Yes, Natasha, he really loves Jesus more than he loves you

I recently came upon an article called “Jesus Is Ruining My Love Life: Is Religion a Deal-Breaker?” on The Atlantic. In the article, Natasha Scripture, a non-believer, speaks of her evangelical boyfriend and expresses shock at their following exchange:

“Jesus used to say…” (boyfriend says)

“Please don’t quote Jesus. You know it makes me uncomfortable.” (me, all squirmy)

“I wish you would open your mind a bit more. You would be such a powerful Christian woman…” (him, being sincere)

“You’ll never convert me! I wish you would read Dawkins!” (me, in near tears)

“Jesus’s love for me is real.” (him, unwavering)

“I wish you would read Hitchens!” (me, in near tears)

“Jesus sacrificed for us. All of us.” (him, unwavering)

“You love him more than me.” (me, in tears)

“I do. I can’t help it.” (him, pious)

Natasha’s shock at this made me laugh. The reality is that if you ask, an evangelical will tell you that he or she loves Jesus more than anyone or anything else. It’s sort of a requirement. If an evangelical loves someone else more than Jesus, that means he or she has set that someone else up as an “idol.” This is, for evangelicals, a very bad thing.

In fact, evangelicals are frequently urged to examine their lives to see if they are putting anything before God – that cool new car, the career that’s finally looking up, or even that awesome boyfriend or girlfriend. Putting anything – or anyone – before God is seen as completely and absolutely unacceptable - and even a threat to one’s eternal salvation. Even putting your family before God is committing “idolatry.” 

In her article, Natasha wonders if this is a problem, or something that can be overlooked. The thing she seems oblivious of is that when her boyfriend says he loves Jesus more than her, he really means it. It isn’t just hypothetical or so much superfluous God-talk. It has real world consequences and real world implications.

Now to an evangelical, this isn’t seen as a problem. If you’re an evangelical and you’re dating someone and he says he loves you more than Jesus, that’s a problem. Evangelicals would argue that loving Jesus first allows them to better love their friends and families, and to be more fulfilled and better protected against the buffets of this world. Putting Jesus first is important.

This doesn’t usually cause as many problems in relationships between evangelicals, since all involved expect that God will be put first and share the same general beliefs and values, but in relationships between evangelicals and non-evangelicals, or between evangelicals and evangelicals who transgress the party lines, it can cause serious trouble.

For example, in her work Bible Believers, Nancy Ammerman studied a fundamentalist church in New England in the 1980s and found that those in the church had problematic or even nonexistent relationships with relatives who were not “saved” because they made their relationships with their “unbelieving” kin into extended and unceasing proselytizing. These fundamentalists held that God and what God wanted must come first even if it meant damaging their relationships with their “unsaved” relatives.

I can also speak from experience here. Growing up in an evangelical home, we all spoke of loving Jesus more than anyone or anything else. It was just a matter of course. But then I saw it put into action as my parents chose Jesus over me. When I started asking questions and striking out on my own, my parents’ belief that they must put Jesus first at all costs and do what he wants of them at all costs led them to completely sabotage their relationship with me.

Each and every day, I know and am painfully aware of the fact that my parents love Jesus more than they love me, and that they would and did pick him over me. More than that, they would admit that and say it’s a good thing and how it should be, as would any other evangelical. While I understand where they’re coming from because I used to think like they do, I have to say, it kind of hurts.

But it’s slightly more complicated than this. Evangelicals would argue that constant attempts to proselytize or bring a straying child “back into the fold” are actually more loving than allowing a friend or relative to walk headlong into hell. Causing temporary pain or uncomfortability or broken relationships are worth it if it helps bring about that individuals ultimate conversion. In other words, they cause others pain in the name of love.

And that makes it all so much more twisted. How could I fault my parents for simply doing what they considered most loving? How could I blame them for wanting what’s best for me? When I look at the broken relationships and pain that has resulted from their desire to save me from eternal damnation, I am at a loss for who to blame. This is one thing I find highly problematic about religion: it can lead otherwise good people to do cause others pain in the name of love.

My advice for you, Natasha, is to get out and stay out. Yes, your boyfriend loves you, but as long as you remain “unsaved” he will end up sabotaging your relationship. Your beliefs and values are incompatible, and yes, he loves Jesus more than he loves you.

  • Tony

    Natasha’s conversation with her boyfriend underscores an increasing fear I have (not fear in the ‘I’m paralyzed and unable to function or move’ kind of way). At 36, as an atheist, humanist, gay male of color in the the US south, I’ve never been in love, or had a long term relationship. Longest I’ve had is three months. I just worry sometimes that being true to myself-something which I won’t compromise; I’m proud to be a humanist and atheist- will have the negative effect of a lonely love life. Rationally, I know I don’t know that. Emotionally, it’s frustrating.

