Recently I made an offhand comment about how I saw hypocrisy in religion as not a bug or a glitch in the ideology, but rather a feature of it. Today I want to expand on that idea a little more because I caught myself by surprise there and realized that it’s important. I began thinking of the idea of bugs and glitches in gaming, and realized that here, yet again, we see a place where the world of gaming intersects with that of religion.
Yes, you heard me!
Today’s going to be a gaming post!
Feature vs. Bug: Definitions.
When we’re dealing with computer code–video games, let’s say–a “feature” is a part of the game that coders intended to put there, and it does mostly what the coders want it to do. For example, a video game might have as one feature the ability for characters in the game to sail a ship across the ocean. Another feature might be a weapon-crafting system that lets players create their own swords out of raw materials they find or harvest ingame. Another still might be those dreaded micro-transactions that allow players to spend real money to purchase “gems” or “rubies” or other such perks that apply ingame to buy stuff or make the game easier.
A bug, on the other hand, is an effect that maybe the coders didn’t want there, a bit of accidental code or maybe a totally unexpected effect from what they wrote. A bug has an effect on the game that the coders didn’t intend to happen and probably don’t want in play. Here’s a list of some of the more egregious bugs in video games, but it’s not hard to scare up similar lists online. Gamers love talking about bugs–and finding them. For a while, Mr. Captain was running around Skyrim putting buckets on people’s heads ingame because why not? And I still giggle at remembering how, many years ago on a MUD I was adminning, one builder accidentally mis-set the wear location of a piece of clothing in one area he wrote and forgot to playtest, so when it first opened we quickly realized that we had all these Meso-American-looking lizardmen running around like maniacs with leopard-skin pants on their heads.
I almost didn’t want to fix that one, I admit. And no, it wasn’t me! I pulled my share of bugs in a game that literally required creators to type out numbers for directions, door/room states, and wear locations, and some of mine were way more complicated to fix than that little wayward bitflag. On one game my first attempts at coding resulted in room echoes like “Puff says, ‘It’s full of stars!'” whenever people drew weapons out of sheaths, and it took weeks of dedicated work and many hundreds of inadvertent PC deaths to avoid having my new lightning-strike code NOT affect people in the main city because I didn’t understand sector flags yet. But nothing I did was as awesome as big tough ol’ lizardmen running around with their pants on their heads. To me, that’s always going to be the best example ever of gaming bugs. (Sadly, nobody on that game wanted to take my suggestion to heart of making that the game’s logo.)
Sometimes, to save face, a software company might try to claim that a bug is actually an “undocumented feature”, but one can normally tell the difference because a bug subtracts from the software’s mission while a feature adds to it in some way. A company is happy to have a feature there and usually works hard to ensure that features work the way they’re supposed to work. By contrast, a bug happens by accident and it’s not something the company wants there. A bug can seriously mess with the balance of gameplay; it can even make the game totally unplayable or unenjoyable. And yes, sometimes a feature isn’t actually documented, but that doesn’t make it a bug, the same as a known bug doesn’t become a feature by sheer recognition even if it’s sort of useful, like how on another MUD I knew of, someone could insta-crash the entire game and make it reboot simply by tossing a single coin into the next room; players used this bug to restart the game when other serious bugs threatened to hurt gameplay and admins weren’t around to reboot it themselves using official commands. From what I heard, they tried not to use it unless they thought it was necessary. But it was still a bug. Using bugs to crash a game can have some really bad consequences (like another game I did where sometimes the persistent-world was in the middle of writing to disk when the game crashed, so entire zones might just vanish on reboot). And as with the drawing-weapons code mentioned above, a bug can reach out to affect and impact all kinds of other code in ways that range from harmless-but-cute to devastating.
Bugs need squishing. Features can be eliminated or modified or added or shifted, but bugs have to be eradicated.
So in summation and to shamefully oversimplify, a feature is something designed into a project and that works more or less like the designers intended. A bug is something that wasn’t designed to be there and doesn’t help the project overall.
Hypocrisy is Not a Bug of Christianity. It’s a Feature.
The idea that “everybody sins” is written deep into Christianity’s code, so to speak. It’s something that Christians themselves seem downright proud to concede–even to brag about. I’ve literally heard Christians use this exact idea to justify why they’re attracted to Christianity–because nothing they can do is unforgivable, and nothing about them makes them better or worse than anybody else, even the most holy and kindhearted hero or the most vicious and nasty villain. Such a mindset reduces the entire human condition down to a sickness that must be cured at all costs, yes, but one can see the appeal for someone raised steeped in rhetoric about how nobody is ever good enough.
But just like how giving every kid on a Pee-Wee Baseball team a trophy might backfire by making trophies seem meaningless, even Christians themselves are starting to wonder if their “love everyone” rhetoric makes their love meaningless just as thinking of all humans as depraved makes any good acts they might do meaningless. When Hudson Hawk discovered that Anna, his crush, was a nun, his outburst upon her declaration of love for him made perfect sense to me even when I was a Pentecostal: “Oh, no! You love me! It’s your job! You probably love [bad guy] Butterfinger over there!” And Anna’s reply made clear that she really didn’t even understand what love even meant on a personal level: “Well, yeah, in a weird sort of Catholic way, I do.” She was imperfectly describing what Christians call agape love, which is a kind of universal-humanity love that is (mistakenly) thought to be purely divine in character. And the hero rightly assessed that it made her claim to love him, personally, rather suspect.
