Every so often, I like to check out a subreddit (or “sub”) devoted to TRUE CHRISTIANS™. In fact, that is almost exactly its name: r/TrueChristian. The first time I ran into the sub, I thought it was satirical. Who knows, I thought. Maybe modern humor has finally escaped the event horizon. But no. These folks are dead serious. They are TRUE CHRISTIANS™, and they need to gather together to talk about it.
There’s just one problem: The very definition of TRUE CHRISTIANS™ is entirely subjective. So all too often, the group has to deal with posters who don’t share others’ beliefs at all, or with posters who have problems that put their definition in jeopardy. To help those posters, though, all they have is a Doctrinal Yardstick that is, itself, a response to the purely-subjective definition of Christianity that every Christian creates and employs.
In the Reddit posts that follow, I’m not showcasing these posters to pick on them or make them targets. Rather, I want to show how a poorly-defined label leads, inevitably, to these exact situations.
(This post first went live on 7/6/2023 on Patreon. Its audio ‘cast lives there too and should be available as you read this!)
TRUE CHRISTIAN™: A quick refresher definition
Unfortunately for Christians, the Bible never gets around to telling them exactly what a Christian must do and believe in order to wear the label. That’s why there are tens of thousands of competing flavors of Christianity. Each one thinks that it’s nailed Jesusing perfectly. Every other flavor, therefore, is incorrectly Jesusing. In cases of particularly-egregious mis-Jesusing, those flavors’ adherents might even be sending themselves to Hell without even realizing it!
In the absence of clear instructions, all Christians must adopt the flavor that they think comes closest to their own internal definition of the ideal Christian.
It all works out to an interestingly subjective definition. A TRUE CHRISTIAN™:
- Believes the same package of nonsense the judging Christian does, and holds roughly the same devotions and doctrinal stances
- Hasn’t gotten caught doing anything the judging Christian thinks is utterly off-limits
- Dies with both previous conditions being true
The third part of the definition really only comes into play with those who have left the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ flavor the judge prefers.
Note that even the very nicest Christians are quick to yank their shared label from particularly embarrassing hypocrites. Denying each other’s label is quite a beloved activity in this religion.
The Doctrinal Yardstick: An even quicker refresher definition
As you can see from the definition of TRUE CHRISTIAN™, there is absolutely no way for any Christian to make all other Christians accept their definition of the term as the only valid one. Nor is there any way for any one Christian to force all others to comply with it.
Instead of finding consensus, Christians like to consider their beliefs and customs the standard by which all other flavors must be judged. This standard becomes their Doctrinal Yardstick. Authoritarian Christians, in particular, need to ensure that other competing flavors’ adherents understand the inferiority of their chosen flavor. When they get into groups of mixed-flavor Christians, these authoritarians almost immediately begin scoping out the beliefs of everyone there—and comparing those beliefs to their own.
When viewing Christian doctrinal slapfights, it’s extremely important to remember one fact above all others:
For every Christian who thinks they Jesus correctly, there is at least one other Christian who thinks they are Jesusing all wrong.
Every one of them has a Doctrinal Yardstick, and every one of them uses it to invalidate other Christians. Alas for them, though, all of those invalidated Christians have Yardsticks too, and they use their Yardsticks to say exactly the same things about them.
They can’t all be right.
But they could all be wrong.
The TRUE CHRISTIAN™ subreddit has distinct preferences for topics
At first glance, we can immediately see that posts in r/TrueChristian tend to cluster along distinct topics:
First, we have pleas for prayers. This one’s quite par for the course:
In the Er again 🙁 fever and pain from being out. On the street they are saying caught cold on top of my already serious meningitis Im feeling hungry but scared I am grateful for anything God sent me I jst Wana get off the street untill I go to the shelter… I gerting more meds I can’t afford
These pleas almost never garner much engagement. This one received a grand total of one reply in six hours. Others get perhaps two.
Sometimes, a poster will ask a heartfelt question, like this one about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. For Christians, that is the only sin that cannot ever be forgiven. Unfortunately, it is also not defined very well in the Bible, which led the OP to fearing that he’s accidentally committed it. It garnered about 20 replies. To the subreddit’s credit, a few commenters quickly ferreted out the mental illness that has likely led to the OP obsessing about this question, and they correctly advised seeking professional help.
Another amusing post asks why Yahweh set a limit on the speed of light. It got three comments from other commenters. Other posts asking thorny questions got a few more replies, but very few have broken past 10. For instance, I liked the glurge post about Yahweh wanting “relationship” with his followers. That almost ended up being our topic today. But it got only a few replies.
