It never fails to astonish me, how often TRUE CHRISTIANS™ need remedial educations in how to act like human beings. Today, I thought I’d offer a remedial course right here at Fundagelical University to address fundagelicals’ inability to relate to others. It reminds me a lot of a pair of cats I had, Snow and Monster. I used to joke that they couldn’t speak People. They also couldn’t really speak Cat. All their lives, they had trouble relating to anybody else–even each other! I see a great many Christians who suffer the same lack. So now, in an effort to help (because I am so very very helpful), let me offer Captain Cassidy’s Remedial Course in Humaning, taught today at Fundagelical U!
(Previous Class: Leadership 101 at Fundagelical U.)
Remedial Humaning Class, Now in Session.
Hi! Praise Jesus! Welcome, everyone. Please have a seat. I’m Professor McGillicuddy. Haha, yeah, the spelling will be on the first quiz. This is Remedial Humaning 101. If you’re not here for Remedial Humaning, then you’re in the wrong room. Thanks… Oh, Piper Hall? It’s across campus. That’s Professor Popoff‘s class and he’s a stickler, so be sure you have your info card filled out before you go in.
It never fails to astonish me to see just how poorly TRUE CHRISTIANS™ do at being decent human beings. I suspect the problem involves how authoritarian those sorts of Christians tend to be. Fundagelicalism in particular offers adherents a whole bunch of rules for how people should interact, then makes them a solemn promise: if they follow those rules, then they’ll have long-lasting, harmonious groups, friendships, and marriages.
I can speak from experience about how appealing that promise is to people who feel really lost when it comes to relating to others. Fundagelical rules–about everything, not just relationships–become a lucky-black-feather substitute for learning those vital skills that most other folks learn as a matter of course while growing up.
To a certain extent, these substituted, ritualized interactions work okay between fundagelicals themselves–but only to a certain extent. For people to be minimally satisfied with them, the rituals absolutely depend upon everyone involved to be following all the rules in the religion to the letter. If someone isn’t completely on the level and isn’t completely dedicated to acting in good faith, things get out of hand very quickly.
I Asked, Do You Speak-a My Language?
Okay! I guess we’re the class this semester. Show of hands, who’s a first-semester student here? All of you. Good. Did anybody here go to the summer orientation with Professor Lewis? One, two, six… good. Did he get you started on my summer reading list? Good. Did anybody actually finish All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? … No? None of you?
When I was Christian, I realized painfully quickly that I had no idea how to relate to people. I didn’t learn those skills instantly upon deconversion, either. I’d limited myself by learning only those ritualized substitutes for relating. In painful fits and bursts, I slowly acquired the skills.
One of the hardest skills to learn was how to talk with people. Oh, I’d learned how to talk at people. I knew how to have ritualized interactions as well. But I had no idea how to talk with others. One of the hardest lessons to learn turned out to be how to really listen.
Isn’t it ironic that a religion that bills itself as a relationship, not a religion seems to turn out adherents so often who have no idea how to conduct any relationship at all? Maybe that’s how they can believe so firmly that they’re in a relationship with their imaginary friend. They have no idea how real relationships look, so this imaginary relationship probably does look a lot like the real thing to them.
I don’t wonder anymore why they have such terrible marriages and so few good friends. If they think a relationship looks like what they think they have with a nonexistent being, then yeah, I can well imagine.
What Jesus Somehow Forgot to Teach.
Okay! So now that I’ve got your names and passed out the syllabus, let’s break the ice a little. Who here can say they’ve got a good friend? … No, not Jesus. I mean a person. Hm. Wow. Okay. Matt, why don’t you share a little about what you and your friend do? … Wait, what?
The Christians who tend to warble about being in a-relationship-not-a-religion also tend to think that their faith makes them better, more moral, and kinder people than non-Christians can possibly be. Some of them go further, painting non-Christians (particularly atheists) as pitiful husks who can only pathetically ape the better qualities of their more enlightened Christian brethren.
This downright insulting view of non-Christians forms the meat and marrow of fundagelical teachings about evangelism. The master conjobs of the religion teach their marks–the Christians who buy their materials and finance their lifestyles–what they claim are foolproof ways to sell the religion to a world they absolutely promise is “ripe for the harvest.”
The Christians who take this advice into the real world, however, quickly learn that it’s not as easy as that. Nobody actually likes to be sold at, especially by someone they thought was being friendly toward them for its own sake. So they return, confused and more than a little ego-stung, to learn better sales techniques.
“Show Genuine Interest.” Except Not.
Their leaders don’t disappoint them there, either. Christian books and blogs are filled with careful listicles and point-by-point instructions about how to relate. First and foremost, Christians get taught how to pretend to listen to the people they want to recruit.
It’s not real listening. It’s just more of that ritualized substitution for relating that these Christians learn. Sure, they might be looking at their prospect. They might even be nodding along, or repeating what they’ve heard. But they’re doing it as a salesperson, not as a friend. They’re simply gathering information to use in a future sales pitch, not having a genuine friendly interaction.
This listicle, for example, made my skin crawl in its sheer opportunism. After the obligatory think real hard at the ceiling before you even run into your prospect, the writer suggests that people “pay attention” and “show genuine interest.” Then she veers hard right by telling would-be soulwinners to “listen for a point of entry” and “pray for wisdom as they speak.” The point of entry, if you’re wondering, is any break that will allow them to start step 6, “share your own testimony.” It’s like she thinks that someone can pay attention and show genuine interest when all they’re doing it for is a chance to issue a sales pitch.
But this ritualized substitution for genuine listening fills the Christ-o-sphere. Someone writing for Desiring God begins his listicle with the demand that his readers “listen carefully” to atheists before selling to them. He’s not the only one. Here’s a similar insistence from Crosswalk. Whatever irresponsible git wrote about the topic for WikiHow fills most of the steps with that ritualized substitution.
Love For Its Own Sake.
We’re not learning to relate to people because it’ll do something for our walk with Jesus, or because it illustrates some big truth about our god. We’re definitely not here so learn more about how to win souls. This is just about love for its own–wait, where are y’all going? What, all of you?
It took me a very long time to learn to listen to people and have real conversations. But those are all skills, like any other. They can be picked up and honed. Some people have more of a flair for this stuff than others, but for most of us, it isn’t an impossible dream.
That said, I’ll tell you where I didn’t learn how to speak People.
No supernatural entity lauded for peace or love granted me that skill by magic–or by association with him. Looking back, I’m amazed that I ever thought that Christians were naturally more moral or loving than non-Christians could ever be. If they were, then I don’t see why they’d need so many guides for how to do basic relational tasks like listening to others. And I definitely don’t see why those guides would be consistently so terribly wrong.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over the substitutions for friendliness that Christians learn–only so they can try to sell their religion better.
(Bill, hi, it’s Cas. Yeah, they all left… Oh, the usual place, right after my ‘love for its own sake’ speech… All of them. Ha! I know, right? Dean Aquinas is gonna be so mad about losing our bet again. What is this, the fifth straight year? … See you this afternoon – I need a coffee before my “Evolution for Creationists” class. Hey, at least it’s easy to prepare the materials for it…)
NEXT UP: Dysfunctional people blame all the wrong people and things for their problems. The situation only gets more comical when the dysfunctional people think that a real live god “directs their paths.” Please join me next time for a storm of Gordon Ramsay gifs. Later on, we’ll be looking at radio ministry–we’ve had requests! See you soon!
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.