I was reading this excellent post by one of the Unfundamentalists about how this BS Christians have learned to spout about “deeply held religious beliefs” isn’t actually Biblical, and she did a great job pulling together the elements of this newest fresh hell that conservative Christians have come up with in their rush to find some ad hoc reason, no matter how ludicrous or obviously-contrived, that will let them keep abusing and hurting LGBTQ people even though their self-created culture war has been handed a crushing loss by the Supreme Court.
In her post, April Kelsey writes,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
— Matthew 5:38-42 NIV (emphasis added)
So if giving someone something that they ask for shows approval for their sin, then Jesus just commanded his followers to approve of extortion, abuse and kidnapping. . . And this scripture goes much further than just selling someone a product for profit. Jesus is talking about giving freely to people whose actions we wouldn’t approve of – above and beyond what they ask for!
Certainly doesn’t sound a damned thing like we’re seeing these Christians do lately, does it?
It didn’t take long for Christians to dogpile her over her suggestion that maybe perhaps they should maybe I don’t know quit abusing and hurting LGBTQ people so much, maybe, if that’s not asking too much, okay you guys? That’s the rule, you know: the moment one Christian says “Hey, y’all? Maybe we should stop being assholes,” those words won’t have dissolved in the air before the rest of the tribe will be along to pound that first Christian back into line.
The only thing worse than outsiders advocating for change is insiders advocating for it. They can hardly make the case that Jesus insists that they control and oppress others when there’s a bunch of other Christians out there saying the exact opposite, now can they?
For some reason Ms. Kelsey’s tribe has decided that baking a cake for a same-sex couple celebrating a wedding is “participating” in it or “encouraging” the couple getting married to do so (which I heard a Christian attempt to argue this morning), and they can’t do that because of Jesus-ish just-so reasons–remember the “Just-So Stories,” where cute little stories were made up to explain how leopards got their spots and the like? That’s what this reasoning sounds like to me–an attempt well after the fact to rationalize something they want to do by dressing it up in religious language and presenting it as a deity’s wishes.
I’m bringing it up today because the pushback she got prominently involved the idea of “condoning sin.”
Most of us have heard it by now. The phrase “condoning sin” has become one of the beloved pet sayings of such Christians, resting up there with persecution fantasies and blather about “religious freedom.” It’s certainly not in the Bible–not without considerable contortion. But the good people of the Christian Right have never met a contortion they didn’t like, and this one is especially well-loved because it lets them get away with doing the stuff they wanted to do in the first place while ignoring the stuff they didn’t want to do anyway.
Remember when Christian bakers refused to bake cakes for people celebrating divorces? When Christian photographers refused to take photos of cohabiting couples? When Christian pharmacists refused to fill prescriptions for penis pumps and Viagra for unmarried men?
Remember when Christianity was about serving humanity and helping the poor rather than about preserving social dominance and ensuring the downtrodden second-citizen status of groups its adherents don’t like? When Christians walked the second mile, turned the other cheek, and gave not only their shirt but their coat to anybody who even just asked, rather than clawing with everything they’ve got for control over other people’s lives?
Remember when Christianity produced some of the greatest philosophical and scientific minds of all time and didn’t spread misinformation and revel in willful ignorance? When Christian musicians and artists uplifted even non-believers’ spirits and gave us some of the most beautiful music and art we have even to this day, rather than rehashing trite talking points to make sermons for the already-persuaded?
Yeah, me neither.
But the Christians who need to hear these questions the most do not wonder about any of those things, nor about how their tribe has evolved into the paranoid, ignorance-glorifying, power-mad, persecution-fetishizing, Bible-idolizing, easily-manipulated gaggle of professional-level weapons-grade pants-shitters and pearl-clutchers of this world’s worst nightmares. I know that’s strong language even from me. But I cannot and don’t want to disguise my righteous anger when I look at this rabid mob of frothing-at-the-mouth hypocrites fighting tooth and nail to impose their will upon my country in the guise of “religious freedom.” They have perverted the very concept that makes my country glorious and great, and turned it into a own blank check to mistreat others and make a naked grab for power and control.
Perversion is all I can call a group’s attempt to convince others that they can’t possibly have full religious freedom until they can totally trample all over other people’s rights, control other people’s lives, and force other people who aren’t even in their tribe to obey their religion’s (largely misunderstood and misinterpreted) teachings. It sounds a lot like saying someone doesn’t have full sexual freedom until he’s allowed to sexually assault whoever he wants, whenever he wants. One person’s freedom to swing a fist ends at the other person’s nose, as the saying goes. But Christians never learned to play nicely. They never had to. Until recently.
What such Christians don’t realize here is that their religion has set them up to yield the right-of-way at all times to others in the four-way intersection of life.
