Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I showed you a quick little introduction to the evangelical concept of the Endtimes. As with everything they do, evangelicals embrace the Endtimes for a reason. And that reason is awful. Its awfulness represents not so much a separate problem in their religion as a symptom of the deepest, worst problem they have. Today, I’ll show you why so many evangelicals embrace and love beliefs like the Endtimes.
Jesus’ Direct Orders.
Almost universally, Christians believe that Jesus told them to do certain things with their lives. Usually, these orders center around charity work, gestures of compassion, and social justice agitation. These plus more overtly-religious observances make up the practice of Christianity.
Ironically, a good list of Jesus’ orders can be found on Bill Gothard’s pervy, ultra-authoritarian culture-warrior site Institute in Basic Life Principles. However, I learned this exact same stuff as a Catholic and a Pentecostal. I call this list Jesus’ real-world demands because they relate to how to treat others and conduct one’s life in and out of the Christian bubble:
- Always keep your word and be honest (Matthew 5:37)
- Never resist evil: turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-42)
- Give way more than asked (also Matthew 5:38-42)
- Love your enemies, bless anyone who curses you, and do good things for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44-46)
- Give charity, pray, and fast in secret (Matthew 6:1-8)
- Never judge anybody (Matthew 7:1-3)
- Honor your parents (Matthew 15:4)
- Forever and infinitely, forgive anyone who offends you (Matthew 18:21-22)
- Don’t divorce (Matthew 19:4-6)
- Be kind to the poor (Luke 14:12-14)
- Honor your civic obligations (Matthew 22:19-21)
- Cut off limbs and other body parts involved in your wrongdoing (Matthew 5:28-30)
These earthly responsibilities are so important that Jesus even commanded his followers to reconcile themselves with their earthly friends and neighbors before they perform religious observances (Matthew 5:23-25).
All the same, most Christians ignore (or at least deprioritize) almost everything on his list.
Luckily for those Christians, Jesus also gave them a big list of purely-religious observances he wanted them to maintain. Long ago, those observances eclipsed all that other stuff Jesus told them to do. Not only are the items on that other list much easier to accomplish, but they’re wayyyyy more fun — for evangelicals, at least.
A Substitute for Human Decency.
Some years ago, Richard Beck wrote a good post about orthopraxy vs. orthodoxy. Early on, he states:
Specifically, by emphasizing “right belief” (orthodoxy) over “right practice” (orthopraxy), Christians have lost (or never acquired in the first place) a robust notion of “Christian practice.”
In another, equally good post Beck writes:
But all too often “working on my relationship with God” has almost nothing to do with trying to become a more decent human being.
The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. “Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute.
I think he’s right. As well, I agree that not only do these substitutes not represent the traits of decent human beings, but in many ways they make people way worse human beings.
Also, I don’t think any of that’s an accident.
Beck offers up a list of the various substitutes Christians have developed for acting like decent human beings.
- Going to church
- Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
- Bible study
- Voting Republican
- Going on spiritual retreats
- Reading religious books
- Arguing with evolutionists
- Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
- Using religious language
- Avoiding R-rated movies
- Not reading Harry Potter
Of course, we could probably add a lot more to this list if we wanted. (Putting Republican campaign signs in the yard; vandalizing atheists’ stuff; screeching about feminism; picketing women’s clinics; wearing MAGA hats; joining MLMs…)
Bear in mind, please, that the more fervent the Christian and the further along the scale toward literalism, the more substitutes that person will embrace and the more real-world-decency observances will go out their window.
This, too, ain’t accidental, I don’t reckon.
Embracing Substitutes For Human Decency.
At the end of that second post (relink), Beck asks:
How could such a confusion have occurred? How did we end up going so wrong?
To me, these questions’ answers are beyond patently, ridiculously obvious.
This “confusion” occurred because the vast majority of Christians don’t really want to do all that stuff Jesus told them to do.
Some of them feel completely intimidated by Jesus’ tall orders (as Chris and many other commenters on that Gothard link said), to the point that substitutes seem like the literal only way to achieve success at Jesus-ing.
But mostly, to hear evangelicals talking, it seems like they absolutely despise all that stuff. So they reach for much easier substitutes that’ll still, in their minds at least, accomplish their goals of gaining and wielding power over others.
By ignoring the religion’s real-world demands and concentrating on observances, they can ‘minor in the majors and major in the minors,’ as I heard preachers put it years ago, and still think of themselves as sterling examples of humanity who are definitely going to Heaven and who have definitely earned Jesus’ permission to control other people’s lives for them.
(For all we might agree with these posts from Richard Beck, I must say: he remains part of the problem — not any part of the solution. He just has nooooo idea how his conceptualization of demons and Hell plays into Christian hypocrisy, either. Instead, he’s hunting for a way to get a bitter fountain to overflow with sweet water. He’s hardly alone there. Sadly, all too many Christians imagine there’s some magical way to redeem and reform a fundamentally inhumane ideology.)
Sidebar: Scoring Sales With Terror.
Now, granted, Jesus told his followers to convert others. (At least, that’s what many Christians think.) Endtimes fearmongering does frighten people very mightily, as I know well! As a result, evangelists often reach for those terrifying ideas to score sales.
But most of those customers don’t stick around. I didn’t, and I still think I lasted longer than almost any of the high-schoolers who converted alongside me during the “88 Reasons” Rapture scare. Using fear to sell Christianity works only as long as the customer remains afraid.
And for those customers, while they’re part of the group they run on the fumes of self-preservation alone.
Once a salesperson invokes fear to score a sale, that direction can’t change. Not even their totes-for-realsies god-of-the-entire-universe seems capable of pulling back on that throttle.
