Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about a podcast called Gospelbound. It’s a production of The Gospel Coalition, a hard-right Calvinist evangelical group online. In this particular episode of Gospelbound, two guys talk about all the awful persecution that their tribe totally faces. Except this persecution is largely a complete myth. In reality, they’re usually simply receiving the rightful consequences of their own boorish behavior. Today, I’ll show you how TRUE CHRISTIANS™ warp rightful consequences into abject persecution. It’s a heckuva bit of sleight of hand, but a farce that such Christians have long accepted as actual truth.
(Fundagelicals are evangelicals fused with fundamentalists; they used to be two completely different groups but aren’t anymore. I use it as a descriptive term, not a pejorative. Previous posts about this podcast episode: Gospelbound Talks Ineptly About Deconversion; Evaluating an Episode of Gospelbound; Why Jesus Aura Evangelism Still Fails; More Control = Less Churn; Reducing Churn Through More Indoctrination; These Guys Don’t Even Believe Their Own Claims.)
The Myth of Original Christianity.
Back in the 1990s, I almost got my fool self sucked into a David Koresh-style cult — right before he hit the news, no less, and this cult operated in Waco just down the road from him.
Why, you might ask?
Because like a lot of fundagelicals do today, I bought into Original Christianity.
Fundagelical Christians embrace a lot of mythology about their religion’s earliest days. I call this mythology Original Christianity. Fundagelicals think that the first Christians Jesus-ed exactly correctly. Those earliest Christians believed all the right things. They practiced in the bestest devotions and totally weren’t hypocrites at all!
Oh, but then, somehow, that form of Christianity got utterly warped and destroyed. Back in my day, we blamed 4th-century Catholics for that. I don’t think fundagelicals blame them now, though. They’ve all but merged with hardline Catholicism.
As the myth goes, strains of Original Christianity survived in remote pockets. Or maybe it died, but someone revived it in recent years. Take your pick. I’ve heard both and more.
To its believers, Original Christianity is fulfilling, relevant-feeling, powerful, safe, and most of all possible to practice in ways that regular flavors of Christianity just aren’t.
As Christians show us constantly, though, it’s very easy to ascribe lofty traits to stuff that doesn’t actually exist. Reality looked quite different from this rosy vision of the past.
Gospelbound Doesn’t Understand History.
As their podcast episode reveals, Gospelbound buys into this myth wholeheartedly. The host, Collin Hansen, and his guest Gerald Sittser talk extensively about how they think the earliest Christians acted and were perceived by their society. They ache for evangelicals to adopt this never-was version of Christianity. They’re positive it’d solve all of their problems.
In their dreams, they are free indeed.
In reality, there seems to be very little reason to believe that early Christians acted any different from the ones we see nowadays. Until its leaders gained the power to coerce compliance, the newbie religion did not expand quickly. Nor were early Christians really paragons of Jesus-ing. From the beginning, outsiders to Christianity noticed Christians’ hypocrisy and control-hunger. Even in the New Testament, we see signs that the early religion struggled hard to attract and keep what few converts they could find (and the Epistles reveal Christians’ hypocrisy). Pagans had little reason to covet whatever early Christians claimed to have.
Sittser also mistakes Christianity for a totally unique religion for its time. It decidedly was not. Some anonymous guys borrowed elements from contemporary religions and philosophies and whizzed ’em together. Then, they plastered them over with poorly-understood local history. Sure, whoever invented Christianity presented believers with a different configuration of standard-issue contemporary beliefs. Yes. But its individual elements weren’t new at all. No, not even the idea of a savior god-man.
As a whole, Christianity can be easily understood as just one of many products of a truly chaotic, volatile time. As Wayne Campbell Kannaday writes:
[T]he sacred text was forged in a crucible of Roman hegemony, Jewish apocalypticism, internecine controversy, local persecution, individual zeal, corporate piety, and death-defying conviction.
So if Gerald Sittser got something this basic wrong, what else does he get wrong?
The Myth of Modern Persecution.