    • jasondick

      There are a lot of people like you out there. It only remains to find them. I’d generally suggest two things:
      1. If you don’t already, think about trying to move to a larger city. Larger cities generally are more liberal and less religious, and thus are more likely to have similar-minded people.
      2. Try meeting people online first, either through online dating services or other meeting places online. You have a vastly, vastly larger pool of people to search through online, making the chances of finding somebody right for you far, far higher.

    • Steve

      On the bright side, being gay probably means that you are spared the really fundamentalist Christians. Of course not everyone who is gay is an atheist, but they probably take it a bit less seriously than your usual Biblethumper

    • cactusren

      Tony, I second jasondick’s suggestion for online dating. That’s how I found my atheist boyfriend while living in the midwest (we’ve now been together nearly 3 years). The online format allows you to screen out people who are overly religious, or religious at all, depending on what you’re comfortable with. There are other freethinkers out there, even in the south, and the internet is a great tool for finding others. Online or not, I wish you luck in finding someone you can share your life with.

  • jasondick

    This sort of situation is precisely the reason why I don’t consider intention, good or bad, to mean much any longer. Results are what count to me, not intentions. The most that good intentions might potentially offer is that the person might be willing to change their behavior so that it produces better results in the future. But if they refuse to do that, then they are just as bad as the person that has bad intentions, as far as I’m concerned.

    I guess I think of it as kind of like a doctor: if I want a doctor, I don’t just want some random person who really really wants to help. I want somebody who is a genuine medical expert and actually knows how to do it. Where a doctor is concerned, there really isn’t any difference to me as to whether the person is malicious or incompetent: either way I get hurt, and I shouldn’t have to deal with that.

    So yeah, having an evangelical family, I don’t ever want to put myself in Natasha’s position, and generally I am not interested in trying to date somebody that is religious. It also doesn’t help that growing up in that evangelical household, I would have a strong desire to convince them that there is no such thing as the supernatural, and I really, really wouldn’t want to put anybody I was dating through that. So I would most definitely recommend to not get involved in that kind of relationship.

    With my own family, fortunately I haven’t had to deal with a constant stream of them proseletyzing to me. If I ever do, well, it won’t be too long before I lose patience and state flatly, “Look, if you want to continue to have a relationship, stop this now. Otherwise I don’t see any reason to speak to you again. Ever.” I’m glad it hasn’t gotten close to this yet.

    • Tony

      Jasondick:

      So yeah, having an evangelical family, I don’t ever want to put myself in Natasha’s position, and generally I am not interested in trying to date somebody that is religious.

      You say ‘generally’. I take it you have tried dating someone religious before? I’d be curious to hear any details you feel like sharing. I’ve been curious for a while about success/failure stories involving nonbelievers and theists building a relationship. I haven’t had issues with regards to dating a believer, so all I have is speculation to go on.

      • jasondick

        No, sorry, I haven’t dated religious people. But then I haven’t dated many people total, so that isn’t saying a whole lot. I do, however, have lots and lots of religious family members. And that alone is enough to want me to not date a very religious person.

  • ambassadorfromverdammt

    How could I blame them for wanting what’s best for me?

    They do not want what is best for you, they want what is best for them, (actually, what they assume is best for them, because they have not tried any alternatives) and project that on to you.

    If they truly wanted what was best for you, they would be asking you what that is.

    • Steve

      That’s sometimes known as the Platinum Rule: “Treat others how they want to be treated”

    • Gabbeh

      THIS.

      I come from a Catholic family, and the idea that being catholic is “what’s best for you” is a HUGE deal. It’s gotten to the point that they’ve argued I’m intolerant for reading Freethought Blogs in common areas of the house and saying I might get formally debaptized at some point. The idea that the church might not even be a good place for some doesn’t seem to exist in those circles.

      • Steve

        That’s not a threat. It’s a gift. Getting debaptized is actually very hard to impossible

      • Gabbeh

        @Steve- Sorry, my writing is not clear there- I’d talked about working through the precess myself (I’m openly gay and atheist, to the point of being involved with local queer groups and doing some podcast and outreach work with my university atheist group, so I would probably have a good case. I’m also lucky enough to have enough of a grasp of canon law, etc, that I could make the case for heresy on my part.)

      • Steve

        Ok. It was me who misunderstood. Now that makes more sense :)

  • Gordon

    How terrifying! I could not even consider a relationship with someone who loved their god more than they loved me. I mean why have me in the relationship at all?

  • redwood

    I saw instances of this before I was able to leave my evangelical church (and town and state and country). Jesus really does come first–we were all taught that over and over. But then I’d see members of my church putting themselves or their money or possessions or desires first . . . It sounds like Libby Anne’s parents were honest and serious about their beliefs, but as ambassador says above, those were more important than she was. That’s what’s wrong with religion.

