Why I Can Do Without “Christian Love.”

Why I Can Do Without “Christian Love.” April 29, 2015

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
Mahatma Gandhi, disputed quote

“You shall know them by their love,” it is said, but we also can know quite a lot about people by their hate.

I’m infuriated and heartbroken for my friends this week. There’s this thing called the Openly Secular project that’s been going on since last week that seeks to de-stigmatize secularism by having more people speak up about being so. Some of my friends have gotten the nerve up to confess to their families and friends that they’re non-religious now. I’ve been openly secular for long enough that anybody who might have gotten upset about it said their piece many years ago, but some of my friends are only just now sharing their truths with those around themselves, and they’re just in shock over the “Christian love” they’re getting back. I’m sure it was a bit of a surprise to some of these Christians that so many secular people are around them, but that does not excuse this absolutely appalling behavior I’m hearing about lately!

This Scottish Wildcat is not happy. And neither am I. (Credit: Christopher Martin, CC license.)
This Scottish Wildcat is not happy. And neither am I. (Credit: Christopher Martin, CC license.)

It still floors me that Christians can say with a straight face that not only are they loving, but that they have some kind of monopoly on love–even that non-believers have no idea what love is. The reality of the situation is so much darker and so much more grotesque than Christians could ever imagine. I’d call them liars, except I know they’re probably just stone-cold ignorant. Not for nothing do people talk about the Christian bubble; it can be very hard to see reality while one is locked inside it.

So here is the reality of “Christian love.”

“Christian love” should be taken in the exact same context as “Christian movies.” The modifier makes all the difference here. It weakens and distorts the noun it follows, turning it into a pale imitation of the real thing. There is love, and then there is Christian love. It’s like saying “lady doctor” or “gay marriage”–our minds immediately understand that we’re dealing with an imitation that isn’t quite as good as the unmodified noun and that the important idea here is the modifier, not the noun. It’s not that she’s a doctor; it’s that she’s a lady doctor. She isn’t quite as good as a regular doctor. See what I mean? The modifier knocks down the noun and cuts it down.

That is why same-sex couples and allies are quick to remind people that it’s not “gay marriage”–it’s MARRIAGE. When you see modifiers to words like love and marriage, pay attention, because there’s something fluttering there that the speaker/writer doesn’t realize is being said. (For a brilliant paper on this linguistic quirk, see this paper; you’ll see some uncomfortable parallels between its descriptions of the “unsaying” of marriage rights for LGBTQ people and the “unsaying” of ex-Christians‘ dissent. Reminds me of a PSA commercial from my childhood where a white grandpa points out that his young grandson might be racist because he thinks of a friend of his as his black friend. Please tell me someone else reading this is old enough to remember that commercial.)

Christians are loving as long as there’s something in it for them and as long as it’s easy to love the people they’re talking about. Even their Bible has Jesus asking his followers the pointed question, “Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?” Not that Christians know what’s in their own Bibles anymore, much less give a shit what’s in it, but still, the Bible’s authors knew:

It’s super-easy to love the lovable, in the exact same way that America’s Founding Fathers knew that it’s super-easy to endure free speech from people saying stuff everybody likes to hear. In the same way that it’s easy to love a kitten, it’s easy to hear someone talking about how children are our future. It’s no secret that people tend to like and love those who we feel are likable and lovable–and there is no Jesus making Christians any different. All that love-bombing we got when we joined will vanish like morning mist when we say we’re leaving.

A great many of us will figure out very quickly exactly what “Christian love” really looks like at that point.

Often our worries are baseless–often our Christian loved ones have no trouble loving us after we’ve left religion. And that’s awesome. We need more of that kind of love. Love knows that religious labels come and go, but blood and friendship are thicker than Natty Lite.

But there’s a big and likely growing possibility that the Christians in our lives will react very poorly to a defection. Those are the Christians we’ll be talking about in this post: the zealots who take dissent as a personal challenge and insult, and who take it as a personal mission to save us from ourselves. Zealotry doesn’t understand real love very well, but it does understand “Christian love” perfectly.

Often such Christians are 100% convinced that what they’re saying and doing to these dissenters is loving. They’ll use a totally misunderstood conceptualization of “tough love,” thinking that it means they get a free pass to be cruel and emotionally manipulative toward dissenters (pro-tip: that is not what tough love actually means). In service to their misunderstanding, they’ll throw their kids and spouses out of the house, force church attendance on loved ones under threat of removing financial and/or emotional support, publicly humiliate their own family members and dearest friends, and even terrorize the apostate’s own children. They will ostracize lifelong friends and the closest of family, destroy dissenters’ livelihoods, vandalize and steal their stuff, stalk ex-Christians and try to sabotage their relationships, and then verbally abuse and threaten them with violence when nothing else seems to work.

I’m not exaggerating or straw-manning here. I’ve personally been the target of this sort of behavior and I’ve seen countless friends face this reaction–many this week alone as a consequence of being honest with their loved ones about their rejection of Christianity. We’re just lucky we’re not in some theocratic hellhole where religious apostates face the death penalty. (I guess the Christians who want to turn my country into a theocratic hellhole think that they’d do it so much better because Jesus-reasons.)

And Christians will do all of this, and then they will go to church with big ole Jesus smiles on their faces and sing about how loving they are. They will talk about how much they love everybody and about how much Jesus loves everybody. Maybe they’ll even lament how outsiders just don’t understand their version of love.

