Hi and welcome back! This topic is one that’s been on my mind for a while: why Christians have so much trouble obeying the basic demands of their religion. In fact, they frequently talk about how much trouble they have with the practice of their religion. Today, let’s explore why the practice of Christianity is so gosh-darned hard for Christians.
(When I talk about “the practice of Christianity,” I refer to the whole body of demands the religion makes of believers. The term includes regular prayer, church attendance, and Bible study, yes, but also all that boring stuff Jesus commanded them to do: turning the other cheek, not judging anybody, examining their own flaws before worrying about those of others, giving charity till it hurts, comforting the bereaved, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, treating each other well, loving their enemies, going the second mile, never ever returning a blow for a blow, letting others abuse them at will, sacrificing themselves upon command, the whole Love Chapter thing they ignore except on their wedding days, etc etc etc.)
The Practice of Christianity: So Harrrrrrd, Y’all.
On a Christian blog, I ran across this comment from “Kristi” not long ago:
As an individual, I struggle with keeping the mindset that I know Christ wants me to have especially when that guy cuts me off in traffic… Lol. I see well meaning Christians (I’m guilty) say the wrong thing, come across the wrong way. I just try to think before I speak or act. Daily prayer and reading my Bible really help keep me mentally focused. It’s a daily struggle. (Source, #17)
Immediately after making this declaration, Kristi revealed exactly why she continues to struggle to put the tenets of her religion into practice:
I don’t want to win the battle and lose the war. My belief is that ultimately we will either spend eternity worshipping God in heaven or burning in hell. My desire is to just be a witness and leave the rest up to God.
Me being me, and feeling super-helpful, I let her know exactly why her religion was so difficult for her to practice.
However, I didn’t mention that her declaration actually amounted to an anti-witness — a very compelling reason to reject her religion. This was, after all, a Christian space, and these folks clearly don’t ever expect us heathens to wander into it with our reality-based reasoning and all. In her tribe, these admissions are a common and potent virtue signal. Christians rarely understand what they’re admitting when they make them.
On the same blog, we have a comment from “Veni” to consider:
The older I get, the more intense my negative emotions seem to be. I find myself running to my knees more and more asking Jesus to help me want to give up a negative perspective, emotion, intention. It’s tiring.
It’s downright heartbreaking to read. And as with “Kristi,” Veni immediately names Hell a the reason why they struggle so hard to maintain the practice of Christianity:
It’s a giving up of what almost every fiber in me thinks I’m entitled to feel, and releasing it for the prize that is Christ. [that last phrase means going to Heaven — CC] [. . .]
I’m in helping profession too and often people say crazy, foolish, and mean things, and that brings out my contempt for them. I hate that I have to confess that because they are so XYZ, but I do. “But Lord, they are…”. Relinquish it all, V” “But”. “ All, V” Exhausting? Infuriating? But so worth throwing down the rags that are my ungodly attitudes. It’s a constant battle. Being clean before Him is lush.
“Lush” is a weird term to reach for. Whatever it means, success is not enough of a reward for this Christian to defeat whatever’s stopping them from achieving the promised results of their religion.
(And yes, it’s kinda gross that Veni’s in a “helping profession” but frequently feels “contempt” for clients. I bet those clients are well aware of Veni’s opinion.)
Over and Over Again.
Two posts on Baptist News prompted this particular post today.
The first involves a listicle by Russ Dean about the same five sermons he and other pastors keep preaching. It is quite a trip.
He and his wife, the co-pastor of his church, went through a list of all their past sermons for a “greatest hits” series for a church anniversary ten years ago. And they kept finding variations of the same sermon being preached! They hadn’t realized they were recycling ideas this hard. In fact, he says that out of “about 950 sermons” given since 2000, by 2010 he and his wife had preached these five sermons “about 50 times each.” Here they are:
- The Call to Social Justice
- The Power of Community
- The Church as Care for One Another
- Christianity in the 21st Century
- Welcome and Inclusion
Now it’s 2020 and they wanted to do that again, and discovered that yes, they were still preaching these same five messages.
And he still doesn’t understand exactly why he and his wife even need to keep harping on these same messages.
“Conversion Takes A Lot Longer.”
