Romanticizing Suffering Part 2

Suffering’s fallout hits men hard.  It’s easier for women to have romantic views of suffering than it is for men.  This is because, while suffering is horrible for either gender, the fallout of suffering hits men particularly bad.  This is because suffering often makes a man a less vocationally successful member of society and there is a lot more stigma for being an unsuccessful man than there is for being an unsuccessful woman.  Men are also expected to be strong and suffering saps strength and often engenders behaviors that in women would be rewarded but in men are seen as weak.  Not that suffering doesn’t hit women hard, it does but in ways that I wouldn’t understand because I’m not a woman.

Suffering hits Christianity at its weakest line of defense.  The problem of evil might not be the biggest problem religious people have to grapple with but it is one of the most existential and a problem everyone has grappled with.  People running the faith made a calculation and decided the best defense is a good offense.  So they turned the tables and called pain good.  This works because generally the people who experience the least pain hold the most power.  And those people drive the narrative.

See: Romanticizing Suffering

 

Unexpected Evangelism Roadblocks

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People trying to get millennials into or back to the faith have their work cut out for them.  Sometimes for reasons they don’t expect:

Psychotropic medications have done a better job at giving us hope, strength, and peace than our experience of God has.  Anti anxiety drugs like Ativan and Xanax give us peace.  Antidepressants like Prozac give us strength and hope.  Antipsychotics like Zyprexa and Seroquel keep demons at bay.  Experience with mental illness and mental illness treatment instills a kind of kinetic materialism; for those of us inside of it it’s difficult to believe we are any more than our brain (keep in mind as many as one in four millennials have a mental illness).  Add to that a lot of us don’t trust our minds and are pretty metacognitive.  This allows us to see the “man behind the curtain” in our supposedly spiritual experiences.

Screen time and isolation have meant that social skills have atrophied.  The same social skills needed to interact with people are ones needed to interact with God.  People without social skills such as those on the autistic spectrum have much higher rates of non religiosity than the general population.  On a more practical level group cohesion is a prerequisite for spreading and nurturing religiosity and in populations with impaired social skills this is a more difficult thing to achieve.

We trust God the way we trust a person.  We keep a stiff upper lip and tell people we don’t need God but deeper down we need him too much.  We took God up on his promises of hope and sustenance because we didn’t have anything to hope for in this world (no career, no stable relationships, no house).  However, when nothing materialized we fell away, but it was because we were often so close to the edge we couldn’t afford to give cart blanch and unlimited second chances to those who didn’t come through.  Rejecting those who don’t come through is a sign of respect (for their word) and we’d expect the same if the situation was reversed and we didn’t come through for them.  This applies to all relationships including our relationship with God.

Meekness is seen as weakness and selected against, even in Christian circles.  We are steeped in culture where people do the most self serving thing and the only way to preempt this is to overpower them.  We’ll do things for nothing like working for free at an internship to get our foot in the door for jobs but we are well aware virtue is weakness.  Then you have women complaining Christian guys are “too nice” and people who care about the state of the world being denigrated as “social justice warriors”.  The only situations where one can be both virtuous and strong is when there are a critical mass of virtuous people around them.  For example at a job which is OK with and supportive of a person having a mental illness.  Or a church where people are actually helping each other.  It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma where if both parties cooperate, there is a good outcome, and if both parties defect, there is a good outcome, but the party who defects always has the upper hand so naturally everyone ends up defecting.

Our definition of truth is often reactionary; a reaction against the way we’ve been lied to.  How we are lied to has informed how we reckon truth.  We have been marketed to and fed B.S. basically from the cradle.  We push against this.  Some of us turn into empiricists, if something is put forth and the evidence says otherwise, then we trust what the evidence points to (when we were 3 we saw that McDonald’s burgers didn’t look like what they did in the commercials).  Others of us come to the conclusion that since we’ve been swimming in a sea of lies for so long, there mustn’t be any truth at all.  Some of us even want to be lied to because we no longer see the truth as a safe space.  What doesn’t usually end up happening is any of us seeing any beauty at all in truth.

