the bear knows better
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Oxana Lyashenko.) Christianity's mess is not any bear's fault.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I caught this screed from some more-hardcore-than-thou Christians. In it, they complained bitterly about what they called ‘self-constructed, Build-A-Bear, buffet-style belief acquisition.’ Their sheer lack of self-awareness just amazed me, as did their utter lack of knowledge about their own religion’s history and the overwhelming entitlement they displayed. But I wasn’t surprised. I’m long familiar with battles between the more-hardcore-than-thou adherents of a religion and what they view as fluffy bunny adherents. Today, let me show you why fluffy bunnies annoy their more-hardcore-than-thou brethren.

the bear knows better
(Oxana Lyashenko.) Christianity’s mess is not any bear’s fault.

Wow, These Guys Got Their Knickers Twisted!

Originally, the inspiration for today’s topic appeared a few days ago on a hard-right fundagelical site called Breakpoint. I guess someone was so impressed with it that Christian Post re-posted it yesterday. The title caught my eye, as its authors no doubt intended:

Self-constructed, Build-a-Bear, buffet-style Christianity is no Christianity at all

My, my. In this opinion post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris get their knickers twisted over all those Christians who just refuse to Jesus the way these two judges think all Christians SHOULD Jesus, darn it!

In it, these two Christians not only lambast a Christian who Jesus-es all wrong, but also wring their little handsies over yet another survey out recently about how few Christians Jesus correctly at all. And then they end by declaring that somehow, their style of Jesus-ing will win over all these other styles because it’s the only correct way to Jesus.

It’s just so comical. When Christians go at each other like that, they remind me so much of children arguing over their favorite versions of some comic-book superhero.

But this infighting happens for a very important reason.

More Hardcore Than Thou.

In almost every religious group, you can find believers who are perfectly content with not taking things very far at all, and with winging a lot of their religion’s beliefs and practices. Importantly, they can be and often are extremely fervent, knowledgeable, and devoted adherents of whatever religion they practice.

Competing with these believers, extremists in that religion take things as far as they can possibly go. They are incredibly strict about how they interpret the proper beliefs and practices of their religion.

(And as I discovered, they exist aplenty in paganism.)

I call these latter sorts more-hardcore-than-thou because, well, they’re convinced of their own superiority as well as quite proud of it. They view all other factions with disdain and animosity. Every chance they get, they ratchet up their extremism just a little further, and they seek to persuade other adherents to adopt their ways.

Very little enrages more-hardcore-than-thou adherents like fellow believers who don’t believe or practice the religion the way they do.

Hardcore adherents have a lot of very nasty names for their enemies. They think very poorly of them.

(Back in the late 90s or early 00s, Traditionalist Wiccans — a very hardcore sect — began calling more-eclectic Wiccans fluffy bunnies because eclectics picked and chose their beliefs and ritual practices, often incorporating ones from other religions or even making stuff up. OMG, this was absolutely unacceptable!)

The Attack of the More-Hardcore-Than-Thou Christians.

That Christian Post piece beautifully illustrates this age-old struggle between religious factions. Its writers begin by criticizing a progressive Christian’s statement of faith on Twitter (archive here, though it lacks replies).

It’s a lovely statement, really. The tweets’ writer, Jo Luehmann, explains that she believes in some version of Christianity and is also progressive, sex-positive, inclusive, anti-racist, and anti-proselytization. Really, she and I sound very similar in our outlooks, except obviously I’m not Christian. She ends by declaring how toxic evangelicalism really is. Then, she advises that if toxic Christians have some kind of problem with anything she believes or is or practices, then that’s kinda their problem and not hers.

And her more hardcore-than-thou brethren lost their li’l minds over these tweets.

These other Christians proved every point she made, too, in their replies to her. They insulted her, denigrated her, maligned her, made wild speculations about her, and tried their best to gatekeep her right out of the religion. It doesn’t look like any of them accomplished anything beyond reinforcing her opinions about them.

This Christian Post opinion piece continues that effort to insult, denigrate, and negate her.

My goodness, you won’t ever see “Christian love” in full flower like you will any time the tribe needs to trample a dissenter back into line!

“Build-A-Bear, Buffet-Style” Christianity.

In their opinion post, Stonestreet and Morris sniff down their noses at Jo Luehmann’s statement of faith:

While one wonders why someone who already rejects church, evangelism, Christian morality, and Scripture would still want to keep the title Christian, this tweeter is merely a more extreme example of a very common approach to faith, including Christianity.

