A podcast for new atheists, lifetime atheists, ex-evangelicals, truth-seekers, and free-thinkers
Name: Jesus (aka “Yesh”)
Age: From everlasting to everlasting
Hobbies: carpentry, winemaking, boardless paddleboarding, public speaking, civil disobedience
Ideal date: A good, hard nailing on Friday night and sleeping 'til Sunday
Special talents: Behold I come quickly!
Looking for: Men and women looking to experience true paradise Ideal match: those who are weary and heavy laden. Extra points if you have low self-esteem or low sex appeal. I'm aching to be inside you. Come unto me and be filled!
This weird creeptastic concept of falling in love with Jesus
Who wouldn't fall instantly head over heels for that?
Falling in love with Jesus. Yep, you heard it right. Not just loving him, falling in love with him. I used to think I understood this concept pretty well and it really didn't seem that weird to me at the time. I will go on record stating that I never once thought I was 'in love' with Jesus... but I've said out loud that I was.
I have to admit that even though I always say that nothing about these people surprises me, researching this subject surprised me. I was floored at just how well these people understand the psychology of falling in love and how artfully deceptive they are about presenting the Gospel in a way that plays into our emotional tendencies when we fall in love. Make no mistake about it: when you accepted Christ, you were seduced by the Gospel and we're going to show you how in just a minute.
So first let's answer the question: what is “falling in love?” It seems like a silly question because most of us have been there before (some more often than we ever wanted to), but from a purely mental health perspective:
According to Psychology Today:
“People can fall in love over time, but most often it is sudden, developing quickly. It is called falling in love because it seems beyond control—a little like falling down. Or tripping over something… It is not a voluntary process.”
And according to Science Daily, it only takes one-fifth of a second to fall in love.
For Christians, there's a lot of cross-talk (pardon the pun) when it comes to what relationships are and what they look like.
We are “in a relationship with Christ”
It's a loving relationship
We are told that there is no greater love out there
We are told that we have individual value
We are invited to enter a relationship with Christ that will protect us from things like death and hell
Many are terrified at the concept of hell and being slaves to sin. Jesus has come “to take us away from all of that...”
The process of conversion looks like this:
We are romanced into wanting a relationship with Christ
We are seduced by the message of the Gospel
We give ourselves to Jesus
And when this happens, since our brain thinks it all revolves around a person and not a bunch of poorly-penned text, it starts producing chemicals that feel exactly the same as being in love. It fires off high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, our hearts race, our bodies tingle, we get butterflies and goosebumps, we start breathing heavier, and become very, very open to suggestion. We start craving closeness and intimacy, security and comfort, all of it directed at this abstract concept called Jesus that our brains now can't unwrap from believing to be real. And that's all before the actual altar call.
New Christians act like they're in love. I know I did.
We are taught to think in these terms even if many pastors shy away from this concept. First the bible:
We are told to look at ourselves as Christ's bride
We are told that Jesus is our everything, our comfort, our protection, our peace, our savior, and more
We are told that he loves us more than his own life
Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church...
We hear these words and this theme throughout Christian music, both CCM and worship songs
Kenny Marks - “Make it Right” - this is a song about the flaws in human love and the perfect love we could have in Jesus. No, I'm not kidding. The chorus is simply the phrase, “make it right, fall in love with Jesus tonight,” two times.
Here's My Heart - “secular” crossover by David and the Giants that was popular for all of 5 minutes
I Keep Falling in Love with Him (over and over)
I Love to Love You
As the Deer
Arms of Love - “My heart is glad that you call me your own. There is no place I'd rather be than in your arms of love, holding me still, holding me near...”
Deeper by Deliriou5? “And the wonder of it all is that I'm living just to fall more in love with you...”
Deep in love with you by Michael W. Smith -
I'm deep in love with You, Abba Father
I'm deep in love with You, Lord
My heart, it beats for You, precious Jesus
I'm deep in love with You Lord
MWS also did the secular crossover hit, “Somebody Love Me” so it would appear that Jesus doesn't always reciprocate on our feelings. Shocking.
I knew people who claimed to be married to Jesus, one who wore a wedding band and everything. He was one of the first people I met at Valley Farce. Then he met a hot redhead during his sophomore year and suddenly “God had other plans.” I stopped short of asking him if he intended to tell the pastors and search committees he interviewed with if he intended to disclose the details of his divorce, but that was only because he was always nice to me. He was one of the good eggs, just very, VERY drunk on the kool aid.
And this concept of being married to Jesus isn't at all unique. You can buy your own Jesus-branded wedding bands and everything. This is a decision a lot of people make before they find someone they wanna fuck. But seriously, here ya go: https://www.etsy.com/market/jesus_wedding_band
So what is the actual psychology of this? What is “falling in love” in more specific terms and how does it equate, in a deeper way, to the experience of being Born Again, so much so that there are virtually countless songs, sermons, and more about it?
