I’m a child of the 80s, which means that I’ve pretty much memorized Top Gun. There’s this quote in it that’s always stuck with me–and which illustrates a serious shortcoming in the Christian religion’s followers.
In the 1986 movie under discussion, Maverick and his pal Goose, the movie’s heroes, are flying and being chased brutally hard by their flight-school instructor Jester during a training exercise. (Basically, the pilots are playing “tag” in the sky.) At one point Jester’s just about caught them, and Goose, worried that their loss will eliminate them from the flying round, tells Maverick “C’mon, Mav, do some of that pilot shit!” There’s a truth to that quote that just thrilled me the first time I heard it.
Do some of that pilot shit.
He wanted Maverick to pull out the stops, to show exactly how proficient he was, and to demonstrate that supreme skill in flying that he knew Maverick possessed. All the maneuvering they’d done up till then that day hadn’t been “that pilot shit,” not yet anyway. Oh, sure, they’d been flying, but that hadn’t been “that pilot shit.” Now Goose needed to see its fullest flowering. And he did. Maverick ended up performing a flying stunt that shocked everyone and won the round. He broke a rule, sure, but he won. By 80s-movie standards, it was a perfectly acceptable situation.
He had, indeed, done some of that pilot shit.
A pity we can’t talk fundagelicals into going and doing likewise with doing some of that Christian shit they keep yammering about.
Another Day, Another Failed Ambassador.
I’ve laid hundreds of thousands of words down on this blog’s track. More than a few of those words have dealt with Christians’ complete inability to follow their own religion’s rules and behave themselves as the moral powerhouses they keep claiming they are. (We’d be happy if they were at least as moral as non-Christians tend to be, but most of the time we don’t even get that much out of them.)
They are supposed to be their god’s “ambassadors,” the Bible tells them repeatedly, but if that is so, they are the worst ambassadors on the face of the planet and their god needs to fire them and get better ones. On that note, one might gently suggest he hire atheists–they not only know considerably more about the Bible and about Christianity generally than Christians do, but they repeatedly demonstrate that they are of exceptional moral fiber compared to the current crop of Christians. The problem he might have with that plan is that a great many atheists think he’s a complete rat-bastard as he’s described in his mythology-book, so wouldn’t ever work for him.
And oh, this “god” sure needs the help.
The Frisky had a good post last fall about how Donald Trump had started pandering to fundagelicals, telling them (in its writer’s excellent words) that they were “the victimiest of the victims in America today #ThoughtsAnd Prayers,” and if anything, that writer is understating the magnitude of their erroneous thinking. Indeed, it’s not hard to find a bunch of toxic Christians whining about how meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeean the supposedly-liberal media is because they keep publicizing stories about Christians who misbehave. (By way of clarification: when they say “liberal,” they’re talking about any group that is less-conservative than Breitbart and more flexible than the Vatican.) “Liberals trash Christianity non-stop,” blares one headline, stating a point of dogma by now: that there’s some massive antipathy toward Christians jus’ fer bein’ Christian, as the sullen and unstated reason goes. And every time it happens, toxic Christians feel just a little more sorry for themselves and just a little more outraged–and vengeful.
That’s how we’ve arrived at this current sorry state of affairs in that end of Christianity, with Christians stoutly insisting that if all those meaniepie bloggers and journalists can’t say anything nice (which is to say, anything that helps them make sales) then they shouldn’t say anything at all–like Christian media does! They know that consumers in the religious marketplace get all confused when they see stories about Christian hypocrisy.
Notably, nobody in their tribe seems to have seriously suggested that maybe Christians shouldn’t be acting like raging hypocrites in the first place or that maybe–just maybe–they ought to be examining their social system to see why they keep producing hypocrites and stories of shocking immorality. No, they’re positive that the issue is always that someone is bringing up that hypocrisy and shining light on it. That is always the problem. Even when that hypocrisy victimizes other people, Christians are convinced that if nobody is complaining, then there is obviously not a problem. Silence gets taken for harmony–because after all, predators would rather ask forgiveness than permission (since in a broken system, they’ll rarely ever reach that “asking forgiveness” stage anyway).
So in Christian bizarro-land, the complaint itself becomes the problem. The solution to the problem becomes “silencing the person making the complaint so nobody is complaining anymore.” Then toxic Christians can all go back to pretending that their religion is not a cesspit of hypocrites play-acting at following a set of moral instructions that categorically cannot ever create a harmonious or functional, safe or contented society. And they can keep selling their religion to others, who won’t know about the reality of it until (hopefully) they’re so indoctrinated they can’t possibly leave.