What’s much more grating than Gospelbound’s errors about Original Christianity is its belief in modern persecution.
Yes, these guys firmly believe that they totally get persecuted for JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN! Here they are, just minding their own business, JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN! And suddenly WHAM, they’re bein’ persecutioned left an’ right for JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN! Mus’ be their Jesus Auras! Couldn’t be anythin’ else!
It’s hilarious, but it’s also deeply frustrating. That is not actually why anybody has objections to these control-lusting zealots and their ongoing war against human rights. Host Collin Hansen muses:
Because that’s one thing that Smith points out is that the threat of living for a different ethic and for eternity was ultimately what was so dangerous to the Romans. And I think that’s pretty similar now. Nobody minds us when we just say, “Hey, Jesus changed my heart and now I feel better about myself.” Nobody minds that.
Except that’s not actually why early Roman rulers had issues with Christians. As we’ve established, even early Christians were largely known as hypocrites. They weren’t “living for a different ethic.” They were, rather, probably more regarded as dangerous zealots who were causing disturbances in a part of the Roman Empire that was already constantly troubled/troublesome. I mean, Pliny the Younger (relink) flat-out called Christianity “nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition” in his letter to Emperor Trajan.
If all Christians did was talk about how they thought their imaginary friend had totally impacted their lives, nobody’d have any trouble with them.
And hilariously, our podcast dudes know this!
Watch a Christian Subtly Indicate He Knows the Truth About Faux Persecution.
Yes indeed, Collin Hansen seems to understand exactly why his tribe gets pushback. Right after he says that quote above, he adds:
So there’s not a problem with that. But then all of a sudden when you say, “No, no, no, no, no. I live for a different kingdom. I live for a law that’s written on the heart and you must be born again.” All of a sudden, that’s where we get into a lot of trouble.
This was about the mildest possible way to put his tribe’s control-lust and constant culture-war grabs for power. He’s trying to make that pushback being a response to them just mildly opining all tentative-like, I’d really like for y’all to buy into this twaddle we believe.
That is absolutely, positively not what is going on here.
If all Christians did was tell outsiders “[hey,] you must be born again,” and left it at that, I don’t think they’d get much pushback. It’d be no different from people saying “hey, you should go see Jurassic World.” Or “hey, you should visit this new restaurant.”
But they aren’t.
This quote is so incredibly dishonest that it gets my gears well and truly ground.
That is not what his tribe is doing. It’s not even close to what they’re actually doing.
And Collin Hansen should know it.
After all, he’s part of the very group of super-hard-right, culture-warring, pushy, control-grabby, authoritarian Calvinists who keep trying to convince the tribe to commit overreach against others.
Watch TRUE CHRISTIANS™ Lie About What They’re Hoping to Achieve With False Persecution Claims.
Later on, Gerald Sittser admits that even his tribe doesn’t actually live up to Original Christian demands. For example, they aren’t nearly as generous as he thinks Original Christians totally were. Tsk tsk! But then he disingenuously claims that despite their utter inability to live up to his vision of “the third way,” they totally represent the “greatest threat” to American government out of all groups.
(He wishes in his most grandiose pipe dreams! What about domestic terrorists in white Christian Nationalist groups? What about racist hate groups? LOL!)
Oh, but Gerald Sittser rhapsodizes:
We don’t just live for a different kingdom. We live for a different kind of kingdom and that is inherently going to be threatening to the social order. I don’t care how you cut it, it’s going to be threatening.
And LOL no. No, they don’t “live for a different kind of kingdom.” Literally nobody sees any positive difference between his tribe and anyone else.
Rather, these Christians just want their dominance back. Then, they want to make sure they never lose it again — by seizing totalitarian power over others, so they can force us to comply with their demands through law. Their dream vision is the Republic of Gilead, and it always has been.
And I mean, I guess Gilead does represent “a different kind of kingdom.”
But we’ve seen plenty of governments that closely resemble it.
Christopher Hitchens once called Christianity “a celestial North Korea.” It is. Even C.S. Lewis had these theocrats’ number:
The [robber] baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated, and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience [. . .]
