Easter may be one of the most beloved holidays of the Christian calendar, but a lot of the celebrations that weekend take totally for granted that the occasion marks the honest-to-goodness death of a real live god who really was tortured, died, buried, and then rose again after a brief time in Hell. In fact, a lot of their religion depends upon there being a real live god at the center of it. But if there isn’t actually a god involved at all in the religion, then nothing works the way it should.
The Torture Porn Starts Looking Especially Grotesque.
Christians get this uniformly adoring look on their faces when their leaders describe the ghastly, horrific, over-the-top torture that they think Jesus suffered before dying. Oh, how their eyes shine! How their lips part in wonderment! How their hearts swell with gratitude!
When others express total disgust for these stories, they’re quick to tell us that because we aren’t inhabited by “Jesus,” we can’t possibly understand how glorious and wonderful his torture was–or appreciate it the way they can.
But if there’s no Jesus inhabiting them, then they’re just getting off to stories of torture, no different from anything one sees in a modern thriller or in accounts regarding the American government. They’re glorifying the humiliation and heartless torture of a totally innocent human being–nobody different from themselves. That they are doubtless totally exaggerating the extent of that mistreatment only makes their giddiness over it look worse.
Without having any accounts at all of Jesus’ torture and death outside of the Bible, there isn’t much of a way to really know just what happened. But that just means Christians are free to make up whatever the hell they want. That’s why their accounts seem to get more and more lurid as the years go by–just like their descriptions of Hell, and for the exact same reason. Without there being a tether of actual accounts and details to restrain their imaginations, there’s no stopping them from making up whatever they think will sound effective.
When one considers that there isn’t actually a Crucifixion in history at all to work off of, then all these drooling-for-blood Christians just look weird. It’s bad enough that they’re totally obsessed with the topic and building constantly upon the violence done in the story, but if they’re just making shit up then it’s no different than someone creating an extreme-brutality movie franchise like Hostel or The Human Centipede.
Little wonder non-believers absolutely recoil from Christians who go on and on about it. We know they’re showing us something about their deepest hearts that they really shouldn’t ever want us to see.
Oh, but that’s not the only place where Christianity falls apart without a real live god at its center doing stuff. Easter might be the time of year we really notice that lack, but if you think about it, there are some other key places where their system breaks down utterly without a god being involved.
Relationship Advice Just Doesn’t Work.
Some time ago while researching something else, I ran across this Christian advice site. Like a lot of advice sites, this one has people emailing them questions and requests for help and then has both members and site mods answering those emails. But this one is run by fundagelicals, which means that the people answering the questions do so from a Jesus lens that distorts and fuzzes-up everything they see and makes their responses sound downright surreal compared to those who don’t suffer from the same shortcoming.
I’ve mentioned before through the years how Christian advice always has to run along certain lines to be acceptable to people who really think that a real live god is helping them get through their days–and how often this advice runs totally counter to what we actually know works in relationships.
Christians often make the claim that their relationships work better than anybody else’s, a claim they make in total absence of corroboration. It’s one of their favorite non-supernatural claims. But like their other claims about how their religion works, it depends absolutely upon there being a god inside them making them want to do the right things and also not want to do the wrong things.
And this idea is purest fiction, as we can tell by actually looking at the societies and relationships that Christians build for themselves. Over and over again, we see that when one group is stripped of power and that power is handed to another group unilaterally with no checks built into the system and no way to stop someone from abusing that power, inevitably the group in power abuses it. “Jesus” is supposed to make this separate-but-equal ideology into a harmonious, happy culture where everybody knows their place–where each member takes care of those lower on the ladder and obeys those higher up without backtalk or grousing.
When you hear Christians whine about the Good Ole Days that they imagine existed, that’s what they’re talking about: an age where everybody was a gung-ho fundagelical Christian and everybody adhered to fundagelicals’ separate-but-equal ideology. That’s primarily why they want to convert and reconvert everyone in sight and why they keep trying to peel rights away from previously-marginalized groups that have begun making progress in recent decades: so that they can go back to those days. That’s why they’re willing to force people to live by their rules, too–they think that if they can make everyone live by their rules for a while, even non-Christians will totally see how much better a Christian-built, Christian-run culture works and want to keep doing it (and maybe convert!).
