pretty cross
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pretty crossWhenever people who never truly bought into the hype about Jesus cast their gaze upon his most vocal fan clubs, what they see there alternately amuses and enrages them. They find the claims of Christianity implausible at best and emotionally manipulative at worst, but that in itself is no skin off their backs.
What really irks them the most, however, is when people within this one religion presume to tell the rest of the world how to live regardless of their religious affiliation. Nor do they stop there, which makes matters even worse. Many of the most visible “followers of Jesus” (who vehemently rejected political affiliations of any kind, btw) have swallowed wholesale the platforms of one political party, making it their aim to actively legislate their own culture onto everyone else.
They believe this is their calling, and more often than not their agenda requires reducing the freedoms of others rather than preserving and protecting them. Ultimately their chief loyalty is to their faith, not to their country, which was founded on the nonsectarian principles of religious pluralism and the freedom of conscience.
Resisting theocratic legislation is the patriotic duty of every thoughtful American regardless of religious affiliation because if you don’t, your belief system may very well be the next one on the chopping block.
[Related: “When Being a Good Christian Means Being a Bad American“]

Not My Christianity

But #NotAllChristians are into that. In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, there isn’t just one centralized identity for this family of faiths. It’s probably less accurate to reference “Christianity” as a monolithic entity and more correct to see it as a loosely connected network of diverse “christianities.” You will find that the moment you’ve exposed the quirks and excesses of one version, five more crowd into the comments section to assert their system’s immunity to the charges you just laid at the feet of “those other people.”
This drives people like me crazy, by the way. In fact, one of my comment moderators, Thought2Much, will flat out ban you for doing this because it irks him worse than fingernails on a chalkboard. Can’t say you haven’t been warned. I don’t blame him. It got old years ago.
But speaking of my own background, the kind of Christianity I grew up with wasn’t super political, nor did it spend a lot of time trying to build amusement parks that look like Noah’s ark. My Christianity didn’t politicize every cultural issue imaginable, nor did it feature people sporting oversized hairdos or excessive amounts of eye makeup while perpetually soliciting money for a God who called the love of it “a root of all kinds of evil.”
To be sure, my Christianity suffered, or rather made others suffer, from a lack of personal agency and an unhealthy obsession with self-loathing and self-deprecation. Those were so deeply woven into the fabric of my faith that it may take an entire lifetime to root it out of me. As long as I don’t, I will continue to put myself into situations in which people take advantage of that tendency in me. I owe it to myself to keep fighting it, and if you’re like me, so do you.
[Related: “Anti-Humanism: How Evangelicalism Taught Me the Art of Self-Loathing“]
But my brand of Christianity knew how to make this bitter pill of emotional poison look and taste incredibly inviting. They sugar coated it and made it a bright, pretty color so that children would willingly reach for it and even, perhaps, an occasional adult rendered vulnerable by the many hard knocks that life inevitably foists upon those who try to live an authentic life.
It tastes wonderful going down. But once it gets inside of you, it produces death, not the life that it promised. This message is fundamentally rooted in the notion that you’re so bad the way you are that God had to kill someone just to get over it.
Yes. It says that. Or it did originally. Lately some versions of Christianity have revived a minority report that suggests God was never angry at any of us and that he himself had nothing to do with Jesus getting killed. I’m not sure which Bible they got that from—maybe they got it from somewhere else. It’s yet another version of Christianity, and it seems on the surface like it should sell better that the alternatives.
Except that I’m a student of history and I know that it is the angrier, more divisive strains of any religion that win out in the event of a full-fledged culture war because tribal dynamics dictate that groups with stronger in group/out group distinctions fare better in the long run. They certainly are better at getting people to give money, and that means a hundred years later, they will inevitably be the ones still standing. Anger and judgment mobilize large groups of people better than altruism or benevolence.
With the possible exception of existential threats like war or natural disasters, which bring out the most moving heroic deeds imaginable. And that reminds me that if you haven’t contacted your local Red Cross to see what you can do to help those in southeast Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey (who thinks up these names?), I hope you will. If nothing else, it can establish a connection that will make it easier to help others in your own area the next time something like this comes around. While you’re at it, please also look into the Foundation Beyond Belief, another great nonsectarian option for disaster relief among many other great benevolent causes.

The One I’m After

That said, I don’t often feel compelled to address the low-hanging fruit of fundamentalist nuttiness that I see being ridiculed in my very atheism-heavy newsfeed. The weirdness I see there feels foreign to me, as my version of Christianity displayed a much more consistent commitment to the optics of making Jesus look inviting to the rest of the world. I decided long ago to leave the deconstruction of those subcultures to other people. It’s not my thing.
My “thing” is addressing the more emotionally sophisticated, culturally attractive versions of the faith of my youth because those are the ones that make the self-negating message of Christianity look like the exact opposite. Like most other versions, these teach you to discover your true identity and purpose in someone else besides yourself, only they’ve gotten really good at making it sound like they are doing you a huge favor.
It’s because they love you so much that they want you to discover that you’re a helpless wretch without divine assistance. Isn’t that great news?
Obviously I beg to differ. That good news is predicated on some very bad news despite the deliberately deceptive way they spin it to make it sound positively beautiful. Beneath that pretty face there lies a controlling, exploitative belief system that thrives on indoctrinating people from their youngest years to believe that their worth is derivative, that their value comes from what Someone Else did for them, not from within themselves. If you can convince people of that, they will give everything in order to redeem their own usefulness in the world.
[Read: “The Dark Side of Grace“]
That is the monster I intend to fight at least as long as it takes to get into print all that I have to say about the things this belief system gets wrong. I believe it is fundamentally an anti-human system of ideas no matter how carefully they package it to look like it’s the only way to be truly happy and fulfilled in life. Until I say all I’ve set out to say about that, I’ll be here dealing with it for the benefit of those who are still working their way out from under it all.
And yeah, I know…yours is much better. Maybe tell me about it and I’ll get to yours next 🙂
[Image Source: Adobe Stock]

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Neil Carter is a high school teacher, a father of four, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil now writes mostly about the struggles of former evangelicals...