I’m sure as heck not the first person who’s observed that really hardcore, overzealous Christians don’t appear to really believe in their pretendy funtime games. When rubber meets the road, they’re the first to sign up for insurance, get medical attention for injuries rather than pray a lot, and all that. If told they’re dying, they don’t sigh in gratitude that their struggles are done and soon they’re going to meet their Maker and be in Heaven; they, like everyone else, do whatever they can to prolong their lives on Earth. One moment they can preach the Gospel and warn “sinners” of their impending doom, describing it in luscious, lurid, glittering-eyed, breathless detail, and the next can get caught in the direct act of breaking their own Gospel’s rules. Though they might believe thoroughly that an Apocalypse is coming, they still have kids and sign up for mortgages and all that stuff that people often do when they become adults.
And that’s okay, don’t get me wrong. I want people to live their lives instead of living as if their pretendy funtime game is true. I’d rather that nobody suffer for something that isn’t true. And if they kept their game to themselves and weren’t hurting anybody but themselves, their hypocrisy wouldn’t matter to me (you don’t see me criticizing American Zen Buddhist hypocrites much, do you? It’s not that I haven’t ever known any, y’know). What matters is that they are both hypocrites and trying to draw me into the game with them, and trying to control other people’s lives with rules they can’t even follow themselves–rules I am increasingly suspicious they don’t actually even want to follow themselves.
It’s almost like they’re saying they believe, but only up to a point–only up to the point where it’s comfortable, where the social demands are not too great, and where it feeds whatever thing inside themselves feels good when they act out religiously or do something really zealous. When the social demands far outweigh the cost of obeying their own religion’s rules, they break those rules without many pangs of guilt. I used to be shocked, even as an ex-Christian, when I ran into Christian hypocrites; now I think that level of hypocrisy is par for the course for outspoken Christian zealots (and the more zealous, the more and the more outrageous hypocrisy we will find).
Taken to the nadir, religion can become a means that truly predatory, shameless people use to gain social control and dominance over others, nothing more, and it is used or deployed rather than practiced or believed; the folks doing this might act like zealots, but really what they are is frauds who’ve found an angle–a foolproof one.
And that’s why this week I was struck anew by just how little these zealots appear to truly trust in their god.
Look, gang, they spent the last year or two starving themselves, threatening civil war, demonstrating, offering to shoot themselves and set themselves on fire, and writing lord alone knows how many posts and comments talking about how they were trying to butter up their invisible friend to somehow magically strong-arm a secular government’s heads of state and judicial system to prevent a marginalized group from attaining its rights. They talked about how much prayer they were doing, and how much faith they had that their god would accomplish this miracle for them. Every one of their lists of how to combat this great social illness they perceived started with number 1, prayer, and often ended with a re-admonition to pray unceasingly.
What a saddle-full of crap!
When I was Christian, I had total faith in the power of prayer–or at least I said I did. Deep down I was very dubious–and from a very early stage in the game, too, I suspect, fundamentalist-wise.
I didn’t know I was dubious, though.
If you’d asked me, all the way up till that fateful day one of my pastors, a young fellow named Daniel with a family and a whole life ahead of him, died of brain cancer, I’d have told you in a heartbeat that my god answered prayer. I had all the talking points memorized and internalized, too.
I knew that if I prayed for something but didn’t get it, that was an answer; it was just a “no” or a “not yet.” I knew that if I had some secret sin in me that wasn’t confessed, I wouldn’t get what I wanted; if someone around me had one, that might thwart my almighty god too. And of course I had to ask for something that was in line with what my god wanted to do anyway, because he certainly wouldn’t give me something bad for me, so obviously if I wanted something and didn’t get it and I was sure I wasn’t accidentally sinning and not realizing it, then whatever I asked was out of his will.
I had to follow this simply dizzying list of asterisks and provisos before I could hope to get exactly what I asked for. It reminds me now of rats trained to do elaborate dances to get pellets out of the food machines in their cages. But through it all I knew–or at least I thought I knew–that if I did follow that list to the letter, then yes, I’d get what I wanted because my god answered prayer.
Then Daniel died, and I had to come face to face with some very startling observations in very short order about just how much prayer seemed to do in the real world.
