You want to hear something funny? I’ve only rarely had to seriously moderate comments on this blog; y’all are the best community in the world, and I have every reason to think that way. A year into blogging and there’s been not one single physical threat, and only a few RoE-violating comments from offended Christians.
Oddly, most of those comments seem to center around this post I did last year about Joyce Meyer wherein I sharply criticized her brand of prosperity gospel and dressed-up misogyny. Second place goes to the posts I’ve written about Matt Pitt, the cop-impersonating, drug-abusing youth pastor who is now converting his fellow prison inmates by telling them how pretty and pliable the young women are at his church (though oddly, very little about Tony Anthony, the globe-trotting super-ninja Kung-Fu assassin who “found Jesus,” who I guess just isn’t cuddly enough). For some reason, Christians really don’t like their idols being examined.
And they all say the same butthurt thing: Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. You don’t have the right to say anything. You don’t have the right to criticize. You don’t have the right. These demands that I shut up are silencing tactics. A silencing tactic is, simply defined, an attempt to shut down a critic without addressing the actual argument the critic is using. And Christians do it constantly. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it seems like silencing tactics are the main way they deal with outsiders and critics. They don’t want to talk about what was actually said and they certainly aren’t about to consider whether or not the accusations are valid–they just want to be able to control the speech itself.
I want to make this crystal-clear to any Christians who wander in: I am not a Christian. The normal silencing tactics Christians use on each other do not work on me. I don’t take platitudes as gospel or settle for apologetics excuses. I understand what silencing tactics are and how they get used. Those tactics just don’t work on someone who can spot them a mile away.
So when a Christian archly informs me that I have no right to judge Joyce Meyer, I respond: Actually, yes, yes I do. And so does anybody who learns about her. When you put somebody above reproach and examination, you open the door to that person to waltz in and start preying upon you. You all but write a permission slip for that person to victimize you and take advantage of your trust. It’s no wonder so many scandals have erupted out of the Christian church as a whole in the last few years; the real miracle is that there aren’t a lot more scandals. Christians themselves are almost comically inept at protecting themselves from predation. And unsurprisingly, predators zero in on this vulnerability with laser accuracy. Jesus sure doesn’t stop them! Nor do threats of hellfire and damnation (concepts which the majority of Christian sects say they believe). Over and over again, Christians get taken advantage of by conjobs and grifters; over and over again they see these predators’ squinched-up faces and hangdog puppy eyebrows and hear their earnest, sanctimonious exhortations and these perpetual victims mistake these expressions of piety for honesty. If the grifter conjob can throw in some fake miracle claims or a vastly-inflated “testimony,” then there’s no way that person can fail.
Joyce Meyer and preachers like her have seen that open door and that permission slip. They prey upon the gullible and weak, fleecing money from innocent Christians who don’t even wonder why a preacher of the Gospel needs a private jet and bathroom fixtures that cost more than most of us make in one year. Jesus’ opinion of rich people (or at least the opinion attributed to the character of Jesus by anonymous ghostwriters many decades after his supposed lifetime) is quite easy for anybody to see. You don’t have to be a Christian to read the Bible and see what it says–and to see where modern Christians so frequently fall short of its ideals. The contortions Christians so often make to excuse away a filthy-rich Christian pandering to the ignorant masses to get more filthy-rich are obscene to outsiders’ eyes; we know that these contortions are self-serving bullshit and aren’t buying it. We know that these excuses may very well make Christians content, but they do not make us content because they’re just that: excuses. Those excuses are doubly obscene because it is the victims themselves of these panderers who so often leap to their predators’ defense.
And I think that they know, dimly, deep down, that their contortions are just a coat of polish on the outside of a filthy cup because they don’t even try to get into the various apologetics arguments around how modern, big-ole-Jesus-smile-wearing Christians can square away wealth with rampant social injustice–how they can drive SUVs and live in McMansions and vote to reduce food stamps and keep the minimum wage below the poverty line, and yet still go to church every Sunday and think they’re good Christians. Yes, I’ve seen those arguments; I think they’re pretty self-serving and blatantly intellectually dishonest, but at least they do exist. No, these Christians don’t even try to go there. Instead, they just want me to strip me of my right to speak. How dare you, is the unspoken accusation.
