One thing you’ll fast notice if you engage Christians on any kind of level is how quickly they run to this delusion that if someone opposes them in any way, it is because they are in the right and those opposing them are in the wrong. It doesn’t matter where you go, or what kind of Christian it is; I’ve seen this response out of everybody from Catholics to truest-blue Pentecostals. Today, once again, we’re going to be talking about that vocal subset of the religion that I’ve come to call toxic Christians. Though they hardly represent all Christians, this group seems to fall into that error the most often. I know that this delusion feeds into the false persecution fantasy that many Christians have, making it doubly harmful to the rest of us, and so it’s important that we tackle this mindset head-on and challenge it when we see it.
I know they come by the delusion honestly. This sentiment comes straight from none other than the Bible itself, wherein Christians are told over and over again that people will disagree with and even mistreat believers because they are clearly speaking the truth and nobody likes that. John 15:18 has the character of Jesus telling his followers, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” 2 Timothy 3:12 informs believers that why yes indeed, everybody who wants to be a good Christian will be persecuted, and 1 Peter 4:12 advises believers not to think this persecution strange or unexpected in any way, but the natural consequence of being Christian.
But what form is this “persecution” to take?
Obviously what is going on now in some third-world countries is unacceptable and inexcusable. Killing, maiming, imprisoning, beating, and ostracizing people for their religious beliefs, even trying to take away their right to pray or believe what they like on their own time, is obviously wrong. Even the most hardcore atheists condemn that kind of persecution and recognize it as a human rights violation. But we’re not talking about any of that sort of persecution. We’re talking about the fake persecution that Christians indulge in when they consider their fading relevance and dominance in culture. See, in more civilized countries, many believers have forgotten what real persecution is and now pin the term on such mundane occurrences as people disagreeing with them or having some of their previous and undeserved dominance peeled away. Their claims of persecution ring very hollow indeed compared to the real persecution going on in other countries, cheapening the word itself and making the rest of us doubly doubt their other various claims.
Not long ago, I saw a clip from a movie about the founding of Facebook, The Social Network. In the clip, a young woman is explaining something to Mark Zuckerberg that he really needs to hear:
You are probably going to be a very successful computer person. But you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole.
And something went off in my head when I saw that. And it should be going off in yours too. It hits at the heart of Christian privilege as well as (in this particular instance) male privilege; it claws right to the heart of someone’s ego-defense delusion and rips it away to expose the bubbling and manky injury underneath. I’ve met a number of people who suffer a similar delusion–most of them men, but many women as well–who are convinced that they’re single because they’re just “too smart” or “too nice,” when the truth is much harder to face: that they’re unpleasant to be around in some significant way.
I know why people have this delusion. It’s a lot easier to place blame on others than on ourselves, isn’t it? If some guy is convinced that he’s not finding a girlfriend because he’s “too nice,” then he’s not going to waste time improving himself. It’s women’s fault, not his own, you see, and therefore he’s just going to keep on being “nice” and wondering why nobody seems drawn to what he’s presenting. Eventually his desire for companionship will wear down his desire to shield his ego, he’ll get the required therapy or shakabuku slap upside the head he needs, and he’ll realize that no, actually, the problem wasn’t with everybody on Earth but with himself, that he wasn’t “nice” at all and women knew it. And he’ll make some required changes if it’s really important to him, and he’ll quickly enough find someone to hold hands with him on a Ferris Wheel and do the horizontal bop with him.
The same ego defense happens with Christians, too, and for the same reasons. If they can blame their lack of success winning souls (or at least winning arguments, which is almost as good) on their own Jesus-y-ness, then they don’t need to examine the hateful or cruel things they’re doing in the name of Jesus. They don’t need to look at themselves at all. The problem is obviously with everybody else. They are speaking truth, you see, and anybody who doesn’t like that just feels “convicted” (that’s Christianese for “guilty,” but with extra Jesus Power).
There’s a very serious question embedded in that simple quote that Christians would do very well to examine, and I’ll lay it out here:
How does a Christian know if something he or she is saying is true or if it’s totally wrong, just by the reaction of those hearing it?
