The Most Misunderstood Word (Isn’t Kingdom, Sorry)

The Most Misunderstood Word (Isn’t Kingdom, Sorry) October 22, 2014

Christians like to talk about misunderstood words in their religion. But they tend to be really wrong about exactly what it is. Let me show you what I mean today.

man standing in a shaft of light in a cenote's ramp in Mexico
(Jared Rice.) A cenote in Tulum, Mexico.

Another Trendy Buzzword Reveals a Very Deep Flaw.

I saw this interview on Religion News Service with Scot McKnight. He argues that Christians talk a big game about this idea of “kingdom,” but don’t really understand what it means in the Bible or how it should play out in their everyday lives.

English: "Cenote de los Sacrificios"...
“Cenote de los Sacrificios” at Chichén Itzá, Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. (Wikipedia). Looks like the bottom fell out of here, too.

I admit, I was a little floored. I agree with him entirely about the word “kingdom” being misunderstood. It probably is. I deconverted before kingdom became a trendy buzzword. However, I disagree hugely with his assessment that it is the most misunderstood word in Christianity right now.

That’d be the last word I’d ever have picked, speaking as someone who stands almost every day on the receiving end of a far greater misunderstanding.

I’d say that the most misunderstood word in Christendom today is “love.”

Redefining Love.

A year or so ago I talked about how Christians have been redefining the word ‘love’ for many years now.

I don’t see why “kingdom” matters if Christians can’t even figure out how to truly show love. Jesus didn’t tell his followers that “they will know you by how awesomely you live the KINGDOM.” He said people would know they were his followers by their love for others.

A pity the most ardent, fervent followers of the Lord of Love haven’t got the faintest idea how to behave lovingly.

Moreover, it simply astonishes me to witness the contortions so many Christians make in order to get out of obeying their self-declared Savior.

When I run across Christians behaving hatefully, of course, I helpfully mention to them that they are.

Of course, they immediately protest. No no, see, they are totally being loving, and I’m just totally wrong.

They act as if they’re the ones who get to define whether or not their deeds are loving, rather than the recipients–or should I more accurately say “victims”–of their behavior.

When Intentions Matter More Than Actual Actions.

Since writing that original post about how love gets redefined by so many Christians, I’ve come to understand that these same Christians tend to value intentions over reality. Just as feeling lust is exactly the same as committing adultery, just as wishing really hard for help to arrive at someone’s door is the same as actually doing something to help that person, wanting to behave lovingly is exactly the same as actually showing love toward others.

Heck, it might even be superior.

And, too, if Christians reserve for themselves alone the self-serving right to be the sole arbiters of whether or not their behavior is loving, why then, that frees them of having to deal with the bloody inconvenience of being actually loving. It also protects them from any criticism over behaving hatefully rather than lovingly.

The Logic of Redefining Hatred As Love.

There’s a certain insectoid logic going on here, and I’ll walk you through it:

  1. A Christian is commanded by no less than Jesus Christ himself to be loving toward one’s neighbors.
  2. Being loving is however very difficult for a variety of reasons.
  3. Let’s just redefine what love means, so it now encompasses being very un-loving (controlling, bigoted, discriminatory), which will make it much easier to obey, since that’s how we wanted to behave in the first place;
  4. We’ll need to totally ignore or shout down anybody who criticizes this new definition and deny to the very skies any denunciation or pushback of what we’re doing.
  5. Hooray! We’re loving our neighbors! (And as a bonus, we’re possibly being “persecuted” by people who don’t use our same definition of “love!”)
  6. Now we can celebrate being totally in the right because people are being critical of our behavior, which obviously they would never be otherwise. Obviously Jesus is totally happy with us now!
  7. Now, then: who shall we “love” next?

See what I mean? They’ve removed every single mechanism for recognizing their wrongdoing and along with it every single means of correcting themselves. They’ve elevated this false definition to the status of an idol and worship at its stinking feet–because it lets them behave in shockingly controlling and nasty ways to people around them and, they think, get away with it.

When the Substitute Gets Elevated Over the Real Thing.

When I look at evangelicals, they really remind me of people who can’t cook at all who use packaged turkey gravy mixes and are convinced these are as good as making a proper turkey gravy from scratch, and they lick their lips and ask for more of it at Thanksgiving. And that’s okay, I ain’t going to judge busy people for doing what they think is best to do to get a big dinner on the table, and gravy does have a few tricks to making it. That said, barring the most disastrous kitchen misadventures a package mix for it not as good as the real thing is. Alas, by now a lot of people have never had from-scratch turkey gravy so they don’t even know what they’re comparing the mix to.

In the same manner, a great many Christians don’t seem to have the faintest idea what love is. I’ve got to wonder if the reason they’re acting this way is maybe because they’ve never really seen it themselves. Thus, they don’t really know how to show or share it.

So they think that their inferior substitute is just as good as the real thing.

Let the Spinning Commence!

Christians have built entire websites around trying to explain away and spin-doctor this glaring shortcoming in their people.

One site has the audacity to declare that “The non-believer cannot be excused from believing just because it is possible to point to those who simply pretend to be what they are not.” (Citation needed, because I certainly think that’s more than enough of a reason.)

Another site goes the route of nit-picking what the term “hypocrite” actually means. They do it to excuse away this signal failure in Christian believers as a group. So they reiterate the tired talking point that just because the religion is filled with hypocrites, that’s no excuse not to join up and stay joined up. The author of the page even throws in a No True Scotsman about his peers just for good measure.

Hilariously, these same Christians genuinely believe that their god makes Christians better or more moral people, except when he doesn’t or if the Christians in question are just pretending.

