Welcome back! Last time we talked about how Christians share many qualities in common with Nice Guys™. Modern Christian fundagelical culture has produced a bumper crop of Christians who are singularly incapable of recognizing when their input is desired or requested, who genuinely think that they’re doing people a favor when they intrude on their lives or pass judgement on their private business, and who react to any kind of criticism with indignant wafting of their palms heavenward as if to say it ain’t their fault, they’re just acting on orders from the boss…!
How can a Christian who really wants to be loving and respectful display the qualities of love and respect, when the religion’s all but stamped both of those qualities out of its people? How can a Christian who wants to break free of that mindset move past it and into a place where a true dialogue can be achieved?
First, the Christian or Nice Guy™ needs to assess the environment. If the environment is a secular workplace, or if the target is actively engaged in work, then it is a huge no-no to approach and may actually be considered harassment of one kind or another. That doesn’t mean that approach is impossible; it does however mean that approach must be very carefully modulated and interest constantly monitored. Some folks are more receptive in some places than in other places. Some places are more conducive to conversation than others. A busy party or nightclub may be perfectly fine, but cornering a person in an elevator may make that person feel very threatened. There must always be a way for the other person to make a graceful and easy escape if need be; if there is no such escape, then the subject shouldn’t be broached.
Sometimes it feels like Christians are so twitchy about sharing their religion that they don’t notice social cues if those cues might mean that approach isn’t desirable. And if a movie or book comes out that is really pushing personal evangelism, it can really produce a lot of awkward moments as Christians who are unsuited to evangelism get fired up enough to try–like they did when that dumb God is Not Dead movie came out advising Christians to text “god is not dead” to everybody they knew. When I saw it was advising something that bone-headed, I winced because I knew that as ridiculous an idea as it was, there’d be some over-enthusiastic Christians who’d do it–and they did. These texts were invasive, thoughtless, insincere, and fueled by a rah-rah movie that convinced their senders that this would be a great way to witness for Jesus–but all it did was cause a bunch of rifts and personal estrangements that wouldn’t have happened had these Christians showed some respect to those they were forcing their beliefs and privilege onto. These apologetics materials come out all the time, each promising that its retreaded approach is all but foolproof–and the second a bright-eyed Christian trots out the technique, it gets shot down immediately, not that the Christian remembers that failure when the next rah-rah book or movie comes out. In this way they are exactly like Nice Guys™ who buy every pick-up artist book that comes out in hopes that it will contain the right magic spells and incantations to ensnare unsuspecting women. Remember the definition of insanity..? “Doing something over and over again, expecting different results.”
Second, both groups need to carefully assess the target’s receptiveness. Do they know anything at all about who they’re going to approach? If it’s me, then probably they already know that I’m not really receptive to being approached to date or convert, and that I am quite knowledgeable about religion and about social issues in general so I won’t be swayed by the normal things Nice Guys™ and religious folks tend to say. Most people in public are like me–they just want to get on with their day and don’t really care about religion or starting a new relationship.
Many Nice Guys™ and religious folks mistake general politeness for receptiveness and availability. It’s hugely important to approach only when welcome. We need to get away from “approach unless the target is shrieking NOOOOOO! at the top of his/her lungs” and move toward “approach with active and enthusiastic consent.” I’ve seen Nice Guys™ who quite seriously thought that if a woman didn’t close her entire Facebook account to escape their attention, then that meant she was totally fine with them flirting with her. Those assumptions need to end. The whole reason Nice Guys™ even make those assumptions is because it gives them license to continue being boorish assholes. And Christians do the same exact thing in many cases. Sometimes somebody will make very clear when religious discussion is welcome and when it is not, but not always.
