A couple of weeks ago, in “The Poison of Undeserved Power,” I was talking about how important personal and tribal power is to way too many Christians. At the time, I stopped short of discussing exactly how to walk away from that framework of power grabs and dominance-seizing. It seems fitting, however, to return to this topic now as we look at the Christian glurge movie/book The Shack and observe its main teaching: that independence is to be distrusted and rejected. Like everything else in Christianity, this teaching is neither isolated nor an accident.
Cromwell, I Charge Thee.
The one quality that Christians universally condemn is an excess of independence. They call it all sorts of things. Sometimes it’s selfishness, sometimes rebellion, and sometimes–as the Catholic Cardinal Wolsey famously asserts to Thomas Cromwell in Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII–it’s ambition. It always means the same thing, though: independence. Christians may word it as a desire to work for one’s own benefit rather than the religion’s, as an insistence on thinking for oneself, or simply as a rejection of the demands of the leaders of the movement. The solution in all cases is always the same: to “fling [it] away.” Independence is the ultimate bugbear of Christianity: its dread enemy, its forever and always foe.
It never ceases to amaze me that Christians buy into this condemnation of independence, issued as it is by the very salespeople who stand to gain the most from their marks’ buy-in.
Of fucking course Christian leaders are going to do every single thing they can to smear independent thought as much as they humanly can; after all, it is that very quality that leads people right out of their control. So don’t be surprised that Christians paint the very idea of independence as if it is right up there with cannibalism. As the most over-zealous of them do with the scientific method, their goal is to make independence sound so ickie and horrifying that their own product starts looking valid by comparison.
That is why Holly Ordway, a self-described “rational academic” whose book Steve Shives ripped to shreds over on YouTube, explicitly paints her own sense of independence as a force she had to “relinquish.” In the following quote from her book, too, notice her use of capitalization:
So then: this is the account of a glorious defeat, an unsought but desperately needed relinquishing of my cherished independence–an unconditional surrender in which I was brought from death to life, from trying to live without God to being led fully into his Body, the Church.
She sounds positively ebullient about how awesome she thinks it is to be a slave for Jesus! She phrases it in the same transcendent terms one sees often out of apologists and adherents alike.
The way she talks about how happy she is to have “relinquished” her independence reminds me quite a bit of how forced-birthers (opponents of abortion rights for women–the term isn’t mine, but I like it) literally pray that women will be magically cured of their curse of independence so that they’ll quit seeking and obtaining abortion care and just get married already and make babies like Christians think their “God” wants. I’m sure as hell not the only person who’s heard this exact phrase bandied about in exactly this setting. The meaning is always the same: that women are so bugfuck stupid that we’ve gotten all turned around by this false promise of independence–and so we rebel against the “Godly” ideal of marriage and motherhood, hoping to find happiness.
Seeking independence, Christians teach, women instead get trapped by sin and demonic influences and end up super-unhappy and shriveled-up, unwanted by proper Godly Christian men and realizing only too late what a mess we’ve made of our lives.
Then along comes an apologist to tell us that our big problem was that we sought independence at all, and that our true happiness will come from surrendering our independence to discover our place in the grand scheme of things just like he or she did.
Holly Ordway is not saying anything that a hundred other apologists haven’t said in plenty. In the religion’s mythology, desires for independence necessarily always come from and result in estrangement from their god. For some reason, this god totally can’t work his magic in a person who is independent.
If independence is the evil force to defeat within ourselves, then submission–its opposite–is the gentle divine force that must be captured. And if in surrendering themselves Christians discover that they are now prey to be victimized by abusers in their religion’s ranks, well, those abusers just aren’t doing it right. The solution to that victimization will be more surrender, not less.
And Christians never stop to wonder why these constant admonitions to avoid independence seem to benefit their leaders far more than themselves.
Sophia Tells It Plain.
In The Shack, when the hero Mack meets up with the living personification of his god’s wisdom, she tells him bluntly that his problems are his own fault. His daughter’s brutal rape and murder wasn’t his god’s desire, you see. That god was totally hamstrung by a world that demanded independence:
Your world is severely broken. You demanded your independence, and now you are angry with the one who loved you enough to give it to you. Nothing is as it should be, as Papa desires it to be, and as it will be one day. Right now your world is lost in darkness and chaos, and horrible things happen to those that he is especially fond of.
