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Hi and welcome back! Last time, we talked about the Christians who act all mystified about how their claims could possibly lack credible support. In the end, it came down to them not understanding what claims actually are, much less how to identify one and then adequately support it. Today, I’ll show you why that culturally-ingrained inability has led to the failure of their most important claims of all. 

handbell choir
A US Coast Guard handbell choir performing in 2012. Go Coasties!

The Religious Marketplace.

Let me get this out of the way first:

No religion makes true claims about the supernatural. Period, point blank. None of ’em.

Name a supernatural claim, then go see for yourself that no real-world, objective, credible evidence supports it.

Magical healings don’t actually happen, nor resurrections. Prophecies either get too specific and fail, or are too vague to test. Speaking in tongues is simply babbling. Prayer works about as well as the spells listed in Teen Witch, which is to say that they categorically don’t produce any effects in the real world. Nobody’s ever even found evidence supporting the notion of any kind of meaningful afterlife, much less of non-corporeal sentient entities like demons and gods.

Every religion making these sorts of claims fails similarly to support any of them. But it’s Christianity that’s in a nose-dive in both membership and credibility, not those others. In fact, some of those non-Christian faiths have been experiencing excellent growth instead–despite making similarly totally-unsupported supernatural claims. (See endnote for sources.)

Scorching Away the Split Ends.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Cor 13:1)

I know it makes Christians absolutely bristle to see their group put up on the same shelf as any other kind of group. I’m not trying to offend. I’m making a point. Stay with me!

Let’s try something. Let’s consider Christianity without all the supernatural claims.

Remove all that supernatural blathering. Imagine a Christianity devoid of wild-eyed testimonies, ZOMG MEERKULS, or SPEERCHUL WARFARE. No dense-as-rocks demons or idiotic angels. And no gods. You know, sort of like the Jefferson Bible.

What remains behind is a base of lifestyle, group dynamics, and emotional affect.

And those are the most important parts of the religion–not all that supernatural oogly-boogly stuff. The supernatural stuff is really just words laid atop that base.

In fact, that base forms the most important element of all social groups.

The Biggest Lie.

There’s an incredibly weird thing Christians do that baffled me even when I actually was a firm, faithful, fervent, absolutely devoted Christian.

They claim, with a perfectly straight face, that even if they found out tomorrow that some big element of Christianity was false, they’d totally still affiliate with Christianity and live a “Christian lifestyle.” Preachers often claimed this knowing that it’d always spark tons of hoots and hollers and approving shouts.

Christians still make this claim.

  • “. . . even with oblivion or hell at the end of life- I’d still be a Christian- a follower of Jesus.” — Biker John
  • “[Jesus’] teachings alone are enough to warrant following.” — a Redditor, along with plenty of his pals
  • “Even if God wasn’t real, I would still be a Christian because my life is so much better off for having believed in Him.” — Julia Waterbury
  • “[A] professor posed a question that I will never forget: ‘If somehow today you became aware of evidence that disproved Christianity altogether, would you still be a Christian?'” — Kris Dolberry, who never answers that question and in fact uses the anecdote to make a completely unrelated point

I think Christians don’t like thinking that their own sheer terror of Hell drove them to accept a load of codswallop at triple price. Christianity is incredibly restrictive, and it gets more and more so the further one swims toward the deep right-wing end of the pool. There’s literally no reason for any sensible person to contemplate the adoption of such a soul-crushing, humanity-negating, cruelty-breeding ideology–except for fear and greed, which coincidentally represent right-wing Christians’ two main marketing points these days.

Christians obscure that truth as much as they can. Being driven by terror undercuts their simultaneous claims of having been convinced of Christianity’s validity through evidence, or better yet through being thunderstruck by Jesus’ love. Part of their testimonies then takes us through their wondrous experiences in Christianity–which largely center around that base I talked about.

Those testimonies would, if they were true, interest anybody and everybody, even die-hard skeptics–but not because of the many miracle claims that get made in them.

The Important Questions.

If we read between the lines of Christian marketing, we can see what I call earthly claims. These claims could come from–and by fulfilled by–any group of any ideology. None of them hinge upon anything imaginary or supernatural. They’re all a product of functional social systems and a well-functioning way of viewing the world and our relationships within it.

In Christianity’s terms, here’s what those earthly claims look like:

  • Superior social rules, values, virtues, and a moral code resulting in a happier, more harmonious life, better relationships, safer communities, and greater health for those following them than anybody outside the group could achieve;
  • A group (and a group identity) worth its resource cost to join, far and above what any other group could offer;
  • Feelings of happiness, joy, contentedness, peace, etc., that categorically do not exist outside the religion and which overshadow people who join up.

