Needs must when the devil drives. It’s a very old English saying that means that people will eventually stoop to doing stuff they ordinarily wouldn’t feel comfortable doing when the situation becomes dire enough to warrant it. When we have to pull out the stops to achieve an end, many of us do it. It’s a companion idea to the equally venerable the ends justify the means, which means that if the goal is important enough, any methods used to reach that goal can be justified.
And we see both happening in Christianity right now. We are in the midst of a vast change in morality that is every bit as epochal as the Great Vowel Shift that brought us modern English pronunciation. This Great Morality Shift is sweeping us into a new era of Christianity, defining its adherents’ behavior and goals for years to come. Like most huge changes, though, this is one that is difficult to see while it’s happening. It took me a while to notice it myself. But now I see clear indications of where the religion is heading. One of the biggest indications of that shift is a little survey that demonstrates that a serious change in Christians’ conceptualizations of morality is occurring right under their very noses.
Strap in–I know this might be a bit long even by my standards, but I think it’s necessary to explain the moral shift I’m talking about, where it came from, and why it’s happening. We’ll be starting with the Christian concept of objective morality.
There’ll be kitten pictures at the end of this post, I promise.
They Might Not Understand Subjective Morality, but They Sure Hate It.
In Christianese, objective morality is the notion that there’s some timeless, eternal set of values that all people in all cultures across all eras should follow to produce the best, most ideal society of harmonious elements. Obviously, Christians think that their god created this set of values and wants people to follow it, and that people cannot, on their own, come up with moral values or follow any because they are just so sinful that they don’t know the difference between right and wrong without Christians around to tell them what those are.
The sort of Christians who view themselves as very, very rational tend to really love talking about this notion and to push it as PROOF YES PROOF that their god actually exists (much as we’d use a weathervane to measure the wind’s direction). These are the same people who tend to say that if they didn’t believe in their god and their religion’s various doctrines, they’d be out murdering and raping people left and right because they’d lose their morality and become heathens like us.
Yes. You see, the instant someone loses belief in Christianity, they simply lose their morality like someone might lose their car keys, and are suddenly at risk for rampaging through society like fiends. I was pretty shocked the first time I saw a blogger tell her audience, with the most earnest and condescending tone imaginable, that an ex-Christian spouse “doesn’t have the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, therefore, he’s not going to exercise self-control like a Believer would.” Now, I expect that thinking.
The opposite of objective morality is subjective morality. In subjective morality, ethical decisions are more relativistic and consequential–meaning that sometimes it’s okay to do stuff that normally might be off-limits, and that we’re judged less by our motivations and more by the results our behaviors produce. The Christians who fellate themselves over their moral superiority for having this so-called objective morality react to the idea of subjective morality the way that you or I might react to the idea of hitting a baby. But thank goodness Christians are around to tell us that it’s always totally wrong to eat people, to commit rape or genocide, to enslave others, and to steal stuff. Gosh, how would we ever have figured that stuff out without Christians to tell us what was right and wrong?
That’s subjective morality for you, for sure! Only people who have objective morality would ever be able to work their way through to a perfect set of guidelines that can totally answer any and all situations that a person might encounter in life, which means that the ancient Chinese, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and a bunch of other folks that existed before and totally outside of Christianity just had no idea what was going on, and the vast number of people who are non-Christian today–Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, Wiccans, you name it–are incapable of behaving in a moral way without Christians around. That’s why Rapture movies and books have the world descending into a sheer dystopian nightmare once all the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are whisked away.
Of course, most non-Christians, with their disturbingly subjective morality, are not actually out murdering and raping people at all and tend to be deeply moral people even after deconversion, but there are lots of excuses for that strange lack of destructiveness. The favorite one I’ve heard is that we are all secretly inculcated with Christian values thanks to centuries of Christian dominance and don’t realize it (or that we totes believe but are denying our secret belief so we can have unapproved sex without feeling guilty for it). Also, of course, quite a few Christians are actually out murdering and raping people, but there are lots of excuses for that situation too–the favorite being that well gosh darnit, their sin nature still prevails from time to time.
