I realized something yesterday: It is not the person performing a loving deed who gets to decide if that deed is actually loving. It is the target of that deed who gets to make that call. The person receiving that deed acts as the referee here. That person’s call trumps whatever the doer of the deed thinks of it. I never learned that truth while I was Christian–and I can see that a lot of Christians today haven’t learned it either.
Ersatz Love, Nothing Like the Real Thing.
It’s going to be an amazing day when Christians realize that most of their philosophy about how to treat outsiders isn’t actually very loving at all–that they’ve created this supremely dysfunctional family dynamic, like the one abusive parents make when they train their kids to think hitting people is an acceptable disciplinary measure. Ever seen kids who grew up with that abuse? They’re the ones stoutly insisting that they got beat as kids and they never committing any crimes, why just look at how well they’re doing! While the rest of us look at them with mixtures of pity for what they went through long ago and revulsion for how they’re probably treating kids under their care now.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow in this country we’ve gotten the idea that intentions are magical and that just attempting to do something is as good as actually doing it (or doing it well). And we are simply terrified of hearing any kind of critical feedback about anything we do.
If you’ve played that Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag game, then you likely have noticed something in it that I don’t think has ever been in any AAA title. At the end of individual missions in the game, there’s a bit you can click to “rate” the mission and send feedback to the game producers right there on the spot in the middle of the game.
That might not sound really big, but it is. Producers often seem downright irritated with reviews, especially reviews that aren’t glowing. I write reviews myself–for pay, even, sometimes–and I know the pressure of writing something positive for a product given to me for free. It isn’t surprising that many reviewers have trouble walking the line between total honesty and diplomacy; that’s why Metacritic critics’ scores are nowhere near as reliable as users’ scores.
But this company’s opened itself up to critical evaluations from plain old users–from consumers, from those who’ve spent their hard-earned money for this product. That’s simply amazing to me. I have no doubt they’ll actually take seriously the feedback they get, too–or else why even ask? Already this feedback has shown them what missions users tend to like best, and also revealed a lot of anger and upset around a particular part of the game (the so-called “Passport” system, which apparently locked away a lot of single-player content) that the producers ended up just getting rid of altogether based on feedback they got about it. And let’s not forget that huge blowup they had a year ago about their DRM, which they ended up scrapping because of this same feedback.
How Feedback Improves Stuff.
And that’s how a game improves. One thing I do as a GM (the abbreviation means game-master; the GM functions as a roleplaying game’s referee and administrator) is ask players what they think of sessions. Did I keep the action moving? Was there a plot point they didn’t enjoy or maybe something they’d like to see me do more of? As a GM, I loved getting feedback–it was how I improved. (For that matter, it still is.)
I don’t GM for the ego boost, is the thing. I think a lot of GMs are just looking for the thrill of being in charge of something. I’ve definitely been in more than a few groups like that. Instead, I’m in it to make a good time for the players and myself. I’m in it to create a story with my players. I need that feedback so I can provide a good experience for my peeps and make the story fun to play through. If I were steering wrong somehow, I’d need to know, or else why bother doing it at all?
That’s how I write, too. At one point, freelancing was a significant part of my income, and my editors tended to really love me because they could say “Hey, I want less of this/more of that,” and I’d say “Okay!” and get to work making it how they wanted. But without that ability to take feedback, I couldn’t create work that editors wanted to buy.
Often you see newbie writers (and sometimes even old hands!) who think of their writing as “their baby,” and they just can’t take any kind of constructive criticism or negative feedback. I’ve known people who really wanted to get into editing and ended up leaving the field entirely because of that prima donna attitude.
When They Want Our Opinion, They’ll Give It To Us.
But isn’t that exactly what most Christians are like?
They know what love is, thenkyewverymuch. They’re convinced they’re doing just fine showing love, and they’re not even in the least interested in what their actual targets think of their behavior. Obviously their targets don’t understand love anyway, right? They don’t have Jesus. So their opinions of how they’ve been treated don’t matter.
Except those opinions matter quite a bit. And the perceptions and feedback of the folks around them should matter to Christians 100%.
There are a lot of Bible verses about making your brother stumble. What this means in Christianese is “doing something that gives your companions trouble following the rules”–like wearing “immodest” clothes or swearing or drinking in public. Most of the “modesty” rules revolve around this idea that Christians are responsible for the reactions and behaviors of other people around them. Now, as you likely already suspect, usually those rules are used to make women conform to Christian leaders’ expectations and to perpetuate a culture that excuses the victimization and objectification of women.
When I look over that list of verses in the link I just gave, I see a general attitude of hypervigilance there–the gist is quite clearly that Christians are supposed to be very careful that they’re not offending folks.
Certainly Christians could apply these selfsame verses to how they interact with non-Christians.
They just don’t.
Consistency Is For the Little People.
The real shock is that the same Christians who get the most upset about immodest clothing on women will happily offend and dehumanize non-Christians all day long in the name of “loving” them. And when the targets object to this kind of treatment, the Christian will get downright huffy about it and insist on continuing to do it.