Notice that she’s zeroed in on independence as the big problem here. Her god just loved people sooooo much that when they demanded independence from him, he gave it to them even knowing it’d mean the rape and murder of little girls–who, it might be noted, didn’t choose independence from this god or anybody else. It seems that he’s all for letting his creation run wild, and then turning around and passive-aggressively blames a parent for the death of his child–because that is literally the only other option besides riding humanity like the bunch of donkeys we apparently are to him. This mess is Mack’s–and by extension all of humanity’s–problem. “God” totally wanted to do something else, but he got his mind changed by the rebellion of his Creation and said “FINE, fuck you all, I’ma just go play with myself over here” and flounced away to let us suffer.
(Tell me again why Christians think their god is so incredibly moral? This whole passage is just the most grotesque thing I’ve seen this week out of their religion.)
When Mack reasonably asks why his god doesn’t get up off the toilet and go do something about crimes like the one that took his daughter, Sophia remonstrates with him that he already did–by having a rough weekend for humanity 2000 years ago. Mack never asks what the fuck that has to do with anything or points out that Jesus’ rough weekend doesn’t appear to have changed anything in the least; instead, he literally hangs his head and accepts her next false dilemma: that the alternative to just accepting that this is the way humanity functions in absence of Christianity is for that god to be strictly harsh in judging all of humanity.
When Mack says “There must be a better way,” Sophia–meaning the author, of course–has a solution:
There is. You just can’t see it now. Return from your independence, Mackenzie. Give up being his judge and know Papa for who he is. Then you will be able to embrace his love in the midst of your pain, instead of pushing him away with your self-centered perception of how you think the universe should be.
There you go, friends. The solution here is to return from your independence. In practical terms, Sophia tells us that this advice means to shut up and stop asking questions. Especially we must stop ourselves from wondering why this supposedly-omnimax god seems so incapable of fixing the evils that exist in our world. Just shut up and obey.
And again, this advice serves Christian leaders far more than it serves followers. Have you noticed that this self-enslavement happens in the real world in the same way, every time? Indeed, in lived reality surrender means obedience.
Without there actually being a god involved at all in the religion, however, every single thing that Christians think their god wants actually works out to being something that their leaders want. And those leaders benefit greatly from followers who have been persuaded to stop asking questions–and to accept their place as the servants of those who have assumed authority over them.
That is why Christians will never paint independence in any other way than in the very worst possible one.
Why Independence Is So Bad.
Independence goes along with a recognition of boundaries and rights, and obviously Christian leaders won’t want people to assert either. As Aram points out in his excellent notes on the novel, the idea of human rights that stand on their own is one that the author of this bullshit slams constantly and with great vigor. He put it so well I see no reason not to simply quote it:
For any created being, autonomy is lunacy.
We play God in our independence. The only remedy is to give up the right to decide good and evil and choose to live in God and trust and rest in his goodness.
Declaring independence will result in evil because apart from God, you can only draw on yourself. That is death, because you have separated yourself from God, from Life.
“Rights” are where survivors go so they won’t have to work out relationships.
Jesus gave up his rights so his dependent life would open a door that would allow us to live free enough to give up our rights.
Evil was never a plan of God’s. We must return from our independence, give up being his judge, and know God or who he is.
All evil flows from independence.
Did you notice how many of these observations revolve around the idea of independence being the worst thing ever?
Slavery for Thee, But Not For Me.
The notion of happy slavery runs all through Christianity. It’s baked into the source code, so to speak. It runs alongside the other big concept in Christianity, this idea that everyone is a slave to someone or something. Christians are simply slaves to the ultimately wonderful master. All other masters are inferior and will only lead their slaves into a terrible place both in this life and the next. It is only through surrendering one’s rights and happily acquiescing to the demands of the leaders of Christianity that people can be happy in both this life and the next.
Every time you see someone asserting that people must give up their human rights for any reason, you are witnessing a sales attempt to get people to buy something that is very bad for them.
Christianity simply cannot exist in the middle of independence and rights. The leaders of it tell us this every single time they attack the very idea of people having rights or the very notion of independence. Even the “nice” forms of the religion idolize the notion of serving Jesus, which tells me that if they buy into the idea of human rights in the first place that they coexist with the idea in a really uncomfortable way–and despite what they keep trying to tell us, their religion does not inform their stance on rights (as one sees affirming Christians often trying to do by saying that their take on Christianity is exactly what leads them to accept that LGBTQ people have human rights equal to those outside the quiltbag), but rather it’s the other way around. The scary thing is that it’s their more authoritarian brethren who have the right of the Bible when they try to defend slavery as the divine will of their god.
The further right one goes into the religion, the harder its most fervent adherents and leaders reject the idea of rights and attack the idea of independence. Indeed, they must. Their demands and attempts to control are much broader than those made by the leaders of milder forms of Christianity. People naturally don’t like being controlled. So the leaders of more extreme forms of Christianity must really drill down hard on how bad the whole notion of independence is.