(If you’re wondering why this exact solution erupts so often in response to news stories about hypocrites, it’s because Christians know it’s a lot easier to shut dissenters up than it is to fix their broken system.)
And there’s a reason why Christians can’t engage honestly and lovingly and compassionately with complaints. (There’s always a reason. Always. Even when Christians seem to be doing the worst, most idiotic things possible, there’s always a warrant to their weirdness.)
ABC: Always Be Closing.
When someone belongs to a group that needs to proselytize, no matter what that group is, that person feels a strong obligation to SELL SELL SELL. Always Be Closing, as the classic movie line makes clear in Glengarry Glen Ross.
I’m here on a mission of mercy.
Did you ever notice how many times Alec Baldwin’s character makes religious references in that speech? He does, all through the scene. There’s a reason for it.
Have you made your decision for Christ?
Christians are less ambassadors than they are salespeople, and it’s always been that way. And the dynamics of being a salesperson are completely, totally different from those of being an ambassador. An ambassador is primarily concerned with making their ruler look good to their host country and with making the host country feel friendly toward their home country. A salesperson, by contrast, is out for #1–themselves. They’re out to get a sale, to make a commission, and they don’t particularly care how they get it or whether or not their mark needs the product at all.
Get them to sign on the line which is dotted.
When one works for a sales company that is deeply flawed, those flaws put the salespeople in a bind–but not that big a bind, if one is motivated enough.
When Jeff Foxworthy interviewed for a job once, the employer asked him what his flaws were. It’s a standard interview question, but he laughed and said he was selling them a product–himself–and so wasn’t about to tell them what was wrong with it till they’d purchased it. He got the job, and it’s hard not to wonder if his gambit worked because he was living in a Christian-heavy area. When someone wants to make a sale desperately enough, and can’t get another job selling something else (or thinks they can’t), then those flaws just have to be worked around as best one can manage.
Just buy the damned thing. You’ll figure out soon enough what’s wrong with it, but by then the salesperson will be long, long gone–with your money.
Not an Ambassador’s Response.
That’s why Christians react to criticism the way they do.
They’re not reacting to dissent and criticism the way ambassadors do. They’re reacting the way very desperate salespeople do. Someone has come along to shine some very unwanted light on some very serious flaws in themselves and their product, and they can’t fix either one.
So they are going to do whatever they can to darken that shining light.
One of the centerpieces of the movie Pete’s Dragon (the original one from 1977) is the song “Passamaquoddy,” performed in the movie by the huckster Doc Terminus. He’s just come to the town of that name (it’s a fictional town, but the Passamaquoddy are a First Nations people and it is also the name of a body of water–that’s your trivia of the day) to sell his snake-oil cures and liniments. The townsfolk remember him from the last time he came through–and not fondly at all. They yell at him and menace him over his useless and worse-than-useless wares.
And he responds as a salesperson would: by evading their concerns, restating their complaints to make his products sound better than they really are, and drilling down on his sales pitch in the face of overwhelming opposition.
And it works.
Doc Terminus is finally welcomed by the citizens of the town and begins to sell them the same quack cures he offered them the last time he was there.
You might notice that here, too, religious dogwhistles pop up all through this scene. They work in the movie just like they work in real life because the people who are susceptible to religious sales pitches tend to be susceptible to sales pitches for other products as well.
All I’m asking for is a miracle.
The Gift of Criticism.
What I’m describing here is not how a truly loving and ethical person behaves when a serious criticism of their product or organization gets voiced.
When someone in a more functional system learns of a hypocrite in their ranks, or a serious flaw in their operating assumptions, that person is going to move earth and sky to make the situation right again. They will pursue the wrongdoer to the ends of the world. They will begin the painful process of self-assessment and critical evaluation. They know that no system or product is perfect, and no group’s members are all totally virtuous–so this process might reveal some really awful stuff, but it’s necessary if the system is to improve and its members are to be safe from predation.
People play to the rewards that are most important to them. When a person’s desired reward is showing love and living a moral life, they’re going to act totally differently from a person whose coveted reward is the making of a sale. Someone who just wants to make a sale is going to be way more concerned with how much dominance they have, how idolized they are by their sycophants, how many numbers they rack up in members and resources given, and the like. Their eyes are on the prize.
