I love the subreddit r/TrueChristian. Not only is it a direct confirmation of my own term TRUE CHRISTIAN™, but it tends to showcase the strangest examples of Low Christianity around. Every so often I cruise around there to get a feel for what Low Christians are getting up to lately. I am not often disappointed, either. Today, I spotted a Christian talking about ‘invisible evidence,’ with the example given of the wind. They buttressed this example with a bonus Bible quote from Hebrews 11:1 about the nature of faith.
Amazingly, he got a bit of pushback. Maybe the wolves are becoming self-aware! Regardless, let’s piggyback off the previous post to examine what Christians believe reinforces their beliefs—and how ‘invisible evidence’ is anything but.
(This post originally appeared on Patreon on 9/22/2022. If you’d like early access, please consider becoming a patron!)
(As always, I don’t point out Christian writings to give any grief to the Christians responsible, especially when their reach is smaller than my own. I regard their creators as wrong and misguided, for the most part, not evil. If you ever do decide to interact with any Original Post (OP) or its writer, here’s all I ask: please don’t do anything that would make our community look bad. Thank you. Also please see the end of the post for definitions of Low Christianity and TRUE CHRISTIAN™)
Invisible evidence to reinforce faith, donchaknow
I loved this post, which showed up today at the subreddit r/TrueChristian:
I hope to reinforce your faith in the existence of the Holy Spirit and ultimately your faith in Christ.
The wind is invisible but you believe it’s real because you see it’s [sic] influence on physical things. You occasionally feel it.
Hebrew 11:1 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.
This OP just has everything! First, the assumption that this person thought of something that no other Christian has ever thought of. In reality, it’s one of the oldest terrible analogies in the religion.
Then, the assumption that it’s such a powerful bit of apologetics that it would work to “reinforce” faith in the Holy Spirit and Jesus. In reality, pretty much every Christian who’d ever post to r/TrueChristian thinks that way about their every warbled sentence, I’m sure. This is, after all, its founders’ description of the sub:
We are a subreddit that exists to provide a safe haven for all followers of Jesus Christ, so that we may discuss God, Jesus, the Bible, and information relevant to our beliefs, and to provide non-believers a place in which they can ask questions about Christianity as explained in the scriptures, without fear of mockery or debasement. This is a subreddit for followers of Jesus Christ.
These folks are so far up their own asses that they can’t even use the word “Christian” to describe themselves. Instead, they have to use the oh-so-UMBULL “followers of Jesus Christ.” See, their take on Christianity is just too intense and all-encompassing to possibly include all those Christian normies in it.
Most of all, though, this OP highlights the fact that even the sorts of Christians drawn to posting at a self-glorifying, talking-points-embracing subreddit like this one were not having it.
The pushback r/TrueChristian offered to the fake evidence presented
Yes, the OP got some gentle pushback from a few people there. I was surprised to see it.
One poster mentioned that Bible verses are “a tricky thing to evangelize with.” This reply accurately stated that if someone doesn’t believe the Bible is authoritative, then quoting Bible verses at them won’t work. This earned another poster’s reprimanding Jesus juke:
Yes but if you can get someone to read the Gospel it’s a foot in the door for the Spirit to work in them.
Well, at least now we know why these sorts of Christians act like getting us to read or listen to Bible verses will do anything. They think it’s the first step in their god’s magic routine. His magic won’t work if someone in the audience doesn’t volunteer for the trick!
Another reply accurately pointed out that the wind is not invisible at all. We can measure it and must make allowances for its strength in many ways. Then, the replying poster asked if OP had any examples of anything similar in Christianity that could be detected or measured. (OP replied with some of the other stuff we’ll be discussing here today: “an incredible peace” and prophesying, which the other poster pointedly hinted required faith to attribute to any gods in particular.)
Since I archived the post, others have come down in support of OP. One guy simply had a deepity to offer: “The invisible is evidence in all things visible.” He didn’t bother explaining it, for what are, I hope, obvious reasons to anyone reading my post today.
It’s possible that one or both of the pushback replies aren’t actually the true target audience for the subreddit. It was still hilarious to read.
The magic Hebrews 11 quote that Christians love so much
In the OP, the writer references Hebrews 11:1:
Now faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see.
The rest of Hebrews 11 discusses various Jewish mythological figures and the suffering of Jews through the centuries. Then, the writer commends them for their great faith. After that, the writer pushes Christians to go and do likewise.
It doesn’t really talk much more about what supernatural stuff looks like or how to detect or measure it. But it mentions how even those Jews of great faith never received “what was promised.” The Christian writer of this book thinks that Yahweh was purposely waiting all those years for Christianity to get started. Ain’t that great? Now those faithful Jews can one day get their reward—with Christians’ absolutely essential help, naturally:
39These were all commended for their faith, yet they did not receive what was promised. 40God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect.