Third, both groups need to recognize that their sense of urgency does not constitute an emergency on anybody else’s part. One of the most frustrating things I went through as a Christian was this sense that I was trying to warn people about this awful catastrophe looming over their heads, but they didn’t seem to notice or care about it. I’m sure it made me do all kinds of things that weren’t very respectful or loving in my desperation to make people feel the same urgency and sense of alarm that I felt. It can be hugely frustrating to know something terrible’s about to happen and not to be able to get anybody else to even see it’s coming (helLO Cassandra myth!). The problem here is that I was putting my own sense of urgency above other people’s right and desire to feel comfortable and safe around me. And that’s okay sometimes, obviously–in the case of a threat that can be objectively verified to be factual, like if a train is coming down a track right toward someone standing in the way who is talking on a cell phone and not seeing it. In the case of a threat that cannot be objectively verified, like Hell or some unspecified divine wrath like a meteor hitting the Earth because gay people can get married now or pretty much anything that Christians fear, then that threat must be expressed in a way that doesn’t threaten or offend people if the Christian wants them to see it too.
This one’s going to be really hard for overbearing toxic Christians to handle, I know; I’m asking them to consider the feelings of other people and to care what they think. At this point, it seems unlikely that any human being in America doesn’t know exactly what Christians fear and hate. It’s really not necessary to warn anybody about Hell (and don’t think the rest of us don’t notice anyway that Christians tend to stress their god’s love, but their main proselytizing tool appears to be threatening people).
Fourth, both groups need to desire actual dialogue. Preaching, by definition, isn’t a dialogue. It’s one person screaming at at least one other person. It’s not a conversation. And indeed, I get the distinct impression that neither group is really interested in what their targets have to say. If I approach someone, then I have to accept that that person might not want to talk to me. Or that person might have a different opinion than I do. Or that person might even have a better opinion than I do, or access to facts that I don’t know yet. A dialogue is an open-ended event. It can’t be scripted ahead of time.
It may well be that Christians don’t actually care about dialogue. When someone thinks he or she is totally right already, then nothing different anybody has to say really matters. But just as I’ve perceived from the Nice Guys™ who sometimes still approach me, these Christians don’t want to actually talk with me but at me; they want to tell me something, and they want me to believe it along with them. They’re not really interested in hearing anything else.
Fifth, Christians and Nice Guys™ both need to have an idea of what they’re trying to accomplish, take responsibility for how they’re being received, and exhibit traits that will help them reach that goal. We’re so used to seeing Christians act like total hypocrites while “soulwinning” that it’s gone well past a shopworn joke by now. Christians act like they haven’t got the faintest idea how people perceive them, which gives them license to keep abusing people in the name of their religion. And not only do they not understand the facts behind their religion, they don’t understand what they’re actually doing when they witness to people.
There are really only two methods of witnessing that I’ve ever seen toxic Christians do: either they’ll judge and threaten people, a tactic which obviously backfires against someone with sense and morality, or else they’ll go the “logical Christian” route to make Christianity sound objectively true, or both–as someone did to me earlier this week by trying to make Hell sound like an objectively verifiable threat. They think they’re arguing the “proof” of their religion or the “facts” as their made-up junk archaeology and pseudo-history revisionism have them. They offer up the evidence of “miracles” and all these fake “facts” and get totally offended when their target doesn’t play along by accepting any of it as easily as the Christian did. As far as they’re concerned, the second they demonstrate that some aspect of the Bible really is infallible, then their target needs to convert. When that doesn’t happen, they get to wallow in self-pity and issue angry recriminations against their target for not swallowing the same guff they did.
If someone really doesn’t like their presentation, though, then that’s not their problem; Jesus will save them despite the hypocrisy of the Christian presenting the “good news” to them. This may be a total news flash to Christians, but their personalities are a huge part of their witness. What they do is at least as important as what they say, just like it is with everybody. And that’s not an ad hominem argument, either. Because Christians don’t have actual facts to present or ideas that can be objectively demonstrated, their whole argument is about persuading others to adopt their philosophy and worldview on the basis of subjective reasons. If that philosophy and worldview, properly understood and practiced, produce a toxic Christian, then it’s simply not going to be compelling to anybody except the type of person who finds toxic Christianity attractive.
