I have a real fascination with stories of liars who get found out. Today I want to talk about why these denouements are important to tell. Before we start, though, I want you to picture in your mind these things:
* Medieval knights
* the 1950s
* the Wild West
Chances are, whatever you’re picturing wasn’t much like the reality, is it? Most of us hear about knights and think about men of valor who protected the weak and were big into chivalry. We hear about the 1950s and think about Don Draper and Mayberry. We think of the Wild West and think of this amazing time of high adventure with horses, cattle, rustlers, shootouts, and lawlessness save for a few pockets patrolled by brave (and doomed) sheriffs.
The reality, in all of these cases, was quite different. Knights were nothing more than armored bullies for the most part. The 1950s, far from being an idyllic time, were savage to women, people of color, and anybody who didn’t fit into the cisgender/straight/Christian dynamic. And the wild years of the Wild West were very few indeed; for the most part it was a fairly safe, settled-up place from the getgo.
Those inconvenient truths rarely trouble those who idolize those periods. Even someone like me, who is quite aware of the reality in each case, still gets that whoosh of nostalgia when I think about them. It’s just human nature. In the same way that many of us wish for some kind of magical or supernatural side to our lives, many of us pine a little for those pasts-that-never-were.
But such pining can be dangerous, and today we’re going to talk a little about why.
I was reading today about Larry Norman, yet another lying Christian, and right afterward ran into this absolutely fascinating story about Nasdijj, a fake Navajo who got outed quite dramatically as one of a long line of lying white dudes pretending to be Indian. These stories share some very similar elements with those of other disgraced folks, many of them Christians like Mike Warnke and Tony Anthony.
Larry Norman especially interests me because he’s one of the foremost Christian rock artists to emerge from the Jesus Movement back in the 60s. The Jesus Movement was a countercultural response to what was perceived to be a rather staid, formal, overly rules-based form of Christianity. I don’t think most young Christians have the faintest idea about this movement, but Christians of a certain age, like me (for the newcomers, I was involved in Pentecostalism in the 80s and 90s), were absolutely steeped in its biggest names. Keith Green, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Larry Norman, and a variety of other musicians emerged from this movement.
The Jesus Movement was at its heart hippie Christianity, an effort to get back to the “original” Christianity that its adherents had this gauzy idea existed before The Man had gotten his hooks into the pure, childlike, totally egalitarian and super-spiritual Christianity that they imagined Jesus had taught. It committed the sin of nostalgia, but that particular kind of nostalgia I see so often in Christianity: nostalgia for what never existed.
There’s this feeling I had back then, a feeling I’ve seen others express many times since leaving the religion, that first-century Christianity was special and something that we all should try to be reaching for. I imagined that those earliest Christians–who, remember, likely had seen the living Jesus even though none of them ever wrote a word about it anywhere–had been peaceful, understanding, and eager to reach souls. They had one doctrine and agreed on it. They knew exactly what Jesus had wanted them to believe and practice. As the years marched on, fewer and fewer people would have seen Jesus or knew what he’d said, so sure, of course there’d be some arguments about what TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ really involved.
And that’s why I think liars who zeroed in on this movement had such an easy time of it. They were selling a vision of the past that never existed to people who had no skills whatsoever in discerning what was objectively true and what was false.
When I look back at my days in Christianity, I see a progression as I moved toward what I conceptualized as TRUE CHRISTIANITY™–that hazy, gauzy vision I had of that earliest form of Christianity. I lucked out and realized what a dangerous idea that was before I ended up in a hazardous cult like some of my friends did, but this heartfelt desire runs through fundagelical Christianity like an undertow, affecting and dragging under everything that steps near it.
If you remember that “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion” YouTube video that got so popular a few years ago, the young man in it was talking about that earliest form of Christianity, though I don’t think he ever says so by name. He wants to get back to that kind of Christianity, which he perceives mainstream churches have wandered away from. Most of the similar videos, including some I’ve linked here in the past, involve young people expressing similar sentiments. There’s this feeling that Christianity’s lost its first love, that everything would be awesome if they could only find that first faith again.
I didn’t know as a Christian that this vision of utopia wasn’t true. That’s not how the original Christianity looked. From its earliest beginnings, it was rocked by arguments and disagreements–some even recorded in the Bible, such as when the author of 2 Peter 3:14-16 exhorted his audience to be real, real careful with Paul’s writings because they were so confusing and hard to understand sometimes.
Because I didn’t know about my religion’s earliest history, I bought totally into this idea that not only was “original Christianity” better than modern Christianity, but that I needed to find a church that worshiped like that. And the further I got into that rabbit hole, the more abuse and predation I discovered. All that “original Christianity” seemed to be doing was allowing evil men to run roughshod over naive, trusting believers. Everywhere I looked, these cults–for that’s what they were–were abusing people both emotionally and physically, all because these ignorant sheep believed that they were doing what Jesus wanted and getting back to historical basics.
