Last time we talked, I mentioned three examples of blatantly obvious lies told by Christians who clearly expected everyone to nod, smile, and let them get away with their dishonesty. These lies weren’t accidents or simple errors in judgment. They (and all the ones like them) happened because right-wing Christian culture has become a mixing-bowl full of noxious elements that have combined to produce a mindset that finds dishonesty acceptable and even necessary. Today we’ll go over what some of those elements are and how they fit into what we’re seeing in the news lately.
Never Underestimate a Good Persecution Fantasy.
Most of the worst examples of Christian dishonesty have come to light just in the last few years. Coincidentally, in the same period of time Christians have become increasingly aware of how much power and dominance their religion is losing. The Southern Baptist Convention has known for years that their denomination is fading quickly, and their leaders have been talking for a while now about the flood of churches closing and Christians of all denominations leaving the faith for good.
The 2014 Religious Landscape Study solidified what had largely been only suspicions and perceptions until then, providing hard evidence that yes, Christianity as a whole is losing millions of people annually while atheism and Nones are gaining people at a dizzying rate. The loss of members–and income–for Christian organizations has been catastrophic, forcing many churches to slash their budgets and ask their pastors to take outside jobs.
Adding to these woes about dwindling membership and funds, people are pushing back more than ever against Christian overreach in government and society. School districts that got along for years as glorified Sunday Schools are suddenly finding themselves in courtrooms, while government-funded groups that always opened with prayers to Jesus are being challenged to do something more constructive with taxpayers’ money and time. We’re not afraid to investigate ministers for crimes, or to ask Christians for proof of their more outlandish assertions.
Plenty of Christians are already figuring out how to adjust to these losses in status and power. Some of them recognize that their tribe shouldn’t have had that power to begin with. Others comfort themselves with sour grapes by saying that Jesus never promised their group worldly power anyway (information that might have been more useful to everyone yesterday!). As self-serving as their timing is, I suppose it’s better late than never to realize that. A great many other Christians, however, are finding their self-perception as comfortable members of an effortlessly dominant group threatened by these losses.
Many fundagelicals and hardline Catholics seem to be members of the religion because it validates their own anger and control-lust. Their chosen form of Christianity gives them people to feel superior to, boss around, hate, and most of all fight. It gives them the emotional rush of being right in the face of clamoring voices telling them they’re wrong; it makes them feel like embattled underdogs fighting for impossibly high stakes against an massively-overpowered foe. They’re not there to love their neighbors or to help those who need it; they want only to grab for control before it’s taken away. And they think their god will help them defeat their enemies–and yes, give them the vengeance they crave against those who dare to defy them now.
These Christians started their various culture wars because they fully expected to win, after all. They thought that those wins would shore up their already-fading power base and ensure their continued dominance. Even in the 1990s, when Christianity’s wars were just getting started and I was just a slip of a young Christian, it didn’t occur to me that we could ever lose. Nor was I alone in thinking that our victory was inevitable, while defeat was unthinkable.
So imagine these Christians’ dismay when they keep losing their fights–even the ones that “Jesus” told them personally they’d win–and when every bit of objective evidence that gets unearthed only seems to further contradict and undermine their claims.
No wonder they’re getting petulant and lashing out with every tactic they can imagine, and no wonder they’re imagining that this pushback they’re seeing is genuine persecution when it isn’t.
People who are very desperate to win have a tough time seeing themselves as the ones in the wrong, or even examining themselves for error.
The Ends Justify the Means.
Christians were willing to try the lovey-dovey stuff for a while to win their culture wars, but it’s got to be crystal-clear to even the most stubborn of ’em that the lovey-dovey stuff ain’t working. Toxic Christians tend to yank out threats of Hell (and worse) when they sense that other, nicer tactics aren’t working, and they’re willing to go to any lengths to win the culture wars they started–even if it means stooping to tactics that categorically run contrary to every good quality Christians say they stand for.
Deception, dishonesty, smear campaigns and dehumanization, propaganda, threats, and other forms of extortion and manipulation are totally acceptable strategies for Christians in the face of the pressing need they feel to win, even if, ironically, those exact tactics are what are causing them to lose their credibility in society. Their religion–based as it is around threats and manipulation–tells them what to do when being nice fails. Hey, they can always ask for forgiveness later. What’s important is winning now. They know there isn’t much time left at the top of the ladder.
