Saturday, October 11, 2014

Can Christianity exist without "less than"?

Image source.

Samantha Field, who writes the blog Defeating the Dragons, again said something that blew my mind. (Seriously, her blog is great. Y’all should be reading it.) In a critique of Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book “Real Marriage,” Field writes:

Interestingly enough, this first assumption– that true friendships are about “edification”– leads to another problem I have with this chapter: Christian elitism.

Only when marriage and family exist for God’s glory– and not to serve as replacement idols– are we able to to truly love and be loved. (28)

It is through the presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives that we are able to love our spouses. (30)

We are convinced that the couples who pray … together stay together. (36)

The more his need for her and her need to help him are celebrated as gracious gifts from God, the faster oneness and friendship blossom in the marriage. (38)

That last one is also just icky– because they say that a wife needs to “celebrate being helpful as a gracious gift from God.” Whee. Complementarianism isn’t demeaning or chauvinistic at all. Not even a little bit. But the biggest problem I have (for the moment) with these statements is that they frame non-Christian marriages as less than. They probably wouldn’t go so far as to say that non-Christian marriages are doomed to unhappiness and divorce, but by making the claim that we need to place “glorifying God” as the center purpose of our marriage in order to truly love, what they are saying is that people who don’t think of “glorifying God” as a goal cannot truly love. They can love, sure, but not truly love. Any happiness a non-Christian experiences in their marriage is because of luck, probably. Because they couldn’t possibly be building a healthy marriage filled with trust and love and respect and kindness and acceptance– not without God, at least. Not really.

Christian elitism comes out in a lot of ways in Christian culture, and they’re usually wrapped up in sentiments like this one– and it frustrates me no end because of how baldly false it is. I’m friends with a lot of atheists and agnostics, and my friendships with them have been richer and more meaningful and more challenging than most of the friendships I’ve ever had with Christians– and the relationships that I have now with Christians don’t have anything “more” than my relationships with atheists. In fact, most of the friendships I’ve had with Christians have been profoundly negative and have ended horrifically because they felt more entitled to judge and condemn me than to love me.

Christian elitism. How have I never realized that before?

Christians say stuff like this ALL THE TIME. In order to [fill in the blank], you need to focus on God before anything else. In order to have a good marriage. To be a good father. To have hope/happiness/contentment in your life. To truly love others.

That’s one of THE most important components of Christianity, or at least, the Christianity I was taught. We NEED God; we can’t be functional human beings without God.

And Field calls it what it is: Christian elitism. By saying these things, we’re saying that non-Christians’ lives/marriages/friendships/etc as less than. And my first thought was, yeah of course. That’s not some kind of unfortunate and unforeseen logical implication- no, that is the exact content of this teaching. (It's a feature, not a bug.)

Yeah, of course, ya know, people need God, and all non-Christians are, on some level, deeply unsatisfied with their lives. That is exactly what I used to believe, and it is a hugely important part of that religion.

But it’s false.

I found out it was false when I started listening to non-Christians talk about their lives and experiences, mostly on blogs. They said, “yeah I’m fine, I have a good life, there’s nothing missing.” Of course, a “good Christian” wouldn’t believe someone who said that. “Good Christians” know other people’s lives and needs better than they know themselves. Hey, random stranger on the internet who says you’re happy with your life, well I KNOW YOU’RE REALLY NOT

And when that’s your argument, it’s time to take a step back and ask what the hell you’re doing.

Jesus said to love others. And “love” means (among other things) believing them when they talk about their own lives.

Image source.

So, we have to get rid of Christian elitism, because it’s not true and it’s not loving. But how can Christianity exist without it?

Back when I was a “good Christian,” one of the foundations of my religion was that people NEED God. By which I meant, they need to believe in the correct version of God, or else their life will be a failure. (Now that my beliefs have changed, I would argue that “people need God” in the sense that God is the source of everything good in the world, everything that we need, but people don’t have to actually believe the correct information about God in order to enjoy those good things.)

Maybe a better question is, would anyone be a Christian if they didn’t have to?

If people can have a happy life without believing in God- which, they can- if hell isn’t real- which, I don’t believe it is anymore- then... why be a Christian?

The reason I’m a Christian has always been “everyone needs to be a Christian.” But if that’s not true, then what?

To be honest, now the reason I’m a Christian is that the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the most amazing thing ever. If I’m going to believe in a God, it’s going to be a God who loves us. And I can’t imagine any better way to show that love than to make Godself vulnerable, to bring Godself down to our level, to live in our world, to show God is not sitting up in heaven going, “dang, I’m SO glad I’m not there.” That’s love.

And top it off with the resurrection and how God will raise us all in the future, and, just, wow. It’s the greatest story there could ever be. If there is a God, then that’s gotta be who God is.

But if you don’t believe that, it’s fine. Just take it as good news, that Perfect Number believes God loves you, or just ignore it, whatever.

That’s my attempt at a Christianity without Christian elitism. Actually, that’s what I’ve believed for a while, but never thought of it in terms of how I’m rejecting Christian elitism. So thank you, Samantha.

Discussion questions: 

Do you believe that people “need” God? If so, what do you mean by that?

In your experience, to what extent has Christian elitism been an indispensable part of Christianity?

I’m a bit worried that if we build a Christianity without elitism, it won’t be strong enough or meaningful enough to actually do anything. For example, would people become pastors or put in a lot of time volunteering at church if, actually, Christianity isn’t something that we NEED to spread to EVERYONE? Any thoughts on this?


  1. Do people "need" God?
    I think people need Love. And since God is Love (it's BIBLICAL ;) ), I'd say that whenever someone loves, that's God, even if they don't call it God. Atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims are all just as capable of love as Christians.
    Christian elitism... once I became a Christian humanist and recognized the imago Dei in everyone, it kind of disappeared.
    I think the story of God becoming a man in Jesus is worth telling to people. Urging conversion, maybe not. I found that once I let go of Christian elitism, I've been less judgemental towards others (and humility & the ability to empathize are musts for pastors, I think). Volunteering to help others who also worship Jesus feels less like an obligation and more like something I want to do (if I want to do it). The pressure's pretty much gone, though.

  2. Yes, exactly! God is love and people need love. Doesn't mean they have to be Christians to have love though.