The second post from Baptist News astonished me even more with how blatantly it gave away the whole game regarding the practice of Christianity. This one comes to us from Bill Leonard and is called “Faith can come rather quickly, but conversion takes a lot longer.” In it, he talks about Christians’ utter failure to put their religion’s demands into practice:
Simon Peter denied Jesus three times; the Apostle Paul testified to a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” that even heartfelt prayer could not remove. St. Augustine cohabitated with a female “partner” for 15 years. They had a child together, yet he never bothered to tell us her name. Both Catholic mystic Teresa of Avila (age 67) and her Protestant nemesis John Calvin (age 54) died of 16th century tuberculosis.
Martin Luther died a raving anti-Semite. Baptist founder Thomas Helwys perished in a London prison around 1616. Quaker preacher Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston in 1660 for, well, being a Quaker preacher. Jonathan Edwards, theologian-sinner-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-God, died from a smallpox vaccination shortly after becoming president of Princeton, 1758.
Bill Leonard constantly and obliviously equates Christian leaders’ blatant hypocrisy with terminal illness, but that’s not even his worst offense. He all but demands that his followers accept that hypocrisy as they would someone suffering a terminal illness. I mean gosh, everyone’s “beset by weakness” when you get down to it, according to him. Since it’s impossible to be as perfect as Jesus, there’s no real point in even holding anybody to that standard.
Christians all fail so constantly and so egregiously at their faith’s practice that failure just becomes a background noise to them — easily ignored.
What’s Not Up With This Problem.
Back when I was Christian, we had the standard-issue deflection of sin nature. That’s Christianese for the blot of sin upon every human being’s spirit, inherited from Adam and Eve. Every human being becomes responsible for this mythical couple’s deed that occurred eons before our own birth. Of course, the only way to wipe this blot away is to comply with Christian leaders’ demands.
It’s a terrible and wicked ideology, but it lets Christians get away with a lot of vile deeds so they’ve kept it all these years. Indeed, when I was Christian we punted to this deflection when confronted with literally anything wrong with the world — including our own hypocrisy!
I see on Quora that strategy is still alive and well. Most replies make use of it. Many also note that the accurate practice of Christianity is absolutely impossible for anybody except Jesus himself.
If this practice is in fact impossible, then it’s a really gross demand to make of people. It’s worse than that; it’s meaningless as a demand in the first place. As Bill Leonard demonstrates, the doctrine seems to exist purely to allow Christians to indulge their hypocrisy — and bludgeon their enemies with this imaginary shortcoming.
Worse for Christians, however, is the fact that plenty of heathens manage to practice far more of Christianity’s demands than Christians themselves do. Non-Christians don’t care about Christianity at all, nor do they conduct the mental conversations that Christians imagine they’re having with their god. And yet here heathens are, considerably better as a group than Christians are. In fact, the more fervent and loudmouthed the Christians, you can count on this: the better non-Christians behave than they do.
So sin nature can’t possibly be the explanation we seek. It’s just a punt to mystery, one that has clearly enjoyed popularity as an excuse since well before I ever joined evangelicalism.
The Practice: Wordplay Makes It Okay.
Interestingly, one Quora reply notes Matthew 11:30 (though they garble the exact verse). In it, Jesus tells his followers:
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
And over on the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) site Facts & Trends, we find an examination of that exact verse — used to explain why Christianity’s practice is soooo harrrd! In “Is Christianity Easy or Hard?” their writer, Aaron Wilson, tells us:
Christ’s yoke is easy (Matthew 11:30) while the way is hard (Matthew 7:14)
What this means is Christians carry light burdens on a hard path. Reverse this image and you’ll get the contrasting picture of the world, people who carry heavy burdens on an easy path.
See, Jesus was playing a word game with his followers!
And he dissed non-believers too, just like evangelicals enjoy doing. But the above quote definitely isn’t how I’d describe non-believers as a group compared to Christians.
(It’s just mind-blowing how Christians just make up the version of god that pleases themselves most.)
What That Wordplay Means Regarding Practice.
Aaron Wilson continues thusly:
The burden the world carries is the weight of performance and the shame of guilt. In place of this, the gospel offers the imputed righteousness of Jesus and the removal of guilt.
But while Christians’ spiritual burdens may be easy, their path is difficult. It’s a trail that leads believers into the hard sayings of Jesus such as the command to love one’s enemies (Luke 6:27), forgive others “seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22), and to regularly assume the role of a servant (Matthew 20:26). This difficult path is marked with suffering, persecution, delayed gratification, and a regular dying to self.
