Yesterday my Facebook feed lit up with posts and comments about Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis’s latest “THANK GOD YOU’RE WRONG” billboard campaign. People wondered and imagined and debated whether this campaign would appeal to or alienate atheists.
I did not want to speculate on the matter. Why would I? I know atheists. They are not the spiritual equivalent of unicorns. They are human beings just like any other human beings. In fact, if you ever have questions about atheism or what atheists think about something, I would highly recommend you just go find an atheist and ask the person. Just like you would ask a Christian about Christianity if you had questions.
So instead of speculating about what atheists might think about the Ham/AiG billboard campaign, I asked some atheists. It was pretty painless, really. I just said, “Hey, what do you think about this? I’d like to hear your thoughts.”
While responding, one individual said this to me: “For a Christian you’re pretty rad.”
Being an insecure person, I really appreciated hearing that. But it also kind of pissed me off. For one thing — and this is not what pissed me off — I am not public about my religious beliefs. I get why some people might think I am a Christian (I talk about Christianity and Christian culture a lot), and I get why other people might think I am not (when I talk about Christianity and Christian culture a lot, I am usually calling bullshit).
If you have to know: Right now, where I am at, I am focusing on being a human being. Nothing more, nothing less. I have had enough insipid Christian bullshit to last a lifetime. I cannot step foot in a church without experiencing a panic attack. If that makes me an apostate, bring it. If that makes me a real Christian, rock on. I do not care either way at the moment: I want to be me, I want to be healthy, and I want to treat everyone — Christian, atheist, and otherwise — with compassion, love, and respect.
All that other stuff? It can wait until I get healthcare and get a handle on my major depressive disorder and daily suicidal urges. And if Jesus wants to wait for me, wants to be patient with me along my journey, then he and I can talk someday. (Honestly, my heart still sends him drunk text messages now and again.) And if he is not the forgiving, patient sort, then I want nothing to do with him.
That is my intense tangent. Now back to the point. What pissed me off about what my friend said was not that my friend said that. What pissed me off was that I was a “rad Christian” for simply asking what my friend actually thought. Since when was taking a few minutes to acknowledge another person’s humanity and ask him or her their thoughts the definition of rad Christianity?
I prefer to think of that as simple goddamn courtesy.
Of course, I totally get it. I experience this same feeling almost every other day myself. I see it painted in the bright bold colors of Alienation and Polarization, splashed across the lurid, violent landscapes of our culture wars. I hear it in the wounded cries of Millennials — cries that I find myself echoing. I hear these words from my friend Sarah Jones and I find myself nodding along and trying to hold back tears:
It’s the inevitable consequence of waging culture war. The religious fundamentalists started it and too many people responded with fundamentalist atheism. When you prioritize movement politics over people, and ideology over intellectual nuance, you’re a fundamentalist, whether or not you believe in God. Nones inhabit the gray in a world of black and white. Consider us conscientious objectors–yes, we might have defected, but we didn’t necessarily defect to the other side.
I, too, am a conscientious objector. I, too, have defected.
We are orphans of the culture wars.
I cannot call myself a Christian because I hate what that word means today. I cannot call myself something other than Christian because, really, I am done with calling myself anything. I am done with the labels and the sides and the cliches and the bullshit. I want to cry foul to these culture wars and don sackcloth and ashes and focus on loving my neighbor as myself. And I will not love because the Bible tells me so, because He has the whole world in His hands, because God so loved the world. I will love not because Jesus, because Team America, because the Founding Fathers, because Psalty and Sparkies and Larry the Cucumber. I will love because — gee, that’s just the right fucking thing to do.
I do not want to be a part of a Christianity or an atheism or any other belief system where going “above and beyond” is taking thirty fucking minutes to actually ask people what they think. And I do not want to be a part of anything that takes more offense to the fact that I just said “fucking” than to the fact that the standard of excellence is so low.
If simple common courtesy makes me a rad Christian, Christianity today has some serious problems.
