An example of how the Christian meme can mess up your thinking.

I was tooling around on Elwed’s blog where he was commenting on a Christian blogger by the name of John Bartlett who was ruminating on an atheist bumper sticker he had seen the other day:

“Proud to be an Atheist”

..was printed on the bumper sticker I followed for several stop lights a few weeks ago. It was on a pick-up truck driven by a man in his mid-30’s. I guess it shouldn’t shock me, but yep… it shocks me that someone could believe there was no God. As I followed his truck on my way home from work I just prayed for him. I didn’t know what else to do (although I did think about getting into a wreck with him so that I could try and work God into the ensuing conversation). I wanted to talk to him to see if I could reason with him.

If only he knew what I and so many others know to be true.

I feel such a passion for this. I’m totally serious here… I was actually trying to figure out how I could talk to this guy! If I didn’t think he’d punch me for wrecking his truck I probably would’ve done it!

That’s some pretty bad gotta-proselytize jonesing going on if you’re actually considering getting into a traffic accident just to try and convert someone. Mr. Bartlett later says he wouldn’t ever actually cause a wreck just to preach in the comments that follow the entry, but then why claim in the last sentence that he was totally serious and only stayed his hand because of fear he’d get punched out?

Why the big desire to try and convert others from so many Christians? I used to just write it off as them following what the Bible says in terms of going out and witnessing to others, but when you get passionate statements like the one from Mr. Bartlett there has to be something more to it than just following God’s directions behind it all. It’s things like that which make it a lot easier to accept the theory that Christianity is a particularly virulent form of meme. It’s not enough to be content in the feelings of wonderfulness that such a deeply held belief brings about, they have to validate their beliefs by convincing others to join in on the delusion. They tell themselves they simply want others to know the immense peace and love and happiness a relationship with Jesus brings them, but if they were so damned content they wouldn’t need the external validation their witnessing is meant to bring about. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it’s lingering doubts about the stories they’ve bought into so completely that brings about this behavior.

During the course of give and take in the comments Mr. Bartlett asks the following question: “If you had the cure for cancer wouldn’t you shout it from the rooftops too? Someone else responded with the quite true statement that anyone who did have the cure for cancer wouldn’t need to shout it from the rooftops so long as other scientists could replicate the experiments and confirm the claim. Besides, there are already thousands of people who claim to have the cure for cancer out there who have just as much evidence supporting their cures as Mr. Bartlett has for his God. When they can back it up with something more than “I know in my heart that this is true” then I’ll stop to listen, but until then I’m not buying what they’re selling.

35 thoughts on “An example of how the Christian meme can mess up your thinking.

  1. Honestly, I haven’t a problem with anyone who does believe, but nothing will infuriate me faster than someone who feels that my life is lacking because it doesn’t include a belief in god/Jesus/heaven/hell.

    Who is anyone else to tell me I’m missing out?  Maybe I don’t see it that way.  Maybe I’m happy to be free of all of the trappings of religion that turn a lot of otherwise sane people into bigoted zealots.  Maybe I’m happy to live my life as a good person without some big fat book telling me so.

    And it infuriates me further when, upon hearing about my nonbeliever status, someone tells me “God loves you anyway, even if you have turned your back on Him” or “I’ll pray for you.”

    Keep your prayers!  I don’t want them!  Look at all the atrocious things people have visited upon each other over the last several thousand years—and all in the name of “God”. 

    No, thank you.  I want no part of any of it.

  2. It’s not enough to be content in the feelings of wonderfulness that such a deeply held belief brings about, they have to validate their beliefs by convincing others to join in on the delusion. They tell themselves they simply want others to know the immense peace and love and happiness a relationship with Jesus brings them, but if they were so damned content they wouldn’t need the external validation their witnessing is meant to bring about. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it’s lingering doubts about the stories they’ve bought into so completely that brings about this behavior.

    Well, it’s probably as unfair to armchair psychologize that proselytizing Christians do so because of insecurity as it is to armchair psychologize that atheists are that way because they’re really just angry at God for something that happened to them …

    (It is almost certain, given human nature, that both diagnoses are true for some individuals.  But as general statements?)

