Hi and welcome back! The other day, I accidentally tapped an advertiser’s link and ended up at some Christian guy’s blog post. And wow, what a ride that was! His post made me remember how incredibly easy it is to fake sincerity in Christianity. Christians can’t discern real sincerity from the many fakers in their midst, and that’s a serious dealbreaker for me.
Once You Can Fake Sincerity, You’ve Got It Made.
I looked around to see if I could spot the person who came up with this subtitle’s phrase, “once you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made,” but I couldn’t. I suspect it’s a very old saying.
In a lot of ways, “fake it till you make it” works okay. In business, faking optimism about a project helps win backers for it. Early on, schoolchildren learn to fake good cheer even if they’re not feeling it, and sometimes this fakery succeeds in bringing up their mood. Seriously, there are studies about this.
I’m not sure that we can fake sincerity of belief, though, and achieve the real deal. At most, we might trick ourselves for a little while. The trickery might last until the next jolt of euphoria, which induces faith again for a bit.
But ultimately, fake sincerity is an expression of inauthenticity. And humans don’t work with inauthenticity very well, at least not for long.
The Importance of Authenticity.
When we talk about authentic behavior, we mean behavior that lines up with how we feel and what we really think about something.
For example, if we don’t believe prayer accomplishes anything, when someone tries to pray for us we might feel distinctly uncomfortable. An authentic response might involve rejecting the prayer and stating our discomfort with the attempt. It would likely, for that person, feel uncomfortable to pretend to be okay with the prayer, or worse even than that, to pretend to pray as well to avoid causing trouble.
Psychology Today tells us that authenticity is important to most people:
Authenticity is conceptualized as a trait-like tendency to be true to oneself and to behave in line with one’s own beliefs and values. Research suggests that authenticity is vital to psychological well-being and is believed to be at the very essence of healthy functioning. For instance, authenticity is positively related to vitality, self-esteem, and positive affect, while negatively related to depression, anxiety, and stress. As such, authenticity is deemed to be a protective factor against mental illness.
Sounds about right.
Authenticity in Christianity.
Many ex-Christians go through a phase where we struggle to present ourselves as still believing. That struggle can be purely agonizing. After all, most of us got taught early on that honesty and authenticity are important. And yet here we are pretending to believe.
We go through the motions. We plaster a fake happy-happy-joy-joy Jesus smile on our faces, even as we rage and wither inside.
I couldn’t keep doing it. Authenticity demanded that I cut loose from Christianity once I stopped believing. Many other people make the same decision every day, nowadays.
But what of the people who struggle and never cut loose?
Oh, don’t worry. Though their internal turmoil will continue to agonize them, it’s super-easy to fake sincerity in Christianity.
Fake Sincerity as a Professional Quality.
The blog post that caught my attention comes from some weird evangelical dude called Shane Idleman. He’s a pastor at Westside Christian Fellowship, a basic boilerplate fundagelical church in Southern California. It has possibly the biggest flotilla of staffers of any church I’ve ever seen.
I’m 99% sure Shane Idleman was one of the guys in that reprehensible fundie video about abortion that circulated years ago. We talked about it here. In that video, he’s quite possibly the creepy bald guy who mugs sorrowfully at the camera and mournfully announces that he got an abortion. Seriously. It’s a video full of gross evangelical guys claiming that they all got abortions because that’s how they describe not forcing their girlfriends to gestate an unwanted pregnancy.
Well, if that’s him, then he’s back and looking for attention, I guess. His blog post was part of some Christian advertisement that popped at my tablet in just the right place for me to tap it by accident. So I read it.
And it is all about some other evangelical guy who went through a long period of fake sincerity, and how King Shane thinks he should have dealt with his struggle.
Possibly the Most Creeptastic Christian Blog Post I’ve Ever Read.
Y’all, I’ve read a lot of super-creepy Christian blog posts. In them, any number of super-creepy Christian guys carry on with a perfect lack of self-awareness about how they come off in their writing.
This one wins, hands down forever, the Creep Contest in Christianity.
Shane Idleman decided to describe fake sincerity in terms of loaded and unloaded guns and handcuffs.
I am absolutely not kidding. Here is the post, which he decided to title “Handcuffed Emotions–Straight as a Gun Barrel but Just as Empty.”
God Put a Round in Oswald’s Chamber
Oswald Chambers, regarding the time before he received a mighty downpour of the Spirit, admitted, “God used me during those years . . . but I had no conscious communion with Him. The Bible was the dullest, most uninteresting book in existence.” Oswald was straight as a gun barrel but just as empty. A few years later he wrote, “If the four previous years had been hell on earth, these five years have truly been heaven on earth. Glory be to God, the last aching abyss of the human heart is filled to overflowing with the love of God.” God put a round in Oswald’s chamber and pulled the trigger. Heaven was rent; the downpour came to his parched soul.
His next subsection is titled, “Don’t Handcuff My Emotions.”
To say I’m aghast would be a drastic understatement.
But once I got past the violent imagery, I noticed how Shane Idleman described fake sincerity — apparently without even realizing what he was revealing.
Oswald Chambers and the Empty Gun Barrel.
In Shane Idleman’s essay, he describes a fellow named Oswald Chambers. Chambers was a Baptist preacher who died in 1917. He wrote a devotional called My Utmost for His Highest, which Christians still admire today.
And Chambers apparently went through a period of what Christians would call spiritual drought. It’s hard to say when this period occurred, since Chambers was literally involved with Christian ministry from his teens and never seemed to take any kind of break from it. I suspect it ended in 1907, which is when he encountered the Pentecostal Holiness movement.