19 thoughts on ““For a Christian You’re Pretty Rad””
You miss the point. Christianity is the Gospel, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Period. We human beings are prone to fall so any system with us in it will have its failings. Soooooo….you can say fuck when you write? Big deal….wow! Stop being irrelevant by using big boy words and go to work for the benefit of your brother and sister, the man and woman on your left and right. I am not offended by your choice of words but it appears so trivial. You as anyone should know that no one is perfect but it is what we do in the midst of this imperfect world that makes the difference. Sure people are hypocritical and probably more so in our Western culture but that does not change the Gospel. It does not change the core of Jesus the Christ, Son of God, coming to earth to save. Either that is believed or not. If it is believed then how does one live it out???? That is the point. You want to spend your time running around crying foul because people fail. Then get in line with the rest of humanity that stretchs back a long way into history. Or get in the front line of people acting out what they believe. Sure there are wacky fundamentalists out there with any group but the courage in this world so often displayed time and time again is from people standing, fundamentally, for their beliefs and making a difference in the lives of others. Go out and get some…Stollar, and breath in deep the life to be lived around you and maybe the Gospel will be relevant to you or maybe not but at least we can stop seeing someone grand stand on the word fuck. Just my thoughts. You don’t need to post this but only wanted to just send you my thoughts. I think you have a keen mind but I have read several of your articles where shocking seems to be more a priority than substance. I stand on the front line with other men and women who try to serve others and change the problems around them by effort and courage. Saying fuck is patronizing to the people in the world who actually give a damn about love.
Before you attack Ryan, perhaps you should know that this very act that seems pointless and trivial to you — calling bullshit on fundamentalists — is something “life-saving and life-changing” for many people: http://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/faqs-can-sharing-individual-stories-make-a-difference/.
Writing and discussion are powerful engines of change, and have been, stretching back through history, so I don’t know where the history lesson comes in here.
Of course people will always fail, and if Ryan were just pointing his finger and laughing, your criticism might be deserved. But when he is actively grappling with issues significant to him and to the people he cares about, it strikes me as completely unfair to complain that his work is premised on shock devoid of substance. Sometimes the truth is shocking. Someone’s gotta say it.
You used said “fuck” exactly as many times as the author did. You also said damn.
While the author is out shopping for courage, should he pick you up a brain?
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mark. And thank you for whatever efforts you make to serve others and change the problems around us. That is a noble, difficult task and I have so much respect for people who do so.
I simply disagree with you that, “Saying fuck is patronizing to the people in the world who actually give a damn about love.” I believe “using big boy words,” as you say, can be a vitally important part of communication and making the world a better place. Others have expressed this idea more eloquently than I can, so I will point you to three writers who I believe hit the nail on the head:
Dani Kelley, guest post at Defeating the Dragons: “Learning the Words: Even the Ugly Ones”
Grace Biskie, “I’m a Christian and I Swear… Occasionally”
Bethany Suckrow, “Explicit Realities, Explicit Language”
damn. i honestly am breathless after reading this. it’s as if you wrote the words inscribed on my soul at this present moment. i’m sick of Christian bullshit, ashamed to be associated with Christian culture, and am very fucking angry with the common modern church. i’ve been hurt more by Christians than i have by any atheists or agnostics or whatever the heck anyone else is. i’m sick of dealing with Christian labels and hearing the cliches; i also suffer from major depressive disorder and suicidal thoughts (in addition to self harm and anxiety attacks). i’m tired of being labeled as a “worse sinner” than others simply because i have made different mistakes than the typical church-goer. i’m tired of the bullshit they call “worship” when in reality, the souls of the people sitting in the pews are empty, and they’re looking left and right to see who’s watching as their lips mouth meaningless words. they don’t live out the love that i desperately need. their hearts are so unengaged and they are still content with that. thank you, Riot, for articulating this. i needed these thoughts. thank you.
Thank you so much for saying that, aboynamedsuicide. That means a lot to me. And here’s to our mutual mental health illnesses! They suck. They fucking suck. But we can do this! That is my daily hope. Love and peace to you.
You hit this spot on! You said it better than I ever could. I am totally with you on this one!
A-fucking-men RL Stollar. You hang tough with fighting your depressive disorder. I want you around to keep speaking/writing the truth!
Thanks so much Lisa.
Hey RL, Stumbled upon your blog while researching some scripture, “speaking the truth in love”, a passage abused by many “loving” Christians, it turns out. What a surprise! I am a rad Christian, too: pro-choice, pro-gay, pro-pot. I am strengthened by the knowledge that Jesus’ teachings have been manipulated for generations to suit the needs of his many followers, so why can’t I? I believe that Jesus, above all things, wanted us to love and help each other. Period. Not judge. Not correct. Not control. Just love and help. So, that’s what I try to do… in Jesus’ name. I am humbled by your courage and strength to work through the challenges that face cerebral and sensitive people of faith. I’ll pray for you to get the therapy/medication you need. (Been there/done that too…) God Bless, Nat
Thanks so much for the note, Nat, and for the prayers.