  • barbrykost

    What I find distressing is the insistence that you must love on a scale! You love your partner, you love your child. Wich one do you love more? When you have another child, where does he fit in the hierarchy? If you have twins, which one do you decide to love more?

    • http://whoireallyaminside.blog.com/ Jenn

      I was told from an early age what the hierarchy of love was for my mom:

      1. God
      2. My Dad
      3. Us Children

      I also find it hard to put a hierarchy to people I love. I don’t have children, but I have a cat I love as much as anyone else. I wouldn’t tell my husband I love my cat more than him or put a priority of him over her. I don’t feel I have to choose or “prioritize” one over the other.

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, not to be confused with The Borg

    Libby Anne, your posts are very interesting and very frightening.
    You know, coming from an atheist family, growing up with “normal” realtionships, having been always considered as a person just for and because of myself, the mindsets you describe frighten me.

  • mcbender

    I find myself very disturbed by the linked article, but I find it very difficult to articulate why.

    I think the core principle is absolutely right, that relationships between believers and nonbelievers are a terrible idea. I think I’d phrase it differently, though: I don’t think a relationship between a sceptical thinker and an unsceptical thinker can work, and this extends to religious belief because that falls under the umbrella of unsceptical thinking. Basically, I think that for this kind of relationship to work, one needs to be able to respect the other person’s thinking even if there is disagreement on some conclusions, and in the case of religion and woo, the thinking that leads to them is problematic. That’s my view on it, and it’s why religion is a deal-breaker for me personally, although I’m not at all sure this is the problem for the author of the article…

    “Jesus comes first” is problematic, of course, but I can’t help thinking it’s more of a symptom than anything else in this case: this relationship really doesn’t sound healthy in several ways.

    I will admit that in some ways I find the “loving Jesus more than X person” a difficult idea to understand – I’ve always found it hard to imagine somebody could have the same type of love for a concept like God/Jesus that’s in his/her head as he/she would have for an actual person, irrespective of the relative magnitudes of those loves.

    There are some other things I found worrisome in this article. The way the author thinks about relationships (“always thought I’d be married with kids by now”, “settling for 80%”, etc) suggests that she still buys into the marriage-focused cultural narrative of relationships and I think that might also be contributing to her uneasiness (also, the mention of “Twilight” was troubling, but that’s not a topic I really want to get into at the moment). I find myself thinking that the author could use a good dose of feminism as much as anything else…

    I’m honestly not sure what I’m trying to say here. The relationship described in the article (and the way it’s described) send up all sorts of red flags for me, but I’m not at all sure I’ve been able to express why.

  • Otto

    I think Libby’s summation is pretty spot-on, but it’s missing what is, in my experience, a really important part of the equation. The issue is not so much that an evangelical weighs their love of their spouse/partner/family against their love of god – it is that they believe that they can only love people BECAUSE of their love for god. It’s not just that loving god helps you love your spouse better, it’s that you literally cannot love a human without first loving your god. It’s like when you’re on an airplane and they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else. God is the oxygen mask – existing in a loving relationship with him is a prerequisite for being able to express love and care for anyone else. If you don’t love god first, then you, and everyone around you, is going to die. The love for god is what makes love for spouse possible in the first place, and so the first one is, by necessity, always going to win.

    This is one reason why evangelicals are just so freaked out sometimes by atheists. Because they experience their relationship with god so intensely as the lens through which everything else is experienced, they can’t imagine a relationship with the world and with people without it. Atheists, they reason, must not be able to feel true love, or loss, or etc., because they’re not wearing that oxygen mask.

    The ideological construction is enchantingly poetic in some ways – at least, it would be if it were just, say, in a novel or other work of fiction. But the way it works in real life and the way it destroys human beings and relationships who don’t fit into the prescribed system is horrific.

    • Margaret

      …you literally cannot love a human without first loving your god

      So not only is the boyfriend saying that his love of Natasha is a pale shadow of his love for his imaginary friend, but he’s also saying that he doesn’t believe Natasha is capable of loving him. Even if he isn’t actually saying the latter yet, he’ll end up throwing that in her face eventually. Run Natasha, run.

  • Beck

    As a bisexual, feminist, freethinker atheist who comes from a pretty conservative evangelical family, this really hit home.

    Like you, Libby, I’ve had to listen to my parents tell me that their god is more important than their daughter. I nearly lost access to my 4 minor siblings because my mother is afraid I will “drag them to hell” with me. Religion poisons relationships.

    One of the fundamental parts of a relationship, particularly a romantic one, is respect–as a skeptic, I cannot respect the nonsensical thinking that leads to belief in gods. And it’s a rare Christian who is able to respect other people and not constantly try to convert them.

