Christianity is a corporate community that includes thousands of different sects, factions, organizations and denominations—it includes millions of individuals and their nuanced theologies. The problem with the “Christian” label is that Christians often completely disagree with many of the characteristics attributed to them, and many Christians are ashamed to be associated with “Christianity” because of the negative stigmas tied to the label—representing things that overshadow Christ.
This is why self-deprecation is so attractive, because it defends Christianity without completely agreeing with it. Wikipedia defines self-deprecation as: the act of belittling or undervaluing oneself. It can be used in humor and tension release. It’s used as a tool to disassociate ourselves from the things we’re ashamed of: Westboro Baptist, televangelists, huckster street preachers, end times lunatics, politicizing preachers, bigoted fundamentalists, homophobia, anti-science and anti-environmentalist agendas and a whole lot more.
Christians use self-deprecation as a defense mechanism, a form of social disparagement used to defend our faith—from ourselves. Unfortunately, Christianity has become the favorite punching bag for Christians, an easy target to place blame for all our shortcomings. And it’s becoming mainstream, a common practice among believers.
We laugh and make fun of our dark and embarrassing characteristics as if to say to the secular world, “Hey, we can relate to you, and we realize that these things are bad.” We want society to understand that we agree with them on many levels, and yes, we also think certain things are wrong, horrible and evil—we use self-deprecation as a pseudo form of evangelism.
Self-deprecation is also a way for Christians to proclaim self-awareness, to identify ourselves with how we think we’re perceived. We joke about everything that’s unique and weird about Westernized Christian culture: acoustic guitars, bad church coffee, youth group activities, first-time visitor gifts, bulletins, organs, choirs, megachurches, short-term mission trips, CCM, offertories, Christmas pageants and old-fashioned hymns.
But self-deprecation can easily transform into self-righteousness. We shame the Christian things we don’t like or have become too familiar with, and look down on those who disagree with us or fall into these molds. It causes us to join cliques based on our frustrations instead of unifying believers through contentment. Elitism and haughtiness quickly follow.
Self-deprecation is often based on stereotypes, assumptions and half-truths, so while we make fun of Seminary students who constantly pluck away on their acoustic guitars—there’s also very real worth in worshipping God (even using an acoustic guitar). Thus, we avoid experiencing Christian clichés—even if they can be positive and healthy for us.
We also deceive ourselves by using self-deprecation as an artificial form of forgiveness and holiness, believing that making fun of our imperfections and evils is the same thing as eradicating—or taking responsibility—for them. So while it’s easy for us to joke and dismiss televangelists and radical preachers who spew hate-filled messages, we rarely take practical steps to stop them.
For many, self-deprecation is a way of avoiding the responsibility of encountering our fears, disappointments and regrets related to our faith. We critique and criticize our corporate Christian identity because it makes us feel better—as if we’re admitting our guilt. But self-deprecation is not the same thing as forgiveness.
And while we think self-deprecation causes us to be more relatable and empathetic to non-Christians, it’s ultimately communicating a sense of disappointment, disillusionment and discontentment—it thrives on negativity and kills our sense of hope.
The reality is that there are many things wrong with “Christianity, ” but instead of focusing on the bad, let’s attempt to reclaim the hope that Jesus represents—redeeming our world by personifying the sacrifice, service, grace, hope, joy and love of Christ.
Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
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