Reading Time: 10 minutes

(CN: Religious abuse, domestic violence, stalking.)

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most sickening aspects of modern Christianity: this idea that the Christian god “woos” people by abusing and hurting them.

Romance isn't just for teenagers...
Romance isn’t just for teenagers… (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

“To woo someone” means to seek the romantic favor of that person. Normally this is done by doing sweet and thoughtful things. When you or I woo someone, we give that person presents or wash his or her car or draw cute notes with lots of hearts on them. That sweet first rush of romantic love pushes us to do all kinds of things, but they’re all meant to win someone’s heart and show off our very best side.

Uma Thurman is The Bride
Uma Thurman as The Bride (Photo credit: luvi). This is not the Christian Bride of Christ, and I don’t care how many of them seem to think so.

Seems pretty simple to me, but apparently quite a few Christians don’t know what “wooing” means.

The Bible is sometimes called a god’s love-letter to his people. “God is wooing us to marry us,” oozes one Christian blogger, and this isn’t a new idea; I heard the same kind of talk back when I was a Christian. “It’s not a light matter to be wooed by God,” exhorts another rather self-important fellow as he introduces a weirdly sexualized and lurid post about this divine wooing he imagines is happening and how “the Bride” is supposed to respond to this wooing (spoiler alert: She’s supposed to do what she’s told and go where her Groom tells her to go). Another sets up this premise: “A thorough reading of the sacred scriptures, reveals a God in love Who is continually and persistently pursuing to draw His darling Bride (us) into a holy love affair. [sic]” Of course, he doesn’t mention where Job fits into this wooing, nor the Great Flood, nor the whole Hell thing that this god allows people to suffer through, or the Holocaust, or the many Christians being killed in religious wars and conflicts all over the world.

This strangely sexual, romantic language is shot and woven through modern fundagelical culture; Christians talk about this “wooing” with open longing, women are encouraged to find men who’ll treat them just like Jesus treats the church, and Christians envision human courtship the way they envision Jesus courting the church (which is creepy enough considering that last link’s copious amounts of misogyny and gender policing). Christians are totally hooked on this “wooing” idea. They think it’s just awesome.

I even had a “wooing” experience of my own when I was Christian. While I was praying once in my teens I heard a crystal-clear male voice in my head telling me that I was to be the “Bride of Christ.” I hadn’t heard about the Book of Revelation at that point that I remembered, so I thought I was really going to be the one single Bride of Christ, as in I’d be in a white dress and I was going to marry Jesus. Far from being happy about this idea, it actually freaked me out because by now Biff and I were very heavily involved and thinking about getting married. This sort of bizarre event may well be how fringe cults get started, but thankfully I was a little too sensible (and a little too non-predatory) for that; now I think I must have heard the phrase on my first go-round in Pentecostalism, since it’s something Pentecostals say very frequently, and I just internalized it. I wasn’t prone to hearing voices, but it was a very emotional prayer session in a large group, so auditory hallucinations wouldn’t be totally unexpected in that setting. But at the time, it made perfect sense that my god was viewing me–and (as I learned very soon after that night) all of humanity–as his bride and that he was doing his best to “woo” us before our marriage. We just weren’t supposed to think a whole lot about what the wedding night was going to look like.

The idea we were taught then and that Christians are still being taught is that this god is bashing his brains out to court us. He wants to convince us humans to love him and want to marry him. So we began viewing the world in those terms. Every rainbow was a bouquet of flowers; every good bit of luck was a god slipping us a break so we’d get all gooey over him. Every gorgeous vista was handpainted and made by him to make us realize anew how much he loved us.

But this wooing takes a really dark turn when one considers what this romancing looks like in reality. The “wooing” idea suffers the same shortcoming that “intelligent design” faces, when you get down to it. For every so-called gotcha zinger like the incredible intricacy of the human eye, there are hundreds of horrifying cancers and flesh-eating microbes and genetic diseases that afflict humans. For every rainbow, there’s a tsunami killing thousands; every bit of good luck for us reminds us that there are people in the world who can’t even get enough food to eat every day. Gorgeous vistas are nice and all, but huge chunks of the Earth are all but uninhabitable and we’re facing some serious problems with arable terrain. If you’re going to talk about wooing, you also have to talk about the serious things this god is apparently totally ignoring to create Potemkin villages to impress people.