    Note that, from an orthodox Christian standpoint, spreading the “Good News” is not (just) about making people feel happy. It’s about saving folks from an eternity of torment and punishment.  There are Christians who firmly believe that (I don’t, myself, but, then, I’m not all that orthodox), and so consider it a duty and a kindness to push the Gospel and prayer on others, even when unwelcome.

    Unfortunately, for folks who hold that view, the only way it can be proven is after death (which some might consider “convenient”), so the scientific proof for cancer analogy is difficult for them to follow through on.

  3. The need to convert people has nothing to do with knowing the peace, love and happiness that a relationship with Jesus brings.

    If that was the objective, it would be as incomprehensible and pointless as you suggest—the spiritual equivalent of “I like chocolate mint ice cream, and if you don’t currently agree, then I’m going to yell at you until you do.”

    Nor does it have much to do with the bible telling people to go forth and witness. Sure, the bible does say that…but not just for the sake of witnessing—again, that would be incomprehensible and pointless.

    The reason that Christians witness, pray for the unconverted, go to great lengths (including risking their own lives as missionaries) to try to engage those who have not heard or accepted Jesus is that they really and truly believe that Jesus is the one and only path to salvation and eternal life.

    To those who believe this, it is only natural that the saving of ONE soul is worth any amount of effort it takes. It’s not about power, or influence, or “my opinion is better than yours.” It’s about saving the most valuable thing in the universe.

    And before anyone jumps on me..I am talking about paradigms. I understand that many here (and elsewhere) don’t feel that Jesus is the only path to an eternal life…or even that there is such a thing as an eternal life.

    I’m saying that those who do believe it, must naturally follow certain actions that go with that belief.

    By the same token, those who don’t believe it must naturally view those who do (and the efforts they go through) as quaint, pushy, offensive, etc.

    And as a final comment….none of this in any way justifies the existance of the “religious right”: Pat Roberson’s calls for assassination of foreign leaders, and an attempt to teach ID in schools. That’s politics, pure and simple, using religion as both cammoflage and a weapon.

  4. The strongest human motivation is fantasy. This is just an example that helps prove this theory. Also consider that the divorce rate in the U.S. is approxiamtely 50%. We don’t marry the person we see, we marry a fantasy of what we want to believe he or she will become. Then reality sets in! Consider the O.J. trial. Consider that we re-elected both Clinton and Bush!!! How much money does Disneyland make in a day? etc, etc. wink

  5. Les, that post read like an op/ed in a magazine. Do you write pro at all?  That was a very eloquent analysis. I totally forgot what I was reading half way through. smile  Kudos to you.

    Jamie, I can’t speak for the rest of the forum but you could have been describing my life and my feelings about Christianity and religion in general.

    Great posts.

    Regards,

    Deoxy

  6. freethoughtmom has an interesting challenge in one of her comments there:

    Does your god allow you to pretend that he doesn’t exist, or would he get angry? If he doesn’t mind, try it for ten minutes.

    Can you imagine if John’s wife, Jennifer…

    I accept [sic] Christ when I was in the 5th grade and became a Christian. I appreciated everything I was taught and enjoyed all the promises that came with my faith in God. Well in 6th grade, I asked my teacher (I went to a Christian school) how do we know for sure that God is real? What if everything I take comfort in, is a sham? How is my faith any different then Catholism, Muslim or even a cult? There’s no “proof” so why should I believe? My teacher just looked at me (I guess she didn’t expect those questions from a 11 year old) and said well you just have to believe.

    …actually spent ten minutes considering that she might have been psychologically abused at a young age of ten into accepting the god meme.

    Is it unrealistic to believe that she, or others like her, could honestly shrug off, for just this short amount of time, the indoctrinating opinions she was fed and consider merits of alternate points of view with an open mind?

    It’s likely they couldn’t play the “Devil’s Advocate” for even five minutes. The religion has been designed to inspire guilt in such a venture and God does not appreciate free-thinking.

    Still, it happens every day….

    Oh and thanks for the links elwed and zilch; I really enjoyed those.

  7. During the course of give and take in the comments Mr. Bartlett asks the following question: “If you had the cure for cancer wouldn’t you shout it from the rooftops too? Someone else responded with the quite true statement that anyone who did have the cure for cancer wouldn’t need to shout it from the rooftops so long as other scientists could replicate the experiments and confirm the claim.

