Thursday, June 18, 2009

"You Suck" Christianity: A Roundabout Primer

I was a good hour from home. I'd missed my turn, gotten myself lost, and was now stuck in a mess of traffic near the tunnel, unable to pull off. I'm mildly claustrophobic, so traffic jams have never been my thing (not that they're anyone's thing, I guess, but I think I get a little more anxious than what's considered normal). Then, in a display of impeccable timing that seems peculiar to grumpy infants, my daughter began screaming from the back seat. I never have handled her crying very well. Other people seem so calm about babies, seem to be able to pick them up and coo sympathetically while they kvetch and howl. Me, not so much. If I can't fix it, I'm clearly doing something wrong, and I get anxious and panicky. She was my baby, though, and I'd become pretty good at fixing my baby. Usually.

But not tonight. Tonight, she was inconsolable and frantic. And so was I.

My first impulse, even in little things like these, had always been to ask God for help. I would breathe deep, focus my thoughts: "Dear God, please help me thr---"

NO, I stopped myself. No. No more, remember? You can do this.

Right. I can do this.

I can do this.

So I stared ahead at the road, forcing myself to ignore a God who I was sure was growing angrier by the moment. Hardening my heart.

And then it began to creep in at the corners of my mind. The fear. The fear they build into you when they teach you about God, the God of the Bible. That unnamed fear, tightening in the back of my throat: the knowledge of how God humbles those who don't acknowledge, at every turn, their abject dependence on him. I knew about Nebuchadnezzar. I knew about Job. I knew the God of the Bible. I knew he demanded to be first in my life. And I was terrified, because I never had been able to give that to him---no matter how I tried, I always knew in the back of my mind that my husband, my family, my friends all meant more to me. My daughter. And who knew what---or who---God would take from me, and when, just to prove that He was in charge? To bring me to the place where I could admit, dependent and chastened, that He was finally my everything?

He's a jealous God, you know? But it's only because he loves you so much. I wouldn't be so jealous if you weren't such a whore.

I wasn't scared of the situation I was in. I wasn't scared of the fact that I was lost, or stuck, or unable to comfort my baby (though these were all, admittedly, frustrating). No. I was scared of what God would do to me if I didn't immediately turn to Him for help. Even in the smallest of day-to-day trials. See, you don't pray to God to keep you safe from the bad things happening around you. I mean, God's in control of all those things anyway, right? No, you pray to God to keep you safe from God. You don't want to stand out as one of those uppity folks who think they can accomplish anything on their own.

This is why you ask things of God: so that you'll know that everything you have, you've had to ask for. So that you know your place.

And this was why it had to stop.

I can do this.

And you know what? I did. It's probably no surprise to any of you, of course, but it kinda was to me. I made it home just fine, with a peaceful, snoring baby in tow. No car accidents, no house fires, no general smitings. And no prayers. No negotiating with terrorists. A small victory, sure, but a victory all the same.

"All I have is what I give myself."

That line came to me in a dream back around September of last year. In a way, that dream saved me, certainly more than Jesus ever did. When I woke that morning, I understood for the first time that until I saw myself as worth something, nothing outside---not even God---could give me that worth. I was responsible for my own happiness; not God, not anyone else. It was, for the first time, power unto myself. But really, the only reason I got that message is because I was ready to hear it. I would have filtered it out before, because a message like that is antithetical to the idea that all fulfillment comes from God. The self is something to be denied, even despised. I must decrease so that Christ may increase. It's "You Suck" Christianity at its core. And while I was still clinging to a tattered belief in God at that time, I'd pretty much stopped treating my dreams as messages from God, and started thinking of them as messages from me. I guess what that translates to, on some level, is that I'd finally decided that I was worth listening to. That I had something worthwhile to say.

And hey, maybe I don't. But it couldn't hurt to give myself a goddamn chance for once, right?

There's a certain variety of Christian who will insist that God makes himself clearly known in the world around us, and so, anyone who chooses not to be a Christian is deliberately rebellious, rejecting the obvious truth of God out of pure spite. I don't know if I ever really bought into that idea fully---I think it always seemed a little sketchy to me---but I can't remember ever calling bullshit on it either. However, I know there are plenty of people who would probably say the same about me now---many of them old friends. And the annoying thing is that, in my case, they'd be right. See, because I'd been programmed so heavily to accept these things as true, they had become obvious to me. They are the default, even still. And in order to set myself free, I have had to actively reject them. And it's not been easy.

I'm not so sure that evangelical apologetics has much to do with winning new converts at all, now that I think of it. I think it has more to do with keeping present believers in line. Try and think for yourself, and you slam up against all these mental barriers you never knew were installed:

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, says the Lord"

"...but we speak God's wisdom...not in words taught by human wisdom..."

"The heart is deceitful above all things..."

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."

The bottom line? You're not to be trusted. You are not capable of making good decisions, or even thinking for yourself. You suck. But Jesus loves you anyway, in spite of it all, and if you just submit to him completely*---mind, emotions and will---then it'll all be fine.

Anyone else get a creepy abusive boyfriend vibe off any of this? Just me?

Yeah. That's what I thought.

*By the way, when a person calls you to submit to Jesus, they almost always mean "submit to me and my understanding of scripture". Nobody would ever say it so outright, I think, but examine the attitude for more than a moment, and it's pretty clear.

Oh, wait, here. The esteemed Fred Clark of Slacktivist already tackled it (knew I'd remembered reading that somewhere):
It bears repeating here that Marshall Hall's claim of the pre-eminence of scripture is bogus. He claims, as all Unilateralists do, that he is treating the Bible with great respect as the final arbiter of all things. But this is not what he is really doing. What he is really doing is making his interpretation of the Bible the final arbiter of all things. Therefore what he is ultimately arguing is that he, Marshall Hall, is the final arbiter of all things. His assertion, in other words, is not really that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but that he is.