In Chapter 8 of Before You Lose Your Faith, contributor Jay Kim continues the book’s fine tradition of trying to set the rules of engagement for evangelical doubters. This time around, deconstructors are not allowed to use ‘hammers’ to dismantle their beliefs. Now, they’re supposed to use only ‘precise tools.’ And what are those tools? Oh, just the same ol’ emotional manipulation, dishonest reframing, and apologetics bullshit that probably got those people doubting in the first place. But don’t you dare disobey the kings of The Gospel Coalition (TGC). If you don’t obey their demands, then they won’t think your departure from evangelicalism is valid!
(That subreddit, r/OneOrangeBrainCell, mentioned in the introduction.)
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Everyone, meet Jay Kim, the writer of Chapter 8 of Before You Lose Your Faith
Jay Kim wrote this chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith. He is the “lead pastor of teaching” at a Silicon Valley church, WestGate Church (ooh la la, PascalCase, so trendy—15 years ago). He’s also the “teacher-in-residence” at Vintage Faith.
These are newfangled titles, seen mostly in evangelical megachurches with their flotillas of sub-pastors. According to Got Questions, a big evangelical site, a teaching pastor is the person that the congregation probably thinks of as “‘the’ pastor.” Usually, the teaching pastor handles the church’s sermons and organizes the curricula for its Sunday schools and Bible studies. So this isn’t a minor position.
As for being a teacher-in-residence, I couldn’t find any information about exactly what that entails. It might just mean he helps the lead pastor research or write sermons.
Also, sometime between this book’s printing and now, his actual position at WestGate became simply “Lead Pastor.”
He’s very proud of his ex-deconstructor testimony, too. He trots it out not only in this chapter but on the Vintage Faith site. That testimony might explain why he’s included in this book.
The enemies evangelicals seek to defeat: the call is coming from inside the house
I strongly suspect that evangelicals are keenly aware of the competition they have with their enemies. It’s been that way at least since I was Christian myself in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s why the trendiest testimonies they create always include defeating their current biggest enemies.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, that meant claiming a past in witchcraft and Satanism—and preferably both. Around the mid-2000s, those testimonies faded in popularity before the newest enemy to defeat, atheism. Suddenly, all the trendy Christian testimonies included a claimed stint in atheism!
Now, it’s starting to look like the enemy—at least in Before You Lose Your Faith—is deconstruction itself. And so we have bunches of Christians claiming they totally deconstructed years ago, but they’ve returned to the fold! Hooray Team Jesus!
I can see why testimony-crafters make these claims, of course. Their motivations are painfully clear. They want to build rapport with people in similar situations. Once their marks accept that they have this major common ground, then the Christians can claim that they totally found out how wrong they were. This, theoretically, should lead their marks to assume that they, too, are in the wrong—and thus should take the same path out of their error that their Christian salesperson took.
This is powerful emotional manipulation, but I’m not entirely sure it works. It sure didn’t work back in the 1980s and 1990s. But why examine a failed strategy if performing it is so rewarding for the Christians doing it?
Indeed, even if the Christian salespeople themselves convert not a single person with this manipulation, they’re reinforcing some important indoctrination points in their own minds.
Let’s start this chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith with a bad analogy
To start his chapter, Kim begins with a poorly-constructed analogy. In it, he was trying to disassemble a crib to move it somewhere else. He’d assembled it himself, but he’d forgotten to hang onto the special tools it’d come with. In a fit of anger, he reached for a hammer to whack the crib apart. But don’t worry! He stopped himself and realized he needed to chill out and find the right little tool to do the job.
He’s comparing his faith to the crib. Deconstruction often takes the form of a hammer, he thinks, but he wants deconstructors to use only “precise tools” to do the job.
Christians are so, so, so bad at analogies.
First and foremost, Christianity isn’t a delicate, cute little baby crib. It’s a huge pile of rotted driftwood that’s been held together for centuries with baling-wire and desperate hope. There’s no point in keeping it; it’s not good for anything at all. It can’t even be burned without sending who-knows-what mold spores flying into our breathing spaces. It’s best just to clear the land of that filth so that something good can finally be built in its place.
The “precise tools” that Kim envisions here are the usual hand-waving that Christians use on doubts: emotional manipulation, apologetics, and dishonest reframing. Deciding that the whole mess should be discarded is the hammer he almost used.