And we know this truth deep down. That’s why we’re so impressed at the way Hillary Clinton snapped at a national security adviser to inform him that the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, as illustrious and important a media event as it was, wasn’t nearly as important to her as the impending raid on Osama bin Laden’s stronghold. And it’s also why so many folks in the skept-o-sphere are so disheartened by what sure looks like an ongoing and deliberate cover-up by atheist leaders of numerous sexual harassment cases against women.
When you see a Christian react to criticism of their religion and their various and sundry hypocrites, watch carefully to see whether they react like salespeople or ambassadors. You’ll notice very quickly that they do not regard criticism as a gift. It is, instead, something to fight and to silence with every single drop of effort they can muster.
(Not) Doing Some of That Christian Shit.
Many of us are watching with horror these days–even knowing what we know about Christians–as fundagelicals take to social media and the airwaves to gloat, sneer, taunt, and mock those who they have brutally and viciously hurt over the last year or two with their political grandstanding, and to exult in the pain they’ve caused. But we’re not surprised. Just horrified. This is an extreme even we weren’t quite expecting.
And you might remember a few days ago when a Christian showed up in our very own comments section to self-destruct over what he perceived as “attacks” upon him in posts I wrote a year or so ago. I wasn’t surprised–David Marshall is well-known for his very nasty behavior toward those he sees criticizing him and for his sheer pettiness in attacking any and all critics of his ignorant flailing masquerading as apologetics, so it was just a matter of time, really, before he figured out we were here. He didn’t last long, but his example really does neatly illustrate what I’m talking about here with Christians behaving as salespeople more than ambassadors.
Given the opportunity to do some of that Christian shit, David Marshall chose, instead, to be insulting, condescending, petty, and aggressive. I suppose it’s what passes for that Christian shit for way too many Christians just like him, but it sure doesn’t look much like what most non-Christians imagine when we think about the best ideals of the religion and it definitely doesn’t look like what most folks would think of when we think of a compassionate, moral, ethical, loving person’s behavior! We’ve got plenty of Christians floating around here who are part of our group–and we’ve probably all encountered Christians who were really nice. What happened a few days ago was nothing like that. (See the end of this post for screenshots, if you want to see what went down.)
Given the golden opportunity of interacting with people who belong to a group he at least ostensibly wishes to persuade, David Marshall chose, instead, to react exactly as one might expect a toxic and controlling person to react: with patronizing vacuousness, sarcasm, and dishonesty, all in the name of trampling me so hard with his OMG SO ZINGER, MUCH WITTINESS that I’d shut up. At least that’s what I guess was happening. It’s hard to say exactly what his goal was, except to try to hurt and humiliate me so much I’d hesitate before ever daring to say anything about King Him ever again–or about the product he sells. How loving!
Christians seem, as a group, thoroughly disinterested in doing that boring-ass stuff Jesus told his followers to do: turning the other cheek, giving their shirts as well as their coats to whomever asks for them, blessing those who curse them, going the second mile, forgiving 70 times 7, being known for their love. Too bad Jesus never told them they’d be known for their zingy witticisms!
This failed ambassador had a chance to show this community exactly what he’s made of…. and really, that is exactly what he did.
David Marshall is yet another failed ambassador. And I suppose it’d be one thing if at least he was a decent salesperson, but like most fundagelicals, he’s a pretty shitty salesperson too. As you’d expect, there’s a reason why Christians are so bad at selling their religion, and as we delve into their culture war and predictions for the year ahead, we’ll be touching on it.
Christians like David Marshall make me supremely glad that I’m no longer Christian. I no longer have to make apologies for assholes in the religion, nor do I have to reconcile their existence with my beliefs in the supernatural or square their total hypocrisy with my religion’s demands upon followers. Hypocrites do what they do for reasons that I find entirely too earthly. We’ll see you next time as we continue to explore this idea.
To My Longsuffering and Wonderful Editor: It’s not really profanity if I’m quoting a classic movie, is it?
Below you can find the thumbnails of David Marshall’s implosion in case you missed the fun (click to embiggen; I really did not like deleting the comments so I made sure to screenshot). A pity he wasn’t like The Quiet Christian. I wonder how TQC is doing. Anybody know? I adored that guy. Dude, if you’re out there….. you’re missed and remembered very fondly.