Recently, I ran a post called “When Christian Hearts Hurt Over Non-Belief.” Not long ago, I noticed that post had received triple the amount of social media referrals that one of my posts usually gets this early in its life. It intrigued me. And very soon, I discovered why it was getting that attention. Today, I’ll show you that pushback. And I’ll offer some gentle observations about where that pushback comes from.
Cas = Mean. But We Knew That.
I noticed very rapidly that atheists (like these folks and these) seemed well on board with what I said in that post. They’d noticed the same exact Christian condescension and crocodile tears that I had. Their comments, by and large, ranged over the same territory we covered in discussing the post.
But Christians did not seem quite as happy with the post.
Here, for example, is a representative example of what I saw Christians saying. It’s more even-handed than the rest, probably because that forum contains Christians and non-Christians and tends to disavow standard-issue fundagelical talking points like Creationism.
Nonetheless, adjectives like “uncharitable” and “acrimonious” marched past my eyes. Someone outright accused me of having written “a hate piece.” One guy even offered to apologize on behalf of all Christians everywhere if anybody ever encountered this behavior from them. (The implication: he doesn’t expect to need to fulfill that offer very often.)
The General Direction.
Very quickly, I detected a general direction to the complaints. Indeed, Christians’ objections usually ran along very similar lines. Allow me to paraphrase:
I get what Cas is trying to say. Yes, perhaps I even graciously concede that some very few Bad Christians do talk like this just to be mean. But not me! I’m not like them! See, I totally DO feel sorry for non-Christians! They’re missing out on SO MUCH. And gosh, I’m just so happy being Christian that I just want everyone to be happy like me! Because I operate from a place of total sincerity, I want to keep doing it without any fear of criticism or challenges. Therefore, Cas should totally shut up.
It seems to me that a whole bunch of Christians got upset because they do exactly what I criticized, but they feel that their reasons are so virtuous that nobody should be allowed to say anything about it. Others might not act so boorishly themselves, but they didn’t think I included enough disclaimers to allow them to distance themselves from the Bad Christians I criticized.
BUT BUT BUT Their Hearts Do Totally Sincerely Hurt!
Their own sincerity rose to the top as Christians’ primary objection to the post. These Christians want to award their good and pure intentions a virtuous permission slip for continued wrongdoing. And that dog don’t hunt. If Christians want to know how people respond to the things they say to us, they need only type a search query. Thanks to the internet, Christians can easily locate opinions these days–even from their most-hated outgroup.
So any Christians expressing aloud their deep sorrow for non-belief (that was a disclaimer) have no excuse. Their intentions can be as pure as driven snow, but they still damage their relationships and credibility by talking like that. Whatever they hope to achieve that is so pure and noble, they fail miserably at it. And the only reason people don’t offer this exact same pushback to them is the social contract that they themselves violate by talking like this.
I would ask why these oh-so-noble Christians express this sentiment at all.
Are they trying to impress people with their sanctimonious behavior?
Do they think people will become more favorably inclined toward them and their religion as a result?
Or are they simply soothing themselves?
Are they making themselves feel better at our expense?
Why is acting like this more important to them than being courteous fellow travelers on this good dark earth?
The Many and Glorious Virtues of Civility.
Nobody requires us to state out loud every opinion we have about another person. In cases where that opinion arrives unsolicited and unwanted, that rule goes double. I don’t often write “open letter” posts for this exact reason. I know that the Christians who would most benefit from non-believers’ criticism will neither listen to nor appreciate any of it. Their antiprocess shields slam down so quickly that they barely even register what was said.
Instead, I seek to find explanations for our benefit.
In this case, think about those super-virtuous, super-sweet, super-oblivious, super-chirpy Christians who just generally burble and bubble over 24/7 with their super-awesome love for their god. Most of us probably know at least one of those.
Well, they still live under the same laws of civility that we all live under. And that means that they can’t pare away our reactions from their behavior.
“For Their Own Good.”
People can’t just give themselves permission to violate interaction rules. The people getting mistreated would need to grant it. Christians have gotten very good, over the last few decades, at giving themselves permission to do that.
The most monstrous, unfathomably cruel people in the world often excuse their behavior as being in the best possible interests of their victims. I guarantee you that the theocrats in the Republican Party’s top levels know that we will fight to the last breath against their Republic of Gilead fantasies.
They push to make the vision happen anyway because they think we’re like toddlers with no idea what’s good for us. We need our Designated Adults, they think, to make decisions for us. And look at that! Their god just so happened to make them the world’s Designated Adults!
