I read this awesome post by the amazing Arkenaten earlier today, and it got me thinking about the loaded terminology that some Christians use. Sometimes things get said that are unclear, but it will have a deeper meaning for people who still actively believe. It’s kind of like a famous wizard using a lot of props to mask what’s really going on behind the curtain.
At issue was whether belief in Young Earth Creationism (read: not science, but it uses science words so fundagelicals can’t tell the difference) was required to get into a good afterlife. Ark’s question was pretty straightforward, and he got a carefully worded, ambiguous reply. Here’s a reproduction of the first part of the reply (absent the silly, superfluous qualifications):
Whether born again through faith in Jesus Christ, or an unbeliever they both need to repent of letting man’s doctrine supersede God’s sure word.
If there isn’t any repentance then it is questionable whether or not one is a genuine believer[.]
Let me translate.
The really short answer to Ark’s question was, “Yes.” However, I had to truncate that second sentence down from a quite longer version. And to be fair, there was a reason why it was long and confusing. The author in question was trying to get away with saying everyone who didn’t agree with her was going to Hell. It’s a very pious way of denouncing other Christians as not being TRUE CHRISTIANS(TM) while being able to maintain a humble veneer.
People who might not be familiar with the subtext-laden jargon of fundy-speak also might not catch such significant statements. They seem fawning and earnest attempts to be polite, when the real meaning of what is said is a verbal shot across the bow. Questioning someone’s belief is nothing short of a spiritual character assassination attempt, and it’s a threat that is grave enough that people in churches have to respond to it.
Such things are what divisions in churches are made of. There are a ton of denominations that exist today because Elder A disagreed with Pastor B over whether or not the Bible said it was okay to fart on the Sabbath. It used to be that the Catholic Church would just burn you alive for disagreeing with Father C. But when Martin Luther got away with questioning authority, A and B could get back to bickering about the color of the unicorn again.
Challenges to belief, then, are serious in that if neither side backs down, we’ll see a huge shift in church doctrine. For Lutherans, the LCMS, WELC, and the ELCA all denounce every other Lutheran grouping of churches in the country as heretical. It’s like being in a rival gang, but without color coordination. And this happens with other churches too.
All of it gets hidden behind polite speech.
Notice there wasn’t an out and out threat of eternal damnation for other Christians that disagreed with the author. Such threats are unseemly for people who are commanded to love their neighbors (but only if they are Christian). One can’t just be a outward jerk to people who swear by a similar line of thinking. No, one must smile while twisting the dagger in another’s back.
I used to see it all the time. It’s why gossip is a HUGE part of Sunday meetings. You get to find out who is in drug rehab. Some people got caught having non-marital sex. Others might have tried to show up at church with a hangover (heh, okay that last one was me). And all of this was just what went on with my friends in the high school Sunday school crowd. The adults had even better stuff going on.
Yes, it would all get tossed around behind everyone’s back. Everyone was in everyone else’s business. People would act so surprised when a secret got out, every time. Divorces would result in politely shaming one spouse until the other left. Children with problems were talked about; mental illness stigma was rampant where I grew up. And all of it is done with cheerful pleading for God to forgive us our sins.
So what should be done about all this nice character assassination for Christ?
I think there’s a value in translating this stuff. It means a lot when one Christian questions another’s beliefs. Atheists can get denounced for not having faith. Other religious people get dismissed as being misguided. But when two people who fight over the same label go at it, some really important stuff drops out.
Even more important is to let those comments stand without interference. I know there is an instinctual urge to drive a point home when it is seized. In legal speak, it’s called “asking one question too many.” Essentially it’s getting a hostile witness to put all the stuff in place to make the conclusion you want…and then ruining it by asking the witness to agree to it. Congratulations, your case is destroyed.
It’s the same deal with this. I see Christian bloggers say all kinds of stuff that will make Christians intellectually question their beliefs. But the second an Atheist comes around to drive that point home, the confirmation bias and years of conditioning come into play.
I suppose what I’m really wanting to say here is that there are plenty of opportunities for people to see that their beliefs aren’t really doing themselves much credit. When dealing with faith, who the statement comes from is often more important than what is being said. There are Christians who advocate for some really batshit things in life. And there are more Christians who will try to hide it in plain sight.
Just tug on that rope, and let them see the wizard in all of his glory.