Toxic Christians’ Rationalizations for Dishonesty

Toxic Christians’ Rationalizations for Dishonesty September 19, 2021

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we talked about dishonesty in Christianity — and how pervasive it is. Strangely, Christians all know that they’re not supposed to be dishonest. And yet here we are, dealing with nonstop Christian dishonesty. This situation won’t change, either, thanks to toxic Christians‘ endless rationalizations for their dishonesty. Today, let’s check out some of them out — and see why they completely fail to fix toxic Christians’ credibility problem.

them crooked paths ain't gettin straight anytime soon
(Mark Lawson.) A mighty crooked road in Ireland.

(Today’s topic can apply to any toxic Christians, really, not just evangelicals.)

Rationalizations, Generally.

rationalization is an excuse someone makes for something they’ve done (or left undone). It’s a defense mechanism that allows that person to see this action as justified, rational, or even necessary. However, the action in question isn’t any of those things. Maybe it even violates the actor’s personal code of ethics. Maybe it requires resources that the person doesn’t have or barely has to spare. Whatever the action is, the rationalization makes it okay.

Without the rationalization, the action sits there in the actor’s mind as an accusation of wrongdoing somehow. (And maybe it is very bad, like it was illegal or seriously harmful to others.) So the rationalization sets the balances right again, re-establishing the actor as a good and moral person whose actions make sense and are congruent with their personal beliefs.

If the rationalization is really powerful, it might even make the action sound truly good and moral when it was anything but. In that case, the actor comes out looking way better than before.

And if you know about cognitive dissonance, rationalization helps lessen that state of deep internal conflict between untrue beliefs and reality.

The only real problem might be making other people believe the actor’s rationalizations.

Well, at least it’d be a problem anywhere but in toxic Christianity.

Christians’ Hot Takes About Rationalizations.

In general, all Christians appear to agree that rationalizations aren’t a great thing for them to be doing. I found a wealth of stuff online condemning rationalizations for sin in particular. (Perhaps rationalizations for other stuff, like refusing to exercise, falls under different rules.)

One Christian wrote a huge blog post about rationalizations for sin, which included this definition:

Essentially this is an evasion of fact, an evasion of reality. It is the exercise of that terrible power of the human mind which we call rationalization, the ability to clothe wrong so that it looks right, and evil so that it looks good. [. . .]

We know well how to invent reasons to do what we want to do, and invent equally valid-sounding reasons to avoid what we want to avoid, and all the time make it sound as though there is really nothing we can do about it.

Someone at Sojourners called rationalization “Christianity’s most common and subtle sin.” Then, he used this definition to browbeat readers who weren’t Jesus-ing as hard as King Him thought they should.

A Church of Christ in Texas brings us a post about the rationalizations Christians make about watching Game of Thrones. Their writer decides that rationalizations are “a friend to our conscience but an enemy to our soul,” while also outlining a number of other common ones.

And a guy at the Baylor University Center for Christian Ethics calls out rationalizations as a way for Christians to ease guilt when they aren’t Jesus-ing correctly.

Gosh, it seems like Christians universally understand that rationalizations are both destructive of their credibility and harmful to their very souls.

So why do their toxic brethren still constantly rationalize their hypocrisy?

Rationalizations Told to Save Souls Through Dishonesty.

The first time I brushed against what I knew were rationalizations, it was when I, as a young Pentecostal, realized that my then-husband Biff’s entire testimony was solid lies through and through. It mortified me to hear him tell it. And he just baldfaced lied right on the church stage to the entire huge congregation, with me sitting right up front with the other ministers’ wives!

I mean, I’d always kinda known he wasn’t always strictly ethical or truthful. But I had not ever even imagined he’d lie to a church full of people, nor that the lies would concern his own testimony.

Though I was furious and embarrassed, I held my tongue till after the service. On the way home, I told Biff that if he ever lied again, I’d out him right then and there. He got very upset, but I held my ground.

