Evangelical Christianity’s Ten Biggest Mindfucks

Skeptical babymind·fuck: [ˈmīndˌfək] NOUN. A disturbing or extremely confusing experience, in particular one that is caused by deliberate psychological manipulation.

Some stuff people tell you messes with your head if you buy into it. Maybe it’s self-contradictory. Maybe it doesn’t line up with what you know about yourself or the world around you. Maybe it makes you question the evidence of your own senses or your ability to think straight. Maybe it muddles your intuitions about right and wrong, making you ashamed of doing things that don’t actually harm anyone—or, conversely, prompting you to do things you would otherwise be ashamed of.

Perhaps at the hazy edge of your mind something seems a little off, but the idea comes from a person or community you admire and respect (and maybe need), so you nod along, pushing aside any misgivings—even parroting their words to yourself or other people. Then, hours or even years later, the trance shatters, and your mind clears and you think, wait, what?!—And you can’t believe you actually believed it.

Some people call that a mindfuck, and when I think about mindfucks I think—as a former Evangelical—about Evangelical Christianity, which traffics, wholesale, in mindfuckery. Here are some doozies that rank among Evangelicalism’s top ten.

1. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship. This quip is popular with campus evangelism groups like Athletes in Action and Cru. You might even have seen it on a bumper sticker at some point, because it’s one of Evangelicalism’s favorite ways of saying, We’re not like all those other (obviously false) faith-based belief systems. We just love Jesus and Jesus loves us, and he loves you, too.

From the inside, this relationship thing feels really real and really good. But from the outside it’s a bunch of transparent hooey. Your born-again Christianity is a love relationship—with a character whose name and history you got from a set of ancient texts that were compiled and handed down by a vast hierarchical organization that once torched dissenting texts (and people). And this not-religion has sacred writings and rituals and leaders and schools of systematic theology, and it dictates what people are supposed to believe and how they’re supposed to behave. And it provides all the same social functions and structures as religions. But Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship. Uh, huh.

2. That’s the OLD Testament. In my childhood Bible, the Old Testament is bound together with the New Testament in a gold-stamped blue leather cover with these words on the title page, “The words of Scripture as originally penned in the Hebrew and Greek . . . are the eternal Word of God.” This statement is followed by a verse from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever (Is 40:8).

To Evangelicals, the Old Testament is the timeless Word of God, except when the vile atrocities described there become inconvenient or when people quote horrible verses—say those that demean women, endorse slavery, condemn homosexuality and shellfish eating, promote the idea of Chosen bloodlines, or make statements that are scientific nonsense. Then it’s just the Old Testament, and Evangelicals pull out all kinds of fancy “supersessionist” language to explain that those verses don’t really count because of the “new covenant” or the “Dispensation of Grace.” But just try suggesting that a Bible believer take the Old Testament out of the Holy Bible. 

3. Yes, no, maybe. God answers prayer. Except when he doesn’t. The New Testament says, And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive  (Matthew 21:22; Mark 11:24). But everybody knows that in the real world that doesn’t happen. Christians face bankruptcies and bad test scores and death at the same rate as other people. God answers prayer at the margins of statistical significance, if at all—even when parents are asking for their kids to get healed from cancer, or kids are pleading that parents stop hitting them.

How does one explain that? The age-old Christian answer has been that when your prayers aren’t answered you should doubt yourself rather than God, assuming that your faith was too weak or you wanted something you shouldn’t. But Evangelicals have come up with something even more clever: God does always answer! It’s just that he sometimes says no, or maybe, instead of yes. That ask anything and it shall be done Bible verse really meant, ask selectively and he might say yes.

4. Be selfless for your own sake. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all, say the lyrics to one Christian song. Got that? “If you want to be great,” not “if you want to do the most good in the world.” Granted, learn to be the servant of all beats some other paths people take when they seek status, but it is a path to status nonetheless, which is why the church is full of self-proclaimed servant leaders who actually aspire to great man or woman status.

5. Christianity is humble. According to Catholic theology, pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Evangelical preachers tell us it was Satan’s original sin. Pride cometh before the fall, so humble yourself before God. Couple this claim about humility with the idea that you should preach [your version of] the gospel to every creature—and things get turned inside out and upside down.

