I’ve written before about Christians I think who are kinda getting that whole “love your neighbor” thing right, and I like hearing about them just like I enjoy hearing about anybody doing good in the world. When I heard about a group calling itself “Quiet Christians,” I was considering adding them to the list–until I read their “About” page and realized that for all their good behavior, they’re doing it for totally the wrong reasons. So today I’m going to talk about why it’s not such a great thing to do good things for bad reasons.
Intentions aren’t magical. Most of us know that. Having a good intention but doing something really bad doesn’t make the bad deed okay. The ends don’t justify the means. Intending to be loving or kind doesn’t excuse someone from the consequences of saying or doing something hateful, which is a lesson many Christians need to learn. Having ulterior motives while doing something good doesn’t make the good deed okay either. I’m sure most of the folks reading this entry have had a romantic partner who was really nice to them when s/he wanted something particular, and that’s not a lot of fun to experience. We speak poorly of being buttered up, and we look with suspicion at the person who habitually only speaks well of people or who only helps people to get something back from it. It feels like we’re being treated like gatekeepers for the thing the other person really wants, like we’re just the obstacle in the way of the goal.
In this way, it doesn’t seem like there’s much most Christians do for other people without it being for ulterior purposes somehow. I’ve known some amazing Christians, let me say right now: people who are generous and kind and don’t expect anything in this world to reward them for it, but who are like that because that is just how they are. My mother was one of them, as is my aunt, and I’ve got other relatives and friends who are Christian and simply amazingly charitable people.
But way too many Christians aren’t like that. Like Amway salespeople, they are always “on,” always selling their religion, always trying to find the angle that’ll get them into people’s heads. I get that evangelicalism itself comes from the word “evangelize,” but it’s just a little ridiculous the lengths that they will go to force people to listen to them–sneaking Christianist speakers and religious indoctrination into public taxpayer-funded schools, letting poor people use their food banks only after listening to sermons, even preaching hellfire at a couple’s wedding I attended once or heading into prisons or hospitals to prey upon the unwary and emotionally vulnerable in the guise of helping them.
They think they’re doing what their Bible tells them to do–that passage in the Bible called the Great Commission is their permission slip, even though reputable scholars know it’s actually a later addition and did not exist in the earliest copies of the Gospels, and plenty of theologians don’t actually think it means what most fundagelicals think it means (imagine that! Fundagelicals getting something wrong about the holy book they idolize? Say it ain’t so!). Some of these Christians may be doing it because they’re just so gosh-darned concerned for us heathens’ souls after death, like I was–it bothered me a lot that people were going to Hell and that fear made me do a lot of really stupid and thoughtless things before I woke up from that nightmare. I could criticize Biff and other Christians I knew who were lying and deceiving people, but officially, at the time, I had to more or less condone their behavior because they were “bringing people to Christ,” as the saying goes; they were harvesting souls for the Lord, and in the face of that big goal, any transgression could be overlooked. Making such Christians behave more honorably and morally might also stem the tide of converts, which obviously was a very bad thing. (We’ll ignore that the people I personally knew who were acting this way didn’t convert that many people anyway, and the ones they did convert didn’t tend to stick. Image is everything–obey your thirst; they were considered massive soulwinners largely because they presented themselves as such.)
But notice the language I’m using here: harvesting souls. Soulwinning. I’m not sure most of the worst offenders really think of people as people, but more as notches in their Bible covers, as numbers they can crow about, as statistics they can manipulate. And it shows in how they treat people. Makes me want to ask, “Sure, I’d go with you to church, but would you still respect me in the evening?”
Also notice the implicit acceptance of wrongdoing and predation in the face of what is perceived to be a greater good–even the condoning and encouragement of it. It’s not just forced-birthers doing it, folks. It’s woven and written into the very fabric of the religion most Christians embrace. What an amazing world it’d be if Christians put their feet down all over the world and said “NO! I will not commit wrongs against my neighbors just to convert them! And I will work to stop other Christians doing the same!”
The way I figure it, any god who’d require his pet ants to sin to help the other ants avoid the cosmic realm he’d created originally is not a being worth worshiping. A religion that condones wrongdoing for any reason is not a good religion. And a Christian who treats people like numbers is not loving his neighbor as himself. The motivation matters, not just the good deeds. A good deed done for a bad reason is just about worse than one not done at all.
Okay. Now we can talk about Quiet Christians.
On the face of it, they seem pretty sane. They’re a group of Christians who think that ostentatious strong-arming and street preaching and the like aren’t very effective and are backfiring. I happen to agree with that, so that’s a good start. Do nice things for people, is their basic thrust. Be helpful. They are against anti-LGBT laws, though I didn’t see anything specific about their stance on women’s rights or any other social-justice questions. Overall though they seem all right.
But then you delve a little deeper and run across stuff like this, from their “About” page:
You should realize that people who have not put in the work [to follow Jesus] don’t deserve it. They don’t belong in Paradise with you or with God. What’s more, God does not want them there!