The world’s path is much easier. It promises as little suffering as possible, acceptance by many, immediate gratification, and the promotion of self.
But again, he is simply wrong on every level. What he describes as “the world” is actually a perfect description of evangelicals themselves. He projects his own wrongdoing onto his enemies.
Plenty of non-believers manage to do almost everything on Wilson’s list of Christian duties — except, of course, for the stuff that’s very obviously meant to help Christian leaders groom victims for themselves. Meanwhile, it’s Christians — especially evangelicals — who avoid suffering whenever possible, invent persecution where it doesn’t exist, gratify every urge they ever feel, can’t forgive or love their enemies, and refuse to consider others before themselves.
And there’s this, too:
Decent-hearted Christians suffer from enormous amounts of guilt and shame. Much of it revolves around supposed thoughtcrimes they’ve committed or their inability to follow their Dear Leaders’ demands.
I knew those feelings well. It wasn’t until my deconversion that I finally slipped free of those shackles.
A Popular Bait-and-Switch.
Sometimes, trendy hip Christians openly admit that they utilize sales pitches to sell their product (membership in their own respective groups) that simply aren’t true. In a 2014 Relevant post, one writer, Stephen Mattson, lists a few of them and then discusses how actually difficult Christianity is to put into practice. He writes:
Unfortunately, for many Christians, the reality of faith is a shocking letdown compared to the false premises that were guaranteed them by pastors, churches and other believers.
He concludes that The Big Problem Here is how his religion’s salespeople present Christianity. But those hucksters sell Christianity as they do for a very good reason. Honestly presenting this religion and its future demands will only drive away potential recruits — and Christian salespeople know it.
If Christianity’s salespeople go that route, then they will only attract people to their groups who care more about The Church of Sacrifice for Meaning and Belonging, not The Church of Meaning and Belonging, to borrow the phrasing from Divided by Faith yet again. Very few people want to sign up for an arduous journey full of disappointment and constant failures.
I mean some will, of course. That kind of self-flagellation definitely appeals to a small number of people.
But most marks will reject it.
Evangelicals definitely won’t go for it.
They can’t do what this writer suggests and be honest about “our mistakes, doubts, failures, insecurities and pain.” Their entire ideology is based around facades and lies. They would rather lie about what their religion involves and what it accomplishes in their lives than admit it does absolutely nothing for them.
Maybe that’s why one Christian who read that Divided by Faith book said it filled him with “hopelessness” and that he felt it was “profoundly disappointing.” It told the painful truth, and he really did not like what it showed him about himself and his tribe.
And The Reality: Why Christianity’s Practice Is So Hard.
It has nothing to do with sin nature.
Christians have adopted a broken roadmap. It doesn’t take them where it claims. The steps their leaders teach them to take don’t work. Nobody ever adopts Christianity and then, through its practice, becomes a better person.
A big part of the reason why the roadmap doesn’t work is that the steps Christians take to practice it don’t actually relate to the process of self-improvement. Instead, they amount to busy-work: steps that feel like work kinda, that feel like forward motion, but which substitute for real work and real forward motion.
I noticed this when I reviewed The Love Dare a few years ago. This book promised Christians better marriages in return for following its 40 “love dares.” But none of those dares actually related to actual marital improvement. They were all busy-work that substituted for the sometimes painful work needed for an incompatible couple to work out their difficulties and find equilibrium and balance. And Christians often commented back then that its system simply didn’t work for them — and yet the book still sold like gangbusters.
Similarly, Christians get taught a number of steps that substitute for self-improvement. Even if they try really hard to perform those steps, they won’t actually get any closer to real self-improvement. They will still struggle mightily with even the most basic requirements of their religion.
“Jesus” won’t help them improve either. They can think at the ceiling all they want, but it won’t substitute for the painful work of recognizing one’s own shortcomings and working to defeat them.
The Superfluity of Christianity.
That’s why I talk about Christianity as a net negative for people. Where it isn’t completely superfluous, it’s detrimental. It wastes adherents’ limited lifetimes on busy-work, then punishes them for not living up to a set of impossible demands.
But these demands aren’t impossible for people outside their system. Outside their system, people have evolved much better roadmaps. We’ve learned how to defeat our shortcomings using real-world methods. When you follow a roadmap that actually works, the outcomes tend to be a lot better — imagine that! (Here’s one that sounds very promising.)
