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9/03/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Christian significance

By Dave, the WM

My son was enjoying some time in a small city park near our home recently, when a scruffy middle-aged man, accompanied by a singularly obese 40ish woman, walked up and began to preach – at full volume.

My son, IPOD ear buds embedded deeply in each ear canal, watched as others lounging on benches or in the grass, stirred to their feet to seek out a quieter perch.

“The sins of the youth in this nation are stoking the fires of hell,” shouted the evangelist. “Repent and believe the Gospel before the time of reckoning!”

My son, immune to such things from living over half his life under a strict, fundamentalist father, and the other half under a website building apostate, was entertained by the scene. He turned up his IPOD to filter out the noise, smiled pleasantly, and waited to see if there was more than one act in this show.

The righteous monologue continued for another 30 minutes, the guy barely pausing for air. My son eventually decided to leave the lunatic to his rapt congregation of trees, rocks, and empty benches.

The next morning in the local paper, a nearly full page article exclaimed, “Evangelistic Crusade for Christ in North Park. Crusade continues for a week.”

The article went on to interview the “local evangelist and his lovely wife.” Not surprisingly, no one else was quoted in the article.

Now, I happen to know these self-proclaimed "evangelists." Both are on welfare and live in subsidized housing. He is legally blind and she is unemployed. He doesn't drive, but does manage to navigate around town on a three-wheel bicycle, usually down the center of the street, with the text of Psalm 14:1 boldly emblazoned on his silver mesh basket filled with groceries or random objects.

Perhaps this man is an illustration of one of the things that draw people to Christianity. People with limited resources of mind, body, and/or material, are made to feel significant.

I know that my feeling of significance was elevated by Christianity. I felt I was personally loved by the Lord of Creation, for one thing. Then I sought out and took on all kinds of lay leadership roles: teacher, musician, group leader, mentor, street preacher, event organizer, missionary, prison minister, geriatric center minister,... Oh yeah, I felt significant all right. And I didn't have to go to college, learn how to write, understand science, know much about history, have money or good lucks or develop six-pack abs, or do anything else very difficult. The only thing I had to know was the basic Gospel message. After all, the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God, right? And the end of all things is near, with the Rapture right around the corner, right? It would be foolish of me to invest much time or resources into learning anything remotely “secular" or "of this world." And what could be more important than investing in eternity? Anything less than everlasting has got to be insignificant, right?

The need to feel significant and part of something lasting — a basic human longing — finds quick satisfaction chasing the metaphorical carrot offered by Christianity. And in case the Christian's "inner beast" ever tires of plodding along after the elusive promise, there's always that hell-stick to keep the dumb animal on track. Not that there's anything wrong with wanting to feel significant. As I said, it's a basic human longing. It's just that the significance found in Christianity is illusory. People spend hours sitting, reading the Bible, praying for others, talking, and for the most part, doing nothing. Christians fret and fume about “how much good is done by Christians in the world,” but I never hear average Christians telling stories that detail anything they've personally done outside of supporting their immediate social group and occasionally proselytizing.

“Wait a minute! I'm a Christian and I went to Ghana on a missions trip once! We built a couple of houses!”

OK, but why did you do that? Did you do it because you had a deep driving desire to deliver relief to the poor, or was it because going on a trip organized by your church sounded like fun? Someone who really wants to help people might devote long solitary years to studying medicine, and then freely give his or her talent away to diseased etches in Africa, and then maybe even die from the sacrifice. “Dr. Livingston, I presume.” Just in case someone reading didn't know, Livingston wasn't a real Christian.

“I still say that Christians have done more for the world than anyone!”

Really? Do all Christians do great humanitarian things? Do most Christians do great humanitarian things? Is finding a Christian involved in extraordinary self-sacrifice the norm, or is it the exception? Answer honestly. If you ask me, I'd say that the bulk of Christians hide behind their heroes when it comes to actually doing anything significant. What I mean is, Christians satisfy themselves that some other Christians have done great things. Then these same Christians mystically adopt those “accomplishments” as their own. “So-and-so built an orphanage for the children of lepers with his own hands and money -- money he'd earned while cleaning toilets at the ballpark for 10 years. He is a Christian, and I am a Christian, soooo...”

Do Christians get vicarious credit for good works the same way they get vicarious atonement?

Christians obtain a feeling of significance without actually having to do anything except maybe think a pious thought, pronounce a pithy prayer, or peruse one or two pedantic publications while snuggled in a recliner.

