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Jesus Needs New PR

One question that I get more often than you might imagine is this: Hey, what’s the deal with Christian Nightmares? (You know, the Tumblr site/blog of mostly freakishly Christian videos that I repost a lot!)

And while I have exchanged a couple emails in the past with the person behind the “faith-based freak show,” the honest answer was this: I don’t know. I should ask him/her at some point. We started emailing back and forth about an interview a while ago. But it took a while for us to make it happen.

I’m so happy that we managed to work it out. Because I this interview is honest, blunt, and full of humanity. And I’m not going to say anything else. Because I want the interview to speak for itself.

But I do hope you enjoy this conversation…

ONE MORE THING: YOU get to ask the follow-up questions. That’s right; after you read the interview, if you have a question you’d like for Christian Nightmare to answer, just leave it in the comments! On Monday I will choose a handful of questions (the couple of the most interesting ones and some of the most popular ones) to present to Christian Nightmare to answer. And then I’ll post the follow-up interview when its available.

Okay, now for my interview with Christian Nightmare (CN)…

MPT: First of all, thank you for doing this interview…

CN: No, thank you for giving me the opportunity.

MPT: Christian Nightmare, (addressing you like this reminds me of the time I was in therapy and my counselor made me confront my past like it was flesh and blood. I should have called it Christian Nightmare.) Anyway, I digress… so when did you start Christian Nightmares?

CN: Ha, I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy too! I started Christian Nightmares in November of 2009.

MPT: Why did you start the blog? In other words, what was going on that first day that caused you to think, “I’m gonna go to Tumblr.com and start a blog about crazy Christ-centered nightmares”?

CN: Well, the month before, I had been laid off from my job, and at first, having all this newfound free time was great (and much needed, as I was miserable at my job, worked to the bone, and exhausted). But after a month off, I started getting restless, I wanted to get back to “work”—I’m happiest when I’m busy. Also, I had been working as an online editor and writer for a magazine for a few years, I learned a lot, and I figured it was a good time to use some of that knowledge and experience toward something I was passionate about it. As for the subject matter of Christian Nightmares: I was raised in a very strict and extremely religious household. I was “born again” when I was five-years-old. We went to an insanely fundamentalist, fire-and-brimstone Baptist church, and I spent way too many hours there each week when I was growing up. I’ve spent half my life trying to unlearn most of the things I was taught there, trying to deprogram myself. The name “Christian Nightmares” popped into my head one day, I now had a lot of free time, so I figured it was a good opportunity to dive and start further examining some of the things that had terrorized me as a kid—the blog seemed like the best way to do it.

MPT: And you do this anonymously. Which I must say… I sort of envy sometimes. Anonymous could be fun. Was remaining anonymous important to you?

CN: Remaining anonymous was and is very important to me. I have a lot of family members and friends that are still heavily involved in the church, it’s very important to them, so I don’t want to hurt them personally.

MPT: Do your friends/parents know about the blog? If so, do they approve?

CN: My close non-Christian friends know about the blog, and so does my father—he understands why this is important to me, and has been pretty supportive. But he’s also very concerned/nervous that my mother might find out some day—she wouldn’t take it well, to say the least. So I’d like to remain anonymous, and I hope people respect that.

MPT: Okay, so are you famous? I mean, would I know you if you weren’t, you know, being all secretive and anonymous?! Because it would be sort of awesome if you were like Joyce Meyer or Mark Driscoll or something. OK, maybe that’s just another Christian nightmare…

CN: You nailed it—I am Joyce Meyer’s alter ego! Please tell everyone! No, sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not famous.

MPT: Okay, fine. But for what it’s worth; I love your blog.

CN: Thank you…

MPT: I like the fact that the concept is simple, yet you do such a great job of finding some very obscure and interesting “Christian” content. When somebody asks you to explain your blog, what do you say?

CN: I usually tell people that it’s a satirical look at extremist Christianity. Unfortunately, I think those fringes are moving closer to the center, but that’s another story . . .

MPT: Is doing the blog therapeutic at all?

CN: The blog is very therapeutic, and cathartic. To be able to look closely at the kinds of things that troubled me so much as a kid, that caused so much doubt and fear and guilt and insecurity—to be able to look at that stuff now through adult eyes—has helped me tremendously. It’s really put things in perspective, made it easier to fully realize, “It wasn’t you after all! You weren’t a completely worthless sinner in need of God’s grace! You were a human being, a confused kid trying to figure out a very complex world, but surrounded by a lot of people that had twisted Jesus’ teachings and abused their positions of “power” and “authority”!

MPT: Do you have limits or boundaries as to what you will and won’t post?

CN: I don’t want to post things that are really mean-spirited, or blatantly offensive, or trying too hard to be provocative. That stuff doesn’t interest me.

