It’s so exhausting. So infuriating. So totally unnecessary.
And so obviously a sign of the beginning of the end for a religion that dearly deserves everything coming to it now.
One might ask if Christians actually ever wonder why their religion is losing, by Christian leaders’ own estimates, some 3500 people a day (and that is not a typo), why some 70%-90% of young people desert the religion by adulthood depending on the survey in question, or why hundreds of churches close every single year for lack of funding and attendance.
I know Christians themselves sure act like they wonder. Every single day in the course of my work (which looks suspiciously like “fucking around online”) I see them wondering. They make a lot of guesses. Most of those guesses are terrible.
Worst of all, though, the guesses I’ve heard share one thing in common: they don’t really come close to the real reason most folks reject Christianity.
Here’s the kicker: I don’t think they are meant to do so.
When Christians get together and cluck and shake their heads sorrowfully over what they think is a lost generation, they’re not really wondering why people are rejecting their religious message in such increasing numbers. They’re reassuring themselves of something. If someone really wants to know an answer, then that person is going to get that answer. When Christians rest on easy fake answers peddled by their leaders, even when those answers are constantly refuted and contradicted not only by non-believers but by reality itself, they demonstrate that they don’t really want real answers. What they seem to want far more is to feel like they’re correct and superior to non-believers, that they’re not crazy or stupid for being Christian, and that they’re not really in the wrong for trying to control the lives of everyone around themselves–that they have divine permission to behave the way they really want to behave.
Captain Cassidy’s Handy Translation Guide for Understanding Christian Excuses About Their Religion’s Sharp Decline in Numbers.
“It’s the endtimes.”
Trans: Hooray for us for being the embattled last vestiges of TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ and hanging onto the faith the correct way! Jesus will be so proud of us for refusing to listen to the many increasingly-loud voices telling us that we’re just wrong!
“It’s demonic influence.”
Trans: We need to keep doing whatever we’re doing, but harder. Also: OMG it’s proof of our supernatural claims!
“People’s hearts are hard.”
Trans: If people don’t convert or stay in church, then that’s their fault and obviously we don’t have to change anything we’re doing. Whew! Glad we got that settled.
“Parents and pastors aren’t teaching kids the right way so they don’t grow up and stay Christian.”
Trans: It’s someone else’s fault because nobody would ever leave Christianity if it was taught the right way.*
“Bad Christians are chasing off believers and potential converts.”
Trans: Nobody sane would stay in this religion based on how they get treated, but it’s still not our fault because obviously we are not Bad Christians (or if we are, then blah blah sin nature blah blah still not our fault).**
“Churches aren’t preaching the Gospel the right way/are watering down the message/are bending to liberalism/etc.”
Trans: It’s all their fault, for varying values of “their.” Not ours. Our church does Christianity the right way. If every church preached what our church preaches, then we wouldn’t have this problem. It’s so sad that we’ll never get every church to preach what we do, but if that happened and people still rejected us in droves then it’s not like we wouldn’t immediately leap onto any one of a dozen other excuses. Also, don’t ask us about our own church’s membership numbers (unless we’re a megachurch, in which case we won’t shut up about it because our
irresponsible prosperity gospel peddlers leaders have convinced us that numbers = correctness and divine approval).
Do you notice any trends in these excuses?
Not only are they all designed to alleviate Christians’ responsibility for their own decline, but they allow Christians to drill down even harder on doing exactly the stuff causing outsiders and insiders alike to flee from them.
Spoiler Alert: None of Those Excuses Are Actually the Reason Why Most People Reject Christianity.
These fake answers give Christians justification for the stuff they really want to do, and rationalizations for why they don’t have to forego behaviors they don’t really want to give up. But they’re not really the answers they claim they seek.
This story Neil tells, though, is the real answer. People are leaving Christianity because despite claiming to be a religion of love, its underpinnings are actually hate, shame, dominance, exclusion, and tribal authority, and no matter how sanitized someone tries to make the religion, those underpinnings are there and will inevitably emerge to wreak havoc.
Now, if Christianity’s supernatural claims were true, then people would put up with the rest of Christianity’s bullshit out of fear and self-interest if nothing else. Alas, its supernatural claims aren’t actually true, so there is no reason at all to stay in a religion that is this degrading to the human spirit. Increasingly, that’s what people are realizing, and they’re leaving. It’s that simple. Christians aren’t going to find evidence supporting their supernatural claims, so they’re going to have to be good for society and good for their adherents so they stay simply out of love for their peers and a feeling of community and purpose. But they can’t do that, either, because of those underpinnings.
