Saturday, September 15, 2012
Crossing the line
If you're not on the Stuff Christian Culture Likes facebook page, you really should be! It's a fun forum where believers - and non-believers - of all kinds come together to laugh/be horrified by/learn about/mock some of the stranger aspects and characters of Christian Culture. However not everyone thinks it's a great place. Ever so often some well meaning soul will drop by to express their disgust or deep disappointment with the tone of the page. They'll point out that all this mocking is mean and counter productive and that in making fun of guys like Pat Robertson and Mark Driscoll we become as bad as they are. "Where's your moral high ground?", they ask? "Aren't you just being a part of the problem here?". Well, no.
These people, who tend to for the most part be truly well intentioned, do not understand. I don't think they can. You have to have been through certain things to understand them. I thought I understood (and I did, intellectually at least) but my recent foray back into the Pentecostal fold brought me some real gut level understanding. I get it now. Maybe, if I explain where I'm coming from with this, those who don't understand will have a better idea where some of us are coming from.
See, if you were brought up without religion or with some laid back, non-threatening religion or even with the stiff-and-formal-go-to-church-and-forget-about-it-for-the-week kind of religion then I don't expect you to understand why mocking someone's religious ideas can be such a healing experience. Me, I had none of that growing up. When I grew up, I knew there was this great invisible line. On the one side of the line was me, my family and pretty much everyone. On the other side of the line was God, His Word, and His Pastor. Well obviously not just my pastor, all pastors and prophets and evangelists, but you get my drift. People on my side of the line respected the guys on the other side with a respect bordering on reverence. What a pastor told you was the truth. What a visiting evangelist told you was the truth. It didn't matter if it sounded crazy or completely implausible, if someone from that side of the line said it happened then it happened. You believed it or else.
Or else what?
I remember this one story our pastor told once. I was around 10 years old and that story scared me so bad I remember it like he told it yesterday. Apparently back when the Pentecostal revival hit South Africa (around the 50's I think), these new converts faced a lot of persecution from the mainstream Dutch Reformed churches. Since those churches practice infant baptism, they took the adult baptism (or re-baptism as they sometimes called it) of the Pentecostals to be bordering on heresy. So one day this pastor was baptising people in the river when some boys came along with their dog. They started mocking this pastor by getting into the water and "baptising" the dog, copying his style directly. The pastor didn't even turn around. He just looked up and told some of the bystanders to go get the bodies out of the water. To everyone's shock they saw that all 3 boys were floating there dead.
Stories like that tend to stay with you. See guys on the other side of the line were on God's side of the line. They had The Anointing. You didn't mess with someone with The Anointing, for they had access to great and terrible power. God took their side in a fight and you didn't want to be fighting against God. Didn't even matter if the pastor happened to be technically in the wrong, the rule was "touch not God's anointed". So you did not criticize, you did not mock, you did not question unless you could do so very submissively while walking on eggshells around them.
Look I'm not saying everyone thought crossing the pastor would cause you to actually die. I'm just saying it wasn't something you did. If you did, something might happen. Something bad. Something unpleasant. You'd get sick or your car would break or have trouble in your work. Bad things happened to people who don't keep their blasphemous mouths shut. So I respected the line and gave my full reverence to everyone on the other side of it.
Now fast forward to this day. A few weeks ago, I crossed that line for the first time. Crossed it for real. Not here on my blog, where it feels safe and I've done it a hundred times. Not hanging out with like minded friends in real life or online. No for the first time in my adult life I walked into a church and dared to not respect the line. Do you have any idea how healing that was for me?
To be able to listen to a sermon, recognize that the story I'm being fed is bullshit and admit it to myself was a huge step. Being able to look at "God's Anointed" do his act and think "you're an ignorant, self-aggrandizing liar and you should be ashamed of yourself" was immensely freeing! I don't think there is a word for that feeling you get when years of fear and bad memories just lose their hold on you all at once. It felt like freedom, it felt like healing, it felt like...
You know what it felt like? It was like sailing your ship over the horizon and not falling off, after being told all your life that the world ended right over there. It felt like venturing into that forbidden forest only to find that here be in actual fact no monsters at all. Pastors have no dread power. There is no line.
I knew there was no line but I didn't KNOW there was no line right up to the moment I actually went into that church and dared to test it.
Which I guess is my very long winded way of saying that mocking a preacher or a church for being ridiculous or stupid can be incredibly healing. Like I said, it may not make sense to you if you've never had to deal with any spiritual abuse but if you had, you'll know what I'm talking about. Crossing that line without any eggshell walking empowers you. Being able to mock them strips away all their power over you. It's not just helpful, I think it's kind of necessary. It's all a bluff but you will never truly know it until you call it. Once you see them as they really are they won't have a hold on you ever again.
Just FYI, I'm not saying go be a dick to every religious person you meet, I'm just saying that if someone does something laughably stupid you shouldn't feel the obligation to pretend it wasn't funny. There is no reason to treat people or institutions as inherently worthy of your reverence, especially if they've done nothing to deserve it. If a pastor (or a church) wants my respect he has to earn it, just like everyone else. Simple as that.