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The Seekers: What Sold-Out Christianity Really Means (LSP #169)

The Seekers: What Sold-Out Christianity Really Means (LSP #169) December 7, 2020

Hi and welcome back! As we talk about evangelical hypocrisy, I can’t help but remember a group of Christians from my college years. They called themselves the Seekers. And their vision of Christianity terrified me as much as it intrigued me. I wanted to show you this group today. They won the Christian one-up competition forever, but in the doing, they functioned as a potent warning. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the most sold-out Christians of them all, and how they revealed that nobody really should be taking the Christian pretendy game too far.

an eerie scarecrow mounted above a field
John, one of the Seekers, reminded me of a scarecrow. (Xianyu hao.)

More Hardcore Than Thou.

If I had to define one activity as uniquely right-wing Christian, it’d be their habit of competing with each other to see who holds the grand title for The Most Jesus-y Christian Of Them All.

These Christians all try constantly to one-up each other in how pious and utterly infused with Jesus Power they are. The Christian who gets to whip out a solid Jesus Juke during a completely secular conversation feels very pleased indeed, while everyone else feels completely chastised and inferior for not having their minds 100% focused on Jesus.

(There’s a reason why right-wing Christians so adore zingers. Authoritarians love this exact sensation of dealing unexpected damage to others. It affirms their greater power over their companions. And that affirmation, in turn, makes them feel superior — and thus safe from harm at those people’s hands. Their religion simply represents the easiest way to score a zinger, at least against other Christians.)

For many years now, evangelicals have been playing More Hardcore Than Thou with each other. They’ve trotted out a variety of ways to make themselves feel superior to all the other competitors for the title. Whenever you hear an evangelical warble about being a FoLLoWeR oF JeSuS, not some ickie filthy casual Christian, you’re hearing someone assert greater hardcore-ness over other Christians. When Christians try to assert that they practice a ReLaTiOnShiP nOt a ReLiGiOn, that’s another attempt. So is gatekeeping TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.

But every one of these poseurs lost the battle before even picking up a weapon.

You see, years ago the Seekers destroyed every other evangelical’s shot at the championship title.

The Seekers: Sold Out.

I first heard of the Seekers early in my college years. Biff had met one somewhere — I don’t know where, though probably the meeting occurred near or on our college campus. From that acquaintance, Biff met a whole clutch of them operating in Houston. Apparently, they were just one cell of a nationwide group of ultra-extremist Christians operating in major cities.

Their whole thing was taking Jesus’ commands as literally as possible. He’d told his disciples to give up everything to follow him. To take up their crosses and follow him. To eschew all possessions of their own, give everything away, abandon their families, live in utter poverty, and spend all of their time proclaiming the good news.

So that is what they were doing.

They operated as a commune, living off of donations from the public. None of them owned anything that was truly their own. They ate food and wore clothes that came from personal charity. I’m not even sure who owned their living space, or if they just slept on the streets. They spent every waking moment evangelizing.

The Seekers: An Obscure Cult.

Even now, I’m not sure exactly what the Seekers were.

I see that a very nonconformist group of Christians calling themselves the Seekers arose in the 1620s in England, with many ultimately joining the Quakers. I reeeeeeeeally don’t think that’s what these guys were.

As well, a group by that name arose in the 1950s as an out-and-out UFO/Rapture cult. A psychologist named Leon Festinger famously wrote about the Seekers (or more formally, The Brotherhood of the Seven Rays) in his book When Prophecy Fails. (See more here.) But I never heard “my” Seekers talk about UFOs, and they didn’t talk about the Rapture in any ways that I considered unusual for my end of the religion.

No, I have no clue exactly what this cult was, what its exact name was (if not “the Seekers”), who controlled it, or even what their actual beliefs or ultimate goals might have been. Everyone just called them “the Seekers.”

And they managed to scare even Biff with their intense fervor.

Meeting the Ultimate Jesus-er.

Since I can’t remember this young man’s name, I’ll call him John. Biff didn’t want to take me to the place where John’s group of Seekers were living (or rather squatting, most likely). They operated out of a very dangerous part of town. Instead, Biff and I met John near the campus. Biff wanted to bring him around to meet our little circle of friends on campus — and to buy the young man what was probably his first good meal in ages at our dorm’s all-you-can-eat cafeteria.

When I met John on the streets of Houston near our campus, he looked mostly-dead. He was incredibly skinny and frail-looking, with sunken eyes, wild dark hair that desperately needed tending, and dirty, mismatched clothes that hung off of his body. Winter had begun, and yet all he wore in terms of warm clothes was an oversized brown sweater. His shoes were falling off his feet from wear and tear, and he wore no socks.

When I hugged him hello, it felt like I had embraced a long-dead crow wrapped in a kitchen towel. He smelled like he hadn’t showered in ages — so long that the funk had died down to its own self-managing level and was no longer an in-your-face blast.

And yet..

And yet..

His haunted eyes blazed with an intensity I can never forget.

When he spoke, his words bore an electric impact on anybody listening.

Something animated John. 

And whatever it was, it was unlike anything me and my friends had ever before seen in our lives.

A Message.

Our group met John at the cafeteria. From the first moment they saw him, my friends seemed as fascinated with him as first Biff and then I had been.

John ate plenty, sure, but didn’t seem to notice any of it as it passed his lips. I mean, sure, he was thankful to Biff for buying him the meal and certainly not rude in any way that I recall. It’s just that he saw this meal as a divine gift to him after a time of greater hardship than usual, and he saw this meeting with our group as his god’s way of giving him a ready-made audience for his grand message.