Famed Puritan hellfire-and-brimstone minister Jonathan Edwards said, “We must view humility as one of the most essential things that characterizes true Christianity.” Edwards also expounded with righteous certitude about the torments of the wicked in hell—wicked meaning anyone who didn’t share his Puritan beliefs.

Anyone who has spent much time in an Evangelical church community knows that superior humility can be a powerful form of one-upmanship. But competitive humility aside, what could possibly be more arrogant than thinking the universe was made for mankind, that only we bipedal primates are made in the image of God, that all other sentient beings are here for us to use, that you happened to be born into the one true faith among the tens of thousands of false ones, and that the force that created the laws of physics wants a personal relationship with you. 

6. Christianity isn’t sexist; God just has different intentions and rules for men and women. Just because in the Old Testament God (identified by the male pronoun) makes man first, puts men in charge (male headship), gives men the right to barter women and take them as war booty doesn’t mean they’re unequal. Just because the New Testament forbids women to speak in church, tells them to cover their heads and submit to men, and excludes them from leadership positions doesn’t mean that women are inferior to men!

The Bible may be rife with stories with predominantly male protagonists. It may show women competing to have sons. Genealogies may be determined by paternity. God may convey his word exclusively through male writers and may take the form of a male human. But that doesn’t mean men and women are unequal! They’re just “different.” All of those generations of Patriarchs and Church Fathers and Reformers and Preachers who said vile things about women—they just misunderstood the Bible’s message on this point.

7. Believe and be saved. Right belief, according to Evangelicalism, is the toggle that sends people to heaven or hell—as if we could simply make ourselves believe whatever we want, regardless of the evidence, and as if the ability to do so were a virtue. Right belief makes you one of the Righteous. Wrong belief makes you one of the Wicked. God may have given you the ability to think, but you follow logic and evidence where they lead only at your own eternal peril. If you don’t believe, it’s because you secretly just don’t want to.

Granted we all are prone to a greater or lesser degree, to what psychologists call “motivated belief,” which follows from confirmatory thinking, our tendency to selectively seek evidence for things we either want to be true or, more rarely, fear to be true. But this is hardly a sign of robust character or moral virtue. Quite the opposite.

8. God loves you and he’ll send you to hell. And once you die, it’s all irreversible. George Carlin put it best: Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man … living in the sky. Who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer, and suffer, and burn, and scream, until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

OK, Carlin didn’t have his theology right, at least not from an Evangelical standpoint. You don’t go to hell for violating the Ten Commandments. You go to hell for not accepting Jesus as your savior. But yeah, he loves you, loves you, loves you, and if you don’t love him back and worship him and accept his gift of forgiveness for your imperfection, he’s going to torture you forever. Wrap your brain around that definition of love. 

9. Free choice under duress. Why is the world full of sin and suffering if God is all powerful and all good? Because he wanted us to worship him of our own free will. He loves us too much to force us, so we had to be able to choose—so the story goes.

But, but, if what he wanted was love and adoration, freely given, then why did he entice us with promises of heaven and threaten us with eternal torture? Can someone really love you if you demand their love at gunpoint? 

10. Lean not unto your own understanding. Faith is just believing. Trust and obey. Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13). The fool has said in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1).

The idea that your own mind, logic, and the evidence in the world around you is not to be trusted may be Evangelicalism’s biggest mindfuck, because it is subtext in all the others. Any doubts are just evidence that your mind (and basic human decency) are shaky. Since doubt is a sign of weak faith—and sometimes even direct from the devil—you should never ever trust what you think, feel, see or experience over what the Bible says and the Church teaches. Walk by faith, not by sight. Stop asking questions!

To be fair, Evangelicalism is not a monolith. Some Evangelicals eschew one or more of these teachings. Also to be fair, theologians proffer complicated work-arounds for all of them. But each item in this list is embraced by tens of millions of people, most of whom earnestly want to understand what is true and what is good. That earnest desire gets corrupted when decent people mistrust their own capacity for goodness, set aside their ability to think, and instead embrace mindfucks posing as wisdom and truth.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author ofTrusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.  Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
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38 Responses to Evangelical Christianity’s Ten Biggest Mindfucks

  1. john zande says:

    A Pulitzer for the title alone.