Quite a statement, but they follow this whopper up with this even weirder one about how to properly convert unbelievers (emphasis theirs):
You must be silent in your faith – strong, so very strong in it, but silent. You must bring them to God in another way, and it is beautifully simple. You make them want to share in the joy of salvation and approach you rather than chasing them. How do you accomplish it?. . . You must make them covet. . . You must make your lives so desirable that your infidel family members, friends, and neighbors will want nothing more than to be a part of what you experience through your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You do this quietly.
So there you have it. All those good deeds are being done so that non-Christians will see these “Quiet Christians” and want what they have. It’s being done to show how wonderful these Christians’ lives are so that “infidels” will “covet” their secret.
I’m going to be totally straight up with y’all. Once I’d read that page, I went hunting through their site to see if this was some kind of weird Poe or a joke or something. But no, they seem quite serious.
So, then, these are the “Nice Guys” of Christianity–always ready to do a favor for the woman they’ve targeted, always there when she needs them, but always doing these good deeds like helping neighbors out of the snow for an ulterior motive and not being honest about what they really want for one moment. And just like “Nice Guys” very quickly devolve into sexist slurs against the women they perceive as uncooperative with their goals, these Quiet Christians think of non-believers as “infidels”–oh, what a loving, loving term!
I find this approach as dishonest as the one my old church advocated, just in a different way. They’re trying to make Christianity sound like something to crave and covet, something doled out only to those who really, really, really want to hear it. They’re attempting to make the religion look like a club that only the Cool Kids get to join, and while that ultimately means they’re not making major pests of themselves by intruding on others, their motivation makes me supremely distrust their behavior. I’m not sure it’s really such a better thing that they’re just as toxic as the intrusive Christians, except with added Vitamin Sneaky.
Plus, ex-Christians will recognize immediately that these folks are trying their hardest to hype a religion and advertise it as desirable even though it’s about as dry, boring, and bloodless a faith as anyone could possibly devise. Anybody who’s ever had to sit through one of those excruciating Christian youth-group demonstrations doing its best to make Christianity sound hip and relevant could easily tell these Quiet Christians that what they’re doing isn’t going to work. (I always felt so mortified on behalf of the performers in these displays of Christian privilege and bubble-dwelling, always so embarrassed for them having to go to such humiliating ends to get young people all stoked and hyper and pumped up about a faith that could not achieve that effect without such efforts.)
But Quiet Christians are persuaded that this exact behavior is how to win converts:
You work hard and prosper financially. You build strong families. You raise good-hearted children. You form powerful ties to your communities. You quietly become what others wish to be; You quietly build the lives others want. You make them want to know your secret. They will come to you and want to know how you do it. Only then shall you share our secret with them. When they thirst for it enough that they approach you begging for a sip you will give them enough to slake that terrible thirst that can only come from yearning for fellowship with God. You must give it to them generously but with an eye toward not overwhelming them. You must let them know that it is hard to make the choice for Jesus, and help them truly make the right one.
This philosophy is just Prosperity Gospel written a slightly different way–it assumes that Christians will prosper financially. It assumes their children will be good-hearted. It assumes they will be powerful in their communities or be successful in building a life that people will desperately want.
That’s all pretty good, for a religion known more for flourishing in poverty-stricken, dysfunctional cultures than functional ones, and for being chosen by those who are poor and vulnerable far more than by those who are well-off and flush with options. Don’t you wonder how a Quiet Christian would accomplish these goals if his or her life is in the crapper? What if that Christian had a terrible life-threatening illness or chronic pain, or a child who got addicted to drugs, or a debilitating run of terrible luck? (I once knew a couple who lost a close family member, their house when rocks fell on it, their car when it threw a rod, and both their jobs–all in one day. Oh, and their son was not exactly a pleasant human being. I can’t remember what religion they were though.)
And it not only condones but explicitly encourages the idea of seeing a religion or god as an ATM that dispenses good lives and wealth and great families, and sees it as perfectly acceptable for converts to come into the fold for the specific purpose of getting that stuff for themselves.
Basically, I’m trying to figure out where they get “… so you can totally convert their butts” as the logical ending to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But then, not much else about this group seems like it’s based on the Bible. I’ve left out the many examples of this failing, largely because I know not all Christians care exactly what the Bible says. You could do a fun drinking game with it though.
So what are these Quiet Christians going to do when their efforts do not pay off in outsiders wanting and craving their “secret”? What are they going to do when nobody seems interested in adopting their religion as a means of being as “blessed” as they are? Are they going to do like Nice Guys do and drop the niceness once it becomes obvious it isn’t getting them what they want? Gripe in forums about how they’d tried being nice, but atheists are just stupid idiots who just like jerks better? Figure out how to become Alpha Christians? Wear stupid feathered hats in public?
Here’s a better idea: do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not because you think it’s going to convert non-believers by the truckload. Most of us non-believers are not stupid or gullible, and have no reason to believe a Christian is sincere just because he or she does that goofy “preacher eyebrows” thing like Ted Cruz always does when he’s trying to make people believe he’s telling the truth for a change. We are not living in the same bubble and are not wearing the same blinkers Christians do. And we absolutely do know when we’re being treated to a Nice Christian routine.
This is the Quiet Christians’ notice of secular-zoning, then, and no, they will not be joining the Grab Bag list any time soon.
Next up, more Christians Behaving Badly, and till next time, remember: good products tend to sell themselves.