I hope your holidays are going well so far! Welcome back. I realized not long ago that I’ve made references to “logical Christians” a couple of times here, and I wanted to talk about that idea a little bit now. I truly believe that “logical Christians” are about the very worst of the worst of toxic Christians.
The reason this topic is coming up now is that I was reading this interesting piece about the 2012 Rapture scare that Harold Camping predicted. I’d seen it before now, but there was a quote in there that sprang out at me that hadn’t previously:
It’s been noted by scholars who study apocalyptic groups that believers tend to have analytical mindsets. They’re often good at math. I met several engineers, along with a mathematics major and two financial planners. . . The essays they wrote explaining these links could be stunningly intricate. That intricacy was part of the appeal. The arguments were so complex that they were impossible to summarize and therefore very challenging to refute.
And the mental image I got transported me back to my fundamentalist days just like that, like a PTSD flashback ghosting before my eyes.
I’ve mentioned before that I converted during a Rapture scare back in the 80s (the one outlined in “88 Reasons”), and I can tell you that yes, the stunningly intricate arguments used to figure out this stuff were mind-numbing in every single way. They were wielded by wild-eyed conspiracy nuts who were convinced they’d found this amazing truth hidden from everybody else–and since Christianity kind of does the same thing on a larger scale, the mindset comes amazingly easily to a certain sort of believer. Their use of numbers, patterns, and bizarrely obscure Bible verses were dizzying and impossible to combat for my younger self.
Nowadays, I know that an argument is not actually an adequate substitute for evidence. And I know that as intricate and compelling as some arguments can sound at first blush, they usually must ignore some fundamental truth about science, history, or human nature to exist (such as the 9/11 “truthers” who must somehow account for tens of thousands of shadowy traitors who have reliably and consistently kept quiet about an event that, if they’re right, is one of the biggest acts of treason ever committed). But when one’s entire religion has no evidence and relies entirely on good-sounding arguments to persuade people, then an especially strong-sounding argument can carry the day. And if a listener’s not skilled in critical thinking or is unprepared for the kinds of arguments getting wielded by people like that, then the speaker can sound very persuasive indeed.
My preacher ex, Biff, was way into Rapture theology. He had a whole box full of notes, papers, printouts, and books about the patterns and intricate Bible verse connections he thought talked about the Rapture. Strangely, I don’t think either of us knew that the Rapture itself as modern evangelicals understand the term is a fairly new concept, one that only got rolling in the mid-1800s, but that didn’t stop Biff from engaging in a host of studies trying to ferret out just what the end of the world was going to look like. My opinion was that whatever happened, as long as I was as fervent as possible, who cared what order it all happened in? But Biff absolutely had to know.
I was a little nervous about just how seriously he took all this stuff, but then, he took a lot of arguments very seriously. He was really big on apologetics, which is nothing more than an entire field of theology devoted to developing intricate arguments to explain why reality doesn’t fit Christianity’s vision of how reality should look. When he talked to non-Christians–and when we argued, after my deconversion–he totally didn’t get why this stuff wasn’t completely obvious to everybody. He had internalized these intricate arguments so well and so thoroughly that to him, Christianity was beyond obviously true. Anybody who didn’t realize that just hadn’t heard the right argument yet. But they would. Oh yes, they would, if he had anything to say about it.
It’s easy to see why certain types of people gravitate to the “logical” type of Christianity. I think now that my then-husband got into that kind of religious mindset because he really needed to be right–about something, about anything. He was a deeply insecure person in many ways. And if he knew something that everybody else didn’t know, then so much the better–it gave him a leg up on them. He called this mindset “looking for the angle,” and he did it constantly because he was convinced that rich and happy and successful people had figured out some massive “angle” that he just needed to figure out and then he’d magically become rich and happy and successful just like them (last I saw, btw, he was still looking for it). I perceived that the people he hung out with at church were the same sorts of people. To them, Christianity “made sense.” In fact they thought it was the only thing that really did when one considered religion at all. Its arguments were, they thought, airtight. Its premises were beyond unquestionable. It conclusions were unassailable. Christianity possessed these mountains of evidence that these “logical Christians,” in their infinite wisdom, had examined and discovered to be accurate and objectively correct.