    Natasha, sweetie, run. Run fast, and don’t look back–you might turn into salt.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    This was a really interesting–and touching–post, Libby. This is one of the most confusing aspects of evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity to me–this idea that the love that humans feel for each other can only ever be a pale shadow of the love they feel for Jesus. Or for that matter, that Jesus feels for them. In a lot of the proselytizing literature that I’ve seen, there’s usually some part about “God/Jesus loves you. He loves you more than you can possibly be imagine, much more than your family or spouse or friends love you.” And I always think “Am I supposed to find this idea appealing?” Because, from my point of view, who would? Who would LIKE the idea of thinking that they love they experience from their loved ones is actually just this wimpy imitation of real love? And who would like the idea of putting all the love they feel for those people in second place in their own lives? That thought disturbs me. But apparently, a lot of people like, it or Evangelical Christianity wouldn’t have so many converts. I don’t get it.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I agree with you – but on the other hand, I think you’re equating “puts Jesus first” with “therefore, constantly proselytises to nearby unbelievers”, which isn’t necessarily the case. In evangelical circles it may be – but out here in mainline churches, “puttting Jesus first” would mean having to love those around you – but not necessarily having to proselytise.

    Which is a good thing, because I cannot imagine proselytising my friends to be a loving act. They would hate it, I would hate it, and it would ultimately damage our friendship.

    I really dislike the attitude among some fundy Christians right now of “well, yes, I’m spitting in his face and telling him he’ll go to hell – that’s THE MOST LOVING THING I COULD DO” as if “love” means “keep away from hell at all costs” rather than something more than that.

    • Libby Anne

      You’re right, there are different ways to “put Jesus first.” I know the nicest old man who believes that Christianity is all about loving and serving each other – no hell fire, no proselytizing, etc.

      I think part of the issue is that when you say “put Jesus first” you then have to determine just what it is Jesus wants you to do, and then do that even if it results in causing others pain or in broken relationships. Because the Bible can be interpreted in very different ways, and because people can hear such radically different things from Jesus in their prayer life, etc, the result is that “what Jesus wants you to do” varies from Christian to Christian.

      And there isn’t really an easy way to convincingly tell a Christian that they’ve got it wrong. My parents are 100% sure of their beliefs, because they’re sure that’s what the Bible says and it’s also what Jesus has personally “told” them. There is no “reality check.”

      And now I’m starting to ramble. :-P Thanks for the comment, though.

      • carlie

        Yeah, there are all sorts of ways to put Jesus first that can make Natasha’s life miserable, from just irritating to really life-altering.

        Jesus wants me to go to church instead of out to brunch with you.
        Jesus wants me to go to Bible study every Friday night.
        Jesus wants me to vote for that guy whose main goal is to erode women’s rights.
        Jesus wants me to take this other job that pays less and means more time traveling.
        Jesus wants me to become a full-time missionary.

        If he is a committed evangelical, Natasha and her needs will never be first. And if he is swayed to make it so sometime, he will then be wracked with guilt over it and double down on his resolve not to fail in putting God first next time.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Among my mainline Protestant and liberal Catholic friends, this seems to also be the dominant interpretation of “put Jesus first:” Think about what Jesus would actually want you to do, which is love and help others, and do it. They seem to have noticed that Jesus didn’t follow up “Love thy neighbor” with “But not as much as thou lovest ME, ME, ME!!!!” and I have a deep respect for their attitude and approach. They are some of the finest, most sincere and earnest people I know.

      “I really dislike the attitude among some fundy Christians right now of “well, yes, I’m spitting in his face and telling him he’ll go to hell – that’s THE MOST LOVING THING I COULD DO” as if “love” means “keep away from hell at all costs” rather than something more than that.”

      Well-put. In fundy circles, it seems to me like the idea of “love” has become so watered-down as to be meaningless. A guy that I went to high school with, with whom my friends and I were somewhat friendly, has since become an IBF pain-in-the-butt and, a few months ago, he jumped all over the status update of one of my liberal Catholic friends who was condemning the anti-gay attitudes of many of her fellow Christians. He railed on gay people, railed on Catholics (for her own good, apparently), railed on all of us who had expressed support for her in comments, and when we finally called him on his aggression, responded something like “Well, you can do what you want, I’ll still keep loving you no matter what and hope you see the light one day.” I wanted to be like “Sorry, dude, but, no, you don’t “love” us. You don’t even like us. You have thinly veiled contempt for us.” “Love” in this case was a weapon for him, a way to passive-aggressively try to grab the high ground while going “nyah nyah, I’m better than you!” What a perversion of the entire concept.

      Soon after, he defriended me, my friend, and seemingly all of us who aren’t on the Crazy Train with him. I guess that was more “love.” lol

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Whoops, that’s “IFB pain-in-the-butt.” Pardon me. lol

      • http://janeyqdoe.com/ Janey Q Doe

        This strikes me as a very deep misunderstanding of what ‘love’ actually is. It’s bandied about as though the word has a meaning all on its own and requires no real physical or emotional action. Not that all evangelicals think like this, but you old acquaintance seems to not really understand that love requires affection rather than platitudes.

