I don’t think it’s exactly a secret that I’m not a Christian.
I mean, I made my deconversion quite public last year, and have written about it at least twice since. While I didn’t clarify my beliefs at the time, they are now as they were then and had been for some time: I am an agnostic atheist. Basically, while I don’t think it’s possible to know whether there is a divine being of some kind, I don’t believe that there is.
And yet I’m still pretty involved in Christian spheres. The majority of my friends and family are Christians, and the language of Christianity is still very much a language I understand and am able to speak. So when I get texts like the one pictured here…on some level, I get it. I understand why they sent it. (And yes, I’m totally aware of the context but am not addressing it specifically further here, mostly because Dan Fincke has done a pretty marvelous job already.)
Really, though…all I can do is shake my head and wonder.
Who even sent this? How did they get my number? (If it was you, please don’t tell me — I don’t actually want to know.) What were they hoping my response would be? What were they hoping to accomplish?
This text message displays two things that really frustrate me about Christianity: triteness and invasiveness.
Biblical literalism, in varying degrees, is a staple in much of Christianity today. It requires the reader to look at the Bible as the literal words of divinity, something that has the answer to all of life’s problems. It simplifies an otherwise historical culturally rich text for the sole purpose of making it a Magic 8 ball. For the sake of biblical literalism, the words of the Bible are divorced from their historical and literary context and applied directly to the lives of people around them, regardless of what’s going on. It erases the need to get to really know people, to understand the nuances of human interaction or listen to people’s stories. Just apply the Bible to whatever ails you, and you’ll be fine!
This necessarily expresses itself tritely. If you’re not a Christian, of course that’s the root of any problem you have. You just need to get saved. Depressed? “Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God!” Wrestling with the nature of God? “His ways are higher than our ways.” Frustrated or angry or hurt by circumstances in your life? “Rejoice in the Lord always! In everything give thanks!” Your lived experiences don’t actually matter, because all you have to do is read the Bible and do what it says and you’ll be just fine. After all, God said it, I believe it, that settles it. No exceptions.
The things I subject myself to for research. The least you can do is suffer with me.
The triteness of applying Biblical literalism to your everyday life invariably leads to invasivness in the lives of others. After all, God’s word won’t return void — so preach at all times, even if the people you’re preaching to believe differently or express a desire to be left alone. Unbelievers are going to hell, which is awful, so you have to preach the good news! I mean, Jesus said to go into the world and make disciples out of every living creature. No mention of respecting the autonomy of the creatures you’re trying to discipline!
I get it. I really do. I lived it. I believed it.
But what I didn’t get or understand was basic respect — and that’s because the “ungodly” showed me.
Sending a text like this to someone you’re not close to who has talked about her negative experiences with Christianity and made it clear that she’s not a Christian anymore…that’s invasive. It was disrespectful of my time (Come on — midnight? Seriously? I work an 8-5 job!), and disrespectful of my beliefs.
But it’s not about just that text I got Tuesday morning. It’s really not. That text is a small part of an entire way of life within Christianity wherein a Christian feels bound by God to ignore social boundaries in order to deposit nuggets of trite “wisdom” in the laps of people who need so much more (or perhaps so much less) than that.
Being right is more important than loving your neighbor as yourself. And no self-respecting person is going to respond well to that.
When things like this happen, to me or to my friends, I really struggle with how to respond. Part of me says, “You’re not a Christian anymore, so just ignore it. It’s not like it affects you anymore anyway.” But that’s not really true. There are lots of things about Christianity that deeply affected me for over 20 years, and when Christianity also tends to play a role in U.S. politics, it sure as hell affects me.
And the thing is, when I stopped believing in God, I didn’t stop caring about people. I care about the world around me, about making it suck less, about helping make sure that people within my old faith don’t have to have the feelings and fears and experiences I did. I think there’s a lot of value to Christianity, if the toxic parts could be done away with.
The Christians in my life that I deeply appreciate are the Christians who care more about living well and loving others than they do about following a rulebook. They study the Bible, to be sure. But they have open minds while they do so. They recognize the complexity of interpreting the Bible for 21st century application. They recognize the autonomy of the individuals around them and they respect that autonomy. They affirm the dignity of humanity and work to make the world a better place without trying to force their beliefs on anyone. Their faith moves them to act humanely and kindly and lovingly, to fight for justice and comfort the afflicted and rejoice with the joyful, no matter who they are or what they believe. That’s a faith I can support. That’s a faith that does good work. Not the shallow pseudo-intellectual invasive faith of my past.
And that’s why I’m still invested in Christianity, despite having rejected it for myself. It was my entire life for over 20 years, and if I can help my awesome Christian friends make their faith a positive force in the world, I’m going to do it.