    If I may add one: the sheer and utter absurdity of:

    Liked by 7 people

    • Perry says:

      When I make that argument I also like to point out that since Jesus knew he was God and would live forever, his death was no sacrifice at all. What’s a little painful, temporary torture to an omnipotent god? Believers really like to play up the so-called sacrifice Jesus made, so I’ve found it to be the most effective argument of all when debating with them. It almost always shuts them up. No one has yet given me any clever rebuttal.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Simon (ex-C) says:

        Is that correct theologically? My understanding was that Jesus was supposed to have become fully human, with temptations and doubts, learning from the scriptures, coming to the realization he was the Son of God?
        My objection is more with the idea that blood sacrifice can atone for anything – any other gods which demand such things are seen to be barbaric and primitive.

        Like

      • Perry says:

        Is there such a thing as “correct theology”? My point is that it is all completely irrational. Here’s another example: why does God have only one son? He apparently made humans in his image and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, so why does God have only one son and no daughter(s)? Did he become impotent, or have a vasectomy? It’s all so irrational and contradictory that no amount of theological spin can make it sensible.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rudy Maraj says:

        Dear Perry, I think you missed the point of the crucifixion. It was not about the physical torture. It was the breaking of communion between the Father and the son, when he cried out “My God, My God , why hast thoud forsaken me?” The eternal relationship was bruised on the cross .

        Like

      • Then why bother with physical torture?

        Like

      • Perry says:

        That still doesn’t make any sense Rudy. Jesus/God may have visited hell, according to the myth, but he was never in any danger of staying there, unlike the humans he condemns. His death on the cross was no sacrifice at all. Even your argument admits that when you say the “eternal relationship” was merely “bruised on the cross”. That was my point, what’s a little bit of bruising by torture to an all powerful, immortal god? He could raise the dead, so it would be easy for him to anesthetize himself from the pain.There is no way to make the myth rational, no matter how much you theologically twist the torture myth.

        Like

      • koppieop says:

        …No one has yet given me any clever rebuttal….
        I agree, Perry. But believers tell me that the inability to appreciate the cleverness of any of their arguments, is due to my lack of faith, and I think they are right. So be it. :-)

        Like

      • Perry says:

        That still doesn’t make any sense Rudy. Jesus/God may have visited hell, according to the myth, but he was never in any danger of staying there, unlike the humans he condemns. His death on the cross was no sacrifice at all. Even your argument admits that when you say the “eternal relationship” was merely “bruised on the cross”. That was my point, what’s a little bit of bruising by torture to an all powerful, immortal god? He could raise the dead, so it would be easy for him to anesthetize himself from the pain.There is no way to make the myth rational, no matter how much you theologically twist the torture myth.

        Like

  2. George says:

    Thank you once again, Valerie, for your great insights from your own experience with Evangelicalism. (should that be capitalized?) You always have some new twist about Christianity that I read nowhere else and I appreciate your efforts in that regard.

    And thank you for keeping me posted. I work at Bart Centre’s Faithicide; killing religion with reason, one superstition at a time. I’m still working hard at gathering sufficient ideas such as yours to keep me going. But, “To argue with a man who has renounced his reason is like giving medicine to the dead.” Thomas Paine I’ve talked to a lot of those people.

    How’s the weather near my former largest community in King County? Rhetoric, I know. Should be able to predict that within a few raindrops this time of year…..
    May the force be with you,
    George West

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ty.howard41 says:

    Excellent!

    Sent from my Sprint Samsung Galaxy Note8.

    Like

  4. James Graham says:

    I think you are being too kind to religion. My take on it is that it is abject phantasmagorical bullshit and warps people’s grasp on reality.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. @expreacher says:

    Well done.
    It only those who need to apply these points could think it all thru and act……
    Very best wishes. :)

    Like

  6. Bill Mathis says:

    Great!! Thank you! Love your writing.

    Bill Mathis

    author: Face Your Fears http://www.billmathiswriteretc.com

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  7. David Miller says:

    I agree with James.

    Like

  8. Geoff Culkin says:

    Valarie,
    Outstanding compilation of Evangelical tenants. As a psychologist, perhaps you can explain in a future post what makes people willfully subject themselves to mindfucking? What makes some of us realize it is all bull shit?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, well said! This sums it all up brilliantly. Thank you.