Oddly enough, I found a great article at Glamour.com about the major signs that you are falling in love and you will be AMAZED at how many of them tie in directly to evangelical conversion methods and the things believers equate with their Christian walk. Not all of them do, but just listen to this. I decided to stick with the ones that required the least reach to make connections with although I'm pretty sure I could treat the rest like tarot cards and pull meaning out of them. As for pure psychology and how it plays in, I think these are the best connectors...
You feel adventurous – Taking that first gutsy step and going down to that altar can feel like an adventure. The new believer has probably also been courted with notions like Heaven and all the new experiences they'll have as Christians. Good preachers know how to spin this angle as well as they know how to use the threat of hell as a motivator. I saw plenty of both, especially as a teenager. “You have your whole life in Christ ahead of you!” was a huge selling point and they would give examples, many of which involved things like youth missions work and, yes, full-time Christian ministry. When you get older, it becomes all about, “You have fewer years ahead of you than behind. Think of the things you've been through. The trials, the failures, the disappointments... Jesus said, 'I have come that you may have life and that more abundantly...” Sell the adventure, downplay the cost.
You're intensely curious about the religion – Here is where they start pelting you with all the ways you can get involved... church programs, bible studies, home groups, events, etc. Many evangelical church foyers are dedicated to self-promotion so you know this is an active, ALIVE church that has stuff going on. And new converts make the most willing volunteers, participants... and tithers.
You feel his pain – They drive the concept of Christ suffering to pay the debt of their sin. I also saw this a lot, especially at the Christian cinema in Ambler. They would show a scene from a popular Jesus movie where Jesus is being marched to Golgatha. You get to see blood. You get cross dropping and public mocking and spitting and jabbing and cross nailing and more. This is done to establish or reinforce an existing emotional bond with Christ.
Another “love song” that I used to play like cray at the radio station was a song by John Elefante called “No One's Ever Died For Me Before” with lines like, “I thought I knew love, 'til you came along...” And that thought elicits feelings of, “I've never felt this way before,” which is something I say each and every time I fall in love and it's true every single time because every time is different. Here is this new thing with its new approach and its new set circumstances leading up to an intense emotional response... and that ache, that desire to know more about this man and to love him and please him just gets stronger.
And just like straight-up love songs, there are LOADS of songs that keep the intensity of Christ's sacrifice front and center. Two I used a lot in my ministry dealings were The Cross Was His Own by Veil of Ashes and Beautiful, Scandalous Night by The Choir. There were songs that were even more overwrought like “Rise Again” by... Steve Green? There are about 20 versions out there and it was sung in church more than once. And who can forget Villa Dolorosa (the way of suffering). Even some Christmas songs zero in on Christ's suffering as something to consider at his nativity (I Wonder as I Wander coming fast to mind and there is a lesser-known verse in O Holy Night that talks about Christ paying it all for our sins).
You're full of “date ideas” - And this is one of the reachier ones but I think it fits. You're super motivated to do anything church related. The new believer wants that energy and connection and they want to feel as close to Jesus as possible.
You Forget Your Other Priorities – My teenage existence went out the window and my entire life started centering on Church
I'm skipping the ones about sexuality because I don't think fucking Jesus ever enters the equation, but maybe the mind-fucking you get once you're in the relationship qualifies... most Christians aren't interested in givin' it up for their lord... unless they're on a scary roller coaster.
You feel positive about the future – Well of course you do. You've just been fed a line about an eternity that even the Bible refuses to back up and you feel good about living a life worthy of the prize. I felt VERY positive about my future in God's ministry for sure.
You're worried – New believers worry about pleasing the Lord. They want to be loved back. Then there are the uncertainties of changing “sinful” parts of their lifestyle and whether or not they'll ever even feel worthy of Christ. Some also fear rejection by their families, but also romanticize over the bliss that comes from having a relationship with Christ. Present sufferings vs. future glories.
You can only focus on your next date - ...or church function.
You're glued to your phone - ...or your bible.
You feel invincible – one of the most dangerous emotions when it comes to falling in love because it makes us blind to all the red flags that would be (and often are) obvious to an outside observer. The dopamine and norepinephrine are the key culprits with this one
You can't stop smiling – Evangelicals have a certain vacant ignorance-is-bliss visage about them quite a bit. My mother used to say it was the joy of the Lord. Now I know it's just the absence of critical thought and a disconnect from reality, much like when we fall in love. “I'll stop the world and melt with you...”
You're suddenly single-minded - ...and incapable of thinking rationally about anything related to Jesus, the religion, or the atmosphere of the religion, even when people try to warn you. True in both this context and in the real world of falling in love. We tend to ignore all the red flags and willfully fall headlong into a box full of them. I'd know a thing or two about this... at least two. OK three. Four max.
You feel more love for others – The new believer craves connection with the greater church community and involvement with them in this shared romance with Jesus.