Non-Christians are very used to dealing with Christians who say from one side of their mouths that morality is totally objective and absolute–while saying stuff from the other side of their mouths that would qualify as immoral under their own ideology. A lot of Christian evangelism and apologetics is taken up with hand-waving away their own hypocrisy by trying to explain why it is that people who totally believe in this “absolute morality” seem so singularly incapable of following their very own rules.
As we discussed last time, whatever this objective morality might be, it certainly does not lead Christians to become more honest or compassionate people–much less people who are more honest and compassionate than non-Christians are. But they doggedly keep insisting that they have the complete lock on exactly what morality is and what it looks like.
Like with everything else Christians do, there is a reason why they keep pushing this objective morality as their purview. It is used not only to make them sound way superior to non-Christians and to appeal to authoritarian followers, but–way more importantly–to justify their culture wars. You see, because they are so much more evolved and so much better at discerning what this totally objective, eternal, timeless, immutable set of moral values is than us heathens, they ought to be given total control over our lives. That’s the only way to prevent the world from falling into chaos and criminality. Once Christians totally control everything, everyone will finally be safe and happy.
So even though Christians themselves cannot even live by their own objective morality, even though there is no reason whatsoever to think that their moral code results in a better or safer or happier society, even though even cursory examination reveals that it’s just as relative, culturally-dependent, and changeable as subjective morality, even though the reality is that Christian-dominated cultures are the real dystopian nightmares by any conceivable measurement, they still want that dominance and feel entitled to it.
The era of the Christian culture war was born from that sense of entitlement and superiority. None of their culture wars could even exist without both those attitudes.
A Necessary Shift.
But entitlement and superiority aren’t exactly loving, and the victims of Christians’ culture wars are getting louder and louder about just how we feel about being treated like second-class citizens by a bunch of sanctimonious asshatted hypocrites. There was a time when Christians could preen and congratulate themselves on how “loving” and “compassionate” they were toward us lesser human beings, serene in their assurance because there was very little pushback that critics dared to make. That time is passing quickly.
Christians have come up with a variety of creative methods for maintaining their fiction of being the mostest lovingest and compassionate people in the world: they’ve redefined love itself to allow themselves to behave this way; they’ve created a worldview in which other people’s perceptions and reactions are completely stripped away as irrelevant; they’ve descended to further and further depths to dehumanize and demonize non-tribemates. They’ve created an entire alternate universe of pseudoscience and junk history that they can rely upon to “prove” their points, and have entire media and propaganda arms devoted to giving them a safe and secure bubble that only reinforces their sense of superiority and entitlement. Everything hinges on maintaining that worldview–or else it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pursue dominance the way they do.
When all else fails, though–and let’s be clear here, all else is in fact failing and doing so catastrophically–Christian leaders have begun teaching a new morality that has subtly altered forever their followers’ perceptions:
The ends justify the means.
In other words, whatever they have to do is okay as long as it gets them what they want. It’s not like they haven’t always had this idea bubbling in the background. It’s just taking on new prominence lately.
This past election has brought to a head decades of weaseling and mincing around a point that toxic Christians have been flirting with for many decades. It’s a shift in thinking about morality that they needed to make in this dire time of growing irrelevance and losses. And it’s a shift they absolutely would not have made if they hadn’t absolutely had to do it.
Before recent years, they had the luxury of imagined dominance. For years, I pointed out that they hadn’t quite caught on yet to the rising tide of deconversions and criticism. They wafted along on a cloud of imagined superiority and control–and were quite shocked to be pecker-slapped in the face by some surveys and tallies that revealed the awful truth. Then it took them years to really come to grips with just how bad the damage was turning out to be. For years they bleated that no no, they were actually totally growing, totally winning, #morethanconquerors, all that nonsense.
