No, Virginia, Jesus Doesn’t Magically Change People

No, Virginia, Jesus Doesn’t Magically Change People January 3, 2014

It’s time again for another episode of Christians Behaving Badly. This one concerns magical stories of change. I’ve seen some additional–and dramatic– stories of Christians who did not actually experience the 180 turnarounds that Christians like to say people experience with Jesus. I’m bringing this up because Christians like to pretend otherwise, and it’s time we really confronted this myth and busted it wide open.

No Guarantees of Morality.

Belonging to a certain religion doesn’t guarantee someone is good, any more than not being of a certain religion guarantees someone is bad. Being religious literally has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not someone is good–though it may well mean that such a person will be exponentially worse to others than someone who doesn’t have to “answer” for their behavior to a being they know deep down isn’t real.

I’m pretty sure most non-Christians are secretly convinced that Christians are, as a group, way less moral than non-Christians are. This post is not going to be a morality Olympics, namely because aside from knowing that crime rates in Christian-heavy states are way worse than in more secular states, and aside from knowing that Christians are hugely over-represented among prisoner populations, I’m not interested in hunting up statistics right now. We all know nice Christians. That’s not the point.

This is:

Christians’ goodness as people has nothing to do with their faith in any god.

A Case in Point.

What got me thinking about this topic today was discovering a fascinating tidbit about one of Matt Pitt’s many volunteers, a fellow named Alan Burdette.

You might remember that Matt Pitt is that youth pastor in Alabama we talked about here. He liked pretending to be a cop and who apparently flashed a fake badge at people to get his way–and put blue lights on his ministry’s SUV to pretend it was a cop car. By the way, that kind of stuff gets real cops all kinds of testy.

You might also remember that this youth pastor is the one who told his fellow felons in prison to come on down to his church when they get out, because there are all kinds of hot girls there who just love men in (prison) uniform. Of course, by “hot girls” we mean “teenaged girls,” since he is a youth pastor and that’s the age group of his ministry.

So basically, this guy tried to whore out underaged girls to criminals to entice them to attend his church. That’s definitely one tactic I don’t think Jesus’ ghostwriters considered in the New Testament. I guess it must have been from some lost chapter of Acts. The point is that Matt Pitt isn’t a very good person at all despite having the usual requisite dramatic conversion story that all evangelicals hone to razor-sharpness, and despite being able to talk really big about his transforming god.

So I’m sure you will be shocked–yes, shocked!–to discover that one of Matt Pitt’s fervent volunteers has turned out to be just as dishonest and untrustworthy as he is.

The Foxes Guarding the Henhouse.

Alan Burdette is a retired FBI agent and lawyer currently in his 50s. He did unpaid volunteer security for Mr. Pitt’s services. In 2007, he showed up in a news story about Mr. Pitt. He talked about how wonderful it was that Matt Pitt’s ministry reached people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in going to church.

Two years later, Mr. Burdette got caught in some high-end financial swindling, and two years after that showed up in court to plead guilty to conning innocent people–many old or otherwise vulnerable–out of four million dollars US in a Ponzi scheme.

What’s weird is that according to one news story, people have been suing Mr. Burdette since 2006. Among other things, they objected to him not paying them back money he’d taken from them for “investments.” So, at the time he was giving glowing reviews of Matt Pitt, he was already stealing people’s money.

So this guy was lying for Jesus, pretending to be a dedicated Christian with a big ole pious Jesus smile on his lying, thieving face, well before he showed up on the radar as one of Mr. Pitt’s volunteers.

A Sizeable Crowd.

Mr. Burdette joins Ephren Taylor. He’s a prosperity-gospel preacher who disgraced megachurch pastor Eddie Long described as “my friend, my brother.” He now stands accused of running an even bigger Ponzi scheme–USD$11 million dollars. Oh, and he specifically targeted Christians who bought into prosperity gospel. In other words, they were eager to reap the blessings they believed their god would shower upon them for their obedience.

And they both get to go sit at the table with Shawn Merriman. He’s a lay Mormon elder who apparently conned a lot of Mormons out of some USD$21 million before getting caught.

Let’s remember that these men are Christians. Most Christians express belief in judgment after death. And yet they still do these horrible things to people.

Do they think their deeds don’t really matter as long as they believe the right stuff, as our friend Neil Carter has put it? Or is there some deeper and more nefarious reason they can prey upon others and keep their Jesus smiles on their faces?

Because let me tell you, more than a few times I secretly thought Biff knew his religious grandstanding was just an act–that he couldn’t possibly believe it for real, not and do the things he was doing.

In Case Anyone Needed More Examples.

Here are a few more stories, in case anybody needs to be told that Christians are certainly not inherently more moral or trustworthy than anybody else:

Sovereign Grace Church is facing one of the biggest and most shocking sex scandals I’ve ever seen in a Protestant church. SGC is famous for being one of the most sexuality-obsessed evangelical churches around. They’re one of the groups behind that “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda. Meanwhile, fundagelical homeschooling survivors will recognize the name of Joshua Harris, a protege of SGC’s pastor. He wrote the disgustingly misogynistic book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. That’s the book that got evangelicals goo-goo-eyed about the very creepy concept of parentally-supervised “courtship” instead of normal dating.

When a Christian organization is this frothy about controlling people’s sexuality, they inevitably are hiding a few skeletons in their choir loft. Indeed, SGC has sparked survivor blogs and groups where their victims can safely discuss the abuse they suffered there.

The latest news concerns an SGC pedophilia ring. Its members allegedly passed children around like cigarettes and orchestrated all kinds of sexual assault/abuse cover-ups. Joshua Harris himself faced some of that abuse when he was younger.