You're not as perceptive – back to ignoring the red flags. Jesus is presented as all powerful, flawless, and invincible. When someone falls in love with another actual person, even if the other person is a box of red flags thrown from a trainwreck, we only see their good qualities and make every excuse in the book for their flaws. There is a built-in system of guilt and shame in Christianity that keeps the believer's gaze steadied on the best attributes of their savior while downplaying that he and Yahweh are supposedly one and the same and that neither of them are exactly champions of peace or virtue.
You Daydream – The new believer spends A LOT of time contemplating their relationship with Christ and it can even interfere with work and other relationships for at least a little while
You feel like a better person – Well, the believer is told that's part of becoming a Christian, aren't they? They are a new creation. The “Abundant life” aspect of things is a huge draw and a powerful anchor for keeping the feels flowing long after that first altar call.
You believe things will last forever – Also the point of the salvation message. “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine...”
You feel safe - “...in your arms of love.”
New Relationship Energy – This is a thing that happens both when we fall in love and when we get “saved.”
Some cling to the NREs for a long time. Years. Decades. For others, the emotional stimulation starts to wear off on the drive home from Church. Those are the lucky ones. They quickly lose interest and get back to having a life. Too many others stay, cultivate the feels and slump deeper into their delusions and keep getting themselves emotionally redirected to all of the above. They “backslide,” they come back, and the cycle repeats. Over and over and over again.
Make no mistake about it: these people KNOW what they're doing. They understand the psychology and they use it to keep people plugged in. They perpetuate the notion of being in love with Jesus as a means of keeping people anchored to the concept.
Like I said, this is a largely non-sexual thing but it isn't exactly platonic either. Plenty of believers romanticize their relationships with Christ but also have no issues developing sexual feelings for another person and acting on them. People have affairs without ever having sex. They're called “emotional affairs” because the depth of emotional involvement can actually transcend sexual needs to the point where sex is no longer necessary or it's too complicated to work out so substitutions are made.
This is the kind of bond far too many believers feel between themselves and Jesus. And since that relationship isn't sexual, it's justifiable, as is wanting to have sex with someone else or entering into this intensely emotional relationship with Jesus if you're already married or involved with someone else. Amazing how Christians decry things like polyamory and yet prove through their own lifestyles that they, too, can be in love with more than one person at the same time.
Any time – any time – you intentionally manipulate someone's emotions, it's emotional abuse. And this is just another example of how evangelical faith weaponizes human nature to its own end. It starts with the initial introduction of the Gospel. It's made to look good. It's made to look desirable. They don't want you to believe the Gospel. They want you to bond with it. They want you to bond with your savior. “Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my savior am happy and blessed. Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with his goodness... lost in his love.” They don't even try to hide it. Decrease so he can increase. Jesus is the only person in your life who truly matters. He died for you, now live for him. And love him. Fall in love with him.
And yes, plenty of pastors shy away from directly promoting this idea, but there are also plenty who use it as a foundation for how they present the Gospel. And even if they don't want to admit it, I think we've shown in a very compelling way how the concept is perpetuated even if the believer is never directly told that falling in love with Jesus is a good idea.
Love, as a concept, is one that we as people should embrace, but we must be careful where we channel it and intellectual involvement in the process is crucial. And even though it's a veiled message about abstinence, I like the messaging in Amy Grant's Wise Up about the dangers of letting your emotions govern how you approach love:
“You better wise up, you better think smart, and use your head to guard your heart...”
Lots of truth in those two simple lines. When it comes to falling in love – with anyone (or anything) – caution and rationalization are vital elements to guarding our emotions. If you're coming out of evangelical faith and can't figure out why you found yourself so deep in the kool aid, I hope you get it a little more now and I hope you realize that it wasn't your fault. It was their fault for using your normal, healthy, and necessary human tendencies against you.
And as for falling in love in general, well... I think most would agree with me that it's way better with someone who loves you back. What has Jesus done for you lately? What has he done to maintain your devotion? Keep in mind that the reasons why we fall in love matter every bit as much as the process itself. When was the last time you felt “safe and secure from all alarms?” When was the last time you felt content in his “arms of love?”
Finally, not every person we fall for deserves our devotion and we tend to make lots of mistakes when it comes to our emotions, especially love. The question is: what do we learn from those experiences? What did falling in love with Jesus teach you? If you're still in this thing, what is Jesus putting into the relationship aside from this nebulous promise of fire insurance? What comfort does he provide? What security? What protection? What does he do daily to keep earning your devotion?
If you're honest with yourself, you'll admit that all the expense of emotion in this relationship is coming from you. Jesus can't love you. Because he isn't real. Love, on the other hand is very real and should be experienced in real ways. Falling in love is awesome most of the time. Experience it for yourself and experience it with the person or people who make you feel complete and happy. Once you get used to the idea of receiving love on the same level you give, you'll understand the imbalance that exists with being in love with Jesus. You'll start insisting on better. You'll understand how vitally important it is to be truly happy in your love relationships, and you'll be one more crucial step ahead in your journey to getting and staying unbound.