I’m sure we could brainstorm and find other falsely-universal ideas that Christians hold that level the playing field to the point where the idea becomes meaningless, but let’s focus right now on sinfulness. Sins are endemic to the Christian mindset. Everyone sins, and all sins are thought to be equally odious to the Christian god.* When I was Pentecostal, I was told repeatedly that even if I had been the only human in existence, and even if I had only committed one small-seeming sin, then Jesus’ supposed sacrifice on the Cross would have still happened exactly the way it did–because even that little bitty sin, whatever it might be, would be enough to stop me from getting into Heaven.
Thought crimes–even one, even once, even a little–were just as bad as real crimes with real victims, I was taught across the breadth of the religion, and eternity–ETERNITY!–being tortured for that finite lifetime’s deeds and thoughts was perfectly reasonable as a punishment for any infraction no matter how minor–which itself made the threat all but meaningless. There was no way to escape it; no way to mitigate it; no way to gain forgiveness for it posthumously; no way to argue about it. This totally non-proportional, totally implacable, totally obscene punishment dwarfs whatever it’s meant to punish, and it’s meant to terrorize and frighten people into compliance out of sheer fear if nothing else Christians do works to convert them.
But this “sin” scheme and its accompanying breathtaking punishment have one more element: nobody in Christianity is thought to be able to live a perfectly good life.
Did you hear that?
Nobody in the entire religion can say, no matter how hard they try, that they are good enough for their god’s exacting standards. They absolutely must have his divine aid in the form of forgiveness for their sins, and without that aid they are at risk of facing that god’s barbaric vengeance for their noncompliance. No matter how good they think they are, they are by definition not good enough; there is always some small flaw or problematic stray thought that will doom them.
In other words, the very structure of Christianity leads to one inescapable fact:
Every Christian, by Definition, is a Hypocrite. Period.
Most people already think of Christians as hypocrites, and for a good reason.
Hypocrisy is what happens when a Christian says he or she believes one thing, but acts in a way that contradicts those stated beliefs. Often hypocrisy takes sexual turns, but not always; for example, a Christian might rail up and down about “sexual sin,” but be in reality doing the very sins he or she claims to stand against, as happened with the TRUE CHRISTIANS™ in Congress leading the charge for Bill Clinton’s impeachment for adultery. Or a Christian might piously present himself or herself as a pillar of the community while engaging in “one of the most serious child pornography cases” one Christian youth pastor’s state’s authorities had ever seen.
The situation with hypocrisy not only will continue to be a big issue in Christianity, but one that cannot be fixed–for a reason.
When there is an all-encompassing certainty of failure, people get discouraged. Family programs are starting to understand that the sheer stress of high standards can lead non-custodial fathers especially to simply disengage from their children to avoid disappointing both the kids and themselves. In gaming, administrators know that they must manage ingame goals to make them difficult but not impossible–because if a goal is simply impossible, there’ll still be a few determined players who still try to achieve it (and some might manage it!), but most players won’t even bother trying–and may leave the entire game rather than have this impossible goal looming over them all the time. If such players stay, they will very likely lose faith in their admins when other plots or goals are presented.
But one needn’t be a parent or a gamer to understand the situation; anyone who’s faced a totally filthy house or an absurdly difficult personal goal, like losing a great deal of weight in way too little time, understands how it might feel easier not even to make the attempt than to go to all that effort only to fail.
Christians know that nothing they can do will make them acceptable to their god in the afterlife, but they have to keep trying because to stop trying is to guarantee their torture forever in Hell. They can’t not try, not with that terror hanging over their heads. But it gets overwhelming to try and try–and only fail and fail. Little wonder they say to hell with it, literally, and just try to skate by as best they can.
While that skating is happening, Christians certainly aren’t going to present themselves as committing the sins they know they shouldn’t be committing. Imagine what would happen if the one-in-three women in America who’ve had abortions stood up in churches across the country to announce their deed(s) to their peers! No, that ain’t gonna happen; you’ll see pigs fly first. Instead, they’re going to demonstrate in front of clinics every day except for the one day where they sneak in through the back door to obtain their own legal, safe abortion–and they will often say if confronted that their abortion was the only moral and proper thing to do. And then they will pick up their signs and start demonstrating again to stop other women–whose abortions are obviously immoral and improper–from accessing the same exact care they themselves got. Admitting that they themselves accessed that care would invalidate a lot of their attempts to stop other women from doing so, and call into question–correctly–their arguments against abortion. Though Christians try constantly to stop people from objecting to their overall message of “do as I say, not as I do,” largely their campaign has failed utterly and will rightly continue to do so.
So in order to maintain their push for control over other people, Christians have to pretend that they are living the life they want others to live. They must model the behavior they want to see in others, or else their demands will be met–as they generally are–with derision and rejection. This expectation itself sets up goals that Christians can’t meet–a constant dance of inadequacy, guilt, shame, and frustration.