I’ve personally heard Christians say that the people they’re hurting and offending now will thank them later for forcing everyone to live by Christianity’s rules. I’ve heard pastors exultantly declare that you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, by which they mean doing stuff that would technically be sins in their religion’s rulebook as well as being offensive and hurtful. Christians have grossly insulted me, lied to me, threatened me, tried to control and manipulate me, and attempted to silence me more times than I could ever count. I’ve seen the family members of ex-Christians do stuff that, if written here, would cause most Christians to accuse me of lying. And I’ve got Christian family members myself who have a tough time dealing with some of the stuff I’ve revealed on this very blog about their religion and their fellow adherents.
Of course there are wonderful Christians, just like there are nasty atheists–religious labels don’t have much to do with one’s morality or kindness, which should more deeply concern Christians than it does. When it comes to deciding what’s important and what’s worth fighting for, Christians are as prone as anybody else to losing sight of the big picture if they’re not careful.
If the objective is important enough, then any tactics at all become acceptable, even ones that are technically “sins” or are otherwise totally counterproductive to the group’s official goals.
(And if you ever want to know what a group’s real objectives are, then you need to look at what they are willing to do anything to accomplish–at what’s so important to them that they’re willing to rationalize any kind of awful behavior to get it.)
Dissent is Brutally Punished.
Aggression, dishonesty, and self-pity are a dangerous combination in any group, but when this trifecta shows up in a group as large and as dominant as Christianity, these traits can do a lot of damage to everyone–not just to the people in the group. And when the group’s members decide that it’s time to go all-out, then that combination of traits gets seen as essential components of victory. Anybody opposing the group gets seen as the enemy and accused of not wanting their side to win the fight.
I’ve mentioned before that when I got mad at Biff for lying about his “testimony,” I’m the one who got in trouble–for “muzzling the oxen,” by which he (and our peers, when they found out what I’d insisted upon) meant themselves as they tried to spread the Gospel–though nowadays, one more often sees this verse used in relation to tithing. By forcing the Christians around me to tell the truth about their stories, I was creating a major imposition that would cause them to craft less persuasive testimonies, which would get fewer people “saved,” since our church took it as given that testimonies were very compelling to outsiders, though there’s no reason to think so.* And they got mad at me for saying that honesty was more important than persuasion.
You’ll never see a group as vicious as tribal Christians who feel their dominance is being seriously threatened, or as self-pitying when that dominance is chipped away even a little. As nasty as they can be toward the non-Christians they view as challengers, though, their worst vitriol is reserved for people in the tribe.
Dishonesty has become so normalized in Christianity that those who disagree with the tactic are silenced by any means possible.
since (their) feeling is first**
How a fact makes someone feel is much more important than the fact itself. That’s why Christian bigots-for-Jesus tend to get very tetchy whenever their behavior is described as bigoted, yet fail totally to address that they were doing something that was bigoted: something that hurts people and causes untold damage to relationships and individuals’ lives. But who cares about them or the damage that Christians’ bigotry does? That Christian sure doesn’t, not with ever-so-slightly ruffled fee-fees! I had someone try something like this on me just this morning; it’s a very common tactic for Christians to re-center conversations on their upset feelings to avoid uncomfortable ideas and challenges. The only way many of them accept pushback is if it is phrased perfectly the way they like it, which of course varies considerably from Christian to Christian; if criticism takes any other form whatsoever, then they reject it. Their culture has taught them that this is a perfectly acceptable way to tune out and invalidate criticism.
This Christian obsession with feelings also manifests as a focus on motivations. If someone didn’t mean to act like a hurtful jerk or bigot, then obviously nobody else is allowed to say a word about their behavior. The label of “love” gets similarly slapped on anything at all that a Christian cares to call loving, even stuff that anybody else would look at and call hateful or mean-spirited. If the Christian doesn’t think he or she feels hateful or mean-spirited, then there’s no way that their behavior can be labeled as such. By the same token, if they can dismiss someone for sounding even faintly angry, then they’ll do it immediately.
Opinions and political agendas get built entirely around how Christians feel about the subject. If Christians get a little weirded-out by seeing two men holding hands and kissing, then they will decide that same-sex marriage makes baby Jesus cry and should be outlawed. If they think that particular kinds of sex are unacceptable, then obviously everyone else should think so too, and nobody should be allowed to have that kind of sex. If they don’t see anything wrong with a school or a government office opening its day with an official prayer to Jesus or to teach Creationism to children, then that’s what they’ll try to sneak into law. They’ll act genuinely baffled when anybody points out that this behavior is offensive or illegal.