If I were to walk up to one of them today and demand he carry my shopping bags for a mile because I knew he was Christian and I wanted to lord it over him, he’d scream and yell and whine about persecution and probably go on to figure out if he could sue me for it. If I were to stand right in front of him and cuss his Savior out six ways from Sunday, the only acceptable response the Bible gives him is to say through a toothy grin like Kevin Bacon did long ago while being spanked, “thank you, sir, may I have another?”–but I’d be lucky to get away without getting shot or punched. The only reason non-believers don’t totally abuse those commands Jesus supposedly gave his followers is because we’re not assholes–though even if we did, today’s Christians have evolved entire libraries full of ways to contort out of having to obey those very simple, plain, direct commands. I even parroted some of those contortions myself once.
Just the mere idea of a Christian really living out the Bible’s demands is hard to imagine. Most of us can only think of a few people who are that dedicated to peace and to being proper ambassadors of their religion. The rest? Well, they are obviously in it more because it gives them something. Maybe that something’s fairly benign–a feeling of safety and security perhaps, which is largely what it gave me and what it probably gave a lot of now-ex-Christians. But I think a lot of fundagelicals especially are in it because Christianity gives them that boost of smug superiority and correctness–and also permission to grab control over other people’s lives.
Their method of persuading us to agree that their religious freedom requires them to control the rest of us is this idea of “condoning sin.”
“Condoning sin” wasn’t a phrase I heard a lot as a Christian; it’s kind of recent. They latched onto it very quickly once someone proposed it, though. It’s gotten a lot more popular lately as toxic, controlling, paranoid, furious, idolatry-addled Christians have to engage more and more with a society that has largely rejected them, their overreach, and their entire message. Basically “condoning sin” means for a Christian to see something he or she thinks is a sin being committed but not to say anything about it or–more importantly–try to stop it. What was once lauded as a virtue–minding one’s own business–is now seen as just as bad of a sin as whatever the sin is itself that the Christian thinks is happening.
Christians buying into this nonsense firmly believe that not only are they set up to judge other people, but to actively try to stop other people from doing stuff they don’t like. It’s a breathtaking amount of entitlement, but how could the religious narcissism bred by right-wing Christianity produce anything else?
Accusations of “condoning sin” are lobbed at other Christians who try to suggest that the tribe stop being so hypocritical and controlling, and hurled as well at non-Christians who ask Christians to please play nicely with the other children in the world’s sandbox. I can’t, don’t you see, or else I’m condoning sin, they say. You can’t possibly ask me to condone sin. So you have to let me do whatever I want and always get my way because anything else would have me condoning sin.
The problem is that “condoning sin” is really a code-word. Like a lot of fundagelical sayings, this one is really a dog-whistle that encompasses a lot of ideas dear to these Christians’ hearts that might not be readily apparent to the folks outside the clubhouse.
I’m going to ruin everything for them right now by spoiling the big secret they’re hoping people don’t figure out.
Here’s what “condoning sin” is really all about.
Stuff I don’t like is happening and it’s happening more and more often by the day. But worse, nobody is even asking me what I think about these big changes! All these people are doing all this stuff I don’t like and not a single one of the people doing it all is stopping to consider what I think about it. They don’t care if I give them permission or not–they don’t even care if I like it or not! They’re daring to go through their lives not even knowing what I think! How dare they?
The world is changing fast and I really hate what it’s turning into because it’s a world that doesn’t enshrine me at the top of the heap. It’s a world where my comfort isn’t privileged above and beyond everybody else’s rights. I’m being asked to follow all the same rules everybody else follows when I never had to do that before, and I don’t like that either. Well, FINE. If I can’t feel important one way, then I’ll get what I want in some other way. If they won’t voluntarily care about what I think, then I will to go any level I must to force them to care.
What right-wing Christians are really doing when they talk about “condoning sin” is expressing a forceful desire to have that kind of authority again that they imagine they had once.
These Christians want their opinions to matter. They’re used to having their opinions matter. They think they had that authority once, before all those scary social changes started happening, and they’re downright resentful of others for taking those toys away from them. They still feel entitled to a certain amount of reverence, admiration, respect, and obedience. They’ve been borrowing their invisible bully friend’s authority for a long time, and for a long time that was all they needed to keep dissenters quiet and in the shadows. There was a time when people stepped carefully around them and tried hard not to anger them, but those days are fast dwindling away (ironically, largely as a result of Christians’ attempts to force themselves back into dominance via their various culture wars). Dissenters are coming out into the open, with more and more of us every single day, and the spin-doctoring Christian apologists do to try to quell the noise we make is getting so dizzying that even their own tribemates are starting to second-guess their involvement with this religion–as well they should.
That’s why they have to stomp so hard on their fellow Christians who bring up the downright-heretical, dangerous idea that fundagelicals have got this “Christian love” thing bass-ackwards here and need to repent and shape up before they a) totally destroy the religion, and b) lose every one of their sane, loving adherents. They’re angry enough that mainstream culture itself is leaving them and their antiquated ideas behind, but when their own tribemates suggest a change in the game plan, then the gloves come off. Their worst savagery seems reserved for whipping these wayward sheep back into line.