They can spin-doctor all the numerous stories like Neil’s all they like. They can say that the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ at the heart of his heartbreaking story wasn’t really a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ at all and just totally misrepresented the Gospel. They can talk till they’re blue about the Love Chapter in the Bible. And they can try to silence and police the shit out of people who disagree with them or who criticize their idols and wayward peers–I’ve lost count of how often I’ve seen a critic of Christianity get accused of “hatefulness” by stung, indignant Christians who are more upset over their religion’s loss of credibility than they are over the hatefulness their tribe displays on a regular basis.
But here’s some truth for anyone who seriously thinks like that:
The people who treated Neil and his beloved and her son this poorly certainly think they are TRUE CHRISTIANS™, and there isn’t really any way to tell them they aren’t because pretty much every Christian thinks he or she is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ and they all have reasons for thinking so. These particular TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are going to go to church on Sunday and sing about how loving they are, listen to a sermon that will undoubtedly touch on the topic of love, and maybe even cry a few tears over how hard it is to “love” an apostate. They might even seek the counsel of their pastor, who will undoubtedly tell them that they are doing exactly what Jesus wants them to do and to hold the course.
The reality of Christian “love” plays out every day in ways just like what happened to Neil. This isn’t love. It’s vicious retaliation, and it has one goal and one goal only: to force the apostate back into the fold or at least into silence.
Christian parents disown their kids for not being believers. Christian business owners ache to legally discriminate against those they think are ickie. Christian government officials try to force non-believers to act like Christians by hook or crook, by tricks or force. Christian countries allow the abuse and harassment of non-believers every day in a hundred ways both large and small.
I’m long past wondering why, now. When I was Christian myself I often felt humiliated by my fellow Christians’ hateful, clearly-controlling, obviously-grasping antics. I didn’t notice at first; for a long time I even thought that the people who acted that way were rare outliers. But as time grew on, I began wondering why any non-believer would ever want to join a religion full of people like the ones I saw every day. Even the nicest Christians could turn on a dime–because of those underpinnings I mentioned earlier. I ask Christians that exact question sometimes when their proselytization attempts backfire because of their own hypocrisy: why would any sane person ever consider joining a religion full of Christians like you, or risk going to an afterlife populated by y’all?
I know now. The Christians who act like Neil discusses here aren’t actually in it to make non-believers join up. Oh, it’s the official party line goal so if some do that’s nice, that’s fine, they’ll take it, but they demonstrate constantly by their words and deeds that what they really want is the social dominance and tribal power that their religious affiliation once afforded them, and they will do anything to get it back. That’s why their retaliation against dissent is so extreme. Every child disowned and treated cruelly is many more who doubt or even come to a place of non-belief but are too terrified to speak out against the religion because they know what the self-appointed ambassadors of the Lord of Love are going to do to them in response. And when that response comes, the Christians wreaking this damage will smile sweetly and sadly and claim their subsequent abuse and cruelty is being done out of “love.”
Oh yes: apostates know very well what happens to traitors. They see it every single day. Some of them even participated in the festivities themselves before they realized the religion’s claims weren’t true. Little wonder so many are scared to say a word to their “loving” peers and leaders. Many of us agonize in private Facebook groups and forums about how to share our truth, with whom, and when, and we share our fear of being rejected and hurt by those we thought loved us. When we reveal our disbelief to our Christian spouses, families, and peers and get nothing but love and support back–because that does happen sometimes, let’s be totally fair here–then this news is greeted with cheers and joy because it’s so unexpected.
It seems clear to me that Christians would far rather feel correct and superior than to feel like the bad guys in the story, in the same way that they would rather feel like the embattled paladins of truth, justice, and the American way than what they really increasingly are: the ideological equivalent of terrorists, bullies, and thugs.
But this illusion of theirs comes at a huge price: the harder they hurt dissenters with their petty hatefulness and grotesque nastiness, the faster they hasten their own decline. Ironically, the only tactics they have for dealing with dissent are the tactics that are doing their religion the worst damage.
They no longer have either the force of law nor the sheer numbers to force compliance upon others on the grand scale. On the smaller scale, in areas where they still hold social and cultural dominance, they lash out viciously against known dissenters because those are the only ones they can get their hands on, and those dissenters bear the brunt of what they want to do to all dissenters, distilled down to the one person they can reach to hurt.