And, too, if they hear any assertion that makes them feel good and fits into their idea of what a Christian community, society, government, family, or marriage should look like, then they’ll run with it. Ideas like complementarianism don’t work in reality for most people and the more a group hews to the idea, the more predation and abuse one will find within it. But the idea feels like it should work because that’s how Christians think of their church’s relationship with their god–so even though abundant failures of the idea can be found in any church in the country, way too many Christians persist in thinking that complementarianism is a divine idea. Most of their other cultural assertions work along similar lines. Not only do they not examine the ideas very closely or test them, they cling to them long after everyone else has figured out they aren’t true.
People with opposing opinions are obviously influenced by demons and a filthy desire to sin, so their assessment of the situation (whatever it is) can’t be trusted. Christians who don’t care what anybody else thinks about what they’re doing have a lot of trouble accepting that they’re doing anything wrong. (It’s true: the ways of a Christian always seem right to them. I can’t remember where I heard that though.)
If it should be true, then it is true.
The F-Word, to Christians, is “Fact-Checking.”
When one lives in a world where objective truth and reality are subject to interpretation and denial, it can be next to impossible to say if something is true or not in the first place. Everything becomes subjective–which is weird, given that Christians hate subjectivity so much. When an entire branch of apologetics starts off by claiming that nobody can possibly say what reality is anyway unless they’re Christian, that tells me right off the bat that I can’t trust anything else such Christians assert without checking it out for myself.
Christian quackery deserves its own post(s), but I’ll just note here that on the few occasions when a Christian tries to offer actual evidence for a claim, it is usually either a warmed-over apologetics argument or outright pseudoscience or pseudo-history.
Usually, though, we don’t get even that weak sauce to go with our dinners. Christians assume that their peers are, as a group, more honest and trustworthy than non-Christians are, even though there’s no real reason to think this other than wanting it to be so. Even the suggestion of fact-checking the stories they hear would get the person making it a lot of side-eye, as I know from personal experience. Miracle claims, especially, are accepted at face value and go largely unchecked and unverified because otherwise one is testing “God” (I’d say personally that it’s more like testing the storyteller, but maybe that’s just me) and not having enough faith.
Even when not being preyed upon by individual predators and scam artists, Christians run a great risk of falling afoul of large-scale deceptions, like the current thinking around “religious liberty.” Who’d have imagined that people who are proud of being “sheep” might be so easily misled by unscrupulous shepherds and have so great a difficulty in distinguishing the good ones from the bad?
Nobody’s ever going to fact-check Christians’ claims anyway, and if support is offered at all for one, nobody’s going to check to see if the support is credible or not.
They’ve Left Nothing to Chance Here.
How could Christian culture look any different than it does nowadays? They’ve built themselves a world where winning their battles is more important than following their religion’s rules, where dishonesty and all kinds of other unsavory tactics are considered acceptable last-ditch strategies in the endgame, where dissenters and critics of those tactics are mistreated and attacked, where claims go unchallenged and unchecked and where even talking about fact-checking is seen as a betrayal, and where a claim is automatically considered true if it makes Christians happy, advances their grab for power, and fits in generally with their ideas about how things ought to work. It’s hard even to imagine an environment that is better designed for dishonesty to take root than this one is.
So when you hear a Christian lie through his or her teeth or spin wild (and hopeful) stories that bear no resemblance to reality, try to put it into context. You’re not seeing an aberration. As always, this system does exactly what it was designed to do–whether Christians like how the results look or not. If Christians decided tomorrow that they don’t like how much dishonesty exists in their community, then they’re well capable of stamping it out. But they don’t.
When the truth starts mattering more to Christians than winning their culture wars and when dishonesty is unthinkable to them, that will be a sign that they’re finally getting serious about fixing the problems that exist within their religion. Until then, it’s another sign that they’re heading toward the last stop on the ride for their religion.
* If you actually think that testimonies as a whole are totally honest and accurate accounts of a Christian’s personal spiritual journey to Christianity, then I don’t know what to tell you other than oh you poor sweet dear heart. Even my fairly marginal brush with Christian ministry quickly disabused me of that notion.
** Dear Editor: I did the subtitle like that on purpose. It’s a riff of one of my favorite poems:
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you
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