    Like

  10. bewilderbeast says:

    Thank you. 1. So glad you used a blunt, honest word, not a euphemism! Mindfuck is right. 2. The way “believing” allows otherwise kind people to act viciously to “others” is so scary. And to the many who’ll deny “acting viciously”, if suggesting that a person could be tormented for eternity – or even nodding when someone else says it – isn’t vicious enough for you, what the hell is?

    Like

  11. Zande says existential death anxiety (above comment), sounds about right, the great unknown is a powerful force for mindfuckery in a shit-ton of people.

    Like

  12. Munroe Scott says:

    As usual, Valerie, very clearly stated. Thank you. But what really bothers me is that many “good” people who sincerely believe that stuff become high level politicians making life and death decisions affecting all of us. At election time it should be mandatory for all candidates for high office to undergo a public grilling about their beliefs. Your Senate confirmation hearings would be a good place to begin. Again, many thanks.

    Like

    • Born Naked says:

      I’m not sure “good” could be used to describe people who become high level politicians, especially if they pretend to sincerely believe this stuff.

      Like

  13. Rick says:

    Summed up perfectly!

    Like

  14. George Roberts says:

    Well said, Valerie. Yup, God said I love you so much that I sent my only offspring to get killed for your sins. You just have to believe that and you’re good to go. But if you don’t, I will kill you. In a nutshell–evangelical Christianity. Too many don’t want to hear it broken down like that. Make sure you don’t critically analyze your faith traditions!!!!

    Like

  15. Jim Lee says:

    I came across all of the things you mention here Valerie, during my ten year stint in Christianity. How they continually screw up scripture to suit themselves when the hard bits come to light. Its been some time now since I and my wife gave it all the flick. As non believers now in any religion it no longer bothers us, as we now understand its all make believe and hog wash. Two of our five adult kids are still entrenched in Christianity in a big way. One Pastors his own Pentecostal Church. They can always seem to justify their belief using some of the things you said in this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Perry says:

    Excellent. When the deliberate psychological manipulation involves the indoctrination of children too young to defend themselves from that mindfuck, I refer to it as mindrape. It ought to be a crime.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Geoff Toscano says:

    All very good points, and I don’t think there’s much left to add.

    My favourite bait is having someone claim that the bible is the inerrant word of god, then watching them squirm as even the most naive of observers picks apart their logic. Why don’t you stone your daughter to death for not being a virgin, or whatever admonishment is appropriate for eating shellfish, or wearing mixed cloths? I love that the OT is more bothered about how much you sell your slave for, or how you treat them, than whether you should own one in the first place.

    Then the defender of inerrancy squirms with embarrassment, claiming that ‘slave’ doesn’t mean ‘slave’ but rather is a form of indentured servitude, a term invented by apologists to get them off the hook, and that, whilst inerrant, the bible must, of course, be read in context (that is, re-phrased so as to accommodate inerrancy) and, in any event, the NT provides a new covenant, rendering the OT redundant. Oh boy! Of course they won’t then admit that homosexuality is okay, as it’s only an OT rule……

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Anthony says:

    Greetings Valerie,

    This is my first taste of your work I saw on Alternet. I am a Christian who practices under Jesus in the consciousness of Christ and I don’t condone what others may have done to an entire religion by projecting guilt, but it is not my place to suggest they change any faster than they are, knowing and trusting that all things are perfect exactly as they are, and I needn’t change a thing.

    So it must be that everyone has their religion for a reason. It is certainly a good thing if you can provide an objective perspective.

    Thanks for suggesting a change might be needed, but I’m happy with the way the world is at this moment, since it’s pretty obvious that the world is peopled by those who have a faulty memory, and thus are in need of the experience of the “mind fuck”.

    I understand it very deeply, and have come to peace with my thoughts with God. It’s my separated thoughts that suggest a need for change.

    PAY ATTENTION: Many people are waking up and begin to share a common goal of peace. This is the time of Heaven being ushered in, and the meaning of miracles to accompany forgiveness and authentic humility. We will, I do confidently assure you, Valerie, wake up. Trust with me.