So to the Christians, I say “Repent!” Stop congratulating yourselves for how significant you “feel” after blubbering, blabbering and bitching about unbelievers. Make something of your life and actually be significant.

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25 comments:

Jamie said...

Well said. As far as WHY Christians do these things, I think some of them do it out of the compassion they feel for the suffering of the world. I'm hesitant to question the motives of all of those who actually do good, even though I think you are probably more on target than they'd like to think, for the most part.

I think the thing I was most uncomfortable with when I was Christian was the underlying motivtion to "bring people to Christ". It always seemed to me that we were just pretending to be compassionate so that we could get people to join the church(we'd use the phrase 'know Christ' though).

MothandRust said...

I've no thoughts to add but I wanted to say 'bravo' to this. Truly excellent article.

freethinker05 said...

Very good article Dave. Most christians only look out for themselves, and try to get as many brownie points they can from god. Roger...A/A

eris.discordia said...

Excellent! While I have more understanding and patience for the poor and ignorant fundies because they are easily brainwashed, I still don't get how an educated person can keep believing all the lies. You would think that education would at the very least, call into question the improbability of the whole Jesus story as taken literally. A more educated and liberated mind should e able to see that it is some kind of allegory!

Don't you just love IPOD?

Caleb said...

I thought it was shocking when they revealed the ways that Mother Theresa doubted God's existance. I always respected her for her humanitarian sacrifice, but this made me respect her even more. She was obviously doing her good works because she was a selfless person, not because she knew God would reward her for it. I think motive is very important. I remember feeling so good about myself, because of how I used to allow God to use me. I was so annoionted ya know? lol...

twincats said...

Dave said: “Do Christians get vicarious credit for good works the same way they get vicarious atonement?”

Well, you have to admit, to a religion-addled mind, the logic is impeccable!

Aspentroll said...

" Well said. As far as WHY Christians do these things, I think some of them do it out of the compassion they feel for the suffering of the world. I'm hesitant to question the motives of all of those who actually do good, even though I think you are probably more on target than they'd like to think, for the most part."

I think it's interesting that these Christians have such little faith in their
omnipotent god, that they have to get out do his work for them.

They don't seem to get it.

Lorena said...

Wow, WM, this may be your best article yet.

I agree with you. Vicarious is the name of the name in Christian circles.

Christians, at times, feel vicariously rich when volunteering names of wealthy church goers to give their church prestige.

They've never read a history book and go around saying that Darwin became a Christian on his death bed--citing myths heard from the pulpit from a preacher they respect.

Just dressing up on Sundays and having the chance to shake hands with people in a better financial situation makes them feel as if the "Lord" has given them all things.

Looking at most Christians one quickly realizes that the "riches in glory" they claim to have is nothing but a hope, a dream, and an illusion.

Bloviator said...

Awesome, Dave! I love that line about the vicariousness of the whole thing. In that context, the whole idea of redemption "for nothing" has a pretty hollow ring, doesn't it?

I didn't have much experience with fundamentalism (just at the end with a pretty evangelical church -- which is what lead me to apostasy), so my personal experience was with persons who mostly did what their consciences dictated -- in other words, I don't think christianity had anything to do with it, they were just nice, caring people.

That being said, in my last year "of faith", I noticed what seemed like a lot of chest-thumping and self-congratulation about having chosen the 'right path to god' and all that holy spirit nonsense that is so pervasive in evangelical circles. Further, this place was awash in cash from some extremely wealthy folks, but they ended up being the nicest of the bunch. It was the wild-eyed folks who (as mentioned in your article, had lots of baggage and life-issues to overcome) were the most obnoxious and self-assured of their place in heaven. Talk about wish-fulfillment!

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps this man is an illustration of one of the things that draw people to Christianity. People with limited resources of mind, body, and/or material, are made to feel significant."

It's amazing that you came to this conclusion from your profound test model, your self and a self proclaimed evangelist. You have made a basic generlization based on two examples and applied it to millions. Your test model would never hold against any real scientific methods to prove your argument. Admitedly some christians are needy in some form or fashion, but are not all humans needy in some form or fashion as a whole. For example you needed to feel significant so you sought out christianity but to say that all christians feel this way is not really proving your point.

Brock said...

RE: Mother Teresa, Caleb said:

I always respected her for her humanitarian sacrifice, but this made me respect her even more. She was obviously doing her good works because she was a selfless person, not because she knew God would reward her for it.