What they’re really upset about is that independence and the idea of inalienable human rights leads people to critically examine the religion’s leaders’ claims–and may lead people to reject their demands and attempts to control. That is the real problem here. Slavery is evil and our rights are ultimately inalienable, and both of those ideas lead people to walk away from the control tactics of Christianity.
One wonders idly as well if the people slamming independence realize that the whole reason they can do such a thing is that our culture prizes human rights and freedom of religion. If we were a theocracy like some countries still are, chances are that the Christians gushing about being such happy slaves would actually be part of another religion entirely–and wouldn’t have the luxury of pretending to ignore their own rights’ existence. The whole reason they can indulge themselves in such a silly and obviously-harmful pretense is because they live in cultures where they do actually have the right to believe whatever nonsense makes them happy. Slavery’s only awesome in the abstract to such Christians–not when it’s actually happening to the person gushing about being a happy slave for Jesus.*
What Christians do not have the right to do is to force others to buy into their nonsense. Instead, in our mean ole meaniepie secular democracies and republics, zealots must make their product look appealing so they can compete in a global marketplace of ideas for customers.
Such Christian salespeople find that they are less and less able to offer up a good reason to buy their product. It’s not unusual to see them not even trying to do that anymore. Instead, more and more, we see those salespeople trying to slam whatever they view as their biggest competition. In The Shack, the author views intellectual freedom as the enemy. It’s not hard to see why, considering the absolutely awful arguments he gives for why his omnimax, loving god allows evil to exist.
That First Step Out of the Shack.
The first couple of steps we make in leaving The Shack are almost always the hardest. After absorbing a lifetime’s worth of admonitions about the curse of independence and the like, often we’ve built up some ideas about what independent life looks like.
Those ideas are pretty much all false.
I know, right? It’s just so unthinkable that Christians who sell a worldview that is basically slavery as the bonus plan might have some very unrealistic things to say about what independence actually looks like!
But independence is a skill that can be learned. Every single time you flex it, you learn a little more what it’s like and you learn how good it is to trust yourself and make your own choices–insofar as you can.
For me, those steps were rather mundane at first. I stopped wearing the Baptist Burka, instead buying and wearing clothes that I liked and that I thought looked good on me–regardless of whether or not they fit into the Pentecostal dress code. I got my hair cut–leaving much more on the cutting-room floor than just limp hanks of split ends. I tried stuff I’d never tried before (like craft beer and bars) because I’d always been told that they were all just thin imitations of the joy to be found in Jesus–and discovered that actually, they were pretty damned fun all by themselves. I learned to put on makeup and discovered that I liked it just for itself. I joined a gym and got my shit together physically.
The steps got bigger as I learned what I liked and didn’t like, culminating in rejecting my then-husband’s control in an overt way and simply leaving rather than living according to his demands. It took a few more years to really find myself and to reject controlling partners and friends, but eventually it all clicked.
Now it’s simply second nature. I know what I like and don’t like. I don’t take on responsibilities I don’t want–and indulge in the ones that I do.
We all have various constraints on us–particularly financial ones–and often we limit ourselves deliberately to maintain the peace or to ensure relationship harmony. But even then, we find ways to express ourselves and grow in the best way we can.
By Christian standards, what I’ve described is simply horrifying: one step after another leading me further from “God.” But if there isn’t actually a god, then what is actually being rejected and abandoned is simply the control of Christian leaders and peers. If there is no god making Christianity special out of all religions, then there is nothing special about it. It’s just as fake as any of the other religions, making the same false claims, indulging in the same false teachings, and trying in the same ways to keep adherents from realizing just what is behind that curtain.
And that’s the big secret Christian apologists will do absolutely anything to stop people from figuring out.
Our self-sufficiency is the greatest threat there could possibly be to such people. And the more of us who happily talk about independent living, the less Christians can retreat into their folklore about how miserable independent people must be. We are the raised middle finger to this type of posturing: living examples that this teaching is, like every other teaching in Christianity, a lie that exists to serve its tellers.
Next up, popular demand has made me realize that it’s time for an episode of Apostate-Girl: ALTAR CALL EDITION. See you soon!
* A long time ago, I read the most hilarious fic ever about a woman from Earth who works hard to reach the world of Gor, where she offers herself up to a slave-master there. She thinks she’ll get made into a super-hot sex slave and have a great time. Hilarity ensues when she discovers that slavery in reality doesn’t look much like slavery in shitty science-fiction/fantasy novels.