The “threatening” part isn’t the tribe’s TRUE CHRISTIAN™ Jesus Auras. It’s their blatant desire for unchecked authoritarian power. They use it to commit horrors untold.
We know that. And so we resist.
Dogwhistles Reveal the Truth.
Gerald Sittser confirms this truth after encouraging TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to run for office and vote regularly (in tribe-approved ways of course):
I’ll be a very different kind of politician. I’ll be a very different kind of citizen or doctor or lawyer or teacher or anything else. So in any particular sphere of influence, people are going to see me as seeking the welfare of the city, planning my vineyard, building my home, being in it for the long haul, being an active citizen.
That’s a very careful cloaking of his culture war ambitions. Impressive, almost! He continues:
On the other hand, there’s going to be something about me that’s going to make people feel really uneasy because the King I follow is not just different but a different kind.
And that’s another fib.
In truth, nobody really feels “uneasy” about his imaginary friend. What makes us uneasy is knowing that he thinks his imaginary friend wants him to control Americans’ lives for our own good. The early Christians he idolizes did exactly the same thing, and it took us many centuries to shake off their iron yoke. His tribe of Christians wouldn’t be any different.
But he’d prefer to imagine that we’re sooooo uneasy because his imaginary friend is just soooooo weirdly unsettling to us.
That’s a lot easier than admitting why people really keep pushing back against his tribe’s overreach.
Why Frustrated Authoritarians Push Persecution Myths.
This narrative of unfair and meaniepie persecution for JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN appeals mightily to today’s beleaguered evangelicals. Heck, this episode of Gospelbound isn’t even the only time we’ll see TRUE CHRISTIANS™ fretting over their diminishing privilege and dominance of American society. These false complaints of persecution are part of how they hope to re-establish their power.
If leaders like these two guys on Gospelbound can get fundagelicals in general to buy into their narrative, then they can start pushing their troops to vote for laws to enshrine their overreach and privilege into law.
And if that effort succeeds, then we will see a complete and total and final end to Christians’ meager, inept attempts to persuade us to join them. They never liked having to sell their product to others in the first place. They’ve always preferred coercion to persuasion.
There is this as well: When a once-dominant authoritarian group starts losing power, they have a real tendency to see that lessening of unwarranted privilege, the leveling of the playing field that reduces their unearned lofty position on it, as actual honest-to-goodness persecution. In 2012, Weekly Sift famously called this feeling of being hard-done-by “privilege distress.”
Fundagelicals are way too narcissistic to understand that they’re not being mistreated here. They’re simply being asked to follow the same rules that everyone must follow. Those rules ask everyone to show respect to other people’s rights and liberties. Fundagelicals never felt beholden to those rules before, and their entire culture-war mentality demands that they violate and destroy other people’s rights and liberties. So they’ve been crying and crying about faux persecution in hopes that we’ll stop making those demands of them.
Nobody’s ever had it so hard as them! Nobody gets persecuted like they do! Everyone’s just so MEAN to them — and for JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN!
Don’t be fooled by these cries.
Be Watchful, Please.
If I could notice that Christianity only took off once Christians gained coercive powers and that it began to decline the moment they lost those powers, then you can bet these two guys on Gospelbound have noticed it too. That’s exactly why their big game plan for rescuing their tribe’s dominance involves coercive force rather than Jesus Power and wheedling persuasion.
Instead of engaging with the real reasons why people don’t like them and why we push back against their overreach, these guys make up reasons that flatter them and make them feel smug and happy and correct. After pushing America into a “post-truth” mindset, it’s all too easy for fundagelical leaders to craft these false narratives.
Worse, this false narrative helps Christians rationalize and justify their attempts to commit even worse overreach.
Watch out for sob stories about Christian persecution. Chances are, it’s not happening for JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN. Instead, way too many Christians use false persecution claims as a smokescreen to hide why they’ve really been denied the power they crave.
NEXT UP: LSP!
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