following rules forever
Reading Time: 11 minutes (Jo-Anne McArthur.) Strangely, most Christians never actually think through this whole sheep-shepherd analogy. But the ones who have thought it through and are still totally happy with it? They disturb me the most.
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Recently, we talked about why evangelical leaders try so incredibly hard to control their flocks’ sex lives. I suppose that question’s academic anyway, though. After all, precious few evangelicals actually follow those rules. To be fair, they struggle hard with all of their religion’s rules, but their sex rules seem to be the hardest ones of the lot for them. Today, let’s wonder together why evangelicals’ sex rules give believers so much trouble.

following rules forever
(Jo-Anne McArthur.) Strangely, most Christians never actually think through this whole sheep-shepherd analogy. But the ones who have thought it through and are still totally happy with it? They disturb me the most.

Love Means… Rules.

One website begins a post on the topic of sex rules by asking a big question:

Why does the Bible have so many laws about sexual behavior? Is God trying to limit our sexual expression and pleasure?

They immediately answer their own question, naturally. Can’t have people wondering too hard about those questions, now can they? Indeed, they tell us:

When we look at God’s instructions, it’s clear that He sets boundaries around the gift of sex in order to keep us healthy individually and whole relationally. Sexual sin is powerful and destructive, so it makes sense that a loving God would want to keep us safe.

Ah, okay. Their god just totally wants to keep his followers “safe.” And keeping Christians safe means bounding them around and about with rules, rules, rules — endless rules for everything under the sun.

(What a great god! Oh, I mean he won’t help them at all with childhood cancers, wars, natural disasters, diseases, or even a lowered divorce rate. But he is extra-concerned about them suffering from the aftereffects of unapproved sex. Gosh, that’s quite a wondrous god they’ve got! Don’tcha wanna check out their group? No? Huh.)

The Stakes.

If love means unilaterally handed-down, enormously silly rules focusing on exactly the wrong behaviors and motivations and thoughts and inflicted on people with no say whatsoever in their governance, then the Christian god must indeed love his ant farm’s residents.

Oh but y’all, he gave them much, much more than just those rules.

He also gave them the highest stakes imaginable for breaking them.

The totally real god who created the Great GRB Wall, black holes, galactic filaments, and superclusters has also apparently decided that if a human being on a tiny little planet tucked away in the middle of nowhere fiddles in the wrong way with about 5″ of flesh, then that tiny little creature deserves — completely, totally deservesthe death penalty. But death doesn’t end this god’s fun, no no! After death finally releases those poor doomed humans, then obviously their ghosts also totally deserve be set on fire forever.

No reprieve, no mercy, no parole, no escape. Fire. Forever. They deserve this and nothing less. The god of love and mercy has already decided this, and nobody can change his mind.

Then, Jesus came along. Instead of doing anything useful, the Prince of Peace only drilled down harder on this idea to add thoughtcrime to the mix. Now, his ant farm’s inhabitants deserve those aforementioned fates for just thinking about using that tiny bit of flesh in an unapproved way.

“Don’t masturbate.”

That’s how Christians know their god loves them, you see: he manacles them immobile with rules, and then brutally punishes them for breaking any. Or, they say as they split hairs finer than a baby kitten’s fur, he allows them to suffer completely out-of-proportion consequences for breaking his ridiculously petty rules. Because he loves them.

To authoritarians, that’s what love is. Rules. And punishment.

But especially rules. 

The Best Rules Are the Ones They Can Ignore.

I’ve heard Christians from every Christian group imaginable cheerfully chirp and warble that their god’s rules for sex just work better for humans than any other ruleset. In their opinion, y’all, people following their rules turn out much happier than those who don’t, even if they don’t even believe in the religion’s imaginary friend(s). Their lives run more smoothly. Their marriages last longer and are happier.

Gosh, y’all, even if they didn’t believe at all, they’d still do all that Christian stuff! Totally they would!

However, none of that’s true, and as a group, they don’t even believe their own guff about their rules. Not deep down. You can tell that because they themselves don’t follow those rules.

The higher Christians rank in their groups, the less focused they seem on following their rules. And the more they fret about other people not following their rules, the less likely they are to be following the rules themselves.

In fact, the worst, most control-hungry, most overreaching Christians of all tend to stick their followers with the most restrictive rules of all, and then to exact the most brutal punishments for breaking those rules. And then they get found out as the worst hypocrites of all.

Strangely, Jesus doesn’t seem to notice such hypocrites, much less stop them, much less protect potential victims from them. Maybe it’s just because humans are just so tiny to him. Maybe he is deep in thought, or busy, or gone on a journey, or sleeping, or on the potty.

They’re Apparently the Best Rules Ever, But Christians Ignore Them All the Same.

The rules themselves, if they were really that good and Christians’ own marketing was even a little true, then just laying down the rules should take care of everything. Right? Right?

But they aren’t, and it isn’t, and thus: they don’t.

Let’s compare and contrast Christians’ pretendy game with the real world.

