off the rack vs bespoke
Reading Time: 8 minutes House of Malakai. Used for illustrative purposes.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about a dumb post that Brett McCracken wrote recently on The Gospel Coalition (TGC) (archive link). In it, he outlined what he thinks TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ involves — so he could then demand people try it before leaving his religion entirely. Along the way, he also created a strawman he called ‘bespoke spirituality.’ He’s clearly quite pleased with this phrase, but he shouldn’t be. Out of everything he could have come up with, people’s post-Christian activities being bespoke is possibly the worst criticism he could have made. Today, let’s talk about why people choose bespoke stuff in the first place — and what that means for Brett McCracken’s authoritarian, cookie-cutter brand of Christianity.

a mannequin of love
Bespoke! (Thomas William.)

(Previous posts about Brett McCracken’s post: Getting Deconversion Totally Wrong; Demanding We Try HIS Flavor; Last Ideology Standing.)

Trying to Make Bespoke Spirituality a Thing.

By now, I can tell when toxic Christians cherish a well-polished but ridiculous creation. Whether it’s a terrible so-called “parable” they like to tell or a bad zinger they came up with, there’s just a certain ring to these things. But then, they misuse the words in the phrase or they tell the story to the wrong audience. Then, it becomes painfully obvious that they’re so in love with their little creation that they’ve utterly failed to examine it critically for weaknesses.

That’s what Brett McCracken did in the post we’ve been discussing. He’s trying incredibly hard to make non-Christian spiritual practices look ridiculous and invalid. Unfortunately, he’s completely forgotten that Christianity has never been any different. His choice of wording, meanwhile, seeks to slam those who seek a more meaningful spiritual life than what his religion offered them — but he’s not actually able to make his own religion sound meaningful by insulting strawmen.

Instead of coming up with valid reasons to buy his product, McCracken just throws the same old blahblah at ex-Christians that we’ve heard a zillion times. We know that blahblah is untrue. Saying it more forcefully and adding 1990s-era Christianese buzzwords (like radical, oh the cringe) doesn’t bestow extra truthfulness on his false supernatural claims. Nor does bizarre, irrational, Mean Girl writing make his sole product — his purely toxic-sounding group — seem more appealing to us.

But forget all that. Brett McCracken came up with this phrase. It sure impressed him! I’ve no doubt that he trotted it out to his pals at church and they all acted impressed too. So he assumes ex-Christians will all be impressed as well.

The First Problem: Bespoke Stuff is Actually Treasured.

One thing that really caught my eye on Brett McCracken’s post is the way he uses the word bespoke to begin with.

Something bespoke is specially-made for one person in particular. It’s special, often artistic, and very often unique in all the world. The people who get bespoke stuff usually treasure it. (We call it bespoke because someone has spoken for it already. It is pre-claimed.)

For example, here is a side-by-side of products made by upscale streetwear-jewelry label House of Malakai. On the left, we see one of their off-the-rack pieces. On the right, we see a bespoke piece they made specially for someone:

off the rack vs bespoke
House of Malakai. Used for illustrative purposes.

I’m not asking you to like these pieces, only to see how much more work went into the bespoke one on the right — and what a niche product it’s going to be. Most folks won’t want to wear something like that one on the right, but someone not only wanted to wear it but spent the money to have it made specially for them.

Usually, designers don’t even try to pre-price bespoke creations. Here’s two Judy Gao creations, same idea in a side-by-side comparison, except both are for the regular market:

a side by side

The left dress costs about NZ$550, while the right costs about NZ$1500. Judy Gao’s bespoke formal gowns can run up to NZ$2500. I couldn’t even find any photos of these, but they must be fancy.

Point being:

Bespoke is special. It’s made to order and it’s going to be way more expensive than the usual stuff that designer makes. It’ll be treasured by its owner, for sure.

Bespoke Spirituality: Only a Slam in Brett McCracken’s Mind.

So when Brett McCracken uses bespoke as a slam, it tickles my funny bone like almost nothing else could. Dude has no idea how this word works or how it’s used. He just thinks he’s sneering at eclectic spiritual practices or something. Like Oooh, lookit those idjits with their custom-made practices that actually mean something to them that my religion never did.

He’s hoping that if he makes non-Christian spirituality look ridiculous enough, people will just go Welp, guess I have to get my butt back to his church! Like there are only two choices here, and people must adopt one of them.

In reality, however, he’s subconsciously recognized the main reason why people practice eclectic spirituality in the first place: the practices people pick and choose for themselves mean something to them and are worth practicing in their own right — and have nothing to do with how meaningful his religion is to fervent Christians.

He’s just making other people’s religious choices about himself. Since he’s an authoritarian narcissist, naturally he’s going to sneer at those other choices.

I mean, he really can’t accept others’ choices as valid. That’d say something about his own beliefs that he refuses to accept. So he must pull out the stops to make them look invalid.

The Strawman of Bespoke Spirituality.

So now, let’s look at Brett McCracken’s bespoke, handmade strawman of eclectic post-Christian spirituality. In his post, he writes:

This “mix and match” religion might include a few parts of traditional religion (Shabbat, Christmas carols, Catholic prayer candles), a smattering of “wellness” practices (yoga, meditation, SoulCycle), a dash of New Age magic (burning sage, Tarot cards, astrology), and a deeply moral zealotry for social justice or LGBT+ rights.

And? So?