MPT: Obviously, the blog has become a huge success in a very short time. You’re often mentioned at blogs like Gawker, Jezebel, Dangerous Minds, etc (And I must say that I was a little jealous of that Gawker mention!)

CN: I’ve been really happy with the response/attention the blog has been getting. I think it has something to do with how polarized America is—now more than ever—politically and culturally. I also think a lot of people have had similar experiences to mine with the church, so they can relate to it. But don’t be jealous about the Gawker thing—it’s not like it was The New Yorker or something . . .

MPT: On the flip side, has there been any negative feedback about your blog?

CN: Yeah, there’s been some negative feedback. I’ve gotten emails like, “You better watch what you say about the Lord!” and “You won’t be laughing someday when you’re burning in Hell!” That kind of thing.

MPT: What’s the number one question that people inquire about?

CN: I get a lot of emails from people asking if I’m a Christian or not, that’s probably the number one question. I’ve even gotten a few that started like, “So what’s your deal anyway?” Pretty funny. Those emails don’t bother me, but I don’t write people like that back, I don’t want to engage them.

MPT: How do the negative/critical emails make you feel?

CN: At this point in my life, I know what I believe, I’m not going to get into a debate about it—I spent too many years of my life doing that. Also, the critical emails don’t bother me because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything wrong. If I was posting stuff on Christian Nightmares that made me feel like I was crossing a line—taking cheap shots at people, or being dishonest, or taking things out of context—then I might take those emails more seriously. But I don’t feel that I am. Everything I blog about was already out in the world for public consumption—and most of the videos I’ve posted were uploaded to YouTube by the people that are in them! Seems like fair game to me. Also, when some “Christians” send me hateful, condemning emails, they’re really just validating the blog, and reminding me once again why I don’t want to have anything to do with people like that.

To be fair, I have gotten quite a few well-intended emails from Christians that take a more loving approach. And some of these people seem genuinely concerned for me, and I appreciate that. But they still seem to be trying to save my soul, which seems more than a little condescending . . . Again, I think some of them mean well. But it’s hard not to see it as just another tactic, just a more positive one: “How could you not want to come to the coolest party in the world?!” Well, for one, I don’t believe that this party spot you’re talking about (Heaven) exists . . .

I do have to say, though, that the number of encouraging emails I’ve received about Christian Nightmares has far outweighed the negative ones, and that’s really surprised me. I’ve gotten a lot of emails along the lines of, “Thanks so much for your blog! It’s helping me exorcise the demons from my evangelical upbringing, too!” Those emails are great, they really mean a lot to me. I always try to respond to those people.

MPT: Can you tell me a little about your childhood as it relates to faith?

CN: Hmm… as it relates to faith… I don’t know if I ever was a true believer, I was just too afraid not to believe. I was completely controlled by fear. So many of the sermons in church ended with, “If you were to walk out of here today and get hit by a car, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” I didn’t know, and it was petrifying! If they were right about this place called Hell—a place of complete and utter darkness, a never-ending lake of fire where lost souls are tortured for all eternity—then I was screwed if I was wrong. I didn’t have the guts to let my chips ride on that one, especially at such a young age. I think I tried to talk myself into believing, and I recited the Sinner’s Prayer, just to be on the safe side. But because in my gut I didn’t really believe, I was constantly doubting myself, and incredibly insecure and anxious. And then the pastor would regularly preach things like, “You say that you’re saved, but are you really saved? Did you really mean it when you asked the Lord into your heart? Are you really living for him?” It totally messed with my head. I’d think to myself, Well, I said the prayer . . . I thought that was all I had to do! I’m pretty sure I believed it in that moment . . . But what if I didn’t? I became really paranoid and terrified of death. And I must have asked Jesus into my heart thousands of times: Before I’d get into a car or on a plane (just in case we got into an accident), and every night before I’d go to bed (just in case, for some reason, I died in my sleep), to name just a few scenarios. It was crazy! But it was very real to me at the time. Needless to say, it didn’t do much to build up my confidence and self-esteem, and it shaped my personality and worldview in some pretty negative ways. It’s taken me years to reverse this, and I’m still not all the way there yet.

MPT: Did your church experiences involve any true-to-life “Christian nightmares”? Care to share a couple?

CN: There was one Good Friday, when I was about 10 or 11-years-old, where I was forced to eat a heaping tablespoon of horseradish to get a better sense of “how much Christ suffered for you on that cross!” It was presented as “the least you can do considering all Jesus did for us!” That was pretty nightmarish, and ended with me hugging a toilet bowl.