If I’m right, then it was during this period of drought that the founder of the Pentecostal League of Prayer called him “a new speaker of exceptional power.”
Whenever it occurred and ended, nobody noticed during these four years that Chambers felt so unutterably empty and disconnected from his god. Nobody.
He kept it all to himself. His outward shows of sincerity, as fake as they were, were more than enough for his audiences to believe he was the real deal.
The Sheer Ease of Fake Sincerity.
I’ve written before about the purely transactional nature of Christian culture. Their groups tend to use a variety of surface-level transactions as substitutes for real engagement with each other. And that’s great — for people who struggle to interact with other people. Transactional rules step in to replace genuine socialization. Nobody has any idea how to discern anyone else’s true feelings, nor any desire to try.
However, the surface-level and transactional nature of Christian interaction means that it is super-duper-mega easy to fake sincerity in anything. Learn a few rote expressions, and train your face to Jesus smile or squinch your eyebrows together sorrowfully in response to canned statements, and you’ll fit in very well in any Christian group.
The more right-wing and conservative the group, the more transactional and surface-level their interaction becomes.
I used to wonder why Pentecostalism seemed to draw to itself so many drastically-undersocialized people (read: people even worse at speaking People than I was). And this is why.
So it’s very easy to fake sincerity of belief in these groups.
Sidebar: This Might Help.
A scene from Conan the Barbarian (1982). Wrong answer, Conan!
What Christians really need is a trick question of some kind, like the cultists of Thulsa Doom had in Conan the Barbarian. Can’t answer it? You don’t get to sit up front.
Incidentally and entirely off-topic, I still think Conan should have said “emptiness,” since the whole cult seems focused on that quality. I still think that’s how they caught him so easily in that scene. Dude’s supposed to be this super-educated and resourceful barbarian, so you’d kinda think he’d have noticed.
Yes, I’m still this passionate about a movie that will turn 40 next year.
Prayers That Bounce Off the Ceiling.
Back to topic: Christians have a lot of ways of describing spiritual drought. My favorite comes from Pentecostalism: my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. Like we visualized our prayers as zapping up to Heaven — and Jesus — like laser bolts from our minds. But when we felt disconnected, the laser bolts couldn’t penetrate the ceiling.
I see this metaphor all over the place online, so it’s still a popular way to describe that feeling of disconnection. But as with doubt, Christian groups get very antsy around people who express disconnection for too long. You see, they have a few tribe-approved suggestions they push as cures for disconnection, as they do for doubt. And when those suggestions fail to work, again as they fail with doubt, then the tribe tends to turn on the person expressing the off-limits feeling.
That’s exactly what Shane Idleman is doing in his essay. He’s got his personal pet curatives for disconnected feelings, which he’s sure would have totes cured poor Oswald Chambers in his years of disconnection. Don’t be like Oswald Chambers, he warns. If you Jesus as I command, then you won’t face such emptiness.
And when none of that works, believers often decide just to fake sincerity instead.
The Tribe Can’t Tell Fake Sincerity From Real Sincerity.
Luckily for those hapless struggling believers, it’s not only very easy to fake sincerity in Christianity, but their fellow Christians won’t ever catch on to the ruse. They’ll see the surface-level expressions of faith the struggler makes, and that’ll be more than enough for them to consider that person just as ship-shape as they pretend they are.
In fact, other struggling Christians will see that show of fake sincerity and feel awful, because they think they’re the only ones who struggle.
Imagine a church full of empty, disconnected Christians all pretending to be full of Jesus Power, all certain that they are the only person feeling as awful as they do. That is the reality, though. They never once consider that maybe, just maybe, everyone else is faking just like they are.
When someone deconverts, it’s usually after a long period of exactly that kind of struggle. And the tribe is shocked: they thought that person was doing great.
Christians’ Inability to Discern Fake Sincerity from the Real Deal is a Problem.
Many times, Christians accuse ex-Christians of having been fake Christians all along, of never having truly believed. But they sure never accuse anybody of that while they’re still pretending to be just fine. They are perfectly content with pretenses.
As long as we pretend to be firm and fervent Christians who believe the same package of nonsense these judges believe (and we don’t get caught doing anything they judge as 100% out of bounds), then they count us among the truest of all TRUE CHRISTIANS™ — like themselves.
The accusations only flow after we disaffiliate.
The problem extends far past sincerity of belief, of course. Christians have demonstrated many times that they can’t ever perceive serious red flags, either. They routinely allow the worst predators and perverts into their leadership ranks. And then, they get all Surprised Pikachu when those people abuse the flocks.
It should truly bother Christians that they are so completely incapable of discerning anything true and real about their fellow Christians.
But it doesn’t.
Why Doesn’t Jesus Help Christians Discern Fake Sincerity?
Christians believe that a real live god exists, that this god lives inside of them, and that he helps them through their lives. But they routinely fail every single test we could ever devise of these claims. Most especially, they fail to display the discernment we’d expect them to have if a real live god was influencing their thoughts and behavior.
If they can’t even tell someone is faking sincerity around them, that tells me something very important:
No gods are helping Christians do anything. It’s all just them. Thus, any euphoria any of them experience comes solely from themselves and their environment. Emptiness is something I’d expect them to feel some if not most of the time, since they’re not pushing themselves into that euphoric state all the time.
How Christians respond to these facts has come to mean a lot more to me than the facts themselves ever could.
NEXT UP: Examining Christians’ pet cures for feeling empty and disconnected from their god.
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