That’s what “what we hope for” seems to mean in that first verse. The chapter’s frequent nods toward the invisible supernatural world seem to be what “what we do not see” means. Nothing about Yahweh is visible, of course. But Christians must have faith in it anyway. If they don’t, they won’t get the big win.
How TRUE CHRISTIANS™ use Hebrews 11:1 to avoid the need for evidence
I heard Hebrews 11:1 quoted nearly constantly when I was Christian. I hear it quoted nowadays almost as often. Every time, it was shorn completely of its context. To hear Christians use it, it is always deployed to mean that Christians have tons of evidence for their claims. Just cuz it’s invisible, that doesn’t mean it’s invalid! They feel certain of it, assured even. And that’s what the verse demands!
See? They really are TRUE CHRISTIANS™!
This thinking is echoed across the Christ-o-Sphere:
Blue Letter Bible: “If you have the substance before you or if you can see it, there is no use for faith. Faith is needed for what we can’t see and can’t touch. Faith does not contradict reason, though it may go beyond reason. . . this is a belief beyond reason but not in contradiction to reason or against reason.” They go on to say that Christians have “much more reason” than Jews to stay faithful, lest they lose out on Christianity’s massive improvements on Judaism.
A business that produces trite Bible-verse wall art: “The meaning of Hebrews 11:1 is about having confidence and hope in the promised word of God as revealed to you.” Then, they insist that Bible study will vastly increase Christians’ faith. Yeah, about that…!
CARM (yes, Matt Slick’s site, and yes, it’s still around): “It means that every day you continue to trust Him and that you continue to manifest the fruit of your faith. . . Faith is where you please God, admit your dependence upon Him, and continually seek to rely upon Him and His grace.” But there, we also find this very true statement: “All the faith in the world in someone false won’t help you.” Oops.
Faith: a state of mind or a way of behaving?
That said, one seminary offers what is probably a much better summary of Hebrews 11:1: “[F]aith means believing and acting on something we cannot see. This is the quality of faith that the author especially wants the readers to imitate.” It doesn’t matter that the invisible object of one’s faith is indetectable; Christians should still act as if they believe it’s there. (Their take meshes pretty well with that “help my unbelief” thing from Mark 9:24, too.)
I really think that seminary has the right of it. Without evidence, nobody can actually have faith in anything. For example, the CARM link talks a lot about the different kinds of faith that most Americans have in all sorts of things: in cars working, in food being okay to eat, in doctors to heal.
But we have that faith because we know from repeated experience that all of these things are almost always true. We’ll just take one example, the safety of our food-production and pharmaceutical industries. The FDA and USDA have all kinds of rules that food and drug producers must follow. And overall, these protective systems mostly work like they’re supposed to.
Even if we’ve never eaten a star fruit before in our lives, we trust that the supermarket selling it would never stock produce that could poison us. So we might not like its taste, but at least it won’t kill us with unapproved sprays or fertilizers. Our faith in food-production systems leads to our acting like we trust manufacturers with our very lives.
And in a lot of ways, we do.
The evidence of things hoped-for and the certainty of what we do not see
In fact, most Americans falsely assume that over-the-counter supplements must follow FDA medication rules. And that’s not true. For years now, Americans’ completely-misplaced faith in supplements’ safety has been leading to some very serious injuries and illnesses. Here’s one 2014 paper lamenting the rise in supplement-related liver injuries alone. And that rise is still, well, rising!
Still, even when they know that sometimes those safety systems aren’t 100% reliable, Americans still buy and eat/use the food and medications produced. In other words, we still show faith in the system through our behavior, if not in our hearts.
That’s what faith in Christianity should look like. It should look like Christians following all of Jesus’ commands even though they know that almost none of the Bible’s promises ever come true (and even those that do are probably just a mistake of perception or pattern recognition somewhere).
Any casual observer of Christianity already knows, however, that hypocrisy and disobedience are a far more useful marker of a faithful Christian than their opposites.
I can see, then, why so many TRUE CHRISTIANS™ want to turn faith into a feeling rather than measuring it through compliance. This move eliminates compliance as a tangible measurement of faith. That’s good, since most Christians could never qualify as faithful that way. As a bonus, this shift to feelings over obedience also makes thoughtcrime an off-limits act of rebellion.
Sidebar: Yes, obedience leads to feelings of faith
The financial cult Amway is famous for a lot of things. But for my money, one of its most monstrous aspects is how it creates robotic, kneejerk obedience in its victims. A lot of multi-level marketing scheme (MLM) observers even call Amway victims “Ambots” for this reason.