    Cheers,

    Anthony R. Fogleman see: anthonyfogleman.com

    Like

  19. koppieop says:

    As children, we have no other choice than to accept unbelievable stories that are told to us. But why don’t we reject them altogether when we begin to think for ourselves – or even years later? Is it because brain structures are inalterable? Would that then explain why so many people live long and happy lives in spite of complete nonsensical concepts?
    .-

    Liked by 1 person

  20. FANTASTIC column. But I have one more to add. And I think it’s a biggie:

    “Of COURSE I’m sad/anxious/upset that people are going to hell. But…”

    There’s some nuance to unpack with this one, and I rarely see it addressed specifically. So let me explain, with this example:

    “My mother died just a month after I was born again,” said my friend. “And I knew she went to hell, because she wasn’t a Christian. But Jesus has brought me SO much peace! God’s Word reminds us that Jesus will wipe away all of our tears in heaven. This is the joy I want for you.”

    Let me be clear: My friend believes in a literal, burning, eternal hell for unbelievers. And, while her husband and church friends are believers, EVERYONE ELSE IN HER LIFE — her extended family, her children, me — are not.

    Yet, she’s happy. Joyful. At peace.

    EVEN THOUGH she believes her mom has been literally burning alive 24/7 for 15 years, and will, forever. EVEN THOUGH she knows anyone else in her life could die at any moment, and meet the same fate.

    You see, it’s ONE thing to fear that your loved ones are in hell (or may go there); I once did, and it shattered me.

    To believe it — AND be OKAY with it — is another thing entirely. To “know” loved ones are burning now and forever, and be able to function AT ALL — much less to be overcome with happiness — requires a certain level of sociopathy, cognitive dissonance, or both. (Imagine the same person’s reaction to her mother or daughter’s being trapped in a burning car, for even a few moments!)

    I’ve attempted to engage Evangelicals and Fundamentalists on this point, but they always wriggle away. It always goes like this:

    >>”Utimately, it was HER choice to accept Christ or not. I couldn’t make that decision for her.”<>”God loves her even more than I love her. And he loves her too much to force his love on her.”<>”She deserved to go to hell, because we ALL do. There isn’t a double standard. I’m a sinner too, and I admit it!”<>”We don’t know what her last thoughts were before she died. She may have accepted Jesus at the last moment.”<>”God looks into peoples’ hearts. Just because she didn’t confess Christ specifically, doesn’t mean she wasn’t a Christian inside.”

    Okay … IF you are a liberal Christian, and IF you apply this back door to other “good” people (like Ghandi). If, however, you claim to be a Conservative Christian, this is a card you CANT play. Sorry.

    This friend knew I was in recovery from years of religious trauma and abuse. She opened up her home to me when I lost everything. She had been so “tolerant” and “accepting” about my loss of faith. But in this one conversation, she not only “No True Scotsmaned” me (“You were never REALLY Christian”), she said THIS to me.

    I didn’t say it then, but I’ll say it here: No. That is NOT the sort of “joy” I want. Never.

    Like

  21. allanmerry@allanmerry.net says:

    THANKS! As Always! The Whys? Fear and Hopelessness. (sp?) We need vastly more (and Way more individualized recipes for) Intervention capability. And the resources to support the people to learn and preform it. Public resources, I betting. Meanwhile I can practice how better to “explore” issues with others, so they may take something from my viewpoints. I share the view that notwithstanding the true “good” that many Believers do for others (eg. the non-sectarian Community FoodBank), “True Religion” is seriously counterproductive. In my experience, telling them outright that they’re Wrong doesn’t work well.

    Like

    • Amy Anderson says:

      I realized it was all baloney when I was in high school. I sat and listened to the basically uneducated Baptist minister try to persuade about what he knew little to nothing about. And when he began to harangue about that ‘Catholic’ that was running for President in ’62 in every weekly sermon, that’s when I knew his beliefs were not mine and never would be.

      There is no understanding much of anything in the Bible, so it’s useless to try to argue any belief from it. And that was and is the purpose. If you believe what’s in the Bible comes from an all knowing GOD, you will believe anything. That is what the Conservative Right knows. Don’t think for a moment THEY believe the nonsense. It’s a tool to keep the ignorant ignorant. And it obviously works. But ignorance is dangerous and cruel. Just observe what it has wrought in a mere two years.

      Liked by 1 person

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