Christians are very fond of telling me on the one hand that the Bible’s message is very easy to understand when it comes to preaching at me to convert me, but on the other that I must actually be a Christian to properly understand it so they can shut me up when I criticize a Christian who violates its easy-to-understand message. Their strange double standard falls flat when one considers that nowhere else in life do we demand that someone be a follower of something to criticize that thing. I don’t need to do heroin to say that heroin is bad. I don’t need to be a pedophile to criticize pedophiles. I don’t need to commit war crimes to perceive that Dubya committed them. I don’t need to have published a book or made a movie to say that Fifty Shades of Grey is abuse-glorifying dreck or that Xanadu, as much as I love it, is a ridiculous movie by any definition of the term. I sure don’t need to be a Christian to say that a particular Christian is very obviously preying upon Christian trust and gullibility and violating every single verse in the Bible about rich people. But Christians think otherwise. And they think that way for a very insidious reason:
My right to criticize and the very existence of my perceptions must be whittled away; they are the gatekeepers to my actual opinions. If Christians get stopped at the gate of Whether I’m Allowed to Even Talk At All About a Hypocrite, then they don’t need to worry about passing through that gate to the Garden of Discussing if I’m Right or Wrong. Obviously, if they decide I’m not allowed to speak on the subject of hypocritical Christians, then they stop right there and do not pass Go or collect $200. It’s a very convenient way to avoid unpleasant conversations. Do that tactic meticulously enough, and a Christian doesn’t ever have to engage with a single critical element at all–because pretty much everybody can be whittled down in that way about any topic. It’s not hard to imagine that the people saying these things to me have had this tactic done on them any number of times, to the point where any possible traces of skepticism and discernment have been all but erased.
Oddly, not a single one of these offended Christians ever actually refute anything I’ve actually said. They never attack the actual argument. Hasn’t happened even once. No, they just want me to shut up and quit saying critical things about their chosen sacred cow. They just want to silence me. And that’s a big problem–not for me, because I don’t care if toxic Christians are happy with me or not, but for them, because it’s going to keep them locked in a cycle of abuse and victimization until they wake up and realize that they need to stop policing whether or not someone’s allowed to criticize them and start focusing on whether or not the criticism is valid.
Christians who go that route are fundamentally incapable of hearing grievances against their sacred cows, they are saying here, unless those grievances come from approved sources. But just what would those sources look like? Generally, they’d be people steeped in their culture. The problem is, those are the people least capable of recognizing any grievances when (not if) they happen. They are the people most likely to rush to defend the perpetrators of these grievances and believe their pious-sounding excuses, hand-waving rationalizations, squinched-up preacher eyebrows, and “repentance” crocodile tears, if tears should ever happen to fall. If I were actually still a good little wide-eyed Christian, chances are I’d be just as gullible as the people defending Joyce Meyer are and just as incapable of recognizing injustice and hypocrisy as they are.
That said, these Christians are lying through their teeth if they think that if I were Christian, they’d magically be perfectly okay with me criticizing one of their number. This silencing tactic is nothing more than a smokescreen. And I know that because I used to be Christian, and I read Christian blogs still to keep up with the trends in religion. This excuse is just something they say to disqualify me out of the gate.
But nothing would change at all except a few shifts in wording if I were Christian. I still wouldn’t have the right to speak; they’d just give a different reason for disqualifying me in the second heat. You see, there is a second gate to pass through before you can enter the Garden.
Do you know what Christians do to good little wide-eyed Christians who speak out against predators in their ranks? They accuse them of sowing discord and being divisive. That’s right: they don’t let their fellow Christians speak against injustice either. They silence them, too.