They tended to treat anybody who dissented in any way as idiots beneath even contempt. They acted like dissenters were either totally ignorant of all this “evidence,” or else knew it existed–which meant they were denying the truth they had seen to be real. People like that quite literally think that any listeners who don’t accept the arguments they put forward are lying through their teeth–such Christians even conflate the cultural conditioning most people get about religion with some secret belief in a god. Biff thought there were Bible verses (like in Romans 1:18-22) that said that deep down, no matter what they said otherwise, everybody really believed. He was fond of telling atheists that they might deny everything, but they knew that he was right–with a dare implicit in his voice to prove him wrong, and a promise as well to share his secret wisdom if given half a chance. He was not the only Christian I saw talking like that, either.
It’s like there’s this chain of thought going on:
I am a logical and rational person.
I don’t believe things for no good reason.
Therefore I will find patterns that justify my beliefs.
Anybody who does not agree that these patterns exist and are valid is clearly just being deliberately obtuse and is wrong.
Knowing these things makes me a better and wiser person than others are.
Notice that the emphasis here is not on “loving your god with all your heart and mind and soul” or on “loving your neighbor as yourself,” which are the two commandments Jesus is said to have given his followers. There is nothing about a logical Christian that speaks of love. Their entire focus is on “being right.” Indeed, if you even mention the word “love” around these folks, as I rarely fail to do, they will protest to the skies that their abuse of others and their rampant condescension and paternalism–as well as their desire to control other people’s lives–is actually the most wonderful love that could ever be shown to anybody. (Here’s a handy gaslighting definition in case anybody needs to brush up.) Rachel Held Evans calls this heartless and inhuman corruption of her religion the scandal of the evangelical heart and I truly encourage you to read what she’s got to say, because she sheds light on a lot of abuses going on in Christianity today. And it is a scandal, and it is why Christianity today is known far more for who it hates and what it disapproves of than about who and what it says it loves.
What drives me craziest about “logical Christians” is that they’ve got this golly-gosh-gee-whiz projected image of how these loony conspiracy theories they’ve patched together make this perfect amazing sense and how can anybody not see this? How can anybody not understand all this proof and evidence they have? They don’t have the faintest idea what those words even mean, but they point to all this stuff they think they’ve found and then denigrate anybody who does not bow under along with them. They think they have this total handle on their religion–that they know something that its most learned adherents have not figured out for some crazy reason. I had a “logical Christian” yesterday tell me that he didn’t care what real theologians say about the Bible verses he thought condemned gay marriage. I told him that I understood and of course he didn’t, because people who actually have educations in this stuff know something that totally contradicts his own childish view of the material, so he either has to deny they said otherwise, which he really can’t as their work is available for free to anybody with an internet connection, or else denigrate their work as being inferior to his own self-taught insights and absorbed bumper-sticker talking points.
The worst part is when they start using all the big words and super-advanced arguments, or–in the case of one notorious Patheos crank commenter, Google-translated Latin doggerel–to look superior to whoever they’re talking to at the moment. I’ve been on the end of these sorts more than a few times. It’s about the polar opposite of feeling loved, let me tell you that. Their raging contempt and their superiority complexes–and of course that ever-present narcissism and egotism–make them difficult to talk to on any real level; they cannot have a real discussion at all, but exist solely to bludgeon non-believers and dissenters in between back-patting sessions with like-minded Christians.
In a weird way, I get it, I truly do, how this pathology could result in a Christian’s mind. There’s no evidence supporting any of Christianity’s various truth claims. The only way one can get any kind of evidence is by doing exactly what “logical Christians” are doing. If someone is convinced that beliefs must be backed up with evidence, then if one holds a belief it jolly well needs evidence, and if there simply is no evidence then the believer will go to absurd lengths to find some even if it’s not persuasive to anybody except those who desperately need evidence.
Ms. Evans is the one who linked me to theologian Richard Beck, who called this chain of behavior “orthodox alexithymia.” Mr. Beck writes about what happens when Christians try to divorce their faith from their emotions and go the “logical Christian” route. What results is downright pathological–someone who is more insect that human, someone who analyzes and picks apart and links disparate ancient verses and cobbles them together into a patchwork made of human hearts and skin to wear. Such people are not loving, and despite baldfaced attempts to redefine the word “love” to serve their own base interests, look, we’re not fooled by the act. We see the insect beneath the human skin and we know that if a Christian’s behavior and words provoke the exact same responses in us that outright hate and abuse provoke, then those behaviors and words are not loving no matter what the Christian thinks or says.
