sheep blowing us off
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Daan Stevens.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Authoritarian leaders often make ridiculous demands to try to fix their groups’ problems. Often, these non-solutions involve everybody-else-but-them going to extreme lengths to do stuff that doesn’t benefit anyone at all except those leaders! There’s an insidious side to these streams of unreasonable demands. Today, I’ll show you what authoritarians’ non-solutions involve — and why they can’t change gears now.

sheep blowing us off
(Daan Stevens.) I don’t know if I’ve ever seen sheep blow someone off, until now at least.

Tumblr Wisdom.

Recently, I spotted this interesting tidbit over on FailBlog. (Here’s the screenshot.) It reads:

I think part of what bothers me about anti-millennial rhetoric is that it never provides a solution. It simply places blame and moves on. [. . .] “Killing the housing market” okay how do you fix institutional bias against race how do you make enough on minimum wage to afford a house how do you pay taxes on that house how do you pay taxes on that house. “Killing the diamond industry” how do I stop people from dying for those diamonds or deal with false inflation.

Just tell me. If it’s all my fault, how do I fix it. Because really, realistically, I’m avoiding buying certain things because I don’t have money or moral ambivalence for it. So instead of blaming me, tell me what we are supposed to do.

See, but if you do. If you start trying to figure out “why aren’t they spending their money on a lie we sold them” – maybe you’d figure out the solution isn’t just to say “it’s their fault and they owe us an apology and gratitude.” Maybe you’ll figure out the problem starts with you.

Excellent and well-done, inkskinned!

And this post got me thinking about something I wrote some years back.

Losing the Plot, Plotting the Loss.

Back in 2014, I wrote “Losing the Plot (And Plotting the Loss).” It concerned the Chief Rabbi in the United Kingdom (UK), Lord Jonathan Sacks, and his hand-wringing about the falling marriage rates there.

As well as whining that nobody wants to get married anymore, he offered a non-solution: people should just, well, get married anyway! They should take one for Team Humanity!

If they didn’t, then his world would fall apart and it’d be all those other people’s fault for refusing to marry. Sure, many people in the UK saw marriage as hugely disadvantageous to themselves. But that wasn’t his problem. He needed them to marry anyway.

In an interview, he huffed:

“If people work for the maximum possible benefit for themselves then we will not have trust in industry, in economics, in financial institutions, we will not see marriages last.”

See? The Big Problem Here is people not wanting to do stuff that doesn’t benefit themselves. They should expend years of their lives and considerable amounts of money so his dream society won’t change.

How’d That Go?

Seven years later, not much has changed in the UK. The number of marriages performed each year has stayed fairly stable — hovering around 270k/year, with occasional blips upward. (The population has risen slightly in that time, so it’s likely that the marriage rate has declined further.)

Not much changed for Sacks himself, either: in 2014, he gave a keynote presentation for a papal convention about sexism-as-the-bonus-plan (fundagelicals call it complementarianism). More recently, he complained about “armchair morality,” by which he very clearly means disagreement with himself.

His approach and rhetoric alike have remained the same as they’ve ever been.

Let’s You and Him Get To Work.

Authoritarian leaders love telling other people what to do and think and be. Sacks sits in a crowded throne that way. I’ve noticed for a very long time that their non-solutions to problems usually involve demanding people do stuff they will not ever do.

We see toxic Christian leaders doing this all the time as well. Here’s:

Christian leaders have long enjoyed a great deal of power in their communities. They learned to rely on that power to do the heavy lifting of persuasion and cajoling. Nowadays, many of them would express absolute outrage over the mere idea that they should persuade anybody to do anything rather than simply ordering it.

Now that they’ve lost a bit of their power, they just have no idea what to do. They’re starting to just make nonsense noises. Or maybe they always did and it’s just gotten more obvious.

Example: OMG, Not A Country Club!

Here’s Thom Rainer discussing what he totally promises are “exit interviews” of Christians who’ve left various local churches. (Press X for doubt.)

He lists reasons like “the pastor did not feed me” (see endnote), “no one from my church visited me,” or “I told my pastor to go visit my cousin and he never did.”

Yes, Rainer really did make sure to list only stuff that would sound unreasonable, and he offered no context at all so it all sounds extra-entitled. That said, can you just hear his frustration as he summarizes their complaints?

Church members should expect some level of ministry and concern. [Ain’t that mighty big of King Him? — CC] But, for a myriad of reasons beyond the scope of this one blogpost, we have turned church membership into country club membership. You pay your dues and you are entitled to certain benefits.

OMG! How dare Christians give their church tons of money and then expect something back for it! The nerve!

His non-solution is to “move [church] members from an entitlement mentality to a servant mentality.” None of the five suggestions he offers up would accomplish that goal, however. They all amount to demanding that members step up and quit whining for attention.

And how’d the flocks respond, one might ask?

Well, he wrote that post in 2013. In that time, his denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), went from 15.8M members to 14.8M. Pastors still complain constantly that the flocks refuse to comply with their demands.

Weirdly, it looks like his fanbase of pastors and ministers couldn’t make that shift.

