Christian GroupThink Challenge

A few of the previous posts on the site question why Christian sites don't link to sites that present arguments of skepticism about Christianity. Or why Christians don't more willingly embrace skeptical humor concerning their faith.

For over 25 years, as a pastor in Christian churches, I noticed and (unfortunately and tragically) endorsed a "Christian GroupThink" within the Christian community. I can testify personally that one of the main purposes of Christian community (especially churches) is to build a "fortress" around the believer that attempts to deny them access to free thought, skepticism and atheism/agnosticism. This "fortress" is one of love, or the withholding of it - and emotional/relational punishment (isolation, avoidance, judgement) towards those who would dare "question" the doctrines of faith.

The church has a primary purpose - which has nothing to do with glorifying god or evangelism. Instead, the goal is indoctrination...forcing a group think onto individuals by means of Statements of Faith, creedal confessions, confirmation classes, and worship songs. Conformity to this group think leads to rewards - invitations to leadership, affirmation of value to the congregation or community, befriending by key leaders (maybe even the pastor) and a masonic-lodge type revelation of even deeper truths of faith or gossip about the community.

Most relational and organizational observers recognize group think as a process which seeks to hide - or deny - a fundamental lack of confidence in the group's purpose, belief system, or ethic. It is my observation that group think in the church is pervasive because of the failure of most Christians to believe their own religion. Reason is not a cruel task master, and most of the time most people know this. A Christian who would argue against reason in the name of faith would never get on a roller coaster that just had a hydraulic leak (yeh - it happened at Six Flags in Maryland this weekend). Why? Reason, of course! A logical mind would recognize the context and lead towards a decision that would protect the thinker.

That kind of thinking, however, is discouraged in the church because reason quickly leads to profound skepticism and even agnosticism or atheism. The "reason landmines" are numerous, and the only defense the church has is the "mighty fortress" - not of god - but of group think.

I would love to see a challenge where churches invite atheists, agnostics or other free thinkers to visit their congregations and began a reasonable dissertation against Christian faith. I would almost (almost being the operative word here) pay churches for the opportunity to make presentations and open up for question/answer sessions.

I believe there are more free thinkers in churches than most people would initially guess...but who would want to "come out" about their skepticism when it means that their family would be isolated, mistreated, their kids rejected, and perhaps even extended a "disinvitation" to the church because of their honesty?

Christians whine about the cost of discipleship. The cost of free and skeptical inquiry is much, much greater. Prove me wrong.

I make this challenge...if any visitor to this site reads this blog and wants to invite me to your church or group for a discussion and debate about free and skeptical inquiry, the fallacies of faith, biblical inconsistencies, etc...I will consider the challenge and make contact with you. I can't promise a visit...there are factors that I will explain if you express interest.

Come on...what do you have to lose???


cipher said...

who would want to "come out" about their skepticism when it means that their family would be isolated, mistreated, their kids rejected, and perhaps even extended a "disinvitation" to the church because of their honesty?

This problem exists in the Jewish world as well, among the Hareidim, or "ultra-Orthodox". People become disaffected, but are afraid to express it openly as the result is often alienation, expulsion, estrangement from parents, spouses, children, etc. Also, a lot of them grow up in that world (though there are converts from less observant denominations), and are poorly educated in secular subjects. They haven't been given the tools with which to survive outside of the community. There are a couple of exit organizations that have been started within the past few years in an effort to ease the transition, but it's still very difficult and a lot of them elect to remain, living lives of silent despair. There is an online community of ultra-Orthodox agnostics and atheists offering one another support; a number of them have blogs. Naturally, they're beset by sniping commenters either castigating them or urging them to return to the fold. I imagine this problem exists in all fundamentalist communities.

Caleb Wimble said...

I know very well just how firmly this mentality is established within the church. The moment anyone expresses any measure of doubt or begins skeptical inquiry, he is patronized and treated as though he is a "weaker" brother needing gentle guidance and prayer to return to "spiritual health" - and that being the best-case scenario. If the doubt expressed is too strong or too frustrating for the other church members, the person is practically outcast (at least temporarily) while other believers are asked to pray for him in his "struggles" as he "wrestles with God."

This system is practically fool-proof. There is social reward for the elite, "strong" members of the congregation who are "steadfast in their walk" and blindly accepting of doctrine, while there is social punishment for the "weak" members who are "straying from their walk" and questioning the sacred, ineffable dogma of the church.

