Hi and welcome back! Recently, I ran across a evangelical’s virtue-signaling about deconversion. It reminded me of something important: Evangelicals act like they have the right to judge ex-Christians. But they don’t do it fairly or honestly. They’ve got another agenda at work here. They might pretend that there’s a virtuous excuse for doing almost anything, but not deconversion! Today, let me show you what a virtuous excuse is, and why you’ll find none of them in the evangelical conceptualization of deconversion.
The Virtuous Excuse.
A virtuous excuse is simply an explanation that rectifies a potentially sketchy situation. It makes it okay that you did that thing, whatever it is.
We’re not talking about the give-and-take of relationships here. If you’re close to someone, then obviously sometimes they’ll want to know some context for a decision we’ve made (or will make soon). They may have input on that decision if it impacts their own life at all.
Obviously, we’re also not talking about authority figures with a vested interest in maintaining law and order in some way. Even then, the rules forbid them from asking any questions except those that have bearing on that situation.
No, I’m talking about people who have nothing to do with your decision and who won’t face any personal impact at all from it.
Step very, very carefully around anybody in that last group who actually asks for you to explain yourself about any personal decision you make. They may be asking you to provide them with a virtuous excuse for a decision they don’t like.
If you don’t offer it, then they may decide that they now have permission to mistreat you. By not conforming to their narrative of those who are allowed to transgress their rules, you’ve stepped outside the boundaries of their good estimation.
Why So Many People Feel Obligated to Play This Reindeer Game.
So, so much of toxic behavior weaponizes perfectly normal human social needs.
Humans are social animals. Our evolution, especially in recent (10-12ish?) millennia, occurred along cooperative social lines. As a result, many of us need and seek feedback from others, especially about our important personal decisions.
These facts mean that most people are extremely susceptible to emotional manipulation that takes advantage of these traits.
We want to feel accepted. We want our personal decisions to receive good feedback. And we want this stuff even from people we’re not friendly with, even from strangers online we’ll never meet in all our lives. When someone disapproves of one of our personal decisions, often our immediate impulse (if we don’t yet know about negging, anyway) is to try to change their mind about us.
If we go to other people and directly ask for their input, or if those people are genuinely personally involved in our decision, then that’s different. But what I’m talking about today is people who take it upon themselves to judge our lives. It’s a sign of control — and a potent one at that.
Controlling people manipulate natural human needs and desires. They do it to gain more control over us — to become the judges and arbiters of our lives and thoughts.
The Virtue Signaling of the Virtuous Excuse.
We’ve talked a lot about virtue signaling over the years. (F’rinstance, here, here 2, and here 3.) When someone mischaracterizes and smears people who’ve done whatever unforgivable offense they’ve defined this time, they are virtue signaling.
And oh, authoritarians in particular do love virtue signaling! They direct it at these distinct groups:
To the in-group: I’m a member in good standing of my group. I hold the correct opinion on this topic. As such, I would never do something this awful. WE know better. Our faith is too strong. We’re too prayed-up. We’re too moral and upright. You’ll never be able to follow our rules, ever.
To the out-group: Look how inferior you are to us! Ugh, you’re so immoral and uncouth! You’ll never measure up to us because you’re not in our group. That’s why you’re utterly incapable of following our rules. Membership confers the ability to do that. So if you want to measure up to us, you’ll need to join us and then follow all our rules. You still won’t and we’ll still criticize you on the down-low, but at least you’ll be in the right group then.
To those who left the in-group: You’re never going to be good enough again. You left because you couldn’t hack our rules. Some moral or personal shortcoming must be in you, because look at us — we’re doing it right. Obviously you didn’t.
And to those considering leaving it: If you leave, you will face our fangs and claws without any protection at all. Look at how we treat those who left. That’ll be you, if you ever even mention that you’re considering such a move. We’ll make sure of it. That reason you’re thinking of for your departure? Have we made it clear yet that it’s not valid? Because it is not valid. That other person who offered it discovered that to their own detriment. And so will you.
Many authoritarian groups revolve around very conditional, barely-there pseudo-acceptance. And what there is of even that comes only with obedience. Authoritarians are always on the lookout for heresy in their peers. Any time someone leaves or defies the tribe, their true nature comes screaming to the forefront.
(This is why ex-Christians joke about so-called “Christian love,” by the way.)
Hey. You Never Need to Offer Up ANY Excuses.
In reality, all anyone needs to offer someone outside of their situation — if anything at all — is a simple “I don’t want to talk about this.” “No” is always a complete sentence.
If we’re feeling extra generous, and I mean over-the-top generous here, we can tack on a quick “because I don’t wanna” or “because I want to,” as applicable. Add a hearty “damned well” for good measure. Example: I did this thing because I damned well felt like it.
