All the substitutes awful people find for human decency

Christians come honestly by their tendency to substitute Christian-ish habits for human decency.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Last time we met up, we talked about this controversy around Chris Pratt. When presented with evidence that he’d said something monumentally thoughtless and potentially insulting to his ex and own young son, Pratt did not once publicly address his behavior. Instead, he went for a jog while blasting Christian music. That activity completely soothed his ego-stung feelings of being hard-done-by. It also entirely sufficed as a means of addressing things — and it placed blame on his critics for daring to speak against a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ like himself. Toxic Christians have a lot of similar methods of easing their consciences and keeping themselves feeling smugly superior to others. In a lot of ways, we could even call their self-soothing methods substitutionary atonement for their real-life behavior. Today, let me show you what I mean.

(Thuong Do.) Christ on a stick: visual representation. Lookin’ ripped, Jesus dude! Credit: Thuong Do / Unsplash

(Toxic Christians are authoritarian people focused on gaining power. They’ve chosen Christianity as the easiest way to accomplish their goal. As they pursue power, toxic Christians spread clouds of misery everywhere they go. Somehow, they think that Jesus extra-approves of them and wants them to have ultimate power over everyone else. Also, my wordplay here with substitutionary atonement is tongue-in-cheek. Yes, I do know it’s not exactly like the explanation for the Crucifixion. I hate that I must overtly state that, but I reckon this is the world we live in now.

(Also, RIP Lowtax. We raise our mangosteen juiceboxes to you today.)

What Substitutionary Atonement Actually Is.

In Christian lingo, substitutionary atonement explains why Jesus died. Christians evolve new explanations every few centuries. This is not the first such explanation. It will also not be the last, though many Christians now believe it has always been the real explanation, and will always be so. Most of them don’t even know what previous explanations were, let alone why Christians of their day thought that their particular explanation was the real one and would always be so.

Other explanations, according to La Wiki, are: governmental theory; ransom theory; recapitulation theory; reconciliation theory; satisfaction theory; penal substitution theory; and moral influence theory.

Interestingly, Christians call these notions “theories.” However, none of them function like real scientific theories. They are not based on observations and measurements, cannot be tested or falsified at all, and possess absolutely no predictive power. Their creators literally pull them directly out of their rumps. If a Christian encountering this pseudotheory thinks it sounds good, then it gains an adherent.

Also, you might notice that a lot of these pseudotheories are really just shades of nuance of each other. (That’s how theological squabbles work too.)

At any rate, modern Christians usually subscribe to substitutionary atonement. In this pseudotheory, Jesus paid the price for everyone else. In his death, he himself satisfied his own bloodlust. Though innocent of any offense against his own rarified divine sensibilities, he took his own divine rage out on himself. He substituted himself for humanity.

Humans themselves could never, ever actually pay that price. We are entirely incapable of fully satisfying this god’s bloodlust. So Jesus paid himself using himself for us. He substituted himself for all of us. Thus, he offered a sufficient atonement to himself. He himself paid for all the offenses humans apparently committed against him.

Hooray Team Jesus!

And Toxic Christians Need Those Substitutes.

It’ll never stop being interesting to me, all these ways toxic Christians have to create an image of themselves as good people when they absolutely aren’t.

So yes, I’ve seen — with my own two big blue eyes — little old grandmothers sing about how wonderful it is to love Jesus before they go out and destroy waitstaff with mean behavior, then stiff them on tips. I’ve witnessed Christians preen and mince around like the sweetest, most loving people on Earth, then go out and act like the worst racist caricatures you’ve ever imagined and then dismissed as pathetic strawmanning. Often when I was Christian, I watched people I’d identified and verified as stone-cold liars lying nonstop at the pulpit about their testimonies (like Biff did), presenting themselves as pious and good people whose inclinations were magically changed by Jesus.

(And those marriage experts telling us How to Marriage the Jesus Way? Telling us a couple could not survive without TRUE CHRISTIANITY™? In reality, they were absolutely miserable.)

Toxic Christians suffer from no cognitive dissonance. Their fantasies rarely crash up against reality. At most, they’ll waft their palms heavenward when confronted about their hypocrisy, give a little Jesus Grimace with their eyebrows knitted together ruefully, and warble piously about how they’re jus’ sinners like e’er’one else.

In truth, Jesus hasn’t changed them. Not one bit. However, they still appoint themselves the Designated Adults for the rest of us. In their own minds, Jesus made them the moral arbiters of all humanity.

The Substitutionary Atonement TRUE CHRISTIANS™ Enjoy in Real Life.

Terrible people only rarely actually want to become decent human beings. That fact definitely includes toxic Christians.

For one, toxic Christians find it difficult to unlearn a lifetime of lessons in authoritarianism. Those lessons contain an uncountable number of behavior patterns. Every pattern requires conscious effort to untangle and reject, then unlearn.

For another and more importantly, though, they don’t want to stop being toxic Christians. They want power. Toxic Christianity offers them the easiest, fastest way to get that power. But they still want to feel like the bestest, most goodest people ever. They’re the good guys here, in their minds, not the baddies.

And wouldja lookitthat! Toxic Christianity also offers them plenty of ways to feel like good people despite not being good at all.

Indeed, toxic Christians have evolved their own kind of substitutionary atonement. This time, they substitute tribe-approved spiritual-feeling behaviors for human decency. These substitute actions provide them the atonement they need for being, in fact, awful.

And once they use those substitutes, they can feel like downright wonderful people again! 

Hooray Team Jesus!

Tribe-Endorsed Substitutes for Basic Human Decency.

Chris Pratt did not address his behavior. He did not need to. His tribe never expected him even to try. Instead, he responded by referencing his use of their approved substitutes for human decency.

