Hello and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about popular Christian lies. Today, let’s focus on one I’ve touched on many times in the past–and deep-dive into it. It’s so common that we can find it across the length and breadth of the religion. It’s as accepted a trope as claim about the total-for-realsies earthly existence of Jesus himself. And yet Christians don’t think too hard about it or what it means, much less test it. Yes, I’m talking about Christians who think Christians are so, I dunno, just DIFFERENT, y’all. Well, they aren’t, and today I’ll show you why.
The Trope Namer.
A long time ago, we reviewed the 2015 Christian schlockfest movie God’s Club. It’s the heartwarming story of a grieving widower rediscovering his faith and then infiltrating the public high school where he works with a religious indoctrination scheme, all while his daughter convinces a mentally ill boy to stop taking his psych meds for Jesus reasons. The boy almost kills himself as a result, but everything works out fine. The girl gives him a last-second sermon full of Jesus wisdom, literally talking him down off his ledge. The
indoctrination scheme religion club flourishes, and everyone converts to TRUE CHRISTIANITY.™ Hooray Team Jesus!
God’s Club stands out for a whole bunch of really terrible reasons. However, one aspect of it caught my attention. The mentally ill boy thinks that the widower’s daughter is so, I dunno, DIFFERENT I guess. He talks about her in a way that suggests that he is just in awe of her and has never met another person like her.
All the adults around this young man, in turn, run with this awe. His therapist even leers at him while informing him that if he dates this girl, she won’t put out for him because Christians don’t have premarital sex, AMIRITE? (KUH-REEPY!) In response, the youth recoils from the very idea that he was even thinking of getting into her pants. GYAHH, he was just trying to figure out what made her so, I dunno, DIFFERENT I guess!
The movie played very coy with exactly how he thinks of the girl’s different-ness and I don’t think he ever uses the exact words as I’ve used to describe his fascination with her. All the same, it’s clear to see what the movie’s creators were getting at.
This girl’s faith granted her a quality that Christians themselves imagine they share. They enjoy thinking that this quality makes them very, very different from everyone else.
And of course by different, these Christians mean better by far.
Christians Are So Different, Y’all!
And hooboy, they do love to talk like this. It’s a delusional belief about their general body of believers that cuts across denominational lines.
One Christian begins an essay on the topic with this citation needed declaration:
Committed Christians stand out in areas of morals, patterns of life, and outlook. They seem odd to most people.
Another simply uses her essay’s title to insist that Christians are different–and asks why. Her immediate answer, of course, is their belief in both Jesus and “salvation.” It’s a short essay that makes absolutely no sense at all. But she’s clearly very proud of her logical fallacies.
A church ministry site describes an upcoming teen evangelism event thusly:
Who is Jesus Christ? Why should I care about this Jesus guy? Is the Bible still relevant to today’s fast and modern society? Why are Christians so… different?
A Christian’s Bible study about the Trinity utilizes the idea of Christians’ supposed different-ness to illustrate a point about the Holy Spirit:
Why are Christians so “different” from others in this world?
The Spirit is “in” us – in the same sense that Christ is in the Father, and the Father is in Christ. But – like the book in the novelist’s head – the world cannot see it. Only the results can be seen. The world cannot see that. But we know what’s going on inside us.
Sure, Jan. That must be it. Okay.
Different = A Sales Tool.
Christians are well aware of the importance of seeming different from others. They want non-believers to think that they have gained a quality through belief that nobody else can possibly possess. Moreover, they want to send us the impression that this unique quality makes them happier, better-adjusted, and more equipped to handle the everyday stresses of life than non-believers are. They implicitly or explicitly tell us that we can access that quality for ourselves–and thereby gain its benefits–by joining their groups.
In this manner, different-ness becomes part of their sales pitch.
However, they’re also aware to some extent that they don’t make sales by simply saying they possess this imaginary quality. They must communicate its existence through their behavior.
It makes sense to me that someone who looks at my life, seeing an injustice or harm that I am supporting, would have a jaded view of the message I am trying to deliver. I could be the stumbling block that doesn’t let another see Christ’s power and deity because my life shows that I don’t care about other’s [sic] plight while claiming that Christ himself is alive within me, guiding my heart and my actions.
For what it’s worth, I agree. (I saw a similar sentiment driving another Christian some years ago.)
Different = Weird.
When I became a fundagelical, every Christian leader I knew pushed hard on the idea that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ were weird. Over the years since then, I’ve heard countless Christians proclaim (always with the most unseemly air of self-flattery) that being a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ comes at the serious cost of one’s social standing.
