In the last couple of days, I’ve seen Christians inadvertently reveal their biggest guns in the Great Commission, and I admit I’m astonished they don’t see the blatant inconsistency in their own words. My dad used to say when I seemed undecided or dithered too much, “Pick a gear and stick with it!” as if I was choosing which gear to use in driving a car. And I find myself now wanting to say that to Christians who are starting to flail ever more desperately to find a tactic that works in persuading non-believers.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, Dan Fincke wrote about how our minds interpret statements made using a “this fact, but overridden by that fact” structure. In his example, the statement “no one should have been killed but also no one should be blaspheming” comes across to us as “while killing is over the top, at least we can learn the lesson the terrorists were trying to teach us about not hurting religious feelings.” We see the idea following the word “but” as invalidating and reversing the first part of the statement.
In the same way, good managers learn to avoid using “but” in talking to others because our minds tend to tune out whatever came before that little word and focus solely on what comes after it. “You’re a great worker, but you need to be consistent with break times” is not actually how a compliment sandwich is best served. The intention might be to make the criticism feel softer. In reality, it elevates that criticism to an equal or greater position as the compliment holds. Once that word “but” is exorcised, communication becomes far easier and less confusing and threatening to subordinates.
So when a Christian says something like “You should convert because Jesus loved you so much he died for you, but if you don’t then you’ll suffer unspeakable torment forever and ever and ever,” I’m left wondering just what is being said here. Am I supposed to convert out of awe for this supposed act of love? Or am I supposed to convert out of sheer terror and a desire to avoid torment? Because I honestly can’t tell which tactic the Christian is going for. It doesn’t seem loving to torment people.
And the really bad news for Christian zealots is, you can’t really mix and match when it comes to love and terror. I’m not sure it’s even possible to love that which terrorizes us, or (to be more accurate) that which is used to terrorize us. If you want to go with the lovey-dovey stuff, then terror destroys it; if you go with terror, then it’s hard to squeak about lovey-dovey stuff after threatening someone with lurid torture and pain. That so many Christians seem perfectly content to do exactly this mincing dance seems downright grotesque to me. If they described a real person that way, as a man who would physically hurt me if I refused to do what he wanted but who loved me and wanted my love in return, then I’d tell them to stuff it and keep their abusive asshole of a buddy far away from me. The split-second that violence enters the equation, love leaves it–unless of course someone has internalized violence so effectively that it no longer disqualifies a being from slavish devotion.
When Ken Ham ominously threatens people with “God’s judgment” and says, regarding the possible destruction of Earth by a meteor strike, that “unbelievers should be afraid of Jesus Christ’s judgment instead,” it’s hard not to wonder if he’s saying that people should convert because of their terror of this “judgment”–in other words, out of fear of going to Hell. But which is it? Is his god loving, or is he a sociopathic monster? Which gear is he picking here?
Right-wing Christianist radio show hosts have long been flogging threats against non-believers–one of them explicitly threatens America with “an old-fashioned paddling” for the sin of allowing same-sex couples to access their right to marry. Is America supposed to fall into line out of terror of this punishment? Is that seriously supposed to be some kind of selling point, threatening people for not complying with their religious demands?
This punitive mindset filters down to the flocks, who think absolutely nothing of using threats against people who offend their religious sensibilities. In that example, a Christian offended by another person’s use of the phrase “oh my god” wrote a passive-aggressive anonymous letter in which was said, among other veiled threats, “He loves you so much beyond what you can ever imagine and beyond measure and he doesn’t like it when you don’t respect Him.” Do Christians not realize exactly what they’re saying when they make their god sound like an insecure, narcissistic, abusive parent? I can easily imagine that the Christian who wrote this letter doesn’t even see what non-believers do, and may well have gotten him- or herself contorted into a mindset where making threats like this is totally in keeping with a religion that stresses love and charity.
Now, certainly some Christians are perfectly okay with making up a nasty, mean-spirited, vile, violent, abusive, threatening, inhuman, barbaric god to worship. Calvinists have turned their worship of a monster into an art form and have libraries’ worth of books rationalizing their “might makes right” mentality. At least they’re honest about it, and indeed one can tell a lot about what kind of person someone is by what kind of god he or she creates to worship. But when Christians try to sell their god on the basis of his supposed “love,” then turn around and use threats to get their way, their message gets muddled and confused.