The other day I was reading this post over at Godless in Dixie about a debate between a Christian and an atheist in which the Christian not only didn’t offer up any persuasive arguments for his beliefs but was also a stone-cold asshole to both his debate opponent and everybody else at the event. After a scathing criticism of the Christian’s attitude and behavior, GodlessInDixie writes:
At one point between recordings I asked [the Christian] if anyone ever “gets saved” through his apologetic method. He quickly dismissed the question and assured me that wasn’t his problem. “It’s not my job to persuade,” he asserted. “That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, I believe him that he does not take any personal responsibility for the ineffectiveness of his methods.
That really struck me when I read it, and that bit in large part is why I’m writing what I am today. Not only did this Christian not persuade anybody at this debate, but he actively repelled quite a few people further from his belief system. Now, he doesn’t mind that, as beyond-bizarre as that sounds to anybody with a functioning moral compass (it looks like the guy’s a Calvinist, and those guys are so far past heartless I think we should just check them all for pulses and reflections because they might actually be vampires and not human anymore). But he genuinely thinks that his god will do all his work for him and that he doesn’t have even the slightest responsibility to act or present himself in any way that will help people warm to what he’s saying.
You know what’s surprising though? How similar I thought this Christian sounds to a Nice Guy™. I’ve talked to plenty of those folks–who believe with all their hearts that if they have good intentions and are “nice,” that women should look past all their glaring personality flaws and dispense sex and attention to them upon demand. If anybody rejects them, then obviously that person is just shallow and vain and doesn’t recognize a good catch when it’s presented. The person who rejects the message gets vilified, and the Christian giving the message gets to feel smug and superior–everybody wins!
Last and most importantly, both groups need to understand that their personal feelings don’t really matter to the people they are approaching and that their feelings and intentions don’t excuse poor behavior. And before you say anything, here’s what I mean: no emotion a Christian or Nice Guy™ feels overrides that person’s basic responsibility to treat other people with decency and respect. I don’t personally give two slaps what a Christian feels toward me if that Christian is marginalizing me or threatening me with made-up ideas about Hell. I know that Christians constantly threaten and strong-arm people and then piously exclaim that this abuse is happening out of “love,” but all it shows me is that they have no idea what love actually is–and I sure won’t ever consider going near a group that peels all the love out of its people. I know they are sincere in their boorishness, but that doesn’t excuse that they are in fact being boorish. In the same way, quite a few Nice Guys™ think that if they can just come up with the right grand gesture to make their crushes realize the depth and sincerity of their “love,” that this sincerity alone is all they need to win the heart of that crush. And in the meanwhile they use their feelings of hopelessness and frustration to justify treating their crush with anger and dishonesty, especially if/when the crush finally directly rejects them.
Worse, though, because Christians hold these very sincere beliefs, they think that their beliefs trump everybody else’s and that they are superior to non-Christians. I realize that they are very sincere, but that doesn’t make them right. Lots of people are sincere about ideas that are hugely erroneous. If I get the sense that a Christian feels smugly superior to me, then I’m going to check out. I’ve learned over the years that a Christian who just barks “You’re wrong!” at me over and over again is a part of that religion only because it makes him or her feel superior to outsiders. Such a person isn’t interested in talking to me, only in either strong-arming me into the religion or trying to get a spiritual high that can’t be gotten without a good religious fight (and yes, I do enjoy a good sparring match sometimes with these smug Christians, but I try very hard to play nicely with the good folks–like the other day when I sincerely apologized to a sane Christian for offhandedly referring to his god as “the invisible Sky Daddy”–though he wasn’t offended, if someone’s giving me nothing but kindness and courtesy, it’s important to me to shine it back and I felt bad that I’d failed at my ideal).
