Christianity is full of harmful lies. That this world is just a “stepping stone” for the next life, that you will see your loved ones after they die, that there is an eternal punishment awaiting those who are sinful — the list goes on and on. But perhaps the most dangerous lie Christianity will tell you is this: “Becoming a Christian makes you a good person.”
Here’s the thing. For all their talk of the “narrow gate” to heaven, for many denominations getting saved is actually the easiest, quickest thing in the world. The more rigorous demands require you to walk up an aisle, perhaps get sprinkled with water. More lenient denominations make it as easy as repeating the Sinner’s Prayer in the comfort of your own home. Easier than ordering Postmates, doing a load of laundry, or taking the dog for a walk.
And then… what happens next?
Many converts to Christianity claim that they have a mystical experience, a supernatural change of heart, and hey presto! they become good people. Not perfect people, perhaps, but “good.” Good on some real, metaphysical level. They have been saved, cleansed, forgiven. Their old sins no longer count against them, and as long as they remain Christian, their next sins are equally expunged.
That we accept this declaration with any kind of credulousness is astonishing to me. If any nonreligious group claimed that their members experienced a fundamental change in their makeup by intoning a few key phrases, it would be considered laughable. That’s the stuff Harry Potter magic is made of — someone waving a wand and yelling “Accio morality!” would be laughed out of the room. And yet the saving grace of asking Jesus into your heart is treated as — pardon the pun — gospel truth.
You may ask: “But if someone wants to believe they are a good person, why dunk on them? Isn’t it a net positive if someone feels they have access to moral guidance?” Well, no, not really, for one simple reason: people don’t change who they are in a single instant, no matter what magic words you say. And even if this were possible, there is no real test, no qualifications, no vetting that determins who really is saved. The door is literally wide open to anyone who walks through. If someone tells you they are a Christian, you are supposed to believe they are a good person until they prove otherwise.
Suddenly, you have people who honestly believe they are “transformed” doing horrible things in the name of God. Or worse, people who are actively using their Christianity as a shield from judgement to perpetrate crimes or immoral actions. And because those in their community believe they are “good,” they go along with it or turn a blind eye. That’s how every bloody crusade since the dawn of time has been justified.
Need a more recent example? Here’s a Reddit thread dedicated to pastors, priests, and preachers who are arrested for various violent crimes. It is updated almost daily (sometimes multiple times per day). Many of these cases deal with serial abuses, gone unnoticed or uncondemned because of their presupposed inherent “goodness.”
Now, these guys might actually be indoctrinated to believe that they are “good” people despite their inexcusable actions, or else they are using their Christianity as a cover. Either way, the only response other Christians offer when faced with news of yet another sexually perverse, exploitative, or downright violent believer is: “Well, they obviously aren’t a true Christian.” But that’s precisely the problem. There is no way to know the “true” Christians from the “not-true” Christians until a damaging line has been crossed and someone is getting arrested. And in most cases, those people getting damaged are other Christians.
This takes its toll in smaller, everyday ways as well. As horny young Christians everywhere can tell you, they are counseled strongly against dating non-Christians. It is considered by many to be “a matter of obedience to God not to pursue a relationship with a non-Christian.” As one article says:
If you’re not a Christian — if you haven’t dealt with God before trying to date — you don’t have a chance of having a truly healthy Christian relationship with someone else.
Meanwhile, when Christians “enter a relationship with Jesus, you’re not simply a ‘better version’ of yourself, you are made absolutely new,” which is good, because “the Spirit of God is the only guarantee that we will have what it takes to love, to confess, to sacrifice, to give and to forgive one another.”
Granted, no one is going to come right out and guarantee that all Christians are going to be problem-free, but we have to look at the implications these kinds of articles make. This sentiment is extremely dangerous for two reasons:
- It implies that non-believers cannot be these things
- It implies that all Christians will be these things
In other words, Christians are magically transformed in ways that others are not. They said the right words and go to church on Sundays, and therefore this is the first criteria you should look for in a partner. Are they a “true” Christian? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself. Will you be able to differentiate between a “true” Christian who is trying their best to overcome personal demons and a “not-true” Christian who is abusing you under the cover of faith? We have no way of knowing! All we know is that they’re better than those intrinsically lesser non-believers without moral compasses or the ability to experience ultimate love. Why? Because they said the magic words and we believe them. Good luck, teens!
This is how abusive relationships are born. This is how abusive marriages are constructed, and how Christian spouses are shamed and berated for wanting to leave abusive partners:
“But they’re such a good Christian! Obviously they’re just struggling with some darkness, but they pray, right? They go to church on Sunday? They’re in a relationship with Jesus, so clearly they’re good. How dare you leave a good, Christian marriage just because of some minor afflictions. The Devil is testing you, don’t let him win. Stay with your Christian spouse, who must love you, because that’s what good, Christian spouses do.”
As one article says regarding Christian women seeking divorce: “This man is God’s man for you. That is an amazing truth. He is God’s choice for you. Yes, he is, no matter how you may wish that you could do it all over again.” As the daughter of a “good Christian man” who taught from the pulpit on Sundays and then went home and beat his wife while screaming Bible verses at her, this sentiment is downright offensive. How dare someone say God wanted that for my mother?
Now, I’m not saying that every abusive Christian relationship would be made null by the adoption of some form of community access control, or that sex trafficking, rape, and child abuse would be purged from the upper echelons of the religious leadership. But it would make a goddamn dent.
What is the first step, then, you might ask. What kind of “test” would you suggest for determining who is a “true” Christian and who is not? I’m not sure what that would look like, and I’m pretty sure when they tried it back in the Middle Ages it resulted in lots of burned witches and heretics torn apart on the rack. But a first step might be: Stop engaging in magical thinking.
If you want to be a follower of Jesus, then fine. Do that, take his example and feed the poor, love your neighbor, tend to the sick. But stop assuming that recited words or sprinkled water or a slog down a church aisle somehow magically changes a person’s innermost self. It doesn’t, and that assumption is actively hurting other Christians every single day.
Good points. I always wondered why, as a Christian, struggling with certain sins never got easier. In other words, why I wasn’t being transformed. It was a type of mental torture I put myself through. On another note, I recently read that lie detecting experts consider someone’s mentioning God or religion during questioning an indicator that they are lying.
Fascinating. I’d be interested in that study/source if you ever come across it again.
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Very insightful. I remember as an older child when I realized how bad things that had happened to me in my early childhood were, my SS teacher told me the story of Abraham letting Sarah be put in Pharaoh’s harem. My teacher declared that Pharaoh never touched her because “God doesn’t let bad things happen to people who are following him”…which meant I deserved the things that had happened to me.
Anyway, as an adult, I think that anyone who can look at the story of Abraham and think “Wow. That’s an example of how we should all act.” has to end up with a religious view that condones being a jerk. The only decent version of Christianity, looks at the story of Abraham and says, “Wow what a messed up story of a loser” and wonders why God still worked with him. In Romans, Paul says it was Abraham’s faith not anything good that he did. So, I think that the only thing that can make us want to be better is realizing that we mess up and wanting to live up to a higher ideal. But thinking we are “righteous” because we are in with our church makes people narcissistic. I mean really what is more arrogant and obnoxious than thinking God is impressed with us? Anyway, just my thoughts….