If people don’t like something that Christian is saying, then is the reason for that always going to be that the Christian is just totally right and nobody “wants” to hear it? Is it really always going to be that the listeners are “convicted” and hate the Christian for speaking the truth? When Christians get pushback from non-believers (and sane Christians), is it always going to be out of dissenters’ desire to persecute Christians?
How would this Christian distinguish between wrongful opposition on the basis of being super-Jesus-y and rightful opposition on the basis of that Christian being a grade-Z asshat? I mean, as the Bible itself says, the ways of a man always seem right to him, so the Christian in question is just about always going to think he or she is right. Indeed, it’s a running joke among non-Christians that Christians always, no matter how obviously wrong, hateful, deceptive, harmful, and nasty they are, manage to think that they are TRUE CHRISTIANS™ speaking THE TRUTH OF GAWD™ and that anybody who disagrees is either hugely wrong or demon-controlled/possessed/oppressed/whatevs.
How would people’s responses change if the Christian in question were totally wrong, if she or he were hateful or cruel instead of “speaking the truth”? How would that Christian’s reception differ and change?
Because from where I’m sitting, Christians seem to be in the right all the time no matter what reception they get.
This wrongheaded belief in “persecution” is another one of those totally un-falsifiable beliefs that Christians often buy into. If they say something awful and hateful and get enthusiastic responses, then obviously they are speaking “in the Spirit” (that’s Christianese for being inspired by Jesus to say some particular thing; things spoken “in the Spirit” are extra-dextra-super-duper-gooey-kablooey true times infinity, as opposed to something said “in the flesh” which turns out to be wrong or misunderstood). But if they say something awful and hateful and get a lot of pushback, then they’re still perfectly within their rights to say they’re still speaking “in the Spirit.” Thanks to this bizarre attitude of theirs, there is quite literally no way for such Christians to recognize when they’re speaking the truth and when they’re not based upon the reaction received. I’ve seen Christians get ass-pats and high-fives for saying the most shockingly cruel and evil things to outsiders, and be denounced and drummed offstage when they actually display real honest-to-goodness love to people. Reception is not and should not be how a Christian decides if what was said was right or wrong. (To clarify, in and of itself; a lot matters about who is giving the feedback and what exactly that feedback is.)
And you know, I don’t care if a Christian believes nonsense on his or her own time, or if that person is really right or wrong. What I object to is the fact that I’m not allowed to push back against obnoxious, overreaching, hateful Christians without them triumphantly claiming that I’m only pushing back against them because they’re speaking the truth and Jesus did say after all that people would hate them for it. And here I am acting mean at them! Surely that means they’re extra-correct and should do whatever they were doing but this time do it more and harder!
So I offer up here a handy test for people to take to see if the pushback is occurring because they’re speaking the truth or if they’re just wrong. Obviously I’m borrowing from Jeff Foxworthy’s hilarious “You might be a redneck…” gag, but nothing’s wrong with that! The test centers around Christianity, but I’m sure that someone could adjust it easily enough to apply to other groups:
* If someone tells you that you’re being bigoted and your response is to whine about intolerance for your intolerance… you’re wrong.
* If someone tells you that they don’t feel loved by what you’re saying and your response is to retort that the problem is that they’re not using the same re-definition of love that you are and then to demand that they begin using your re-definition instead of their own… you’re wrong.
* If you genuinely believe that “love” means judging people and trying to change them… you’re wrong (and abusive).
* If some crazy random internet blogger (ahem) writes entire series of posts about toxic Christians and about how bad they are in every single conceivable way and your response is to dash off to your fundagelical Facebook hate group to crow about how you’re clearly doing everything right and it’s awesome to be a toxic Christian, hooray! let’s be more toxic! let’s find some new way we can totally be toxic!… you’re wrong (and a whole bunch of assholes, by the way, and yes, I know about that group; to its members I say this: you should all be ashamed of yourselves, and you would be if you had even the slightest bit of human empathy left with which you could feel shame anymore, so y’all keep on cheering your bad selves and slapping each other’s butts for being so awesomely toxic, y’hear? You are the problem).
