When God Isn’t That Great: The Urban Legend Bugaloo.

When God Isn’t That Great: The Urban Legend Bugaloo. March 29, 2014

O M G! Did you hear? A woman avoided getting raped because the rapist saw angels with her! And when she got home she found out her house had burned down–but her Bible was totally okay! And then her toddler saw Jesus in the ER that night saving people and someone gave the kid money to buy her something from the gift store! And she was cured of her partial blindness too! On the way home they almost got sideswiped by a semi, but they got this neat photo of an angel stopping it! But watch out, because Facebook is having a huge campaign to stop people from talking about religion on their walls! Aren’t urban legends just so much fun? Here are some favorites–and why Christians love to tell these stories.

(Christopher Brown, CC.)
(Christopher Brown, CC.)

If Christianity didn’t have urban legends, I’m not sure what else they’d have. These messages are a sort of “glurge”–remember, we talked about that last time? Glurge is a sickly-sweet gooey message that disguises an inner core of nasty hatefulness that the people spreading the glurge can’t even see. Well, I see that core, and I’m here today to talk about why these urban legends are not the wonder-working miracles Christians think they are.

First, though, let’s get this out of the way: the ends do not justify the means. Lying for Jesus is still lying, and even if the liar is doing it for a good cause, like saving someone from the Hell his or her god organized in the first place, it’s still lying. What someone chooses to do in leisure hours is none of my business, but I don’t like being lied to, and when it comes to religion, the lie makes me wonder why there isn’t any truth to share about it–why the truth isn’t more glamorous, or more compelling, than this lie I’m hearing. And especially when the Christian in question holds that peculiar notion that only Christians can be good people, it becomes especially curious that such a person thinks it’s okay to spread or tell lies. (As you can tell, I was not a good Christian in that respect; I really didn’t like lying to people. And yes, it blows my mind to see Christians doing that even today.)

To far too many Christians, though, a lie is perfectly acceptable if it’s for a good cause–just like slavery’s totally okay too “if done right” such as the Old Testament had it, and just like a global genocide is totally okay because their god did it (yes yes, he repented afterward, but I didn’t see that bit until long after leaving the religion so reckon most Christians don’t know about it either). All that matters is that the story sounds really awesome. If it bleeds, it leads–even if it is a lie. And if it should be true, why, then that’s just as good as if it really were true.

So these Christians will pass on these urban legends with wide-eyed wonder and praise for their god–even subjecting people they know perfectly well are non-believers to this nonsense. If those non-believers try to criticize their breathless retelling of these lies, then the Christian spreading them will get downright indignant, even angry.

Urban Legend (film)
Urban Legend (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia). I liked this movie. Kind of.

I can see why they’d be peeved; when we ask for proof, or show a Snopes.com debunk of their favorite urban legend of the day, what we’re really saying is “Wow, you’re an idiot for believing something this stupid.” Nobody likes feeling like an idiot. But what gets them far more riled is when we attack the very heart of the urban legend to show what a sick, nasty piece of work it really is at its core.

And that, my dear friends, is what we are going to do. Take my hands, and we will plunge into a nightmare world that even Gaz could not adequately describe.

* Facebook is banning religious talk. This one hits to the heart of the Christian persecution fantasy. I saw this image a few times floating around Facebook along with outraged denunciations from various Christians. I can see they’ve finally figured out that the founder of Facebook is not a Christian, so that’s nice, but they have leaped from that understanding to assuming that like all straw-atheists of Christian fantasizing, he must want to end all religious expression everywhere. This nasty legend makes atheists look like evil beasts, and it lets Christians indulge in their favorite past-time, which is imagining that their religion is under some kind of attack from non-believers. When you see a Christian pass this one on, you know that person loves to imagine that it takes some kind of special bravery to be Christian in this modern-day country founded on ideals of freedom of religion and speech. Tread carefully, because you are almost certainly dealing with a Fox News viewer here who is not going to take debunking kindly.