To be clear, this kind of self-constructed, Build-A-Bear, buffet-style belief acquisition works fine for some worldviews, especially the Westernized, New-Agey offsprings of Eastern pantheisms (pan=all and theos=god, so literally those religions that believe everything is god and god is everything).

My sides.

I want to ask: Hey, you know what, toxic Christian dudes? This style of “belief acquisition” happens in all flavors of Christianity, too. That’d be because Christianity operates exactly like every other religion in the world ever has. People create religions in the first place, and so people can morph them however and whenever they want. And they do exactly that, whether the hardcore factions like it or not.

Wait till these nutbars find out about Christian witches. I met one back in the late 1990s, about five years after deconversion, and the idea shocked even me. They’d no doubt blow a gasket, considering their freakout here over a mere progressive Christian vocally rejecting extremism and the culture wars.

Self-Awareness: ZERO.

It’s like these two guys have never studied their own religion’s history. Every major ideology in Christianity seems to have been hammered out by committee. And it was not nearly as smooth or harmonious a process as most Christians appear to believe it was. Those legends about Saint Nicholas slapping or punching the heretic Arius came from somewhere.

And incidentally, the squabble in question was the First Council of Nicaea, a committee of Christian leaders convened by Emperor Constantine in 325 CE. He demanded that they come to some kind of agreement about various major Christian doctrinal beliefs and practices. At the time, Constantine wasn’t even baptized yet.

Worse (for these two guys railing about competing flavors of Christians), it seems like Constantine was way less interested in the actual outcome of this squabble than he was in there being some sort of final, unified decision to quell all the infighting among Christian sects.

In the centuries to come, many, many more committees convened to hammer out other doctrines and practices. Contrary to Stonestreet and Morris’ assertions, then, Build-A-Bear Christianity enjoys a very dignified and lengthy history.

In truth, various Christians have always sought to modify their religion. Protestantism itself grew out of such an impulse. In fact, ever since Christianity came along, its leaders have fought various heresies, endured schisms, and sought to push their own flavor of Jesus-ing above all the other flavors. Had those early Protestants not decided to Build-A-Bear their faith, these guys would probably be railing about “cafeteria Catholics” in this post.

And even now, evangelical Christianity looks radically different today than when I myself was Pentecostal. Everything about it has changed in these past few decades. To me, it sure looks like today’s fundagelicals have Build-A-Bear’d their own religion.

And I guarantee that Christians in the 1st century would, if they ever looked up from their own constant doctrinal squabbles and infighting, not recognize anything about Stonestreet and Morris’ faith and practices.

Why Hardcore Christians Squabble Like This.

Stonestreet and Morris hint a few times in their opinion post about why they’re so upset about Jo Luehmann’s statement of faith. Let me offer some examples of what I mean:

“Christianity,” however, as a revealed worldview, has an objective definition. [. . .]

But because Christianity is a worldview that comes already carefully defined, it’s not open to mass-scale revisions.

[. . .] we must be willing to definitively say when necessary, “Sorry, Christianity is defined, and that’s just not Christianity.” [. . .]

That strategy inevitably ends with the Church, the Bible, morality, and even Jesus Himself becoming negotiable.

Catching a trend here? I sure did.

These fellas are stone-cold authoritarians. And they’re really, really upset at these reminders that they do not totally control Christianity. They want to be the final judges and arbiters of all things Jesus, the loudest voices in the room, and in fact the only voices anyone listens to when they discuss Christianity.

Dissenters and heretics like Jo Luehmann destroy their self-image and their illusions of control and power.

“Subjective.” LOLNO.

Dissenters and heretics also highlight the fact that Christianity is anything but “objective.” Nobody has ever held the right to “carefully define” any aspect of it, and never will. It has always been “open to mass-scale revisions.” And every element within it is “negotiable,” and always has been.

It’s so hilarious to me that Stonestreet and Morris even concede that Christianity is “a revealed worldview” — right before insisting that only their revelatory insights are the correct ones, while Jo Luehmann’s revelatory insights are obviously all wrong times infinity.

But they must. Authoritarians gonna authoritarian. One of the ways they reveal themselves is by trying to gatekeep their groups’ ideologies. They feel very unsafe when they’re not holding a lot of power over others. Appointing themselves the final arbiters of Christianity makes them feel very powerful — and then frustrates them mightily when all the other Christians refuse to play along.

