one's made of straw of course
Reading Time: 11 minutes SHOWDOWN. (Mike Lewinski, CC.)
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Hi and welcome back! This past week, we had a really good time examining Brett McCracken’s post on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) (archive link). In it, he accidentally demonstrated how very little he understands of deconversion. He also offered up what might be the three most ridiculous reasons ever concocted to stick with Christianity. We covered the first and second of those already. Today, we’ll tackle his third reason: ‘bespoke spirituality’s loneliness.’ Gosh, ya’ll, the suspense is killing me! Will a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ finally manage to win his tribe’s beloved game of Last Ideology Standing? We’ll find out today. 

one's made of straw of course
SHOWDOWN. (Mike Lewinski, CC.)

(Voiceover: No, he won’t.)

(When I talk about evangelism as a sales process, the product involved here is active membership in the Christian salesperson’s own group.)

A Review of the Reasons That King Brett McCracken Thinks Do Not Justify Deconversion.

First, let’s review the reasons why Brett McCracken thinks our deconversions are invalid.

  1. We just wanted to be cool, but alas, we did not realize that TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ is the ultimate coolness. Poor little trend-chasers, we! Not like King Brett, who happens to have leapt on the latest big trend in evangelicalism.
  2. We did not try his particular quirky li’l take on Christianity, which he falsely thinks is the only real and valid form of the religion. Therefore, we can’t possibly have made our decisions with proper information. Jesus is so lucky that King Brett came along to tell us what the right flavor of Christianity is, out of tens of thousands of variants!
  3. Other religions are ickie and Christianity is the only meaningful and welcoming religion around. Other religions are just “bespoke spirituality” trying to mimic Christianity’s awesomeness. Ickie! So we’ll be totally miserable if we adopt anything else. We need to stick to his religion and quit thinking we can invent something better.

Luckily, nobody actually leaves Christianity for these reasons. In this series, we’re only running with them for conversation’s sake.

Careful observers will note that absolutely nowhere here does McCracken actually offer any real evidence for his religious claims. His reasons — such as they are, bless his little cotton socksies — are purely emotional and manipulative in nature.

It’s pretty obvious why he himself belongs to his own chosen flavor of Christianity, at any rate.

Sidebar: The Big Guns.

Here’s what I mean about that last thing up there:

When Christians sell their product, as Brett McCracken does here, they tend to consider the reasons that swayed themselves to be their biggest guns.

So watch what they lead with. Sometimes they’ll feint with a lovey-dovey come-on, then when rebuffed pull out their real big gun. Other times, they lead immediately with the big gun. It depends on how much time they think they have to pitch to you.

Christians terrified of Hell will lean hard on escaping Hell. Other Christians who were desperately lonely before conversion might push hard on the idea of a Daddy Jesus. Still others who fear mortality push eternal life hardest.

McCracken, however, pushes hardest on his product’s perceived coolness and countercultural weirdness, its perceived correctness, and how much contentment he himself derives from it. I find that interesting.

Look at Christians’ sales pitches as Dysfunctional Psyches On Parade. Dude’s showing us cards that he shouldn’t ever want us to see.

So What Is “Bespoke Spirituality” in Brett-World?

After regaling us with tales of how incredibly cool TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ totally is and slamming his tribal enemies, apostates, for not being up to “its thornier components,” Brett McCracken slides into another subsection he titles “Bespoke Spirituality’s Loneliness.”

I guess he thinks insulting people will make them more amenable to purchasing his product, instead of reminding them of how glad they are to have left his utterly toxic group. It’s a weird look for someone ostensibly seeking to persuade, but then, TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have always preferred being lords to ambassadors, and they’d prefer either of those roles to what they actually are: salespeople.

At any rate, in this section he’ll be sneering at ex-Christians who move into other religions after leaving his. And I am not kidding about his sneering tone. Get a load of this:

Chances are, if you’re considering deconstructing institutional religion, you’re not moving immediately to full-on atheism. Instead, you’re likely planning to forge a more intuitional, bespoke spirituality that perhaps retains some aspects of Christianity but is more fluid, incorporating bits and pieces of other philosophies, rituals, and spiritualities as they fit your mood and needs.

Oh really? How does he figure what the “chances are” here? Where is he getting this notion, from out of his rump? And how does he figure that someone who’s realized Christianity’s claims are false would want to incorporate any aspects of it in their post-Christian life?

I ask these things because I don’t think I’ve ever once encountered an ex-Christian who did what he describes here. If we know Christianity’s claims are false, we sure don’t try to cobble up a pseudo-Christian system for ourselves.

Forget that. “Bespoke spirituality” is a cafeteria-style religion created by adherents who decide what makes them happiest and feels most meaningful to them. And that’s bad, to Brett McCracken.

Oh, Okay, So “Bespoke Spirituality” is Nothing Like His Particular Flavor of Christianity. Nope!

Oh my LOL.