Ryan, one of my atheist friends picked up on my commenting at Ken Ham’s FB page. This led to us chatting back and forth – poking some fun at Ken Ham, I admit. After reading my comments one of his friends sent me a friend request, and I thought, “Crap. He doesn’t realize I’m a Christian – and a pastor, no less.” I sent him a message “confessing” this fact, and he still chose to be my friend – although he says he gets a certificate from the Freedom from Religion foundation if he converts me. 🙂 I said, I just get a jewel in crown if I convert him instead.
It was a reminder that 1) I often feel so embarrassed by my fellow Christians that its hard to identify as on their “team”, and 2) This warfare that people like Ken Ham are trying to drum up is bullshit. Most of us – atheist, Christian, Muslim, etc. – are capable of befriending each other and even talking religion without the intervention of billboards and Jay Sekulow and the HSLDA and all the rest of the culture war machine. Some mutual respect, some empathy, the ability to listen rather than constantly shooting off at the mouth – how hard is that? (Although I’ve been told this week that what I’m suggesting is “weakness”, “silence” and being a floor mat).
Sorry for the long comment. You hit a nerve.
I agree! One of my best friends is a Mormon, and she is illy aware of the fact that I don’t consider Mormons Christian. But that doesn’t at all lessen the respect and care either of us has for the other. While I may disagree with them, I totally respect her beliefs. We’ve even had conversations about the topic, and we’re still best friends! I am a pretty traditional Christian; I’m not progressive or liberal. I really wish that there weren’t so many Christians who give us right-wingers a bad name. I have many failings, but treating others with love and respect–while standing strong in my beliefs–is something I think I do fairly well. It certainly is a fine line; while I think those to whom you referred, who might consider such actions as weakness, are wrong to think so, they do remind us that we need to be proud of our faith. But doing so can certainly be done simultaneously with kindness, grace, compassion, respect, and love.
Just thought I’d let you know I agree!
Hm I think this would be a good point except that the entire article may be entirely unfounded; the fact that this atheists things such an action makes one a “rad Christian” ONLY informs us of that person’s perception of Christianity. Now I am not saying that the article is based on a false premis,; only that it MIGHT be based on a false premise. It’s certainly possible that Christians deserve such a reputation. But looking at the atheist’s response logically, the only conclusion we can draw regards his perception of Christians and not their actual actions. For all we know his own personal bias is the primary if not sole factor in his view if, and subsequent comment on, Christians in general.
Excellent thoughts. People get so consumed with their theology instead of the practicing of what God said. A friend of mine who believes in theistic evolution told me one day “does it really matter how I believe the world got here if I believe in God, Jesus and what they command us to do?” That really blew my mind because I hadn’t considered it before.
People oppose ideas different from their own because you build your life on ideas. Any idea that doesn’t fit in the construct is an enemy because it’s a scarry thing to consider that something you have formed your life around may not be true. We should be willing to test our ideas and beliefs because if they are true then there is nothing to worry about. The individuals who don’t get too hung up on their ideas are the ones out there doing the good and loving.
PS. If you want a great book to read check out Love Does by Bob Goff
I write to offer encouragement and suggestions. This may be arrogant of me, but I guess your humanity touched my humanity and having greatly struggled with some issues you write about I felt maybe I could provide some fuel for your very worthwhile quest.
First is you want a little general background on me you can go to my blog at
I really have not done much with it but it would give you a little flavor of where I am coming from. Things have continue to go very well for me since I started the blog, but between trying to be a good husband, father to 2 fairly young children, friend, son, etc, as well as taking care of my emotional/spiritual, physical, etc, needs, and have a somewhat successful career working full time, I have not found much time to write. This is good to some extent because in meeting quite a bit with others struggling with mental health and spiritual issues my interpretation of what has happened in my own life and about the human condition have continued to evolve. Someday they will get down more formally in writing.
To this point they are more a patchwork of things I have written to or discussed with individuals that I try to be of assistance to. You are the first person I have reached out to though that I do not know in the real world. I do all of this because, as you say, it is the right thing to do, and just as importantly because it is absolutely essential for me. If I am not actively and consistently connecting to that part of myself that connects with others in a benevolent way, then I am depressed and lost (as I was for most of my first 30 plus years).
I certainly do not have time to try to explain it all, but again I was hoping to share a little on why you are correct in a lot of what you say, and then offer some general and some specific suggestions on what to focus on going further.
First as you are moving towards, I think, the overall goal should be wholeness. Whether that be wholeness within yourself or the greater whole (world) generally. The reason why few people of his time or since really get Jesus’s parables and teachings are because they are viewing it from their own individual perspective. If viewed from the greater good of the whole (again world) they actually make a lot of sense.
