As someone who was once happily immersed in the evangelical Christian lifestyle, who went to church three days a week (while in college), who signed a contract (at age 12) promising never to drink or do drugs or have sex before marriage, who self-censored mainstream secular music for a whole year and still can't hear "Hotel California" without getting the heebie-jeebies (because of Satanism, duh), my perspective on hardcore fundamentalism comes from a place of love and honest reflection. How can you not love people who want nothing more than to keep you from spending eternity negotiating a lake made of fire? The whole gist of evangelical Christianity is that they like you and want you to hang out with them in heaven someday. Some of them are just more terrible than others at expressing their feelings.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Think of Westboro Baptist members as the face tumor of the Christian community. Even their friends want to cut them off.
As America starts looking more secular and less like Pat Robertson's 1950s-era dream board, I suspect a few of the sillier elements of Christian culture are going to disappear forever. Which is too bad, because some parts of hardcore Christianity are objectively hilarious and we should always mourn the loss of solid comedy. Here are a few pieces of Christianity that no one (but me) is going to miss.
#5. Horrifying Old-School Gospel Tracts
The difference between Southern Baptists and Catholics is that Southern Baptists are burdened with the belief that every person who hasn't confessed Jesus Christ as their personal savior is going to spend an eternity suffering in Hell. So if Hitler made a confession of faith immediately before his death but Gandhi didn't, guess who's chilling with his homeboy Jesus as we speak? (The answer rhymes with "Shitler.")
This is why evangelical Christians approach their faith with more urgency than other religious people. In their eyes, invading your sense of privacy or Facebook feed is a small inconvenience compared to living through an eternity separated from God. And back in the '70s and '80s, no one got that urgency better than Jack Chick. Chick had a really good idea -- use comic book art to explain the Gospel in simple books that Christians could pass out to nonbelievers. I can't overstate what a huge innovation the Chick tracts must have been for shy Christians who wanted to win souls for Jesus but didn't want to actually talk to people. The problem was that even though Chick had a great idea, he was certifiably crazy.
I don't mean "he's super religious so I'm dismissing him" crazy. I mean "he thinks the literal Devil in his physical form murders children on Halloween night" crazy.
In addition to believing Halloween is a night for human sacrifices to Satan, Chick also has strong opinions about Catholics. Specifically that Catholics were behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and that Jesus himself will eventually destroy the Vatican.
If the Catholic Church is "The Great Whore" and "Satan's Prostitute," what am I doing with these face tattoos saying the same thing?
Picture an 8-year-old child cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that sound the most like plot points in a video game that his mom won't let him play, and you've got the Chick mindset nailed down pat. Scratch that. Picture a crazy 8-year-old cherry-picking the parts of late-night HBO movies that he caught glimpses of when his babysitter thought he wasn't looking, because Chick was definitely into some freaky stuff that has nothing to do with the Bible. Stuff like Voodoo:
How Dungeons and Dragons leads to suicide:
And Freemasonry was really about worshiping a dude named Baphomet:
Thanks to Chick, little Christian children never need to pick up a Stephen King book to know true horror.
#4. Stupid Christian Parody Shirts
Show of hands: How many of you accepted Christ into your hearts after reading the text of a passive-aggressive shirt or bumper sticker? Be honest, we're all friends here. This is a safety zone. No one? Not one person in the history of the universe has ever changed religions because of a parody T-shirt? Get out of town and take your lying devil mouths with you.
For some Christians, every moment is an opportunity to share their faith with nonbelievers. But they don't want to be so serious that they come across as "holier than thou" preachers, thus the parody Christian T-shirt was born. The formula is simple: Steal the logo of a well-known brand, reword it so it loosely references your faith in the most ham-fisted way possible, maintain order when the Gospel- and comedy-starved crowds inevitably form. This shirt, for example, takes the Tide logo and uses it to explain how the wearer is washed in the blood of the Lamb (another name for Christ), a concept that's not at all horrifying or alienating to nonbelievers.
Hint: Never use "We bathe in blood" in your sales pitch, religious or otherwise.
With Christian parody T-shirts, you can simultaneously declare your faith and awareness of cultural touchstones, two things that are important to teens, grandmas, and marketing executives.
Who is this shirt even targeting?
To be fair, the shirts aren't necessarily evangelical tools. They're really coded uniforms so that Christian kids can find each other in secular schools. No, my milk-ad-parody "GOT JESUS?" shirt isn't going to entice thirsty but confused people to the church, but it will show the other Christians at school that I'm one of them and they should let me eat lunch at their table instead of on the toilet in the bathroom. It's the same thing as a stoner kid identifying himself with a Bob Marley shirt or a comedy nerd dragging John Cleese to school with him every day. We all do what we have to do to find our clique.
Parody Christian shirts are especially effective if they're edgy and hilarious in a timely way.
It's funnier if you picture Jesus doing the "whassup" tongue thing at the same time.
It's weird how the shirt thing is unique to Christians. Can you imagine a Muslim wearing a logo that kind of looked like Jim Carrey from The Mask but on closer inspection, actually said "The Mosque"? Or a Buddhist person corrupting the Budweiser logo so that it said "Buddha Wiser"? I'm afraid haphazardly jamming your Lord and Savior into fashion is strictly a Christian thing.
Notice the nail marks in the hands.
Obviously I don't have a problem with funny shirts or people who wear them. Funny shirts put food on the table around here, so please visit the Cracked Dispensary!
#3. Utterly Insane Church Pageants
Here's a tidbit secular people might not know: Christians love skits and plays. If you've never performed the part of "jaded atheist wearing sunglasses" at church camp, I doubt you ever went to church camp. Unfortunately, any theater production is incredibly easy to screw up. All you need to ruin a perfectly fine play is just enough eyeliner to make the men in the audience uncomfortable. Couple that heavy stage makeup with an overtly spiritual agenda and you end up with a Jesus-themed soap opera enjoyed by no one.
Case in point, this homegrown maelstrom of insanity begins with Hans and Franz impersonators and ends with WrestleMania Jesus.
During this scarefest, the audience is also treated to gritty gang members sporting Stand and Deliver cholo accents and shooting people for loving Jesus, a Sam Kinisonesque Devil spinning in circles like Wonder Woman while screaming, "I HATE YOU ALLLLLLLLL!" and, oh -- a suicide via shot to the head:
And, finally, an altar call in which the stage is filled with horrified children who want nothing more than to never have Satan scream at them again.
Top that, Rent!