Shame has supplanted guilt as the primary corrective force in society.  Religion is largely powered by guilt but modern culture is more powered by shame.  Boomers can’t fathom why a lot of us don’t feel guilt for sleeping around but get worked up over still having a flip phone.  The moral dynamic has changed under their noses.  Shame drives everything partly as an artifact of consumerism (you got shamed into buying things, not guilted into buying them).  Part of the culture’s power is it’s just so potent and pervasive that the shame of resisting it crowds out any guilt we might have felt over what we were going to do.  With guilt there is the possibility of absolution, with shame absolution is a farce.  This makes the gospel, largely a cycle of guilt and absolution, seem strange to us.  We don’t feel guilty and we know we will never be forgiven for the shameful things we do (that is part of what made the Bart Simpson permanent record folder joke so funny).

We often don’t have (and often don’t want) a car.  It’s true one can get rides initially for church functions but as people have become more atomized it’s gotten harder finding people who will give consistent rides places.  Public transportation runs the least on Sundays and even then many churches are in the nicer parts of the suburbs where there is none.

The thought of living forever (even in heaven) creeps a lot of us out.  We’ve been taught not to trust bliss.  Bliss could be bipolar mania or a trip on meth.  Either way there will be consequences.  Eventually the heat death of the universe will happen and there will be nothing again.  We are at peace with the prospect of eventually not existing.

Things that I say that offend Christians part 3

radiation

There is an “uncanny valley” of prayer where Christians do less for people than their secular counterparts.  The term uncanny valley is a term for computer graphics that refers to how 3D rendered faces that are almost like human faces look like dead people which is why computer generated movies like Up use stylized faces instead.  People prayer shaming have a point because a lot of times at a certain level prayer becomes a stand in for action.  A Christian who is really pious and prays fervently for something is likely to be primed to do something besides praying.  An atheist who sees prayer as worthless will do something or nothing.  But a Christian in the middle might use prayer as a convenience the same way someone will send an e-mail instead of writing a letter.

Service as an outcast (in the group doing the serving) is much worse than not serving at all.  There is little more disheartening than trying to be love while not being shown any love by your compatriots. In this context it’s almost impossible for one not believe they are just being exploited like a paper plate, used and ready to be discarded.  Eudemonic pleasure generally needs to be enjoyed communally or it’s not enjoyed at all.  We are used to hedonic pleasure which is often enjoyed alone and sometimes we assume the other kind of pleasure can be enjoyed this way too.

Encouraging people to overshare is a form of entrapment.  Being vulnerable and “Scary Close” is all the rage in Christian circles.  What people don’t realize is for those of us with mental illnesses sharing is tantamount to outing and we could lose our jobs if our employer found out about our diagnosis.  Not letting one’s guard down often makes one come across as cold and uninviting but for some of us it’s a matter of survival.

Life is tragic and the silver lining rarely justifies the cloud.  The happy, successful people always control the discourse in this day and age, especially in Christian circles.  The senseless suffering and chaos of life gets swept under the rug and people are shamed and ostracized for their suffering when it doesn’t fit some neat little mold, when one can’t cobble together some kind of “redemption” story out of it.  Often these redemption stories don’t serve so much as a way God supposedly worked as much as defanging suffering in order make those who suffer less (who generally hold more power) feel comfortable.

Christians treat you on the basis of what prayers you prayed that already worked, not the ones that are going to work.  If Christians truly prayed in faith they would have to believe their prayers were going to work and treat you as if those prayers had been answered.  For example, they would have to treat you the way they’d treat someone who already had a job even if you didn’t have one (but they were praying for you to get one).  When Christians encounter people with disabilities it kind of crashes their system because the stench of unanswered prayer precedes those with disabilities.  They have to compartmentalize, now they are confronted with opportunities to pray prayers that obviously won’t work.  It stops them in their tracks.

Poor people are less welcome in the church than they used to be.  As income inequality has increased the people at the bottom (particularly poor whites) have largely been left behind by the church.  Part of this is structural as going to a church generally requires having a reliable automobile which many lower class people do not possess.  The other part is the inroads the prosperity and progress gospel (teaching that doesn’t promise wealth but tacitly expects it to come in time) has made into the church.  The church crows about diversity while neglecting to realize if they tried to attack it via the class end they could make much more of an impact (and help poor whites like myself as well).  But attacking it from this angle requires much more sacrifice from the administration and laity.

It’s ridiculous for the church lionize and organize everything around the nuclear family when the nuclear family has been in melt down for tens of years.  The day and age of the self-sufficient single family unit is long gone (if it ever really existed).  This might be a hidden reason millennials are leaving the church in droves.  We’re sick of being treated like a half of person because we’re single.  We’re sick of being shamed for not reaching all the markers of adulthood (owning a car, owning a home, getting married, having a high paying full time job, etc..).  We are more needy and often form relationships that ask more of people than what those in the shallow Christian culture can provide.