Let’s say someone actually adopted all of this stuff. I’ve never heard of anyone going to such a length, and especially not incorporating Christian practices into a post-Christian life. But whatever, let’s just say it happens. Every bit of it. From a morning yoga session to praying over a lit Catholic prayer candle and checking one’s horoscope at night, let’s say this strawman came 100% true.

If any ex-Christians ever did go to all that trouble, it’d only be because they wanted to do it and because their chosen practices resonated with them. Others’ beliefs don’t impact the validity of Brett McCracken’s own beliefs. What others do does not validate or invalidate his beliefs, nor even implicitly reflect on them.

(Regarding his false claim that post-Christian spirituality is all about consumerism: all of the practices he names above can be done for free. Oopsie! But his books, which he shills on TGC, sure ain’t free. Neither is active membership in his group. Also: he seems perfectly okay with “deeply moral zealotry” when it comes to his tribe’s politically-motivated, ginned-up culture wars!)

Ya know, if he were truly happy in his own religious choices, then I don’t see how he’d even have time to insult his tribal enemies. He’d be too busy doing what Jesus told him to do. You know, that boring stuff TRUE CHRISTIANS™ always forget about: charity to the nth degree, comforting those who mourn and suffer, etc.

Every Christian Practices Bespoke Spirituality.

Let’s never forget, either, that Brett McCracken himself practices bespoke spirituality. Nobody even knows exactly what the very first Christians practiced. The clues we have indicate that they fought constantly about how the new religion would work and who’d be able to join up and lead it. Heretics invented schisms constantly that the religion’s top leaders had to stomp down.

Heck, McCracken’s entire end of the religion is the result of one such schism. There’s not one single top leader in the religion who can demand everyone maintain a strict cookie-cutter devotional life. So Christians feel free to “do Christianity” (as Christianese puts it) however makes the most sense to them individually.

I can easily see McCracken himself picking and choosing rituals that make sense for his family: maybe celebrating Christmas with a Jesus birthday cake, or a Harvest Festival in place of Halloween, or a particular set of customs for Easter. Maybe he considers a certain number of church visits a week mandatory while another Christian considers more, or fewer, mandatory. Or maybe he has a certain gospel song he likes to sing at birthdays. However he “does Christianity” nowadays, it won’t even perfectly match another authoritarian fundagelical Calvinist’s take on the matter. It’s probably even different from how he practiced the religion 10 years ago.

But he can’t even perceive that truth.

The point is, he’s just as pick-and-choose as any other Christian, and just as pick-and-choose as any ex-Christian might be. And that’s okay. 

If his practices didn’t resonate with himself, he’d become dissatisfied and search about for something different.

And that’d be okay too.

Screeching Into the Void.

What really drives authoritarians like Brett McCracken craziest is the idea that people are deciding for themselves what makes sense — and doing it outside of his religion.

(He’s really about 20 years late to this squabble, though. Back in the late 90s/early 00s, “eclectics” and “traditionalists” in paganism were already making peace. I haven’t heard anyone flinging insults at fluffybunnies for years and years!)

Alas for him, he has no right whatsoever to dictate another person’s life to them. He can sneer, he can insult, he can slam, he can Mean Girl himself up and down the promenade till he’s exhausted. And yes, he does all of that. But he can’t make his product look appealing on its own terms. He just makes himself look ridiculous trying to play Last Ideology Standing with a strawman.

Ultimately, Brett McCracken is just one more little voice screeching helplessly amid Christianity’s decline. He shows us why it’s in decline, and why it deserves to be in decline.

All he’s got is false claims and tribalism, when what he needs is something real and true and relevant.

Post-Christian Life: Do What is Meaningful.

As for us, I’d gently suggest that ex-Christians stay out of all religious practices for at least a little while after deconverting. Especially if we had a rough time in Christianity, it can often take time for those wounds to heal and for us to be able to assess new things critically. Until we heal, there’s a risk that we’ll charge into something that’s just as bad as Christianity was for us. Unpacking and fixing all the stuff that we once believed in error takes work and time, and it goes way past just the specific supernatural claims of any one particular flavor of Christianity.

When you feel ready, adopt whatever rituals and practices make sense to you and mean something to you. Do what feels worth the doing. Rituals have been part of the human situation for eons now; they’re not necessarily bad just because supernatural stuff isn’t real. They’re a way for us to remember our past and pay respect to what matters to us. So it’s okay if our own particular rituals end up looking idiosyncratic.

Brett McCracken and his ilk won’t approve of anything we choose to do, no. But they’re frantic salespeople hawking a product nobody wants anymore. Let them disapprove. Who even cares what salespeople think of our purchasing decisions?

When we encounter TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like King Brett sneering at us, let their antics be just one more reminder that we were right to reject their product.

Really, their behavior tells us so much more than they should ever want us to know.

NEXT UP: Celebrity pastors’ kids keep coming out against their parents. We’ll check that out tomorrow. See you then!

Please Support What I Do!

Come join us on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter! (Also Instagram, where I mostly post cat pictures, and Pinterest, where I sometimes post vintage recipes from my mom’s old recipe box.)

Also please check out our Graceful Atheist podcast interview

If you like what you see, I gratefully welcome your support. Please consider becoming one of my monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve for as little as $1/month! My PayPal is (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips.

You can also support this blog at no extra cost to yourself by beginning your Amazon shopping trips with my affiliate link — and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media!

This blog exists because of readers’ support, and I appreciate every single bit of it. Thank you. <3

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,...