As well, my heart went out to another poster who was clearly tangling with a very manipulative recruiter, which we will talk about sometime soon. However, they got only one reply.
Wrangling about bigotry is much more fun for any TRUE CHRISTIAN™
On the other hand, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ denizens of r/TrueChristian vastly prefer engaging with topics like one posted yesterday: “Christians should reclaim the sign or symbol of the rainbow.” That one had racked up over 200 replies in around 16 hours. (Another similar post garnered 71 replies in 10 hours.)
But the Doctrinal Yardstick still comes out in all this self-congratulatory bigotry. Most posters generally seem to agree that gays are ickie and Pride is ickie, though they have constant arguments in the comments about everything under the sun: Rainbows, idols, censoring out their god’s name as “G-d” like Jews do, taxation of churches, and more. The “G-d” censoring alone sparked an absolutely hilarious number of replies and arguments. Interestingly, it seems like about half of the Christians replying don’t feel anywhere near as strongly about “reclaiming” rainbows as OP does.
If you read that thread, don’t miss the scarlet-A atheist romping through the replies and owning every single Christian there. Normally, I’d say also don’t miss the OP flunking the Greatest Commandment left and right with that atheist. But I don’t think you’ll be able to miss that.
Mad props to the commenter who slyly noted OP’s weird priorities:
zeugme: Of all the things you have to do to follow Christ, that’s your fight?
How close to perfection you must already be. I envy you, being the sinner I am.
OP completely missed the point, of course, and only replied: “How is it a fight to simply reclaim what was G-d’s?”
She’s a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ and way too hardcore for these normies
And then, I ran across this reply. It caught my attention because I’d seen her already in the sub:
ForTheKing777: I’m actually trying. I’m creating anti-pride images and hang them in my town but they’re being ripped off.
The OP advised her to “ask G-d to help you,” but didn’t go into more detail.
I mean, I’m not surprised that her “images” keep getting torn down. But the name had caught my eye. So me being me, I went back to the other post of hers that I’d seen. Of note, she’d posted it about three hours after that “images” comment. Here it is, timestamped at 10:02 on July 6th:
I’m not hurt by sinners who sin against me. I’m only hurt by christians who hurt me in the name of righteousness.
I wish I was insulted, then I would at least have peace, knowing that they sin against God. But what hurts me is christians speaking harsh words and condemning me, while saying that they do that in the name of our Lord, whom I love more than my life, and that He is the one talking through them, while they’re cutting my heart into pieces. Being grieved in the name of righteousness, which you love, cuts way deeper than in the name of sin.
She got about 24 replies, and she had not engaged with a single one of them as of my archiving. Most of the replies noted that it was highly suspicious that she hadn’t provided any context at all for her anguish. It’s hard even to tell if she thought these other Christians were right or wrong.
It hadn’t seemed like she’d been that insulted by the rainbow discussion, so I went digging. And oh boy, she is a handful.
When a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ uses the Doctrinal Yardstick to beat others with their righteousness
It’s beyond obvious that u/ForTheKing777 has some serious problems. She claims at least twice (at the bottom of this link) to have developed schizophrenia from speaking in tongues. She also claims to be “demonically afflicted,” meaning that she can physically hear and feel demons. I don’t know if she’s schizophrenic or not; she seems to be a little more lucid than I normally expect out of untreated schizophrenics. However, she does appear to be completely fixated on Jesusing exactly perfectly—which is what we nowadays call scrupulosity. Here’s the definition of it from a psychology paper’s review:
Scrupulosity is a psychological disorder primarily characterized by pathological guilt or obsession associated with moral or religious issues that is often accompanied by compulsive moral or religious observance and is highly distressing and maladaptive.
That might be what drove the guy who was obsessing earlier about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It’s definitely at least part of what is driving u/ForTheKing777, at least according to her recent Reddit activity (page 1; page 2). She’s upsetting her mother and family by wearing only very modest brown dresses. To this, she adds a “head covering” of some kind. However, she might be replacing it with a veil very soon. In fact, she expresses the strong desire to become a nun, even though she is very much a hard-right Protestant evangelical.
(I can’t wait for her to learn that even nuns don’t wear that getup very often nowadays. My aunt-the-nun has probably worn her full-length veil only a few times in the past five years, and the full robes even less. The smaller veil might see wear on Sundays during Mass.)
