God, I Hate Christianese…

The worst part about following Christian bloggers? Even when they talk about something moving and relevant, they often make me want to gag.

Case in point: Pastor Pete Wilson talking about Dennis Rodman’s really touching speech as he entered the basketball Hall of Fame.

Wilson writes:

I’ll be honest.

I’ve never been a Dennis Rodman fan.

I’ve always thought of him as a reckless, self absorbed, ego maniac. And while my assessment was probably fairly accurate, I think I forgot one thing. He’s a broken human being just like me.

I was totally with him until that last line. Then I just started shaking my head and rolling my eyes…

Bonus points if you can put into words why Wilson’s statement was so annoying.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Mr Ed

    Why is this annoying, it is the opposite of faint praise, it is false humility.

    • Anon

      I interpreted it as referring to the obscene concept of Original Sin, which supposedly left us all ‘broken’. But that’s just my 2 cents’ worth.

  • Anonymous

    It’s annoying because it invalidates the individuality of people’s experience and suffering. Dennis tells a wrenching tale of childhood abandonment and unhappiness, which he has repeated on his own family and substance abuse that has left him broken, and Wilson says “Oh yes, we’re all broken mortals”.

    No! Not only aren’t we “all broken”, you belittle the suffering of those who have been broken by pretending that the actual events and details that led to their breaking are unimportant, because what really matters is that god considers all of us broken toys.

  • http://twitter.com/EmerickScottBri Brian Scott Emerick

    Because it is the excuse for anyone ever doing anything wrong – “we are all imperfect sinners” – gag me.

  • http://heartfout.typepad.com/blog/ Heartfout

    A couple of possible ideas as to why…

    One: Shift in focus.

    Whether the pastor meant to or not, he shifted focus away from the content of the article, in this case on to a theological point he wants to make. It seems pretty rude to hijack something like that to try and get across the message across.

    Two: Precedence.

    Even if the Pastor didn’t mean to make that point, and was just using it as a way of saying that he isn’t a one dimensional flat character with no past or other sides to his personality than what we see, the fact remains that it isn’t exactly uncommon behaviour, from any group you care to mention, and his use of terminology like `broken human being` doesn’t help.

    Three: `Broken`.

    There is also the issue of using `broken` as a stand in for `sympathetic` or `fully  rounded` or even just plain `human`. Christianity seems to have serious issues with the idea that people aren’t cut and dried, particularly when looking at people. The idea that people may actually have other sides to them, and it isn’t as simple as us being bad and the holy spirirt entering us to allow us to become good is completely against the narrative of original sin that is often preached. `Broken` is a really bad way to try and describe `human`.

    Four: `Me`.
    Finally, if you are saying that someone is an egomaniac, don’t then make a comparison to yourself. It looks weird.

    (my apologies if these are badly explained: I’m still rather jetlagged.)

  • Mary

    Claiming to be “broken” is a lame excuse for making mistakes and behaving badly. Take responsibility for yourself, both your successes and your failures. Saying that you were a bad father, a bad husband and bad son is not the same as taking responsibility. It’s a general “poor me – I’m awful” statement, and it’s actually pretty sad. 

    And please don’t assume that the rest of us are as “broken” as you are. Some of us want to be good parents – so we ARE good parents. We want to honor our parents – so we DO honor our parents. And we take the credit for our good actions, at least within ourselves, instead of passing it along to someone in the sky…which is a great motivation to continue doing good and feeling good about ourselves.

  • http://twitter.com/whatdoiknow Dave Pacheco

    Because 

    • Megan

      Nailed it. And not only “me me me” but “all Christians.” He’s saying, “All Christians go through trials and tribulations,” and then they usually throw in some mumbo-jumbo about god saving them, blah blah. What a load of garbage.

  • http://www.atheistunderworld.com Ben Tegland

    Because the phrase “broken human being” gives a lowly opinion of humanity. 

    As someone who believes human kind is basically good and I have hope that we will overcome the things we do to take advantage of our planet.  Humans aren’t evil, anyone who can look at a person and say, “Well, they’re evil just like me and everyone else” is sickening to me.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    “Broken” is christianese for refering to our fall from perfection by eating of the Tree of Knowledge. It’s designed to make a person feel small and needy so that they will only be too happy to accept the dictates of that  sociopathic Heavenly Overlord, YAHWEH.

    • Anonymous

      Not so much the dictates of their god, but the dictates of the priest caste. Combine the idea that everyone is born broken and sinful with creating rules that make normal human emotions and aspects (such as lust/sexuality) a sin. So there is no possible way to avoid sinning. Then sell the only “cure”, knowing that people will be back for more

  • Guest

    “There is also the issue of using `broken` as a stand in for `sympathetic` or `fully  rounded` or even just plain `human`.”

    ” it is false humility.”

    The two posters above beat me to it…

  • Devious Soybeans

    I agree with the sentiments here — it’s sickening. But also the fact that Rodman being a human being (“broken” or otherwise) is some big revelation to the Pastor is a bit worrying. 