    Scientists wouldn’t shout it from the rooftops because joy, love, anger, and jealousy don’t affect them.  Only chemical imbalances in the brain causing neurons to fire do.

    I think the funny thing about humanity is we can’t help but exist in circular reasoning scenarios.  I think it is a testament to our finiteness.  God exists because He says He does is just as circular as Science works because it proves itself.  No matter what way we cut it we will always chase our tails to find meaning and understanding.

  8. ***Dave and J1, thanks for commenting on this. Your insights, as always, are very helpful.

    Deoxy, I’ve never written anything professionally as far as I’m aware. I’m just a fairly decent amateur with too big of a mouth that isn’t afraid to use it.

    Theocrat, methinks you need to read up on the scientific method again. No one is claiming that science proves itself.

  9. If I ask “why does science work?”  Wouldn’t the answer inevitably require the use of a scientific method?

  10. It’d be funny to watch Derrida deconstruct your defense.  I don’t know why…  I’m sick… I got nothin.

  11. They tell themselves they simply want others to know the immense peace and love and happiness a relationship with Jesus brings them, but if they were so damned content they wouldn’t need the external validation their witnessing is meant to bring about. I suspect, though I can’t prove it, that it’s lingering doubts about the stories they’ve bought into so completely that brings about this behavior.

    For some, maybe.  Les, I’d be awful surprised if this guy just truly wanted others to experience what he is feeling. Here’s my take on many of the folks that are gripped by the feelings the guy described above:

    Imagine eating a kickass dessert at a restaurant.  You love it.  So you order a second one.  Then you go back for more the next night. And you get some to go. Pretty soon, you’re at home cooking it for your friends. You invite them over to taste this dessert that tastes so wonderful to you.  Next thing you know, you’re in the restaurant telling folks you have never seen before or will again, hey you need to order some of dessert X, killer stuff.

    Obsessive? You bet.  Likely to get on the other diners nerves? Possibly.  Inspired by insecurity to spread the word about [feel in what makes you feel so good]? Nope.

  12. He was afraid of getting punched!?

    Okay, if he’s right and Christ died for our sins and he is going to heaven because he believes and we’re all going to be deep fried for eternity, how do you think people who were actually martyred are going to treat him?  Or Jesus Himself?  “Yeah, Stephen there was shot with arrows, these guys were stoned to death, I got crucified, and you, you were afraid of getting punched.  So, your name for eternity is St. Nancy Boy.  Now get out of my office.”

  13. Obsessive? You bet.  Likely to get on the other diners nerves? Possibly.  Inspired by insecurity to spread the word about [feel in what makes you feel so good]? Nope.

    Except…we’re not talking about desserts here, are we?  I realize you’re just using a metaphor, but it doesn’t really work here. We’re talking about something so dear to people that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost over time in its name.

    I, too, wonder why fundy Christians seem so damn eager to try to convince others of the “validity” of their worldview. If it’s not insecurity, then I suspect that it may partially be a form of self-delusion. Now, far be it for me to claim that fundy Christians are unhappy people (no one has access to your own mind/self but yourself), but I know I would be pretty damn miserable being what I see as a mental slave like that. Perhaps these Christians want to justify what they have willingly chosen to do with their own lives by convincing others (read: themselves) of their lifestyle’s alleged “truth.”

    That, or they truly believe themselves “messengers of ‘god.’” Although I believe there have to be stronger psychological issues brewing within these people for them to actually give a flying fuck about what total strangers may or may not believe in.

  14. It’d be funny to watch Derrida deconstruct your defense.  I don’t know why… I’m sick… I got nothin.

    Theo, you have something- you have us.  And probably lots more.
    I hope you’re not really sick.  If you are, get well soon.
    As for Derrida- it might be mildly amusing to watch him deconstruct Les (as he decomposes- he died last year).  But meaningless.  Why anyone takes Derrida seriously is beyond me.  He’s the William Dembski of philosophy- possibly brilliant, often entertaining, but mindbogglingly wrongheaded.  Just my humble opinion.

  15. Oops- I meant elwed, not Les.  I often confuse geniuses…
    As far as the motivation of fundamentalists to proselytize- I suspect that Consi and Les are both correct, to different extents, for different people.  Spreading the good news, obeying the biblical call to witness, saving souls from eternal torment, confirming the fantasy- they are not mutually exclusive.  Of course, some Christians seem to be trying extra hard to live up to their caricature among muggles.

