Backsliding: Victim-Blaming and Culthood 101

Tim Challies, a Christian blogger (that I used to follow) has an interesting pair of articles I came across thanks to a Facebook link about “backsliding,” an ambiguous term that wrests itself in bad theology as an excuse given for people who either stop caring or realize it’s a sham.  It describes men or women who ‘slide back’ into their old pre-Christian ways, exhibiting themselves as never having been Christians in the first place.

This, of course, begs the question of what a Christian truly is.  Is it a requirement that a Christian always be a Christian, or is it guaranteed that the holy spirit, once it is alive and active, never leaves?  The answer, of course, is easy: The holy spirit doesn’t exist, but for all intents and purposes, claiming to believe in Jesus (and exhibiting changes) means you’re a Christian, and can “backslide” into not being one, or not being as much of one.

Falling Away as Victim Blaming

The idea of absolving God from a Christian’s change of heart is essential to maintaining the ruse that God actually exists (much like arguments from the problem of evil/original sin).  In all these arguments, the notion of “free will” is the scapegoat for victim-blaming.  This shift of blame to the victim from God serves as a powerful cognitive deterrent from inquiring “what if there is no God?” Because this question makes more sense if it is clear that “God” fails over and over again, it is necessary for religion to survive if the burden of failure can always be shifted away from God and onto the believer.

Challies’ first article gives 4 reasons for people backsliding as Christians, all of which are a form of victim-blaming, that place the failure of Christianity to take root squarely on the shoulders of the person, not on the spirit or God.

Reason #1:The conscience is awakened, but the mind is not changed.

In other words, God did his part, but you (Christian) didn’t do yours: God (pastors, preachers, parents, friends) made you feel guilty over your imaginary crime (sin), but this guilt didn’t convince you enough to change your mind. Therefore it’s the believer’s choice to suffer eternal torment.

Reason #2:They are overwhelmed by fear of man.

Again, it isn’t that God is too impotent to truly convince believers, nor that it is a delusional position, but that mean people ridicule you, and shame on you for using reason and cautiously evaluating things.  Such provisions against trusting others are inbuilt to religion, as will be clear in a moment.

Reason #3:They are full of pride, unwilling to face the world-ward shame that comes with the gospel.

This one barely makes sense to me anymore.  The definition of pride is feeling inwardly happy of one’s own achievements, and every reason so-far mentioned places the consequence of non-belief squarely on victim’s shoulders (though of course the Gospel is ignorant of this fact, and places all the good on God for slaughtering his child in a ritualistic blood sacrifice).  I’m still not sure how “I don’t know” is prideful, but claiming with absolute certainty eternal life contingent on symbolical cannibalization of a scantly-documented prophet from the first century isn’t.

Reason #4:they refuse to face their own guilt and the danger that will come to them if they do not receive forgiveness for wrongs done.

Again, people leave the faith because they don’t beat themselves up over imaginary crimes enough.  Not enough blame in the victim-blaming.

It is unsurprising that Challies leaves off a common reason for backsliding: realizing that Christianity, like Islam, Judaism, Zeusism, Thorism, is a sham, is predicated on weak evidence, and isn’t worth believing in.  Of course, often this discovery is catalyzed by the aforementioned reasons (although in my case a pursuit of proof as prescribed by 1 Peter 3:15 was the motivation point), but for whatever reason, it is clear to those in power that they must maximally dissuade people from honest inquiry, and foist indoctrination and repetition of these untruths into believers’ lives, lest they fall away and no longer buy into the group delusion.

How to Backslide Leave a Cult

The Illusion of Truth, as it is known in psychology, is the increasing of trust in claims via repetition.  This phenomenon is commonly referred to as indoctrination.  From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, it’s a great thing to trust that which repeatedly shows itself to behave similarly (this is a fundamental premise of the scientific method), but when it comes to repeating truth claims, it is not necessarily a benefit to believing true things.  Religions for eons have preyed upon this mismatch of human nature: by repeating a lie enough times, it eventually seems true.  Such is the subtextual reason for religious rituals, gatherings, and fellowship, and Challies’ list of “How to Backslide” betrays this fact in a not-so-subtle way:

  1. Stop meditating on the gospel.
  2. Neglect your devotions and stop battling sin.
  3. Isolate yourself from Christian fellowship.
  4. Stop going to church.
  5. Determine that Christians are hypocrites because they continue to sin.
  6. Trade Christian community for distinctly unChristian company.
  7. Pursue rebellious conversation and fellowship.
  8. Allow yourself to enjoy some small, sinful pleasures.
  9. Admit what you are and prepare yourself for everlasting torment.

1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 are essentially the same thing: Quit telling yourself and surrounding yourself with nonsense.  Culthood 101: Isolate people from any external influence that might entice them to actually think about what they’re doing.  Number 5 is victim blaming rehashed, pointing out that the failing, sinful Christians are to blame for being hypocrites, not God (maybe they’re backslidden, themselves!). Number 8 is dangerous because it seeks to poke holes in the imaginary guilt caused by “sin,” such as finding members of the opposite sex (or same sex!) attractive, or for being angry at something that is anger-worthy.

Finally, 9 is just a childish attempt to scare people into submission.  I accepted this notion might be true of me, if, of course, it weren’t all just imagination and credulity run amok for 3 millennia.  As it stands, however, I started doing these things after I began realizing that the entire enterprise was based on falsehoods, deceit, and weak evidence.  Christianity is essentially a big lie that depends on victim-blaming, guilt, empty threats (with Hell), and cult-like indoctrination to keep people from questioning or leaving it.  I was very thankful that Challies provided such a succinct set of information that I could use to identify these tendencies.

…that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. - Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

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  • Alan

    All children are taught something. Indoctrination of the theory evolution is also harmful, even though we both agree its true. Whats most harmful about it is the reduction in the capacity of free inquiry. However, just like evolution, not all persons who believe Christianity believe that free inquiry should be stifled. It isn’t the fault of a theology(/philosophy/scientific principle etc), the abuse thereof.

    • Abraham Rodriguez

      Except there is a difference (and hard to miss, not subtle at all) between indoctrination and education. I have never seen a church of evolution, or a Darwinian Church, or anything of the sort. Never have I seen a group/congregation dedicated to teaching lies as fact to little children, using eternal damnation as deterrent of leaving or thinking differently, other than religion.

      Indoctrination of evolution is basically an oxymoron. You cannot indoctrinate science, as the definition itself of indoctrination is to teach ideas/ideologies and expect they critically examine what has been taught. Science is the exact opposite, inquiry is the most important part.