And then they will go back out and commit atrocities in the name of this “Christian love,” bolstered in the belief that they are being very loving and that this is the behavior that makes Jesus happy. If the targets of this “love” don’t happen to agree that it is loving, well, what do they know about love? They’re not Christian, after all! Hate is love and love is hate! We’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Freedom is slavery and slavery is freedom! Any pushback is just demons. Don’t listen to the demons, just show “Christian love” even harder! Sooner or later they’ll realize that “Christian love” is the real love, and they’ll convert, and be totally happy and thank us.

Or they won’t, and then they’ll get what’s coming to them. And all the Good Christians, the TRUE CHRISTIANS™, the Christians who totally understand “Christian love,” will be watching and celebrating their eternal torture from the Jesus Party Van.

The one reason that Christianity is failing is that it has forgotten what love even is, much less how to show it.

This religion is fading fast. Churches like this one in Harrisburg are closing every week in the United States, thanks to lack of members and funding. And I could not be happier. Irrelevance could not happen to a more deserving bunch of cackling hypocrites people.

If Christians want to continue in their ersatz, piss-ant, penny-ante fake “love,” then they will ride that irrelevance all the way to the bottom. Change at this point would involve them eating a lot of crow over their faulty redefinition of “love,” but it’s possible. It could happen. But it won’t happen while they are convinced that hating people is totally loving, and that they’re the only ones who could ever be able to judge what love is or to assess their own behavior.

I’m hopeful that one of these days Christian leaders will get so desperate they actually start caring about what the victims of their “love” actually think. I’m hopeful that slowly but surely, Christians will get the blinding flash from above and realize they’re being hateful, not loving! At present, their strategy appears to involve drilling down harder on the relabeled hatred in the hope that Jesus will magically change people’s minds via sorcery and make them magically think that hate is love and freedom is slavery, just like Christians themselves think. Free will and “he’s such a gentleman” and whatnot only applies until a Christian decides to pray to try to magically strong-arm someone into believing something nonsensical. Then their god tramples not only people’s consent but the laws of physics themselves.

And they’ve not only redefined love and ignored everything in their Bibles so they can exercise this redefinition of love, but they’ve cut themselves off from any outsiders’ perceptions that could put them back on course. That’s probably the worst part of “Christian love.” It is totally divorced from the targets of its outreach. They can do whatever they want and nothing we say influences them at all.

Gang, if you want to know how you’re doing, you don’t ask people who are totally on the same side you are. You ask the ones who have no reason to lie to you or maintain your illusions. Just like most romantic partners would hesitate to tell their beloveds that those jeans make their butts look big, many Christians are locked in a bubble that makes honesty very difficult to share or endure.

I wish I could be surprised at the stream of stories I’m hearing this week about Christians showering their “Christian love” on dissenters who go openly secular. It’s a sickening deluge of revolting, repulsive stories, each worse than the last. I feel helpless in the face of it. Infuriated.

But friends, please know this: every single act of “Christian love” should show those victimized by it how right they were in dissenting. That is the “Christian love” that their tribe shows to those who aren’t in the tribe–and it’s not far off from how they really feel all the time about everybody who isn’t in tune to their desires. That’s what they were always like; dissenters just didn’t see it before. Now they do. That should be a sobering thought. I know it was for me.

The worst of this punitive and hateful behavior may seem bewildering and completely out of proportion, but it really isn’t when you think about who Christians are really punishing. Christians are this vicious and savage to dissenters because that’s what they want to do to everybody, but they just can’t because they don’t know who all the dissenters are and can’t get to them personally. In the same way that people rip to pieces those who discuss getting abortions or admit to unapproved sex, these religious dissenters become scapegoats for all the dissenters Christians wish they could get their hands on. It’s behavior custom-designed and deliberately perpetrated to shut other dissenters up and make them too afraid to speak. This fake love is 100% about control, intimidation, and manipulation.

Unfortunately, sometimes it works. Sometimes Christians play “chicken” with our love for our family, our spouses, our kids, and our parents, and sometimes the dissenter is cowed back into line. If they can’t have heartfelt compliance then they’ll happily take grudging and unwilling compliance. An outward show of obedience is just as good as an inward desire to obey; it makes them feel like everything is under their control again, and it tricks Jesus just fine. It’s not in me to condemn those who bend under that concerted show of “Christian love.” I know what they are sacrificing, and why, and how.

I’m not sure if the character of Jesus would approve completely of “Christian love,” but he’s welcome to these “loving” children of his. Me, I would not ever want to risk going to a Heaven populated with people like that, nor to risk worshiping a god who didn’t strongly condemn that kind of behavior. And how do we even know what this god, if he even existed, likes or doesn’t, since Christians themselves cannot agree on a single thing regarding what he wants and doesn’t want?

I’ve said it before: a pity there’s not some book that outlines exactly what Christians were supposed to do, or what love actually looks like in action! If we had a book like that, we could make sure all Christians had a copy of that book so they all were on the same page.

Alas, as it is, I can’t possibly sign off on a religion this confused, cruel, and noxious.

Christians can keep their “Christian love.” It feels entirely too much like the world’s hatred. I’d rather have love without a modifier.

To my friends facing this outpouring of fake love, I’m sorry. If I could shield you from it, I would. I’m sorry you have to see this. I’m sorry that what you thought was true, wasn’t. I know it hurts. At least eventually you found out. Knowledge this hard-won won’t be easily lost. Indeed, here’s what I learned:

You don’t find out what someone’s like by how they act toward those they like and agree with, and what they’re like around people who have authority over them.

You discover what someone’s like by how they act toward those they dislike and disagree with, and what they’re like around people they think they have power over.

I mean, really!

Even the Gentiles know that.

————–

(I should insert an obligatory “not all Christians” disclaimer here. I’m well aware that plenty of Christians don’t torture their families and friends over their spiritual opinions. I wish there were more of those sort!)


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment