Hemant Mehta recently found what he’s calling “the worst attempt at converting atheists [he’s] ever seen.” I’m not sure it’s the worst worst, but it’s definitely bad. Hemant already did a great job covering the highlights, but I wanted to show you how this essay fits in with Christian evangelism. Today’s culture warrior embodies the very worst aspects of his tribe’s conceptualizations of themselves and others.
(We’ll be spending a little time on this guy’s misguided letter-to-the-editor (LTTE), because I think it shows us a lot about where Christians’ heads are a decade into their decline. Today, we’re just focusing on who this guy is and where he’s coming from in a general sense.)
Everyone, Meet Stan Gudmundson.
Stan Gudmundson is a real estate agent operating out of Lisle, Illinois. He’s not above trying to leverage a past in the military to borrow extra authority when he thinks he needs it. And he has a serious hard-on for that particular vision of the Wild West that likely only existed in his dreams.
That mythical vision of the Wild West ain’t the only untrue thing he buys into with all his heart, either.
See, this guy is also a firm fundagelical who spends his spare time fighting culture wars. He’s never met one he didn’t buy into! For literally years, he’s been writing letters to his local newspaper. All of those letters concern culture-war topics. This poor guy sounds like he is foaming at the mouth in every one of them. For sure, he’s got a pattern going here, which we’ll see shortly.
His dread enemy of choice these days is atheists and atheism itself. Sure, he doesn’t know anything about either topic beyond whatever his tribe has told him. But dang, he is just swinging so hard at the shadows in his mind.
The Law of Conservation of Worship.
Some years ago I showed you an entertaining idea Thought2Much came up with, the Law of Conservation of Worship. To recap, here’s what it means:
For every action and belief Christians hold, their enemies and sales targets have an equal and opposite reactionary action and belief. Spiritual practices are neither created nor destroyed; as beliefs change, they simply transfer to another method of expression.
Christian leaders have been teaching their flocks for decades that “everyone worships something.” If that “something” isn’t Jesus/Christianity, then it will be atheism, or what they mistakenly call “Darwinism,” or unapproved sex, or whatever else the Christian projects onto their mark as an obstacle to conversion. Whatever that obstacle is, it becomes the object of genuine religious worship in the frustrated Christian salesperson’s mind.
This teaching now completely pervades Christianity, particularly fundagelicalism.
All the Christian evangelist must do, therefore, is knock down that idol enough to make Christianity rise to the level of acceptability. To do that, though, they must get the mark to agree that everyone believes something. And to do that, they must somehow get their preposterous belief in sky-wizards onto the same shelf as rejecting preposterous beliefs altogether. The Law of Conservation of Worship is how they manage that trick.
Every single atheist and None reading my words is bristling, I know. They have good reason to bristle. If we don’t actually all “worship something,” then this evangelism advice falls flat on its face. The horse can’t even leave the barn. It’s a no-starter.
And predictably, Stan Gudmundson loves it.
An Inauspicious Beginning.
His essay is called “The Faith of the Atheist Faithful,” and from it alone we can see where Gudmundson is going. It’s a tiresome essay altogether. But it’s also very characteristic of what we see nowadays out of desperate Christians.
Indeed, we can read it and see immediately that this real estate agent isn’t selling his religion; he’s whining to a choir. He expects his tribe to agree with him. But he’s not aiming to persuade anybody outside the tribe. If he were, he’d be going about it at least a little effectively. By parroting the false beliefs his tribe teaches about atheists–and secularism itself for that matter–he marks himself as a failed Christian salesperson.
He is, instead, a frustrated ambassador.
Just as he idolizes the Wild West, he thinks there was a Good Ole Days when Christians like him commanded society. Those days are gone, and he misses them very much. He’d sure like to return to those days. Everything was perfect then. He wasn’t constantly contradicted and criticized–nobody dared to do it. To be sure, he didn’t have to contend with people who vocally oppose his brand of overreach.
Times are different now, and he hates them. Most of all, he hates the people who have taken away his toys. He no longer gets to swan about as a grand ambassador. He’s been reduced to the status of a salesperson, and I don’t think he likes that shift.
This title doesn’t bode well at all, is what I’m sayin’ here.
Remember, Stan Gudmundson isn’t talking to actual atheists. He can’t, since he doesn’t know a thing about them. Instead, he’s airing a grievance that is aimed straight at his own tribe. We see it in his opening paragraphs:
Why do certain atheists continually proselytize their faith? One would think that they would be more timid about expounding on their beliefs and would be cautious in insisting that there is no Creator, no God. Some seem really angry and full of hate for God and his followers.
Why do atheists use their faith to try destroy mine? With their contempt and vitriol, what are they trying to accomplish? Theirs is a faith without hope. So what is the motive in pushing it? Who gave them this mission?
Christian culture warriors belong to the most dysfunctional flavors of Christianity–to the very heart of the broken system. They learn a very twisted form of reality that doesn’t bear much resemblance to the real thing.
In that bizarro universe, where Opposite Day is every day, the Stan Gudmundsons of the world learn that atheists proselytize just like Christians do, only for atheism. They learn that atheists are really angry and full of hate, unlike us Christians. And they learn that atheists seek to use their faith to destroy that of Christians.
None of that will look familiar to most atheists. A few do consider themselves anti-apologists, yes. The overwhelming majority of non-Christians just want Christians to leave them alone and quit trying to force them to play along with their big Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game.
But for all his condescension and pretenses, he’s not talking to any of us who lack belief in the Mad Blood God of the Desert.