Gosh! What are the chances?
Paring away people’s reactions to the way they are treated opens the door to mistreating them.
Since Feelings Are First.
That said, nobody says Christians aren’t allowed to feel however they like about non-believers.
They may secretly think, in their heart of hearts, that even non-believers with awesome-sounding lives would benefit greatly from adopting their beliefs. Of course! And they may even feel sorry for Steven Tyler of Aerosmith for not sharing their beliefs, if it helps them sleep at night.
In the same fashion, omnivores may feel sorry for lifelong vegetarians. After all, such people will never understand bacon, or the joy of a perfectly-roasted turkey at Thanksgiving. Keto fanatics may pity people who can’t live without Tuscan slow-risen crusty bread. Drinkers may pity teetotalers. And vegetarians, bread-eaters, and teetotalers may in their turn pity omnivores, keto fanatics, and drinkers.
We just don’t air those opinions, because the parties we would be pitying would be offended. They’d rightly think we were being condescending and patronizing. So we keep it to ourselves.
That’s how civilized people damned well handle it. Feel what you want, just keep it to yourself unless the relevant party asks for the input. If you love something, you shouldn’t need to slam those who don’t in order to feel good about it.
And that’s how we roll, unless we suffer from some wrongdoing against us. Then, we are quite right to raise a complaint–like I did.
Ignorance Excuses No One.
Implied in Christians’ first excuse is the notion that the Christians acting this way somehow don’t realize that the behavior is unwanted.
But even if a Christian has never heard of me and has never read this blog, ignorance is no excuse. Even the most Christian-bubble-bound Christian knows not to air unwanted opinions with their bubble’s other inhabitants.
For example, just try to tell a rowdy old church lady not to dance in the spirit while wearing high heels. I’ve gone there. I’m still shocked to be alive after the experience. Or try to tell snooty Christians not to chase first-time visitors out of “their” pews. The cat-butt faces you’ll get will precede your social ostracism. Most pastors wouldn’t even dare!
In a very real sense, to be Christian is (generally) to be exquisitely aware of when to hold one’s tongue among Christians.
Perhaps Christians just don’t like the reminder that they must bear in mind potential reactions from folks in their outgroups as well as their ingroup, rather than implicitly declaring us fair game for thoughtlessness and mistreatment.
But it gets worse.
In the #MeToo era, a form of distancing rapidly emerged from men who felt stung over the revelations daily flooding from women’s social media. Any time a woman mentioned facing sexist behavior from men, defensive men could be counted upon to recite in chorus, Not all men do that! Don’t lump us in with those terrible men! Only a few men do this!
No matter how women bent over backwards to exclude such men, great numbers of men still tried to raise that chorus whenever any sexist behavior was mentioned. The (mostly) men using it either didn’t know or really didn’t like learning just how universal these behaviors were, or just how many women faced large and small examples of sexism every single day. In effect, these men demanded quite a lot of emotional labor from women–so much so that women were spending more time consoling and coddling these ego-stung men than they were in raising awareness of the actual behavior they faced.
And this expectation of emotional labor, itself, inevitably became an example of the sexism women faced.
Very rapidly, people began calling this defensive posture #NotAllMen. It faced quite a lot of rightful mockery. Critics of the behavior recognize nowadays that it does, indeed, function as a form of distancing as well as a gaslighting attempt aimed at making women question how valid their complaints truly are.
But #NotAllXs gets worse that that, even.
(And Actually, Um, I Covered That.)
In the opening paragraph alone in that post, I count three exonerations of all these millions of Christians who are apparently innocent of the practice I was criticizing:
. . . a lot of Christians. . . Christians often sound. . . I’d just had some Christians say something similar to and about me. . .
Those phrases function as disclaimers. They implicitly declare that what follows is not a universal practice in Christianity. I conceded that right from the outset. And I did the same exact thing all throughout the post. I specifically singled out toxic Christians as the ones doing it. In fact, I included a link to the first usage, in case anybody new to the blog wondered what that phrase meant. Or I used adjectives or clarifying phrases to draw lines, such as “the Christians expressing it” or “the Christians talking like this.”
I really don’t know how much gentler I could have been without adding considerably to the post’s already-great length, or completely overshadowing the complaint being raised.
And maybe that was the outcome they desired.