Christians want us to believe that these qualities make Christianity worth sticking with. Not the Hell stuff. This. Not unilateral power awarded to anybody fitting a particular demographic description. This.

And if those claims were actually true, I bet quite a few people would want to do the same.

If Those Claims Were True.

What a different group Christians would be, if those earthly claims were true. Just imagine what that’d be like!

Just take evangelicals’ marriage rules (please). If those rules worked in the least, the whole world would be astonished. We would have no idea how evangelical couples managed to stay together under a system designed for unfairness, objectification, and casual cruelty. But the evidence would be right there before us: long-lasting, happy, harmonious marriages. Even if we had no idea how it worked, we’d have to concede that it did, in fact, work. (See endnote.)

Think of how Christians present their social rules–as superior rules imbued with divine wisdom. The claim is that literally everybody would do well to follow them, whether they believe in Jesus or not, for the good of all. I’ve even seen progressives like John Pavlovitz describe his take on Christianity’s social rules like that. But when Christians run communities, chaos and predation results.

Consider church congregations. If Christians really did support each other and demonstrate love toward each other like the claim goes, then everybody would want to be part of a church group. We wouldn’t understand how churches managed to be such amazing and wonderful social groups, but we’d still want to be part of communities that tight-knit, safe, respectful, and loving.

Or the feels. Oh, if Christianity could deliver even half of the marketing feels they shill. If Christians experienced markedly less anxiety, anger, depression, personality disorders, eating disorders, mental illnesses, you name it, it’d baffle every single secular therapist in the world–but they would likely still recommend joining the religion to those seeking peace and happiness.

If Christianity’s earthly claims lined up with reality, this religion would not look much at all like it does today. In fact, the more authoritarian the group, the worse the disparity between hype and reality tends to be.

What Matters Most.

If people knew that just down the road was a wonderful group of kindhearted people who had fun together, loved each other, did meaningful stuff together that really mattered, ensured that all members got treated well and were safe there, made philanthropy a central part of their activities, and worked to make the whole world a better place, chances are a lot of folks would want to join even if they didn’t share all of the group’s official beliefs.

Or what if they simply did something that people really enjoyed, some niche hobby perhaps, and weren’t annoying pests otherwise–like, say, a church handbell choir that welcomes atheist members?

Some churches do manage to create groups like that. It’s just not anywhere near enough to balance out the ones that are actively stultifying–or downright hostile and drama-riddled.

If Christians aren’t wondering what about their groups might bring people in and keep them around, then they’re only setting themselves further and further behind the 8-ball. The answer to that question ain’t the supernatural. Nobody has “the supernatural.” That’s just another word for imaginary. What Christians actually had was the ability to seriously hurt people who rejected their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game, and they don’t have that ability anymore.

Thanks to that loss, they’re even losing people who actively still believe in that imaginary side of Christianity.

Past the Tipping Point.

Quite a few Christians know this, too! Many concentrate on those three concerns I list above. Often, their recruiters lace and layer those big claims in with supernatural claims. Often, a Christian leads a sales pitch with threats of Hell, then pulls back to talk about those exact three earthly claims. Or they’ll start with sweetness-and-light, lovey-dovey stuff, and then–when that absolutely fails to convince anybody–break out the vicious threats.

Oh, sure, I mean, plenty of evangelicals stick to Hell-and-only-Hell. Authoritarian Christians absolutely hate being salespeople. They’ve never really learned the skills. I think they’re still really hoping their decline will reverse soon so they never need to do any of it. But most Christians seem dimly aware that they need more than simple threats of over-the-top, mind-bending cruelty and evil to persuade others.

The religion as-is simply can’t offer more than that on any kind of consistent basis, is all. And it’s really hard to see them changing anything to live up to their own marketing hype–much less toning it down to better match reality.

So… good news, everybody! Hang in there!

NEXT UP: “The peace that passes understanding” turned out to come after deconversion. So did the “perfect love” that “casts out all fear.” Oops. How could that be? I’ll show you–next time!


Info source: 2015 Pew Religious Landscape Study, p. 159 of the full report–available here as a free PDF. It auto-downloads so I wanted to pin it here to give you a heads-up. The Christian groups listed are almost all either in decline or barely holding steady. By contrast, almost all the non-Christian groups are seeing slight upticks in membership. That trend tallies with everything else I’m seeing. Paganism, Wicca in particular, is skyrocketing in popularity lately. (Back to the post!)

About marriage rules: For a long time, I thought Catholics’ marriage retreats, Marriage Encounter, was secular. YIKES. They sell it that way sometimes, but dang. (Back to the post!)

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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,...