So, as promised, I attended the Freaky Weirdo Brand Deluxe Christians’ tent rally on Saturday.
I had never attended one of these events before and really, really did not know what to expect. It was a relatively small and unspectacular affair, as I had expected it to be; I doubt there was more than twenty-five people present (aside from the eight or so who were running the show) at any given moment during the three hours it ran for. To their credit, though, the organizers seemed to have a fairly realistic view of this, and there were maybe forty seats within the tent, anyways.
As I arrived, they were booming out a lot of music from their loudspeakers, all played live by modestly talented but extremely enthusiastic players. I decided I would observe the affair from a comfortable distance; the tent was wide open, and so there was no need for me to come within 20 meters of the place, as I could easily see and hear everything (and with the added benefit of not being deafened in the process) from there. The songs were of a type which I suppose a habitual church-goer wouldn’t find peculiar, but from my outsider’s perspective were kind of revealing. It was all songs about “we” and “us”, with lots and lots of prompting by the organizers to the audience to stand at certain points, wave their hands at others, and so on. There was a strong group identity vibe going on, as everyone was having it re-enforced quite aggressively that they were all one group, and all under the command of the central authority there. It was a little crude, but obviously effective in terms of bringing together the flock, so to speak.
One of the songs in particular vexed me somewhat; I would hazard a guess that it was entitled “Jesus Set Me Free”, as that was the primary theme and refrain of the song. It was at around the time that I was listening to this that a woman – plainly a believer, based upon her many pins and medallions – came out to speak to me.
After a little bit of chit-chat, during which it was established that I was interested in the topic of christianity but was not a christian myself, I turned the conversation towards the topic of the song. I figured I would ask her a few questions about her particular beliefs, since, as I would repeat throughout the evening (and have confirmed for me repeatedly), “You can ask two christians a single question about any fine point in their mythology and get three different answers.” Specifically, I asked her if she believed that her god created hell (yes), that he set the criteria for who goes to hell (yes), if, being omnipotent, he could have chosen to set any specific criteria that he had wished (yes), and if she believed that Jesus was, in fact, her god, clothed in human flesh (yes).
“If that is the case, then does it not then follow that the only reason that hell is even a threat to us is because Jesus, as god, created that threat and then hung it over all of our heads? To that extent, does he not simply offer to save us from himself? Is that not essentially like having Jesus point a gun at your head, and then offer to NOT shoot you with it if you offer to serve him faithfully? To me, this is not the action of a hero, but of a slaver, promising to murder anyone who doesn’t agree to be his slave. How is this praiseworthy, especially if you then watch him going around shooting the vast portion of the population that does not agree to his terms?”
(I didn’t fire it all at her at once like that, but over the course of some five minutes or so of conversation, with various pauses for clarification and such; I can’t promise to be able to reproduce an absolutely accurate transcript of any discussion I had this day)
Her response was hardly a novel one, but one which I had never given any real thought to up until that moment; “No, no! God is LOVE, okay? He loves us!” with various emphatic clarifications and exhortations to this effect.
And so I asked her, “Do you believe an evil person is capable of loving someone else?”
She thought about this for a moment, and responded “Yes... but it’s usually a selfish and destructive sort of love.”
“Okay, good answer,” I replied entirely honestly. “I can buy that. Now, let’s say your god is real, and is more or less as you describe him. He loves you, but if you don’t do what he says, he will viciously punish you for all time, and has regularly done so to the majority of the world which he claims also to love. He has sent his people in the past into the lands of Canaan and told them to murder every man, woman and child there, where they died without having heard The Good News, and so were consigned to hell merely for having been born into the wrong culture. To me, that sounds like the ‘selfish and destructive’ love of an evil being that you describe.”
She was quite taken aback by this, and emphatically denied that her god was an evil being. I asked her if she believed that abortion was murder. She affirmed (as I suspected) that it was.
“In all of the lands of Canaan, do you believe there were any pregnant women? There must have been some. And of course, your god told his followers to murder everyone in Canaan, and made no provision where pregnant women are concerned. Your god ordered the murder of all of those unborn children. If that’s murder in your eyes, and an evil act, then how can a god who ordered it be anything but evil?”
This one shook her pretty badly, and indeed, later on I heard her discussing it with some of her fellow believers in fairly unhappy tones. Nevertheless, her response was to assert that, no matter whether or not these acts might SEEM evil, there must have been a good reason for it, because anything that her god does is automatically and perfectly good. I asked her if she could imagine a good reason to go into a city and kill everyone in sight, from the youngest boy to the oldest woman, for no other purpose than to steal their land. Of course, she could not, but asserted that there must be some reason, simply because “god is god.”
“So, it’s basically a might makes right type of situation?” I asked.
“No! It’s just that the bible tells us that god is all good, and all perfect.”
“What if the bible is wrong?”
“It can’t be wrong. It’s the perfect word of god.”
“And you know this because it’s written in the bible, right?”
“What if, when your god claimed to be all good, and incapable of lying or being mistaken, he was lying?”
“Well he can’t lie. He’s god.”
“What if you only believe he’s incapable of lying because he tricked you into believing that he’s incapable of lying, thus ensuring that all future lies would thus be covered? Would this not be the perfect smokescreen?”
The conversation went on for some time, with this poor woman becoming increasingly flustered. She agreed that these were all very good questions and that she would have “about five serious questions to ask my pastor about tomorrow.” She further said that I should talk to a professional theologian, who might have the answers for my questions (which I doubt, but it might be worth my time as a mental exercise). Nevertheless, she continued to assert that “you just have to have faith.”
“Faith that I’m wrong and that your god is right?”
“Because your god tells you you need to have that faith?”
“That, too, sounds like a perfect smokescreen to me.”
It was at around that time that she decided to break off her conversation with me, but not before asking me if I would mind her praying for me. “I have no objections to you talking to yourself in my presence, no.” I responded.
Her prayers were of a predictable sort, revolving around wishing that I would embrace the conditional and viciously-mis-expressed love of her monster god (though she did not phrase it in specifically these terms), before rejoining the rest of the flock under the tent.
(Tomorrow, in part 2 of 2, I get a chance to monopolize the priest's time for a while. It is a peculiar exchange.)