The excuse he offered — the rationalization — was that a dramatic testimony swayed people like nothing else could. (Back then, this claim held some truth; nowadays, very few people seem to trust a big dramatic testimony.) So he was totally saving souls with his fabricated testimony. Hey, those miracles had totally happened somewhere, to somebody. He was just organizing them around himself to add that personal touch.

Nope. I refused to relent.

As narcissists do, he went behind my back to tell our Pentecostal friends of my threat. They took his side, universally. It would not only not save as many souls for him to tell the truth, but it might cause those who’d already converted based on his testimony to stumble. (Stumbling is Christianese for doubt caused by other people’s actions. Back then, evangelicals cared about that.)

I didn’t care. I held my ground. (“Nothing true needs lies to prop itself up” — I hadn’t yet articulated it, but it was still an operating principle for me from the start.)

And Biff did not lie again — at least around me. That said, he did grumble at any opportunity about my hard-heartedness.

the muscat desert of oman at sunset
(Giorgio Parravicini.) Behold, my fields were barren.

Rationalizations Crafted to Gain Power.

Of course, no post about rationalizations would be complete without examining the swan-dive into decline that evangelicals (one specific type of toxic Christian) took when they decided to tie themselves to whackadoodle right-wing politics. In embracing Donald Trump, in particular, they destroyed whatever shreds of credibility and moral authority they still possessed as a tribe.

Many people — evangelicals, atheists, and everyone around and in between, it seemed — warned the tribe that supporting Donald Trump would blast what was left of their credibility right between the eyes. People warned them that supporting this narcissist, this unhinged megalomaniac in his political aspirations — and even encouraging him in them — would lay bare their true heart, revealing at last that they were just in it for power.

But not one warning made any difference. Trump was their literal new orange calf statue. And they had no shortage of rationalizations about why they were “holding their noses” to vote for him.

Evangelicals were not actually voting for him against their consciences, as Paul Djupe discovered in 2017. In truth, they felt about the same way toward Trump as his non-evangelical voters did. But it’s sure how they tended to describe their position: Gosh, alas, O woe is us! O sorrowful we! We sad and lamentable unfortunates have but one vote to cast, and Hillary Clinton supports abortion so whatcha gonna do!

Like all rationalizations, however, these excuses did not sway anybody outside the tribe. Nobody is cutting them slack for supporting Trump, especially now during the pandemic.

The Reindeer Game of Plausible Deniability.

Toxic Christians play a whole lot of games — alone, in their own tribe, and with greater society. Rationalizations are simply one of those games.

Within their tribe, rationalizations are a well-recognized way to escape censure and blame. Just think about these other standby excuses:

And once these excuses get trotted out, other toxic Christians give space immediately. They’ve been trained. Later, when they themselves must use rationalizations, they can expect the same gracious reaction.

This reindeer game doesn’t play as well with the outside world, though. Normies haven’t learned to give that space: to nod knowingly, to agree in somber tones, to offer to think very hard at the ceiling for the person using the rationalizations.

Why Rationalizations Work So Well for Toxic Christians.

A lot of things tip us off to toxic Christianity being a big ol’ Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game that the players are aware isn’t really real, not really. But we need to be paying special attention to rationalizations in that examination.

Toxic Christians know that there’s no cosmic judge who’ll smite them for not playing the game properly, in good faith, following its rules. They know they can do as they please, and there won’t be any real consequences for it as long as they can spin a good excuse afterward. Their tribemates won’t hold them accountable, and neither will their god.

When they deploy rationalizations in the context of hypocrisy, in particular, they’re sending a very clear beacon light to the rest of us about how they really feel about their religious claims.

Ironic, isn’t it? They often accuse outsiders of rejecting their control-grabs because we just don’t want to be held accountable by their imaginary friend.

But it seems to me like the opposite is true: toxic people hate accountability, and their chosen flavor of Christianity lets them live as free of it as any humans ever could. It’s those rejecting them who have chosen to be truly accountable. If we wanted to be unaccountable to anybody, it’d make more sense to join them!

So yes, we see them. Oh yes.

We see them quite clearly.

NEXT UP: LSP! See you tomorrow!

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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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