  • rustywheeler

    So, I saw this CTA: “Bonus points if you can put into words why Wilson’s statement was so annoying.”

    And my first thought was two words: “FAKE HUMILITY.”

    And then I saw that Mr. Ed had beat me to it. So I’ll just add this.

    When humanists and atheist speak of humility, it’s in regard to one’s fellow man. When Christians speak of humility, it’s with respect to God (“humble thyself in the sight of the Lord” and all that) and is, in fact a form of declaring a proximate righteousness in regard to one’s fellow man, especially if they are unbelievers.

    It’s the whole “I’m not perfect, just SAVED” garbage.

  • Allison Wolf

    By using “broken” as a one-dimensional description, both as an excuse and as a term that implies one can’t change, the pastor really does Dennis Rodman a disservice here. There are several aspects to Dennis Rodman’s speech here that are really beautiful and the pastor chooses to focus on only one of them.

    First, while Dennis talks about being abandoned by his father, he also acknowledges that there were people watching out for him and fighting for him, believing in his worth as a person rather than just as a player even when things were very difficult for him. Without these people in his life, he says, he might not be alive today or he might be homeless. He speaks of their self-sacrifice on his behalf even when he was an “undeserving” person.

    Second, he’s not running around blaming people for “breaking” him. He’s taking responsibility for his own actions.

    Third, he’s saying that he hopes he can change and do better in the future. He’s pointing out that he has hurt people who are very important to him and saying that he recognizes the need to do better on their behalf.

    Finally, by having the courage to give that particular speech he’s setting an example for others. He’s making clear that basketball is not the really important stuff, but that the people in the field, the network that exists and the individuals in it, can help act as a social grounding when you don’t have one.

    The pastor is inserting his own false humility here, equating his own struggle with Rodman’s. He is also using the word “broken” which implies that Mr. Rodman can’t really put his life together and be a whole, good person. While Mr. Rodman has struggles, he doesn’t need to let the bad things that have happened to him completely define him. In fact, it is likely that in order to go in the direction he says he wants to, seeing himself as “broken” would be more of a hindrance than a help.

    Moreover, because “broken” is one of those things that you can’t help, it really doesn’t acknowledge your own part in reacting to your environment. It’s rather deterministic.

  • polyglot

    “I thought I was better than him, then I remembered I’m just as bad as he is.”

    No, wait. ” . . . he’s just as bad as I am.”

    No, wait. Both of those statements approximate the words he said, but, somehow, he manages to come off as sounding self-righteous anyway. False humility, indeed.

    “I thought he was worse than me, but then I realized he just hasn’t come to realize how right I am yet.”

  • polyglot

    “I thought I was better than him, then I remembered I’m just as bad as he is.”

    No, wait. ” . . . he’s just as bad as I am.”

    No, wait. Both of those statements approximate the words he said, but, somehow, he manages to come off as sounding self-righteous anyway. False humility, indeed.

    “I thought he was worse than me, but then I realized he just hasn’t come to realize how right I am yet.”

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Yes, I think emphasizing the “…but then I learned a better understanding of us all” part is particularly irritating.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    “He’s a broken human being just like me”.  This is Christianese for saying that everybody needs to be actively involved in a church group (tithing and volunteering their time to church ministries) so that they can be right with the lord… otherwise they are lost.  The “broken like me” idea is good for maintaining religious institutions but bad for the human psyche.   

  • Zia Hassan

    Good points made above, but I don’t think the statement he made alone is inherently Christian.  I’ve heard many people, theist and atheist, refer to humans as “broken.”  Yes, it’s a little fluffy and vague.  And when a Christian says it, perhaps it’s used as a way to convince an audience that everyone is broken and “needs fixing” (AKA church or whatever) and I agree that is manipulative.  But that’s not always the intention.

    Occasionally remembering that a celebrity has similar flaws as “normal people” is fine.  The statement doesn’t inherently imply manipulation, or the need for repentance through turning to christ, etc.  It may be what he’s thinking, but that’s another story.

    • http://heartfout.typepad.com/blog/ Heartfout

       That’s why I brought up the point of precendence before I brought up my issues with the use of the word `broken`. It doesn’t always mean that they need to turn to Christ, but it is a classic bit of Christianese.

      I have also not heard many outside Christianity refer to the whole of humanity as broken, rather than individual people.

  • Anonymous

    Or maybe it’s that it’s  an unwelcome reminder chipping away at your own sense of superiority

  • JSug

    It’s condescending. It’s like he’s saying: “He’s a horrible person. But that’s okay, I’m not perfect either!”

  • Anonymous

    Colossians 3:5

    Does that count as two words?

  • Anonymous

    Original Sin is the single most disgusting idea in the entire history of mankind

  • Danny

    I agree with the comments above about it being a false humility, but as a former minister myself, I find a lot of sadness in the the weight of the word “broken”.  You see, he isn’t pointing out really that HE is broken, but reminding the reader that they are. The cleverness in the trick is to discuss how he “used” to think of Rodman  - as “reckless, self-absorbed”, etc. – but now he does not; conveniently one step ahead of the reader who is now “shamed” by their self-righteousness and reminded that they are – at their very best – no better than “dirty rags.” In other words, he is saying “See this piece of shit? You’re a very similar piece of shit.”