Here’s what actually does matter: If the person approached actually wants to have a conversation and if that conversation is respectful on both sides. But that won’t sell evangelism books to Christians, will it? Teaching Christians to actually be loving and kind to people is a lot harder than teaching them to strong-arm and threaten people. And having a dialogue implies that the Christian will be receiving back as well as giving to the other person–which is also not going to play really well with the fundagelical tribe, which believes that it has everything already and doesn’t need or want anything back from the people it is abusing. It’s just so sickeningly arrogant a way to go through life.
You already know that I don’t think most Christians have the faintest idea what love actually is, and nowhere do we see that blindness of theirs than we do when they try to evangelize. Any overreach can be excused in the name of this awful fake “love.” And I’m glad that in my country at least we are less and less willing to indulge Christians by excusing their abuse any time they whine that it’s done out of “love.” The deeds matter more than the words or the feelings that may spark those deeds. I’ve got no desire to psychoanalyze someone to see if he or she committed abuse out of “love” or just garden-variety nastiness. I don’t need to, and I refuse to allow Christians to imply that their emotions in some way excuse their overreach. That’s just privilege speaking there, just a demand that I let them keep abusing me and ignoring my protests, and it is no longer acceptable.
So there you have it, how I can be approached: with consideration of both the social situation we’re in and the cues I give off about my receptiveness to a religious conversation, with respect and courtesy shown to my own religious opinions, and a clear understanding of my boundaries. And most importantly, if a Christian wants me to even halfway consider his or her ideas, then that Christian needs to be willing in turn to consider my ideas. If that willingness to listen to me isn’t there, if those considerations and courtesies aren’t there, then it may be better for that Christian to leave me alone–because nothing good is going to come out of that encounter.
I’m talking about a singular overhaul of the entire paradigm that Christians use to engage with outsiders–a dismantling of their entire conceptualization of their relationship with non-Christians. I’m talking about them walking away from the privilege that their religion’s granted them over the years. I’m talking about them treating outsiders like equals rather than as parents might treat recalcitrant, screaming toddlers covered in spaghetti sauce–about them listening and considering what was said even if it’s vastly uncomfortable, even if it’s sharply critical to their religion, even if it makes their own views look ridiculous, backward, and filled with errors. I’m talking about treating people with respect instead of looking at them like spiritual drug addicts who need to be fixed and repaired with their odious brand of misunderstood and misapplied “tough love.” I’m talking about taking off the blinkers and really engaging with people on a level that anybody of any religion could appreciate.
I’m talking about a real conversation here, and I like real conversations. There really aren’t a lot of venues where real conversations happen between believers and non-believers, between Christians and non-Christians, and it’s not non-Christians’ fault that this is so; it’s simply mind-blowing when one even encounters a Christian who’s actually willing to listen as well as talk and who treats a non-Christian with respect and love. Though there are times when the last thing I ever want to hear again is a Christian talking to me about his or her religion, I recognize that dialogue is the only way we’re going to heal the rifts religious discord has caused in our society. And I’ve got to be really honest here: Christians as a group are going to need to be the ones to start listening for that to happen. It’s not like the rest of us aren’t talking, after all. It’s that Christians don’t want to hear what we have to say because what we’re saying doesn’t fit in with their apologetics rah-rah or support their goal of cultural dominance.
As with so many other things about what Christianity does wrong, either Christians fix these problems, in which case humanity wins a good neighbor, or else their religion dies all the faster, in which case humanity loses an awful neighbor. Either way, humanity wins here. It’s their move, and the clock is ticking.
Know what else doesn’t fit toxic Christians’ goal of domination? People who don’t conform to their ideas of sexuality and gender identity. I’m going to be talking next about the next great civil rights abuse of Christianity: the war on transgender people. Now that they’ve definitively lost the war on gay rights and equal marriage, Christians are starting to go on the offensive about transgender people. And it is not okay. We’re going to talk a little about why they’re so upset about the idea and how they’re starting to assault the dignity of transgender folks next. As always, you are welcome to join me–see you next time.