians haven’t hit bottom yet.
These leaders’ efforts are doomed to fail because not once, not ever, has Christianity flourished except through the gaining of powers of coercion over nations and cultures.
That truth explains the failure of their “revitalization” efforts. It also explains why white evangelicals strive so desperately to seize political power right now through their disgusting culture wars and to entrench themselves in developing nations full of desperate people. But the religion as a whole, which he appears to define here as “the Christian faith,” won’t die right away. (How long did Mithraism last after Christianity began to supplant it? A while.)
Misstating the position of someone challenging a cherished belief? Yeah, that’s an antiprocessin’.
What I’m Challenging.
But what cherished belief did I challenge? What’s got morrowmusings pulling out the stops on his antiprocess defenses?
As she would have us to believe, all our birds are finally coming home to roost. . . I think the underlying indictment Cassidy really wants to bring against the Christian faith is that it doesn’t “make sense.”
That’s not actually my main indictment, but I think he also got a little ego-stung on his own by thinking I was calling Christians foolish somehow, because the rest of his post concerns assertions about how it’s totally awesome to be Fools 4 Jesus.
So, here is what I want to say to Captain Cassidy: no one of gets out of being a fool.
The word “fool” appears nowhere in the post he examined. One sentence contains a reference to “sense,” however. I wrote:
It is vitally important for us–and for Christians themselves if they had any sense–to understand that for all their warbling about how wonderful they think Christianity and their “good news” is, as a message it is not very compelling on its own to most people. It never was.
So it seems that he objected to my assertion that Christianity, as a religion, simply doesn’t grow through its own virtues. Instead, Christians gain dominance through the application of brutal suppression, subterfuge, oppression, and iron-fisted control.
I can see why that assertion challenges a fervent authoritarian-leaning Christian, for whatever that’s worth. (This topic, too, is on the dance card.)
Jesus Said They’d Have Days Like This.
Now that he’s finally engaged with exactly what his real problem is here, morrowmusings launches into one of his most powerful antiprocess tools. He yanks quotes from the Bible to support what he’s about to do in pushing away everything I’ve asserted.
Using Bible quotes to disqualify and negate reality is a long-established and respected Christian custom. It resembles the smear tactic called “poisoning the well,” but it’s something slightly different. It’s an attempt to make something wackadoodle seem perfectly reasonable by borrowing Bible verses to support it.
So if people keep leaving Christian churches, that’s okay! “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.”
If “unsaved” family members mock a newly-converted member for making ludicrous claims, that’s okay! “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own country, his own relatives, and his own home.'”
When yet another sales prospect rejects a Christian’s sales pitch, that’s okay! Blah blah Parable of the Sower blah blah!
When a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ sabotages and torpedoes yet another relationship through constant unwanted sales pitches, that’s okay! “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
And if Captain Cassidy asserts that Christianity’s absurd claims collapse instantly upon contact with reality, that’s okay! “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”
Unraveling the “Foolishness = TRUTH” Assertion.
Morrowmusings makes a number of unsupported assertions in his post as if they were beyond question. It really comes off sounding gaslight-y. I don’t hold that against him. From the sound of his blog, he’s a product of concentrated, focused, lifelong fundagelical indoctrination. And his defenses arise from that indoctrination.
That’s why he begins his counter-attack with circular logic. In other words, he uses Bible verses to support his beliefs about the Bible’s verses.
Morrowmusings fails to understand that the Bible verses constitute the claim. They cannot also be the support for the claim! He might as well write an essay about Harry Potter’s Hogwarts school being real, while using nothing but the Harry Potter books!
Yes, of course the Christian Bible is going to make Christianity sound like a viable ideology. That’s what it was created and edited to do over a process of centuries. It’s a really long advertising brochure. To find out if the Bible’s claims are true, we test it against reality–not against itself.
But to someone locked in an ideology based on untrue ideas, that truth becomes something that must be nullified–with antiprocess.
Studiously Missing the Point.
When people go off into the weeds in responding to a challenge to their beliefs, that’s a very sure sign that their antiprocess shields have slammed down. And that’s exactly what we see in morrowmusings’ essay.
He’s already blown his wad with pull-quotes from the Bible about how tee-hee silly Christianity must seem to those who lack “ears to hear,” to quote another (ableist) Bible verse that functions as antiprocess. But his feathers still feel ruffled. So he launches into the next major part of his essay.
To begin, he sets up some strawmen to burn down.
If there is nothing real except the material world, then there is nothing real about a life that defines it and makes it worth living. Love, compassion, beauty, truth and every other “good” thing are actually illusions; actually goodness is an illusion.
My post had nothing to do with the meaning of life, the origins of love, or anything else this guy’s talking about here. He’s gone totally off into the weeds. I’ve written extensively about the meaning of life and about love; neither requires gods to exist. Nor does “goodness,” an undefined term he uses but which might mean any one of a number of qualities, none of which require gods to exist either.
Crowding the Mind.
I wrote a comment over on morrowmusings’ site advising him of some of his attempts to negate my post’s message. He’d moved goalposts, invoked the Law of Conservation of Worship, shirked his rightful burden of proof, came to conclusions that totally don’t follow his premises, and attempted to be the Last Ideology Standing, as well as deployed Arguments from X, false equivalences, circular reasoning, false dilemmas, equivocation, and any number of unsupported assertions and claims.
(He hasn’t published my comment yet. I didn’t particularly expect him to.)
It blows my mind. This guy did all that, all to try to make his pie-in-the-sky beliefs sound more sensible, rewarding, and meaningful than a reality-based approach to life.
Of course, he never once did the one thing he could have done to convince me that non-belief is (in his words) “foolish.” He failed to provide a single bit of credible, objective evidence that his god even exists.
In fact, the sheer number of rhetorical tricks this guy pulls out of his hat makes me wonder if he’s deliberately crowding his mind with apologetics talking points to drown out contradictions to his beliefs. Gish gallops exist and succeed for exactly the same reason: they overwhelm people who can’t keep the Gish galloper strictly on track. For those who already believe the same nonsensical ideas, however, the Gish gallop sounds like a very persuasive substitute for credible, objective evidence for their claims. The tactic layers miles and miles of talking points around someone’s beliefs, insulating them from challenges.
In effect, the Christian using this tactic stops thought.
Love and Feedback.
What I said way back then in that Lord Snow Presides still stands. Christian leaders–like morrowmusings, who (from his other posts) sounds like he’s involved in paid ministry somehow–see their membership numbers declining. Obviously, they want to reverse that trend. But they really can’t. Growing a group requires elements and emphases that they simply can’t put into motion without jeopardizing their own power base and their core adherents’ loyalty.
Without the ability to coerce people into joining up and then to retaliate brutally against those leaving or criticizing the tribe, Christianity has trouble attracting members.
That’s been true ever since it was created. Even in the New Testaments’ Epistles, we see evidence that Christian groups faced a great deal of recruitment woes. In fact, I wonder sometimes if 1 John became part of the canon because it covered how Christians should react to membership churn.
Whatever the case might be, Christian leaders have not had to sell themselves on their own merits for many centuries. I don’t think they even know how to start doing so. In particular, authoritarians bristle at the mere idea that they even should. They didn’t join up to work for every scrap of dominance they want to enjoy!
And all these same Christians really have by way of a response to that reality is antiprocess.
NEXT UP: Authoritarian Christians and the Cult of Family they’re pushing so hard lately. See you soon!
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H/t to Timothy Campbell, who wrote quite a lot about antiprocess.