Five False Presumptions Christians Make About Non-believers by Christina Knowles

Snagged from google images.
Snagged from google images.

There are five presumptions that many Christians make regarding non-believers that are destructive and simply not true. As a person who has wavered back and forth between belief and unbelief, I have had to confront these myths frequently. They offend me, insult me, and hurt me every time I am exposed to them, and plainly put, they are a result of an ignorance of the lives of non-believers and experiences outside the Christian community.

1) YOU CAN’T REALLY BE HAPPY OR HAVE MEANING WITHOUT CHRIST AS THE CENTER OF YOUR LIFE. Nine years ago, when I was a single mom and not a believer in Christ or God at all, I was happy, extremely happy. I felt as if I was living out my purpose. I loved my job, I loved my kids, I loved my life. In fact, I have had far greater unhappiness and confusion about the meaning of life as a Christian than with any other belief system. And at times when I embraced no belief whatsoever, I was very much at peace, free from the confusion and ambivalence of believing some, but not all, of the bible. I don’t necessarily think happiness is the purpose of life, and it has nothing to do with my unbelief; however, I get really tired of hearing things about myself that I know are simply not true. For example, I heard a well-known pastor say on a Christian talk radio show the other day, this ridiculous statement: “Have you ever met someone who was not a Christian that was totally, enthusiastically happy? Of course not. Me neither.” Uh, yes, as a matter of fact, I’ve known numerous enthusiastically happy atheists and people who practice other religions as well.

2) YOU CAN’T HAVE A REALLY GOOD MARRIAGE UNLESS YOU PUT CHRIST FIRST IN YOUR MARRIAGE. I have an extremely happy marriage, and Christ is definitely not at the center of it and probably never has been. Although my husband is a man of strong faith and professes true belief and commitment to Christ, I have only been an actively believing Christian for about two and half of the years we’ve been married, and even during these periods, we always put each other first, and still do. We treat each other unselfishly, with kindness, we don’t ever name-call or even shout at each other in a disagreement because we respect each other, admire each other, esteem each other better than ourselves. There is no adherence to traditional roles, no mandate to submissiveness, no ridiculous idea that he, as a man, needs respect more than love, or I, as a woman, need love more than respect. We both need love and respect equally. I believe we would be just as happy with each other and treat each other as well if either one of us were atheists, Hindu, Wiccan, Buddhists, or a number of other religions.

3)YOU CAN’T GENUINELY LOVE PEOPLE OR PUT OTHERS BEFORE YOURSELF WITHOUT THE SUPERNATURAL HELP OF GOD. I never had a problem having a soft heart towards a vast number of people. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I believe strongly in mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. I cannot hold a grudge even if I want to. I find it easy to love my students, my family, my friends, and even those I dislike at first, I can easily come to care about if I see the vulnerable side of them. When Christians say this, it makes me believe that they are the ones who have difficulty loving others if they truly believe it takes a supernatural effort to do it. I, personally, don’t find it that difficult.

This is the myth that actually inspired this blog. Because I am pretty open about my inability to believe the bible, I occasionally receive mail or comments from well-meaning people concerned for my soul. I can live with that. There are worse things than knowing that someone out there cares enough about me to pray for me and to worry about where I will spend eternity. So recently, I was open to having a conversation with a Christian woman who said she wished to discuss my unbelief and faith struggles. I should have seen the warning signs that were always there, but I didn’t. I try to assume the best about people, so I brushed them aside, and told myself that I was merely being defensive. I wasn’t.

This particular woman had previously made comments about how she was praying for me to be able to “deal” with my students (I’m a high school teacher). She mentioned a few times how I needed God’s strength to do this. At the time I thought it was strange. I don’t find it difficult to interact with my students. In fact, my students are the best part of my job. They are fun, entertaining, at times sweet, very lovable, intellectually fascinating, and I see them as my “other kids.” I love talking to them, teaching them, I hurt for them when they struggle, I laugh with them about all kinds of things, I listen to their problems, learn from their insights and experiences, and I cry and celebrate when I see them graduate. So, I brushed aside the feeling that she was somehow concerned that I was unable to show kindness to them or care about them merely because I was unable to have faith that God is good or believe the bible. After all, a lot of people who don’t work with teenagers seem to think that that would be the difficult part of the job. It’s not. Almost all high school teachers enjoy their students and consider their time with them the best thing about teaching.