      • Alex SL

        They seem to have noticed that Jesus didn’t follow up “Love thy neighbor” with “But not as much as thou lovest ME, ME, ME!!!!”

        Um, actually, he kind of did:

        Luke 14:26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

        Luke 18:29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake,
        Luke 18:30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        @ Janey Q Doe–The thing is, I don’t think it’s just a peculiarity of this guy, I think there’s something about Christian fundamentalism that fosters that attitude. (The following
        is my observation and speculation from the outside. I’d be curious to hear Libby’s opinion, or that of any of the other posters here that know far more about this than I.) I mean, think about it. He’s a Christian, so he has to love everybody; he’s commanded to do so. There’s two ways you can try to go about doing that. One is that you strive for genuine compassion and understanding of people, defend their dignity and rights etc. And some people actually do this. Or you can just re-define “love” out of any relevance, and re-brand all your petty, narrow-minded, or disdainful feelings towards others as “love.” Disgusted by gay people? No you’re not! You just hate their sin because you love them so much and you want to save them. Look down on (like my high school acquaintance) Catholics, liberals, gay people, gay rights supporters, and everyone else who doesn’t think or live like you? No you don’t! It’s just that you love them so much and are pained to see how misguided they are! Facebook argument with all those people–that you started–not going your way and you want to have the last word and still feel like a righteous Christian? Just say a bunch of pass-aggressive crap about how much you love them and will be praying for them because you’re so above all of this.

        I’m not saying this holds true for everybody who holds this absolutist attitude. I think some people genuinely DO think they’re doing the best thing for others by rejecting them, berating them, shunning them etc. and I feel sorry for those people because it must be really awful to think that so many people, including some of your loved ones, are dooming themselves to eternal torture. But, for some nasty people, I think Christian “love” is just a cover for their nastiness. Treat others as cruelly or disrespectfully as you want, you still get to feel like a good Christian because it’s all for “love.” Hate as much you want, only call it love instead. What a great system!

      • Libby Anne

        That’s a really interesting way of thinking about it, PP.

        It seems like in every religious tradition, and outside of religion, there are wonderfully kind people and horrible bigots. I don’t understand how the same creed can be used by some individuals for good and for others as the avenue of hatred. What determines which they go with? This seems relevant to what you’re saying here.

        I think some people genuinely DO think they’re doing the best thing for others by rejecting them, berating them, shunning them etc. and I feel sorry for those people because it must be really awful to think that so many people, including some of your loved ones, are dooming themselves to eternal torture.

        This is my parents. They’re completely genuine. They’re great people. They’re not just bigots trying to cover their bigotry or anything. And that last sentence is so true. I just, I wish I could fix it, but I can’t.

      • kisekileia

        This reminds me of the reason I abandoned the belief that gay sex is a sin. I came to the conclusion that holding anti-gay beliefs and loving your neighbour as yourself weren’t compatible, and since the Bible is pretty clear that the latter is more important than the former, that was what I picked.

  • http://angramainyusblog.blogspot.com/ Angra Mainyu

    And that makes it all so much more twisted. How could I fault my parents for simply doing what they considered most loving? How could I blame them for wanting what’s best for me? When I look at the broken relationships and pain that has resulted from their desire to save me from eternal damnation, I am at a loss for who to blame.

    Granted that hurting someone so save them from eternal torment is not nearly as bad as hurting them – for instance – just to get their money, but with all due respect, and at least based on the information available to me based on what you posted, it seems to me that they’re the ones to blame for this.

    Again, I recognize that that assessment might be the result of insufficient information, so perhaps a better way to put it is: assuming only the information about the situation available to me, it’s very likely that they’re the ones to blame.

    On that note, the key is: “How could I blame them for wanting what’s best for me?”

    Your parents (again, from what I know) are doing some damage to try to save you from Hell, but not as much damage as other parents, and for the same reason or similar ones, have done.

    For instance, some have prohibited life-saving transfusions for their kids, engaged in brutal exorcisms, forcibly try to ‘cure’ gay people, and so on.

    I’m not suggesting that what your parents did is anywhere near any of that, of course.
    The point I’m trying to make is that, in such extreme cases, it’s clear that they are to blame, regardless of their intentions.
    In my assessment, the difference is probably one of (huge) degree, and so the different in amount of blame is also huge, but the problem is still there.

    In other words, even if they do not deserve a lot of blame, at least it seems to me that they deserve a little.

    Again, I do not mean to offend you, and I’m making that assessment only based on what I know from (very few) posts of yours, so the previous considerations might not apply to your parents for some reason I’m not privy to.

    In that case, though, I would still say that the previous considerations apply to most cases in which parents hurt their children in order to try to save them from Hell.

