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It’s not uncommon, when hanging out in spaces where Christians and non-Christians mingle, to have a Christian charge into the discussion with a comment or post declaring that none of us have ever seen his or her type of Christianity before because it is TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, and once we see that kind of Christianity then we’ll instantly forget about all of our objections to the religion and its claims and want to convert. Sometimes this person will even claim to totally understand why we didn’t like the kind of Christianity we left (because it’s a given that all of us only learned about or joined one kind, am I right?) because it was a fake Christianity. His/her Christianity is the TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ and it will definitely fix all of our problems.

And then that Christian gets downright indignant when we laugh him/her off the stage.

Ever wonder what’s going on there?

Today we’re going to look at Christianity as a social system to see why people might be unable to get the results from following it that its adherents promise they should get.

Well, something went horribly wrong here. (Credit: KOMUnews, CC license.)
Well, something went horribly wrong here. (Credit: KOMUnews, CC license.) I blame Bigfoot.

A Crucial Disconnect: “The System Always Works.”

When someone fails to achieve a goal by using a given system, either the system itself is the problem, meaning that it does not do what it promises it can do, or else the person who failed is the problem, meaning that the person didn’t correctly or completely follow the system.

Most of us would concede that a given system or thing can’t possibly be perfect for everyone. Not all of us want to go the rest of our lives eating the Mediterranean diet, right? But Christians believe that Christianity works for absolutely everyone because it is perfect for all humans (despite their Savior flat-out stating that his religion wasn’t for everyone and that his teachings were actually intentionally designed to sound confusing so he could lose all those uncool kids he didn’t want saved) because it is the only “true” religion out of all the religions.

The system, as they have defined it, is absolutely perfect, and anybody who even tries halfway decently should manage to succeed in it. By “succeed,” I mean of course to remain believing in it and to be able to live up to its various demands. Anybody who truly wants to stay believing should be able to, as should anybody who sincerely wants to live a “godly” life.

Little wonder they can hardly believe the sight of others stepping out of line with that idea and saying that no, actually, the system failed dramatically for them. And even less wonder that their first inclination is to figure out what we did wrong and help us fix it–whether we asked for their help fixing anything or not, and whether or not we think anything’s broken!

Some systems really do work. The scientific method, for all that toxic Christians malign it (because it doesn’t support their supernatural claims, natch), hasn’t ever shown itself to be an unreliable method of figuring out what’s objectively true and what isn’t. When people peddling pseudoscience fail to support their ideas using the scientific method, they’re usually the first to bleat that the scientific method is the problem here, not their ideas, and yet here we are at 2016 and nobody’s yet managed to turn lead into gold or credibly demonstrate having any psychic powers.

In the same way, calories in/calories out, or CICO, is the one proven method there is of losing weight, despite a rather startling amount of pseudoscience circulating about magic cures and failures to follow it. Eating fewer calories than one expends works, and yet whenever we conclusively test people who claim to have put CICO to the test only to see it fail as a system, we discover they weren’t doing it correctly.

So I’m not saying here that anybody who says their system is effective and based on the truth is wrong or lying. I’m saying that we have to carefully evaluate these claims before putting our trust in a diet that promises us that we can eat chocolate all day long and lose weight or being fooled by a psychic who claims that for a reasonable fee he can put us in touch with our dead Aunt Mildred.

For a system that we know works, follow-through is often the culprit when someone fails at it. CICO itself is pretty damned simple, but it requires a basic grounding in math and the willingness to accurately record and count everything someone eats. For some people, putting CICO into motion through a low-carb diet, like I did, will make it easier to restrict calories without feeling the need to record everything or worry about numbers. But CICO itself remains the principle that led to me losing 75 pounds, not the magic of eating fewer carbohydrates.

The Cruel Dilemma.

One of the biggest problems toxic Christians have is thinking that their system is perfect and based on truth when it isn’t, and therefore treating everybody who leaves or rejects their religion as having failed on follow-through.

We just didn’t try hard enough (like they do), or want it enough (like they do), or consciously choose to believe (like they did), or get indoctrinated the right way (like they did), or find the right church (like theirs!), or hang out with the right people (and they can introduce us). We did something wrong, and by golly they are going to find out what so they can fix it so we can go to Heaven along with them.

Sometimes I think that a big part of their attempts to “fix” us are really attempts to convince themselves that their system really is as perfect as they need it to be. Their diagnoses of why we “failed” at their system often bear no resemblance whatsoever to whatever prompted us to begin our search for truth. Their solutions are generally tips on how to emotionally manipulate ourselves back into line by doing more of the stuff that failed to keep us thus manipulated in the first place. It’s like they’re not even listening to us, if they asked us about why we rejected their religion at all in the first place before starting their attempt to cold read us.