As you can imagine, finding out more about Christianity’s earliest days did a lot to stabilize me. No longer did I feel compelled to find “original Christianity”–I finally correctly perceived that there was no “original Christianity” that looked substantially different from the bickering lot of abusers and conjobs I saw before me then. But arguing about who had this “original Christianity” and who didn’t sure gave a lot of these groups fodder against each other. Fundamentalism thrives on feeling more hardcore than everybody else, and its members are constantly trying to one-up each other with regard to how “on fire” they are.
Larry Norman sold a vision of Christianity to believers. It was not a true vision, but because so many people listened to his music it was a vision that informed and ricocheted across Christianity for years to come. Larry Norman himself sounds like a supremely narcissistic fellow who found a niche and filled it; Christians at the time were hungering for just this kind of nonsense, and he found himself happy to fulfill the need. His personal life was filled with contradictions and hypocrisies that his biography’s creator found went way past the “feet of clay, oh we’re all sinners” stuff that Christians hand-wave away all the time, but that’s a surprise only to those who actually thought he believed the stuff he was singing about and saying. People like me hear about yet another Christian hypocrite and mentally shrug and say “of course.” It’s not even a surprise. The louder a Christian is about showboating his or her faith, the more skeletons we’ll find in that Christian’s closet. The really unfortunate part of his story is how many Christians were influenced by him without realizing that he didn’t even buy into what he was preaching.
Now we have people who genuinely believe, thanks to revisionist modern Christian fundagelicals like David Barton, that America was founded to be a Christian theocracy and that Christianity was always meant to be America’s official religion. That belief propels such believers into doing things totally antithetical to America’s founding and totally contrary to what the Founding Fathers wanted. Of course such Christians will react to the Wall of Separation like it’s made of fire and acid–of course they’ll be indignant at the brushing-off of each bit of overreach they try to commit against non-believers. They’ve gotten wrong information, and that information informs their entire worldview. Every single time rational people put out the real information about the subject, revisionists either drill down harder on the delusions or else find some new delusion to push. And every time, a few more Christians will be left thinking that the false information is really true as they move on to the next delusion with the revisionists teaching them false things.
As the Bible verse goes, a house built on a bad foundation will fall. Christians who allow false history to color their voting habits or behavior toward others will only find that it all backfires when the truth gets out–and it always seems to eventually get out.
When someone genuinely believes that the 1950s were this amazing Christian utopia, then that person is in danger of recreating a period of time that didn’t even exist. But along with this gauzy vision of this perfect society, there were a lot of hidden abuses and evils that existed back then, and you can’t try to bring about this theocracy without also invoking all those bad things. I really do think that the modern Christian machine is angling toward that goal, though–that what they want is to recreate this vision in their heads of this perfect Christian society with a perfect Christian hierarchy of power from white men at the top descending through women, people of color, and eventually landing on atheists (who, according to some of the worst of the wingnuts, don’t deserve any rights at all in Christianist America).
I really wonder if that’s why Christians get all hyper-excited about opposing Sharia law–if maybe the problem is that it’s so similar to their own Taliban-esque ideas, but in service to the “wrong” god. Meanwhile, outsiders like me can’t see any difference at all between the Muslim Taliban and the Christian Dominionists. It’s all about control and dominance to both groups, and they’ll seize those things by any means possible.
To accomplish this goal, they have to start by building and laying down a false foundation of pseudo-history so that Christians will more readily accept that this is how society is supposed to look. They’ll take out all the bad stuff about vicious racism and sexism, all the stuff about rampant Christian overreach, hideous persecution of LGBTQ people, and societal pressure to conform, and all that’ll be left is a society full of happy men and women who all performed their god-given roles in life without arguing and without fuss. They’ll start painting modern civil rights movements as evil groups who were going against the natural order of things–as groups that specifically wanted that utopia to end and ruin all the good things everybody has built up over the years.
It’s really easy for people in a dominant group to paint oppressed people as trying to ruin everything when those dominant people don’t realize what happened back then. When all they have to go on is visions of happy black slaves singing spirituals while they labored in the fields for their kind, loving white Christian masters, then of course they’ll view freeing those slaves as a negative and any move toward equal rights for people of color as a move away from that idealized vision of racial harmony–a vision that, again, did not actually exist.
When a nonexistent vision is plastered across a very real past, then the people and events of that past get negated and washed over. The very real voices from that era that could easily put the lie to that vision get ignored or brushed aside. Our human tapestry loses a few points of light, a few strands, that make it as rich and as complex as it truly is. And charlatans find it much easier to sell actionable ideas (like voting for politicians who will do their best to bring about Dominion) on the backs of these false visions.