I was also petrified of The Rapture, this idea that, at any moment, the Trumpet of the Lord could sound and all of the believers would get wisped up into Heaven, but that I might get Left Behind. Not only was I really scared and depressed by the idea that most of the people I knew might suddenly vanish and I’d be left to fend for myself, but I also thought that if that happened, then I would know that it was all true after all, and that my only chance of joining my friends and family up in Heaven would be to reject the Mark of the Beast, and then probably be beheaded (we’ve all seen those movies in church, right?). I became obsessed with The Rapture, really paranoid about it. There were many times when I thought that it had happened. I’d be talking with my mom in the kitchen or something, then turn around and she’d be gone, and I’d think to my self, Oh my God, this is it—it’s happened! And I’d yell out, “Mom? MOM?!!!” Of course, she’d just gone downstairs to fold laundry or something . . . I can laugh about it now, but I didn’t then.

MPT: When was the last time you went to church as a worshiper (not as a wedding/funeral attendee)?

CN: I never really felt like I was going to church to worship, I was forced to go. Once I left home for college, I stopped going. I would go back to the church I was raised in whenever I went home to visit my parents, but that was more out of guilt, and it was also just easier to go and get it over with then it was to get into a huge argument about why I didn’t want to go. But eventually, I couldn’t even do that anymore.

The last time I went to church was about three or four years ago. It was Easter Sunday. The preacher opened with, “He is risen!” and the congregation droned back right on cue with, “He is risen indeed!” Then the pastor went through the same routine that I had heard a thousand times before: He led with a joke, or some corny anecdote to win the crowd over, and then went in for the kill, yelling and getting all teary-eyed as he described how they had driven those spikes into Christ’s hands, and reminding the congregation that it was our sins that had sent Jesus to the cross.

MPT: Why do you think that was the last time?

CN: Well, at one point during the service, I looked around and there were fully-grown adults nodding their heads in agreement and screaming, “Amen!” There were little kids sitting there totally wide-eyed, soaking this stuff in. And it made me angry. It made me angry (and sad) that these people were so willing to sit there and let themselves be subjected to such blatant, guilt-tripping manipulation, and it made me furious that they had no problem letting their kids take this stuff in.

Then, of course, the heart-string-tugging organ pipes in, the pastor gives the invitation, everyone starts singing “Just As I Am,” and people start going forward, including eight-year-olds, ready to admit that they are sinners and ask Jesus to forgive them and come into their hearts, sobbing like crazy because they’re probably just as confused and scared as I was at that age. I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided that I never want to be a part of something like that—on any level—ever again.

MPT: Would you ever consider visiting church again?
CN: No, I have no interest in ever going back to church.

MPT: Do you believe there’s a God? And if so, what do you imagine God would say to the fear-filled 12-year-old version of you?

CN: I really don’t think there is a God. Science makes a lot more sense to me, but it doesn’t completely satisfy me either. There are a lot of things I don’t understand when it comes to the universe and how and why human beings are here on Earth; so much of it seems beyond comprehension—but I’m OK with not knowing. I don’t think anyone has the ultimate answer, and I’m suspicious of anyone who claims to. I would love to believe in God, I really wish I could sometimes, I think it would make things a lot easier. It would be great to be able to believe in a benevolent being that has everything under control, that’s looking out for us down here, and that someday will take away all of our pain and suffering and reward us with eternal bliss and contentment and fill us with love. But I can’t, my mind just doesn’t work that way.

And I certainly don’t believe in the God that I was taught about as a kid, this egomaniacal man in the sky who needs constant praise, thanks, and recognition, who demands that we acknowledge how imperfect and inferior we are in comparison, and who has designed our lives as one giant, confusing, fucked up loyalty test to him. That guy sounds like a psychotic, abusive prick to me. Even if he did exist, I’d want nothing to do with him.

So, I don’t think I can answer the second part of your question. I don’t think a God would allow 12-year-olds to be so fear-filled, and to be mentally and emotionally abused like so many children are in evangelical Christian churches. I also don’t think a God would allow so many kids to be sexually abused, as has been widely seen in the Catholic church. I don’t think a God would allow many of the terrible, inhumane things that happen each and every day.

I also believe that blind faith contributes to a lot of the problems in the world. I think it’s dangerous not to question and challenge “authority,” religious or otherwise, it can leave people vulnerable and ripe for exploitation. But ultimately, I don’t think it really matters what I or anyone else thinks—I wish more people would think for themselves. And who knows, maybe if some people didn’t view their lives on this planet as just a stop-over—if they weren’t waiting for Jesus to come and save them, or dreaming of their mansion in Heaven—maybe they would treat each other better, or feel more inclined to work towards improving living conditions in the here and now. There’s plenty to do.

Do you have a follow-up question? Leave your question in the comment section. (Editor’s note: Not all questions will be answered.)

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