It is my experience that evangelical Christians are under the impression that this is absolutely false; typically they cite such practices as criticisms against the Catholic church while continuing naively all the while to do exactly the same.

Brother Crow said...

hey cipher, thanks for the comments. yes, I think this "groupthink" problem exists in all fundamentalist communities, including things like the Republican and Democratic parties. It is a survival mechanism for organizations, which tend to be small-minded because they are so mission focused. I am especially offended by the christian occurence of this phenomenon because christians are commanded by their god to "love your neighbor as yourself" and to "love one another." Even to support the weaker brother (though Paul does command for a brother who rejects certain moral elements of christian community to be cast out).

it is an inconsistency that christians are usually not willing to examine because it reveals their fear of rational argument and skeptical expression.

John W. Loftus said...

I challenge churches to get a group together to study through my book, debating it wherever possible. I argue that with so many other religious groups who are so sure of their faith that this is one way to test what they believe. After all, if their faith takes a hit, it wasn't solid to begin with. But if it strengths their faith, that's good. Either way they win! So why not do it?

Brother Crow said...

john, absolutely! Your challenge is better than mine, because you have an immediate study tool. I hope some churches or christians will take you up on your offer.

Steven Bently said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Bently said...

What do they have to lose? Their religious identity, the only purpose for their own existence, to glorify their make believe god.

Christianity's only purpose is to try to justify our own existence, by our being here from the natural course of sexual desire of our fathers.

Our existence has nothing to do with a god's holy divine will that we are here, it has all to do with the heterosexual males' desire to inseminate every female he comes in contact with.

Even if a woman is raped, the baby is called one of god's little miracles, but in Deuteronomy it says that a bastard child shall not enter the kingdom of heaven, even into his tenth generation.

The only reason that we, and all other animals are here is because of the propagation of the species, not from a pre-ordained will of a god. But the church preaches that our only purpose is by the predestination of their god, anyone will have a tough time trying to convince believers otherwise, since they are taught that they were put here for a the sole purpose to complete the divine predestined will of their god.

By our sins (the fathers insatiable lust for the female body) are we justified for being here, therefore we all need to be saved because we are all born in sin, because the penis entered the vagina, but jesus was without sin, because no penis was used to pass on earthly sin, what a crock of BS.

metaphyzxx said...

To be honest with you, I'd like to take you up on your offer, were it not for the fact that I'm not of the majority mind in my church. There are many in my own organization that would wish to 'rein in' my manner of zealotry. Let's face it though, even if Christianity IS the truth, it sure enough doesn't show up in the current incarnation of the church.

metaphyzxx said...

To be honest with you, I'd like to take you up on your offer, were it not for the fact that I'm not of the majority mind in my church. There are many in my own organization that would wish to 'rein in' my manner of zealotry. Let's face it though, even if Christianity IS the truth, it sure enough doesn't show up in the current incarnation of the church.

Shygetz said...

metaphyzxx, why don't you set up your own religious study group. I don't know your church, of course, but when I was a church-goer, independent church groups were set up all the time to study all sorts of things, including apologetics. Why not start an apologetics course for interested people, and then use one of the many great anti-apologetics books (John's being one of them) as your goal--"we should be able to answer all of these questions within our faith".

GodDey said...

I am a Christian from another country but reside here in the United States. I read a lot at this site about how sexually explosive some Christian songs are. Don't you think that there is cultural influence on the views of your contributors? I don't think of sex any time someone says "hold me close". If you have ever been to some other cultures of the world you would know that the United States is a very sensual society so that everything is SEX to some people. I would love to suggest that your contributors stay with matters of serious substance or they will turn your website into a big gripe party. I think that doubt has its place in Christianity or in any faith; it produces true faith or no faith. I think that those who contend that there is no God are as "guilty" as those who claim that there is one. They both represent the two ends of the swing of the pendulum. I think Christians are more honest because they call their claim about God FAITH. None believers just KNOW that there is no God. Well there lies the bigger problem, how do you KNOW? I will read any intelligent discussion on both sides, but calling Jesus Christ a polygamist doesn't bring any serious conversation to the table. And if he was, how does that prove God as non-existent? I respect all of you and your opinions - at least that is what I was told when I got to the United States that no one person's opinion is superior to another. You must however present a convincing argument, and not name-calling. As the good old preacher said, "sarcasm is the psychology of avoidance". Thank you for accepting my contribution.