When I was Christian, I thought that being a Christian was this awesome and wonderful thing and that Christian societies were the best of all possible worlds. So basically, this time the hypocrisy was on my end as well.
“I’d Still Believe!”
When I was a Christian, there was this bizarre thing I heard preachers say sometimes that I began parroting for some reason: they’d stand up on the pulpit and wave their arms and shout, “Even if Christianity wasn’t true, I’d still be a Christian because this is the awesomest way to live that ever was!”
This actually came up often enough that I’m suddenly very suspicious about why these preachers felt it necessary so often to stress this point that living like a fundamentalist Christian is so awesomesauce that everybody would love to live this way if they only understood how awesomesauce it really was.
The thing is, it really wasn’t that great of a way to live. Even back then, I knew it wasn’t.
Christians Who Missed the Point.
To me, Christianity wasn’t about living the best life possible. It was, rather, about preparing for my death and the afterlife. Like any Ancient Egyptian, I was quite concerned about the quality of my afterlife–so much so that this life, with all its attendant injustices and unfairnesses, didn’t really matter much to me at all. The idea that Christians choose their lifestyle because it’s the cushiest and most pleasant out of all the available options doesn’t even grok to me. I know it must happen, but that seems like the most un-Christian way imaginable to live one’s life.
So no, living like a Christian wasn’t fun. It was uncomfortable in a lot of ways.
First, I dressed like a Pentecostal–dresses or skirts all the time, “modest” blouses, the Pentecostal uncut hair and no makeup–and you can bet I got attention for it. It isn’t comfortable to be the center of attention that way. The dresses and skirts weren’t always convenient to wear for a young woman who was very active like I was!
I played racquetball and worked at a Laser Tag arena, I was in a super-athletic experimental puppetry troupe that required everybody to wear all black on stage, I painted dorm buildings for a summer to earn my way through school, I rode a bicycle, I jogged, you name it. All in skirts, except for the Laser Tag and puppetry–I wore a pair of handmade baggy culottes for those. Skirts can be very hot and sticky in the summers, cold in the winters, and sometimes even all-around dangerous when their wearer is very active.
But I did it anyway. I thought my god wanted me to be “modest.”
Modest, Not Pleasant to Be Around.
Second, I was so panicked about Hell and “saving souls” that I was a real jackass to be around, I’m sure. I probably came off as hypocritical in a lot of ways, and I’d be lying if I said my poor witness didn’t eat at me constantly. I was scared for my friends and family, but that didn’t make how I acted okay. I was bigoted, and I actively tried to suppress my own gender’s bodily rights by declaring sexism and lack of access to reproductive options to be the “bonus plan” for women. I did this in large part because I wanted people to go to Heaven, but in reality, my choices and behaviors isolated me from my peers and made it impossible to make friends or even really to connect with people.
Because of my zealotry, I missed out on all those cool cultural things that kids and young people my age did. My sister got to go see Jean-Michel Jarre’s 1986 Houston concert, Rendez-Vous Houston, the one where they rigged the skyscrapers downtown with lightshows and lasers. I skipped it because the church I attended at the time, outraged at this “worldly” entertainment. In fact, I attended a prayer meeting on purpose that night.
I still have the newspaper clippings though. It looks like it was a stupendous experience; my sister really enjoyed herself and told me all about it. I’m still peeved that I missed that concert. It was one of the first things I missed because of my religious zealotry, but not the last.
For that matter, my cultural understanding of movies and music completely stalled from 1987 to about 1999. I’ve filled in the blanks to some extent, but I’ll never experience those things the way people of those actual years did.
The Damage from Sexism.
Because I was a Christian in a fundagelical church, I suffered from a serious amount of sexism and limited opportunities. My entire life was spelled out for me just because I was born as a woman. I knew that women were gaining a lot of rights all around me. I was in college at the end of my time in the religion and I saw the amazing strides my gender was making toward equality.
But I enjoyed very few of the benefits those women fought for me to enjoy.
Of course I was enraged and upset about how women were treated in my religion. But I suppressed that anger and that pain because I genuinely thought that the problem was me, not the dogma I had internalized.
My leaders taught me that this emotion was “bitterness”–that lovely term Christians apply to women who can’t smile through their poor treatment. My anger and pain were ridiculed when they weren’t ignored, and when neither seemed to work, I was demonized in a very real sense. By that I mean that Biff and other Christians around us thought demons were tormenting me and “making” me act like I was, even before my deconversion and very especially after it.
My emotions were caused by perfectly valid complaints being ignored and pushed aside. But I tried to ignore that truth.
A Promise Unkept.
I always remembered that nothing in the Bible promises Christians an easy life. That’s how I got around all these various issues and abuses in the system.
We were told in the Bible that we should fully expect problems–we were, after all, sheep being led to the slaughter, according to some Bible verses. We had no right to expect happiness or love or joy, though these things were promised by our preachers if we were obedient little children. But I knew that my religion hadn’t actually promised me an awesome life.
All that “light yoke” stuff didn’t even occur to me. I thought it was supposed to be difficult to live as a proper Christian. I thought it required sacrifices and “dying to myself.”
Despite all of these things making fundagelical religion so difficult to put into daily practice, though, when I heard preachers talking that way, I understood what they were saying and I began to say the same thing when people objected on my behalf to the abuses they saw me undergoing for my faith. I began talking that way too. It still makes me cringe sometimes.