So, I decided to see what she had to say, if she had any insight that I hadn’t considered, but when she contacted me, she made it very clear that she was not concerned about me at all, but for my influence on my students. She implied—no strike that—she told me directly that without God’s supernatural ability to love, I could not show love to my students, and she was concerned and praying for me so that I would have God’s help in order to show my poor students kindness and love. Naturally, I was very hurt and extremely insulted. Not only did she not care about me at all, she assumed I did not care for or treat my students with love and kindness. Newsflash:  All people are capable of love, at times unconditional love, at times self-sacrificing love. Christians are not any more capable of this than anyone else. In fact, those who hold dogmatic beliefs, often struggle with this concept more than others, but even they are capable.

4) YOU NEED FAITH IN GOD AND SUPERNATURAL STRENGTH TO BE A MORAL PERSON. Again, I don’t find this particularly difficult. I am not trying to say I am a perfect person, without sin, without a mean thought, or that I haven’t said something I regret that’s hurt someone. I have. But I am a moral person with high standards of ethics by which I actively try to live. I believe most people who have internalized a moral code, whether or not they are believers, tend to do good things and avoid evil things, and those who have low moral standards won’t be any different because they convert to a certain religion. There are a few exceptions to this, but this is my overall experience. In addition, some of the most kind, compassionate, and moral people I have ever met have been atheists. If you need supernatural strength to be moral, then you probably have not really internalized your moral beliefs.

5) IF AFTER BELIEVING IN THE TENETS OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH AND SINCERELY FOLLOWING CHRIST, YOU CHANGE YOUR MIND THROUGH RATIONAL THOUGHT AND INTENSE INVESTIGATION, YOU MUST NEVER HAVE REALLY BEEN SAVED. Well, the last one would only be true if there is no god or no salvation because if one sincerely believed and confessed with his mouth, then according to Christian belief, they were saved. Some Christians believe a person can lose salvation and others believe one can’t. Either way, it does not change the fact that according to Christian belief, they were, at one time, saved.

However, if there is no such thing, then it is true, they never were. Nevertheless, this does not diminish the fact that the belief and profession were once real. Christians should not presume that people are putting on a façade or that they did not truly believe and commit at one time. It is all too easy for Christians to explain away apostasy by assuming there was something wrong with the initial conversion of someone who reneges on a life of accepting what makes no sense without faith and acceptance in the “I’m not God, so I’ll never understand” mentality. It is the only way they can justify anyone abandoning Christianity.

But the truth is, numerous people who were sincere in their faith and commitment at the time of their conversions are leaving the faith daily. Still others are afraid to “come out” with their doubts and questions for fear of attacks from the Christian community as we recently saw in the case of Dan Haseltine of Jars of Clay when he merely questioned mainstream religious views on gay marriage.

This is extremely common, but the fact is, people do have questions, and it’s okay to say that the bible does not make sense to them without being accused of being incapable of happiness, lacking purpose, or having a difficult marriage full of conflict. They should not be accused of being incapable of selfless love, powerless to act according to moral behavior, or be accused of “pretending” to be a Christian when they used to actually believe, but have later thoughtfully, carefully, and agonizingly come to the conclusion that they cannot maintain faith in these beliefs.