It’s just that Christianity’s roadmap doesn’t work. Christians have had 2000 years to figure this out, and yet Christians have always been a bunch of filthy hypocrites, poseurs, and control-grabbers.
This record represents no less than a tradition of failure.
Despite this record, Christian leaders still preach the same sermons eternally.
They offer the same encouragements and admonishments.
They even thunder the same exhortations that they did in the religion’s very earliest days.
And yet somehow these leaders’ churches are still filled with 70-year-old lifelong Christians who are still the same vicious, retaliatory, control-hungry, power-obsessed busybodies they were as teens.
The Broken Roadmap.
The first time I ever ran into one of these lifelong Christians (the shockingly-racist mother of my second pastor Gene), it threw Young Fundagelical Cas for a complete loop. But now, I expect it. Of course these endlessly-looped lessons don’t do anything to change these folks for the better. They can’t. Christian leaders might as well teach that daily tooth-brushing will totally bring about world peace — except that tooth-brushing at least confers distinct and tangible benefits on those doing it, while not brushing one’s teeth can have a serious impact on one’s health.
I love this guy’s video titles. “A [person] did/didn’t do [this normal thing]. This is how [pronoun] made the universe explode.”
These elderly hypocrites were like that for the exact same reason that I found it impossible to find peace and contentment through prayer and religious devotions. The practices demanded of Christians do not work to bring about the solutions their leaders promise they will.
But they can’t reach for suggestions that work, because those suggestions erase their monopoly on peace and happiness. They make Christianity itself pointless — where it isn’t actively an obstacle to those goals.
If real solutions do not hinge in any way on Jesus-ing super-hard, then why on earth should anybody join their groups in the first place?
If people can find these solutions outside the sheepfold, then why on earth should they voluntarily become some pastor’s source of mutton and wool?
I bet a lot of Christian leaders are sweating bullets over the current pandemic shutdown because they know that more and more Christians will realize, after absenting themselves from their product, just how pointless it really is.
The Full Circle of Failed Practice.
To bring us around full circle, that’s where the threats of Hell come into play. That’s why these Christians I encountered on that blog commbox immediately raised the spectre of Hell as the reason why they kept bashing their heads against the brick wall of Doesn’t-Workness. If Christians stop using this broken roadmap, their god will punish them eternally for their disobedience.
When all else fails, Christian leaders teach that refusal to comply with their demands will result in eternal physical torture.
But those threats represent a Pyrrhic victory all their own. Someone operating under the terror of Hell can’t make good decisions — or follow any commands that do not seem to be directly related to easing that danger. Using Hell as a goad only exhausts the heart and wearies the mind.
But it’s literally all Christian leaders have now. They can’t point to the success of their system, because no such success exists. Christians themselves might eventually learn that the few anecdotes of success they hear are exaggerations — if not lies.
Imagine being someone making those kinds of claims and yet have nothing but threats and manipulation to sell their product!
The Definition of Insanity.
Christians are, obviously, not the only group using broken roadmaps.
If you find yourself bashing your brains out trying to make something work, it’s entirely possible you’re operating under one yourself.
A good roadmap will let you see gradually building and increasing successes along your journey — not endless failures. It’ll offer you routes to fixing the problems you’re facing, ways to gain constructive feedback that’ll help you, and a community of fellow travelers who’ll be a help rather than a source of mistreatment. Long after adopting it, you should be far past that first point on the trail.
Examine your paradigms. Make sure the roadmap you’re using is one that will bring you success, not endless failures. Don’t be afraid to question your system and to change if it’s needed. Any god worth its salt would want you to pursue whatever roadmap actually works for your needs.
Most of all, I leave you with this:
Change isn’t failure.
Refusal to change can be, though.
NEXT UP: Yet another megachurch pastor loses his job amid a scandal. We’ll examine why it happened.
Please Support What I Do!
Come join us on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, and our forum at rolltodisbelieve.com! (Also Instagram, where I mostly post cat pictures. About 99% of my insta consists of Bother being adorable.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (that’s an underscore in there) for one-time tips. You can also support this blog through my Amazon Affiliate link–and, of course, by liking and sharing my posts on social media! This blog exists because of readers’ support. I appreciate every single bit of it.