From “It’s Too Easy to Be Christian:”
Being a Christian means following Jesus. It means being different. It means going against every natural instinct you have and . . . being weird, boring, lame, you name it, but guess what? People thought Jesus was weird too. Follow Him and you won’t be popular, but if you’re a Christian it’s not a suggestion; it’s required.
SO RADICAL! SO HARDCORE!
This belief encourages way too many Christians to behave in odd and creepy ways because they think Jesus was weird and and and look at what he accomplished! Just look! Look!
Years and years out of Christianity, it’s still jarring to me to see Christians trying to act like mini-Jesuses. But there’s a reason why so many of the religion’s leaders talk like this.
Different = Inevitable and Required.
Those leaders desperately need the ground troops to get out there and SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY. And they need at least some of those sales attempts to succeed. Since this imaginary quality constitutes a big part of the sales arsenal of those troops, it needs to look good.
Beyond that, however, we find a far more insidious reason for this emphasis on Christian “weirdness.”
Those leaders push a mode of behavior that is absolutely guaranteed to socially isolate their followers. As those followers pursue ever-more-unacceptable ways to show their different-ness, their non-tribemate friends and family will drop off their radar. Many of these leaders disallow what they call worldly entertainment like watching TV and movies, going to parades and sporting events, or even celebrating major holidays.
By following those rules, their followers push themselves out of the cultural tapestry. They’re out of step with everyone in their age cohort. (See below for my own example.)
And once they’re isolated enough, the flocks will turn to their tribe all the more insistently to provide them the social inclusion and interaction they need.
The Jesus Aura.
That quality that Christians imagine makes them so, I dunno, DIFFERENT I guess is, of course, the effect of Jesus living inside them.
Christians think that when they decide to worship Jesus, he enters their hearts like a parasitic worm, curls up there, and from that central location influences all their thoughts and actions forevermore–if, of course, they let him, if they level up their Jesus skills through devotions, and if they follow the tribe’s rules. They often call this heart-infestation the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
More than that, though, Christians think this indwelling fascinates and draws non-Christians closer to them as recruitment prospects. Their irresponsible leaders and media constantly drill down on this idea.
When I was Christian myself, I pictured Jesus’ presence in my life as a sort of glowing aura around me. And I thought that others detected that radiance somehow–and wanted it for themselves.
Nowadays, I call that conceptualization the Jesus Aura. It constitutes a major part of many evangelism methods these days. Mostly it consists of Christians trying to act as surreally, ethereally pure and divine as they possibly can–at least whenever prospects can see them.
In private, well, it’s usually a whole other ball of wackiness.
The idea is that prospects will eventually be so dazzled by this display of Jesus-ing that they’ll feel compelled to ask what makes the Christian so, I dunno, just DIFFERENT I guess.
Many Christians call this style of sales lifestyle evangelism. Most Christian leaders don’t like it, either. It’s not intrusive enough or confrontational enough for them. They want the sales force out there pushing their faith onto others, starting unwanted conversations, and beating their chests.
If individual Christians rely too much on trying to enthrall prospects into making the first move, that might take forever–or never happen at all. So they regard lifestyle evangelism as taking the easy way out of their obligations to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY.
Neither approach works, but then again nothing really does these days.
The Guy on the Staircase.
Here’s how that different-ness plays out in reality.
In Animal House, one funny–and largely improvised–scene involves a guy playing guitar to impress some women at a frat party. John Belushi’s character comes in, listens briefly, loses his patience with the display, and grabs and destroys the guy’s guitar. Then he apologizes and leaves.
(Animal House, 1978.)
The guitar player is how Christians imagine they are.
They think that we’re the women admiring the guitar player. But the women are just their fellow Christians.
We are John Belushi, sick of their sanctimonious, smarmy, and obviously attention-seeking performances.
The only real difference here is that instead of destroying the guitar, most of us would simply continue down the staircase and try not to make eye contact with the guitar player. We’d know he was doing it for attention and to get something from anybody listening to him play, and we’d want no part of it.
First Problem: Christians Aren’t Different.
First and foremost:
There are no real positive differences between Christians and non-Christians.
If Christians do behave any differently at all from non-Christians, it’s not anything that anybody would see as desirable. Nobody wants their lives. Christians have successfully communicated to the world at large that their lives are stultifying and full of fakery and artificial shows of happiness. Even some of the nutbars over at the subreddit r/TrueChristian understand that point. Studies and surveys only reinforce it.
