Last time we met up, I was talking about how weary I am about being treated as a child by Christians who have gotten the very erroneous idea somehow that they are the parent figures to everybody around themselves who isn’t Christian. I showed why they think that way and how they come by this error. Today I want to talk about one of the metaphors they use to excuse mistreating people that way: the idea that people who disagree with them are like children who eat candy for dinner. And we’ll talk about why this metaphor fails completely.
In the comments to that last post, someone accidentally demonstrated exactly why we need to be talking about this all-too-pervasive Christian habit of treating non-Christians with contempt. It’s almost a rule by now; any time someone issues a criticism of Christian culture and behavior, a Christian will wander along shortly thereafter to demonstrate to everyone exactly why that criticism is totally valid.
I’m paraphrasing because my moderation effort inadvertently erased her comments, but in essence, her reply was to Just Ask a Question about whether or not I had actually behaved like a toddler. The purpose of her JAQing off was clearly to imply that I deserved to be treated as a child by the Designated Adults of her religion because in her judgment, and I use that term quite intentionally, I acted like a child. I’m not recalling this incident to call attention to her particularly; she’s simply the latest Christian to make this exact argument to a non-Christian to rationalize misbehavior, and she’s far from the only one who thinks this way.
An important part of this discussion needs to take into account one universal human truth: everything Christians do (like everything everyone does) is done for a benefit of some kind. Christians are human like anybody else, so the stuff they do is done for some kind of benefit either to themselves or their tribe. The problem comes in when people think they’re accomplishing one goal while they’re really accomplishing something else entirely–or when they really want to accomplish a goal but have no idea how to do it, so they flail around doing stuff that is counterproductive. As we go along, be thinking about both the spoken goals of Christian self-proclaimed parent figures and the actual rewards they’re reaping from this behavior–and how to tell if an action serves the stated or the real goal.
You can tell when a Christian really wants to engage with you on an honest and mature level, because when you tell that Christian “Hey, I’m not a child and don’t appreciate being treated like one, so please stop doing that,” the response will be a heartfelt apology and a promise to be a better friend to you. Loving people don’t want to do stuff that offends or insults their loved ones. The last thing a truly loving person wants to do is make you feel like a lesser person. The goal these Christians say they want to achieve is the one they’re actually working toward–maybe imperfectly, because most Christian groups don’t actually teach adherents much about how to demonstrate real love, but at least they’re trying. I can respect that.
But when the response is a drilling-down on the behavior and/or some kind of rationalization for being rude or offensive, you know you’re not dealing with a loving Christian anymore. You’re dealing with someone who is quite deliberately mistreating you for an ulterior purpose. Very few people will outright say that their goal in life is to mistreat others, but when someone is that dedicated to doing something, you have to start wondering what the real goal is driving that behavior–what the real reward is that the Christian wants to gain.
Once you start thinking about what that goal really is, you might start to notice it’s not very loving at all.
Candy for Dinner.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been running lately into Christians who characterized non-Christians as children who wanted to eat candy for dinner every night. I should have guessed that the reason I keep hearing that comparison is that the Christians relating it are getting this idea from their irresponsible leaders. Apologist Ray Comfort popularized the idea in 1993 in his book of talking points God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists:
A little boy once said to his mom, “I am sick of the food you keep giving me–potatoes, carrots, and spinach. From now on I choose my own diet. I am having nothing but chocolate candy bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” Imagine what the child would look like if he were allowed to eat what he wanted. He may become very sick and even die because of a lack of proper nutrition. His face would break into pimples, giving evidence that he is on the wrong diet–even though it tastes good to him; it’s not good for him.
I should have guessed: something that patently absurd, easily-debunked, and over-simplistic couldn’t have come from very many other sources. Though Mr. Comfort is talking about how he envisions human beings’ relationship with his imaginary deity, rationalizing away any number of doctrines that turn Christians into perma-toddlers-for-Jesus, it’s no accident that Christians–who, again, consider themselves mini-Jesuses who are commanded to treat others the way they think Jesus treats them and the Church generally–took that warped analogy and ran with it as a way to conceptualize people who reject their overtures and overreach.
The sheer hubris and arrogance of this position cannot be overstated. Christians who mistreat others in this manner do it because they are convinced–without any objective reason to think so–that they know what the right way of “eating” looks like and that moreover non-believers are “eating” the wrong things. When we reject their attempts to force-feed us their religious overreach and indoctrination, they sigh to themselves over how silly and childish we are for not accepting their dominance–and then they resolve to try all the harder to “parent” us for our own good.
Talking about non-believers in terms of us being little kids who want to eat candy for dinner makes us sound so petulant, so recalcitrant, so obstinate, so wrongheaded, and so very much in need of Christian parenting to show us what the right way of “eating” looks like. I don’t see how a Christian who thinks this way could respect a non-believer, much less treat one with civility and decency or have a real two-way adult conversation with one. That this condescension is entirely misplaced only makes the mindset more bizarre and grotesque to behold. In the real world, we’d call what they’re doing treating people with contempt–not love.