* The Gay Jesus Movie Fiasco. Ah, this one’s good: there is some horrible plot to make a gay Jesus character in a movie. Ever since the 1980s, which is when I first heard it (in relation to The Last Temptation of Christ, a movie which even without a gay Jesus outraged quite a few Christians back in my day), there’ve been outbreaks of this urban legend, but now that Facebook and email are pretty much everywhere, it’s gaining traction–especially now that sappy Christian movies are increasingly common. Christians do not take kindly to someone messing with their idol, and despite all that “turn the other cheek” nonsense Jesus is said to have preached, they are very quick to get furious at the mere suggestion that someone might be saying something uncomplimentary about their Savior. This is a legend that gets passed around by a Christian who likes to be angry and can’t find something legitimate to be angry about. Curiously, the Christians passing this one around never seem to actually check to see if it’s true or not. As the Snopes.com page linked says, even a state attorney general got involved here to debunk this one, but people still talk about it like it’s a serious threat.

* Gardasil dangers. Christians as well as anti-vaxxers got on the fail train to denounce Gardasil when it came out. The big fear was that vaccinating girls might make them into slutbunnies or increase pregnancy or STD rates if they now thought they were safe against HPV. As it happens, that’s not true. A study a couple years ago discovered that no, actually, Gardasil vaccination does not in fact do anything to change young women’s sexual behavior, just makes the sex they would already have had way less risky, but fears die hard. As I’ve mentioned before, anybody who talks to right-wing Christians is well aware that their main goal regarding sexuality is to make sex as terrifyingly risky as possible for women on the off-chance that such horrifyingly disproportional risks might make them less likely to have unapproved sex. Parents would rather see their daughters get an especially nasty type of cancer than protect them against that cancer–all because those daughters choosing consensual sex is in their minds worse than them getting cancer. A Christian who spreads this lie is more interested in controlling and terrorizing young women than in doing the 30 seconds of Google work necessary to figure out that no, this vaccine is not dangerous to almost all the women receiving it, and while all vaccines can cause some adverse affects, the fact that Gardasil prevents pretty much every person receiving it from the HPV which causes cervical cancer means that HPV infection rates have been cut in half, and that means a lot fewer women face the horrifying risk of cancer. But I guess feeling scared and trying (unsuccessfully) to control their kids’ sex lives is more satisfying to fundagelical parents than preventing very real tragedies.

* A woman is saved from rape by angels. This one is a variant I heard way back in college too–the idea of a young woman who feels unsafe as she’s walking alone at night, who prays for help, and who subsequently finds out that some evil men were indeed planning to assault her (and in every version I’ve ever personally heard, these would-be attackers are black, incidentally). The attackers decided not to rape her because she had two huge men walking with her that she couldn’t see but they could. This one is especially nasty in my opinion. We’re told “don’t underestimate the power of prayer!” but really what happened here is that the rapists just passed her over to rape someone else. Why didn’t her god kill the rapists or get them arrested instead of just saving her? Some variants, like the linked one, include info about another woman getting raped shortly after the praying woman escaped; did the second woman pray too and get ignored? For that matter, this glurge is nothing but victim blaming–if a woman gets raped, does this story imply that she obviously didn’t pray hard enough or have enough faith? And what about the millions of other women (and men) who will face sexual assault in their lifetimes? Why didn’t this god save all of them too? I’m sure a lot of assault victims prayed and had a lot of faith. But there’s absolutely no way to predict who will and won’t be raped, is there? Christians have all sorts of ways of contorting to make this one woman getting protected into something good, rather than what it really is: evidence that their god is either a total dick, or else impotent, or else oblivious or uncaring beyond all imagination.

When you see a story like this one, the Christian you’re dealing with is trying to control that which cannot really be controlled. Rape is a horrifying attack, an invasion in every single sense of the word, and we don’t have complete control on our ends to stop it from happening; no matter what a would-be victim might do, if someone’s got his mind set on raping someone, he’s going to find someone to rape, and he’s going to find some excuse to rationalize doing it (which, in Rape Culture, isn’t hard to do). Legends like these make Christians feel like they have some kind of trump card in their pockets to lessen that risk. Christians who pass this story around need that trump card; the world is very scary, and Jesus is a necessary guardian when there don’t seem to be a lot of real protections around. In reality, Jesus never said he’d protect his followers from horrific fates, but the Christians who fancy these stories think of him like a daddy and ATM combined. Step carefully; criticizing this story will step on a lot of nerves for a Christian who feels frightened by life without their lucky black feather.