Nobody embraces beliefs like the Endtimes because it’ll help them better serve their fellow human beings with charity. Their marketing, therefore, will not produce customers who care about what Jesus told them to do either. They’re not waving the banner of serve-your-fellow-humans and help-everyone-even-those-who-do-you-dirty. So they won’t attract people who value that stuff.
Instead, they sell Endtimes to people on the basis of fear. So they get customers who are afraid — or who want to control those who are afraid.
Violating Jesus’ Direct Commands.
Every single thing evangelical Christians think they’re doing with all these substitutes actually violates all the real-world commands Jesus gave them.
They’re proud of offending and alienating people with their blathering and think that’s a mark of how Jesus-ified they are. But Jesus told them to reconcile with their brothers before doing anything for him.
They’re furious that our government is trying to stop deaths from the pandemic. It’s hard to see Jesus’ commands as being compatible with deliberately risking other people’s health.
They fantasize about the retaliation they’ll wreak on anybody who opposes their dominance (much less tries to dominate them). But Jesus told them to respond in the exact opposite way.
They ache to judge and control others — for their own good, of course. However, Jesus told them never to judge anybody, and that his rule meant freedom for all.
And their pearl-clutching over spoken blasphemy, meanwhile, would be funny if they weren’t completely wrecking our country while fretting about the words people use.
Everything evangelicals are violates every spirit-of-the-law aspect of Christianity, and yet they’re convinced they’re the most Jesus-y Jesus-ers of all.
The Utter Superfluity of Endtimes Beliefs.
Now that we’ve got all that under our belts, let’s turn our gaze toward all this Endtimes nonsense.
What about the Endtimes actually accomplishes a single one of Jesus’ real-world commands?
But Endtimes beliefs do a lot besides that — enough to justify evangelicals embracing it as a concept, anyway, long past the time everyone else realized jusssst how silly it is.
If an Endtimes marketing blitz scores new customers at all, they’re not reliable and long-lasting customers. Really, these blitzes operate more for the benefit of existing customers than for new ones.
And there’s where we discover just why evangelicals embraced the whole notion of the Endtimes. It keeps them busy and confirms their beliefs in the only way Reality-Land allows nowadays.
As substitutes go, this one works grandly. It lets them operate in the exact ways they prefer best, gives them permission to mistreat and control others, and tells them they’re the smartest, wisest, most discerning kitty cats in the room.
Squaring the Circle.
All these Christian leaders are busting their humps trying to get the tribe’s flocks to start following Jesus’ orders more reliably. But absolutely nothing about their religion rewards that compliance in any way whatsoever.
Instead, it rewards the religious observances — not the real-world stuff. And neither does their system penalize anyone for ignoring the latter in favor of the former.
So ultimately, there’s just not a way to get from Point Conversion to Point Decent Human Being with the marketing that evangelicals employ. The marvel is that anybody in the religion is a decent person, not that so few are.
Looking at it that way, it seems to me that the sheer overwhelming hypocrisy of evangelicals snaps completely into focus. Their attachment to woo and nonsense does as well.
Hypocrisy Over Obedience.
If Christians came even halfway close to occasionally managing to follow some of Jesus’ real-world commands, nobody’d have any problem with them. For a certainty, such Christians would be way too busy to start all their culture wars or seek control of others. Even just on a local level, they wouldn’t have time to gossip and cause drama. (This is why we don’t often talk about decent human beings who happen to be Christian. They’re busy doing other stuff.)
If evangelicals cared at all about Jesus’ real-world demands, a big part of me thinks that they’d have an easier time with recruitment and retention, too, since they wouldn’t be able to attract and retain so many toxic leaders or members. Indeed, there’d be way less motivation for such people to join a group so completely focused on serving others and doing charity work.
Such an emphasis would also make Christian group membership feel like a worthwhile expenditure of people’s time and resources, which is an important part of creating and fostering long-term community. Their members might even be proud of belonging to such a meaningful group.
But where’s the fun in that, for the kind of folks who seek out and join evangelicalism? And where would such a Christian group even differ from a secular group, at that point? How would anybody even know they’re Christian if they don’t posture and swan around constantly?
Thus, in recent years evangelicals have been increasingly lapped by secular charity groups.
Next Year in Morningside.
Evangelicals will not be discarding their beloved, idolized doctrines — no matter how their woo interferes with their compliance with Jesus’ direct real-world orders.
No, they will not be questioning the broken system that makes their religious observances morally equivalent to obedience to Jesus himself and a substitute for doing what he directly ordered them to do.
And no, they will not be asking themselves why the only rules that so many of them actually care about are the ones that grant them implied divine permission to mistreat and control other people.
Richard Beck theorized, in his second post, that there were “lots of answers” explaining why his fellow Christians went “so wrong” and got into “such a confusion.”
But there aren’t.
They didn’t go wrong, and they aren’t confused.
And Just Why Christianity’s Such a Mess:
There’s really just one answer here.
Christians’ claims about their god aren’t true.
No “Jesus” stands by to help them.
The religion based around his name provides no consistent, reliable way to ensure that Christians adhere at all to the demands that his various anonymous ghostwriters attributed to him. Whatever good people do in this world comes from us just wanting to do it, not from any gods pushing us that way.
So in a very real way, silly evangelical beliefs like the Endtimes — and the hypocrisy flowing from those beliefs — function as a symptom of that one actual problem, not separate problems that could ever be solved in and of themselves so Christians could finally get on with the general work of Jesus-ing.
This system’s broken, and it can’t be fixed.
NEXT UP: We tackle Lee Strobel’s 1994 list of what “unchurched” people are totally like! See you tomorrow!
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