  • seditiosus

    Natasha, if you’re reading this, run like hell. Someone who puts their imaginary friend before you can not be trusted to have your best interests (or even his own) at heart.

  • Ace of Sevens

    Evangelicals are advised not to get in these relationships for a somewhat similar reason. Is this guy attempting missionary dating? Everything I’ve ever read from a source that wasn’t a naive teenager lusting over a hot heathen says this is a bad idea.

  • Deborah S

    I’ve been trying to get my brothers and sisters to read Dawkins, Hitchens, and Sagan for the longest time. Even went as far as to buy The Demon-Haunted World and give it to them. It’s not taking.

    It should be no surprise they’d rather persist without even hearing the other side’s arguments.

  • B-Lar

    The boyfriend is deluded and satisfied, and the girlfriend is not. Let the sacrifice of the relationship be made by both for the greater good of both.

    There can be no harmony in the world until the deluded and the reasoned never meet.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    See, I always SAID I love Jesus more than anyone else. But secretly I was terrified that I didn’t. And that God was going to punish me for loving my siblings or my husband more than Jesus. I tried to love him more, I really did try, but most of the time, I felt like I was failing.

  • Judy L.

    Two people can’t have a healthy relationship if someone else is at the centre of it, and that’s true of imaginary someone else’s like Jesus. (Parents who’ve separated can relate to each other in a healthy way with their child at the centre of their relationship, but they’re not having ‘a relationship’ with each other, they’re having a relationship FOR their child.)

    I count religious people among my friends and family, but I know that I could never have a primary coupled relationship with someone who believed in gods or ghosts or psychics or any of that imaginary nonsense. Our world views would just be too fundamentally different.

  • http://reasonableconversation.wordpress.com Kaoru Negisa

    The part at the end when you talk about constant conversion attempts being considered a good thing reminds me of a story the teacher who changed my life told.

    When he was younger and teaching in North Carolina, he had an elementary school class. They were doing a project on why their parents loved them. One little girl got to the front of the class and said she knows her daddy loves her because he wants her to be perfect and corrects her when she isn’t. She lifted her dress to show a back covered in welts and bruises.

    That was heavily paraphrased, but you get the idea.

    I don’t doubt that the father in question thought he was being loving, making his daughter more perfect. Though I have no proof of this since it happened before I was born, I’d still be willing to bet dollars to donuts that the father in question was trying to make his daughter more the way he thought god wanted her to be.

    This is also why I don’t like the “hate the sin, love the sinner” concept. Not only is it condescending, it’s impossible. When you do that, you’re not loving a person, you’re loving who you wish they were, and potentially doing great harm to them while trying to make that happen. You can’t love somebody on your terms, like this woman’s boyfriend wants to do. You have to love them on theirs. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in self-righteous apple polishing.

  • kisekileia

    This post is bang on, and I would say it’s generally applicable to most evangelicals, not just the Christian patriarchy crowd. I definitely ran across this thinking a LOT in my evangelical years.

  • Nenya

    This is also spot on in my experience. I often like to say that I felt guilty about my first same-sex crush not because it was lesbian (I had no words for lesbianism at the time) but because I loved her more than Jesus. Most people kind of look at me with a WTF? expression when I say this, but it’s true.

    My mom also got this from one of her mentors when she was dating my dad, and when she told *her* mother about it, my grandma told her it was bullshit. You are *supposed* to fall in love with your spouse! So even though they were in the kind of church that later gave me the same messages, my parents at least knew it wasn’t right.

    It took them–and me–a long time to work through issues around being able to have relationships with family who weren’t part of the church we were in, though; when we left the church we realized we had 20 years of friendship with my dad’s family to catch up on. (Sadly, now, some of *them* seem to be isolating themselves in skeevy churches. Sigh.)

    It doesn’t have to be this way between religious and non-religious people: my girlfriend right now is telling me about her Lenten observances, and I’m continually croggled at how sane and kind her personal Christianity is. It’s a bit of a revelation, even though I’ve known loving, non-fucked-inna-head Christians for years. But she’s fine with my agnosticism (sad I don’t really share her beliefs, but doesn’t try to change me) and it’s amazing seeing someone who takes her faith seriously and still adores her girlfriend.

  • Caroline

    I always thought I was a good Catholic, but this is one thing I always struggled with. I was told that I was to love Jesus/God more than anyone else. I couldn’t do that, I loved my family more and I couldn’t help it, and I felt kinda bad for it. Then again, not so much, because although I was a very devout believer, I always kinda felt God was a little more lax than that. Indeed to this day, I believe that if there is a God, then he forgives all, and more than that, he understands.