The sheer cosmic irony of a modern American fundagelical Calvinist lecturing ex-Christians about what he slams as “‘mix and match religion” just has me in stitches right now.

Y’all, I can’t even.

Brett McCracken’s entire worldview, right down to his beloved culture-warrior causes, was concocted in the 1970s by a bunch of power-maddened Calvinists who staged a schism and won. It’s just one of many thousands of flavors of a religion whose adherents have no way whatsoever of demonstrating greater correctness over their competitors.

And his entire religion wouldn’t exist if earlier Christians centuries ago hadn’t mixed and matched stuff that seemed about right to them at the time:

our denomination set things aright
Saji George, “Tom’s Doubts #14.” (Sept 2011)

committee had to work out the religion’s beliefs in the 4th century or face an emperor’s anger. A committee had to make up the Bible and decide what books would go into it and which wouldn’t. Committees have handled almost every major development in Christianity since it was invented. Often, these weren’t even nice, peaceful committee meetings!

denomination map reveals the future
The future is now. (Background: Lorenzo Colombo.)

And even then, even after their endless committees mixed and matched what Christians everywhere would believe, Christian leaders have been dealing with schisms nonstop since the beginning of their religion. Every one of these schisms was started by a guy who was certain his new flavor of Christianity was the real deal true thing, just like McCracken’s own flavor was started.

What in the LOL is this guy even on about? The only moral mix-and-matching is HIS mix-and-matching?

Bespoke Spirituality: The Comedy Turns Gold.

In his efforts to make this “bespoke spirituality” look like a less fulfilling and meaningful experience than his flavor of Christianity, Brett McCracken pulls out the stops to sneer at it. Seriously, I can’t stop imagining him as Reggie from the Richie Rich comics long ago. There’s just nothing kind, loving, or gracious in him, and yet he’s so wrongly certain of his own superiority.

reggie van dough from richie rich, sneering as he runs away
If Reggie had had a religion, it would have been Calvinism. FACTS.

He writes of his imaginary “bespoke spirituality,”

This “mix and match” religion might include a few parts of traditional religion (Shabbat, Christmas carols, Catholic prayer candles), a smattering of “wellness” practices (yoga, meditation, SoulCycle), a dash of New Age magic (burning sage, Tarot cards, astrology), and a deeply moral zealotry for social justice or LGBT+ rights.

He is very seriously out of date here and very off-base, but whatever. I know he’s just trying to make his strawman look completely ridiculous.

The Last Ideology Standing.

What he’s doing is part of his huckster’s hustle, part of toxic Christians‘ favorite game of Last Ideology Standing. Creationists have been doing the same thing for decades. They all think if they can slam their strawman hard enough, people will go with whatever’s left standing — which is whatever they’re selling right then.

Every single Christian in the modern age can choose exactly the flavor that works best for them, just like McCracken did. Invariably, they all decide that whatever they chose is the perfect flavor of the religion that Jesus-es exactly right. McCracken is no exception there, either. But he wants to make this “bespoke spirituality” strawman of his look nothing whatsoever like what he himself has done in his life. (For all that he has to say about other religions, though, I’ve found plenty of other Christians who criticize his own flavor.)

After this, McCracken accuses “bespoke spirituality” of being “a bourgeois iteration of mainstream consumerism.” I suppose he’s trying to say TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ is anti-capitalism. Yes, because nothing says anti-capitalism like a multi-million-dollar apologetics industry, constant demands for money, abuse of tax perks, and expensive seminars. (Also, see this. And this.) Attacking new religions on the basis of capitalism is quite possibly his second-worst fail in his post.

Putting the Finishing Touches on a Strawman.

Here’s the worst one:

Finally, Brett McCracken puts the icing on his shitcake by claiming that anybody who pursues his strawman religion will end up “claustrophobic and lonely.” You know, utterly unlike what it’s obviously like to belong to his TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church. He writes:

Because when you depart Christianity, you aren’t opening yourself up to a new, more spacious freedom. Quite the opposite. You’re narrowing your freedom and horizons of possibility to the confines of one person: you. While it sounds great—and again, is totally the way of our consumerist iWorld—this me-driven spirituality eventually becomes claustrophobic and lonely.

I laughed so hard at this. He’s so obviously never actually talked to any ex-Christians, much less anyone involved in any other religions after Christianity. It’s purely cringey to see any Christian selling their group like this, but it’s especially cringey when a really authoritarian, self-styled TRUE CHRISTIAN™ goes there.

This guy just has no clue in the world what his group’s own churches are like, much less what other religious groups are like. But that certainly doesn’t stop him from making a bunch of claims about what he thinks they’re all like.

With this claim, he’s trespassed on my territory now. This is my wheelhouse. And I can speak very much to this blatant misrepresentation. 

A Strawman, Dismantled.

I wish I could tell Brett McCracken the reality of his ignorant claims. I doubt he’d believe me. But here it is anyway:

If ex-Christians do decide to sample any alternative religions, they will likely find themselves absorbed into a very nice group of people who are very easygoing and welcoming. If they decide to go without religion entirely, lots of groups exist in RL and online to check out that don’t have any religious focus. We talked about one a while ago.