And he claims those substitutes worked. Now, he can feel like a wonderful person who is vastly misunderstood. He’s viciously, unfairly maligned by the meaniepies outside his tribe! His tribe definitely believes the same thing.

Tons of these substitutes exist in Christianity. In 2009, a Christian wrote about them:

The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. “Christianity” has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed “spiritual” substitute. [. . .]

The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. [Source]

Nothing has changed. It’s likely only intensified. After all, the college teenybopper evangelicals Richard Beck counseled in 2009 are now moving into low-level evangelical leadership positions in churches and Christian organizations across the world.

It’s extremely unlikely any of them realized that it’s better to really be a decent human being than it is to use the tribe’s approved substitutes for human decency.

The Substitutionary Atonement That’s Losing Power.

It’s still common for a toxic Christian to point to their substitute behaviors when their human decency is challenged.

  • An alleged murderer on trial whose lawyers offered up character witnesses attesting to the defendant’s religious posturing. [Source]
  • An actual murderer who states his certainty that Jesus totally adores him and has some big plans for him outside of prison, which necessitates him finding some loophole to get himself out of serving numerous life sentences with no parole. [Chris Watts, discussed here in a previous post]
  • Republican politicians who tout their strong religious beliefs, but get caught on video canoodling with women who are not their wives. [Like Vance McAllister in 2014]
  • A pastor’s wife who was “sweet and charming to your face,” but a backbiting gossip “the moment you were not within earshot.” [Source.]

But it seems to me that these days, people outside of toxic Christian tribes accept their posturing less and less often.

That’s why we don’t see many “family values” politicians anymore. Too many of them kept getting caught with their dicks inside unapproved people. And too many of ’em pushed for policies that very distinctly hurt families. As a result, Slate declared the entire movement “dead” in 2018.

Similarly, Gallup is finding that Americans’ trust of clergypeople drops more every year. Who’s surprised? (Must be the pandemic causing it, Lifeway decided.)

Sidebar: Substitute Evidence.

I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention this. Toxic Christians also possess a lot of stuff they think is evidence for their claims.

It is not. At all. But the body of it forms an acceptable substitute to them. On a discussion I found here on Religion News today, I found this exchange:

Donovan Moore: About time people stop believing stuff just because somebody wrote in a book. We want EVIDENCE. Of course there never has been nor there ever be evidence for “God”.

RedPopsicle: Nothing wrong with wanting evidence. The big question, as always, is what will you choose to do when some evidence is offered to you?

Virgin Bertha: If there was really evidence, then I would believe. I miss god.

RedPopsicle: Please understand the seriousness of what you just wrote. [. . .]

Doncha love that counterattack? RedPopsicle thinks he’s got tons and tons of (shyeeah) evidence, but The Big Problem Here is that meaniepie non-believers won’t accept it cuz they just don’t WANNA believe. Then, he gets to act all self-important and oogly-boogly at someone who says she’d welcome real evidence. What a SPEERCHUL WARRYOR!

This Christian’s hilarious delusions are quite common. The tribe’s party line by now is that meaniepies actively refuse to accept their evidence. In truth, what they offer are poor substitutes for evidence. They offer bad arguments, alternative facts, emotional manipulation, and more.

But there’s just so much of it that they are sure it must all add up to true claims.

It doesn’t.

Accept No Substitutes.

It must super-suck for toxic Christians that they can’t convince normies that they’re good people when they’re not. Their solutions center around figuring out how to present their tribe as virtuous anyway, using language tricks and hardcore emotional manipulation. Seriously. Check out how DARVO works, then come back to this quote from a 2019 Rolling Stone article about Trumpist evangelicals:

“Liberals are being the bullies here,” the Heritage Foundation’s [Ryan] Anderson told [Donald Trump] at one point. “If there is a culture war in the United States, conservatives aren’t the aggressors, liberals are waging a culture war. They are trying to impose their liberal values.” Trump assured the group that, in his presidency, liberal oppression would end.

I mean, this blahblah worked on Donald Trump. He’s a simpleton, sure, but he fluently speaks the language of power. You can almost taste Ryan Anderson’s frustration that actual decent human beings don’t buy his bad arguments.

Of course, Jesus explicitly commanded Ryan Anderson to take his L without a word of argument every time. But that doesn’t matter. Power does. Winning does. Obedience to Jesus would conflict with both those goals.

Toxic Christians have found a new substitutionary atonement, one that suits them far better than anything Jesus did. This one lets them grab for power at others’ expense, cause harm to others, and trample even children on their headlong rush to rulership.

The only thing standing in their way are actual decent human beings.

Accept no substitutes for decency. Allow no doublespeak to excuse wrongdoing. Provide no out for wrongdoers in the form of religious posturing.

And watch toxic Christians continue to decline in numbers and cultural power as they go down with their terrible ship. They’d have it no other way.

NEXT UP: A new longitudinal study has opened up a world of data to religious researchers. We’ll check it out next time — and see how evangelicals are interpreting its data. (BTW: We’ve talked about that writer before!) See you soon!

Please Support What I Do!

Come join us on FacebookTumblr, and Twitter! (Also Instagram, where I mostly post cat pictures, and Pinterest, where I sometimes post vintage recipes from my mom’s old recipe box.)

Also please check out our Graceful Atheist podcast interview

If you like what you see, I gratefully welcome your support. Please consider becoming one of my monthly patrons via Patreon with Roll to Disbelieve for as little as $1/month! My PayPal is (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips.

You can also support this blog at no extra cost to yourself by beginning your Amazon shopping trips with my affiliate link — and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media!

This blog exists because of readers’ support, and I appreciate every single bit of it.

Avatar photo

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,...