Yes. These guys are playing a Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game that requires everyone’s complete immersion, cooperation, and participation to feel real. When other people refuse to play along exactly as they demand, that wrecks their immersion. When other players go by other rulesets, they only call attention to just how made-up the entire game really is.

I know it must be really hard for Christians to contend with how many competing flavors of Christianity there are. It sure was for me, when I was a teen zealot. But this gatekeeping attempt is an especially counterproductive way to deal with that cognitive dissonance.

The Doctrinal Yardstick Strikes Again.

When I was evangelical, it constantly frustrated me that I couldn’t poach any of my friends or loved ones from their flavors of Christianity. I’d seen the light. Why couldn’t I make them see it too? Indeed, I worried and fretted constantly about the state of their souls and their eternal fates.

But that stress was nothing compared to what I faced in college. Back in high school, when I converted to evangelicalism and then to fundamentalism, literally everyone I knew belonged to some flavor of Christianity. But in college, I met people of all kinds of religions — including folks who trucked with no religion at all.

Very quickly into my college years, I discovered something that devastated me:

Every single fervent Christian out there thinks they’re Jesus-ing in the most correct way. And they all have good reasons for thinking so. Absolutely nothing about Christianity is objective enough to defeat other Christians’ opinions about it.

As it turned out, adherents of other flavors of Christianity ALL had very good reasons for believing that way, just like I did. Where I thought they were Jesus-ing wrong, they thought I was. Distressingly, we all used the same exact Bible verses to try to change each other’s minds!

We spent many, many evenings arguing about doctrinal beliefs and whatnot.

And not one of us changed the mind of any other person there.

Eventually, I realized why we always failed to persuade each other of anything: our beliefs were purely subjective. They weren’t based in reality. And thus, there was no way to persuade anybody of anything except through emotional manipulation and fallacious arguments-in-lieu-of-evidence.

And it sounds like these two guys are doing their level best to avoid that fact.

What Hardcore Christians Hate Most About Their Foes.

Sure, Stonestreet and Morris might wonder why Luehmann desires to continue calling herself Christian at all. I admit I do as well.

But it’s her decision, and she did not care about their opinion at all when she formed it. That might be what they hate most about her statement. It’s quiet, brave, and has utterly barren fields about what King Them think of the matter. She’s made her stance perfectly clear:

After the amount of abuse I experienced inside of Christianity because of toxic people and toxic theology, for me, it’s one of two: having a faith and reclaiming it however I wish to, or leaving faith altogether, there is no third option. [. . .] I’ll run toward atheism as fast as possible if the condition to be a theist is that I have to embrace any type of toxicity or abuse.

And I believe her. I think if she gets much more abuse from all these TRUE CHRISTIANS™, she’ll just turn her back on the whole religion.

If she does, then she will have lost absolutely nothing of value.

That said, I hope she’s aware of the increased volume “Christian love” that’ll flow her way if that happens.

The Worst Time to Gatekeep.

This is possibly the worst time ever for authoritarians to try to gatekeep Christianity. Unfortunately for them, they still don’t realize just how tenuous their remaining cultural dominance really is. Nor do they grasp just how disgusted other Christians grow with their self-serving antics.

But as I said: authoritarians gonna authoritarian. They don’t know what else to do. They suffer from an extremely limited toolbox. Trampling their enemies in every conceivable way and pulling rank and making demands — these strategies are just about all they have. (They long ago hand-waved away “turn the other cheek” and “forgive seventy times seven” and cleaning the beams out of their own eyes before worrying about the motes in others’.)

Control-grabs work just fine on their own tribemates, who have been indoctrinated for their whole lives to respond to them. But when they pull these stunts outside of the tribe, they look simply ridiculous.

The harder authoritarians like Stonestreet and Morris push to make themselves the God-King Judges of All the Jesus-ing, the more Christians they’ll push right out of the religion and the more they’ll accidentally illustrate just how subjective the whole mess really is.

And that is all perfectly fine by me.

NEXT UP: Jesus doesn’t save anybody from church-based abuse, as a Baptist writer has recently and accidentally revealed. Tomorrow, we look at why bullies gravitate to churches — and why they gain so much power there. See you then!

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Last Note: We’ll be returning to the shoddy Christian research these guys used to bolster their points, probably on Sunday. It’s especially bad.

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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,...