Have you noticed yet that it’s been a dog’s year since we heard Christians talking like that? A few might still be back in the weeds still convinced that their religion is actually doing great, but most of the rest of ’em have finally worked out that they’re in trouble, that those aberrations were just that: blips in an overall trend, and all that’s saving them from a complete nose-dive in numbers. They’ve finally noticed that not only are their oat-sowing kids not returning after they reach full adulthood, but that the few converts they keep crowing about having manipulated into joining up aren’t sticking around either.
A Strategy That is Backfiring.
They’re still in that denial phase of grief, it seems to me when I look at their surreal, otherworldly explanations for why their religion is faltering so hard and what will fix the problem. They can barely engage at all with the fact that it’s happening, but they’re in no danger of reversing the trend with their proposed plan of doing all the stuff that was already failing them, except with more vigor and frequency.
But then they encounter all these heretics and apostates being louder and louder about pushing back against those efforts.
About how hateful and nasty they think Christianity is. How much it’s hurt them and their lives and their loved ones. How eager they are to be away from Christian dominance. How hard they are willing to work to reverse that dominance and send the religion to the dust-heap where it belongs with all the other useless and harmful religions. How hypocritical they find Christians to be, and how hateful, mean-spirited, petty, abusive, aggressive, divisive, and dishonest they think so many of them are. How completely factually erroneous the religion’s claims are, and how counterproductive its ideas are to creating better people and a better society. How repelled we are by what they are doing. How cruel and ineffective we think their ideas are.
There was a time when do more of that but harder and more of it might have worked. But now, in the face of all that visible pushback and all that much-deserved criticism, that time has passed. Now it just looks even more abusive and grotesque for Christians to keep behaving the way they do, because there’s absolutely no plausible deniability for them anymore. They know, because we tell them so on a constant basis, that they are hurting us and pushing us away. And their response for a while was to plaster on a preening, sanctimonious Jesus Smile, scrunch up their eyebrows in an insectoid imitation of sympathy (oh, they got the ability to feel real sympathy deliberately scorched out of them years ago by their leaders), and not only refuse to take responsibility for their error, but tell us they’re going to keep doing it.
Now they’re not even pretending to feel that sympathy.
A certain shift in morality has to happen in order to make that kind of studied cruelty and inhumanity possible for so many Christians to engage in. There’s no way that any compassionate, kindhearted, loving person can possibly behold the suffering they cause another human being and feel anything but heartstruck horror over their fault in causing it–and an eager rush to fix their error. A truly loving person’s ministrations do not leave the recipient of those attentions miserable, furious, and (in many cases) suicidal. For that to happen, someone belonging to a religion of love and mercy would have to warp those concepts so far out of kilter that they are unrecognizable to anybody outside their culture.
And that shift is exactly what we are seeing now in Christianity–a shift we’ve been discussing right here for years, perhaps without even realizing the full extent of what we were seeing.
PRRI (I think it means “Public Religion Research Institute”) is a survey group similar to Barna, but one that’s considerably more even-handed and trustworthy. They’re not fundagelical, and they have no vested interest in comforting or riling up fundagelicals. I haven’t seen a lot of problems in the surveys they release–I just wish they did more of them on the topics I’m interested in learning about.
They did a study this past fall about fundagelicals’ changing morality. Done a month or so before the Presidential election, it asked a bunch of people of all religious and political bents about their voting plans and their positions regarding morality in themselves and their leaders. They’ve been asking these general questions for years.
But oh, what a doozy of a set of results they got this time around!
Some of it wasn’t a real surprise. Yes yes, fundagelicals overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump. We knew that.
Those of us who were totally baffled by how a group that claims to have a lock on objective morality could ever support someone who categorically defies the very notion of morality and constantly flaunts his rejection of morality might find some illumination from the other questions on the survey, however. A lot of it dealt with how Americans grapple with the problem of hypocritical politicians.
Americans generally are a lot less likely these days to say that personal moral transgressions ought to disqualify politicians from serving in office. In fact, members of the Jesus Party were far more likely than Democrats were (70% to 61%) to say that someone could act ethically as a leader even if they were immoral in their personal life. Back in 2011, only 36% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats thought this way. So that’s nearly a doubling of Republican voters–who are overwhelmingly Christian–who think it’s okay to be a total hypocrite on a personal level as long as someone’s pursuing their agenda in office.