    • Megan

      you don’t have to force yourself to love Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want that because it’s not love. love is freely given, is it not? you don’t need to pressure yourself because the Lord knows what’s in your heart. that’s why He gave us free will because He didn’t want robots. it’s never love if it’s forced. probably you don’t know Him INTIMATELY enough that is why you’re struggling with your feelings. after all, we can’t love somebody we don’t know very well. love takes time. what you need to do, if you’re really determined to have a relationship with Him, is ask help from Him to teach YOU how to love HIM. the truth is, we will never be able to love Jesus the way he SHOULD be loved because we humans are inherently self-centered. we have many limitations and weaknesses. what we may perceive as love for God may be mistaken self-love. like for example, you might say you love God for all the blessings you received from Him. now, that may sound right but it is also likely that you love God for his GIFTS i.e. you love the giver for what he can give you, not for who he really is. this self-love is often proved correct if God takes away these things and He gives you nothing but crosses (trials, sufferings, pain, heartaches, disappointments). many people (including myself, i admit) react negatively when life gets hard and we feel that God abandoned us just when we need Him the most. a pure love for God does not waver during these dark times. in fact, it may even be strengthened. this is one reason why He tries us with painful circumstances in order that our love for the Lord is purified from all self-interest. even st. therese of lisieux had asked Jesus to give her His Love so that she may be able to love Him with His Love because she knew how limited and insufficient her love was for Him. in my case, I’m gradually learning to love Jesus. ironically, my love for Him grows the more i fall because it is often in my weakest, darkest moments, moments in which i am most unworthy and full of sin, that i see His mercy and Love so clearly that i can’t help but love Him in return. so ask the Lord to help you love Him the way He should be loved and He will gladly show you how.

      in response to the article: of course, we should love the Lord above everything and everyone. Jesus loves us so much that no human on earth, not even our parents and our spouses can ever compete in terms of degree and fulness. IT IS HE WHO LOVES US THE MOST. He gave us His whole Life, His whole Heart. He DIED for us on the cross in the most humiliating and excruciating way, He provides us with everything we need on earth for survival both materially and spiritually, He continues to forgive us and helps us when we call on Him. HE IS THE PERFECT BEST FRIEND. so He deserves nothing but our whole heart and soul.

      • Nea

        He gives you nothing but crosses (trials, sufferings, pain, heartaches, disappointments). … this is one reason why He tries us with painful circumstances

        In the immortal words of Ann Landers, “Are you better off with him or without him?” Thinking that it’s appropriate to “prove” love through causing the beloved pain, suffering, and disappointments, is textbook abuse.

        He provides us with everything we need on earth for survival… materially

        I am the one earning my paycheck, paying my mortgage, purchasing my clothing, and making my food. I am also lucky, because in the meantime, plenty of people are starving, sick, and homeless.

        Megan, I know that this is important to you – so important that you’ll break into a blog and break the commenting rules. But stop for a moment, and LOOK at what you are saying. LOOK at how ridiculous it sounds to someone outside your belief box. If your true intent is to win souls instead of troll, then THINK about how it sounds to tell atheists such as myself that your god is so loving that he acts just like a psychotically abusive boyfriend and that he magically provides things that I know for a fact I provide for myself.

  • Megan

    as a Roman Catholic Christian, i truly understand why atheists and agnostics would think this way about our beliefs. like i said, you can never love someone you don’t know. believe it or not, i didn’t have any love for God too. i never even gave Him any importance and i used to dislike praying the Rosary with my family. but He saved me during the darkest period of my life. i had failed medical school then and i became suicidal because of that. i gave up on myself. family thought of me as a disappointment. i didn’t have anyone, including myself. but Jesus was there. He helped me back up. He gave me back my hope. and i wondered why would He help somebody like me? i was arrogant, proud, disrespectful, addicted to sexual impurity, short-tempered and pretty much a failure. i was even molested when i was a child. in short, i was so broken. but Jesus still accepted me, unworthy i was, with open arms. He gave me my life back and gave me the strength to live and move on. He never gave up on me. He was there for me when nobody else was. that’s when I realized just how kind and forgiving Jesus is and how wonderful His Love really is because it’s unconditional and all-encompassing. i understood that His mercy is way stronger the more sinful and repentant you are. unlike people, God’s Love does not set any requirement or condition. You don’t need to be like this or like that to qualify for His love. You don’t need to be physically beautiful and hot. You don’t need to be rich to be part of the “in” crowd of Christianity. You don’t need to “be” somebody important or achieve a lot of things to deserve God’s Love. i understood that God loves me for who i am, warts and all. He loves all of you too, despite the fact that you doubt Him and mock His existence and Sacrifice on the cross. He loves all His children, even drug addicts, homosexuals, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, alcoholics, and convicted prisoners because His Love does not discriminate. He always rescues anybody, no matter how bad they may be, who will call on Him with a sincere heart.