Spurred on by their misplaced faith in “the system,” these victims are willing to alienate every single person in their lives and wreck every single good thing in their lives on the mere say-so of their Dear Leaders. There really are no limits on what their leaders can get them to do. And whoa nelly, their leaders get them to do an incredible lot. There’s entire blogs detailing what this cult demands of its followers.
One of the reasons Ambots are so obedient is that their leaders train them to do a number of meaningless things every single day. One of the most seemingly-meaningless tasks involves listening to “tapes.” In the old days, these were actual cassette tapes, but nowadays I reckon they use some other delivery method. Each tape contains a short sermon about something related to success and wealth-building the Amway way. The MLM’s lead distributors call these tapes “tools,” meaning they’re positioned as business training tools. In reality, these tapes are simply sermons and rah-rah sessions.
Ambots are supposed to purchase tapes regularly, then listen to at least one of them a day. And any Ambot who wants success in the scheme will do exactly this.
It’s a big screaming deal, therefore, when a dyed-in-the-wool Ambot stops listening to tapes. Often, their faithfulness in Amway will dissipate before the week is out. It’s like the tapes cloud Ambots’ perception so massively that taking them away reveals reality almost immediately.
The obedience to the tape regimen comes first. The faithfulness in Amway’s false promises grows enormously once an Ambot begins obeying their leaders’ demands. Only disobedience frees their minds.
“Invisible evidence” to spark a greater feeling of faith
This is where we came in at the start of today’s topic: a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ hoping to boost their fellows’ feelings of faith by talking about the wind as “invisible evidence” for Christianity’s claims. It wouldn’t occur to almost any of these Christian redditors to increase their faith by increasing their obedience to the Bible’s various demands. Instead, they likely assume, as the OP does, that increasing faith means increasing the strength of their feelings of belief in their claims.
And we do see Christians making this mistake constantly. Desiring God goes down the “fingerprints” route, insisting that there’s all kinds of supporting evidence for Christian claims. John Piper uses Creationism as his example here. See, some people (*cough*TRUECHRISTIANS™*cough*) can “see” how Creationism talking points translate into evidence for Bible-literalist claims. So, “seeing” will then lead to greater belief in those claims. Others simply don’t “see.” They lack Creationists’ Jesus Power.
Meanwhile, the evangelical site Got Questions also goes the route of faith being a feeling sparked by encountering evidence:
Right now, amid a global pandemic, financial crisis, and social unrest, as our world seems to be falling apart, we can stand on the rock-solid, unshakeable promises of God’s security, rest, peace, provision, mercy, grace, and salvation. His Word can be trusted. We can have full confidence in the Lord’s promises because they are real and a firm foundation for this life.
And the site concludes that greater feelings of faith lead to greater obedience. In reality, that is not at all a given. But this sure wouldn’t be the first time these folks were dead wrong about anything, am I right?
At any rate, our OP of the day thinks that “the wind” represents a great way to visualize faith. We can’t see the wind, now can we? But it’s there! Same for the Holy Spirit! See? The Holy Spirit is like the wind! Nobody can see it, but it’s totally there for realsies!
Alas, this is a false comparison
As someone pointed out right away, though, we can indeed easily detect the wind. It’s not even hard. We can even see it when it picks light stuff up and carries it along, like dandelion fluff, spinny skirts, hair, leaves, and all sorts of similar things. If it’s strong enough, we can watch the wind turn entire goddamned houses to kindling:
Around the world, humans have built and placed special instruments to sense the wind’s strength and direction. In fact, this world boasts literally millions of these instruments. You might even have seen one of them in your time on this good dark earth—we call them weathervanes. (I’m not sure exactly what the one below is sensing, but it makes me want to get underground in a hurry.)
Unfortunately, not one single instrument exists that can detect, much less measure, whatever this “Holy Spirit” is supposed to be.
(I mean, yes, I know it’s the name Christians use for the part of their god who gets shit done. But they’ve never been able to tangibly describe or define this part of him, much less their god as a whole. And there’s a good reason for that: he doesn’t exist.)
More false evidence for Christian claims
When someone pushed back against OP to ask what about Christianity is at all similar to the wind, the OP replied:
* An incredible peace that tells you everything is going to be ok. (Philippians 4:7)
* Prophesying; when people know secrets that was told to no soul. (1 Corinthians 12:10 and Romans 12:6)
But these, too, are simply false comparisons.
People in all religions feel “an incredible peace.” Atheists do too. Pagans in particular do, and I can tell you this because I was pagan for years. There’s no feeling whatsoever in Christianity that’s unique to its followers.
Worse, though, often Christians don’t feel peace at all. Christians die by suicide all the time, they get depression and other affective disorders, and they constantly express great fear and anxiety. Hell, I developed a scorching case of PTSD thanks to my time in evangelicalism. It wasn’t till I left that I could learn techniques that actually gave me peace of mind, because the only tools allowed to me as an evangelical categorically didn’t work.