And that’s what this is about: hurting, and hurting, and hurting others till they get what they want. That’s why the Christian father in this story sent Neil a series of hugely abusive, insulting messages–they were meant to cut, not to forgive, not to love, not to show mercy or kindness. If the dissenter relents, which does happen sometimes in Christians’ game of Relationship Chicken, then the dissenter is welcomed back with smug satisfaction and wary detente, but nothing else changes except that now the dissenter knows exactly how “loving” those Christians are and how conditional that “love” really is. More and more often, though, the dissenter does not relent, and is only chased further away from their once-loving family and peer group.
I know that many of us face the effects of Christians’ increasing panic and desperation to reclaim what they’ve lost. Hang in there. It hurts, but stories like Neil’s are exactly why we know the end is coming: they are evidence that Christians are grabbing harder and harder at their fading dominance, like any abuser who sees his or her victim walking out the door. The closer to freedom that victim gets, the more stops the abuser pulls out to reel the victim back into grasp. This process escalates until the very end of the escape.
This abusiveness against dissenters is how we know that Christians know they’re losing their onetime power over us. If they were comfortable in their dominance, they wouldn’t need to act like this toward dissenters. People have always left Christianity and to some degree have spoken out against it, but they didn’t pull out all the stops then–because they didn’t feel like they needed to. Now they feel like they do, but it’s too late.
My deepest condolences to Neil and his family, and they have my dearest hopes that the situation turns around and his girlfriend’s family realizes what they’re doing to both their religion’s credibility and their relationship with these non-believers. It’s hard enough to have a parent pass away without something like religion getting in the way of family love at a time of great crisis.
I really hope that those Christians who are truly loving people (and again, let’s be fair: I know a few of those!), who reject what their peers are doing, who genuinely grieve for the dissenters and outsiders wrecked and ruined in this grab for dominance, who actively try to change their culture, who feel just as sick as we do about what’s going on in far too many people’s lives because of this grabbiness, can rescue their religion and reform it. Whether they do or not, though, things aren’t going to be this way for too much longer–one way or the other.
You can take that to the bank and smoke it.
* This one’s especially popular now that Christian leaders have caught on to the fact that young people are the most likely to leave, demographically–and those young people ain’t coming back later in life, which was until recently the conventional wisdom. A writer for Christianity Today sniffs that kids who don’t grow up with “first-hand faith,” whatever that means, are more likely to leave. This excuse ignores the fact that way too many ex-Christians have stories like mine of having been very fervent believers in our youth, but like Christians would ever actually ask us about anything relating to people leaving Christianity. That’d wreck everything!
** Because yes. People are totally deconverting and refusing to accept Jesus because of hypocrites*** (and by that term Christians mean even themselves because–say it with me and scrunch up them Preacher Eyebrows!–we awwwwwllllll seeeee-yin). This excuse means that it’s all someone else’s fault, not their own. They are still allowed to tell people to totally disregard how poorly they’re living the message they want others to accept. It’s all still totes true, even if their daily lives tell everyone with eyes and ears that they don’t actually take any of their own nonsense seriously.
*** Out in Reality-Land, people are well aware that shitty spokespeople do not, in and of themselves, validate a true message or prove a false one, but to Christians, the messengers are the medium in a lot of ways–see the shitstorms they throw over such picayune details as exactly how fervent the actors in Christian movies are. Christians will happily totally discard an angry-sounding critic on the basis of tone alone, especially if that critic is saying something that really needs to be heard. But while I’m running into increasing numbers of Christians who are pulling away from church attendance and even the label of “Christian” because of their hypocritical peers, I’ve never met anyone who actually fully deconverted over that alone. That said, I think that the huge number of hypocrites produced by Christian ideology is a very good example of why the religion is bad for people; I strongly suspect that hypocrisy is not a bug of Christianity but a feature of it. I know that no religion’s mythology is literally true, so to me, a religion’s validity comes down 100% to how much it improves its adherents’ lives and makes them good neighbors to outsiders. Christianity does help some people and make them good neighbors. It hurts a lot of others and makes them terrible neighbors. It’s almost as if loving people naturally gravitate to a loving form of the religion, while nasty assholes gravitate to the type followed by the Christians mistreating Neil and his girlfriend. Weird, isn’t it?