Worse still, though, was what happened after Daniel died. In that link above to “The Power of Prayer, Part One” I describe it in greater detail, but basically a woman told me, long after Daniel’s death, that the night before he’d died my then-husband Biff had tried enter Daniel’s hospital deathbed vigil to pray over him. He declared that our god had told him in a vision during a prayer meeting that if he did this in obedience, then our god would completely heal Daniel. (Ignore what an asshole this god would have to be in order to make such an offer. I sure didn’t catch that until way, way, way, way, way after deconversion.)
And Daniel’s family, all the truest of all true-blue Pentecostals who had talked such an amazing game about believing in this stuff, had thrown my zealot then-husband out on his ear so they could have one final night in peace with their beloved family member. They hadn’t even allowed him to pray even one little prayer over Daniel’s dying body even though he claimed that our god himself had told him that it would work. (Biff was always a little pissy about that, by the way, just like Robby Dawkins, that pastor we talked about lately who was always similarly pissy that a plane crew hadn’t allowed him to raise someone from the dead during a flight of his.) I’m not mad at them or anything for throwing him out and refusing to let his narcissistic need for validation and attention turn their final night with Daniel into a circus, but at the time it just stunned me that they had preached and said for years that they believed in the power of prayer and visions, but when push came to shove they had shown that they were more realistic than zealous. I was still young and didn’t realize that the pretendy funtime games are only meant to be taken so far, but past that point they must be discarded to go about the serious business of living or dying.
Did they not ask their god to do their will?
Did they not pray without ceasing?
Did they not fast (well, at least to some extent)? Did they not gather together in groups of two or more to declare their desires in Jesus’ name, thereby increasing the power and potency of their magic incantations? Did they not claim their victory and declare their future win? Did they not bind in heaven what they wished bound on earth, and loose in heaven what they wished loosed on earth?
They did, or at least they said they did.
They believe that their god answers prayer, so logically one would think they’d know that he listened to their entreaties, heard their anguish, weighed his options or whatever he does in their doctrinal opinion, and then…
He did what he always does, which is exactly what he wanted to do all along, which was whatever his plan happened to be.*
That response just happened to be not what they asked for.
And for some reason their god was totally fine with allowing equal marriage to become a nationwide thing.
Why is a religion dedicated to following this god’s supposed will so singularly incapable of doing so when things don’t go the way they named-and-claimed?
Why can’t they figure that despite all their entreaties, despite all that they begged, despite all their concerted efforts, their god clearly wasn’t interested in playing along and decided to let something else happen?
Why do American fundagelicals seem so insistent that their god needs help from his followers to this great extent, and still can’t be trusted to work his will?
Exactly how weak is this god? Because clearly we have not yet figured that out yet.
Christians asked him to do something for them.
And their putative god said “No.” Or “Not Yet.” Or “Wait.” Or whatever particular asterisks they think he’s saying when they don’t get exactly what they asked for.
But while some denominations seem perfectly content to be chill with the decision, their peers’ reaction to his apparent refusal to do their will shows that they don’t really trust their own supernatural claims of an all-powerful god who works his will and always works his will upon the world.
Who exactly do they think runs this show? Them, or their god?
More importantly, who do they want running this show? Them, or their god?
Or is there no difference?
If their god were truly in his kingdom and on his throne, there’d be no need for the kind of sullen, outraged, infuriated pouting I’ve personally encountered in the last two days.
They don’t act like their god’s will got thwarted.
They act like their will got thwarted.
And I think that there is no difference to them between their will and their god’s, and I’m sure that I can guess why there is no difference.
If this hypothetical god really existed, I think he’d be quite offended by the display he’s seeing from his children. This is not the appreciative “thy will be done” that I was taught to say when I didn’t get what I wanted. This is not “be still, and know I am God.” This is outrage and anger and petulant accusation. They seem to understand as little about their religion’s sourcebook as they do about American civics. Every display I see makes me thankful all over again that I’m out of a religion that breeds such behavior.
I’m thankful as well that a great many Christians are saying the opposite of what their more intolerant brethren are–that the war on LGBTQ people was wrong all along, and that the ruling is a victory of justice. I love this guy’s phrasing there, too, bemoaning the lack of consensus among Christians on their various moral stances: “In many ways, we are a herd of cats trying to steer the world. And, it’s not working people.”
I hope folks like him end up carrying more of the conversation.
The world could use more cats and fewer assholes-for-Jesus trying to steer a world wearing a borrowed cloak of divine authority they don’t even really trust themselves.
* Or, alternatively, he doesn’t really exist and the Supreme Court made its ruling solely based on its members’ understanding of United States law and precedent. But that’d be just silly.