As for prophesying, there’s never been an objectively-verified instance of it. In reality, it operates just like cold reading and its cousin, warm reading. But ancient pagans pioneered the art of pretending to have gotten divine information. So I don’t think one can really say Christianity is unique there, either.
Other similarly awful examples I’ve heard:
- Love. (As Tim Minchin once famously said, “Love without evidence is stalking!” Love has many tangible expressions and can easily be detected and measured.)
- Electricity. (If you get an electric bill every month, you already know we can perfectly measure electricity. And if you’ve ever gotten a mild shock after walking on carpet and touching your pet, you also know it can be felt very tangibly.)
Oops, I’ve accidentally destroyed this person’s entire stated foundation for faith. Luckily, OP never needs to demonstrate obedience to any of their beliefs.
Since feeling is first
This poor OP has no idea what’s going on. These bad examples are literally all he has in terms of evidence. And they’re not even real evidence. They’re just false evidence that the OP has been indoctrinated to believe are real examples.
This reminds me of that poem by e.e. cummings. But here, real feeling isn’t even first, and so there’s no supernatural version of “your eyelids’ flutter” to verify that it’s really there at all. Faith in Christianity is just based on nonexistent concepts that OP really hopes are true and real, but cannot show are so at all.
My own deconversion was a long, slow process of discovering that all kinds of things I thought were PROOF YES PROOF of my claims just weren’t. Apologetics was just cringeworthy fallacious arguments and manipulation disguised as brilliant proof. The Bible itself described a reality that was not found in the real world at all, ever.
One by one, as I made these discoveries, the taps feeding water into my faith pool turned off.
The faith sparked by obedience would definitely merit a look at Christianity, if it existed
Nowadays, if I’m asked what it would take to make me believe again, I can honestly say “nothing.” The stuff that would have done the trick is all stuff that Christians categorically have never been able to produce. Chief among these:
- Unwavering obedience to their own tribal rules
- Modeling Jesus’ commands about character (“turn the other cheek,” meekness, etc)
- Their tribal roadmaps working to do the stuff their creators say they can do
And that’s all stuff Christians would be well capable of doing even if not one of the supernatural claims were true.
If those three things were true, I’d happily concede that the philosophy and systems of Christianity work. I might not understand how they work, but I wouldn’t be able to deny that they did. It might not even make me Christian, but I’d never be dishonest enough to say the system itself didn’t fulfill its own promises.
In such a case, if someone told me their marriage was faltering, then I’d gladly point them toward Christian marriage rules. If someone needed a loving community to treat them well, then I’d confidently send them to a church.
That’s just not the world we live in, however. Long, long ago—when? Oh, it hardly matters now, but probably very early on—faith became a feeling instead of a measure of obedience. When Christians want to spark greater faith in others, they seek to increase the feeling of belief rather than insist on listening to their religion’s version of Amway “tapes.”
So nothing will change.
Definitions: Low Christianity and TRUE CHRISTIAN™
Christians can be generally divided into a quadrant of control-lust and ritualistic tendencies.
High Christianity features set-in-stone rituals and quite a bit of scholarship of the religion’s source material and accompanying literature. Catholics are probably the most extreme example of the breed, with missal handbooks outlining the whole next year’s worth of Sunday sermons and lectures and quite a nuanced view of the Bible as a source document. Sometimes you hear this kind of Christianity called “Apollonian.”
Low Christianity, by contrast, features orgiastic expressions of faith, low ritualism, and general ignorance of any nuances in the Bible. Pentecostals are generally the best example of this breed, what with their screaming in babbling “tongues,” magic healing sessions around the altar, and their notable willingness to interrupt almost any ritual for a good ol’ fashioned Jesus hoedown. This kind of Christianity is sometimes called “Dionysian.”
A TRUE CHRISTIAN™ is judged and assessed by another Christian who feels qualified to make this call. In that judging Christian’s assessment, a TRUE CHRISTIAN™:
- Believes about the same package of nonsense they do;
- Hasn’t gotten caught doing anything they personally feel is completely off-limits;
- Dies still fulfilling the first two parts
The third part only comes into play when dealing with ex-Christians. No matter how closely an ex-Christian matches on the first two, if they deconverted then all bets are off. They were never a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ at all.
Notice that judging Christians always assume that they themselves are TRUE CHRISTIANS™. That’s no strange and wondrous accident.
Interestingly, all the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ judges in the world are happy to count all Christians, true or false, when it comes to demonstrating their religion’s dominance somewhere. But they need to exclude someone who makes them look bad or weird, the gates start slamming closed!
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