Good works?? Humanitarian sacrifice?? The old hag was one of the biggest hypocrites/reactionaries of the twentieth century. She collected millions of dollars ostensibly for the poor, and used it to build convents and stump in various countries for anti abortion and anti divorce legislation. Her famous "hospital" in Calcutta was nothing more than a warehouse for the dying, where evangelism was the only activity worth mentioning.
She supported reactionary regimes such as the Duvaliers in Haiti in return for financial support. A great book is Christopher Hitchen's "The Missionary Position" which goes into exhautive details about the sins of mother T.
sorry to go on at such length, but the outpouring of gushing sentimentality that accompanied this latest revelation has been makng me sick

stevie said...

> Just dressing up on Sundays and having the chance to shake hands
> with people in a better financial situation makes them feel as if
> the "Lord" has given them all things.

At the end of my xtian experience I was part of a church which is extremely wealthy and courts its rich members. One ran a "Christian" company in which the employees all seemed to be really poor. No labor unions of course. Oh, did I mention they (well the leaders) are really keen on tithing - something of a biblical blind spot here. What happened to the biblical tradition of the early Christians? Namely selling what they have and holding all things in common. I can find *way* more new testament support for that than the tithes but somehow its never ever preached. Wonder why :-D

I tend to agree with the thrust of the posts above that the really nice folks do nice things because they're nice. Ironically, its the "holy" pursuits that, once you're free of religion, appear most self-serving. The Salvos (Salvation Army) and St Vincent de Paul do a
job ignored by the government and yet I can't find a single evangelical/fundie outfit doing a fraction as much and none if you exclude those which exist for proselytizing or simple
fund-raising. There's a strong inverse correlation there.

Oh, and bravo on the comments above on that old witch Mother Theresa. Hitchens (for all I disagree with him on some points) is spot on here.

Steve

Caleb said...

To Brock,
I guess I'm gonna have to eat crow on this one. I can't refute what you say. I guess I was just basing my thoughts of her on how she was relayed to me when I was a Christian. I shouldn't have posted in ignorance, because i really never have studied her actual works. Basically, I was just trying to make the point that she continued on despite her change of belief in God. The way you put it though, it does seem more twisted than genuine.

AtheistToothFairy said...

Brock said..."Her famous "hospital" in Calcutta was nothing more than a warehouse for the dying, where evangelism was the only activity worth mentioning"
--
Brock,
I was hoping someone would finally get around to Mother Theresa here !!

I read the 'TIMES Magazine' article on her last week.
The article spoke of old letters she had written to catholic priests and such, being found; even though she had requested the letters be destroyed.

In them, she made it known that "god went dark" on her before she started 'helping' dying people.

One thing I found curious was that she said something along the lines... That it was 'too painful for god' to go with her into the horrid area's of those cities.

I didn't know any place could be 'too painful' for the great god, but I guess when you no longer FEEL your god, you have to come up with some EXCUSE to explain his absence towards you.

While reading this article, I wondered if they would divulge the dark side of her actions that you spoke about, but alas, I guess the TIMES wasn't that brave.

I have often asked the question, "When an upcoming pope becomes the new reigning Pope and then finds out he doesn't have a direct hotline to god; that god isn't even going to talk to him, does he just assume it will happen in due time?

I mean, we know there is no god to talk to them, so either they have little voices in their heads telling them what to do, or they hold-on, hoping god will contact them eventually.
I suppose at some point they realize, like Mother Theresa did, that god isn't going to talk to them, but of course, they probably assume god must be talking to others still.

Must be a real downer to think you are the 'king' of such a HUGE church, but are left out of the loop, when it comes to contact with the all-mighty.

So that must mean the current Pope is just 'winging it' when it comes to making church policy, saying it comes from god, but knowing it comes from himself instead.
That is, unless again, there is some little voice in their heads doing the talking and that is one scary idea.



AtheistToothFairy

Steven Bently said...

Very profound article...what better way to make one without any money or education or actual purpose in life by making themselve feel more significant than others by electing oneself holier than others by proselytizing to the listeners intending to make them feel like they are less of a human for not believing the ancient bronze-age ignorant BS.

This is exactly what Saul/Paul had in mind, he knew he was a worthless human being, but how else could he have cheated people out of their money by making them feel like they were inadequate for not believing in his lies.

anony: You have made a basic generlization based on two examples and applied it to millions. Your test model would never hold against any real scientific methods to prove your argument.