It seems quite clear to me that Christians need to act like this more than they need to be genuinely loving. They so desperately need to be judgmental and nasty to people that they’ve managed to contort themselves into a definition of love that doesn’t even look remotely like love to anybody except themselves (and then only when they’re doing the hateful things, of course–any whiff of disapproval received back from society gets their persecution fantasies rolling like nothing else can).
When I’m treated with contempt or hatred by a Christian, it doesn’t matter how often the Christian calls it love. I still know it’s contempt and hatred.
Remember when I mentioned being threatened with eternal demonic rape by “loving” Christians? I don’t even remember anything about them anymore, except their lurid threats. Do those threats feel loving? Did I remember anything else those Christians even did? No, and no.
Am I going to, at any point, go “oh wow, those Godly Christian Men were sooooooooo loving to me while they threatened me with eternal demonic rape for not bowing to their god!”
No, I am not.
All they’ve done is make me even less sympathetic toward their religion.
I really wish more Christians would ask themselves: “Am I really being loving?” and I really wish more importantly that they’d ask that question of those they are interacting with, because the opinions of their targets are what matter way more than whatever they think they’re doing.
When They Actually Want to Know, We Can Tell.
It’s never easy for a Christian who finally opens his or her ears to hear what others think of how they’ve been acting. I know it was devastating for me, when I deconverted, to realize just how horrible I’d been to people. The memory still stings and smarts. I still feel the need to make amends where I can. I really identified with the author of the book unCHristian when he talked about how crushing it was to realize just how negatively outsiders thought of Christians.
But it’s not like we’re not talking. When John Shore, a Christian author researching a book, asked non-Christians to please share with him one thing they wish Christians knew, he got inundated–and, from what I can see, heartbroken–by what he got back. He’s still getting answers on that post, long after the book he was researching got written.
When we sense that a Christian really wants to know our opinion, we can’t help ourselves! It’s just so rare to run across a Christian who is really open to feedback. I know of a young Christian on a comment board right now who is facing this exact situation–he made himself open to feedback, and boy howdy is he getting it. I don’t know what will happen to his religious identity as a result of what he is learning, but whatever happens, I think he’ll come out of it a better and more loving person.
It’s just that most Christians don’t want to hear what we have to say. John Shore already wrote his book, but the people who need most to hear what he has to say are pushing away at him like mad. They denigrate him and dissociate themselves from his style of Christianity. They have this narrative in their heads of acting like Jesus and being Christlike, and though their deeds do not match in the least with that narrative, they still can’t let it go.
Nowhere does this narrative clash against reality more than it does in this situation–in how Christians treat outsiders and those they disapprove of–but it’s become such an important part of the religion to treat folks hatefully and call it “love” that I’m not sure most of them could drop it even if every pastor in the religion told them to do so.
They Already Know We Think They’re Hateful.
I can imagine why Christians don’t want to know what people really think of their “love.” Oh, I can definitely understand why they aren’t listening to all of us talking. They’ve spent a long time investing themselves in this contortion-definition of theirs. Their entire paradigm of interaction depends upon hateful behavior being thought of as “loving.” They’ve convinced themselves that not only is their behavior “loving,” but that non-Christians don’t even have the capacity to love–so of course they can’t evaluate the hate that Christians are slinging.
I’ve also heard Christians mistakenly think love involves “forcing their views on others to force them to become more Christian-like,” and the image keeps coming up. I’ve heard way too many Christians say that society’s vision of love is just like “giving drugs to a drug addict,” which is not only hugely disrespectful to non-Christians but also a total misunderstanding of the concept of “tough love.” So they can’t help but keep being hateful. Sooner or later everybody will realize that they really just want what’s best for everybody else, and we’ll be melted into submission with this huge show of “love.”
Except that is not what is happening either.
The Redefining of Love.
I don’t know how I would ever write a script for toxicity better than what modern Christian culture’s done for itself here. They’ve totally redefined love, and then they’ve removed all ability to hear dissenting opinions and all trust in or respect for anybody else’s assessment. There’s no way they can learn or grow here, and no way to do anything but drill down harder on hatefulness and keep wondering why churches are emptying and Jesus Party politicians are getting drummed out of office. They have left nothing to chance here.
If there were a Jesus, I don’t think he’d approve of much that modern Christians do, that’s for sure. I sorrow to think of the potential being wasted here–of the sheer amount of pain and separation that Christians are pursuing and dealing on themselves and others. I wonder how many would happily stop doing it, if they realized just how bad it was. And I wonder if I would have, back then.
So no: there is no big call for feedback among Christians. An honest performance review would bring information these folks don’t want to hear. Knowing how hateful they are to others, and how absolutely ineffective their rebranding attempts have been, would bring with the knowing an obligation to do better, to improve, to amend, to start the healing process.
The problem is, it doesn’t matter how how loving Christians think they are. Until Christians can lose hatred over and dread of criticism and feedback, they can’t heal their religion. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t even recognize that something is going wrong.
And something is, indeed, going very wrong here.
NEXT UP: We’re going to talk about religion’s Mary Sues next. Don’t know what that is? It’s a gaming/fanfic term. A Mary Sue is what happens when someone takes a hatred of feedback too far. As always, I hope you’ll join me!
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This post was tidied up on February 14, 2019. Wasn’t it just adorable back then how I thought Christians still had a shot at fixing their religion?