edgar finds his purpose!
Reading Time: 7 minutes "Far Side." Click to embiggen.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Something about yesterday’s topic got me thinking about the Christianese concept of callings. In Christianese, a calling is something Christians think Jesus told them, specifically, to do with their lives. Today, let me show you how strange callings can get — and what happens when Christians must adjust theirs.

too bad jesus' callings aren't this easy eh
(Grosjean Benoit.) Yes, that’s a tuba player suspended in the air. No idea why. I just liked it.

(Fundagelicals are evangelicals fused with fundamentalists. Once, they were two separate tribes — and they hated each other. Now, they’re largely indistinguishable. The term is descriptive rather than pejorative.)

Basically, Callings.

In Christianese, callings are life tasks and roles that Christians think Jesus himself has assigned them. They’re the marching boots on one’s purpose. Callings can be secular or religious in nature, can last a lifetime or just for a season, and can be all-consuming for that time period or something that can happen alongside other tasks (like a paying job or parenthood).

The term calling evokes imagery of Jesus calling out his orders to his loyal followers. I saw one scholarly paper on the topic ascribe this imagery to John Calvin, who perceived both a public calling from churches for ministers and a secret call from his god straight to believers. In fact, Calvin wrote:

There is an external and public call by the Church, and there is that secret call, of which every minister is conscious himself before God. The secret call is the honest testimony of our heart, that we accept the office offered to us, not from ambition or avarice, but from a sincere fear of God. [Source, p. 349]

Nowadays, that “secret call” bit is what fundagelicals usually mean by a calling. Also, it doesn’t just apply to the ministry anymore.

As we migrate over to the right-wing flavors of Christianity, we discover more and more Christians who seriously believe that Jesus personally decided, before time was even time, exactly what Joe Nabob of Indianapolis needs to do with his life. In such circles, callings become important-if-uncomfortable topics of discussion, especially for teenaged or college-aged fundagelicals (as Relevant reveals).

All these fundagelicals need to do is figure out what Jesus wants them to do!

However, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Christians ISO Their Callings.

One of my favorite “Far Side” comic strips has a character finally finding his purpose — under the seat cushions of the sofa, no less. There’s no telling what that doohickey is, but Edgar looks pleased to have found it. He’s found his purpose. Yay!

edgar finds his purpose!
“Far Side.” Click to embiggen.

Alas for Christians, figuring out a calling is much, much harder.

Heck, some of them need help figuring out what a calling even is. 

At least, that’s the impression I get from this Cru post about callings. They begin with the assumption that their fundagelical readers somehow don’t know what callings are. Then, they move smoothly into assuming that their readers might not like whatever calling their god assigns them. For real:

2. You Don’t Want What God Wants for You

It can be a struggle to trust that God is always good and that He wants what’s best for us.

But how do you reconcile your desires with God’s when they aren’t the same?

Interestingly, Cru’s 3rd and 4th items assume that their readers don’t know how to figure out what their callings are. One would expect them to put these two before the one about not liking the calling.

But whatevs, right? We’re in Fundagelical-Land today, where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. When all of this calling stuff hinges on an imaginary friend who doesn’t/can’t really talk to anyone, I reckon fundagelicals can order their instruction guides and advice listicles however they please.

It’s not like anyone can fact-check them with reality anyway.

Discerning Callings.

Speaking of made-up lists of nonsense advice, plenty abounds online for fundagelicals who can’t figure out what their callings might be.

See, fundagelicals get taught that officially, they figure out their callings by praying to Jesus. In theory, Jesus replies to them with their work orders. Ta-da! Tra-la! It’s just that easy, and then they’re off with their orders in hand to change the world forever.

In actual practice, however, it is incredibly difficult to figure out anything Jesus might be saying. When I was fundagelical, every single one of my friends had trouble here. We were members of all sorts of denominations and movements, but none of us was having much luck figuring out our calling.

As yet another sign that Christianity is based upon a whole slew of false claims, absolutely nothing has changed in the 30 years since I deconverted. Christians still have no idea how to tell what their callings are. Nobody has developed any tangible, concrete methods that might help any confused Christians find theirs, either.

Christians today find their callings in the same way that Christians back in my day did: pray, and hope very much for an easy answer.

The First Big Problem With Callings.

First and foremost, Christians have no real way of absolutely knowing who’s answering their prayers. So when they beg their god to share his wishes with them, who even knows who picked up that cosmic prayer phone!

When fundagelicals pray, the thinking goes, they can get answers from three distinct places.