That’s even what he did initially in his testimony, before some enterprising Christian salespeople bamboozled him back into the fold. Had he devoted some time to learning critical thinking skills, he’d have noticed the tricks they played on him—which, in this analogy, would be represented as picking up a delicate tool to disassemble a crib, only to find it shattering on impact with the wood.
And then, its surface disturbed, the crib releases tons of mold spores into the air, revealing the rot in its heart.
The internet as a hammer in Before You Lose Your Faith
Much of Chapter 8 of Before You Lose Your Faith criticizes the internet as a potent tool for exploring doubt. I can see why evangelicals feel that way. Without question, the internet has made it easier to explore potential concerns with Christianity than it has ever been in our entire past history.
When I was Christian and just starting to doubt my beliefs, I had nowhere to turn. As far as I knew, no books existed to help me explore those concerns. If I asked religious people for input, they’d just give me religious opinions, which I’d already begun to suspect weren’t useful. (But I didn’t yet trust atheists’ input, because I didn’t yet understand the basis of their rejection of Christian claims.)
At the time, “the internet” meant Usenet. Back then, Usenet was like a billion different forums (called newsgroups) about everything under the sun. Whether your interest was porn, Karl Malden’s nose, porn, Captain Picard’s sex appeal, porn, cats, porn, jazz music, porn, astronomy, porn, paving the entire planet, or porn, Usenet had it all.
But you had to know where to find things.
Search engines were still barely a gleam in Netscape’s eye. A thriving bunch of religion newsgroups existed even in Usenet’s early days, but I didn’t know about it.
Now? Now, search engines send out legions of little bots that crawl the internet constantly to find new pages to index. (In its infancy, people submitted URLs to Google for indexing!) You can be as precise as you like, and know you’ll probably find something that answers your question.
I contend that the only reason that evangelical leaders didn’t flat-out ban the internet as soon as Usenet peeked through the blinds was that they didn’t understand what it was. By the time they began to dimly grasp the internet’s potential, it was too late. Everyone had it, everyone used it, and nobody would ever again get that genie back into the bottle.
The downside of the internet: outrage culture, short attention spans, highlighting hypocrisy
After establishing the absolutely off-limits nature of exploring doubts via the internet, Kim then turns to criticizing the way people engage with it these days. He especially has a bone to pick with social media. The way he sees it, social media exists to get people all het up and arguing. That includes Christians. And that includes even Kim himself:
As you seek wise mentors, you’ll notice some things. Those who’ve sought and found wisdom are quick to listen, slow to speak, and rarely are caught in the fickleness of cultural tides. They’re tempered, thoughtful, and almost always at peace, even when slighted or wronged. Our online experiences are anything but. Online, I’m often quick to speak, slow to listen, and drowning in culture’s fickle waters.
Then, Kim spends a while hand-waving away his tribe’s considerable hypocrisy. Seriously. Not only are deconstructors not allowed to get information from the internet or engage with internet people about their doubts, but they are also not allowed to allow hypocrites to bring about any doubts. Why yes, we’re a bit far afield from the official subject of the essay.
But forget it. He’s rollin’.
Before You Lose Your Faith demands that doubters disregard hypocrites
It makes sense for evangelical leaders to try to set rules around what is and isn’t allowed to spark doubt in believers. It makes particular sense for such leaders to try to make hypocrites off-limits for doubters. After all, to at least some degree all Christians are hypocrites. Evangelicals, with their loud demands for obedience and their hunger for control of America’s culture and politics, tend to be the worst hypocrites of all.
Hypocrisy functions as the ultimate demonstration of the vast gulf between what evangelicals say they believe and what they really do believe deep down.
This incredible, visible-from-outer-space level of hypocrisy also perfectly illustrates what a tragically broken roadmap evangelicalism really is. It can’t get evangelicals from Point A to Point Godly Human Being in and of itself. If an evangelical doesn’t naturally possess the qualities to get there, and isn’t willing to work hard to capture those qualities over time and with endless perfect repetition, then their roadmap sure won’t do the trick.
Even Kim himself inadvertently admits to hypocrisy in this very chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith. His apparently hard-won wisdom lasts about as long as it takes him to sign onto a social media account. He could just eschew social media, as many people do. But for whatever reason, he doesn’t do that.