    • Malitia

      You know how your story sounds like for someone who isn’t Christian? You suffered from depression (and your family was extremely unhelpful) and you used belief as a way of coping. And by its deceptive nature now you’re stuck in a “I’m such a sinful creature (god said it)” combined with “god can and did help me (despite my sinful nature)” loop. I feel very sorry for you.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

      Oh Megan, I hope you don’t blame yourself for being molested as a child. It wasn’t your fault, and you’re not a broken or bad person because of it.

  • Megan

    In fact, evangelicals are frequently urged to examine their lives to see if they are putting anything before God – that cool new car, the career that’s finally looking up, or even that awesome boyfriend or girlfriend. Putting anything – or anyone – before God is seen as completely and absolutely unacceptable – and even a threat to one’s eternal salvation. Even putting your family before God is committing “idolatry.”

    I want to comment on this one. Idolatry is like committing adultery with God. God desires so much that we put Him first because basically, we owe Him every single good thing we enjoy in this world, and every good relationship we have with others. Let me put it this way: what if you have a son. naturally, since he’s your son, you love him more than anyone else this world. as a birthday present, you gave him the latest model of his dream car. he’s ecstatic of course and goes out of the garage to practice driving it. eventually as months roll by, he becomes so absorbed and preoccupied with the car that he forgets little by little his responsibilities at home. when his car breaks down, he demands from you some money (since he’s still in let’s say, high school) so that he can have it fixed. to your surprise, he even gets angry either because you refused his demand or because the amount you gave is too little. and then you got sick but unfortunately for you, he’s nowhere to be found. you call him on the phone and you find out that he’s having the car remodeled somewhere. you ask him to buy you some medicine for your fever but he carelessly tells you that he can’t because he’s too preoccupied with the car and even suggests that you to buy them instead because he doesn’t have the time. you can’t help but think that he values your gift more than you and he’s become totally ungrateful. it’s very painful because he’s supposed to love YOU more than the car because one, you’re his mother and two, YOU gave him that birthday gift. why should a mere gift be given more importance than the giver? it’s the same way with God. We offend God when we love other people and things (the unmerited gifts) more than we love Him (the generous giver). remember He didn’t even spare His own Son. He had to endure seeing His Son suffer unexplainable torment in the hands of the very same people He should be punishing for willful disobedience (us) so that we would be reconciled with Him and be deserving of our true home which is Heaven. furthermore, i am of the opinion that following God’s commandments shouldn’t be grounded on fear but on love. the Bible says perfect love casts out all fear. it’s like, being faithful to your boyfriend or your husband. you don’t want to cheat on them not because you’re scared of what they might do to you once they find out our infidelity and with whom but because you love them and respect them. it’s the same way with Christianity. i came across a line on one of the Christian books i’ve been reading. Jesus had said: “I do not want obligations. I want sincerity. I want your HEART.”

    • Kodie

      God sounds like a faulty human being. When you give a gift, it has no strings attached. God supposedly gives this gift and because a human is humanly ungrateful for the gift and takes it for granted and just wants more, god throws a snit and says “but you owe me!” So many bad relationships between humans start and end this way.

      You say god wants sincerity and gratitude and that’s another way a human could react to a gift, but as you describe it, you are actually doing it out of fear and not love. Your whole little story here spells out an abusive and imbalanced relationship. I would expect more maturity and evenness from a perfect loving god and not so much with the jealousy and tantrums. It really just sounds like you are anthropomorphizing what it’s like to be a human animal inhabiting a planet. The winds of nature and sociability are difficult for you to contend with, so you submit to its abuse like it’s a person and do whatever you can to possibly demonstrate your willingness to please whatever you imagine it to be.

  • Megan

    @Nea i’m not trolling. as far as i know, i never said anything insulting to anybody. but if sharing something wonderful is as you say “trolling” fine with me. i’m only telling what i know and experienced for myself. if you don’t want to believe any of it then that’s up to you.

    • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

      What you’re doing is preaching, in this case to a crowd who’s heard it all before (and for may of us: *said it themselves* at one time). And yes, that is insulting, even if unintentionally. And it counts as trolling insofar as it indicates an unwillingness to engage in adult discussion.

      Try reading more and typing less.

    • Nea

      It’s! Not! Wonderful! That’s the part you’re not understanding! You call Jesus a “perfect best friend” and then describe how right and good it is that he tests, hurts, disappoints, and causes pain to people. You say it is offensive to wholeheartedly love the family and friends right in front of you. You talk about how “good” it is that your God was willing to kill his own child, as if we’re supposed to be pleased and impressed that he did something that anyone else is thrown in jail and called psychotic for.

      It’s the least compelling argument to worship the way you do that I can think of.

      Oh, and by the way? My parents did give me a car. I wasn’t a jerk about it. So that sad little story wasn’t particularly convincing either.

    • “Rebecca”

      You say “if you don’t want to believe any of it then that’s up to you” but I think you’ve got it wrong. For many of us, we are *incapable* of believing something based on simple assertions and flimsy evidence. It’s not a matter of wanting.