I too am not sure I want to be called or should be called a Christian because it seems to have some many different meanings to different people that all it mainly does is illicit prejudices (pre-judgments) that are likely not accurate and yet they are still damaging. I do not plan to talk a great deal about Jesus’s message either because it has so many different interpretations, but I will say that it seems consistent with what you and I are saying. He mainly railed against the people of his time who put their focus on rituals and outward appearances and proper interpretations of scripture, and said you all are missing the whole point. The whole point is to be good and caring to each other, as you say.
So again it all comes back to wholeness. The world is a nasty place quite often for the individual, but for the whole it is an absolutely amazing, beautiful, etc place. This is mainly because evolution is rough on the individual but perfect for the greater whole. Of course that is a controversial topic, but it should not be. It is some of the best evidence we have for God’s plan and way of life, because it is real. And to the extent the individual aligns their focus with the greater good it becomes great for the individual also, provided a few steps are taken to protect oneself. Most people spend all of their time trying to figure out how reality (the world) can be fit into their own beliefs, rather than looking at reality and formulating beliefs from it. Now it is not really their fault, that is how we are made, but if you can understand this and then try to look at things without all the pre-judgments, great things appear. Also it is important to note here again that viewed from the perspective of the whole this is an efficient process, but it often leads to internal torture for the individual, which also has its own benefits for the whole.
To some extent, I think this is what you have done with saying, I do not want to worry about labeling what I am being, I just want to be. And I am saying that sounds like a great idea.
Moving onward to applying the wholeness philosophy to ourselves individually. Most therapy these days, drugs, talk therapy or a combo, try to get us past our bothersome feelings. The bothersome feelings are viewed as the enemy. Unfortunately the best that can leave us is better able to cope with them and getting slowly and incrementally better, but always still at war with ourselves because our feelings are a part of ourselves. The only real way to the freedom and happiness we all seek is through wholeness and embracing all of us, as well as those around us. However, again that is not really our default mechanism for handling things because we do not want to feel the bothersome feelings and they are also bothersome to those around us who try to get us to stop feeling them.
The answer turns out to be that if we embrace the bothersome feelings we can learn that they were legitimate feelings from our perspective of our experience. As long as we just try to get rid of them, they basically just hang around saying, you really ought to listen to me or you are going to be sorry in some way. Where as, if we embrace them we can learn that they were legitimate feelings based upon our perspective of our experience. After we do this we can truly realize if those feelings are needed in our current life. In other words, if they are still applicable and we should keep them. If they are still applicable we can often at this point see how to change our current life and relationships to make them no longer needed or applicable. Unfortunately, until we embrace them or torture ourselves for many many years trying to fight them, the feelings generally create our current life such that they are still necessary or applicable. In other words them become self fulfilling prophesies.
Now most of these feelings are too overwhelming to tackle on their own and therefore you need some people to help you that are not threatened by your feelings and also have had some success with their own bothersome feelings. If they are threatened by your feelings that will generally prevent you from being able to really explore it with them because the threatening will put the important relationship at jeopardy not allowing the necessary exploration and adding to the overwhelmingness of things rather than detracting from it. Where as, if the other person has similar feelings and has not at least somewhat successfully dealt with them, they will subtly not let you go there because it will illicit the same feelings in them, which they are not ready or able to deal with; again adding to the overwhelmingness and preventing real progress. Unfortunately, this happens a lot with paid therapists as well as other acquaintances.
I would guess I lost you with a lot of this. In fact I think it has to be that way because it can only become clear as you successfully go through it or learn it yourself. However, my hope is that maybe it can encourage you to continue on your current path. You might also see why I labeled my blog obnoxious psychobabble and blasphemy, ha ha.
So my suggestions to you are:
Find a person or more who will allow you to embrace your bothersome feelings and learn from them what they are trying to teach you. Then they will become valued and cease being what they were or you can then at least choose to change your life at that point so they are no longer necessary.
Find people who share your spiritual leaning. There are lots. However, be sure you find the ones that want wholeness and freedom and not to just spend their time complaining about the wrongness of parts of religions. There are lifetimes worth of criticism, but it is a futile path.
Most of all continue to be brave and find what your truth is and follow it and share it with others. Again, hopefully in a creating new good stuff way, rather than complaining about other things way.
PS – I like to remain anonymous but the email is a real one.
If we spend most of our time or energies on even legitimate criticism we are also missing the “whole point” of all the great spiritual teachings because we are not being good and caring to each other, but rather tearing each other apart. There is a place for some of it, but if it consumes us we become part of the problem.
In the grand scheme of things it really is not that big of deal though if we miss the whole point because everything IS used for good, but it keeps us at war with ourselves and others, which is a miserable place to be.