Before You Lose Your Faith perpetuates evangelical myths about ‘your church family’
Instead, he insists that evangelicals aren’t allowed to reject church membership. Gosh, that’d be like rejecting their own family! And nobody ever does that!
Well, except for the evangelical parents who disown their own children for rejecting Christianity or coming out as LGBTQ. I still hear anecdotes of that happening even in This Current Year.
Nor does Kim engage much with churches whose communities are downright toxic.
We have a right to set our own boundaries, and that definitely includes who we’ll associate with. (Freedom of assembly and all that!) If our family members were half as toxic as church busybodies tend to be, we’d probably reject them too. And not a shade-court jury in the land would convict us of being the asshole.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Of course a pastor condemns leaving church.
How Before You Lose Your Faith wants doubters to deconstruct
As I mentioned earlier, Jay Kim himself has a trendy ex-deconstruction testimony. He writes:
During my early college years, I went through a deconstruction of my faith. This was in part because no one seemed to have adequate answers for my questions, and in part because the church had unknowingly inflicted some emotional wounds. So I walked away, from my church and from faith.
Afterward, he did absolutely no further investigation. He never learned about how Christians emotionally manipulate their marks. Nor did he learn any crucial critical thinking skills, then apply them to his former indoctrinated beliefs.
Miraculously and utterly coincidentally, some years later some “faithful followers of Jesus” just so happened to invite him to hang out with them. I’m sure none of them had any idea in the world that their
prospect new friend was a lapsed Christian. Nope, none!
Gods above and below. They read him like an open book. He fell for it hook, line, and sinker.
The hammer of emotional manipulation and apologetics in Before You Lose Your Faith
Anyone who tries to tell you that this kind of friendship evangelism isn’t done completely deliberately is trying to sell you something. It isn’t good for you, either.
Indeed, these “faithful followers of Jesus” followed the game plan perfectly. They acted nice to him. They “welcomed” all of his questions. And they even “offered wisdom in the big and little things of life”! When they invited him to study the Bible with them, he readily accepted.
That’s all it took to recapture this lost lamb. Niceness opened the door to bombardment with apologetics. In turn, the sandblasting effect of apologetics skewered a mind that was not trained to critically analyze what was happening.
Nowadays, Kim stands as a testament to the power of evangelical indoctrination. Except when he gets onto social media, I suppose.
Hey, he wrote about it in Before You Lose Your Faith. Not me.
(His beliefs don’t lead to the promised results even for himself. Why should anybody listen to him?)
The truth about evangelical niceness as a tool
When evangelicals want to be, they can be extremely nice. Sweetsy-syrupy, in fact. In their culture, niceness far exceeds kindness in importance.
Evangelicals especially understand the vast importance of niceness as a sales tool.
When we hear about people converting to evangelicalism, often niceness plays a central role in these decisions. A while ago, I read about a church that baptized an elderly man. Several evangelical men had preyed upon this lonely old man for years in his nursing home. Finally, they all but carried him to the church for a baptism ceremony.
Of course, he went willingly. But he went because he loved his friends and thought they loved him. Shows of friendship got him dunked, not their evangelism.
As I read Kim’s chapter in Before You Lose Your Faith, I thought about that man. I wondered if he still attends that church. To be sure, Kim himself would not have hung out with those “faithful followers of Jesus” (seriously, that’s a cringey phrase) if they hadn’t been really nice to him.
But great people exist in every religion under the sun. Niceness does not confer correctness. It does not support religious claims in and of itself.
One idly wonders what religion Kim would follow today if he’d gotten in with pagans instead of “faithful followers of Jesus.” Pagans aren’t nice. They’re amazingly generous, open-hearted, and kind, which is much better. As a bonus, they won’t even shill religion to their friends.
The truth about apologetics as a tool
Apologetics itself only works on people who either possess no critical thinking skills, or who have been trained not to use them on religious arguments. As a field, it exists precisely because Christians have no real evidence to support their many claims.
Long ago, we knew little about our world. The supernatural sounded like a good explanation for what we didn’t know. We know a lot more now. So the supernatural slowly shrank back into the darkest unknown corners of our knowledge base. Now most of us know that “supernatural” just means imaginary. If we want to truck with that stuff anyway, we know not to claim it’s totes for realsies around others.
