Hi and welcome back! Recently, we talked about a threat that Ravi Zacharias made to one of his victims: that if she revealed his hypocrisy, she’d be responsible for “millions of souls” going to Hell. It was a threat I encountered myself when I was Christian. And since leaving the religion, I’ve run into it many times as well. Well, there’s another side to that threat. Today, let me show you the enormous pressure on Christians to evangelize in dishonest ways — because without lying for Jesus, they would feel responsible for the eternal fates of “millions of souls.”
(This post is in no way a condemnation of Ravi Zacharias’ victims. They are blameless. Ravi Zacharias was a predator who weaponized a very common doctrine in evangelicalism: that individual believers can be responsible for the eternal fates of other people. So this topic represents my thoughts on the doctrine itself, not on the specific situation that sparked those thoughts.)
An Imposter in the Church.
When I was Christian, I was well aware that I wasn’t a perfect representative of my religion. It bothered me enormously that I wasn’t. Of course, I did not yet know that I was working with a very imperfect roadmap that could not ever actually take me from Point New Convert to Peak Jesusification. But I didn’t know that.
In short, I felt like an imposter.
The sales pitch is literally too good to be true. Convert to this religion, its salespeople croon, and you’ll have contentment, joy, peace, communion with “the greatest of loves,” freedom, a real live “relationship” with a real live god, meaning in life, understanding of how to really love others at last, and a divinely-crafted purpose handed to you so you don’t even have to wonder about it. What a deal! But wait, there’s more! Sign up now and you also get safety from Hell!
The reality looks so, so different for most adherents of the faith.
As for me, I was not receiving any of the benefits at all that my religion promised converts. Except for occasional small so-called “miracles” and moments of sheer euphoria, I wasn’t getting anything Jesus promised to believers.
If Christianity had been a single person, it should have felt like an imposter!
For years, I tried to deny this reality.
And while I struggled with the sheer cognitive dissonance induced by the promises and the reality, I also struggled to present Christianity in a way that made it look more appealing to potential recruits.
Everyone, Meet Imposter Syndrome.
When I say I felt like an imposter, most folks probably think immediately of imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is the feeling some people get that they do not belong in their group. They feel like they’re not really qualified enough or don’t really know anywhere near enough to deserve whatever they get from their group. Someone made a big mistake in letting them in, or maybe something even worse happened to lead to that joining-up.
Thus, those suffering from imposter syndrome feel like frauds. They live in fear of the group figuring out their unworthiness, which they’re sure will come one day. But in reality, they are actually perfectly qualified and know more than enough to be there. They may even be very highly esteemed and well regarded by everyone in their group. But they still fear.
Imposter syndrome, according to that link up there, happens a lot more often than most folks think: maybe 70% of adults experience it at least once in their lives. If someone’s a perfectionist or high-achieving personality type, it’s a lot more likely.
I bet living an actual lie increases those odds exponentially.
Engaging Halfway With Imposter Syndrome.
It is not hard at all to find Christian resources that deal with imposter syndrome. I had no idea it was such a well-known problem in the religion until today — but the links prove it. In particular, it seems like every major evangelical site out there has dealt with it.
And every one of them deals with it very poorly. But that’s to be expected. As I said, their roadmap is broken and they cannot ever admit that. So evangelical leaders treat imposter syndrome as if their roadmap was absolutely accurate. In other words, they drill down super-hard on Jesus-ing harder.
That’s why the problem isn’t going away and seems only to be growing in urgency, from what I’m seeing. It’s reality-based and can’t be fixed by magical thinking.
However, I found not one source anywhere that discussed how these feelings can seriously impact Christians’ willingness to engage in evangelism or affect how they evangelize. I’ve heard countless Christians and ex-Christians talk about this feeling and how it affected them in these ways. But I’ve never once heard a minister talk about it and an extended search today turned up nothing whatsoever about it.
(If anything, Christian leaders focus on Christians who don’t wanna evangelize because they’re hypocrites. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about Christians who do their best, but know their honest testimonies about what Christianity really brings to their lives don’t represent stellar recommendations to buy their product.)
