(Content note: rape, child sexual assault.)
I thought I’d seen everything. I’ve been talking about Christian hypocrites for years, so I already knew that Christians like to demand that we not “judge” their hypocrites despite they themselves being, well, the most judgmental people on the planet. Well, I’ve finally decoded this bit of Christianese. Hop in and strap on your seatbelts because this is going to take a little time to unpack (and by the way: thanks, gang, for giving me the room I need). Today we’re going to talk about one of the most repulsive types of Christian finger-pointing there is.
First we have to start with Bill Cosby.
Bill Cosby drugged and raped dozens of women. That’s not judgment. That’s fact. He totally did it. Dozens of women have come forward to accuse him of doing that to them, all with strikingly-similar stories. Had those women been toddlers, he’d already have been sent to prison forever, but because they were grown-up women they were largely ignored, negated, discredited, and outright disbelieved. It was not until a deposition surfaced recently wherein Bill Cosby himself admitted that the charges were completely true that many of his supporters finally accepted that their hero is actually a serial rapist.
Many of his supporters–but not all.
One of his most ardent supporters through this scandal, a singer named Jill Scott, came out with a stunning series of tweets supporting her idol, culminating in this one (h/t Jezebel):
Reasoning with the angry & unreasonable? No. I’m not sorry for standing by my mentor. I’m sorry the accusations Rtrue. [Image Macro] DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT allow ANYONE to sit high and look low to judge you. EVERYONE has a chapter in their life they don’t read out loud.)
Bill Cosby’s story has always sounded strikingly similar to that of the various disgraced Christian hypocrites in the news of late, and I finally saw clearly why thanks to this ill-advised and grotesque tweet. (We’ll be talking about that “everyone has a chapter in their life they don’t read out loud” thing sometime soon too.)
I get it, for what it’s worth. I can totally understand how painful it must be for someone’s mentor to turn out to be a serial rapist. Nobody likes learning that their idol is made of piss-rusted tin. It’s the demand that we not “judge” Bill Cosby that makes one’s eyes widen in recognition.
You see, we’ve seen that demand before.
We know what it tastes like. Oh, yes.
We know exactly why it’s being made, too.
This demand Jill Scott makes is exactly the same demand we see Christians parade up and down whenever someone mentions a particular Christian’s hypocrisy. This demand that we not “judge” these idols of theirs–for idols they are; the only surprise is that Christians have so many, not that they have them at all–is really about not criticizing Christians.
The second stop in the tour is Josh Duggar and his parents.
The Josh Duggar sex abuse scandal really put that tendency Christians have of silencing critics into high relief. Whining that “sometimes Christians shoot their wounded,” one Christian demands that his fellows “think twice if you are a Christian and judging or posting about Josh Duggar or anyone else.” I chose that post at random because of its sheer banal commonness; you could find literally hundreds if not thousands of identical demands across the internet. Chances are you, like me, have tangled with Christians in meatspace and online alike who have said the same thing:
Don’t judge this Christian hypocrite.
But what exactly are we talking about here with talk of “judging”?
Josh Duggar did, in fact, molest his sisters and sexually attack a number of underaged victims. He did not confess his sins in a timely manner–he was in fact outed by the press–and to this day does not actually offer a single sign of repentance by Christian standards (or anybody else’s!) beyond talking about how sowwy he is and how persecuted he feels–and certainly he has never offered his victims any kind of redress beyond crocodile tears, Jesus-jukes, and sowwy-talk; to the contrary he’s taken legal action in the past to prevent his crimes from catching up with him. Josh Duggar’s parents denied, ignored, and covered up their get’s crimes to the best of their ability until the statute of limitations ran out, and they are still doing everything in their power to minimize, negate, and spin-doctor the charges against them and their son. These three are, in fact, guilty on all charges. These three are, in fact, not actually genuinely sorry for a single thing they’ve done–which we know because they’re still busy running around in circles whining to anybody who’ll listen, blaming everyone but themselves, comparing themselves to Jesus Christ, minimizing and negating what they’ve done, acting like the really injured parties here, and demanding that their critics shut up.
None of the facts of this case are in question. We know these accusations are truthful and accurate. These crimes really happened, and the culture that produced the Duggar parents and their awful son, like the one that sheltered Bill Cosby for so long, hasn’t changed at all and doesn’t seem like it will anytime soon.
There’s not some magic way that someone can drug and rape dozens of women or sexually abuse little kids, or help such a disgusting criminal cover up such revolting crimes for years, and not be a terrible person at heart. Something is sick inside such a person, something sick deep inside where people keep their moral compasses to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong. Even defending such people calls the moral judgment of the defender into stark and urgent doubt.
