I’m thinking about when that pussy-grabbing tape came out.
Do you remember how “Christians” defended the perpetrator on the grounds that David (the man after God’s own heart) did worse?
That was the moment I became fully, consciously aware of the pervasiveness of the toxic version of Christianity.
Now, to be clear, like toxic masculinity, the word itself doesn’t imply that all Christians are toxic or that all forms of Christianity are toxic. I know many Christians and versions thereof that are not toxic. Just as I know many men who do not embrace toxic masculinity.
What “toxic Christianity” does mean is that a certain version of Christianity, like a certain version of masculinity, has been elevated to a position of privilege above others, and in that position of privilege has twisted and corrupted itself. There’s just something about unearned privilege that tends to corrupt truth and beauty into virulent, toxic waste.
Christianity is not the only religion easily corrupted by privilege, of course. But it is the one I am most familiar with.
For Christianity, being elevated to a position of privilege as the supposedly “official” religion of an entire country has been particularly damaging to its heart. The fact that it has been the dominant religion culturally and politically for much of the European and European-derived world has nearly destroyed it on many occasions.
Power and privilege were never the proper domains of Christianity. Jesus never said we should take over the world or influence the government or form a nation based on worship for the book people would write about him. Quite the opposite. He told us to be meek, to be humble, to accept the dictates of our secular government, to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, to turn the other cheek, to not trouble ourselves about worldly concerns but to put all our trust in God.
Yet somehow, here we are, in the “new Jerusalem” according to some versions of Christianity, demanding that our government be run on “Christian” principles, even at the cost of individual safety and freedom and compassion for the vulnerable.
As the power of Christianity as a dominant cultural and political force has grown, so has its toxicity.
Want to argue about that? Talk to me about the “pastors” who are endorsing a sexual predator in Alabama on the grounds that Mary (might have been) a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus. Talk to me about the “Christians” who are so worried about their daughters getting molested by the imaginary threat of transgendered individuals in the bathroom but were thrilled to support a predator who is known for targeting teenagers at the mall with sexual advances.
Talk to me about the many women I have known who feel trapped in abusive relationships because their entire “Christian” communities conspire to ensure that they have no support for leaving, based on the “Biblical” position that the woman’s place is with her husband no matter what.
Talk to me about the young girls being raped at home while they watch the young men who are doing the raping get raised up as leaders in their churches because the Bible says only boys can lead, and since she didn’t scream when he did it she’s at fault for it.
Talk to me about how “Christians” use Bible verses to defend their prejudices while ignoring the actual commands of Jesus and/or Bible verses that don’t fit their particular view of how others should behave. Who ignore dictates that happen to be personally inconvenient. Talk to me about the structures of religion that operate to continually silence victims and elevate perpetrators, all based, of course, on the Biblical principle currently being cherry-picked by the “church” leadership. Talk to me about how these “Christians” work to place their beliefs in an elevated position within government in order to force others to conform to their preferred practices and give their religion additional worldly protections that other religions don’t enjoy.
That’s not to say, of course, that all individuals who espouse any portion of toxic Christianity are themselves toxic. Of course not. We are all, every one of us, victims of our own limitations, and none of us is exempt from espousing views that are not healthy for ourselves or our co-habitants on this earth. We’re all human.
It’s the elevation of the toxic version of the religion itself that is the problem.
This toxic version of Christianity operates like a toxic spouse. So long as we go along and are nice to it and follow all its rules and don’t do anything to upset its sense of superiority, it treats us nicely in return. Tells us we’re all forgiven for our wretched sins and someday will live in glory with God. Lets us celebrate a pretty holiday that brings good cheer every year, as long as we say the right words and buy the right coffee. So long as we women bow our heads demurely while the men rape our daughters, everything is fine. It’s fine.
But what we are seeing here, in the wake of #MeToo, is what happens when the abused rises up against the abuser to claim their power. The toxicity has always been there, but only when it is questioned do we witness the full explosion of its fury.
Now we are seeing toxic Christianity’s toxic rage.
It’s not the first time, of course. Its rage emerges any time we choose to thwart its desire to control our bodies and minds, such as when we say “love is love is love is love” and toxic Christianity in its places of privilege in our houses of government says, “NOT ON MY WATCH.”
What we are witnessing here, today, may well be the death throes of toxic Christianity. One can hope, anyway, but one must also be aware that, as with the end of any toxic relationship, the death throes will be vicious.
Toxicity does not like to be thwarted. And when it is, it will take as much collateral damage as it can. Like the toxic spouse in a last-ditch rampage with a rifle, it will take down as many Christians, toxic or not, as it can. It will take down as many non-Christians as it can. It will take down the neighbors and the homeless person on the corner and the vulnerable and hungry and anyone else who happens to be nearby. If it can.
To reduce its damage, we have to unite against its toxicity, on behalf of its victims. Not against the people, not against the religion itself, but against the toxic version of it that is threatening to bring the whole world down with it.
It is also helpful, especially for those of us raised in the religion and damaged by some of its toxic elements, to remember that the hateful things it says about us are not true. It will do its best to get under our skin and make us ashamed to talk about what’s happened to us. It will try to make us ashamed to call into question its behavior. It wants us silenced.
Do not be silenced.
And in all things, above all else, practice love. I do not mean the squishy soft “nice” sort.
I mean the stand up and protect the vulnerable, defend the defenseless, speak the truth, and show compassion for the individual humans (but not the toxicity), hard as nails, fierce as a dragon protecting her young sort of love. Jesus turning over the tables in the temple love.
That’s how you defeat toxicity. It’s not gonna be pretty, but it is gonna be beautiful.
UPDATE: November 15, 2018 – I originally wrote this on Facebook, one year ago, to a carefully limited audience. It popped up in my memories today, and struck me as strangely prescient of some things that have happened for me personally in the past year. It continues to be pertinent socially, as well.
One thing I did change from the original: Everywhere that I have used the word “privilege,” I had originally written “power.” My friend Jacob Dragon suggested that “privilege” was a more accurate word choice, and I agree. Thus, with gratitude for his insight, the change.