Looking over this Redditor’s recent activity, we can now see why this gal posted her message about “being grieved in the name of righteousness.” Right before she created that post, she had gotten into a small slapfight with a couple of other Christians regarding her desire for “modesty.” This happened on a whole other Christian sub called r/OrthodoxChristianity. They’re hard-right Calvinist evangelicals. And they pushed back on her ideas, as they should have, by pointing out that it looked really attention-seeky and performative. (And well, yes.) Here’s the post that u/ForTheKing777 read right before she posted her “grieving” thing at 10:02:
candlesandfish, 9:59: Dressing super plain is its own kind of vanity. “Look at how pious I am dressing!” Orthodoxy says not to be too strict or too lax. Just dress to blend in with everyone around you. That is actually modest.
In fact, u/ForTheKing777 didn’t reply to this comment until 10:14. So she left, made a post on a whole other sub about how very
sad grieved she was that other Christians didn’t get her extreme piety, and then returned the first sub to reply. It turned into a massive L as her opponents handed her her ass. In fact, our gal got so much pushback that she deleted her OP before 10:25.
Since that smackdown, she’s been a little scarce on Reddit. Her activity indicates she had a couple of things to say to a person who thinks they’re seeing demons, and some self-abasement on the Calvinist sub.
(By the way, grieved is Christianese for sadness, but it’s extra-Jesusy sadness. The implication is that Jesus himself is also sad here. Also, I’m just gonna call this Redditor Nun Girl from now on.)
Can you see the Doctrinal Yardstick in these exchanges?
The problem with online groups of Christians is that they all embrace different flavors of Christianity. They build for themselves a god and devotional practice that reflects who they are and what they want out of religion and life itself—and out of others, as well. You can hover over the little icons next to the subreddit commenters’ names to see that they belong to almost every flavor of Protestantism.
But there’s a hard upper limit to zealotry in these online groups.
Online, she’s unlikely to run into the really hardcore evangelical zealots I’ve known in my life. I’ve known Christians who’d look down on her for wearing clean, new, machine-made, store-bought clothes, using electricity, and sleeping in a house, much less for even owning a computer, much less for wasting time on Reddit that she could and should be using to evangelize. No, if she stays online then her chances are good that she’ll be the hardcore-est Jesuser that these Jesusers have ever encountered in their ever-Jesusin’ lives.
But her Yardstick is far too exacting for the Christians she routinely encounters online. Even very fervent Christians online can’t get on board with this level of performative piety. Like that one smackdown that Rainbow Lad got about his weird priorities, commenters almost immediately and universally rejected Nun Girl’s ideas. To them, dressing and acting like she describes isn’t Jesusy at all. It’s just attention-seeking and trying to make herself look like the hardest-core Jesuser ever, and maybe even expressing some self-hatred for herself, just as those zealots I knew were doing.
If she suffers from a mental illness as I suspect, then her zeal takes on much darker tones. Here, too, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ definition interferes with her getting real help. To Nun Girl, all she knows is that none of her detractors is a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ like she is. Only she is, and of course fakey-fake fake Christians will always grieve a TRUE CHRISTIAN™.
There is no way that anyone can tell her that she’s overdoing it, or that she needs real help instead of Jesusing. And it’s not because she’s too far gone into zealotry. It’s simply because every single one of them operates in their religion without a single objective point of reference.
The Doctrinal Yardstick fulfills the needs of any TRUE CHRISTIAN™
I only came to understand much later that the Doctrinal Yardstick isn’t a flaw in Christianity. It’s not a bug.
It’s a feature.
The time to recognize “no objective point of reference” as a dealbreaker came and went long before the Christian wielding the Yardstick converted to whatever flavor toodles their fancy. If such a person can appreciate the huge and glaring issue that this dealbreaker represents, then they don’t get involved with Christianity at all. They already know what a red flag this problem is.
What’s the point of a Yardstick if you can’t measure things with it? Or beat others up with it? Or at least feel superior to others through its use?
Authoritarians in particular need to know where everyone stands in a hierarchy. They need to know who they must obey—and who they can blow off, manipulate, or even abuse without fear of repercussions. For them, the best tool for the purpose is a shifting, imprecise definition.
Just as Christians have never had any objective definition of modesty, as Nun Girl found out to her detriment, they have never had even an objective definition of Christian. The lack of that definition is what almost turned me into exactly one of those hardcore zealots I described earlier.
Most of all, it’s what allows Nun Girl to believe herself grieved by sub-par Christians rather than struggling with some very serious problems that could be eased with real help. Even the Christians urging her to seek that help can’t, ultimately, gainsay whatever definition of TRUE CHRISTIAN™ she’s using. All they have to offer instead is their own equally subjective definition.
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