Christians’ stated goals for “parenting” non-believers aren’t often said aloud, but one can infer that they believe that if they can strong-arm us into complying with their demands, then three things will happen:
* They will be allowed to run roughshod over Western society again, because obviously once we start obeying our “parents” we will be quiet and submissive. We won’t be speaking up and getting all uppity in their faces, challenging them and rejecting their overreach. Children are seen and not heard, after all!
* All kinds of natural disasters will be averted. Ray Comfort’s book goes onto claim that if Christians can force non-Christians to “eat” the way they want them to, that this mass, worldwide obedience will prevent the “pimples” erupting from a bad “diet,” which in his opinion manifest as “diseases, floods, earthquakes, starvation, endless suffering, and death.” I’ve heard similar veiled threats often from Christian preachers–that if gay people can access their legal right to get married, their god will send meteor strikes on the Earth or “fireballs from space,”, or floods as vengeance for legalized pot and abortion. (The Holocaust didn’t get this god’s attention, but a college kid smoking a joint or two guys kissing without fear of Christian bullying? Oh, honey, it is on.)
* Purely tangentially, heathens will convert on the basis of how wonderful the Christian “diet” is. Who wouldn’t want a nice clean “diet” of perfect food cooked and fed to them by perfect parents? What lucky lucky heathens we are to have such thoughtful and considerate “parents” who care so much about us that they’ll work so hard to ensure we have the food they think is best for us! Churches won’t be able to hold the flood of people converting once they see how wonderful this new “diet” is! (Swoon, all of you! Now! Swoon! I want to see some enthusiasm for this “free and purely voluntary gift” here, people, or my invisible friend will be sending in the meteors! So let’s see some quality swoonage up in here!)
Here’s Why This Argument Fails.
Obviously, paternalistic Christians’ case depends utterly on one thing: whether or not they have the right to meddle in other people’s business, to judge others, or to control their lives.
Note that their argument doesn’t depend in the least on whether or not their “diet” is actually better or worse than whatever a given non-believer “eats.” It doesn’t actually matter, from the context of an individual’s rights. Even if they were right, which is by no means granted, they still would not have the right to force people to “eat” what they think people should “eat.” In this regard they are no different from people who think they have a perfect food diet who want to force people to become Paleo or all-organic or vegetarian or whatever.
On the other hand, I have seen plenty of evidence that paternalistic Christians have a lot of trouble separating out “stuff that gives them the vapors but isn’t any of their business” and “stuff that is legitimately their business.” I know from long experience that such Christians have a super-serious problem with understanding concepts like consent and boundaries and with recognizing other people’s rights and liberties. And I know that many Christians see themselves as so superior to non-Christians that they deserve to be in charge of every aspect of society. There’s at least one big-name preacher out there who even famously asserted that atheists should be legally enslaved to Christians (like him, of course) for their own good, and I’ll let you guess how much pushback he got from his tribe on that point.
Christians who fall into this mindset have defined their idealized conceptualization of “the perfect Christian” as the default against which all people should be judged: as the perfect adult behaving in a perfectly mature way. Christianity is chock-full of these kinds of forced definitions, pushed onto the flocks until the sheep internalize them. Real Men Love Jesus. Real Women Don’t Text Back. Real men aren’t effeminate. Real women are modest. And all of it is shot through with teachings that insist that disobedience is a form of rebellion, which means exactly the same in this context that it’d mean if parents were discussing an adolescent going through a boundary-setting phase. But their own rebellion against secular mores and laws is perfectly okay and godly, even required–as we saw with the Kim Davis case. They’re only saying that non-believers’ “rebellion” is bad. Likewise, it’s great when Christians envision themselves as little children, but they get shirty when they see non-Christians doing stuff they think isn’t mature.
So when Christians accuse non-Christians of being “childish,” what they really mean is this:
“You’re not behaving the way I think you should behave, and I will think less of you for it until you shape up.”
It’s a bit like their accusation of “selfishness” in that regard. Very seldom do Christians accuse someone of selfishness or childishness who is actually being selfish or childish; usually the terms are used to try to force another person to alter course or beliefs by playing upon societal expectations and cultural values as a weapon of manipulation. Christians hold their civility hostage, withholding it until we are performing to their exacting standards–which means complying with their demands.
Unfortunately for the Christians who keep trying this act on others, they’re working off values that the rest of us don’t share.
A Manifesto and Declaration of Rights and Expectations.