When we tell them we did that. And that. And that. And whoa, buttloads of that, and tons of this other thing, and knocked ourselves out on that, and the other… We’re asserting that their idolized system did, in fact, categorically fail people who desperately tried and desperately wanted it.

At that point they’ve only got two options.

They can believe us, or they can believe their indoctrination.

They can believe that we are telling them the stone-cold truth of our experiences, or they can decide that we are either lying or mistaken and fall back into their “perfect” system’s talking points. We cannot both be correct. If we’re right, then the system is not perfect. If they’re right, then we’re either wrong or dishonestly representing our experiences. The one categorically contradicts the other and excludes it.

Little wonder that Christians tend to react so negatively to this situation! Who’re they going to believe, their Bible and a lifetime of indoctrination, or their own lying eyes?

What a cruel dilemma to put Christians into! But the religion does this constantly. It sets up these collisions between the truth and their indoctrination, knowing that believers will slam against the wall of truth and have to make a dreadful decision about which to believe. And some of them will back away from that wall and continue in their indoctrination, and maybe even be proud of having backed away from it and having chosen to deliberately look away from what was painted upon it.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to hear a Christian hear a deconversion story and respond, “I don’t understand why you had this experience, but I accept that you did. It hurts me to hear that you were hurt like that. If you ever want to talk about it, I’m here.” I’m sure some of them do say this, though I’ve never heard it. The ones who bluster and thunder at us, however, are not among that number. They can’t do it. It’s completely outside the scope of their system to even examine the system itself.

For a religion that hates idolatry as much as Christianity is supposed to, I don’t see anything they idolize more than their indoctrination.

How to Tell Where the Disconnect Is.

We’ll be talking about this soon, when we start wrapping up this series, but the basic idea is this: when examining which is at fault, the system or the follow-through, we examine the promises and claims of the system to see if they accurately deliver.

Christianity makes a number of promises and claims, but follows through on exactly none of them. The religion itself is not based upon historical or scientific facts (though this is not really a big problem for me, as I’ll also be explaining soon; I’m bothered way more by the fact that toxic Christians insist that their religion is based in objective facts than by the fact that it is not). It does not make its adherents better people than non-believers are, and non-believers are not worse people than its adherents are. Societies that put right-wing ideology into practice tend to be dysfunctional hellholes, especially for marginalized groups and non-believers. Its supernatural claims are 100% non-supported, from the idea of any supernatural realms at all to deities and demons and angels to miracles to prophecies to magic healing to any sort of answered prayers. Children raised in right-wing Christian families often come out of it with horrifying nightmare stories of their experiences, and those who face other forms of victimization are often blamed and punished (!) for their own abuse while their predators are coddled and glorified. The religion’s culture encourages lying, cheating, vandalism, threats, violence, and the expression of hatred toward those who defy its adherents’ demands.

And the more fervent the believer and group, the worse all of the aforementioned flaws are going to be.

Worst of all, even though a lot of Christians would find themselves repulsed by the idea of hurting, insulting, or dehumanizing anyone, they can find it very difficult to speak out against their more extremist brethren. And their extremist brethren capitalize on this atmosphere of fear by viciously, brutally attacking anybody in their own “tribe” who dares to say anything about what they’re doing. Even in the more liberal ends of the religion, Christians either don’t have a clue about what’s going on in the deeper end of the pool or else they know but don’t know what they can do about it.

That is why I consider even these “nicer” flavors of the religion to be a failure–they can’t rein in their extremist brethren, and for the most part aren’t even trying to do so. They’re happy to tell us we just “got Christianity wrong,” but their stated solution appears to be for us to dive back into a pool filled with predators even though we have no assurance whatsoever of protection and safety. (“Trust me,” says the wolf, while licking white fuzz from its lips.)

Flatly stated, there simply is no form of this “diet” that will produce the results Christians promise adherents will achieve.

So when I look at Christianity, I see a failed system. It promises and does not deliver. It has never been conclusively shown to do what it says it can do. Its supernatural ideas have never been credibly supported. Its adherents routinely fail completely to live up to its demands–not because they are weak but because its suggestions for reaching those demands simply don’t work. Trying to use Christianity to become a better person is like trying to make a “harvest cake” out of a terrible recipe. The recipe itself is the problem, not the result you might get. If you actually get a decent-tasting cake out of that recipe, then you did it despite every effort it made to keep you from doing it, not because it was so sublimely perfect.

Contrary to what Christians might say, I do not regard my loss of faith in its claims as a failure in any way. I’m certainly not sad about having “lost” my faith! The system itself is the failure, not my follow-through.

That said, it’s still funny when a Christian charges in to announce that he or she has the magic understanding of Christianity that’ll fix everything. That really should be part of our drinking game, it happens so often.

We’re going to talk next about what happens when predators stalk the fields of a failed system. Something very specific happens when they do, something that we really only consistently see in a failed system. See you Tuesday!

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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