The perpetuation of these myths that some Christians hold toward non-believers is shallow and destructive to others, which I do not believe is a stated Christian value. Furthermore, it shows a lack of observation and understanding of the real world and the people in it, and serves no purpose apart from inflating the hubris of the pious by believing they have access to special abilities that no one else supposedly does. It would be much more helpful to realize that we are all humans with the same types of thoughts, feelings, fears, and often times, motivations. Christians don’t have a monopoly on happiness and ethics, and we all are capable of goodness, we are all flawed, and we are all human, regardless of beliefs.—Christina Knowles

Originally posted in 2014

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The Destructive Phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey by Christina Knowles

Snagged from www.nydailynews.com
Snagged from wwwnydailynews.com

I have purposefully never read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I did watch the movie, 9 1/2 Weeks starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, which to my understanding is basically the same story of sexual manipulation and submission.  Rourke’s character is even named John Gray. However, 9 1/2 Weeks alludes to the fact that this type of relationship is ultimately damaging to the parties involved, whereas Fifty Shades of Grey does not. I have seen the repulsive previews of the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey and listened to my friends and co-workers rave about the books. The fact that this book series is popular with women is disturbing to me in so many ways. I am shocked and disgusted with the idea that women think this is sexy or romantic. In Christian Grey’s own words, “I don’t do romantic.” You’ve got that right, Christian; you certainly don’t.

However, I have heard numerous women say that the books are romantic. I believe these books portray the ideal relationship as dangerously abusive, patronizing, and dehumanizing, which should not be a romantic ideal for women, yet women are being brainwashed into thinking that being treated like a sex object, devoid of all identity and independence, is romantic as long as your partner is completely obsessed with you. This is a common idea in every Harlequin and Silhouette romance novel I ever had the misfortune of reading as a teenager, perpetuating the idea that obsession equals love; it is ludicrous. Yet many women believe this, and apparently not just as teenagers. If you were to ask them if they wanted a relationship characterized by submissiveness, low self-esteem, and having no identity of their own, they would say, “Of course not.” However, that is exactly the kind of relationship idealized in these books.

In Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian demands that Anastasia sign a contract to exercise a certain number of days each week, eat only what Christian tells her to eat, and take a form of birth control, so he doesn’t have to wear a condom during sex, implying that her physical appearance and not having a child with her are his greatest concerns. Does this say love to you? Romantic? How about sexy? Christian Grey is a sociopathic control freak, and Anastasia is in danger, not only physically, but also from losing all sense of self and independence. Christian does not care about Anastasia as a person at all. He basically owns her as a sexual object, and he doesn’t care about her feelings or her well-being. So is it the danger that is sexy? It is true that some people are sexually excited by danger, but is this ever considered healthy or loving? Something for women to daydream about? Sounds more like a male fantasy to me, a stereo-typical and unhealthy male’s fantasy. So why do women love it?

Surprisingly, some feminists find that Fifty Shades of Grey supports “traditional family values,” values which many women have worked hard to overcome, values advocating for the submissive role of women in marriage and the dominant aspects of male authority. According to feminist writer Carey Purcell of The Huffington Post, ideals promoted in Fifty Shades are not only damaging to women and relationships, but are archaic and patriarchal in nature, “Early marriage to one’s first sexual partner, having a baby even when saying neither of the partners is ready to be a parent, and submission to one’s husband as the head of the household are all aspects of life that feminists and progressive thinkers have worked to move beyond. Anastasia and Christian’s relationship is not romantic. It is abusive” (Purcell). In fact Christian’s first observation after saying his wedding vows is that now Anastasia unequivocally “belongs” to him, and he doesn’t mean this in the mutual or metaphorical sense. He is now free to require anything he desires from her. One might ask in the 21st century, when will we be done with oppressive gender roles for women? This, in my opinion, is just another patriarchal subversion designed to brainwash women into thinking that they want to be subjugated and objectified.

Of course, sadists are not all men, and masochists are not all women; however, for the purpose of the romance novel, this is usually the case. Sadomasochism is about annihilating self—the persons in submission have their identity and will annihilated. It is not about love, but killing the will of the other person. However, once the will is dead, the oppressor will often move on to a new victim, someone who still has a will to remove because this is where the pleasure for the sadist originates. The victim is left with the shattered pieces of her life to try and patch back together.

Many people will argue that role-playing and sadomasochism are just lifestyle choices and should be viewed as healthy among consenting adults. Ask anyone who has broken free of this lifestyle and see if this is how she sees it. But let’s see what the experts have to say. According to psychologist, Michael J. Formica, “In a relationship driven by power and control, rather than compassion and cooperation, one partner becomes ‘parentalized’ and the other ‘infantilized’. . . When the underlying dynamic shifts to one of compassion, cooperation and communication from one of push and pull, the cycle ceases, or at least recedes into the background, and the stage for authentic relationship is then set” (Formica). In other words, to have an authentic relationship consisting of compassion and cooperation, the cycle of sadomasochistic abuse must end.

