29 June 2018

A religion without works.

A friend recently expressed her great frustration about phony Christians. You know, the sort of people I call Christianists—they’re not necessarily unsaved, but they sure do act it, ’cause they’re immature, and have mixed up all sorts of other things with Christianity. They keep surprising this friend; I suppose she expects them to act like Jesus, and is regularly disappointed.

I know the feeling all too well. But it doesn’t surprise me, ’cause I grew up around so many of them. I was a hypocrite myself once, who got suckered into the fake stuff in lieu of the real thing. It’s a really easy trap, too.

If I were giving directions to a devil as to how to trick people into it… Yeah, like one of the Screwtape letters, except I don’t know devilish psychology; I just know how to be evil, which is likely close enough. It’d go a little something like this.

Oh hi devil.

So you’re familiar with how our evangelists like to present Christianity as if there are no strings attached?—that if you come to Jesus, he won’t just wash away all our sins, but he’ll make our lives all better, and fix all our problems?

You should find this material really useful. It sets people up for so many disappointments with God, ’cause he won’t do any of the things these evangelists promised he would. Deprive them of anything, and their faith will shrivel up like a seed that fell on pavement instead of soil. Mk 4.5-6 You get to watch their hearts break in despair. Awww.

This no-strings-attached crap is also a great way to get Christians to do nothing. All you gotta do is overemphasize how good deeds are no part of the salvation process. At all. Good deeds are “like filthy rags.” Is 64.6 NIV Tell them God doesn’t appreciate good deeds, doesn’t want ’em; they even piss him off.

If they object, “But didn’t God command them?” go sic one of our dispensationalists on them. Have the Dispy explain how God did away with all that good-deeds crap; that’s why he doesn’t do any good deeds, and he’s a good Christian. (He’s not, but you’re not gonna tell anyone.)

I know; you’re thinking, “Wouldn’t it more fun for us to make ’em spin their wheels and try really, really hard to earn salvation, and never feel like they’re getting anywhere?” Obviously some devils do this already. But it’s risky behavior: There’s a good chance these people will do actual good works. That, or observers won’t realize how defective their “good deeds” truly are, and it’ll inspire them to do good deeds, if not become Christians themselves. Pretty sure you don’t want that. So, better they do nothing.

You’ll like the side effect. We humans always gotta justify ourselves: If we’re doing wrong, we have to somehow convince ourselves we’re actually right. So when Christians are doing nothing, and we see someone doing anything, we’ve gotta explain to ourselves why we’re right and they’re wrong. True, some of us suck at coming up with good excuses, and in those cases you might have a problem on your hands, ’cause they’ll doubt their own BS and the Holy Spirit might take advantage, as he does. Most of us are pretty good at self-deception though. Just in case, keep that dispensationalist on standby.

For the most part, our do-nothing Christian is gonna rationalize, “Well they’re doing good deeds out of works-righteousness.” Or “It’s out of hypocrisy,” or “out of legalism,” or “her cult tricked her into it.” Whatever excuse will do. For some of us any excuse will do.

You’ll want ’em to go with whatever excuse makes them hate and avoid such Christians. Otherwise they might interact with them and find out why they really do good deeds—and maybe reform.

Push dispensationalism. Push it hard. You want ’em at the point where they can read Jesus’s teachings straight out of the bible, bareface ignore them because they “no longer count,” and think they’re wise for recognizing this, and righteous for doing nothing. Now that you’ll find pure fun.

Since most Christians figure we gotta do something, have them stick to no-brainer stuff. Have them focus on doctrines, then fight one another over who follows them better or believes them harder—especially when they contradict the bible. Have them parrot cherry-picked bible verses, but make sure they always misinterpret them or get the context wrong. Maybe show off how many of them they’ve memorized. Maybe compete in unhealthy, prideful ways. In any event these activities won’t get in your way, because these Christians aren’t trying to develop love or fruit any. All this knowledge will only make them proud 1Co 8.1 and inert. 1Co 13.2

Just remind them constantly: “You’re saved. No strings attached. Done deal. You needn’t do anything more. So don’t do anything more.” And they won’t!

On Screwtape.

Okeydokey, why I didn’t quite write this like a Screwtape letter.

If you don’t know what Screwtape letters are: In 1941 C.S. Lewis wrote a column for a Church of England magazine called The Guardian. (Not to be confused with the newspaper.) It consisted of advice from senior devil Screwtape to his nephew, novice devil Wormwood, about a “patient,” an unnamed pagan turned Christian whose religion they wished to nullify, and maybe turn him to apostasy. Spoiler: They fail.

The devil’s advocate viewpoint is hardly new. But not everybody understood the concept: One angry clergyman cancelled his Guardian subscription over the “positively diabolical” advice. Still, they went over well enough, and Lewis compiled ’em into a book in 1942. (I definitely recommend John Cleese’s reading of the audiobook. For whatever insane reason it’s not “in print,” but here’s most of it on YouTube.)

Every so often, fellow Christians realize a thing or two about how temptation works, and are tempted themselves to write a new Screwtape letter. Thing is, Screwtape is Lewis’s creation, and sounds like Lewis. Because he is Lewis. It’s not hard to find a devil in any human; simply subtract every fruit of the Spirit. And that’s why Lewis didn’t enjoy writing Screwtape: He didn’t like tapping that side of himself. Then again he’d only been a Christian a decade, and may not have felt enough control over himself. Far too close to home for his comfort. Anyway, to get an authentic Screwtape, you’ve actually gotta mimic Lewis, and think about what tempted him.

But it’s more than that. Screwtape, like every well-written bad guy, imagines himself the hero of his tale. Poor writers (particularly Christian writers with an ax to grind) prefer to write bad guys as mad scientists: They know they’re evil; they love that they’re evil; they wanna spread evil, fear, and chaos just ’cause. And hey, isn’t that why devils do as they do?

Um… no. Satan does as it does because it thinks it’s right. Like it told the LORD, it believes humans are hypocritical suckups who aren’t worthy of God’s grace and affection. Jb 1.9-11 I can’t speak to other devils’ motives, but Satan’s were spelled out quite clearly in .

As for the rest of the devils, I suspect they aren’t far different from that of evil humans: Selfish fun, self-righteousness, and even “if I gotta go into the fire, I’m taking all the humans I can into the fire with me.” I don’t know for certain, of course. But I figure if we’re more similar than not, it explains why they can tempt us so effectively.

Absent Christianity, anyone can be a devil. So it’s disturbingly easy to write a devil’s-advocate letter. But if you’re only trying to mimic evil or mock the devil, instead of tapping your own selfish impulses, you’re not gonna do so well. And if you’re in denial that you even have selfish impulses: Same problem.

For backstory, Lewis reimagined the devils as a bureaucracy. (Having been to the Department of Motor Vehicles a few times recently, I kinda agree it’s one of the more annoying places one can think of. Better air conditioning than hell though.) Lewis invented a “lowerarchy” working for Satan, with the devils’ ultimate goal to consume humanity. The rest of the framework, he borrowed from medieval literature. As an historian I chafe at that: I’m always going for biblical accuracy, so my interpretations are based on bible and first-century literature, not Dante and Milton, whom I often consider really inaccurate, if not misleading. So I don’t wanna duplicate Screwtape. He can remain Lewis’s thing.

Considering all the inferior knockoffs, I wish he’d remain only Lewis’s thing.