That is exactly what all kinds of big-ole-Jesus-smile-wearing Christians have tried to do to people like Samantha over at Defeating the Dragons and to Rachel Held Evans, a Christian author and speaker who has spoken out repeatedly against the anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic evangelical church body. I don’t know how you get much more Christian than those two people, to be honest. They’re about the most loving, Christlike people I can name, though I seriously doubt that any supernatural being is making them that way. But even they are not allowed to speak against Christianity’s abusive side. I’ve got eyes; I can see what happens whenever any Christian even tries to wade into those murky waters. Their right to speak is impugned and negated just like mine is.
So if I’m not a Christian, I don’t have the right to speak out against Christian abuses and overreach and so I should shut up.
And if I am a Christian, then I’m sowing discord and so I should shut up.
And if I’m not the Christian god himself, then obviously I don’t get to judge anything at all and so I should shut up, though Christians judge stuff all the time and think that’s fine, as long as it’s them judging whether something would make baby Jesus cry or not.
There is quite literally not a single way to win here except to shut up, to these ardent defenders of predators. Wouldn’t they just love that! And wouldn’t the predators love it even more!
You know what I hear when Christians get all huffy and shirty over me poking holes in a popular hypocrite or false idea? I hear this: that Christians value their comforting lies over the very real victims of lies and wrongdoing. They value those lies so much that they won’t hear any criticism of them. Certainly Christians seem to believe those lies more fervently and more frequently over the criticisms offered of them. And certainly Christians have, on the whole, spent a great deal of time and money to structure their churches and institutions around letting liars and wrongdoers roam free and unfettered over the backs of victims. If a false idea is presented as Christian or an offender says he or she is a Christian, that’s all the other Christians need to hear; they will defend even the most egregious of offenders against critics, because that tribal label means more to them than any injustice that offender commits. Keeping the tribal brand clean and whitewashed means more to them than addressing obvious problems in their ranks and in their philosophy.
I’ve talked many times about the Happy Christian Illusion–about the Happy Christian Marriage Illusion, about the Happy Christian Church/Community Illusion, and others. When I was Christian, I definitely felt the pressure to pretend I was happy when I wasn’t, to believe totally in religious claims even if I had some doubts or reservations about anything, and to never, ever allow outsiders to detect chinks or cracks in the facade. When Christians get mad at me for criticizing something that I know deserves criticism, I know that they’re mostly mad that the facade’s cracks are getting exposed. But isn’t that how folks fix problems? How can anything be fixed if the problem can’t even be identified?
Worse still than the effect silencing tactics have on helping identify a problem, though, is what those tactics do for people who maybe aren’t as good at heart as the people demanding I shut up. See, I know that the people who are trying to shut me up are probably basically decent folks. Deluded, maybe, but they’re probably okay. But the people they are defending are not okay–which is something that I can see that they, locked as they are in that illusion, cannot. Regardless of what Christians like to believe, their ranks are chock-full of very evil-hearted, power-hungry, money-grubbing, and manipulative people. Again, no deity is stopping those people from taking advantage of Christian trust. And if those people are considered to be above criticism, then there is no accountability either, and therefore no brake at all on their roughshod galloping.
It seems to me that when criticism is sharply suppressed and ignored, all it does is give wrongdoers a little thrill up their spine and a little more permission to prey upon the flocks. Christians who refuse to recognize and address wrongdoing when it’s pointed out to them become complicit in that wrongdoing. And the entire religion gets, on the whole, a little sicker and a little unsteadier with each silencing attempt.
It is a black mark against Christianity that these Christians value conformity, lies, hypocrisy, and silence over justice and doing what their precious, idolized Bible actually tells them to do.
I have the right to speak. I take that right very seriously, and consider that my responsibility as a citizen with free speech is to speak the truth. That is why I back up what I say with examples and copious links, research issues before spouting off about them, and amend my position if it turns out I’m wrong. I did it just yesterday in fact when talking to someone on a comment thread. I’m not ashamed to examine my opinions and to accept correction when need be.
I really wish more Christians would do me the same courtesy.
At present, it seems to me that I’m way too moral to be part of their religion. And I won’t shut up. All it takes for evil to win is for good people to say nothing. When I look back at my life, I won’t regret not speaking out against the wrongdoing that I see and doing every peaceful, legal thing I can to stop it.