This truth applies to literally any personal question that uninvolved outsiders could ever care to ask. We are not obligated to explain our personal decisions to anybody for any reason. We do not owe them the emotional work of convincing them that we did the right thing there. All we need is what we already have. We are sufficient as we are here.
And most people are pretty decent. They won’t inquire further, if they did at all.
As my dad often told me, it’s a big complicated world, and we’re all doing the best we can in it with the resources we have right now.
The Weaponized Virtuous Excuse.
Oh, but so many of us think we need to persuade other people that we did the right thing.
“Because” becomes the mating call of someone seeking a virtuous excuse:
“But it’s okay, because…”
“And see, I had to do that, because…”
Usually what follows is a convoluted soup of permission-seeking. The person using it begs: Don’t lump me in with the usual people who do this thing. I’m not like them. What I did was necessary.
And maybe it even was. It doesn’t matter, though.
If the person receiving this soup happens to be pretty decent-hearted, they didn’t need your virtuous excuse to begin with. No matter what’s in this soup, they’ll give you the permission you seek.
But if the person receiving it isn’t, then virtuous excuses won’t matter at all.
Who Demands the Virtuous Excuse.
Terrible people demand virtuous excuses from those they deem unacceptable. They promise — implicitly or explicitly — that they will grant you permission if you can offer them a good enough virtuous excuse.
But they never actually grant the permission they dangle in front of desperate permission-seekers. There’s not a way to win with them. They only see a limited number of virtuous excuses in your situation.
Sometimes, we’ll run across someone insisting things that aren’t true about the people who have done whatever sin they’ve defined that time. These insistences all but cry out for us to offer our reason for having done it. We want to tell them that no, this is why we did it, and this is why it was okay for us to have done it. We want to tell them we don’t fit into their little boxes, that we didn’t at all think the way they’re imagining people think in these situations.
Don’t imagine that you will ever convince them that you did the right thing. You may provide some food for thought to others watching or reading your words. Certainly, you’ll give some relief to those who have done similar things under similar reasoning as you. In these matters, your input is valuable. Just don’t think the people doing all this virtue signaling will change one bit because of it.
If you aren’t giving them one of those few acceptable excuses, then no other excuse can be be virtuous enough to satisfy King Them.
Who Successfully Gives a Virtuous Excuse.
Two different people can use a virtuous excuse around toxic people and get away with it.
First, obviously, those whose situations fit into the exact solution the toxic people want. There aren’t many of those folks, though. Typically, such virtuous excuses don’t actually happen in the wild.
Second, those in power in the demanding person’s tribe. They can offer up any excuse they want and it’ll be accepted. We see this a lot with evangelical leaders who try to blame their own misbehavior on their victims.
But a wide array of people in different situations will try to offer up virtuous excuses. I strongly suspect that the tribe loves shooting them down and declaring their explanations insufficiently virtuous.
However, not every situation even has the capacity for a virtuous excuse.
For instance, evangelicals refuse to allow a single virtuous excuse for deconversion.
The (Absence of the) Virtuous Excuse in the Evangelical Wild.
Check out this gal’s listicle of reasons why people lose faith.
I don’t know exactly what flavor of Christianity she’s bought into, but I can tell you that she’s a very basic, boilerplate evangelical who unironically uses terms like “war room” and “spiritual warfare.” So I’m guessing she’s on the very authoritarian side of a pool that already skews massively authoritarian. The example listicle I linked looks exactly like the ones you find all over her end of the religion, so it’s a good one to examine if you want to know how Christians perceive ex-Christians.
And wow, is that viewpoint ever just a solid wall of awful.
Our sample Christian offers up the usual blahblah accusations about ex-Christians not knowing enough (like she knows) or having done Christianity correctly (like she does). Not one of them actually looks much like anyone’s actual deconversion, and none are very complimentary toward ex-Christians. In fact, all four of this smug, self-congratulatory whited sepulchre’s “reasons” for deconversion are all shortcomings that she feels her religion can easily overcome. She cannot accept a deconversion that follows a faith like her own.
If she ever met an ex-Christian who insisted that their walk of faith looked exactly like her supposedly-deconversion-proof description, she’d likely just accuse us of lying. Somehow, she’d need to fit us into her failure listicle instead. As the multi-level marketing (MLM) hunbots tell people every day, the system works, if you work the system.
I have never yet run across any evangelical providing any valid reason for deconversion. No virtuous excuses exist in their world, and I don’t think ever have. More to the point, such reasons can’t exist in their worldview.
The Bible Blahblah That Is Not Actually Part of Evangelical Abuse of Ex-Christians.
A lot of Christians like to claim that their abuse is Bible-blessed. The Bible, they think, offers them a permission slip to smear ex-Christians. Indeed, our listicle writer is one of those. She writes in her post:
Jesus addressed this in two separate parables that we find the Gospels; and these parables explain exactly what we’re seeing today in Evangelical Christianity.
