One of the more aggravating redefinitions toxic Christians regularly pull involves the word “convenience.”
Like their other redefined words, this one’s been so stretched and warped it barely looks like its dictionary definition or common usage. Of course, not just Christians do it. Shortly after dumping Biff, I dated an especially controlling non-Christian (to this day I don’t actually know if he was an atheist or what; we didn’t talk about religion, at my request) who accused me of “selfishness” every time I wanted to do something that he didn’t want me to do–or worse yet didn’t want to do something he wanted me to do. If I argued at all about it, natch, I was being “irrational.” I began to realize that he himself was irrational and selfish, and those were just his go-to accusations whenever he felt that his dominance was being threatened. But it took a while to figure out that my impressions and feelings were perfectly valid and that I was not being selfish or irrational in those situations.
It was a long time before I realized that what this ex of mine was doing to me was “gaslighting,” which is an abuse tactic whereby an abuser tries to make a victim doubt his or her very sanity by questioning the validity of the victim’s feelings, judgement, and perceptions. Nobody grows up thinking “selfishness” is a good thing and nobody likes the idea that he or she is acting “irrationally.” And to be sure, when the accusations were flung, I certainly didn’t think I was behaving like that; all I knew was that I certainly didn’t want to be displaying such negative traits. By wildest coincidence, of course, whatever he wanted me to do or not do was the rational, caring route to take. He led me to second-guess myself constantly and doubt my own emotions and clarity of perception, purely by how he twisted these words to apply to situations in which they simply weren’t valid. And he wasn’t even a Christian.
No, gaslighting knows no religion. That’s not in any doubt in my mind.
The reason the word “convenience” specifically is on the “Christians behaving badly” list of redefinitions is that it is most closely associated with toxic Christians nowadays. Non-Christians don’t tend to jump down people’s throats with that specific word.
In the same way nobody grows up thinking of “selfishness” as a virtuous character trait to cultivate, nobody wants to think that he or she is making a big decision for a trivial reason. Doesn’t matter if it’s having an abortion, leaving a marriage, or breaking with a religion. These are not always easy decisions, and certainly the people making them are usually fully aware of the gravity of their situations. But when toxic Christians fling the “convenience” word, they are simultaneously judging their victim’s entire sense of moral integrity but also questioning the validity of their victim’s decision in its entirety.
So let’s cover what a convenience is, shall we, since there’s some confusion:
Dictionary.com defines a convenience as “anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one’s ease or comfort, etc., as an appliance, utensil, or the like.” Most of us eat convenience food, which is “any packaged food, dish, or meal that can be prepared quickly and easily, as by thawing or heating” and visit convenience stores, which are small, easy-to-access shops that stock “a range of everyday items such as groceries, toiletries, alcoholic and soft drinks, tobacco products, and newspapers.”
One thing every one of these terms implies is that these goods, services, shops, and foods are not essential to everyday life. They are easier-to-find and access versions of things that are actually essential. For example, I’m of a generation that considers a cell phone a “convenience” still. Younger people may consider them necessities. My parents considered cars a “convenience.” I consider them necessities. Conveniences save us time and effort, but they’re not replacements for anything really, and not having them won’t put anybody in serious harm or to major trouble.
Conveniences make our lives easier in small ways. I’d certainly never do all of my shopping at a convenience store, but on Thanksgiving Day some years ago when I realized I’d forgotten to buy cranberries, I sent someone to the one down the road to find a can of cranberry jelly. Could we have survived without cranberry jelly? Sure, of course we could have, just like I could live without a cell phone or my parents could do without a car. Cranberry jelly was not totally absolutely essential to my menu that year; it was nice to have, but if I hadn’t had a store nearby that was open that I knew would stock such emergency supplies, I’d have gone without cranberry jelly and barely even remembered its lack today (as I’m sure I’m forgetting years where something minor got left out, like–oh, yeah–that year I forgot to buy ribbon bows for the Christmas presents).
In no way are conveniences required for our lives. That’s why we don’t call them necessities. That’s why we argue good-naturedly over what is and isn’t a necessity. Sometimes the dividing line can be hard to draw, and yes, sometimes it’s subjective–I’m sure some folks reading this blog are thinking they could never survive without their cell phones or their freezers full of frozen burritos. But we can agree that conveniences are fairly minor, small things that just make life easier.
We can also agree that it’s frustrating and crazy-making to have the term “convenience” mis-applied, too. Who among us hasn’t called a call center about some monstrous injustice on our bills and heard a robotic singsong “I’m sorry for the inconvenience”? Don’t you ever want to shout “No, you poor drone, a $700 overage is not an ‘inconvenience.’ It’s my rent, and I’m about to be homeless because apartments are not like mortgages that you can miss a year of payments on.” We know deep down what a convenience is, and we know that it’s not avoiding or fixing a catastrophic threat.
An abortion is not a convenience. I did not leave Christianity because it was inconvenient. And almost nobody ends a marriage for reasons of convenience.
I realize why a toxic Christian has to cast my decisions in such a trivializing light. If my decision can be devalued, if my judgement can be cast down to such levels as to make me seem like a child who has no sense of priorities and no way to judge the severity of a situation, then anything I might have to offer by way of an explanation can be dismissed out of hand along with me. Worse yet, the way toxic Christians use the word nullifies the very real risks, dangers, and emotional torment that goes along with the situations they’re trying to belittle and devalue–it hand-waves away the very real concerns that go along with these situations and tries to make those people suffering in those situations feel insane for even being concerned about little things like safety, pain avoidance, sanity, and life-altering financial costs.
Worse even still are the implications that because of my poor judgement, that the much-wiser Christian in question is so much better at deciding what to do and therefore should be allowed to make those decisions for me. I mean, isn’t that what we’re doing here? Deciding that someone else’s decisions have some moral component and that only someone qualified to perceive their importance should be able to make such lofty moral decisions?
Aren’t Christians who do this telling me, in effect, “You poor deluded child. Clearly you have no clue how important this matter is. But luckily for you, I do, so I’m going to take the right to decide what to do out of your grubby little hands before you mess something up”?
Here is my heads-up to Christians who buy into this term as a dismissing tactic:
Quit doing that.
If a given situation could cause death, if it’s enormously painful, burdensome, and life-threatening, if it could destroy my financial situation, threaten my very employment and primary relationships, tear at my sanity and sense of self-worth, and ultimately change my entire life, then that situation is not merely “inconvenient.” Getting away from that situation is the very antithesis of a “convenience.” Even using such words to describe the situation or its avoidance is so far past abusive and cruel that it is the very antithesis of love.
And I will not tolerate that term being applied to situations that are far more than a mere “convenience” or “inconvenience.”
It doesn’t matter how much the toxic Christian values the situation; it matters how the person in that situation values it. It’s not the Christian’s call to decide what is and isn’t a “convenience” for someone else’s life. Just as I’d never tell someone else that his or her cell phone is a mere “convenience” and look down on that person for feeling cell phones are actually a necessity, I expect Christians to show a little respect and empathy for others going through awful situations and not nullify or devalue others’ decisions when they differ from what they (think they) would decide.
PS: Please check out that definition link I provided to Psychology Today. It’s an absolutely stunning blog entry about how to tell if you are in a relationship featuring gaslighting, and when I read its checklist, it was like I’d laid out paper outlines of feet on the floor to learn a particularly intricate ballroom dance. Oh, internetz, once again I find myself wishing you’d existed more fully back then… But then I remember that if you had, then I’d have had a Facebook account.