Alas for them, I know that no matter what I say and how nicely I say it, if I criticize Christianity at all, then quite a few Christians will get upset. A similar thing happens every time a roadside billboard simply announces that atheists exist. I take care to ensure that I don’t offend unnecessarily. But at some level, the criticism needs to happen or nothing will change.
Women figured out almost immediately that #NotAllMen functioned as an implicit demand for silence. More than that, it re-centers the attention and time of oppressed people to areas where oppressors feel more comfortable: seeing women catering to them.
Re-centering, as a process, moves women’s attention from calling out oppressive behavior to un-ruffling the precious fee-fees of ruffled-up men who suddenly find themselves under a spotlight they never expected to shine their way.
And that’s how #NotAllChristian complaints operate.
Only one time have I ever beheld a Christian respond to this or similar criticism like “Wow, I totally do this. I had no idea. I’ll stop doing it now.” Nor have I seen Christians discussing, in response, how they would help end this behavior if they saw it happening.
Every single time, almost without fail, Christians criticize me, cast aspersions upon my motivations and feelings in raising a complaint, and strongly imply (if not directly state) that I need to shut up.
It’s downright wacky to see Christians saying Jesus flipped tables and challenged authority, then demanding their critics stop talking.
The Christians who act like this (another disclaimer!) are okay with mistreating us. And that’s not okay with me.
When the Solution is Us Shutting Up.
Any time a group’s complete solution-set to a problem raised about them is for the complainer to shut up, our ears should perk up. We’re seeing an attempt to maintain a status quo that the silencer finds amenable.
Here, the objections amounted to gosh, only a few Bad Christians are doing it, and but the people doing it have the purest imaginable intentions. And yes, I hear those exact objections almost constantly from Christians. I know the Christians talking like this are likely a minority. I know that. (Disclaimer!) But to call this behavior rare or to claim most of the Christians doing it have pure intentions beggars belief.
Both objections try to make the complainer sound like a meaniepie grasping at straws to make Christians look bad. (The ones whining about but but but ATHEISTS ARE MEAN TOO barely even merit a tangential side link.)
It’s hard to imagine genuinely good and loving people who would not want to know that their group does this sort of thing to others.
The Road Not Traveled (Has Thorns Growing In It).
For that matter, it’s even harder to imagine genuinely good and loving people who would silence someone raising such complaints. But if they didn’t do stuff like this so often, non-Christians wouldn’t pay them any mind.
And maybe that’s the real problem here.
When Christians piously proclaim that they feel so very sad about our non-belief, they’re expressing their opinion that their beliefs are the bestest-est possible beliefs in the whole wide world for everyone to hold. And I’d expect them to feel that way, or else why endure the religion’s many and significant costs and drawbacks?
But let’s pay attention to when they express this opinion. (I listed four of these in the last post, one from a rising star in apologetics.) It always comes after an encounter with someone else who does not hold the same beliefs–and is doing just fine. And that’s got to be tough for a lot of Christians (ooh look, another disclaimer). If we hold different beliefs and are doing just fine, or at least no worse than themselves, then these Christians (and another disclaimer) could easily interpret our mere existence as a raised middle finger to a whole variety of their own beliefs.
That’s what happens when we invest too much of our self-identity in our life decisions. Whether it’s becoming parents or eating a certain diet or holding different opinions about the supernatural, when people don’t share those decisions then we can start feeling like they’re judging us–and finding us inferior for rejecting their decision and going a different way. We must avoid those judgments where we can.
Give Me a Reason.
If we want someone to hold the same beliefs or make the same decisions as ourselves, then expressions of pity won’t make them do it. We must offer good reasons to do it–and we must offer them only when asked for the input.
But that’s not what’s going on here.
Unasked-for pity without action is, well, the epitome of Christianity to me. It’s like prayer. At its best, it’s mental masturbation. At its worst, it’s a virtue-signaling exercise aimed at enforcing groupthink and tribal dominance–and as such can qualify as coercive.
Either way, I’ve got no use for it and no time for it. Either way, it’s just another sign of the religion’s decline–and a potent one at that. And either way, it’s a symptom of the disease causing that decline–and a telling one at that.
Ultimately, when I see pity from Christians, I know they’re doing it precisely because their religion’s claims are false.
NEXT UP: Join me for a throwdown between ex-atheist and ex-Satanist testimonies! One definitely wins in the fight for Christians’ time and attention. Next time, we’ll see which it is. (Maybe there will even be diagrams…?) Then later we’ll talk about Magic Christians. See you soon!
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