But they’re not really getting away with this redefinition any more than they’re getting away with being unloving.

Awakening Singly, One by One.

More and more non-Christians are aware of these mindgames, and more and more Christians themselves are waking up to the reality of what their religion is doing to people.

One of this blog’s dearest friends is a now-ex-Christian who found, as this other religion blogger did, that when it comes to sheer hatefulness, spit-flecked spite, and roiling nastiness, nothing, nothing, NOTHING beats a Christian with a keyboard.

Indeed, as that FaithStreet blogger discovered, once he began a blog about religion that wasn’t toeing the party line of fake “love” he got deluged with the nastiest, foulest, most horrifying and shocking threats you can possibly imagine. They flowed into his inbox from “loving” Christians determined to terrorize him into compliance. But there were some unexpected (to him at least) observations to be made:

Interestingly, the only other people I have gotten hate mail from are atheists. Atheist hate mail is usually of a more intellectual persuasion, and they have never been violent, but they are extremely contemptuous, insulting, and condescending. I once wrote about a barrage of hate mail I got from atheists and received dozens of apologies from other atheists. I have never gotten any personal hate mail from a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a pagan, an agnostic, or a humanist.

He expressed confusion about why so many Christians feel the need to shriek violent threats and hate-filled rhetoric at anybody who dissents.

But I’m not confused at all.

Why Hate Masquerades as Love.

The type of Christians who behave hatefully are tribal Christians who are part of the religion because they think it gives them a leg up over other people. It’s part of their identity as a dominant class. When anybody tries to point out their flaws and mistakes, even if that person technically is part of the “tribe,” that person becomes a threat to their dominance. And threats to dominance must be negated and destroyed as quickly as possible.

So we see with Christians’ current big targets: women’s rights and LGBTQ rights. Standing on the correct side of these culture-war issues is now more important to most Christian groups than showing love to one’s neighbor, as Godless in Dixie has noted.

Both of these issues, once they filter their way through the system, will have profound impacts on Christian dominance. To some extent, they already do. And so dissenters become threats who must be vanquished.

Jesus might be the most powerful being in the universe to his followers, but he’s obviously not strong enough to withstand criticism. His followers must help the poor little fella out. And they do, by stomping on those threats for him.

They call these efforts “love.” However, they deceive nobody outside the sheepfold. And they think hateful behavior advances their god’s “kingdom.”

And that brings us back around to Scot McKnight.

Yay, a New Buzzword. Thanks, We Hate It.

The word “kingdom” functions as the latest soapy goopy feel-good word in right-wing Christianity. It’s one of those words that doesn’t really mean anything really. Still, hateful Christians invest the word with huge-but-metaphorical importance. Because of that assigned importance, kingdom became a very easy word to fight about and turn into a buzzword. And buzzwords provide Christian leaders with ammunition to use to yell at their flocks. And, too, they speculate about the growing numbers of almost-entirely-uninvolved Christians drifting into “None” status, as Scot McKnight even mentions in his interview

But get this. Scot McKnight seriously thinks people have lower rates of involvement with local churches because kingdom is misunderstood.

I can’t even!

Back in my day the word that fulfilled those exact same functions was “discipleship.” Before that, evangelical leaders used words like “submission.” The terminology changes over time, although the meaning remains much the same.

Similarly, this word will vanish in a decade or two any just like the other ones did. Christians can concentrate on it as they like or pick another word entirely. Their choice won’t impact their religion’s health a single bit in the long run.

What Matters Most.

You know what will matter?

How well Christians love. And I mean real love, not the shitty substitute they’ve created for themselves and insist is just as good as the real thing. By concentrating on this other word, and fighting and squabbling over what it means and how Christians should put it into lived reality, they’re ignoring their biggest problem.

By concentrating on correcting people’s misuse of the word “kingdom,” Scot McKnight ignores the elephant in the room: the abusive redefinition of love that so many of his peers use to hurt and control people.

That’s the error that will destroy the Christian church if not seen and corrected, not the one around “kingdom.”

Now, of course this guy is allowed to care about whatever he likes. Certainly there is room in Christianity for lots of concerns. Hell, there really should be a lot more than there are.

However, he characterizes this word as the most misunderstood one in the Bible. It’s a bit startling that he’d pick this word as the one to launch an education campaign around.

It’s just baffling–if one thinks that he’s actually out to help his religion recover from its decline.

Like Night Follows Day.

I’d figure that if Christians could figure out what love really is, then this “kingdom” kerfluffle would likely figure itself out. By the same token, if they can’t figure out what “love” even means, then certainly secondary concepts like “kingdom” will remain elusive and won’t matter.

Part of me wonders if so few of them are tackling “love” because doing so would alienate their core fanbase of fanatics and zealots. Similarly, the Republican Party can’t afford to change course on its various awful platforms or they risk losing the one bloc they actually know for sure they have at this point: aging white evangelical bigots.

Alas, there’s not a lot of time left for Christians to monkey around. Growing numbers of people already know or are learning that Christianity hasn’t got a monopoly on the showing of love. As the religion gets more and more polarized around its pet mission-drifts, Christians will lose more and more people who don’t want to be part of the movement their leaders are building.

Maybe Christians will figure out what they’re doing wrong and why it’s so disastrously impacting their religion. Or, more likely, they’ll drill down on the hate-as-love train and ride it all the way to irrelevance. That train is nowhere near as fun as Space Mountain.

English: Space Mountain at Disneyland
Space Mountain at Disneyland (Wikipedia)

Either which direction they go, humanity wins in the end.

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(Cas tidied up this post on November 28, 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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