Shockingly, Jesus didn’t appear to fix the inhuman urges of the men in this church at all, and when put into a situation where they could prey upon weaker members of the herd without fear of repercussions, they did what predators always do.

And they did it behind a Jesus smile.

And More.

Zachery Tims, a megachurch pastor who had a dramatic turnaround and was “saved” from a life of drug addiction to become a popular pastor of a thriving and large church, died in a hotel room a couple of years ago. For some reason, his family had been trying hard to block the announcement of the cause of death. They failed in that effort. Now, two years later, we have finally learned that his cause of death was an accidental overdose from heroin and cocaine. Jesus totally healed him of his addictions, all right.

Tito Morales, a famous “gangster Apostle,” got life in prison earlier this year for molesting a whole bunch of little girls at his large church. He apparently “brainwashed” his victims and told them to give themselves to him because he was an “Apostle.”

When some of his victims escaped his cult, they informed their parents. Finally, these girls have gotten some kind of justice.

Morales still maintains his innocence. Hey, I thought lying was a sin? Huh. I reckon Jesus didn’t deliver him from dishonesty, either.

And One More.

And one I heard about last night. A pastor in a deeply religious Alabama town just got arrested for stabbing his wife to death. Local police described the murder as “brutal.”

The pastor, Richard Shahan, was caught by police as he boarded a plane to flee the country.

I can’t even picture the level of depravity someone has to possess to stab anybody with a knife. That’s some visceral-level violence right there. You’ve got to get up close and personal to do that to someone. You’ve got to be so angry or so hellbent on harming someone that you don’t mind all the blood and gore that results.

I can’t even cut myself by accident while cooking without freaking out. But this pastor managed to (allegedly) murder his wife in a “brutal” way with a knife. Speaking as someone who survived the threat of domestic violence from a minister husband, I’m just saddened every time I hear about some fresh allegation of violence committed against women by their “godly” husbands.

A Meaningless Label.

What I’m trying to get across here is that there’s absolutely no reason to believe that Christians are better people than non-Christians. The bad Christians posture so effectively that their deeds aren’t uncovered until it’s too late. No church can guarantee safety to anybody, as a result of how easy it is to trick Christians.

A Bible in a person’s hands doesn’t mean anybody is safe. Nor does Jesus-y talk and that weird “love me, believe me” me-so-innocent smile that only predatory Christians seem to be able to form on their faces. None of it means someone is incapable of evildoing.

Folks, a predator is still a predator even after conversion. A violent abuser is still going to be violent and abusive. A liar still lies. A cheater still cheats. A psychopath does not magically grow a conscience. A child molester doesn’t lose the desire to abuse children.

When you hear someone calling him- or herself any of these things in a testimony, prick your ears up. You may 100% rest assured they still do and feel whatever they claim “Jesus” has cured.

Those Who Believed the Lies About Change.

I feel so sorry for the people who suffered at the hands of all of these TRUE CHRISTIANS™.

I wonder how much of this suffering could have been avoided had people been aware that gods do not actually change the core of who a person is or magically make organizations safe for all their members.

And I also wonder how long it’s going to be before Christians realize that when you set up one gender as having all the power in an organization and then give that gender divine cachet to lead and rule, then no matter how you try to make it sound like equality it is not.

Inevitably, those in power will victimize those who have none. And their fellow powerful leaders will do absolutely nothing to help the powerless. “Jesus” won’t change a thing there!

A Failed Model.

Christianity’s had many, many centuries to make this model of religion work.

Christians have had plenty of time to prove that their religion makes believers better people than those who do not follow their religion. You could certainly argue that all of the people and groups I’ve named here were doing it all wrong.

You could. I don’t think I’d even disagree.

But how many people doing it all wrong does someone need to see before declaring that this is not a good system and that it causes way more heartbreak than any good it brings with it?

What protections are there for those who wield no power and who have no voice in their own leadership? How can these predators do this stuff and keep doing this stuff and justify themselves with the Bible and be taken for good “godly” people–and keep moving from church to church, safe from all detection and repercussions?

What assurances are there that the men in power in these groups will not harm or abuse those under their tender, godly care?

None, that’s what. None.

They Can’t Quit It.

And yet Christians perpetuate these hugely risky models of church leadership and family structures. They insist that if you’re doing it right, the system works. But change only occurs for those who are already naturally fair-minded and genuinely trying to change. The system lacks any innate wisdom or grace in itself. These Christians created a social culture in which predators thrive and flourish and have their pick of victims. Those predators know that they probably won’t ever be caught.

If caught, they’re sure they’ll get off almost scot-free. All of these gullible Christians genuinely believe in their hearts, against and contrary to all evidence, that their religion makes people better human beings.

Do some people actually experience–and more importantly keep up with–a 180 turnaround? Yeah, maybe some change. But I spent the first half of my life in the religion. I married someone heavily involved in ministry. And I never saw change actually happen with anybody. Jesus sure never changed my then-husband!

It’s almost as if there’s no deity magically fixing Christians at all or making them better people.

It’s the craziest thing.

NEXT UP: With the understanding in mind that there are no magical changes in people just because they subscribe to a religious outlook, we’re going to talk next about what actually did change in me once I converted and once I deconverted–and what I see really changing in other people who convert and deconvert, as we hurtle toward another episode of the Unequally Yoked Club. It’s all about dignity, folks. Happy New Year, if I didn’t say so already, and may we all have a year of love and dignity ahead of us.

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(Captain Cassidy tidied up this post on June 25, 2019.)

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. And she still can't carry a note in a bucket. You can read more about the author here.
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