The Message Is Always Perfect, In A Broken System.
Remember, the system was perfect, as far as I knew. It could not be wrong. So obviously if I had problems putting it into lived practice, those were my problems and not problems due to the flaws in the system itself.
And, too, my religion taught that if you couldn’t get past some hurdle, you should just talk like you were already past it. This behavior was called “claiming a victory” in Christianese.
So by declaring that this was a wonderful way to live, I was hoping against all hope that it would turn into a wonderful way to live.
Through this lie, I was proving that I was obedient despite all my misgivings and hurts–and trying my best to find my way. So I was being quite truthful, at least to myself, in that this was the best of all possible worlds. I just wasn’t doing very well under it, that was all. If I just kept obeying and doing what I was supposed to do, one day my reality would line up with the fantasy I’d been taught to desire. One day.
The Happiness Hucksters.
I also really wanted to “reach the lost,” and that was part of how one did that.
I wanted to save everyone I could from Hell. Hell was very real to me. So “Lying for Jesus” was a very real part of my church’s general outreach technique.
I knew that if I presented Christianity as I was genuinely experiencing it, nobody sane would ever choose it. I’d get someone sent to Hell that way!
I wish, I truly and genuinely wish, I could say that I was just too honest to fib about my experiences and how hurt this lifestyle was making me and how angry I felt about its abuses. But I have to confess here that no, I wasn’t. It made me very upset and hurt, the dissonance that resulted, but I didn’t see any other way out. I tried not to lie. I really did. You already know I was furious about Biff lying about his testimony and about the other lies I heard Christians say to convert people.
But I know I did not present myself as honestly as I could have. All I can say is that I’ve learned better since then. If you have a similar ex-timony, try to be gentle with yourself.
Rationalizing the Untenable.
So in this manner, I rationalized my way through the years. I was hoping that if I just said I was happy often enough, it’d become true. That kind of thinking happens for Christians more than I think they want to think about. I wonder now if those preachers were operating under the same idea. I can’t speak for them. But I can say that there was a much darker side to their words:
The people preaching stuff like this genuinely believed–and do even today, I know, because I hear Christians talking like that all the time–that it’s really best for everybody to live like a Christian even if they don’t believe in the religion. There isn’t much of a stretch from that to trying to legislate Christian “values” onto other people, is there?
Indeed, we’ve mentioned here those lovely right-wing Christians who truly believe that slavery was actually this wonderful harmonious system and that atheists should be legally enslaved–as in Old South style slavery, folks–to Christians who would then of course be legally allowed and even encouraged to force their new property to live like good Christians. They’d only be doing it because it’s the right thing to do, of course, but you can’t expect demon-oppressed/possessed folks to do the right thing without a little help from the people who best deserve to be in charge, now can you?
The Evil of Control-Lust.
This kind of talk becomes the justification for a lot of evils and overreaches perpetrated by even “nice” Christians upon society. Christianity has some very real costs. It isn’t some wonderful walk in the park that would benefit everybody, even non-believers, who tried to follow its rules. Heck, even Christians themselves generally fail to live up to their ideals. But that doesn’t stop them from trumpeting this completely failed system to the skies and to claim that it is the very best of all possible worlds when they know, deep down, that it has had some very real negative impacts upon their own lives.
I was there once. I know how it goes. But I was lying to myself in the desperate hope that one day the lies would become true. I don’t know what the rest of Christians’ excuses look like, just that I know most of them are being flat-out dishonest here just like I was then.
Are all of them? I doubt they all are. Some Christians really do seem to be quite happy living the way they do. That’s fine with me. But to say that their lifestyle choice is the best one? To say that it is one that everybody should adopt? That it’s something everybody should be able to enact in their lives and even that it’s something that everybody must enact in their lives? To try to force people to live like Christians even when they have categorically rejected Christianity itself?
That’s worse than wrong; it’s downright wicked. Toxic, one might even call it. It’s like all you have to do to “win souls” is force people to behave according to your own rules. That just doesn’t sound loving to me at all, either, and it’s no surprise that such viciously controlling tactics are backfiring.
We Understand This Evil.
People understand hate and control. In fact, they understand it and rightfully reject it. It doesn’t matter how often you call poop chocolate. You can even frost it if you want. It’s still poop. People can still smell the poop under the frosting. They still won’t eat it even if you try to make them do so, even if you smack your lips and tell them over and over again how yummy it is.
I am glad to be living in the light of truth and honesty today. I’m thankful that I no longer have to fake it till I make it. I will never, ever go back to those days of saying something is wonderful even while I am grating under its wretched abuses. I had a Christian today–just today, as in an hour or so ago–inform me that just because the Christian belief system has failed all over the place doesn’t make the system flawed.
Why yes, actually, that is exactly what it means when a belief system fails on every single level: it means the system is flawed.
I wish Christians would stop idolizing this belief system when its main feature is how dramatically it has failed to produce people who as a group are more moral, more giving, more kind, or more truly loving than those who do not believe.
NEXT UP: We answer Fox News personality Megyn Kelly’s plaintive whining to inform her that there isn’t really a “debate” to be had about bigotry and hate. I hope you’ll join me!
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