First, non-believing adults are first and foremost adults. We didn’t get through our childhoods just so Christians could put us back into that position again under them as the divinely-mandated and Jesus-approved parent figures. We have rights and liberties. So it doesn’t especially matter whether or not Christians approve or disapprove of how anybody else lives. I realize that this is the problem for them in a nutshell, that Christians are getting themselves worked into a fine frothy lather because they desperately want us to care about their approval and disapproval. But we don’t, and they’re going to need to resolve that concern on their own time. Treating us like children is not going to make us care about their approval or disapproval. Neither will leaving us alone, granted, but they were never in the right to try to force us to care about that anyway.
Second, we do not accept in any way that Christians have some magical knowledge that we do not have regarding how to live. We are right to resent Christians’ implication that we not only lack their wisdom but also need to be forcibly shoved toward their way of thinking. I realize it’s going to be a challenge for paternalistic, controlling, contemptuous Christians to understand that other people are adults who are doing just great without Christian interference or oversight, but it’s one they will have to surmount on their own because in today’s society, trampling boundaries is getting seen increasingly as a huge sign of dysfunction.
Third, we do not want parent-child interaction. We want adult-adult interaction and have every right to expect it of those seeking to impose upon us. Every time a Christian glorifies his or her own over-dependence on “Daddy God” and makes being a child sound optimal, but then looks down on a non-believer for “childishness,” sensible people are reminded anew of why we rejected Christianity in the first place. And we find it more than a little suspicious that paternalistic Christians always, automatically put themselves into the parental position when interacting with us. All that pious simpering over how everybody’s a sinner smacks up against reality when they go on to try to take control over other people’s lives. Nobody asked for them to be our parents. All we have ever wanted is for them to be decent neighbors. I realize that this idea, too, is going to challenge Christians who really like thinking of themselves in paternalistic ways, and that recovering from this idea may even require a reworking of their entire paradigm for interacting with non-believers. So be it. If they want to talk to me and impose upon my time, then they are doing it at my sufferance and upon my recognizance or not at all. Such people have no right whatsoever to make demands of me or to mistreat me.
Fourth, we do not give Christians permission to treat us this way. The idea of Christians taking this role without the permission or consent of their targets to do it smacks of more than mere presumptuousness; I don’t see how they can be “servants to people” or “love their neighbors” while behaving this way. Jesus didn’t tell them to “love all those non-believers just like you love your own recalcitrant children.” He didn’t say “love the people around you like a king loves his subjects.” He said “love your neighbors,” implying that Christians are to consider themselves the neighbors of non-believers. Hypocrisy, thy name is fundagelical Christianity. And nobody has to humor overreach just because it’d really help Christians out if we did. I realize this is a problem for Christians who think that their supposed all-consuming concern for our eternal fates gives them the right to override our consent and boundaries, but this, again, is a them problem.
Fifth and most importantly of all, no matter how we behave, we deserve basic civility and courtesy. It’s a shame that English uses one word, “respect,” to describe both “basic civility and courtesy” and “deference.” That’s what made me bristle the most when the latest drive-by Christian made that accusation. Hidden within the Just Asked Question was an assertion that if I behave childishly, then I deserve mistreatment by Christians. And I reject that idea categorically. Christians do not get to punish non-compliant people with mistreatment, and they do not ever earn the right to mistreat others no matter how those others behave. And this, too, will be problematic for Christians who have been taught that they are allowed to judge and condemn others as a form of misunderstood “tough love,” but I’m not obligated to buy into their delusions just because it’s a really long-running one.
Especially when one considers that Christians’ ultimate goal is to “love their god and their neighbor,” as Jesus himself is thought to have commanded (in Mark 5:28-33) as well as to convert everybody in the world and serve those who need it, then the idea that they are ever justified in mistreating people starts looking simply absurd–because Christian paternalism accomplishes not one of those things. Even if Christians think a non-believer is behaving literally like a two-year-old throwing a wobbler in Hobby Lobby over not getting candy for dinner, they are commanded by (what they think is) Jesus himself on pain of eternal torture to continue to be loving even to people who are mistreating them.
Regardless of what their Bible says, you’re not bound by the Bible or Christians’ misunderstandings about it. You own you. Nobody else does. Nobody ever has the right to mistreat you, threaten you, manipulate you, or make you feel like a lesser life form. Their feelings of urgency do not translate into your obligation. You owe them nothing. Your “diet” is not their business.
If anybody ever tries to tell you anything else, then watch out, because that person’s about to try to sell you something that is profoundly not in your best interest to buy.
I wish it bothered more Christians that a lot of their indoctrination encourages if not requires them to behave this way toward others. It sure bothered me when I realized it, back when I was a Christian. But I don’t think most Christians nowadays even question this idea by now that they are society’s Designated Adults and parent figures. That’s why we’re going to look next time at what this behavior does and does not accomplish to measure whether or not it accomplishes the goals I outlined above–and I hope to see you then.
PS: Bumble has discovered boxes. I thought y’all would get a kick out of this–there’ll be a FULL KITTEN UPDATE at some point over the holiday, but here’s a peek. I apologize in advance for the state of the carpet.