And you also have to talk about some seriously stalker-ish things Christians not only think their god is doing but also totally approve of him doing.

Here’s one of those things (and what prompted this blog post): I’ve got a lot of ex-Christian friends who have family members who are actively praying that terrible things happen to these apostates so they’ll reconvert.

You heard me. It takes a lot to surprise me, but that did it. They’re throwing their beloved ex-Christians under the bus. These “loving” Christians genuinely think that their god will do these terrible things to these apostates so they realize how much they need divine protection and love. Once they do, then they’ll come rushing back into this god’s arms.

“Please, God, I love you! Now please stop hurting me!”

I guess that’s the wooing process for a god. Be sweet and adorable till you realize that the little lady simply won’t cooperate, then lose your shit and attack her so she realizes how much you love her. Or let something terrible happen to her so she realizes that you’re really very wonderfully protective and nurturing and figures out how much she needs you.

That idea just gives me the chills!

Now, we know that prayer doesn’t really work, but inevitably bad things are going to happen to people. Bad luck rains on the just and the unjust, as the saying goes. But when that bad luck rains upon the “unjust,” meaning non-Christians, then that bad luck takes on a really morbid and uncomfortable turn. These terrible events are seen as happening for a reason, and that reason of course is that this god is “wooing” these prodigals and wanderers. I can’t help but think about how, when I was Christian, we’d hear about a resistant non-Christian having terrible luck and rejoice because now that person would be more likely to convert. Christian missionaries routinely prey upon very sick people and prisoners because they’re more vulnerable to religious entreaties, and fundagelicals have told me many times in all sincerity that they think that their current success in third-world hellholes is a sign of victory and even validation for their religion, not a sign of just how far absolutely desperate people will go to try to find some kind of help for their situations and of just how predatory fundagelical Christianity really is. Other ex-Christians have told me that they’ve heard preachers discuss some terrible hardship that’s occurred to someone out of the church with great pleasure and discuss how best to use this event as an “in” to get that person back to Jesus. The mindset entirely lacks empathy and compassion, but so does fundagelical Christianity, so hopefully nobody’s surprised there.

The message we take away is that the Christian god is happy to “woo” people with lovey-dovey stuff, but if those people insist on not loving him back, then he’s happy to ravage and abuse and brutalize people if that’s what it takes to win his girl. The ends justify the means, and if the end is winning the girl, then any means is acceptable, condoned, and even encouraged. If you’re wondering, this idea played out in my personal life as well; my then-husband Biff did all kinds of romantic things for me while he thought being wonderful would work to reconvert me and make our marriage solid again. But when he realized that that tactic wasn’t working, then he pulled out the threats and stalking. He justified it to me by whining “I had to try something, didn’t I?” In this extremism he was just doing what the Christian god does. He came by this attitude honestly. I saw it play out many times in other ways with other people.

For all the talk about “free will,” Christians don’t tend to know that they don’t have much of it. On one hand they’ll talk about their god being “a gentleman” and not forcing himself on anybody, but on the other will say that he allows this or that catastrophe or horrific event to occur because he’s mad that schoolchildren can’t be forcibly indoctrinated or because gay people can get married now. And Christians sometimes don’t even understand that what they are describing is not free will at all because free will can’t grow in ground where there exists duress and threats. At least one blogger fully recognizes that the Christian god doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about free will, and I agree fully (though not about why or what that lack-of-caring means; that piece insists that people’s wills aren’t free because they’re “enslaved to sin,” which makes it totally okay for the Christian god to force people to do things, and wow, that’s just awful). The Bible’s filled with references to the Christian god changing people’s minds and pushing them to think and do particular things.

For a deity who’s been wooing people for thousands of years, the Bible’s god sure doesn’t seem to understand what wooing actually means.