Christians are so used to saying and hearing this ghastly, grotesque nonsense that they don’t even stop to wonder what it does to their minds and–worse–to their children’s developing minds and psyches. I sure never thought about this stuff as a Christian–and if Christians don’t notice something, they sure can’t analyze it.
When Everyone is a Hypocrite, Nobody’s Hypocrisy Really Matters Anymore.
Because everyone is sinful and all sins are horrific and worthy of eternal torture, then ultimately nobody stands out from the crowd. The playing field is totally leveled. Christians can feel superior to both people who reject their religion and peers who are clearly struggling harder than they are to meet the religion’s demands. Every single sin is just as devastating, in theory, as every other sin.*
And every single Christian is a hypocrite, which–again, remember–is bad, inevitable, and in need of fixing.
The general distaste for hypocrisy fades into the background. Yes, yes, it’s very bad because it’s not only reflective of “sin” but itself a “sin,”** but everyone is a hypocrite because nobody can possibly live out the religion’s demands all the time. The religious structure itself has already decided that. There’s no way to escape from it. The stress of hypocrisy feeds Christians’ fear, shame, and self-loathing in a way that little else can–even while presenting adherents with a goal so impossible that they will never achieve it–but which they must constantly try to achieve anyway under the most dire of duress. To challenge the idea of hypocrisy, Christians would have to re-assess the very structure and scaffolding of their entire religious ideology.
And when Christians inevitably fail, which they will do because the system is designed from the ground up to lead Christians to fail catastrophically and constantly, Christianity will be right there to sell them the antidote to their feelings of shame and fear. The religion sells its adherents the idea that everybody fails, normalizes failure entirely and even celebrates it in a sick sort of way, and then sells its people the idea that Christianity can assuage–at least for the short term, and cross-your-fingers-maybe in the long-term–those feelings.
Hypocrisy becomes one of the religion’s main selling points to adherents in this paradigm: it keeps members in the pews, keeps them dancing, keeps them guessing, keeps them properly docile, and most of all keeps them from properly engaging with fixing it. It keeps them focused on other people’s hypocrisy, seen necessarily as far worse than one’s own hypocrisy, and because they know they can’t fix their own hypocrisy, adherents go instead after the perceived “sins” of other people. Some apologists even make hypocrisy the crux of their proselytization strategy.
The background-buzz of constant hypocrisy leads Christians to treat the rampant hypocrisy in their ranks as what an old boss of mine called “a gravity problem”: something that is just there all the time, that affects everyone on the team, that cannot be avoided, and that has to be simply worked around by everyone. Gravity problems cannot be used as an excuse for failure because everyone is facing the same issue. Thus, where outsiders rightfully see hypocrites in a religion as a dealbreaker, Christians see it as so commonplace and unavoidable that they can’t even accept it as a good reason to decline their proselytization attempts and they thus do everything they can to minimize and negate its presence and pervasiveness.
I’ll say this: I’m very glad to be out of a religion that sets up such impossible goals, that negates humans’ inherent goodness, and that causes so much stress and emotional wreckage. I don’t have to beat myself up anymore. Ironically, I’m arguably a way better person since leaving Christianity–and I think a big part of why is that I accept my foibles, see them in the greater context of who I am and what I can reasonably achieve, and can address my flaws on my own time and in ways that actually work. I am no longer subject to hypocrisy because I don’t trumpet a way of life I can no longer live up to, and I’m a lot better about accepting other people’s failures and flaws for a variety of reasons.
Most of all, now I can see myself more realistically. I don’t have Christians’ overwhelming drive to create and curate a self-image that has nothing to do with reality. As the character King Henry V said in the Shakespearean play, “Thou hast me, if thou hast me, at the worst, and thou shalt wear me, if thou wear me, better and better.” I’ve got no interest in lying to get people to agree with me or to push an agenda. If I can’t live according to my principles cleanly and honestly, then I’ve got no right whatsoever to tell others to live that way–and I refuse to pretend anymore.
I leave you with this video since it’s one of my all-time favorites and because the post’s photo reminded me of it:
* Obviously this is absolutely, positively horseshit in practice. Some sins are absolutely, positively worse than others, and Christians are very specific about which ones those are. Nobody is declaring that a god will send a meteor strike upon America to punish those who cheat on their taxes, or saying that they want to secede from the nation over marital infidelity. Nobody is trying to stop anti-bullying legislation aimed at protecting any other kind of kid besides LGBTQ kids (not that being LGBTQ is a sin; many Christians think this ridiculous notion is true, is all). Christian employees aren’t refusing to give marriage licenses to people working on their third marriage or refusing to fill prescriptions for Viagra for unmarried men. The selective blindness and even more selective punitiveness displayed here is yet another reason why Christianity is losing its credibility with members and outsiders alike; Christians may fool themselves into thinking that “all sins are equally bad,” but their speech and behavior say quite the opposite, loud and clear.
** Scare quotes because I don’t see any reason to believe that there is such a thing as “sin.” Just consider every use of the word in this post as being surrounded by scare quotes because it got visually distracting to type out.