If folks want to have truly luminous, freeing experiences, they’ll have a hard time beating a pagan drum circle late at night under the stars around a campfire. Pagans are, hands down, the nicest religious group I’ve ever hung out with.

And these non-Christian groups can be enormously, unthinkably kind. When I needed somewhere to live, my TRUE CHRISTIAN™ tribe abandoned me. But when it happened again way after deconversion, pagans immediately took me in without a second thought, without my even needing to ask, as soon as they heard I had a need. Gamers, too, have been a welcoming and kind community to me (not that there isn’t a lot of overlap there).

But TRUE CHRISTIANS™? Hardly. The difference between how I’ve been treated by TRUE CHRISTIAN™ and non-Christian groups, during and after my time in Christianity, has always gone far beyond night and day.

Brett McCracken will certainly not be the combo breaker here, either.

Bespoke Spirituality vs. TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.

But do you know what made me feel claustrophobic and lonely in my life? You know what actually felt like narrowed freedom and horizons of possibility?

Christianity — especially his flavor of it.

The harder I tried to Jesus, the more isolated I felt. I had next to no friends as a Christian. Christianity turned me into a whole other person. That person was screwed-up and lonely, always.

Again, I fit completely into Brett McCracken’s list of what a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ does and believes. Even according to him, I did everything right. And still, I always felt like a nameless face in the church crowd, like I could vanish and nobody’d even notice. (And that’s largely what happened when I did leave.)

Ultimately, of course, I didn’t care about that mistreatment. Bad Christians aren’t why I deconverted. I’m just saying that I didn’t feel much except claustrophobia and loneliness, profound loss of opportunities and limited freedoms, until I left Christianity. That’s when I finally discovered real friends and what belonging to a good group really felt like. The whole world opened up in front of me at last.

And it’s weird that this guy would even try to push the idea of belonging to Christianity because of the feelings he feels in his group. I seriously doubt he’d ever consider disliking his group or not feeling the same feelings to be valid reasons to leave his religion.

This entire stream of reasoning seems like a red herring to me.

A Lesson People Should Learn in Middle School.

I could go on, but you hopefully get the idea. Brett McCracken has introduced a lot of false ideas in one opinion post!

Alas for him, he can’t make his fractured, broken, authoritarian tribe look better by slamming strawmen. That’s purely ridiculous. It makes his product look really bad, like it has no positive aspects of its own. I wouldn’t blame anyone for just deciding to eschew both his TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ and his strawman. They both sound perfectly awful (albeit one by accident).

Luckily, it’s very easy to learn the truth about the post-Christian world nowadays. Sure, I know many evangelical readers won’t bother learning about it. They’ll just nod along with him. After all, they know even less about other religions than he does. They just want to feel like #WINNERS here; they want to think ex-Christians are idiots. He tickles their ears accordingly.

But he runs into a big problem here. It’s very rare to find a church that fits McCracken’s exacting qualifications that isn’t a total hotbed of hypocrisy, power-grabs, and abuse. Authoritarian churches like that rarely turn out any different.

So Brett McCracken can’t sell his product on its own merits. So instead, he concocts a ludicrous strawman, attacks that, and then nods smugly to himself:

He’s totally nailed this. He’s given his readers no choice but to comply with his demands.

This is closer to what happened here. (Source.)

None of His Posturing and Mistreatment Even Matters.

In the end, though, none of Brett McCracken’s efforts will stop Christians from drifting away. That’s because of the one thing he can’t offer anyone: credible, objective support for his claims. Literally all he’s got is what he threw at the wall in his post: emotional manipulation, sneering at his made-up strawman, slamming his enemies, and insulting those who leave his tribe.

With his antics, he’ll neither persuade anyone to stick around, nor shame anyone who’s left into sampling his quirky li’l take on Christianity to make extra-dextra sure they quit for valid reasons. The best he can hope for here is to give equally-smug evangelicals just like himself more reason to hate their enemies and mistreat them.

Even so, he will probably continue to try to make “bespoke spirituality” a zinger buzzword. And in turn, I hope people will keep laughing at him for his ignorance and nasty attitude.

All the while, Christians will nonetheless continue to realize what thousands of them realize every day:

There’s no valid evidence supporting Christianity’s claims. If the religion isn’t based on reality, then they don’t want to be part of its groups.

The King Bretts of Christianity can insult those leaving their ranks all they like. And oh, yes, they will. It’s clearly one of their only remaining joys. All they’ll do beyond getting their jollies, though, is make ex-Christians think once again about how glad we are to have left such a toxic and false system behind.

I know that’s what he’s done for me, anyway, and so I thank him for the reminder. I didn’t need another one, but I sure get a lot of them all the same.

NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides! We’re all done with Brett McCracken for now. See you tomorrow, dear friends. <3

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...