Love’s presence (and it’s absence) is conspicuous.  Sometimes those of us (especially those of us with more education), underestimate people’s powers of perception.  We millennials were born into a world where we were basically being sold something since the cradle.  You can’t pull a fast one on us.  So stop trying.

See also: Part 2, Part 1

group cohesion

I think religion was made for a society where group cohesion was of utmost importance.  This can be most perfectly seen in having to think the right things to end up in heaven.  Group cohesion was how things got done.  You couldn’t build a castle without a lot of willing, obedient subjects.  In this day and age group cohesion is achieved more by technology (such as firearmed policing/military and burglar alarms).  The things we desperately need now mostly are scientific breakthroughs for things like clean energy, medicine, and social science.  These things come about through people who ask questions, even questions they are not supposed to ask (the discipline of scientific thinking tends to make people less religious).  People wring their hands over millennials’ exodus from religion but they have internalized the idea that human progress now comes about by people thinking for themselves, not applying what they’re told to think.

Disability and Prayer

I see this Republican disability cut thing as Christian hatred of unanswered prayer. They can’t resent God directly so they do so vicariously through individuals with disabilities (who definitely are flesh and blood manifestations of a “prayers don’t work” zone). Of course they cover it up claiming they are trying to go after those scamming the system (which there are many) which would make sense if their policy was to aggressively go after these people instead of across the board cuts.

So I say Christians, stop using the lest among us (people with disabilities) as a proxy to take out your resentments on your deity’s inaction. If you have an issue with God not answering prayer, take it up directly with him.

I know I’m culpable for the prayers I send up that don’t work.   For example, when I applied for a job at a Christian organization and they turned me down on account of the gaps on my resume.  You can bet your bottom dollar if I could have gotten my prayers to work I’d have been working almost all that time.  Another example of when prayer works, God gets credit and when prayer doesn’t, the person gets blamed.

Millennials Are Different, The Church Should Listen

I am a millennial who has left the church (and indeed felt very unwelcome in it when I was there).  Things have changed and the older generation doesn’t like what they see so instead of trying to adapt they double down on what worked for them.

Sex has largely become decoupled from love.  This is particularly true for members of the lower classes.  The Ideal MarriageTM that the church holds up as the gold standard for making one’s way in the world just isn’t available to most of us, and those of us who it isn’t available for are sick of being shamed, guilted, and excluded from participation in the church because of it (there’s actually a Christena Cleveland article about this).  Men without money can’t afford marriage and men with money are afraid of losing their assets in a divorce.  Life is more difficult for us mentally (one in four of us have a mental illness) and vocationally and yet our culture has primed us with all these unrealistic expectations (having a good marriage being one of them).  All of this puts strain on relationships which often do not survive.  What we do to cope is lean more heavily in our platonic relationships.  Nobody believes the person they had a hookup with last weekend loves them—we are closer to siblings, pets, friends of both genders, parents, and sometimes other adults.  The conflation of sex and love the church drills into people actually has funny effects in the wider culture to the point where they think it can work in reverse, ie. some people believe they can make someone love them if one sleep with them (so much so that people call having sex “making love”).

Student debt is keeping us from full participation in the church.   A lot of vocations expect one to be debt free before being admitted to.  This may have been prudent in the past when a lot of debt might have signaled poor judgement but in this day and age when one can be saddled with 60k+ of debt just by going to college these policies should change.  It also keeps us from achieving markers of adulthood like home ownership which Christian culture even more than secular culture shames us for.

Religion’s trump card (playing to one’s emotions) doesn’t work as well as it once did because we are emotionally oversaturated.  Between all the screens we look at where everything is competing to hit us in the feels, plus events like rock concerts and sports games, there’s an open market on playing to our emotions.  A lot of us spend a large portion of our time taking in one-to-many communication (reading, watching, and listening to things online and other places).  The church to us just becomes another place where people trying to sell us something will try to pull the emotional levers in our brains.  A lot of us with mental illness actually don’t have a good relationship with our emotions and psychotropic medications can numb us.  We trust our brains, not our hearts because we’re inured to the emotional slings and arrows coming from all our directions.  This leads to rational, deconstructive thinking that looks at religion’s statements as a series of falsifiable empirical claims.  When looked at this way a lot of the Bible and claims Christians make about what the faith offers look ridiculous, particularly for people on the margins like those who are on the autistic spectrum who value things logically checking out verses agreeing with the in group.  For a lot of our demographic you should have the alter call be asking Jesus into our brains, not our hearts.  But this doesn’t work because the emotional component of religion is what sustains it.