    But I agree with Dave that it’s unfair to impugn the motives of all believers- many, if not most, of them, really do want to spread what they consider the “good news”.  If you saw someone hanging from a cliff, you would offer them a hand, and if they said “not interested, thanks”, you might still be inclined to try again.  The fact that muggles are not really hanging from a cliff, or at least not from the cliff believers imagine, is not apparent to the believers.

    So what can we muggles do?  Meet gentle persuasion with gentle dissuasion, rhetoric with skewering, and infringement of liberty with legal defense.  And hope, as they hope, that they will come to their senses someday.

  16. Of course, some Christians seem to be trying extra hard to live up to their caricature among muggles.

    What a psycho (referring to that “Christian Underground” whacko)! tongue rolleye

  17. For all I know, his post is fiction designed to lure atheists into conversation. If not, then I’d say he was completely serious in his post and backpedalled when faced with adversity.

    Viral marketing, eh.

  18. Theo said:

    Obsessive? You bet.  Likely to get on the other diners nerves? Possibly.  Inspired by insecurity to spread the word about [feel in what makes you feel so good]? Nope.

    Then Sadie said:

    Except…we’re not talking about desserts here, are we?  I realize you’re just using a metaphor, but it doesn’t really work here. We’re talking about something so dear to people that hundreds and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost over time in its name.

    Hmmm, I think Theo’s actually got it close to right here. Picture this: You’re on an island (like the characters on Lost) with a bunch of other castaways. You can’t stay where you are, you have to decide on one of the two paths on the island. Now, you are absolutely positive, for whatever reason, that one of the paths leads to safety, the other path leads to certain doom. Wouldn’t you being trying to convince the others to take the safe path with you?

    That might be a slightly better metaphor of the Christian mindset. Annoying as hell to those of us who don’t believe, but I can clearly see why they do it.

  19. Meme’s are such persistent little entities! They never give up!
    I explored them to some extent in my book “God-101” (what the church doesn’t want you to know)

    This is a doctrine known as exclusivist, and unfortunately, certain sects of Christianity went to great lengths to claim that they were the one true faith and the other denominations of Christianity were corrupt, (or even in league with the Anti-Christ).

    To this day “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

  20. I absolutely cannot believe some people. The need to force their beliefs on others is why I can’t stand religous people. Trying to get an atheist to believe in god is like telling an amputee that if they believe, their missing limb will grow back. Insane. You believe in god? Fantastic, just don’t shove it down everyone else’s throats.

  21. “Why the big desire to try and convert others from so many Christians? I used to just write it off as them following what the Bible says in terms of going out and witnessing to others, but when you get passionate statements like the one from Mr. Bartlett there has to be something more to it than just following God’s directions behind it all.”

    Christians do these things because they know that everyone who has no faith in God will go to hell. The idea upsets them so they try to get other people to believe.

  22. sekiraO_O: The idea upsets them so they try to get other people to believe.

    If only they were benign.  wink

  23. Christians do these things because they know that everyone who has no faith in God will go to hell.

    Correction: They do these things because they believe that everyone who has no faith in God will go to hell. They confuse that belief with knowledge and that’s their first mistake.

  24. Les: They confuse that belief with knowledge and that’s their first mistake.

    Also, it appears that, by going out and proselytizing to the world, they may in fact be trying to convince themselves of their religion’s veracity.

    To illustrate: I have a lot of gay friends, and a few years ago one of them had a straight roommate who would constantly allude to his heterosexuality, regardless of the topic at hand. Finally, my friend Joey asked him, point-blank, “Who are you trying to convince, us or yourself?”

  25. I know it’s been a while since the last post, and it’s possible that nobody will read this, but as a former Christian I’d like to offer my opinion. Yes, I think that there are a number of Christians who proselytize out of goodwill towards others. And, from experience, I know that some do so out of doubt.

    But for some, it’s simply a rush of adrenaline or a chance to build up their status as an evangelist. Think about the excitement of successfully convincing someone of a belief! It’s a big accomplishment. On top of that, many Christians believe that they will have more treasure in heaven if they’ve converted lots of people, and even more so if they die in the process. And with every convert they notch, evangelists become more and more confident that what they believe is true, which ties back into the insecurity notion.

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