Nothing I just wrote is judgmental. That’s just reality. Them’s the facts. It’s no more “judgmental” of someone to say any of these truths than it is to say what time it is.
So why do Christians demand we not “judge” people who we know for 100% sure actually did exactly what they are accused of? Why do Christians demand that we not say that people who rape women, abuse children, or cover up crimes are terrible people? Why do they demand we not discuss their hypocrisy?
The answer is simple:
Toxic Christians Are Past Masters at Projecting Their Own Flaws Onto Others.
And I don’t know why that idea surprises anyone–especially me. One of the most astonishingly hypocritical facets of modern Christians is their tendency to condemn others who are doing exactly and precisely what they themselves do to others. They have deliberately fostered and created a culture wherein they are allowed to do every single thing they dislike others doing to them.
So they’re not upset about being “judged” so much as they’re upset about their flaws being voiced and noised about.
They would rather silence anybody who criticizes a hypocritical tribemate than fix the problem that allowed that hypocrite to move unfettered, and it’s done to preserve the tribe’s reputation and to keep alive the illusion of moral superiority that Christians imagine exists for themselves.
When I was Christian I was surrounded on all sides by people who, like the Creationists on this pseudoscience website, were totally convinced that judging others is totally okay by Jesus as long as it was Christians doing the judging and as long as they were “merely telling others what the Bible says are unacceptable behaviors.” Also like those Creationists, my peers were all totally convinced that they were under a divine mandate to be judgmental and therefore couldn’t possibly stop doing it.
They can’t help it, you see; it’s orders from the top–and it’s surely only the sheerest of all coincidences that this particular order lets them be controlling assholes toward those they deem “sinful.” All the other orders Jesus is supposed to have given them about feeding the hungry and not judging people lest they be judged? Optional, obviously, because those aren’t nearly as fun as pointing fingers at the specks in others’ eyes while ignoring the planks in their own.
The moment someone else points out Christians’ own unacceptable behaviors, however, Christians do a total 180. When they do it to others, it’s being Christlike; when others do it to them, it’s Boo! Hiss! You’re judging others! and that’s totally bad and these critics need to shut up.
Christians are very fond of telling each other not to judge, as this Christian blogger tries to do, but nowhere does he–or any of his tribemates–talk about how this judging happens, what forms it takes, or exactly how it alienates others. And even weak, mollycoddling, tentative admonitions like that one earns their authors oodles of comments from indignant Christians who can reel off dozens of reasons why they can’t possibly give up their favorite pastime.
You can count on this exact response from Christians: any time one of them tries to set the Titanic on a different course, dozens of other Christians ooze in out of the woodwork to grab the wheel and redirect the ship toward the iceberg.
(I’d tell you to make a drinking game out of it, but frankly you’d kill yourselves with alcohol poisoning before you got too far into one fundagelical blog or news site.)
And meanwhile, Christians’ inability to recognize their own hypocrisy in this regard has earned their religion some serious and deserved losses in both membership and credibility. The Barna Group discovered that 87% of young non-Christians felt that Christians were too judgmental, while another 85% noted that Christians were hypocritical–and personally I
don’t wonder why those particular statistics are so similar.
Oh, but that was just the reaction of non-Christian heathens. Christian judgmentalism is even driving away their own members. The Pew Forum did a similar study that discovered that about half of all Christians surveyed who’d pulled away from Christianity, a process called “disengagement,” did so because they found their fellow Christians to be both judgmental and hypocritical. Disengagement isn’t deconversion, no, but the facts are that there are quite a few fervent, loving Christians running around under our noses who don’t even like to use the label–and the judgmental attitude those label-less Christians see in their peers is a big part of why they’re distancing themselves from the tribe. (We’ll talk more about these label-less Christians soon–it’s a fascinating topic and it deserves its own blog post.)
It gets worse: this judging act is a big part of why judgmental Christians aren’t gaining converts. I have never once heard of anybody who converted to Christianity as a result of “merely” being told “what the Bible says are unacceptable behaviors.” I’ve never once met anyone who got the “love the sinner/hate the sin” treatment who counted it as a factor in conversion. I’ve never even talked to anybody who took a second look at the religion as a result of getting judged by Christians. I’ve never met or talked to one single soul who’s been judged or disapproved-at into Christianity, but I’ve met and talked to literally thousands upon thousands of people who have either been totally turned off and further distanced from Christianity because of this judgmental act or else who began their journey out of the religion upon realizing just how many judgmental hypocrites there are in the religion.