Christians say all kinds of stuff that bears no relation whatsoever to reality. I think we’re all a little tired of holding them by the hand and walking them like they’re toddlers through How The Real World Uses These Weird Things Called Words. It’s the behaviors and results that matter, not how pretty the cloak is that’s been thrown over the words used, and Christians don’t get to unilaterally redefine words and arbitrarily decide what is and isn’t valid evidence to normal people. They’re like children who, when they figure out they’re losing at a board game, start trying to make up new rules that will benefit only themselves.
In the end, “logical Christians” are the natural outgrowth of a religion that is getting frustrated with its fading dominance and its lack of clear evidence for its many, many truth claims. I’m not sure what else we were going to see besides people like this–people who think they’ve found some super-obvious chain of evidence for their beliefs, people who are trying to crush dissent under the weight of college-level words and misused arguments, people who don’t get that the entire reason these big words and convoluted arguments are being used is because simple words and clear arguments are not adequate to demonstrate their religion’s validity.
So when I see a “logical Christian,” I know I’m dealing with someone who does not know what love is, much less how to show it. I know I’m dealing with someone who cares more about being right than about being loving. This is someone who doesn’t understand what evidence is or how to communicate clearly with people, and who does not value the two-way road that is true communication–but rather wants to win at all costs and be the victor, to be right, to be better than the people targeted in these arguments.
I wish I could say that “logical Christians” are rare. But they aren’t. Hell, there are entire movements based around the idea of being a “logical Christian”–Calvinism, as just one example. While I kind of admire their simple honesty about following a savage and brutal deity–I mean, the one thing you could say about these folks is that they are not redefining “love” to make the Bible’s savage god look nicer–their callous indifference to the suffering of those around them marks them as singularly terrible Christians. In the same way, the lack of compassion and humane love seen in a “logical Christian” marks that person as someone who thinks s/he has hit the target dead-on, but has missed the mark entirely.
And we’re not fooled. Even a non-Christian can look just for a minute at the New Testament and see an image of a godling who preached charity and compassion, who washed feet and gave food to the hungry, but who did not get into advanced theological arguments with non-believers or treat them like crap (most of the time) because they weren’t like him. He let his love speak for the truth of his preaching. In the same way, love confuses people even today; love cuts through all the barriers folks put up and reaches our hearts. And I’m not talking about Christian love. I’m talking about plain old love, here, the real sort that Buttercup gave up in the Fire Swamp, the authentic kind that kept a struggling grandfather reading a book in an unfamiliar language all day long to his sick grandson: simple, real, love–compassion–nurturing–acceptance–brotherhood–gentlehearted giving to the less fortunate–listening–finding common ground–all that gooey 60s stuff that “logical Christians” don’t think is really love at all and which they brush aside as unimportant next to the big question of who is right and who is wrong. You sure don’t need to be Christian to love like that. And more and more of us are finding that out. That we are not finding that kind of love in Christianity, even though Christians claim to have a stranglehold on it, should alarm the hell out of Christians. But they’re too busy talking about “immutable” Bayesian horseshit to notice.
When a lot of contradictory evidence starts piling up against an idea, most believers will drill down all the harder on the belief to maintain it, and they’ll start going to weird extremes like the ones we’ve seen lately out of Christians like these. This is a religion that says it values external evidence and makes a number of objective truth claims, and the modern mind can’t handle the dissonance between those claims and reality’s truth. Such a mind is going to fold inward on itself and there’s going to be weirdness.
We humans sure do inflict a lot of suffering and drama on ourselves by not seeing reality for what it is, don’t we?
I think that in the end, it might be better to be loving and wrong than to be hateful and right, though I also think that whatever the right path is in this world, it’s probably more based on loving people than on knowing a bunch of fake Latin phrases and wielding a bunch of spaghetti-code arguments. If these “logical Christians” are what their god really loves to see, then I’m glad I’m heading for whatever dire fate they predict for dissenters like me. I would not want to spend an eternity around them or any deity that values such behavior.
“Logical Christians” are a big black mark against the validity of the Christian religion. I am hoping that sooner or later the mainstream starts trying to rein them in, because as it is, they are the clanging, bell-ringing harbinger of the end of this religion–and they don’t even know it.
Here’s the full “Redefinitions” series I’ve done so far, if you want to poke around some other ways Christians redefine words to suit themselves. Next time, we’re going to visit the Unequally Yoked Club so we can talk a little about some of the horrible advice I’ve seen going around the internet for people who find themselves in a mixed-religion marriage. Whoa nelly there is some bad advice out there. I do hope you’ll join me.