  1. Jesus (the ideal and hoped-for outcome, obviously)
  2. Demons who are just very cleverly impersonating Jesus (they’re quite tricksy that way)
  3. The flesh, meaning Christians are just hearing their own internal voices and mistaking it for Jesus or demons (which is, coincidentally, the actual correct answer 100% of the time)

Obviously, the source of a message matters a lot. If one bases one’s life decisions on the whisperings of some trolling demon, that could mess up Jesus’ entire cosmic plan! We can’t have that!

So in that Relevant link I listed earlier (relink), their writer must actually lay out exactly how to tell if someone’s really getting their calling from Jesus and not some other nefarious source. It’s the same advice I got, way back when, and it’s still in use today.

Still, you’d be surprised how often a supposedly-divine message is later determined to be not-divine-at-all even though it totally fits into the boilerplate list of qualifications that Relevant offers.

Another Big Problem With Callings.

As I discovered myself, one other big problem with callings is that for some weird, wacky, utterly-impossible-to-understand reason, Jesus sometimes gives his followers callings that other followers think aren’t their callings at all.

Like, say, let’s just say you’re a woman in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC got overtaken by fanatical, hardline, extremist Calvinists years ago. As a result, their top leaders really don’t think Jesus likes female pastors. But let’s say you pray really, really, rillyrillyrilly hard with your fluffy pink SBC ladybrainz, and Jesus totally always tells you that he’s called you to be a female pastor. OMG!

(Or say you’re a fundagelical lass who doesn’t want to have children, and thinks Jesus told you that’s fine, your calling doesn’t involve motherhood. Ouch.)

And let’s say you are as positive of this reply as anybody could ever be of any message that can’t be sensed or measured in any tangible way. But your denominational leaders are equally convinced that Jesus told them you’re wrong. That’s not your calling at all. It can’t be.

Who’s right? And who’s wrong? Who has really heard from Jesus, and who from demons or their flesh? The two camps can fling Bible verses at each other all day long, and in this case they have been, and they do, and they will continue to do so.

At the end of the day, though, there’s no objective way for Christians to resolve these differences, since — again — none of the supposed replies can be sensed or measured in any tangible way. 

And the Ultimate Dealbreaker With Callings.

Remember, callings are supposed to be Jesus’ personal orders for his followers. Fundagelicals seek out their callings so they can fulfill their god’s will in the world.

Strangely, it seems like their god has a warped sense of humor, because Christians’ callings seem to backfire most of the time.

Like let’s say their god totally tells some Christian that they’re meant to pastor a church in an upscale Houston suburb, and they go there as a missionary church-planter to reach the poor dear lost souls there. They start their church by celebrating its place in their calling. If the church then fails, what does that mean about their god’s calling? Did their god order them to start a church that was just going to fail? Did he want a failed church to come and go from Friendswood, Texas? Or did this Christian mess up something as important as their calling? (<— This happened to my second pastor.)

These sorts of questions could drive a properly-compartmentalized fundagelical mind blithering bonkernuts. It’s heartbreaking to see a Christian wrestling with such questions.

Or — what if a fundagelical changes their mind about their calling? They used to be so sure they knew what it was, but time has shifted their youthful opinion. How do fundagelicals walk back a shift in calling once they’ve publicly celebrated it as the real-deal Jesus command for them personally?

You don’t hear a lot of open chatter about these failures of the entire callings system. But you can sense them between the lines if you listen long enough. Back when I was a Christian, nobody was sure how to deal with anything like these challenges. I don’t think Christians have any better idea of how to handle them.

There’s a reason for that utter lack of progress.

A Very Coy Godling, Indeed.

If Jesus were actually a real godling who really did stuff in the real world, then sure, it’d be easier than dropped pie for him to clear up all these misconceptions and difficulties his followers are having with their callings. If callings really represented part of his divine plan, and thus he really needed this stuff to be done, one would think he’d set up a much easier-to-navigate system for his followers to use to get their orders.

Alas and alack! No gods are required for fundagelicals’ callings to work exactly as they do today. The system fundagelicals have now for figuring out their callings looks (strangely) exactly like them not having any real gods at all to consult. Instead, it looks exactly like them just trying their hardest to guess what an imaginary being would tell them to do if he could talk to them for real.

Indeed, if I were a space alien looking down at fundagelicals from my sleek Space Princess Ship as they scurry to and fro fretting about their callings and putting callings into practice and worrying that they might actually be wrong about their callings, the last thing I’d ever think was that a real god was involved in any aspect of their religion or culture.

NEXT UP: Speaking of mistakenly thinking Jesus is talking to them, we’ll check out the re-eruption of the fundagelical fight over female pastors (again). See you tomorrow!

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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,...