What happened to the God of Love and Prince of Peace?
Oh, Christians still use the lovey-dovey stuff… until it is clear that it isn’t working.
Like Machiavelli long ago, they know that being loved is all fine and good, but being feared is more certain.
Just like any abuser knows, soft stuff is all fine and good, it’s all wonderful, and if it works to cow people and get them into line then great, there’s no need to go further. But when the soft stuff doesn’t work, then the real guns come out. The gear clicks into overdrive. The threats start to flow. Violence and abuse start to stream out of that abuser’s mouth like drool from a sleepy dog.Now that I’m out of Christianity and have been for a while, I can see these fearmongering, terroristic tactics for what they are: attempts to strong-arm compliance and force obedience. If you want to see what a Christian really thinks is persuasive, wait to see what that person’s big guns look like. Look for what follows the “but” in their proselytizing. If you let people do it, they’ll tell you exactly what’s really important to them. “He loves you, but if you don’t obey him then you’ll suffer mightily” is the message of way too many Christians.
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, as Isaac Asimov put it long ago. Threats are what bullies use when they can’t get their way any other way. When someone can’t win by reason or logic or facts, and that person lacks a moral compass and has no empathy or compassion for others, then such a person will use force to try to win by any means possible. If Christians actually had a good reason to fear the threats they make, they’d already have given us the goods.
Once you’ve identified the threat being made, then you can ask for evidence that it’s a threat you really need to fear. If Ken Ham really thinks that his god’s judgment would be scarier and worse for humanity than a meteor hitting the Earth, but can’t come up with anything solid and credible to explain why his threat is something anybody needs to fear, then I’m safe in dismissing what he blusters as the bombast of a bully angry that he can’t get his way any other way. And I call shenanigans on him claiming that Christians aren’t scared at all of catastrophes; I was a Christian myself for many years and can absolutely tell him that why yes, a great many Christians are downright terrified of the end of the world. He’s talking out of his ass, but what else is new? His followers will eat it up with a spoon and parrot it, many hoping that their own fears will be allayed if they do.
But what if Christianity just didn’t have any bullying and threats at all in it? What kind of religion would it look like? Why can’t this religion sell itself on the basis of love and kindness? Why do its followers fall back so often on violence and threats? What would happen if they simply stopped doing that?
They know perfectly well what would happen.
Quite a few non-believers and even many Christians have already abandoned threats and the very idea of Hell as incompatible with the idea of a loving god. But to those Christians who use their religion as a way of expressing aggression and dominance, those threats are their primary tools, and they’ve got all kinds of rationalizations already made up in their minds about why they can’t possibly stop threatening people. Phrases like “for their own good” figure prominently here.
The funny thing is that all we’d need is one single credible piece of evidence supporting their threats. Just one. That’s all. But they can’t do that. Instead, they are content to keep issuing threats. And if someone vulnerable happens to fall for the threats and converts on the basis of them, then these Christian bullies will feel 100% justified in continuing to use threats and bullying to get their way. But even if the threats don’t work, they’ll keep using them because threats are what they, personally, think are compelling–as I’ve mentioned before, these threats overshadow even the very best intentions for many Christians.
It ain’t hard to wonder why constant but unsubstantiated threats are so important to someone’s religious worldview. But the threats fall apart under one simple question:
By what objective, measurable, observable evidence do you know that this threat is really something to fear?
I don’t fear what Christians fear, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping many of them from trying their best to make me fear what they fear. If you–having realized how harmful religion is to you–wonder if you’ll ever be unafraid of the threats Christianity employs, then let me promise you that if you keep learning, you’ll come to a place where you realize there is nothing to fear, friends–nothing at all.
If someone can’t demonstrate in a credible way that a threat is viable, then you are perfectly safe in dismissing that fear as nonsensical. And we are right to openly question why threats and bullying are such prominent tactics in Christians’ efforts to gain converts, because the second a threat crosses a Christian’s lips, even veiled, even hinted, that Christian is saying in so many words that all that love stuff isn’t really what’s important here.