* A father’s cruel choice. This decades-old glurge tale seems kinda hokey, but an ex-Christian friend of mine reported personally hearing a variant recently being told from a pulpit as if totally true. A Christian father on a sailing trip runs into a bad storm and can only save one of two boys with him. One boy, his own son, is a Christian, and the other boy, the son’s friend, is not. The father can only save one boy. He decides to save the non-Christian boy, because he knows his own son will go to Heaven if he dies. The storyteller always makes sure to make the symbolism very clear of saving the son who was at risk of Hell, comparing the father to the Christian god and all. Personally, I think this story is downright horrifying, but then, I cried like a baby at Sophie’s Choice. Comparing the father to a god is about the worst backfire imaginable–because a god could save everybody and is not limited by time or physical attributes. Even if you get away from that comparison, the story fails on every level. Why did this god allow a storm to come up at all? Why did this god force the father to make such a ghastly, ghoulish choice? Why would a Christian even think this is halfway admirable? This religion makes fathers abandon their own sons, their own flesh and blood. To me, that’s evil personified.

Let’s think this one through. The Christian boy might not actually be “saved”–the father doesn’t actually 100% know at all; maybe the boy has a serious sin unconfessed and unatoned on his slate, or maybe he was lying when he said the Sinner’s Prayer (I know quite a few Christians and ex-Christians, including me, who’ve said that prayer and been baptized numerous times, thinking their being born-again didn’t “take” the first times). The other boy might not convert once he’s saved from the stormy sea, and if he does, he might not die a Christian–most young people will pull back from the religion by adulthood. So the father isn’t really sure either way of which boy is “safe” to let drown. Man, it’d really suck to be that father and see the boy you saved end up an ex-Christian later, wouldn’t it? But this story doesn’t ever end that way. In glurge-land, it couldn’t. The symbolism fails on so many other levels–namely, that no one has ever demonstrated that Hell is actually a real, objective threat to anybody, which makes the “choice” even more ghoulish. A Christian who shares this story hopes you don’t wonder about that, or see the inherently disgusting “choice” as nothing but emotional manipulation that shows a god who would send a child–a child, damn it–to a punitive, vengeful place of pain and torture for eternity thanks to a decade or so’s worth of thought crimes and childish misdeeds–and such a Christian also hopes you don’t wonder why neither the god nor the repulsive realm of torture have ever been shown to exist. I cannot imagine a moral person doing anything upon hearing this story but pushing its immoral and evil god away with as much explosive force as can be summoned.

* The angel priest. This one was hugely popular last summer. It involved a teenaged girl who got into a huge car accident and was ministered to by a mysterious old man in priestly garb who then vanished before anybody could figure out who he was. The speculation about who he might be was widespread, but he turned out to be a regular, perfectly normal Catholic priest who saw the accident while traveling and stopped to help. But that revelation probably disappointed the legions of Fox News viewers who had already decided the mysterious helper was not a human being at all, but an angel. Now, let’s not even get into the fact that most fundagelical Christians don’t think Catholics are actually Christians at all, nor that most people don’t regard Catholic priests very highly nowadays. The Christians who spread this glurge around far and wide are missing a more important point: if it were actually true, this miracle would only demonstrate that their god could help accident victims, but for some weird reason just doesn’t. Why does this teenaged girl rate an angel and a miracle, while all the other accident victims do not? Like the rape legend above, this glurge shows us that if you pray, you will get answered–which implies that all the people who suffer who don’t get miracles just didn’t pray (or pray hard enough, or have enough faith in the prayers, or something).