In fact, the greatest shift in moral thinking occurred in white evangelical Christians. Only 30% of them answered affirmatively to that question back in 2011, only six years ago. Last year 72% of them answered that yes indeed, someone could be a hypocrite personally but behave ethically in office. All Christians softened considerably on their stance over those six years, but white evangelicals softened the most. (“Nones,” incidentally, didn’t change much at all. In fact, slightly fewer of them answered yes in 2016 than in 2011–a drop from 63% to 60% in the six years.)
And fewer Americans than ever think that their chosen candidate needs strong, fervent religious beliefs. In 2011, 66% of respondents thought it was important for a candidate to have strong beliefs (which includes 39% who said it was “very important”). In 2016, that’s dropped to 58% thinking so (including 29% saying it’s “very important”). Again, white evangelicals shifted their thinking the most in this question. In 2011, 64% said it was “very important,” but in 2016 only 49% thought so.
This is the same group that trumpeted the idea that a President was a sort of pastor-in-chief. Before this current election, Christians wrestled mightily with that exact idea, eventually deciding that yes, actually, a President acts as a religious figure to some extent.
That idea lasted until they realized that they could not possibly get a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ candidate through the Republican Clown Car primary process–and until they got really desperate to win for a change and make the changes they really wanted to make to America before they lost the clout to do it. Then suddenly we saw a total reversal on that position. Christian leaders undid years of patient politicizing to start indoctrinating the flocks with this new morality, starting their congregations down the moral road required for them to support a candidate like no other–a candidate who embodied every single trait that fundagelicals in decades past would have rejected out of hand.
Now they took what they could get and were happy about it. Now they claimed this was what they had wanted all along. Like evil little children finally given some power, they are lashing out in all directions–shitting on and trampling everything in sight, chortling in glee at the destruction they are wreaking, and gloating about the pain they are causing. There’s not even a hint of those sanctimonious Jesus Smiles anymore, not even an attempt to act sympathetic about it. They’re out for vengeance and their greedy, greasy little hands know absolutely no limits as they grab for more and more.
I take courage from the knowledge that the rest of us are a lot less willing to grin and bear the abuse fundagelicals are doling out–and a lot more comfortable with speaking out about those abuses. I know that what Christians are doing is only alienating more people every single day, and that they are destroying their religion’s credibility and whatever shreds remain of its already-suffering reputation. I know that their resources are not unlimited, and that sooner or later they will exhaust their remaining stores of money and influence–and that this will happen long before their magical thinking works to restore their numbers.
To use the Bible’s terminology, they are only kicking against the goad’s pricks at this point–delaying the inevitable and forestalling the inescapable. But it hurts, oh it hurts while it lasts. There’s a lot of damage being done, and a lot of harm being caused while fundagelicals show us exactly and precisely who they are as a group and what they do when handed the reins of power and what a fundagelical-run theocracy looks like in reality. The irony is that they thought that losing their moral stranglehold on America would result in a hellish dystopia, but it sure seems like them gaining power, even temporarily, is what is causing exactly that nightmare for millions of Americans.
Maybe this will be the impetus that gets less hateful, less cruel people off their asses to vote out the Christians causing all this destruction–and whatever remains of such kind people in the religion to finally leave it for good. Maybe we’re finally ready to make our voices heard in a way that even fundagelical-pandering politicians must hear and heed. Maybe it’s time for us to finally put paid to Christian faux-morality. Maybe. Time will tell.
Next time, we’re going to examine a recent Christian’s attempt to silence us–and talk about what a truly loving response would have looked like, since that Christian clearly has no idea what it would have been. It should be fun–see you then!
I’m totally sorry this was so long and offer a Cat Tax to ease the burden of reading along this far. You are wonderful and amazing for being so patient with me, and I can only hope that the journey is worth the investment of time I’m asking of you. THANK YOU ALL.