Not only does this book series promote practices that destroy healthy relationships, but it stands to reason, that the mainstream acceptance of these ideas as “normal” will increase the danger of violence against women in the form of date rape, stalking, and even rape by strangers with the idea that women secretly desire this behavior, even if they don’t know it. So why are women attracted to this nonsense? I believe the only women who find these sadomasochistic scenarios sexy, are women who have either never been in a controlling relationship or are still caught in the destructive cycle of abuse.

One theory about the popularity of these types of relationships is that these women, like Anastasia, have “daddy” issues; they long for the love of a controlling parental figure because they have felt the lack of it at an early, developmental age. But I know too many women for which this is not the case. My theory is that we, as women, are conditioned from childhood to think our main source of self-esteem is derived from our attractiveness and appeal to men. If men find us irresistible, attractive, desirable, then we are worthy, and we will not end up alone, which we are taught to believe is the ultimate curse, and that we will find “true” love if our male counterparts are obsessed with us sexually. Magazines such as Cosmopolitan give women sexual advice to hold a man, reinforcing this as our primary value to the opposite sex. Women are taught that if a man is insatiably obsessed with them, this equals everlasting love. At the same time we are being taught this, men are being taught to be sexual animals even in greater degree than biology dictates. Men are taught to take what they want in order to be a man, they are told that women are attracted to “bad boys,” and that strength and violence are attractive. Being who we are is never enough, we must play games, dress up, role play, and be someone else, which inevitably lowers our self-esteem because we realize we are not good enough as we are.

Women are taught from youth that love means sacrifice and putting others first, even when it costs them their very lives and identities. And being willing to do anything sexually is the ultimate power over men. Women are considered desirable and valuable only because they are willing to do whatever a man desires sexually, even if it is degrading to them as people. This ideology turns the entire relationship into a “game,” while in reality, love and true intimacy require the absence of game-playing. For a healthy, successful relationship, a couple needs to know their communications, interactions, and sexual intimacy are authentic. Therefore, the type of “romance” in these novels is not only destructive to the psyche of both parties, but true intimacy and love can never exist within this framework.

I believe, once a woman experiences this type of relationship, she either mindlessly continues seeking this type of relationship as each ends in a vain attempt to succeed where the others failed, or if she is lucky, she will emerge from her conditioning, realize she is valuable just the way she is, and then she will no longer need a relationship to make her whole; she will know she is fine by herself, and will then only enter into a relationship if it is a healthy partnership, wherein both parties can be totally themselves with complete honesty and no unhealthy game-playing. When both people are healthy, each one caring for each other and themselves, neither person needs to control the other, and sex becomes just another way to communicate love, respect, and intimacy. It puts sex in its proper place and removes it as a means of subjugation and humiliation, which is a healthier and ultimately more satisfying place for it.

So, I refuse to participate in society’s patriarchal attempts to condition me to equate my value as a human being with the sexual gratification and the controlling desires of men. I am not a prude, but I sincerely believe women need to actively judge for themselves what it means to be loved or even desired in a relationship. Do you want to be re-made into an object of degrading fantasy, or do you want to be seen as worthy of love and respect the way you actually are, and have your sexual relationship be about expressing that value in the most intimate way? Don’t send the wrong message to men. Subjugation, humiliation, and physical control are not sexy or manly—and not what we want from them.—Christina Knowles

Sources:

Formica, Michael J. “Sadomasochism in Everyday Relationships.” Psychology Today. June 13, 2008. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/enlightened-living/200806/sadomasochism-in-everyday-relationships Accessed: October 23, 2014.

Purceel, Carey. “Fifty Shades of Feminism – A Response to E. L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’” The Huffington Post. January 2, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-purcell/fifty-shades-of-grey-feminism_b_2395932.html Accessed: October 23, 2014.

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