That message was simple, of course.

You probably already know what it was. It’s the same message all ultra-hardcore Christians spout:

Come with us. Do what we do.

The final days are here.

At long last, the time is at hand.

It was all John could talk about, and clearly all he cared about. Since theoretically that’s what all of us were supposed to be thinking about and talking about, I suspect we all felt a bit shamed by his single-minded fervor and devotion. I can say with certainty that none of us had ever met anybody like this guy.

Counting the Costs.

Long ago, John told us, he had abandoned his family to join this cult. He said his parents didn’t even know where he was right then. He’d traveled to our city from somewhere else, along with his little clutch of fellow cultists, at the command of their leader. They’d set up operations downtown and were trying to make some sales there.

He didn’t care about theology much, nor about exactly which denomination someone belonged to. What he seemed to care about most was getting people to Jesus as hard as he did — as a means of self-preservation in the End Times. Certainly, he wanted to recruit new people for his little band of Jesus-ers, but they didn’t seem to adhere to any specific ideology.

Christians talk a lot about counting the costs of their affiliation with their religion. It means Christians should carefully consider exactly what Christianity will demand of them before embarking on affiliation, because if they get started and then later realize it’s way too much for them and quit, things will go much worse for them (in the afterlife, I’m assuming).

I’m sure that most of my social circle back then thought we had done that. But John really had gone all-out. He showed us that we had pulled away from doing everything we possibly could to spread the good news. We had not Jesus-ed anywhere near as hard as John.

And none of us could deal with that obvious fact.

A Lasting Legacy.

Jesus had made some very direct orders to Christians. Meeting John made me acutely aware that most Christians had developed complicated ways of hand-waving away those direct orders.

We’d convinced ourselves that we were totally Jesus-ing our hearts out. But we had not given up our families, moved away from our homes, or given away all our possessions. Instead, we’d only tried to incorporate as much of our Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game into our lives as we possibly could, and then we all pretended that Jesus hadn’t really meant doing more than that.

Here’s the big part, though:

I didn’t want to Jesus like John was. None of my friends did.

John ate his big meal and then departed with no sales made. We’d see him around sometimes and were friendly with him, but he didn’t talk much with us. He knew we would never buy his product.

Pretendy Games.

Today, I see fundagelicals doing exactly the same thing we did. It’s funny to me when a modern fundagelical accuses me of not having been a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, because in every accusation I’ve faced so far, I know I was way more fervent, knowledgeable, and dedicated than any of my accusers present themselves to be. And yet my devotion paled in comparison to John, who really had gone all-out to obey Jesus’ apparent direct orders.

my love is like the sun
Diagram time! Fervor Levels. (This image edited from an original from Wikimedia, CC.)

These self-satisfied, smirking, gloating idolaters have all convinced themselves that they’re doing exactly what Jesus wanted them to do. And because nothing in their religion is tethered at all to reality, that’s an easy idea for today’s evangelicals to believe.

As a result, they think that convincing everyone else to Jesus harder will solve literally all of their tribe’s problems, and yet all Jesus-ing harder accomplishes is getting Christians into more and more trouble. I saw that clearly that day in the cafeteria. A couple of years later, I’d see it even more clearly when a couple of my friends joined a cult in Waco (not David Koresh’s, but a similar one and right before that all went down).

And yet all of us were just playing a game — some of us more doggedly than others, that’s all. As long as we didn’t take the game too far, we could function in society. But some of us didn’t want to function in society. Religious extremism like John’s fed such Christians something they needed, something that societal functioning simply couldn’t.

Similarly, today’s evangelicals get something from their posturing that they can’t find elsewhere on better terms. I can’t ever forget that truth when I see them trying to outdo each other with their piety and fervor.

A Game Nobody Can Win.

I’m really glad I met the Seekers. They made me forever wary of going too far with religious stuff. In their example, I saw exactly what might happen if I lost touch completely with reality. And I wanted no part of it. For that matter, the Seekers forever ended any impulse I might have had to play fundagelicals’ endless more-hardcore-than-thou game.

The Seekers were the fruitarians to fundamentalists’ vegans, I eventually realized. We fundamentalists in turn looked down our noses at the merely vegetarian evangelicals of our day. I sensed even then that there were probably Christians even more hardcore than the Seekers — the Breatharians to their fruitarians!

There is always someone more hardcore in wingnut groups. The game can never be fully won, because wingnuts can always push the wackiness-throttle just a little harder.

Their competition keeps them busy, I guess. Still, it amuses me to see them grasping so single-mindedly for the princess tiaras they crave. Imagine what they could accomplish if they could pretend to care about helping the poor and all that other boring stuff Jesus told them to do.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the evangelicals squabbling for table scraps among each other while refusing to play their pretendy game for realsies. Let’s be glad they don’t, but let’s also be aware of exactly why their competition is possible in the first place: Christianity’s lack of support for its own claims.

NEXT UP: An evangelical leader who kinda understands one of his tribe’s most pressing problems — while still insisting that Jesus-ing harder will totes fix it.


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About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)

Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures!

Last note: I don’t know what ultimately happened to John or the Seekers. I can’t even find evidence of their existence today. It’s like they never existed at all. Many, many years ago I tried looking them up online, though. I found a forum of frantic parents trying to find and make contact with young-adult children of theirs who’d joined a nationwide cult with that name. But that forum’s gone now. I hope John’s parents found him and got him home.

See also: Nearly All Christians Are Heretics.

 

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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