Reckoning Without Their Hosts.

Notably absent from all of these demands: good reasons to do any of this stuff. It’s all “Do it because I say to do it! If you don’t, I’ll Team Humanity Jesus will be upset!”

They want increased church attendance or more volunteering? Then they should make attending church and volunteering more rewarding than whatever their members could be doing instead.

Would a pastor like more money from a congregation that (like most of them) barely tithes at all? Then donating money to the church must feel like a more rewarding use of that money than whatever else someone could put it toward.

Do they want people to have more babies and marry their significant others? Then they should make marriage and motherhood easier and more attractive than the other options people could pursue instead.

As it is, though, none of that’s going to happen. Not a bit of it.

It’s much easier to whine and complain — and to blame the people who for some gosh-darned reason aren’t acting against their own best interests by making disastrous personal decisions, all to make their Dear Leaders happy.

Not once, not ever will any of these leaders consider the political and cultural stances they hold that have led directly to these societal changes, either.

Preaching to the Choir.

As a parenthetical note, the demands I’ve noted here aren’t even really aimed at the disobedient flocks.

The targets of their screeds are generally not even in their audiences. Thus, they’re not even going to hear about these complaints. It’s hard to imagine them caring even one bit that King JudgeyPants at the Fort God church two states over disapproves of their life choices, much less scrambling to rearrange their lives and waste tons of money and time just to make that judge happier.

Instead, these would-be dictators direct their complaints to audiences of fellow authoritarian leaders who feel similar frustrations after their own similar commands got ignored by similar flocks.

So yes, in a lot of ways these authoritarian leaders are virtue signaling to their peers. They’re saying, in effect:

Look at us! We’re so wise and smart! We see exactly what’s wrong in this world! How sad that the peasants beneath us can’t comprehend our wisdom or appreciate our gracious leadership! Tsk tsk harumph! 

And behind all their demands, I detect a keening note of loss and a rising element of anxiety.

The Loss of Dominance.

Nobody seems to have trouble figuring out what’s really going on in all of these demands, either: they’re all nakedly self-serving.

When Jonathan Sacks whines about declining marriage rates, or Ross Douthat whines about (implied: white upper-middle-class-and-above) American women not breeding enough (implied: white upper-middle-class-and-above) babies, or Thom Rainer whines that Christians just expect too much of the pastors they follow and pay money to maintain, it’s all too easy to see the many benefits they’d reap from their followers’ compliance.

I bet they wish they still held the kind of dominance they did decades ago, when their word was law in a community! It’s clear that losing even a little of that dominance has freaked out these authoritarian leaders. They try hard to operate like they still have all of it, but the people they’re pushing around no longer have to listen to them.

Even their own flocks blow them off now.

(I’m certain of this: fundagelicals would the very first to howl in outrage if someone tried to pass a law requiring church attendance and tithing!)

A Fix That Won’t Happen.

But to pull back and consider real fixes to their imaginary complaints would be to acknowledge the minor loss of power they’ve experienced. Real fixes would involve taking accountability for their own role in creating the situation they want changed, adjusting their own political and cultural stances to help create opportunities for the desired changes they want, then moving forward with a more cooperative model of leadership that incorporates checks and balances on their own power as well as respect for others’ autonomy and needs.

None of that is going to happen.

These screeching tin-pot dictators have adopted another tactic:

They’ll just pretend everything’s the same as it ever was.

They’ll hunker down, keep selling their lies, keep insulting those who dissent, keep making demands, and wait out this storm. “Jesus” will eventually reward their steadfastness.

We’ll see. We’ll all see.

Any day now, “Jesus” will make it right again for them. And then, won’t we all be sorry! (/s)

NEXT UP: Chat post! Then, on Friday: A lot of hucksters are pushing essential oils right now. We’ll look at what those are and why they seem so popular with so many Christians. See you tomorrow!


On the care and feeding of Christians: When Christians talk about something “feeding them” (or not feeding them, as in this case), it’s Christianese. Christians, especially fundagelicals, think of the Bible’s contents as food — particularly as meat or milk, depending on how advanced the topic is and how far along the Christian is in theological understanding. So a pastor who doesn’t “feed” them is one who isn’t providing satisfactory sermons in some way. Often, the implication is that the sermon wasn’t Jesus-y enough for that Christian, or it seemed too soft on culture-war topics or too compassionate to the tribe’s enemies. Less often, the phrase can also mean that the pastor’s sermons were irrelevant. 

Also, don’t miss Rainer’s Christianese term “biblical.” In Christianese, this word modifies nouns to indicate their friendliness to the fundagelical culture wars. For example, “biblical marriage” means straights-only complementarian marriage fitting the culture-war ideal. Rainer thinks that his unilateral, totalitarian model of church membership is “biblical,” and in this sense it is: it’s the model that authoritarian culture-warriors think Jesus likes best. They call it “biblical” because it provides them an effective cloak of borrowed authority. If they called it what it really is, then their political agenda might become too obvious.

 (Back to the post!)

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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,...

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