Hi and welcome back! Let’s take a quick break from Calvinists Behaving Badly. I’ve been seeing the triumphant return of one of Christianity’s most beloved myths, and I want to highlight it here. Quite a few Christians think that if someone holds correct beliefs, then they won’t ever deconvert. That is simply not true. It doesn’t matter what flavor of Christianity one follows. People leave Christianity regardless. Today, I’ll show you this myth — and we’ll talk about why Christians love it so much.
The Myth of Correct Jesus-ing, in the Wild.
I’ve been seeing this myth a lot lately, but a source yesterday called it to my attention all over again. A blog called Lighthouse Trails Research offered it up in 2019 as an explanation for why Joshua Harris deconverted. It’s simple, really. You see, Harris landed in a flavor of Christianity that was not TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
Lighthouse’s writer explains:
During Harris’ efforts to find spiritual meaning in his life, he landed in Calvinism, a belief system that does not present the picture of a God of love who loved the whole world so much that He sent His only Son to die for all. [. . .]
However, once these young Calvinists discover the dark dismal truth about this Calvinistic “God” (thinking this is the God of the Bible), disillusionment and depression set in which results in a spiritual crisis. When this happens, they often choose (as we are witnessing today) one of two paths: some of them head into the Calvinist emergent camp (or as Calvinists call it, neo-Calvinism), and some of them walk away from the church altogether. Eventually, both groups end up in the same place—departed from the faith. Does such a tragedy happen to those in other unbiblical camps (such as a legalistic holiness system)? Absolutely. Extreme unbiblical doctrines lead followers away from truth, not to it. [. . .]
We realize that Josh Harris’ stepping down from the Christian faith is most likely multi-faceted, both in the personal and spiritual realms, but his Calvinist (and probably emergent) indoctrination left him defenseless in standing firm in biblical truth.
How the Myth Works: TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
With this myth, the Christian doing the judging always considers their own way of practicing Christianity to be the baseline way to Jesus. The further away someone gets from their own flavor of the religion, the more that person risks losing faith. The judge, after all, has not yet lost faith!
These Christian judges are working from a quirky, idiosyncratic definition of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. In their minds, a TRUE CHRISTIAN™:
- Believes the same basic package of nonsense their judge does;
- Hasn’t gotten caught doing something that the judge considers completely out-of-bounds; and
- Dies in the traces just like their judge totally will.
In the Lighthouse post above, the judge thinks that Joshua Harris landed in one of the many untrue flavors of Christianity. Uh oh! And that made him totes disillusioned with Jesus.
So obviously, Harris left the religion instead of taking the time to learn about the judge’s own package of nonsense. If he’d done his due diligence, then he would absolutely have recognized and accepted the judge’s package of beliefs as the correct one, like the judge obviously has.
Notice that the writer doesn’t know that Harris had an “emergent” indoctrination. He’s just guessing. But definitely Calvinism is untrue in the judge’s opinion, so that must be the problem here.
Where the Myth Falls Down.
But what about people like me?
I mean, I left Christianity in the mid-90s, well before Calvinism’s takeover of evangelicalism. While I still believed, I never bought into the idea of a god who hates people and eagerly looks forward to their torture in Hell. The god I worshiped might have been capricious, confusing, and maddeningly elusive, but I still thought he was at heart a good being who wanted everyone to come to salvation.
And I guarantee that if they saw my words here, they’d just tell me that it was Oneness Theology that determined my fate. (It was not.)
The Christians who believe in this myth will doggedly seek out the differences between their package-of-nonsense and that of their victim. Once they find that difference — and they will, because absolutely nothing in Christianity is monolithic — then that’s what they’ll blame the deconversion on.
The Eternal Slapfight Over Correct Jesus-ing.
I’ve heard this myth as well out of oodles of various other Christians. So has just about every person who’s deconverted. Gosh! If we’d only believed the correct things, then we would never have left, this myth goes.
One of these Christians, Tom Greentree, even claims to find “stories of faith-change fascinating.” He still manages to hit every single deconversion myth his tribe believes. He saved his favorite one for last in his listicle:
And finally, we can be deceived. We believe a lie about who Jesus is and what life is all about; we come under spiritual influences that cloud our minds. [. . .] Without ever exploring valid alternatives, we accept a lie and faith is dislodged.
Did you notice the blame game he’s trying to play there? That’s a big part of the myth.
Gosh, if we’d only taken the time to get to know every other flavor of Christianity out there! If we had, we’d eventually have lucked into the judge’s own flavor — and we’d have immediately recognized and accepted it as truth, rather than leaving the religion entirely. We’re at fault here for failing to do enough to satisfy King Tom GreenTree.
However, it doesn’t matter how many flavors of Christianity an ex-Christian has investigated. If we haven’t investigated the judge’s own flavor, then we didn’t do enough to justify our deconversion. And if we did find and investigate that flavor but rejected it, then we didn’t investigate it enough. Or demons clouded our judgment, or we were just rebellious. Or something.
Thanks to decades of Christian judgmentalism, there is always something a dedicated Christian judge can use to condemn others!
Watching the Myth Fly Back and Forth.
On another blog, Hacking Christianity, we can see this same slapfight happen over and over again.
In response to the blogger’s criticism of Beth Moore’s doctrinal beliefs, “Gale” writes:
Pastor, have you noticed how many young people/young adults have left the Methodist Church? Aren’t you curious? Have you talked with God about that? I’m sure you haven’t, because you don’t ‘hear’ from God. He doesn’t ‘speak’ to you. It’s a sad state of affairs when even the pastors can’t make the Word of God come alive. That’s because it is not alive to them. It’s just history.