When deciphering the behavior of fundagelical culture warriors, I find myself reaching often for the concept of privilege distress.
This brilliant concept was popularized–if not originated–by the blog Weekly Sift. Here’s the basic rundown of it:When someone has a lot of privilege, losing any of it can feel an awful lot like an injustice perpetrated upon them. Such a person literally sees that loss–however minor it might be–as an incalculable injury. They didn’t deserve this loss, they think. And inevitably, they feel hard-done-by:
As the culture evolves, people who benefitted from the old ways invariably see themselves as victims of change. The world used to fit them like a glove, but it no longer does. Increasingly, they find themselves in unfamiliar situations that feel unfair or even unsafe. Their concerns used to take center stage, but now they must compete with the formerly invisible concerns of others.
In similar fashion, when we look at the culture wars that Christian leaders engineered and put into place, we see them playing upon fundagelicals’ innate senses of self-pity, narcissism, and entitlement. When you encounter culture warriors, be watching for them to express privilege distress in their open yearning for years gone past.
As black people could have told us long ago, when we hear a privileged person pining for “the good ole days,” we should wonder immediately who they were good for.
Christians still command vast amounts of power in the American political system and still oppress a large number of local communities. But in the eyes of a culture warrior consumed with the lust for power, the fact that this power is incomplete acts like a splinter under their skin.
Every loss–no matter how minor–becomes part of the Christian culture warrior’s conspiracy theory about encroaching secularism. Every rejection, any show of pushback, becomes evidence of persecution and martyrdom (what Slacktivist calls martyrbation).
Of course, these culture warriors are not facing real persecution. Nobody’s making laws preventing them from living their lives, worshiping all the nonsense they wish, or marrying the people they love. Nor is anyone forcing them to attend or bankroll religious displays they don’t agree with. Nobody disowns children who convert to their religion, penalizes Christians for being religious nutjobs, or retaliates against them for expressing religious wackadoodlery.
Literally all that is happening here that upsets Stan Gudmundson is that sometimes he encounters opinions that run contradictory to his own, and he doesn’t get to swan around in public as a divinely-appointed ambassador without someone pushing back against his preening display.
But it’s enough.
Without faux-persecution, fundagelical culture-warriors wouldn’t have any persecution at all.
The Power Differential.
So this essay of his seeks to soothe his outraged sense of diminished dominance. You can see, all through the post, evidence that he sees himself as decidedly above the unwashed masses he’s trying to school. He veers from sniveling and whiny to imperious and condescending, often from one sentence to the other. See it from the standpoint of power dynamics, though, and he becomes completely consistent within his own mind.
Ultimately, his need for self-soothing trumps anything the Bible tells him to do. He sees his tribe as embattled–and so he leaps into battle. Sure, nothing he wrote here is persuasive–which means he lost out on the Great Commission. Nor is anything he wrote here loving–which means he lost out on the Great Command.
He has literally failed both of the major commands within Christianity, which Christians believe (erroneously, but still) that Jesus Christ himself ordered them to do at all times. But he’s not in the religion to fulfill the commands that the Bible says come from Jesus himself. He’s in it because of the power that this tribal affiliation grants to him.
I have never once run across a Christian testimony that claimed that someone converted because a Stan Gudmundson disapproved at him enough. But if you think that matters to him, you’re one sweet summer child.
Indeed, I notice that in the comments to his letter he shows up there to make clear what really matters to him: asserting dominance, beating his own chest till his fists are bloody, and roaring his belligerence to the skies. Even actual atheists trying to kindly set him right about atheism don’t matter. What matters is him is sneering at his enemies and trying to zing them.
Like so many of his peers are, he’s all about seizing and retaining power. Even his cries of faux-persecution after getting contradicted are his attempt to rescue his fraying sense of power from his failure.
Appeasing the Power-Hungry.
I’m showing you all of this because I want you to see this behavior as happening for a perfectly rational reason, and to be thinking about these power dynamics when you see transgressive behavior from people in declining groups. It ain’t happening by accident.
Ultimately Stan Gudmundson reminds us–viscerally–that we cannot appease those who lust for total power over us. There’s simply no level of equality that is ever going to be acceptable to the culture warriors of the world. They will lie about their tribal enemies–and about themselves. They will happily mischaracterize them to the point of unrecognizability. All of it is easily justifiable in their minds.
Indeed, I guarantee you that Stan Gudmundson goes to bed each night with a perfectly clear conscience, no matter how many lies he tells.
But every time a Christian acts out like he does every few weeks, someone gets done with Christianity. This posturing backfires. It might make the tribe feel better and more certain of the lies they believe. But it drives away people who know better. Every single day, more and more people join the ranks of people who know better.
Ultimately, people understand hatred and lies. We know what to do with those. What really confuses people is what Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard. But nobody will find that kind of grace and love in Christianity–especially not in the waning days of the religion. In these days, the most visible Christian values we ever see are fully displayed in culture warriors like Stan Gudmundson.
NEXT UP: Stan Gudmundson thinks he has PROOF YES PROOF of his religion. We look at what it is, and why it fails epically to demonstrate his claims. And in the doing, we will walk briefly together through a primer about what evidence might actually look like. See you then!
I had to rein in some additional tetchiness brought on by this fanatic’s deep resemblance, right down to the skewed mustache and good ole boy grin, to a really awful boss I had in college. He was also an overzealous Christian, and I ended up quitting out from under him in a most dramatic fashion. It blew my mind. I was Christian, and so was this guy, and yet he was just so dishonest and genuinely awful! How could this be? I eventually worked out the answer, as you can guess.
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