It’s a problem Christian leaders are only willing to address halfway. They focus only on the tiny bit of it they can handle by exhorting sufferers to just Jesus harder. They’re not about to focus on anything else, because all the rest of it far surpasses the crude tools they possess.
Eternal Guilt for NOT Lying for Jesus.
That’s where I was. I felt like an absolute fraud because none of the benefits that I myself insisted loudly came to Christians were, in fact, present in my own life.
I clung very hard to one last promise: safety from Hell. If not a single other promise was happening for me, I assumed that one, at least, was totally true. What right did I have to complain about the rest of the bill of fare if I had that bit? (I didn’t quite realize it was the only bit that was completely impossible to prove false.)
In a real way, my terror of Hell held my tongue and kept me from living authentically. I was afraid of it for my own sake, but also for others’ sakes. I’d bought into the common evangelical belief that individual believers can be responsible for other people’s salvation — or damnation.
If I just stepped forward in faith, I hoped, maybe Jesus would reward that faith one day and make my distortions into the truth. I dunno, maybe my mark would become a recruit who could Jesus way better than I did — somehow — and achieve those promises. I could not bear the idea of messing that up for someone else through an honest testimony.
So I had to evangelize, I thought. But I couldn’t do it honestly. It was agonizing.
Lying for Jesus for Those “Millions of Souls!”
This mindset results in some truly dark moments of the soul.
As HairyEyedWordBombThrower mentioned the other day, “To assign responsibility without granting authority is madness.” I don’t remember where that came from, but it sums up the whole right-wing Christian mindset around personal evangelism to a tee. All that work out your own salvation with fear and trembling blahblah dissolves like morning mist when authoritarian Christian leaders need to control their errant sheep.
And hooboy, it worked on me! I felt utterly tied up on all sides. I couldn’t be honest about my life because if I ever went there, that might turn someone off to Christianity entirely! If someone didn’t convert because I’d shared my never-ending struggles within Christianity or my growing doubts, and they rejected Christianity forever because of my anti-testimony, then if they died in that state that would be my fault. For, y’know, reasons.
That’s a very unfair burden to place on any person. Even if Hell were real, even if anything about Christianity were based in reality at all, it wouldn’t be okay to blame individual Christians for being honest about their lives.
This mindset encourages only dishonesty.
And Christians lavishly reward dishonesty, while brutally punishing honesty. Yeah, they’re the only ones confused about why there are so many liars-for-Jesus in their ranks.
The Real Reason for All This Lying for Jesus.
The people in broken systems long ago stopped pursuing their own stated goals. Their leaders long ago stopped following their particular groups’ rules in private (and barely do so in public). Instead, leaders pursue their own covert goals — in order to behave the way they prefer in private.
These leaders indoctrinate followers to protect the group and its leaders over and above even their own families and themselves. That’s why their culture allows and even encourages lying for Jesus in this and many other ways. The flocks’ ferocious protectiveness becomes, in turn, another covert goal of the group. Followers benefit only tangentially and indirectly from their protection of their group and its leaders. But it’s enough to keep them doing it.
In reality, the truth of the matter is this:
Any group that needs people to conceal their lived truth is not a group worthy of protection — or even affiliation. If the truth would destroy a potential recruit’s desire to join up, then that is exactly what should happen.
When I finally deconverted, and was thus under no further obligation to protect Christianity from my honesty, it was like a weight had lifted away from me. I am so, so glad to be out of that mess.
NEXT UP: The last part of “Million Souls” — the Christians who try their best to silence any criticisms of their religion and leaders. See you tomorrow!
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(Last thoughts: When I search for the word “fraud” in connection with Christianity, I get loads of returns about fundagelicals’ love affair with Donald Trump. This holds true in DuckDuckGo as well. I have to explicitly exclude “Trump” from those sorts of searches now. Fundagelicals have no idea in the world what this means yet, but we’ll be seeing their frantic hand-waving about further decline in a year or two, no doubt.)