“Tomke” immediately responds, “Have you noticed the massive numbers who have left Southern Baptist churches?” Ooh, sick burn there, Tomke!
Later, “Eleni” comes in with a declaration that all organized religion “has done more harm to the message and ministry of Jesus Christ than anything.” I guess the important thing here is that she found a way to look down on both sides of this slapfight.
Amusingly, “Mikey” asserts that literalism in general is “lazy.” “JiLas” warns Mikey in withering tones that he will need luck “to keep [his] faith,” because his incorrect belief about literalism makes him “ripe for the picking.”
In these Christians’ opinions, incorrect beliefs lead to the loss of faith. Period point blank.
This Myth Goes All the Way to the Top.
You’ll find this belief everywhere in Christianity — especially in their denominational infighting.
If you look at the denominations where women do the preaching, they are also the denominations where people do the leaving.
Buice fully agrees, obviously. He finds the SBC’s (perceived) increasing liberalism to be a deeply distressing trend.
Al Mohler himself loudly insists that the SBC contains no female pastors. Someone at Pulpit & Pen immediately replied that the SBC contains a whole lot of women in top leadership, then hinted darkly that Mohler’s ignorance of his own denomination’s doings might well be the death of it:
[I]n 20 years, if this ship isn’t turned around like yesterday, the SBC will be virtually indistinct from the United Methodist Church for all the [women] they’ll have in the pulpit.
And we all know what’s going on in the United Methodist Church, amirite?
(Hey, just for fun: stop a moment to imagine a world where a major Christian leader thinks that declining a bit more slowly than other denominations constitutes a legitimate gloating point for him.)
According to these misogynists-for-Jesus, churches accept female pastors because they’ve adopted incorrect beliefs. And because of those incorrect beliefs, those churches will lose the most people and decline the hardest.
Segue: Meet the Underdogs.
Let me segue here briefly to marvel that the same Christians who hammer at this Myth of Correctness are the same ones who insist that being the underdog “Remnant” is awesome and a sign of the Endtimes.
Many Christians accept (long after reality made further denial impossible) that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are fated to be a tiny shred of humanity. And yet they also think that if they can get more Christians to accept correct beliefs (like theirs), then Christianity will stop declining and maybe even regain its dominance.
So which is it? Are TRUE CHRISTIANS™ fated to outnumber heathens? Or must they always pine for dominance from the shadows?
Yet Another Christian Belief Turns Out to Be Untrue.
I could go on and on and on. In almost every single similar list Christians make of why people leave Christianity, the holding of incorrect beliefs always makes the grade.
Of course, it’s not hard to find ex-Christians in literally every and any flavor of Christianity imaginable. Be it the biggest denomination on Earth or the tiniest, quirkiest li’l Jesus-flavored mystery cult to ever incorporate, people still leave each and every one of them.
It doesn’t matter what the belief system is or what planks Christians adopt to build their overall package of individuated nonsense. People still leave.
You can find ex-Mormons and ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, ex-Pentecostals and ex-Unitarians, ex-Baptists and ex-Catholics everywhere by now.
Speculations on the Purpose of This Beloved Myth.
For a long time now, I’ve suspected that Christians cling to and propagate this myth for self-protective reasons.
It must be scary to be surrounded by people who have left Christianity. Our deconversion stories speak of deep and abiding faith, intense fervor, faithful devotions, and sacrifices galore that we made for our faith.
And yet we still left.
The more seriously a Christian takes the Bible, the less possible ex-Christians must seem. The Bible does, after all, poison the well many times by telling Christians that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ literally cannot deconvert:
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. [1 John 2:19]
The Parable of the Sower tells Christians as well that good seed on good soil can’t possibly fail to sprout good plants. (I would like to introduce them to rosemary seeds, which are the dickens to germinate. I’ve finally succeeded, but only after many unsuccessful attempts!)
And yet here we are, telling them that yes, we believed very hard, very much, very intensely, and yet we still lost faith.
Ex-Christians have got to be really challenging to a Christian’s faith. Are millions of people just lying like Christians do in their testimonies? Yes, we must be. Or else there’s some massive difference between our experience of Christianity and their own, some difference between us and our judges that spelled the difference in retention.
And with that, a beloved modern Christian myth finds root in the fertile soil of Christian insecurity and narcissism.
The Myth of Safety (Through Correct Jesus-ing).
You see, deconversion can’t possibly happen to these judgmental Christians. Nope, nope! They believe all the right things for the right reasons and in the right amounts. And they know this because Jesus told them so!
Of course, when we ex-Christians tell them that we sure thought Jesus told us the same things and that our beliefs weren’t much different from theirs at all, then we’re just deluded somehow. They’re not. They know their package of nonsense is the correct one. They know they’ll never deconvert. That’s because they hold all the correct beliefs.
Deconversion only happens to people who Jesus incorrectly somehow — not like them. They Jesus correctly in every way. They’re safe. Safe.
(Safety is really all that matters to authoritarians.)
Hey, if it takes telling us ex-Christians hateful things to our faces, if it takes disobeying their god’s most important command to his followers, if it takes mistreating us as tribal enemies in violation of their savior’s stated wishes, then oh well! Hypocrisy is perfectly fine by them.
There’s only one group of people who seem really surprised to find out just how far TRUE CHRISTIANS™ will go to feel safe:
Those who weren’t once one of them before fighting to the scary freedom of reality.
NEXT UP: The blame game continues. See you tomorrow!
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