Christians must know this truth deep down, or else they wouldn’t pray for their god to do terrible things to people (or allow terrible things to happen, which is functionally the same thing as far as anybody should care) to get them to convert or reconvert. It’s nothing more than cosmic extortion and bullying–like this god is saying “Nice life you got here… it’d be a shame if anything were to, uh, happen to it through your refusal to love me…” And if people refuse to love the Christians’ god, then he is fully justified in unleashing terrible tortures upon them to make them love him. Somehow Christians still think their god is good like this blogger does even when acknowledging that why yes, he lets terrible things happen to people. I’ve given a donotlink there, so if you go there, please do note the first comment there, where an oblivious Christian chirps that these terrible things happen specifically so that non-Christians will start believing in this god–and if the terrible things kill believers so they go to heaven too, well, that’s just a bonus all the way around; the second comment is just as bad, with a spewing-forth of atrocity apologetics. I’m horrified that I used to think this way as well and praise such an inhuman monster and think that disasters and horrible events were some kind of cosmic love-song crooned by my deity to a disbelieving human race.

It’s really not very loving to pray for something bad to happen to someone, even if the Christian doing it is convinced that it’s for the “greater good.” It’s really not very loving to try to relabel a horrific event as a good thing to the people suffering from that event. It’s a denial of people’s dignity and humanity to treat their entire lives as nothing more than playthings in the hands of a capricious god who is getting awfully tired of your shenanigans, little Missy. This behavior is nothing more than actively wishing harm upon someone and doing it through an imaginary intermediary, as if that makes it all totally okay. When these Christian family members and friends say they’re praying for terrible things to happen to an ex-Christian, they are expressing nothing more than control and dominance in the same way that an abusive spouse would do it.

I sincerely wish that Christians would realize what they’re really doing when they pray for their god to “woo” someone in this obscene manner. They are describing a stalker god, not a loving god. Their god is evil. Thankfully, he’s not real, but if he were real and he did condone this kind of stalking (and this part is by no means an established case, granted), then I would reject him categorically just as I once rejected Biff–and for the same reason. Their god hurts people to comfort them afterward, in the same way that Biff would sometimes piss me off just so he could make up with me.

This kind of wooing isn’t love and it should never be confused for courtship. Hurting people to make them do something, especially something like returning to a relationship, is actually hugely abusive. In the real world we’d call that a form of domestic violence. Performing romantic gestures toward someone who is not interested in a relationship and has categorically rejected the person doing the gestures is not wooing either. It’s stalking.

Stalking and domestic violence are about control and power, not about love. It’s about dominating someone through fear.

Love can’t be anywhere near those things. I’m not sure it’s even possible to love that which threatens you or that which you fear.

I don’t worship or love bullies and stalkers. I refuse even to negotiate with them. Someone who threatens me even through an imaginary friend is showing me such supreme disrespect that I’m not sure I even want to dialogue at all with that person. I certainly do not take such behavior as loving no matter how much that person gaslights me to try to make me believe that it’s loving.

And I just want to add here that I think it’s insanely selfish and egocentric for such prayers to get said at all. It’s just astonishing to me that of all the things that Christians could pray for, of all the things they could ask their god to do, in a religion that stresses that Christians will get whatever they pray for, they choose to pray for their god to hurt people. If I knew I had a god who answered prayer on my side, I’d be doing nothing but praying for world peace or an end to hunger, not for one single person to experience serious misfortune to make them see how empty life is without Jesus. When I was Christian, see, I spent most of my time on prayers I thought had a good chance of happening (I phrased it as “in line with God’s will,” but that’s what it meant). At first those prayers were very grand indeed (world peace, an end to hunger, and mass conversion of the world), but over time they became more generic and possible (general wishes for well-being, location of lost stuff, and healing of minor injuries and sicknesses).

It’s pretty telling to me to see that these Christians are wasting any amount of time on asking for their god to do terrible things to people. It makes me think that maybe they know that they’ve got a better chance of seeing that happen than they do of seeing an end to hunger. Or even, dare I even think it?–These Christians could be asking their god to pony up some evidence for all these claims they keep making. I mean, wouldn’t that be a little bit more loving than hurting someone to force them to convert? They’d rather strong-arm someone into believing and worshiping this god than present that person with any kind of good reason for doing so?

In conclusion, Christians need to learn what wooing is and quit thinking that hurting people is a form of courtship. The Christians talking about this kind of “wooing” are just showing the world that they have no idea what love even is. And considering their savior told them to love their neighbors, considering their god is a god of love, their inability to recognize–much less show–real love is a glaring and downright bizarre blind spot in their faith system.

Until then, I reckon I’ll keep using the word “wooing” as a way of weeding out the most toxic of toxic Christians.

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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