In the real world, very few people break serious laws. Most people don’t steal or cheat or rape anyone or kill people or perjure themselves. Sure, laws promise punishment and our social order promises evangelicals’ favorite word, consequences, for breaking those kinds of rules. But even without laws in place forbidding those behaviors, most people don’t have any desires to do that stuff anyway.

People avoid those antisocial behaviors because we know it’s just better for everyone to avoid that stuff. I don’t want to be the kind of person who cheats others or commits harmful acts. So I don’t do that stuff.

But Christians, who swear up and down that a real live god totally prescribed sex rules for humanity’s own good and that people’s lives run much much much better when they obey those rules, and that unapproved sex represents something just as dire and important as murder, do not follow them. As one analysis discovered, they don’t behave much differently than secular people in how they conduct their sex lives.

yep, everyone seems to be having sex
(Source.) Young evangelicals contrasted with young adults from other religious groups and also Nones. The whole study is just fascinating. Definitely check it out if you have time.

What’s Going On Here, Then?

Let’s zero in on a theoretical evangelical who has decided to have some unapproved sex. We’ll call him, I dunno, Jaireeph Allwell.

(Boy oh boy, lemme tell ya: this very fictional evangelical just loves unapproved sex.)

Sound the klaxons! Raise the alarm! Clutch those pearls! Someone, somewhere, is breaking the sex rules!

But why? Why can’t Jaireeph Allwell be a good boy by keeping Li’l Jairee in his pants?

Evangelical leaders themselves usually chalk such decisions up to what they call humans’ sin nature. That bit of Christianese means that literally all humans (except Jesus, somehow) get born with the potential and desire to offend their god. The moment humans can offend their god, they do it. And they don’t stop. Even being possessed by their god’s spirit can’t stop them. Nothing can — except the magic panacea for all ills, personal and societal and cosmic: Jesus-ing super hard.

Indeed, one evangelical website declares very confidently that humans are at much more risk of committing these offenses when they aren’t Jesus-ing hard enough. Therefore, Jesus-ing hard enough will lessen the desire to commit offenses. Naturally, Jesus-ing properly requires correct beliefs, too, so add those to the mix.

(No, they never do tell readers exactly how hard to Jesus to avoid rulebreaking. Rilly rilly super hard is all I get from their silly blathering.)

But in reality, when an evangelical decides to have unapproved sex, a lot of mental arithmetic goes into that decision. Very little of it focuses on the amount or correctness of that person’s Jesus-ing.

The Broken Roadmap.

To a large extent this post applies to all Christians, but to evangelicals most of all. This observation applies double to this subsection.

First and foremost, evangelicals’ entire roadmap of life is broken and dysfunctional. The tools they learn from their Dear Leaders are supposed to turn them away from even wanting to have unapproved sex, but those tools are worse than useless: they are counterproductive.

Evangelicals never learn to deal with their romantic and sexual desires in a mature or respectful way. Instead, they learn a list of rules that, if not followed, will result in some serious punishment in this life and an eternity of torture in the next. Many reach adulthood not even knowing what consent even is, much less why it’s the bedrock foundation of any relationship in the real world, much less how it drives their enemies’ sexual behavior and forms their opinions.

Along with those black and white rules, which mostly focus on pleasing or placating their imaginary friend, evangelicals absorb a lot of completely untrue ideas about biology, as well as a bunch of dysfunctional hoo-ha about how to deal with unwanted emotions of all kinds.

(Authoritarian leaders love unworkable rules and broken roadmaps. Keeping followers off-kilter can improve their loyalty to the group and its leader. But it seriously harms any number of those followers.)

So evangelicals have these feelings and they have no idea how to deal with them in any approved kind of way. Nothing they’re taught works to relieve that pressure. 

Authoritarians and Rules.

Evangelicals, however, do have access to a number of off-limits ways of dealing with illicit desires of all kinds. One of the main ones is simply breaking whatever rule is interfering with what they want right then.

As authoritarians, evangelicals learn quickly that following rules is for suckers and simps. The most powerful of their tribemates and leaders break their own rules at their own convenience and do not fear potential retaliation. But retaliation rarely comes for those powerful tribe members — because they can muster their own counter-retaliation in turn, and it’s usually way worse.

So confidently and flagrantly breaking rules, in its way, denotes status and power within the authoritarian tribe. Even lower-ranked tribemates can cloak themselves in an aura of power by breaking rules without the appearance of fear. They’ll feel that power, and it can be a rush all on its own.

If the tribe doesn’t retaliate, and if no accidents befall them that they could consider a divine sign of disapproval, then their rulebreaking may become more and more outrageous and daring. Some of these nutbars even convince themselves that maybe Jesus likes it when they break the rules, or that their rulebreaking achieves some purpose for their god.

(I met one of these types in Kansas. He was a tedious git, but he was convinced of that latter point. It took me a long time to understand just what his malfunction was. That same malfunction led him to misuse big words he didn’t fully understand to try to sound better-educated than he really was.)

They’re Gonna Git Theirs, Rules Be Damned.

As well, authoritarians grow up believing that they’re #1, and #1 comes first — always and forever. If they don’t get theirs, then nobody will give it to them out of kindness.