The truth is, Christians’ opinions are as properly irrelevant to us as ours are to them. The only reason their grabbiness gets discussed at all is that we have to keep rejecting their attempts to make us care about what they think. If they weren’t constantly trying to control us, then we would never have a reason to talk about it at all. Christians genuinely think that people are waiting with their breaths held to see what these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ like and don’t like. That gay couple getting married? They would call the whole thing off in total humiliation and shame if they only knew how many TRUE CHRISTIANS™ didn’t approve of same-sex marriage–a disapproval that could not be expressed, of course, without Christian-run wedding businesses having the legal right to discriminate against them by refusing to sell them services for the occasion. That young woman going out to get drunk and maybe hook up? She’d stay home and crochet throw-rugs for her Hope Chest if she only understood how saaaaaaad her behavior made TRUE CHRISTIANS™, who must of course therefore be allowed to make her illicit, unapproved sex as risky and terrifying as it can possibly be by making it harder for her to access contraception. If TRUE CHRISTIANS™ weren’t out there totally disapproving at these naughty children and putting as many roadblocks as possible in their way, then those naughty children would obviously convert and start listening to Christians again and living their lives according to Christian rules (which would result in conversions or at least in Jesus not hitting America with meteors because that’s totally how both people and meteors work).
I’m bringing this topic up on Ex-Communications because as we leave religion behind, we don’t magically lose that programming. It can be really hard to adjust to a life where our opinions and comfort level don’t really matter to other people–and largely shouldn’t. It can be hard to acknowledge and understand that other people have their lives to live and they can do it without our input. We’re used to feeling like we matter–to culture, to a god, to all sorts of other people. There’s such a huge narcissistic element to so many flavors of religion nowadays. Extracting ourselves from that mindset can be difficult.
This need to feel important–no matter what, no matter how–transcends religion. I think that people who leave religion don’t necessarily lose this desire and tendency automatically. “Minding your own business” is a skill, and worse, it’s a skill that fell out of favor years ago with that crowd.
Luckily, skills can be learned and mastered.
The Worst Vice.
One thing that helps me a lot, when I run into people doing stuff I don’t approve of, is to ask myself a few questions:
* Is something illegal going on?
* Is anybody being physically injured here against their will?
* Is anybody being required to participate here against their will, or incapacitated to the point where they can’t consent?
* Is anyone here underaged or otherwise incapable of granting consent to what’s happening?
* Did anybody involved here jolly well ask me my opinion?
If the answers are “no” down the board, then the polite and civilized course of action in this situation is usually to mind my own business and move on. My opinion is not only likely unnecessary but unwanted. Contrary to the false impressions Christianity gave me, I am not required to express every single opinion I conceive, nor to offer advice where it is not requested. After my deconversion, I was struggling toward an understanding of boundaries and consent, basically–learning where my business ended and other people’s business began, and learning not to transgress the lines.
That doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to feel uncomfortable about whatever’s going on. Sometimes I might even still feel it necessary to say I don’t feel comfortable, or even to remove myself from conversations and situations where I’m not comfortable. This is all my thing, though, and not anyone else’s problem. It took a long time to get to the point where my discomfort was something I recognized as a “my problem” situation and not a “their problem” situation. Recognizing that distinction wasn’t easy. Learning to respect other people’s boundaries wasn’t something that came naturally to me after a lifetime involved in a religion that doesn’t do very well with recognizing boundaries (and it wasn’t fun to discover I wasn’t actually the center of everyone else’s universe), and chances are it won’t be easy for some of y’all either. But minding my own business came with an unexpected perk. Not only was it simply the right thing to do, but I found myself better able to focus on my own shortcomings and address my own needs when I wasn’t working myself up into a lather policing other people’s lives and trying to control them.
As more and more people start discovering and expressing themselves in honest and real ways, chances are we’re all going to have some adjusting to do. And that’s okay.
The funny part? Now that I’ve struggled through that lesson, I can look at what Christians are doing now–so much worse than anything anybody I knew would have done back in my Christian days–with the hopefully-wiser, definitely-older eyes of a culture-wars veteran. I know what they’re doing, and why–and I also know why it’s such a bad idea. As always and once again, this tribe is their own worst problem. This attempt they’re making to force people to care about their opinions is going to backfire so, so bad–and indeed it already is, by making people reject their message and overtures even harder than they would have had these well-meaning Christians just stuck to doing what their savior actually told them to do, the kind of love that transcends religion entirely: the breathtaking idea of loving one’s neighbor, building up one’s community, and being generous to people even when they’re doing stuff we don’t approve of because we’re all in this thing together and this might be the one life we ever get.
This “condoning sin” nonsense can’t die fast enough, but the entitlement behind the phrase might well be one of the last things that dies with the religion itself.