So this advice site’s moderators think that they have a real live god inhabiting them, one who gives them the fortitude and wherewithal to abstain from bad things and the desire and earnest motivation to do the good things. All of their advice centers on this belief.
But take a look at it. The letter itself sure doesn’t sound like anybody involved has “Jesus” inhabiting them. And most of the readers’ responses below sure don’t sound like it either. The mods (whose responses are in light blue, I figured out eventually) have their hands full trying to admonish everyone to remember that they’re supposed to be thus divinely-inhabited! One mod, Elkay, writes to one husband, Bud, a very pastoral Jesus-y note (March 7, 2017 timestamp):
The Holy Spirit’s continued work in your life will empower you to show selfless and sacrificial devotion to the development of your wife. Show her that you love her no matter what and see how she will respond lovingly to you.
But what if there’s no Holy Spirit doing any work in anybody’s life? This advice assumes that if Bud does X, then the Holy Spirit will put into action Y, and Bud will get Z result. If he doesn’t get Z result, then the assumption will always be that he didn’t do enough of X (or didn’t do X correctly), because Y always starts happening when X is in play, and Y always gets Z result. If Bud’s wife isn’t Christian at all, by the way, then if he does X hard enough and well enough, she will probably even convert, since spouses can’t help but be totally affected by a Christian giving them sacrificial love.
Alas, that’s not what happens. At all. Bud can sacrifice as much as he wants, and all it’ll probably do is weird his wife out–or make her detest him more, since she’ll know (as I did when faced with similar behavior from my Christian husband) that he’s only doing it to compel her to do what he wants. Indeed, several husbands in that comment thread mentioned that they’d already done all the stuff the mods suggested, all to no avail. The mods generally went radio-silent at that point.
That’s because the advice offered was pure magical thinking–a transaction of X-for-Y-and-Z that only works in Jesus-land, but not in Reality-land. People don’t work the way Christians imagine they do, and so the advice offered–which might work on people if Christianity’s claims were true–doesn’t do anything constructive. Hell, it might not even work on people in that case, but we’ll never know either way because there is clearly no god doing anything for Christians in the first place.
When I reviewed The Love Dare, I was not at all surprised to see how many Christians wrote reviews that sounded downright baffled at how their totally fundagelical advice book could possibly have failed to magically improve their struggling marriages. Christians often get this totally unworkable advice from completely inept and incompetent counselors, and when they try to put it into motion in their daily lives everything implodes and gets worse–and the only way they can make sense of it is to assume they totally did something wrong.
The Benedict Option Doesn’t Work, Either.
And, too, we have the Benedict Option, which we’ve discussed before here (basically, it means that Christians should withdraw from society and make their own little societies, trying to stay separate from the secular world in hopes of avoiding the taint of sin; strangely, it has nothing to do with Pope Benedict but rather has to do with Benedictine monasticism). The Benedict Option advises Christians to create a society based around their own bizarre rules, one that enacts all of their separate-but-equal ideas.
The happy, peaceful societies that result are supposed to draw in non-believers, who simply won’t believe their sinful eyes when they see how amazing the results are. These societies are supposed to be totally Jesus-oriented, with worship and church the center of everyone’s lives. Children get educated in ultra-religious homeschools or community schools; businesses are co-ops and are run according to what Christians imagine are Christian values; the community itself distributes charity to those who need it; the group enacts strict rules against “sin” like viewing pornography. You get the idea. It’s neo-Confederalism writ large, with major leanings toward a sort of Amish farm/small-town lifestyle. The Christians involved with these groups believe that their god makes it possible to have societies like this, and moreover that a group of Christians who earnestly want to live this way will be able to do so because their Jesus Auras (that divine infilling) give them the strength to do so.
But how do these societies actually work?
I’d even go so far as to say catastrophically.
And the guy who basically started the movement, Rod Dreher, does his level best to keep Christians from finding out that truth.
Christians get involved in these communities because they genuinely believe that they’ll find the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ they think exist out there somewhere–a deception that drove me further and further into right-wing Christianity many years ago. But most folks never talk about the groups that totally fail. If they even know about them at all, they can easily retreat behind excuses about how the people involved just weren’t doing something right. They have a lot of motivation for thinking that way. They ache to live in a safe place to raise their kids (and get them securely indoctrinated). They want to inhabit a place where they won’t be considered weird or bigoted for just bein’ Christian. They want to go through their lives completely ensconced in a nice safe bubble with titanium walls.
What they actually find in Benedictine communities is a nightmare of nepotism, despotism, and unilateral power grabs by leaders who categorically do not deserve to be where they are. Most of these societies don’t last long as a result. They dissolve amid savage infighting, shocking scandals, and abuse of all kinds. The onetime adherents of these groups–cults, really, one might say–leave confused and hurt, unable to imagine how anything so Jesus-y could have gone so wrong.
The more of these societies that sprout up and then disintegrate, the more painfully clear it becomes to onlookers that there is no supernatural agent inhabiting Christians that allows them to create better societies than those found in the evil ole secular world outside their bubble. Secular societies sure aren’t perfect, but they at least contain mechanisms for redress and restraint as well as an ongoing attempt to bring about equality for all members. Toxic Christians, by contrast, refuse to allow those mechanisms to affect their groups, and think that equality is an idea that is worldly at best, Satanic at worst (“worldly” is Christianese for something that’s not overtly Christian).
And Prayer Doesn’t Do a Damned Thing It’s Supposed To Do.
I’ve described quite a few big concepts here today, but probably the most devastating place where one sees the total lack of a supernatural agent at work happens in the individual lives of Christians themselves.
Christians often speak of feeling touched by Jesus, and about how their prayer lives are filled and throbbing with the love of their god. They talk often about feeling like they are directly connected to this divine being (who, remember, is actually inside them and yet must be prayed to for Reasons). Indeed, thanks to the magic of catharsis and motivated reasoning they may well feel that way–for a while.
But there will come a time when catharsis is a million miles away, and when the religion’s promises have failed so utterly and so frequently that the motivation to work oneself into the state needed to feel that supposedly-divine touch just isn’t there.
Not only is this situation common, but it’s so common that pretty much every Christian group out there has tried to address it–and like their relationship advice, their advice about how to handle this dead silence from “God” all runs along the same Christianity-approved lines.
Cru has a listicle of “5 practical things to do when you can’t hear God’s voice,” none of which are actually practical. Christianity Today tells Christians that they shouldn’t always trust their feelings at such times, which is quite the turnaround from how fundagelicals evangelize and talk about their faith. Crosswalk offers a similar listicle to Cru’s, though this one has only 3 things on it–and it focuses entirely on their concept of sin, since that’s about all their writer can imagine would make a Christian feel totally cut off from their god. Billy Graham has decided that when Christians can’t feel their god’s presence, it must mean that they’re feeling doubt somewhere else. Relevant Magazine advises that such Christians should “whisper [their god’s] name” and to pray extra lots.
Those are just the major people and groups that I thought y’all would instantly recognize. Countless bloggers have taken up the exact same topic–and pretty much all of them have exactly the same lame advice:
Do more of what you were already supposed to be doing, except more of it and harder.
(Where have we heard that before?)
Look at the comments on these posts, too. Read the heartfelt notes from all the Christians who’ve chimed in that they’ve tried this stuff, that it hasn’t worked, that they don’t know what else to do. Not a single one of them has stopped to think that maybe if they’re having this kind of trouble feeling the presence of a being who totally for sure absolutely positively exists and is real and–most importantly–wants to commune with his followers like burning and do stuff for them, that maybe he’s not there, and it shouldn’t be this damned hard to detect him or to see the real effects of his hand upon the world.
Prayer to a totally nonexistent being (or a milk jug, or Joe Pesci) works about as well as prayer to the Christian god, and for much the same reasons: none of them have magical powers in the real world. If a Christian decides to quit praying altogether, they’ll often have the weird realization that things work about as well for them as they always have (which is what happened to me, at the end)–and maybe even better now that they’re not relying on magical thinking to get anything done.
Most of the stuff Christians ask for is stuff they were already going to get, or else stuff that has a decent shot of happening (at least in their minds): a job interview to go well, a medical issue to be healed, a proposal to be issued or accepted, a financial situation to resolve more or less favorably, etc. Or else it’s generic stuff that can’t really be verified or is so vast that the prayer in question is meaningless: someone to feel better, a war to come to a good end, a trip to end with a safe arrival, for someone’s (or the praying Christian’s own) faith to be increased.
Of course, when Christians start suspecting that prayer doesn’t do anything and make the mistake of saying anything about their doubts, they will be blamed just as Bud was for not praying hard enough or not believing hard enough, or of missing one of the many asterisked items on the list of requirements Christians have created for the Christian god to do anything for his followers.
The Real Meaning of Easter.
So when we hear the Easter sermons and see the Easter forwards on social media, let’s reflect on what the world would look like if the Christian god (or really any god) actually existed–and on what it actually does look like.
This world looks exactly like what I’d expect to see a world look like if there were no supernatural beings coddling it or doing anything in it. It works the way we expect a world lacking miracles to work.
And that’s actually a good thing. Imagine a world where some totally fervent Christian could cheat their way into a job, a marriage, a house purchase, a college acceptance letter,* or a jury verdict. Imagine a world where a Christian could actually avoid harm by sending a storm or tornado to someone else’s house or a predator to attack some other person that day.
But that isn’t our world, thankfully.
Christians have been praying for an end to violence, war, hunger, and other social ills for centuries with absolutely no success–the only way those things are actually happening seems to be with increasing global secularization (indeed, the more religious a society is, the more backward, brutal, and oppressive it is, an observation that applies to the United States as much as it does Iran). Those big things sure haven’t happened, and the small ones Christians claim constantly can only be seen as divine intervention through the lens of motivated reasoning and false pattern recognition. Slowly but surely, even Christians themselves are seeing weird discrepancy between their indoctrination and reality, and even their leaders know that the end of their power is coming.
It’s impossible to look at the current situation in Christianity–the utter failure of every one of its teachings, the complete inability of Christian-run groups to survive and flourish, the devastating lack of evidence for their god’s presence, the constant debunking of adherents’ most cherished myths and ideas, and the growing exodus of believers from its ranks over it all–and see a real live god anywhere in it.
No, we’re on our own.
Our relationships, societies, and individual lives depend upon just regular people–ourselves–to make them function and function well. Magic won’t save any of it or make its rough edges smooth. Just as there’s no god behind Easter, there’s no god behind any of the rest of it. The rebirth we feel in spring is a natural response to the warming-up of the planet, and yet that warming-up is welcome and wondrous all the same. Even the early-spring storms (like the ferocious one I’m hearing right now outside) remind us that summer is around the corner: fresh vegetables, birthing season for animals, birdsong everywhere, flowers blooming, just like we see every single year. It’s time to shake loose the dust and cold of winter and emerge blinking into the sunlight to enjoy it while we have it, before the cold comes back again.
The world is moving forward again.
That’s a message that brings me real hope and real joy on Easter.
Monday is our “Sandkings” discussion! See you then.
* The other day, I saw a YouTube comment from a young man who credited prayer to Jesus with getting him into the top-tier college of his dreams. He specifically stated that without prayer, he wouldn’t have been accepted. (He couldn’t actually spell “college,” so who knows if he was telling the truth.) Either way, I couldn’t help but wonder what more-deserving kid he’d pushed out of place to take their spot–and why he felt this was actually something to brag about. Hooray! His god, um, helped him cheat to get into college but ignored all the people dying of diseases and all the war victims suffering violence and terror all around the world? I wish Christians would think this stuff through before opening their pieholes.
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