Sorry, folks, but the truth is that the little private world of evangelical and post-evangelical Christianity we’ve built is more or less totally irrelevant to real achievement. Be that “progressive” or “conservative” religion, we’re into make-believe. We’re relying on circular arguments to sell delusional fiction to the spiritually addicted. By the way, that includes me.
In the real world: the European Organization for Nuclear Research known as CERN confirms that a boson with mass around 125 GeV, consistent with long-sought Higgs boson.
In the world of American evangelical and/or post-evangelical Christianity: Christianity Today senior managing editor Mark Galli confirms that hell exists.
In the real world: French pianist Hélène Grimaud releases her magnificent CD of the two Brahms Piano Concertos with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, conducted by Andris Nelsons (2013), to worldwide acclaim.
In the world of American evangelical and/or post-evangelical Christianity: Pastor Mark Driscoll, leader of Mars Hill Church, reportedly uses more than $200,000 to land his book on the New York Times bestseller list through fake manufactured “sales.”
In the real world: the 2013 Booker Prize for Fiction was awarded to Eleanor Catton for her novel The Luminaries.
In the world of American evangelical and/or post-evangelical Christianity: Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Be a Better Dad Today! by Gregory Slayton, and Heaven Is for Real by Todd Burpo are the top books at Christian Book Expo.
In the real world: in 2013, researchers from Italy put HIV’s highly effective infection mechanism to good use in treating children with genetic disorders.
In the world of American evangelical and/or post-evangelical Christianity: World Vision released a statement confirming that it reversed its decision to allow its American branch to hire employees in same-sex marriages.
Face it: the world of American big time religion is dominated by evangelicals or so-called post-evangelicals. Whether that’s the high-profile guys like Mark Driscoll and Rob Bell or minor players like me, the entire universe of our faith business is speculative. It’s built of words built on words built of more words… in a circular argument.
There really is no “there, there” to anything we say that would prove a point to any perceptive kindergartener in a first math class. This is why I call myself both an atheist and a believer. Atheism represents a quest for actual truth. Belief is my quest for what I need. Need and reality aren’t the same thing.
Declarations are made about God. He loves you or he hates you. He’ll send you to hell, or won’t. Jesus is love or coming back as judge. God wants this or that for your life… Jesus “says” this or that or Jesus “wants” this or that … Because the “Bible says” and we just know it’s true… or true for me, or something…
Fact is not one of our religion crew, left, right, center, progressive or conservative, nice or mean has a real job. We are all snake-oil sellers, from the hippest tattooed pastor to the least hip, from the loving to the most exclusionary. BUT—and here’s the odd thing—we all need a little “snake oil” because man does not live by bread and physics alone!
So we come to the paradox: bad people and even some flakes, and even some sincere but dim people sometimes do well by others in spite of themselves. The Wizard of Oz in fact helped the lion and the scarecrow, even the tin man. Go figure.
How else to explain the letters I get from readers that I seem to have genuinely helped see their lives as whole and full while they read my religion-addicted writing?
But let’s face it…
We, all of us in the religion field, are to truth what homeopathic medicine is to science…
Speaking for myself as a present-day and former offender, I’d much rather have my daughter or son or grandchild grow up to be a real writer rather than a so-called Christian writer, an actual physicist rather than a pastor using physics as a source for some inspirational sermon example, a firefighter rather than a youth pastor… a news reader rather than having a religion/spirituality TV show.
It’s like the Godfather movie: I may have inherited this business, but I want my kids to start over in the legitimate world. If they have faith I hope that for them it isn’t confused with a career in religion!
In a way we so-called progressive Christians (Whoopee! We discovered there’s no hell and Jesus was nice and God won’t kill you if you’re gay!) are the worst of all. We pretend to ourselves we have escaped dumb, mean religion. We haven’t.
We’ll never escape our personal psychology. You don’t do religion because you choose anything but because of how you were raised—for sure in my case. Maybe you had a “born-again” moment of checking out of reality and never came back…
We progressive believers just dress up the absurd in nicer clothes.
The problem is we are addicts. We are addicted to needing certainty. Look at me: I’m doing that right here making a declarative statement about how bad declarative statements are!
Look at me. I’ve written successful secular books like the trilogy about my Marine son… I have a literary following in the secular world who never heard of my evangelical parents until they read my books, and yet… here I am, still churning in religion circles about religion!
What excuse do I have? Here’s my best guess: Jesus broke my brain!
The dark inarticulate place is all too familiar to me as a result of childhood trauma. There is a feeling of abandonment. No one beat me. They just made me see the universe upside down until I came to believe that it was that way…
I think we’re talking about spiritual abuse.
And like other forms of abuse, there is recovery potentially—but no cure.
The feelings triggered by life events that resurface are frustrating and inconvenient to my self-image. As a recovering friend of mine emailed me who had just read my new book: “This is so even as religion still takes up so much of my emotional time and energy.”
These days I see that the criteria for the symptoms of substance addiction fit well with addiction to religion. And us professionals? We’re pushers. I just think my progressive “drug” is better for you than the fundamentalist drug. I won’t screw you up. They will. But believe me in the best of all worlds no one would need any of this stuff we sell.
As I look back, the effect of all that spiritualizing—i.e., departure from a grounded reality—such as “all the inconsistencies will be explained in heaven,” blah-blah-blah—the profound effect on the mind is stupefying. It’s like a drug because it is a drug.
Brains actually change. And a life in religion changes the ability of the brain to reason. Period.
How else to explain that talented writers waste time on this crap? How to understand bestselling Christian celebrities writing yet more repetitive books on God… or wasting their/our lives in other ways?
Do you have your life ahead of you? Are you lured by the no-standards easy self-medication of “Christian work” of whatever kind?
Run while you have the chance. Don’t get hooked.
Study science! Have babies! Teach school! Fall in love! Live! Paint! Dance! Compose! Make movies! Cure cancer! Play with your grandchildren! Have orgasms! Cook! Get a real job with actual measurable standards. Get a real life past “God says so…”
And if you are still a certainty addict like me—which is what all religious belief leads to in the brain-altering-and-snapping department—admit it! That’s the first step on the road to recovery, as they’ll tell you in any AA meeting…
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace
Available now on Amazon