* If you genuinely believe that American Christians are persecuted in any conceivable way in America for their faith… you’re wrong.
* If you genuinely believe there is a “War on Christmas,” a dark Satanic conspiracy of any kind enveloping America, or that “hello” involves the word “hell” in any way… you’re wrong.
* If you truly believe that there is some slam-dunk “checkmate” argument for Christianity that people aren’t buying simply because they don’t want to face the music for their numerous “sins”… you’re wrong.
* If you genuinely believe that the world would be so much better off if everybody just let you drive, if you think you’ve got some moral high ground because you believe in Jesus and they don’t, if you think that you have some kind of right to control other people… you’re wrong.
* If you think it’s okay to “lie for Jesus,” make up stories, or even just exaggerate claims to get people converted… you’re wrong.
* If your goal is to strip rights away from people or to ensure their status is lower than yours, then no matter how justified you think you are to do it… you’re wrong.
* If your goal is to control and dictate people’s private decisions and lives whether they want you to or not, whether they’ve asked for your input or not… you’re so wrong it’s painful.
* But if loads of people tell you you’re an asshole, they’re probably right, especially if they’re the people you’re trying to control, change, and remove rights from.
Christianity doesn’t have a lot of time to screw around here. The world is already slowly becoming aware that the religion doesn’t really have any objective facts supporting it, so about all they’ve got left is metaphorical truth. And I’m okay with that, I really am. We’ve had a few decades of Christians warping reality and distorting facts to try to get people to convert, and sooner or later I bet a bunch of them will realize that this tactic has not only not worked but has backfired by making folks even more suspicious of and hostile toward their overreach and lies. There are a lot of Christians out there who are starting to focus less on little-f “facts” and more on big-T “Truths,” and one of those truths is–and should be–love, real love, not the abusive fake love that toxic Christians think is love. But if the mainstream keeps focusing on controlling everybody else and on their fake little-f facts to the exclusion of those big-t Truths, then people are going to continue to resist, push back, and check out.
And either they figure out what’s really important here, or they don’t. Either way, humanity wins. We’ll either get way better neighbors, or the bad neighbors will move away. I’m okay with either outcome.
As for confronting this delusion when we see it, it seems like the best way to handle it is to call it out for what it is: “You know, sometimes people object to what you say not because they think you’re right, but because you’re really saying some horrible things and acting hatefully to boot.” Or “Maybe you should try asking us whether or not you’ve made any kind of compelling argument here or better yet why we’re rejecting your argument before you make a wild stab at guessing why we’ve rejected it.” Even a sarcastic, “Yes, that must be it–it can’t be that you totally failed to make your case or that you sound like a totally arrogant, hateful, controlling, condescending jerk. It must be that you’re right and we’re all convicted in the spirit or something.” Ask if the Christian understands why exactly you are rejecting the claim or argument being made. If you see a Christian falling into this self-serving, ego-preserving delusion, say so in whatever way seems appropriate. The reaction you get will tell you what you need to know about whether or not this person is interested in showing you love, or just wants to thump his or her chest at your expense.
Not all toxic Christians are going to respond to a careful explanation of why their claim is invalid, and certainly many of them aren’t going to care if they seem hateful to us–remember, many of them have totally redefined “love” to include abuse and hate. But if people don’t challenge their behavior, they’re far less likely to think about it next time. On that note, it’d be super-nice if Christians themselves stopped propagating this myth among themselves, in essence writing their own escape clause out of taking responsibility for their own behavior.
Yes, sometimes people don’t like it when someone speaks an uncomfortable truth. But Christians need to learn the difference between an uncomfortable truth and them just being idiots who need to be called out. There needs to be some way for them to be pulled up short and shown they’re wrong, and right now, there really isn’t one. And they are very, very wrong these days.
We’re going to talk next about the fear of failure. Obviously failure in any sense is a serious problem for Christians who think their god has told them everything about how to do everything right down to where to eat lunch, and I think that fear has leaked out into the rest of (at least American) society. I want us to stop being afraid of life’s little botched rolls, so maybe it’s time to talk about them a little bit. Please do join me.