The Hidden Dangers of Defending Beliefs

Going viral. It’s what every writer dreams about, right? Creating something out of nothing, and then having that “something” work its way around the globe and touch lives. That’s what I used to think until I had something go viral. That’s when you learn the term “virus” is very appropriate.

Virus /ˈvī-rəs/ noun

Something that spreads fast and makes you feel like crap (Definition courtesy of Scott New Revised Standard Dictionary)

I wrote what I thought was a fairly harmless piece about how Christians misuse the term “blessed” when referring to material windfalls. It was a self-deprecating, reflective rant.   I posted it to my blog without half a thought then wandered to the kitchen table to enjoy a chili diner with my family. My indigestion was still in its infancy when I wandered back to my computer, but my email box was already filled with comments from complete strangers.

Some positive.

Some not.

You know that feeling you get when someone at work lovingly points out your mistakes? Or when your spouse tells you your favorite shirt is an embarrassment to clothing?   Multiply that times one hundred.

It’s a hopeless feeling.

There were dozens of people praying for my soul. Others called me a heretic. Still more were concerned about my relationships. Whatever the case, every time I opened my inbox, I was greeted by a barrage of Christian brothers and sisters who had devoted paragraphs to explaining how misguided I was.

Here’s a sampling:

     “Sounds like a load of crap to me.”

     “(Your post) shows what an empty “religious” spirit you have regarding your understanding of this area of God’s awesomeness.”

And my personal favorite, which showed up numerous times in reference to my alluding that my friend and I engaged in some back-and-forth “Yo Mama” jokes:

          “So Mr. Dannemiller, you haven’t yet addressed my question: why is it okay to minimize the sin of disparaging your mother by treating it with a casual offhand remark that makes it seem okay?”

There were still more people who were “concerned for my heart” and worried that “the Enemy had won the battle for my soul.” I felt like I was floundering under an avalanche of negativity. So I did what any good husband would do.

I forwarded all of the incoming mail to my wife’s inbox.

Gabby happily served as a sponge for the comments. I’m not sure if this was because she was able to disassociate from the barbs, or because she saw it as some sort of karma payback for my refusal to lower the toilet seat these past twelve years. Whatever the case, she graciously held on to the comments until I was ready to absorb them, and then shared them with me.

I wasn’t surprised that people had alternate points of view. That was to be expected. And I guess it serves me right, given that my article took such a strong stance, pointing out how even the most well-intentioned words can actually push people away from faith.

However, two things did surprise me.

First, I noticed that some of the most encouraging notes came from atheists. They were defending my honor like a big brother. Sending private messages and sharing public comments validating what they saw as an open, self-examined faith. One posted on a public site for non-believers:

“If more Christians believed like this, maybe there wouldn’t even be a need for this forum? We could all just have honest conversations and get along without judgment.”

And another private message:

“Sleep well tonight knowing that you have witnessed well for your Lord.”

None of them converted to the faith, mind you. But I did enter into a number of intriguing conversations, sharing perspectives and learning. It seems there was something about this distinctly spiritual post that spoke to something universally human. A source of hope and promise that resides in all of us, no matter what name you give it.

Second, I was surprised by the comments from the most devout believers. I certainly expected different points of view. Any article that ask people to examine their beliefs should prompt discussion, right? What I didn’t expect was that the nuggets of condemnation, guilt and shame would come wrapped in scripture. Like receiving a steaming pile of poo in a Jesus-themed gift bag.


* Warning:  Open at your own risk.

I reflected on these messages and saw hypocrisy in my own words. I’m as guilty as anyone else when it comes to cherry-picking a red-lettered quote to prove my point. But this was more than just a mirror reflecting my pride. This was a magnifying glass exposing a larger problem.

We spend far too much time defending our beliefs at God’s expense.

And it needs to stop.

We think faith is certain. Well-defined. Concrete.  So we spout black and white answers in a gray-green world. We use The Word as a hammer to encourage a new way of thinking. And in doing so, we become ever more certain of our beliefs, basking in self-righteousness and judgment, all the while forgetting that God dwells in the uncertain, ambiguous places filled with question and doubt. Still we swing that same hammer at nails that are already driven flush into the wood.

And we’re missing the point.

Every day we come face-to-face with people who are searching for hope. They are facing trials and disappointments we cannot fathom. And in these trials they need more than words. As Christians, as much as we would like to bring an end to their suffering or right past wrongs, we can’t guarantee the rosy outcome through platitudes and pithy quotes. It’s in these moments we should be reminded of these words.

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 1 Peter 3:15

When I search for the seed of hope, I never find it in words alone. Nor is it found by recalling times in my life when good fortune has miraculously come my way. No, the tangible seed that sustains – true hope – is found when logic fails and all seems lost. And here, the hope arrives as flesh and bone. A real human being, who listens first. Someone who dares to sit with me in that uncertain place. Not trying to drag me out, but instead, willing to stay there for as long as it takes. To truly understand where I am. Motivated by a Spirit that defies explanation.

So today my prayer is this:

Let us not be so certain of our beliefs.

Instead, let us be certain of the God who sees the beauty in our mess. Let us be certain of the God who comforts us in our brokenness. Let us be certain of the God who gives voice to the voiceless.

And with this certainty, may we become more than words.

May we be human.

May we be hope.

The hands and heart of God.

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