But more than that, these stories demonstrate Christians’ need for objective proof in matters that are really about pure faith in the absence of even a need for objective proof. Christians desperately crave evidence of their religion’s claims despite crowing about the value of faith. They frantically search out any and all slight signs of reality. Not a single one of those signs has ever turned out to be supernatural when investigated, but they don’t seem to notice or care. When one legend gets totally debunked, they just forget it ever existed as they leap to the next legend–Look! PROOF! It’s ALL TRUE!–while the rest of us look on with exhaustion just trying to keep up with the new lies Christians are telling themselves now. All I can think when I hear stories like this is, “That’s nice. When is this god going to help all accident victims, rather than allowing millions of people to die horribly and in agony? And why is this a miracle, when he is the one who allowed this girl to almost die to begin with?” If he really wanted to push my thrill buttons, he’d have prevented the accident in the first place. But even Christians know that despite prayer, car accidents happen. Stories like these are a sort of protective ward around themselves, a desperate–and unfounded–hope that they have found some way of preserving themselves that non-believers can’t access. The alternative to believing in these stories is to realize that really, you can’t actually protect yourself 100% against car accidents and that no supernatural friend is going to help you if you get into one, and to a Christian, that idea is very scary indeed.

* And then we have the anti-atheist legends like this one about Albert Einstein humiliating an atheist professor or this one about an atheist professor getting his comeuppance from a Christian student. I’ve seen both of these in the last few months in the wild and have had other friends report seeing them in emails, always told breathlessly as if they are totally true and really happened. Now, obviously, Albert Einstein didn’t actually subscribe to a fundagelical outlook, much less engage in a smarmy exchange like that. And I can’t imagine a professor being so dense and stupid as the one in the “dropped chalk” story, nor allowing a student to take over his classroom to preach at the other kids (most of whom, if statistics are anything to go by, are already Christian and will probably not appreciate their tuition dollars or time being abused in this manner).

But these stories run a lot deeper than just their surface content, like most glurge does. In these particular stories, we see what Christians think of non-believers. We see how they wish they could interact with non-believers. We see how they wish things really worked. In their little world, non-Christian intellectuals are the enemy, and they are downright indignant that these intellectuals think they know more than Christians do. There’s a huge streak of anti-intellectualism going on in fundagelical thinking the last few decades–largely because educated people tend to reject religion. Instead of attacking the real problem, which is Christianity’s numerous honesty issues and false truth claims, these fundagelicals instead attack the messenger by seeing education itself as the problem. And in these stories, fundagelicals finally win the fight they are currently losing in America especially. Christians who spread these stories suffer from a variety of problems. They see their religion as being persecuted when it isn’t; they see educated people and even higher education itself as enemies; and worst of all, they desperately need to feel victorious over their enemies. Such a vindictive mindset–willing to lie about its enemies, willing to wrongly attribute stories, willing to indulge in self-serving and even violent tales to feel smug–reveals itself in all its glory here. What would Jesus do? Why, he’d cold-cock a professor for saying critical things about Christianity! And the Christian gloating about such a story shows that s/he isn’t in it to be loving, but to punish dissenters and revel in unwarranted privilege and dominance over others.

There we have it: the glurge stories I’ve seen most recently, and why they are not what Christians think they are. I really wish Christians would really think about these stories before seizing them and clutching them to their hearts and spreading them around. Non-Christians certainly do. If this god were real, then he would be the type of god to only save certain women from rape. He would be the type of god who ignores most accident victims to send an angel to one. He would be the kind of being who approves of lies and encourages violence to maintain his dominance.

And his followers want me to join them in going to an afterlife filled with liars, cheaters, and cruel folks like the ones in these stories and like them?

Little wonder that I actively and conscientiously refuse. The real shock here is that so many do not.

I guess I’m just too honest and moral to be a Christian. And I’m totally okay with that. If all the liars and deceivers are going to Heaven, I’m not sure it’d really be very heavenly to me and I would rather go somewhere else. I don’t think a true god could inspire so many lies; I don’t think a valid and real religion with valid and objectively true claims would need so much glurge to sell itself. But these stories reveal a certain insensitivity among the Christians parroting them, and it’s an insensitivity that becomes all the more glaring once you give the stories even the most cursory of examinations. The really curious thing is that Christians seriously think we’re not going to investigate the claims or think about what the story really says, and seem downright astonished and furious when we point out that the stories don’t accomplish what these tales-bearers think they do.

Next time you see one of these tales show up in your inbox, or preached from a pulpit, or paraded on Facebook or wherever, think about it. And please, also wonder why the Christian telling that story didn’t test everything, and hold fast to what was good, but left that hard work to the skeptical non-believer, because the answer to that question illuminates just about everything that is wrong with modern Christianity.

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