I think it’s time we started a new direction here, and by happy chance, the direction actually landed on my lap not long ago.
I ended up in a Facebook discussion regarding whether or not a Christian might feel deceived, duped, betrayed, or otherwise violated upon dying and discovering s/he was totally wrong about the religion s/he had chosen to follow all this time. I responded–as you might imagine from reading here–that I had actually felt very much betrayed and violated when I realized that Christianity was wrong. Cue the Christian brigade! A Holy Paladin of Jesus showed up in short order to inform me that I had not done things the right way, believed correctly, done enough, been sincere enough, etc. We’ve talked about the No True Scotsman before here, I think–right? I think we have. It still boggles my mind when Christians do that to me. I guess they think it’ll invalidate my arguments somehow or something. It doesn’t, but I know why they have to invalidate me as a person–because they can’t really invalidate the arguments.
This Christian–let’s call him Randy because he reminded me of Randy Marsh–informed me that he was inviting me to return to Jesus to get saved because otherwise I’d have no meaning in my life and will fall off a cliff. I was “in a mist” with no real direction or purpose, like all non-believers, and needed his god to tell me what my meaning in life is. I told him I thought his denigration and dehumanizing of me was rather abusive and would not tolerate it, and advised that his entire post needed a (citation needed) tag as he couldn’t even demonstrate the credible existence of his god, much less a cosmic purpose for anybody. I asked him to please rephrase his reply in a way that was not abusive toward non-believers.
Then Randy said something I thought was very interesting. He said he was abusing me because he “loved” me and wanted to save me from falling off a cliff, and of course sometimes warnings from those who see the cliff will sound abusive, but they’re not abusive at all. They’re love.
And it struck me: ZOMG just like that. He really believed that. He had heard this bit of apologia from somewhere, internalized it, and now really, truly thought he was being loving. He had somehow managed to redefine love in his own mind so badly, so thoroughly, so completely, that he was capable of saying the most ludicrously demeaning things to me and still manage to think himself “loving.” He went on to explain that he genuinely also thought that Christianity’s bondage and tormenting list of stupid rules was “freedom” and that I–who had rejected that bondage and those rules–was the one really stuck in “slavery.”
We need to talk about these redefinitions, because they are a huge red mark against Christianity’s validity, and they are also a huge reason why Christianity is failing. I don’t think outsiders will ever really understand the pull and harmfulness of genuinely toxic Christianity without understanding the culture of redefinitions.
When I was involved in Pentecostalism, my church taught that because our god had spoken/sung the universe into existence, that words had great power. Adam gained mastery over the animals, they taught, because he had named them all. Names had great power. Demons didn’t like people knowing their names. Wizards in fiction tend to avoid specific details like that too. We see these ideas continued over into popular culture: Elfquest has its “soul names”, which were a summation and condensation of that elf’s entire being and which were used as protection from overly-invasive magic. I knew some pagans back in the 80s who also believed that everybody had a soul name and even now you’ll run into people who have “craft names,” so I’m not sure if EQ got the idea first or if the pagans did.
You’re probably familiar with “name it and claim it” doctrine, itself a subset of prosperity gospel. This idea is quite popular in evangelical circles: a Christian magically claims a blessing or benefit by simply saying the name of the desired blessing and declaring that he or she has claimed it. There are books about it and ministry websites touting the power of this magic incantation, even while other Christians rail against the doctrine and declare it unbiblical and worse.
Speaking a truth meant the truth would come to be. Bible verse after verse tells Christians that all they have to do is say what they want and they’ll get it. Whatever a group of Christians asks, they will get. Whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven. And that attitude carried over into everyday life. If you said you were happy, why, you’d eventually become happy. If you said everything was terrible, of course it’d look terrible. And above all you had to claim your joy, your meaning, your truth, and it would surely and without question eventually come to you.
This belief that naming meant claiming went a lot further than just prosperity gospel. In church we were taught that simply by using the right words for things, we could totally transform how we looked at those things. Instead of saying “I’m not allowed to wear jeans,” try “I don’t choose to wear jeans” and suddenly modesty is awesome! This spin doctoring happens constantly in the religion. It’s not misogyny; it’s complementarianism. It’s not rape culture; it’s purity. It’s not slavery and oppression; it’s freedom and liberation. Obviously, nothing actually changed about any of these things except their labels, but the Christians around me genuinely thought that if they just said they were happy and living in freedom often enough, that they would eventually magically become happy and stop resenting their slavery.
Just as I learned that I could not trust the Mormons next door to mean the same things I meant when they talked about speaking in tongues or even about Jesus himself, I learned that I could not be sure that any Christians I talked to after de-converting were actually meaning the same things I meant when they talked about simple words like “freedom” and “truth.”
Naming something meant you owned it, I was taught. So Christianity even today tries its best to rename things in the hopes of recapturing them. Over the next few posts, I’m going to talk a little about how words got relabeled and redefined to the point that they became meaningless. This may take a while, because there are a lot of such words, folks. The whole religion seems to rely upon these relabeling tricks, and most of the time it seems like people just let that duplicity slide. It’s time we recognized that relabeling and redefining is happening and time we refused to let Christians dominate the dialogue by doing that.
First, we’re going to talk about the big redefinition: love. Stay tuned.