Is it possible that someone’s getting converted as a result of being judged super-duper-hard by Christians who we all know for absolute fact cannot actually live up to the standards they’re trying to impose on those around them? Sure, I suppose so, in the same way that “negging” sometimes works for pickup artists. Some people may ache for approval so much that even the false offer of it made by judgmental Christians might get them into the baptismal pool. But overall, it is quite clear that as a strategy, judging and condemning people not only doesn’t convert the “lost” but also serves to undermine Christianity’s reputation. It’s disastrously detrimental to every single goal Christians claim they have.
Precious few Christians indeed even recognize what a problem their hypocritical tendency toward judging others is, much less try to change it–the person running that site I just linked, Thom Rainer, is a big name in the Southern Baptist Church, which barely even recognizes at this point that their denomination is circling the drain. When one of his tribemates inevitably inevitably shows up to declare that he can’t possibly stop judging others because it’s “not loving” to refrain from doing so (remember the rule above?), which he quaintly illustrates with the tired and oft-debunked comparison to warning people about an oncoming train, Thom Rainer wholeheartedly agrees with him. As far as Mr. Rainer and Christians like him are concerned, the problem isn’t judging; it’s finding just the perfect way to judge.
All in all, it seems clear to me that toxic Christians love judging others so much that they cannot bear to stop doing it even if it costs them a great many members and a great deal of credibility.
But that won’t stop them from demanding that nobody “judge” their own tribe members. “Merely” pointing out their hypocrisy is not allowed. We aren’t allowed to “shoot the wounded.” Hell, we’re not even Christians, but that doesn’t stop Christians from trying to hold us to the same bizarro-world illogic that Christians themselves must obey–and this isn’t the only time that happens, either; toxic Christians tend to get really distressed when the non-Christians around them don’t follow their own in-group’s rules (not that they do themselves, of course!).
That’s because these demands aren’t about judging or even about doing what Jesus said to do, but about something else entirely.
It’s about keeping Christians’ illusions alive.
These demands that we shut up and stop criticizing Christian hypocrites are really demands that we stop contradicting their vision of what their tribe is like.
I want you to think for a moment about what Christians’ world was like about 25 years ago, before the internet got really big. How could people then even figure out if a hypocrite was in their midst to say anything judgmental about him or her? I was Christian then, and I can tell you it was difficult to even get information about hypocritical Christians. Sometimes it’d make the news–as in the famous cases of televangelists caught doing various naughty or criminal deeds in the 1980s and 1990s. Otherwise, though, the tribe has always tended to take care of its own. As the sex-assault scandals at the various Christian fundagelical universities show us, when left to their own devices toxic Christians tend to viciously and brutally silence any evidence of their own wrongdoing.
Only the most naive of people would think that’s some kind of new trend or some astonishing new strategy for Christians. No, this overwhelming wave of constant stories of hypocrisy isn’t some new thing. It’s simply a lot easier now to find examples of Christians and their leaders being raging hypocrites–a simple search string is all anybody needs. Imagine if it was that easy all through evangelicalism’s history–do you suppose that the Religious Right would ever have gotten so much power in the 1980s and 1990s if people had only known just how mind-blowingly hypocritical its members tend to be and if constant reminders of blatant Christian hypocrisy had been hitting us in the face every five minutes like happens nowadays?
I think Christians are well aware that when people talk about their more outrageous examples of hypocrisy, such speech has two immediate impacts: first, it makes people aware of just what kind of group they’re either thinking of joining or have joined, and second, it makes people aware of what a bad idea it is to give such immoral hypocrites real power over others. The reality of what this ideology produces in its adherents just doesn’t match the illusion Christians want to propagate. So obviously evidence of that reality must be quashed.
There are a few basic responses Christians can make about these constant revelations about their tribemates and leaders in pursuit of that goal:
1. They can fix the endemic issues in their society and culture that cause these scandals to erupt one after the other.
This would be a downright herculean task, yes. At this point a lot of the sickness in Christianity’s far-right fringes has trickled down to even denominations that think of themselves as progressive and liberal–exactly the same as how the form of fundamentalism I once practiced, which was so outrageous and extremist in its day, would be considered pretty tame by today’s evangelicals. They’d have to re-examine their most cherished operating principles–few of which are actually found in the Bible–and maybe even go back to doing all that boring-ass stuff Jesus is supposed to have actually told them to do. And they’d especially have to let go of their desire to be the world’s Designated Adults and to control the lives of people outside their tribe.