Many Christians are chill about their beliefs maybe not being literally true. But evangelicals, for a whole variety of awful reasons, desperately need their beliefs to be literally true. The evangelicals behind Before You Lose Your Faith, even more so. They’d love to rely solely on faith alone. But nobody actually does that. Not anymore. Nowadays, everyone wants good reasons for believing whatever we believe.
So apologetics is what happens when someone’s desperate to make unsupported claims sound more valid. If Christians ever found any real-world reasons to know that their claims are true, apologetics as an industry would collapse overnight.
It would have to collapse. Christians would have no need for that blahblah ever again.
And the truth about evangelicals’ insistence on assigning tons of homework to doubters
A long time ago, PZ Myers coined the term the courtier’s reply. It’s something that snooty Christians do to people who push back against their claims. Basically, the Christians demand that those pushing back learn everything conceivable about the claim before they become qualified to reject it.
But the courtier’s reply contains a serious catch. After learning all that information, in theory, the doubter won’t be able to reject it. If the doubter absorbs all that learning and then rejects the claim anyway, that rejection constitutes proof that the doubter hasn’t learned everything. See, because learning everything entails acceptance and faith.
Also, the learning all involves apologetics and emotional manipulation. Ah, lovely. These again. But possibly, the snooty Christians offer diagrams. That, at least, is a plus.
All of this means that it’s super-easy to become a Christian. Evangelicals will dunk ya without you even half-understanding what’s going on. But if you want to leave, you will be expected to do a lot of homework first. And you’ll be expected to do it to these snooty Christians’ satisfaction.
That’s what Jay Kim seems to advise in Before You Lose Your Faith. He counsels doubters to talk to Christians with “wisdom.” He tells them to study the Bible with these “mentors” to get “genuine faith anew.”
But he remains silent on the question of what happens if those oh-so-wise mentors spark only more doubts and questions that cannot be answered with evangelicals’ usual tools.
Meanwhile, want to know what the most precise tool in the universe is?
The most precise tool that humanity has ever devised is, in fact, the scientific method. Yes, that dreaded, vilified, demonized scientism that so disgusts evangelicals!
But it only disgusts them because they have nothing whatsoever to counter it. Nothing they possess can possibly cut to the heart of a claim like the scientific method.
Through a lot of trial and error, humanity has come up with this superb, sharp-bladed, utterly-razor-honed system for figuring out what’s real and what’s just our own confirmation bias. What’s true and what’s just wishful thinking. What’s honest and what’s just a charlatan cold reading us. It’s one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever accomplished as a species.
And evangelicals ache for the validation it’d give them if it supported their claims. At the same time, they hate it to the core of their beings because it never does. Their go-to solution is to heap scorn upon it and advise their marks and flocks alike not to heed the evidence provided by reality.
The moment a salesperson tries to tell you that the scientific method can’t reveal the truth, or that you ought to disregard it in assessing their product, get away from that person. Reject whatever they have to offer. They’re lying about it, and they know it. They don’t have your best interests at heart.
Once a salesperson cons you into disregarding actual reality to accept one false claim, you are now primed to disregard it in assessing a lot of other claims.
Incidentally, my deconversion really kicked off the night I finally compared reality to what the Bible claims about prayer.
Before You Lose Your Faith really wants to judge other people’s decisions about religion
If there’s one throughline to this book, it’s evangelicals’ nonstop efforts to set themselves up as the judges of other people’s personal decisions about religion. They desperately want to be able to tell deconstructors, Yes, this decision is valid, or—more accurately—No, this decision isn’t valid at all, and here’s what you still must do. They’d love it if deconstructors accepted their rules and judgment.
We’ve learned so much already about what TGC thinks should never play a factor in deconstruction. I don’t think they admit many valid sparks at all to doubt. If every doubter could be easily swayed by niceness + apologetics, then they wouldn’t be staring down the double barrel of over 15 years of solid declines. No wonder they’ve apparently decided that it’s best, really, to pull every single potential doubt-sparker out of reach of the people they regard as little more than silly children.
Alas, they’re not our real dads. (Or moms. Don’t forget, TGC graciously allowed two entire women to contribute chapters to this mess.) They have no more authority over anyone than the fitness coaches on YouTube do. Actually, they have far less than that. They’re more like YouTube Breatharians: desperately trying to grab for obedience and devotion, but without having any real claim on either.
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