Is Christianity Just Blackmail?

This cheery little note appeared in my life recently:

“Say this slow: ‘God I love U and I need U now’ – if u mean it, send to all ur contacts a miracle wil Happen 2day…Ignore and all will go wrong”.

My reactions to this went from bewilderment, to amusement, to anger, to concern…and I’m currently in a three day old [facepalm]. Which makes for a very sore head.

I’m familiar with largely upbeat, attention-seeking social-media for beginners teasers, which are usually comprised of something akin to the first two-thirds of the above message. “If you love Jesus…”/”If you love your kids…”/”If you care about our troops…”. Often it’s followed with “I already know those who will/won’t respond” or the implication that the future well-being of the aforementioned group is inextricably tied to the content of my Facebook/Twitter/BBM status update over the next 60 minutes. i.e. there’s the promise of wonderful things if I do what I’m told and a strong hint of someone being disappointed in me if I don’t.

But the above comment – bereft of smileys or any other caveat – is the first time I’ve seen it read like a direct threat. A full-on carrot and stick, social media blackmail, spam-blast.

I hardly knew how to respond, so restricted myself to “?!” in hopes the person might elaborate and give me something to discuss with them rather than just react to. They didn’t.

And I’m reluctant to say anything about it, because to condemn the above attempted blackmail at any
length at all feels too much like indulging it. Giving it a pound of credibility where no fraction of an ounce belongs. So I’ll point out – for the avoidance of doubt – that messages like this are unbiblical, dangerous nonsense and should be ignored.

Normally I’d look to move on with my life at that point, except that I’m keenly aware that what I am decrying here as wicked and foolish blackmail, is no more or less than many people think of Christianity as a whole. That God has operated throughout history with the gargantuan carrot of eternal paradise and a stick the size of the pre-deforestation Amazonian rainforest. ‘Do as I say and I’ll make it nice for you; disobey me and I’ll whack you’. Indeed, some of God’s promises to the Israelites thousands of years ago look a lot like it. That view is now more or less an orthodox perception of Christianity in much of western media, particularly when it appears to be backed up by some folks who claim to be Christian and yet take a revoltingly finger-wagging approach to their faith, along the lines of “I’m saved, you’re not – nah, nah, na-nah, nah”.

It’s partly why many, more sensitive (professing) Christians have ditched the concept of hell altogether as being too much like emotional blackmail. And for those who are disinclined to critique what the Bible actually says beyond plucking the occasional out-of-context quote, it’s an easy way to beat up on Christians in the media/on endless discussion forums.

But how can we Christians sit here and say with a straight face that the gospel is anything more than just that – emotional blackmail? After all, the Bible DOES say the following:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (Gospel of John, chapter 3, verses 16-18)

Awkward.

Except that it isn’t.

Too much and for too long, many Christians have fallen into the trap of working to worldly rather than Biblical assumptions. The worldly assumption going into the above verses is that telling anyone anything that makes them feel bad or threatened is mean and horrible, and Christianity is a fairy story that is acceptable only in so far as it makes someone feel better and impacts none of the rest of their life whatsoever. If that assumption is true, then the above verses truly are nothing more than religious blackmail.

But it’s not true, because life-saving truths can hurt, like the one that says the direction in which you’re swimming and find so enjoyable, heads straight into a riptide that will be the death of you. Or think of it this way: which parent – on finding their toddler reaching for a pan containing hot oil – would be worried about blackmail when they either shout a warning or grab the child away from danger?

An offensive sign?

The other half of the equation – rejecting the worldly notion that Christianity is a fairy story and atheism is ‘normal’ – involves accepting that worldly opinion is…worldly opinion. Not based on fact, but on a perception of facts and on preference – an entirely natural human preference for the idea that we owe nothing to anybody, and that we emerged from the primeval swamp independent of all restriction and obligation.

Professing Christian: do you believe the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you accept “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then in God’s strength, let’s stop hiding from it, or pretending it’s something else. Let us with gentleness and humility, in the manner of a newly-rescued drowning swimmer, point out to our fellow-swimmers that they MUST grab the life-ring being thrown to them because the life-ring is life, and anything else is death.

Attitude matters, and between the arrogant triumphalism of the religious tub-thumpers who’d be quite happy if no-one else got saved, and the doubt-wracked insecurity of those who don’t like the idea of anyone being punished, is the path we need to tread. We must stand on every word the Bible says, not just as being true, but as God-given and glorious – even and especially the hard bits. We must show in the way that we live that our faith is not a philosophy, a political party, a means to control, or an exercise in annexing moral high ground.

And the route to a life like that isn’t complicated, but it is extremely difficult.
It involves loving and respecting everyone, regardless of what they say or do to you.
It involves constant communication with God through prayer.
It involves a regular dunking of yourself in God’s words, as he gave them to us in the Bible.

And it involves giving people no excuse to dismiss the gospel as blackmail.


One thought on “Is Christianity Just Blackmail?

  1. Hey, thanks very much indeed for this. I know I have thrashed some of these and wished I could do something more positive. Now I know I have, My Son has done something about it. Don't let up on this one.

    Like

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