They illustrate for us clearly how a person who once called themselves a Christ-follower, and possibly even preached the gospel through one medium or another, can suddenly utterly abandon their faith.
And embrace atheism.
The seed of the gospel didn’t fall on good soil – Jesus’ parable of the sower.
Oh okay. Except evangelicals are very happy to ignore the Bible whenever it pleases them. For example, he told them to reject material wealth and love even their enemies as if they were their closest relatives. Evangelicals are very happy to reject every single command he gave them whenever his commands interfere with their desires.
Thus, I refuse to accept this attempt at an excuse. I’d vastly prefer evangelicals just said honestly that they just want to abuse every person who rejects their tribe. But I don’t really care what excuse they offer. What they’re doing is abusive.
And ironically enough, this gal quoted above who cares so very, very much about the Gospels is herself directly violating Jesus’ Greatest Commandment. Oopsie-doodle-boodle!
Why There Exist No Virtuous Excuses Around Deconversion.
Keep in mind that most evangelicals keep a rotating (albeit small) stable of virtuous excuses for their ultimate culture-war trump card of abortion and a similar-but-way-larger stable of virtuous excuses for every other crime they themselves commit.
So this fact ought to tell you something very important about their tribe as a whole:
Deconversion is the worst offense any evangelical could ever offer the tribe. With every other imagined or real-world offense, you’re still playing the game. But with deconversion, you’re walking away from the entire casino. And so it is the worst thing you could ever do in their eyes.
Also, evangelicals view excuses as permission slips. If they allow one person to use it, then everyone uses it. Don’t believe me? Check out the ongoing squabble over whether or not forcible rape should be an allowed excuse for gaining abortion care. Most evangelicals very graciously allow women to exercise their rights in this case. But a lot don’t. I’ve heard a number of evangelicals claim that if rape becomes an allowable reason for abortion, then the number of false rape claims will skyrocket in response.
Similarly, evangelicals allow absolutely no virtuous excuse for leaving because if they did, then people would certainly use it to escape the tribe. They want to close as many escape hatches as they possibly can.
MYOB: Always An Option When Someone Demands Virtuous Excuses.
Along came Jesus walking on the water
Out on the deep blue sea. [. . .]
Jesus helped Peter get back in the boat
Why did you lose faith?
— “Jesus Walks on the Water”
(feel free to discuss this song’s WTF line of reasoning)
Once you give up playing evangelicals’ game, or if you refuse to play it in the first place, then their mistreatment of you becomes a form of retaliation for your refusal to play by their rules. They’re no longer trying to persuade you through abuse. Instead, they’re trying to get some of their own back. This smearing helps authoritarians rebalance their feeling of superiority. It also serves to warn others about what to expect if they likewise reject these piss-poor salespeople.
On that note: I’ve heard from too many ex-Christians who took that lesson well to heart in their religious days for me to think that this warning function is anything but intentional on toxic Christians‘ part.
If you’re going to face mistreatment from these Christians either way, my suggestion is to opt out as quickly as you can. Sure, offer it for the other reasons I’ve noted. It’s still important to offer it. But don’t do it expecting to change their mind at all about ex-Christians. Their self-image absolutely depends on finding your reasoning invalid, and so that’s exactly what will happen no matter what your reasoning is.
(Since more and more evangelicals are figuring out that their beliefs aren’t based in reality, attacking group members for expressing doubt in prohibited ways is a favorite method of virtue signaling.)
Your life decisions are your own business. Remember that you are never, ever obligated to prove to anyone’s satisfaction that your personal decision was a valid one. And remember as well that decent people won’t ever ask you to play this game anyway.
The Only Winning Move With Virtuous Excuses: Not to Play.
If you find yourself in a group that treats people like this, then I gently suggest you find a graceful way out of it as quickly as you can.
Eventually, you will find yourself on the losing end of this game.
Everyone in these groups is scrabbling for as much power as they can cobble together, and that means attacking other group members over anything they can find. If you fall, then they rise. No matter how nice you think its members are or how safe you think you are right now, authoritarian groups can turn on you on a dime and without notice.
The only way you’ll ever win the Virtuous Reasons Horse Race is not to enter it at all.
NEXT UP: Often, our virtuous reasons involve rejecting evangelicals’ sales pitches. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how these inept salespeople try to overcome objections to their evangelism attempts. Then, we’ll check in with that shockingly misogynistic Idaho politician’s latest stunt. See you tomorrow!
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The actual reason why Christians of any stripe deconvert: They find out their beliefs aren’t based in reality. That’s it, really. Disaffiliation — permanently leaving Christian groups — might happen for any number of reasons and not even all deconverted people can do that, so it’s not a part of deconversion. Deconversion involves a loss of belief, and it can happen to literally anybody of any denomination, age, or fervor. All it requires is figuring out that Christian claims aren’t true.