If they see an opportunity for enrichment or pleasure of any kind, they’ll break rules to grab for it. Evangelicals tend not to see other people as human beings like themselves anyway, more like 2D cutout figures or supporting-cast members in the movie playing in their minds. Thus, it’s much easier for them to victimize others while gratifying themselves.

And if any fallout comes their way from it, hey, they can always mouth a quick little I’m sowwy, baby Jesus and fully expect complete forgiveness from their god.

Hey: if Jesus instantly and completely forgives them, then everyone else must as well!

(Wait. If Jesus can forgive people instantly and completely through the utterance of a simple spell, why can’t he do that all the time for everyone…? Why have rules at all?!? Oh gosh, there’s me being all rational again. Oops. Sorry. I hate when I do that. Won’t happen again.)

Play Time Rules in the Real World.

Fantasy and games are all well and good, but it is in the here and now that we make our homes. So rules that people follow while playing the Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game might not get followed when those players re-enter Reality-Land.

And that means that if we encounter rules that make no sense whatsoever, that seem totally wackadoodle, chances are we’re going to ignore them and work around them as much as possible.

You know how people laugh at those lists of ridiculous laws? They’re funny, aren’t they? No forbidding clotheslines in Vermont! Don’t you dare eat frogs in California, either. Or do any “fancy” bicycle stunts in Galesburg, Illinois.

Well, most of Christianity’s rules sound like that. And they sound that way even to those who officially believe they must follow them or be tortured forever in flames. Today’s Christians — even the literal-and-inerrant crowd of modern fundagelicals — have hand-waved away the absolutely most ridiculous of those rules. But the ones they personally like? Those are the forever-and-ever ones that Jesus meant for Christians to follow.

Uh huh. Except when they don’t follow ’em. Then they can psychically apologize and act sorry for a bit. Until the next opportunity rolls around. Then the game begins again.

They stay for their lifetimes in that loop: sin –> express contrition –> celebrate their forgiveness –> wait for the next opportunity –> see the opportunity and take it. The game continues indefinitely like that.

Oh sure, normies consider that forever loop a bad witness. They think it’s evidence contradicting Christians’ claims. But they just don’t understand!

The Penalties Threatened Don’t Match Reality.

I can’t overlook at all the fact that many evangelicals may break their tribe’s sex rules because they know quite well that they won’t suffer at all for breaking them.

A lot of folks think that anti-drug campaigns may have failed — and even backfired in some cases — because they made ludicrous threats about what would happen if people tried illicit drugs. When those exposed to these campaigns saw others using those drugs without suffering those promised repercussions, they began engaging in that behavior themselves. Also, some of those anti-drug campaigns might have accidentally made drug use sound very exciting and cool.

Evangelicals’ anti-sex campaigns might suffer the same drawbacks. When I began having premarital sex, it didn’t take long to realize that the promised awful results weren’t actually happening to me. Nor did those same promised results seem to happen to anyone else. The men who actually mattered, who’d actually make good mates, didn’t consider me unclean and less-than. And I learned some stuff that later partners definitely appreciated.

Similarly, once I had a conversation with a Christian gal who innocently declared that following her religion’s rules worked out better for everyone. I asked, “How so?” And I shot down every one of her indoctrinated replies. None of that had happened to me, and I didn’t know anyone it’d happened to. She really sounded like a space alien describing the people she’d seen in a nature documentary years before reaching Earth.

As such, it’s not hard at all for me to imagine an evangelical noticing the same things and proceeding accordingly.

Summary: The Reality of the Sin Situation.

First: If evangelicals really believed their rules about sex made their lives better — along with the lives of everyone following those rules, believers or not, like way better, like whoa mega-lots better, then they would follow those rules. Hands down. No ifs, ands, or buts.

It’s the same reason I watch my diet and do my stretches every morning. Is it fun? No, not always. But I know it makes me feel better in the long run, so I do it.

Second: If evangelicals really, truly believed that not following their rules would result in misery in this life and unthinkably brutal and grotesque punishment in the next life, then they would follow those rules.

I’ve known any number of evangelical men who declared that they were refraining from this-or-that crime because they were flat terrified of prison. Prison represented, for those men, a real and very possible punishment. But Hell? It was too far away, too obviously impossible, and also too easy to escape with a psychic apology to Baby Jesus. Even misery in this life isn’t enough to make evangelicals obey their sex rules.

So evangelicals accidentally reveal an awful lot about exactly what they really think of their tribe’s silly rules by their own behavior. And I’m glad that they don’t obey them, really. Those rules are not there for their good and will not actually help them.

I just wish they cared at all about consent, which is real and good for everyone!

NEXT UP: Before we get back to Where Have All the Good Men GoneI want to show you one more thing: a pearl-clutching post from an older white-dude fundie leader whose boner is very, very sad because of modern young women. Oh, my! Won’t someone think of fundie dudes’ boners?!?

See you tomorrow!

Please Support What I Do!

Come join us on FacebookTumblrPinterest, and Twitter!(Also Instagram, where I mostly post cat pictures.)

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. Thank you. <3

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,...