2. They can deploy silencing tactics against anybody calling attention to these scandals.
A silencing tactic is an attempt to shut someone up. It’s done when the silencer can’t really counter the things being said any other way and doesn’t want to resolve the issue causing the offense. I’ve written about silencing tactics in the past–and once again I will note that about the only time I ever see a lot of drive-by Christians on my blog trying to silence anyone is in response to my various criticisms of their idols. Christians have, over the years, evolved a truly astonishing number of ways to silence those saying things they don’t like. They can shame them into silence; negate their right to speak at all; bear false witness about the critics’ credentials, truthfulness, or trustworthiness; threaten their jobs, families, community standing, even their safety; or even imply that a god has expressed disapproval of criticizing the idol and thereby threaten the critic’s eternal soul (and here I will note that toxic Christians generally have an incredibly good idea of exactly what Hell looks like and what its ruler thinks–doesn’t anyone ever wonder why?).
3. They can ignore the whole situation and hope it goes away.
That approach tends to work for a lot of other things about their culture, something I noticed way back when I was a Christian. “Let me get back to you!” I’d hear my peers say to some dissenter or naysayer, and then the matter would drop and be forgotten. Not much has changed, I see when I look over Christian advice sites; “let me get back to you” is such a common side-stepper and thought-stopper that more sensible Christians sometimes try to put an end to their peers’ reliance on the idea. The more powerful or well-respected the hypocrite is and the more contrary to the Happy Christian Society/Marriage Illusion the hypocrite’s deed is, the more likely the deed is to be ignored. But it’s harder to ignore hypocrisy when Christians can’t silence those talking about it.
Insincere apologies, incidentally, work especially well because they not only achieve silence, but don’t actually require any material changes to the culture or person who fostered and caused the offense–which is likely why Christian culture so richly rewards the hypocrites who take advantage of that easy out.
Who Benefits When Christians Silence Criticism of Their Hypocrites?
We need to be asking this question loudly and often, because the answer might be painfully obvious to us but it is still a mystery to Christians. There is only one party that benefits when hypocrisy is covered up, and that is the hypocritical party. Josh Duggar and his supporters may totally feel that a sexual assault isn’t harmful at all if the victim was unconscious at the time, as just one example of Christian spin-doctoring aimed at silencing critics, but out here in Reality-Land we know that such a response only serves as an excuse for abuse to continue and for victims to continue to be negated.
That’s why we have to keep talking about this type of hypocrisy. We know that Josh Duggar, his parents, and their supporters would love it if we would stop, because then they can totally pretend that nothing ever happened. If we complied with their demands, nothing would change at all and scandals would continue to erupt out of right-wing Christianity one after the next. Nothing can change unless we keep the pressure on. If we’re not there saying “these people are total goddamned hypocrites,” then they’ll just keep pretending to be the moral arbiters of society and acting like they deserve to control our lives because Jesus approves of them extra-lots.
Complying with the demands of hypocrites earns us nothing but more examples of glaring hypocrisy.
The Happy Christian Society Illusion doesn’t magically become real if hypocrites’ actions are kept on the down-low.
And when outraged, stung Christians tell us that we’re being “judgmental” by discussing and criticizing their tribe’s hypocrites, there are a few things they need to bear in mind.
First, we are not Christians, and therefore we do not live under the same often-ridiculous rules they do. We are not even obligated to care what their rules are. Judging hypocrites isn’t “sinful” to us (and a great many of us think that rule is grotesque).
Second, Christians themselves are the richest natural source of judgmentalism on the planet. Maybe they should concentrate on their own problems before trying to fix others’ perceived flaws–especially when their flaws are genuine crimes with real victims, while ours are largely disagreeing with them, stopping them from turning our government into a theocracy, and refusing to allow them to have control over our lives.
Third, we are adults and we will damned well talk about whatever we want to talk about. If Christians don’t like it that their glaring hypocrisy makes the news and is discussed in blogs and news articles alike every single day and twice on Sundays, maybe the solution to their self-created image problem should look more like “ending hypocrisy in their own ranks” instead of the current game plan, “silencing discussion of that hypocrisy.”
Christian hypocrisy about judging others is just one minor symptom of the disease infecting the religion, but it’s one of the most obvious signs there is that there is, indeed, something seriously wrong. But rather tellingly, they’re way more upset about the cracking of their cherished illusion than they are that people are getting hurt because of Christian hypocrites and a culture that allows them to run roughshod over others.
That’s why we must–and will, despite fundagelicals’ squawking and petulance–continue calling attention to the wrongdoing we see.
That’s not judgment.