When all people know about the 1950s was whatever they see in sitcoms and hear about from their pastors and memes, then they’ll think that men and women were totally happy with their gender roles as assigned, that everybody was Christian, and that society was much safer, healthier, happier, and peaceful. They will view women and LGBTQ people gaining more rights as upsetting that vision–they know that it’s not possible to have that 1950s vision with everybody having equal rights. They know that given a choice, women will not cooperate with that vision and that LGBTQ people are no longer willing to negotiate with their most basic rights. The only way they can have that utopian vision is to keep women chained to their biology and LGBTQ people oppressed as possible.
We need to guard ourselves against revisionist thinking. We need a strong foundation upon which to build our worldviews. We need the truth to undergird our actions with regard to the public sphere–both in how we treat others and in how we vote and affect the running of our respective nations.
And we need to speak out, repeatedly if we must, with the truth when we see Christian charlatans and conjobs saying stuff that isn’t true.
The good news is that as more and more people identify as ex-Christians and non-Christians, there are more and more people willing to speak up when lies are propagated. There was a time when someone like Larry Norman could say something that wasn’t true and nobody might catch it for years. Now David Barton can utter a total falsehood, something that any reputable historian would know isn’t true at all, something demonstrating his sheer incompetence with and possible deliberate obfuscation of history, and it will be debunked within hours. Watchdog sites exist solely to keep an eye on Christians who lie and deceive others to line their pockets and gain power over the gullible. Any Christian who chooses to do so can debunk an urban legend told from a church pulpit with a smartphone before the service is even over.
And more and more Christians are choosing to do exactly that: to access this information, to find out why it is that so many people oppose their religion’s overreach and debunk its many false claims. It’s getting harder and harder to avoid the debunks of these lies Christian leaders tell constantly. Even worse (from the point of view of the Christian charlatans at least), social media now makes lies and statements of incredible racism and misogyny public within minutes of the utterance–putting the lie to charlatans’ claims of being TRUE CHRISTIANS™. Christians can rail against this “persecution,” and many do. But they can’t ignore the deluge of evidence against erroneous ideas and false beliefs.
I see Christianity engaging in a war against the truth. Faced with so many debunks of their favorite lies, their leaders run back to the well to try to fish out excuses for why reality doesn’t fit with the Bible at all, or with their treasured dogma. They try to reframe questions in a “Blind Men and the Elephant” way to make it all make sense again. They try to denigrate the scientific method and the very demand for objective evidence. They decry the modern habit of wanting rational reasons to believe and people’s unwillingness to just go by blind faith (while at the same time saying that there’s sooooooo much proof for their religious claims). But these mental gymnastics only work on minds that want to be trapped. They don’t work as well on minds that really want the truth, on minds that really want to know what is real.
As these seekers begin to unravel the lies they were told, as I myself did decades ago, they will be angry and wonder what else they were fed lies about. They may well discover, as I did so long ago, that that answer is “everything of any importance.” And like I did, they will have to face a serious question: what’s more important? Objective truth and reality, or this religion?
They may well even come to the same conclusions I did: that nothing true needs lies to prop itself up. Nothing valid needs obfuscation, distortion, and contortion to see. If someone’s lying about one thing, chances are that person is lying about a whole bunch of other things. Any religion worth following will not make false claims. Any religion that requires believers to buy into false claims is dangerous.
And another newly-freed mind will enter the world.
The more of us who speak out, the easier it will be for deceived Christians who want to know the truth to free themselves from the lies they have wrapped themselves up in. The road is paved well by now; those who seek the truth will find themselves joined by a great many other travelers who know the road’s every inch. That first step is really the hardest, but once you get going, you’ll find it easier and easier to question those old assumptions and false teachings.
So I view this trend of revisionism and pseudo-history as one of the ways that Christianity is gasping its last. The sheer over-eagerness with which Christian leaders are embracing these false teachings can be taken as a good sign. They’re trying to keep butts in pews by controlling knowledge and discouraging curiosity. All they’re accomplishing is making entrenched minds feel more smug and secure about their professed faith, but more and more of those minds are getting a little too curious about how it is that real historians know what they know and why reality doesn’t seem to conform at all with what they’re being fed by their leaders.
Most of all, people who free themselves from revisionist thinking are free to look at the past without seeing one that was never there.
Every revisionist lie is another dying gasp of this religion. That there are so many at this point just speaks to the sheer desperation of Christian leaders to maintain some semblance of dominance. But we can’t let up: we’re almost through this forest of lies and overreach, and every voice matters.