We don’t respect boomers.  We blame you (rightly or wrongly) for the world you left us with.  Even though you personally may not have done anything, as a demographic you supported politicians and systems that ran this country and planet into the ground (for us anyway).  The prosperity gospel was you guys.  There were already parts of the Old Testament that conflated wealth with virtue but you made most churches an existential outworking of this, even ones that didn’t explicitly preach prosperity.  Boomers still hold the reigns of the church and most of you still support the church’s ill treatment of LGBT individuals even though science has shown sexual orientation not to be something to be “fixed” or suppressed.  Marriage was your sacred cow and that might be why you fought so hard to keep gays from having equal footing in the institution.  The sad thing is boomers aren’t as bad as our generation makes them out to be, it’s just (like any demographic) the worst of you hold the most power.

See also:  Internet and Faith  Part 1, Part 2

Talking Points

What I like to say to everyone that parrots all the talking points of the Christian and therapeutic world.  Participate in the delusions you perpetuate.  If you believe a person has innate worth treat the people lower than you like humans instead of making excuses as to why you won’t engage them.  If you have a romantic view of suffering, don’t drop out of or stay away from the lives of people who have suffered (treat them the way you’d treat people who other good things happened to like hitting the powerball).  If you believe in prayer, trust in its power.  That means if you were praying for someone to be healed you have to treat them as if they were already healed (as you’d be expected to assuming you were praying in faith).

Chances are, when you start actually thinking critically about these things, you’ll realize that these ideas you got from the faith and the therapist were nothing more than talking points all along.  They have nothing to do with the way reality actually functions.

bitterness guilting

There is a lot of bitterness-guilting that goes on in Christianity.  If you suffer and aren’t serene and forgiving and jumping for joy about it you are guilted for being bitter.  This is a sibling of the whole romanticizing of suffering thing.  But most of bitterness is an emotion.  A lot of people who are bitter (including myself) had made serious attempts to forgive all those that harmed us and often make headway.  Forgiveness is an act of will but often that doesn’t change the emotional component at all (in fact it often worsens it).  So our bitterness remains but it’s largely an emotion.  And there’s the rub, in bitterness-guilting one is implying that one is culpable for their emotions.  As if one could snap their fingers and change their emotions!

mental health treatments with extravagant promises

There’s a really easy way to tell whether a mental health treatment is likely effective.  If, when the treatment fails, the person gets blamed then the treatment’s effectiveness should be seriously called into question.  For example religion often makes all these extravagant promises and then when they don’t come to fruition the person shoulders the blame for not “having enough faith”.  Same with faith-based recovery group, if you fail you aren’t “letting go and letting God/working the steps” well enough.  Non religious treatments do this too, like the “power of positive thinking” pop psychology, if the person isn’t recovering it’s because they just aren’t thinking enough positive thoughts.

Underlying all of this is the fact that all the effective treatments for mental illness are expensive.  Most people without money or who grew up without money will refer people to the religion or pop psychology based treatments because they can’t afford anything else.  They’ll refer people with mental health problems to pastors (who have no training dealing with the mentally ill) instead of trained mental health professionals.  They generally don’t do this out of spite but out of ignorance.  Religion and faith-based recovery group’s extravagant promises of recovery tend to hook people in the same way those “Down Payment Fairy” ads get poor people to buy homes they can’t afford.

Critical Thinking

I think critical thinking is an act of love.  It is not seen as one in the church because this same thinking can lead one away from the faith or at the very least make one stand up to figures of authority.  But there are so many contexts where critical thinking is desperately needed.  If you are doing a water project in Africa and the engineering or follow-up planning is wrong, it will fail no matter how much good intention, prayer, etc.. put into it.

There is a beautification of intuition in the church (as it came to one “off the cuff” it must have been from the Holy Spirit).  There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just when this way of divining what should be done becomes the primary way it shuts out often-wiser conclusions formed through critical thinking.

More often than not, solutions employed after using critical thinking involve taking actions that take more perspectives into account.   This makes it the preferred medium for taking into account disadvantaged minorities.