But yet your one test model, (jesus) is all the proof millions of people (including yourself) require and by your own statement "Your test model would never hold against any real scientific methods to prove your argument."

checkmate

Poltergoost said...

Anonymous said...
"It's amazing that you came to this conclusion from your profound test model, your self and a self proclaimed evangelist. You have made a basic generlization based on two examples and applied it to millions. Your test model would never hold against any real scientific methods to prove your argument".


Funny you would say that Anonymous.

Because your test model "Jesus" never does hold up to scientific methods to prove your argument. Or any other fundy.

As for the "two exmaples" you claim that were made. You must have not read all of the other stories on here.


As for the story that webmaster posted, sounds like the old guy who was preaching his good news has wayyyy too much time on his hands.

You also mentioned that he and his wife are both on Welfare.

Doesn't the bible say that those who don't work shall not eat?

Alan A said...

Excellent article. The significance thing is perhaps very important to converts, as there's precious little reason to join a religion otherwise... as a believer I did feel 'special' in some way, that God had singled me out as a follower, and I had a palpable sense of value and self-worth. For a while at least. Perhaps that's why so many converts to evangelicalism are teenagers?

THE ACE said...

I agree with all the others, this was an excellent article. Alan A.
commented on why so many teenagers
are influenced by evangelism. Its
because young people are more
vulnerable to a powerful leader
telling them how to live and how to think. The Hitler Youth would be a good example.

As for some Christians being poor
and lower class like the people
the WM mentioned..there are some
like that, but although I'm not a
psychologist, during my years in
the Christian ranks, I noticed how
many born-agains were people who
had strong feelings of inferiority.
These people were often less educated than those around them,
and were desperate to feel superior
to someone, to anyone. Christianity
gave them that "superiority".

Ryan Scott said...

Great post!

Regarding this comment:
"It always seemed to me that we were just pretending to be compassionate so that we could get people to join the church"

That's called The Altruism Trick, and its a way memes spread themselves. Susan Blackmore in The Meme Machine details it extensively. Fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

Poltergoost
Funny you would say that Anonymous.

Because your test model "Jesus" never does hold up to scientific methods to prove your argument. Or any other fundy.

Not sure what you are saying here does not hold up to what. Again if you try to make an argument on limited resource then it would never hold up to scientific method for say.

We all came from ape because there were a few sets of old bones that had a pertruding brow bone. I've seen several hundred people with pertruding brow bone, does that make them more human or more ape?

Again to generalize that all christians are needy based on two examples the experience of the writer and the self proclaimed evangelist and of course his wife. Is an unfounded truth.

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian. I occasionally read this site. While we would probably disagree about theology I just want to say that I found your article to be right on target. Your point, while drawn from one experience yes, coincides with my experiences inside the church.

I too find street preachers to be annoying. I used to be one! Bleh!

Fun tip: ask your Christian friends to describe God to you.
I have noticed that noone ever describes God. They give generalizations but they end up describing themselves.
Jerks think God is a jerk too. Nice people think God is nice, etc.

Rick said...

Jeez, if I believed in god...I'd be a big jerk then!

whateverlolawants said...

I shouldn't even respond to fundie nonsense, but don't you just love how they blame youth for everything? Way to pick on one of the least-powerful sections of society!

Anonymous said...

Back when I was a fundy,I would sing,play and preach on the streets.

I did tis for ME,not the suffering masses.I thought when I finally meet jesus he say well done! Then he would not fling my weak body into a fiery pit for eternity.

freedy

Ribu said...

It's time to kick the fundamentalists out of Christianity. It's addition by subtraction at this point. The Pentecostal/charismatics and the hippie jesus-freak types need to go, also. But the fundies should be made to disassociate first.

Much is made of how stupid and aggressive and backwards and uncultured they are. There's a great opportunity for addition by subtraction here. I'm tempted to feel bad for most of them because I can see them as victims of emotionally manipulative leaders. But the underlying arrogance and lust for self-glory that many of them display, not to mention the lack of general loving kindness and the failure to carry themselves with dignity and visible virtues, combine to eliminate my sympathy for them.

Take away the fundies, and Evangelical Christians take away half the criticisms used against us. The realm of evolution versus creation, and proofs of Christ's historicity and defense of God's actions in the Old Testament are all things we can deal with having to defend. However, the actions of fundies is an unnessary burden we really need to releive ourselves of ASAP. I know Christians, and not only ex-Christians, read this board. What do those of you who are not fundies or hippie-Christians or charismatics think about disassociation within the Evangelical ranks? Basically a purge.