(See endnote for another way to look at it.)
The Other Problem With Lifestyle Evangelism.
Second and just barely behind the first point, when individual Christians do manage to cultivate some measure of different-ness, literally nobody ever ascribes that difference to their religious beliefs.
As one friend of mine discovered years ago, outsiders are far more likely to think that such Christians are vegetarians than that they’re infested by Jesus-worms!
People have just seen too many Christian hypocrites to imagine that Christianity reliably produces good people. Conversely, they’re seeing increasing numbers of non-Christians doing wonderful deeds and behaving in ethical and responsible ways. The safer it becomes to reject Christianity, the more of these good non-Christians we’re going to see “being good without gods,” as the saying goes.
What’s worse, those non-Christians aren’t doing any of that good stuff to sell anything at all, nor to impress any imaginary friends they might have!
That truth presented me with a big huge problem in college!
That’s when I began to meet my first non-Christians. It downright dismayed me to see for myself how poorly Christians stacked up against literally any of these other groups. I can’t imagine how Christians today handle the sheer hypocrisy erupting out of their group every single day. Sometimes I find myself absolutely aghast at how poorly today’s Christians behave.
Second-hand cringe can be deadly, y’all!
Another Claim Destroyed.
I get why so many Christians want to believe that their religion grants them some magical quality that is unique to their faith. Many of them really want to believe that their religion, as a whole, is different from other religions. Mainly, many of them think that Christianity is literally the only real religion in the whole world. Their god is likewise the only real god in the whole world. So that makes them literally the only people who interact with any real gods.
If all those points were true, then yes, I could totally buy the idea that Christians would behave very differently from the believers of other religions. In fact, if their claims were true then I’d absolutely expect their beliefs to manifest in the real world as intriguing points of difference.
But they don’t.
Worse for them, though, they don’t even tend to behave like they take their religion seriously in the least. They pick it up and set it down constantly depending on whether or not it helps them right then or hinders their desires.
And in those times when they have picked up their beliefs to play-act like they take it all super-cereally, they’re the most insufferable, arrogant, narcissistic, over-entitled blowhards imaginable!
Getting Down to Business.
Ultimately, Christians behave exactly like I’d expect any people to behave if they believe something that deep down they know or suspect isn’t true: they pay a lot of lip service to those beliefs, sure, but when things get down to brass tacks they discard their wackadoodlery and get down to the serious business of living life to its fullest, however they perceive that idea.
And I’m very glad of that truth, in a way. I very much want Christians not to allow their religious beliefs to bring them to any harm or to cause them to act out and isolate themselves from their peers and family. I want them to keep things in perspective, and to care more about their loved ones and others’ rights than about making sales.
It’s not like their Jesus Auras score sales anyway. Literally all Christians accomplish in cultivating different-ness is pushing themselves away from others–and keeping themselves from getting the most out of this one beautiful and all-too-short life that is all we know for sure that we’re ever going to get.
Christianity causes so much harm to so many people. Even in its most benign forms, it brings believers nothing that they can’t get elsewhere–and saddles them with a great many false beliefs about themselves, their groups, our world, and their religion as a whole. This belief in their supposed uniqueness is definitely one of the saddest and most damaging.
Instead of my beliefs blowing sunshine up my skirt about my supposed uniqueness, you know what pushes my thrill buttons?
Knowing just how much common ground I share with others.
That simple truth is what really makes this holiday season bright for me.
NEXT UP: Christianity itself isn’t actually unique in the least. We’ll get into why, next time. See you soon!
Ugh, Social Isolation: I know how that isolation feels, too! I’m a Gen-Xer who’s never seen Reality Bites or even the vast majority of the movies on this Oscar nominations list for 1993. I did see some more of them years after deconversion, but it’s just not the same. The electric energy and explosive buildup of the YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH speech passed me by during the era that made it all the more relevant. It’s like watching pre-vaccine polio documentaries from the 1940s without the terror of the disease that audiences felt when they were released. (Back to the post!)
Put another way: The more functional a society is, the less attractive Christianity becomes to its people. The more dysfunctional a society is, the more its people glom onto Christianity as a hoped-for source of help for their many problems. It is not a good thing that people in absolutely dysfunctional societies convert like crazy to Christianity! I’m beyond baffled at the Christians who try to use that fact as a selling point. (Back to the post!)
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