    The reminder that we are “broken” brings us right back to the fear and self-loathing that brought us to religion in the first place. “God” forbid that we develop a healthy love for ourselves; self-esteem after all is a great evil in christian circles. It is a threat to the churches who existence is tied to the perpetuation of archaic beliefs by those who hate themselves enough to cling to them.

  • Anonymous

    What I find completely odd is that Christians use “broken” to mean “damaged/sinful” AND “broken” to mean “humbled in the presence of God”, one as a sideways slap at another person and the second as a ‘street cred’ type usage establishing each other as *true* Christ followers. Blech. Oh, and it’s annoying because it’s a patronizing and condescending thing to say. Simple as that.

  • JasonS

    I don’t think—based at least on the few words cited here—that it’s false humility. In Wilson’s “vocabulary,” what he’s attempting to do is to humanize Dennis Rodman (in itself a noble endeavor), to realize that there’s a real person behind the persona.

    Instead, why this bothers me is because the language of people being “broken” implies that there is one (and only one) way to “fix” us: Jesus. In other words, Dennis Rodman, just like Wilson, “needs Jesus” to become a more complete human being. This, to me, is garbage, on a number of levels. First, it presumes that all people are fundamentally wrong from an ontological level. Second, it denies the ability for people, on their own and with help from others, to rise above tragic events in their past. Third, it would lead us to believe (wrongly) that people who have the help of God/Jesus/ the Spirit are somehow more whole.

    In short, like Stev84 and Andrew Hall both said, it becomes a discourse of power over the other.

  • Karen

    Well, I’m not a Rodman fan, or even a sports fan.  This was my only exposure to him as  man.  Of course I’ve seen headlines about him, sensationalized scandals and whatnot. 

    I didn’t find his speech Christianized, but I didn’t read any other replies yet OR see any Christian sites discussing it.

    What I did see was a sad and rather pathetic attempt by a very sad and pathetic man trying to show his humanity.  I’m a fairly empathic person and, oddly, I wasn’t at all moved by his words or “tears”.  Just by what I perceive as a shell of a man.

    I have a different bone to pick, actually.  When a person says that they will “try” to be a better man/husband/son/father, that is simply another way of saying they do not plan to make a bit of change in relationships, only that they hope the old stuff will work better.  Now, IF he had, in fact, give his mom a rather large sum of money AND if he had made an authentic effort to learn to be a parent, that would have made all of the difference.
    Him simply standing there recognizing how he doesn’t deserve this honor, that’s a fact.

    I am proud of his mother, his wife (?), and his children for being there, putting the bells on, and letting him have his day.  Shows character on their part.

  • http://odgie.wordpress.com Odgie

    You conveniently left out the second half of Wilson’s post, which is where the whole point about the danger of judging others is.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      Can you blame him?

  • Parse

    My annoyance comes from the combination of the bolded sentence and the one before.  “And while my assessment was probably fairly accurate…“, in combination with the ‘broken human being’ suggests that the latter excuses or supercedes the former.  I understand that Pete’s trying to humanize Dennis Rodman, see him as a fellow human being with flaws and quirks, like everybody else. 
    The lesson I think people should draw from this is that nobody is perfect; too often we only see the one- or two-dimensional projection, not the fully-fleshed-out human being people actually are, warts and all. 
    The lesson you draw from this if you’re trying to make the listener feel broken or guilty is “Everyone needs healing… Everyone.”  ‘My boss is arrogant, but it’s okay because we both need healing.’  ‘My friend is self-absorbed, but it’s okay because we both need healing.’  ‘My mom/dad is angry, but it’s okay because we both need healing.’  That’s almost as bad as a Jesus Juke (a wonderful term I recently learned), using the shortcomings of others to denigrate yourself.  A better phrase would be ‘Everyone is more than that’  – to acknowledge these people aren’t exclusively defined by their negative traits.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    It’s just so bizarre to me. Evangelicals appear to truly believe that humanity is “broken” and that people are inherently terrible creatures. If they actually believe that, they must see nothing but fault and imperfection. Do they really go around with a constant sense of guilt and shame?

    And how in the world do they reconcile these beliefs with building children’s self esteem? Do they teach their children that they are inherently awful and wretched? They would be terrible parents if they did, yet what else could be going on in these churches? Something must lead people to start to believe that about themselves.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    Because nobody is “broken”. Bent, tarnished, a bit rusty, maybe held together with duct tape, but NOT “broken”.

  • atheist guest

    I don’t really mind it but I think the problem is that “broken” implies that something was whole or even perfect in the past. But from an evolutionary perspective humans and human minds never have been perfect. They have always just been good enough to do the job.

    If he had said that “He’s a fallible human being” you would probably not have complained. After all it is us skeptics that pride ourselves that our minds are fallible and that we constantly have to work to improve.

    What amazes me are some of the commenters here that apparently think that they never make mistakes.


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