The Purpose-Driven Life: Toxic Christianity

I am so excited to finally be writing the post we have all been waiting for since January. This week I finished Rick Warren’s evangelical Christian bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? I can’t wait to put it back on the shelf and let it gather dust, as it should. That way, it can’t hurt anybody.

“Here we go,” some people might be thinking. “What is it this time in this uplifting Christian book about finding your purpose that made this atheist so upset?”

I will tell you what.

The last section of The Purpose-Driven Life has only five chapters, written to tie up the book with a cute little bow, but it contained the most offensive line of the entire book. And I don’t actually get offended by religion a lot. I’m not offended if someone at the same dinner table prays in front of me or if someone has a bible verse in their Instagram bio. I’m not even offended by the general idea of a book like this telling Christians to be more Christian. But I was truly and deeply offended and disgusted by this Warrenian gem:

“One problem long-term Christians have is that they forget how hopeless it felt to be without Christ. We must remember that no matter how contented or successful people appear to be, without Christ they are hopelessly lost and headed for eternal separation from God.”

How dare you, Rick Warren?

How dare you tell dozens of millions of people that anyone without the exact same religious belief as them are hopelessly lost? What a despicable and ignorant thing to say. What a wicked, manipulative excuse for a person. Rick Warren, you should be ashamed of yourself. And anyone who falls for his lies should be ashamed as well.

If I think about that quote for too long, I will explode. So I’m going to leave that right there and try never to think about it again.

There wasn’t much else worth addressing in this last section—as I said, Warren is mostly trying to tie up the five purposes and leave everyone feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. Oh, but don’t forget that they must be left feeling confident that any unbelievers they know will make a wonderful pet project that they can pester to join their religion until their friendship is effectively ruined and the other person is convinced that Christianity is toxic. (At least this version is.)

I’m sure that you will agree with me when I say that after that vile quote about the hopelessness of unbelievers—there I go thinking about it again—Rick Warren has lost any right he ever may have had to talk about what unbelievers are like. Throughout these chapters, he acts like he knows the best way to reach people, saying:

“There are people on this planet whom only you will be able to reach.”
“Unbelievers see pastors as professional salesmen, but see you as a ‘satisfied customer,’ so they give you more credibility.”
“They have a natural curiosity about experiences they’ve never had.”
“People are most receptive to God when they are under tension or transition.”
“As long as there is one person in your community who isn’t in the family of God, your church must keep reaching out.”

Since Rick Warren thinks he knows so much about me, I want to address a few things. I have never in my life met an atheist who did not know any Christians. It’s more likely that an atheist has never met another who did not believe. (Enter my 2016 self, The Closet Atheist. The only atheist I knew was my husband. That’s why I started this blog.) Secondly, we don’t see pastors as salesmen. They’re pastors. They’re all different. Some just want to teach their religion and create a community of Christians. Some are scumbags who manipulate their massive audiences to recruit more people to buy their books and join their churches.

As for the other four quotes, Warren’s readers are going to be in for a huge surprise if they ever take his advice and try to evangelize. Has he ever tried to convert an atheist who had spent decades as a Christian already, who was really dedicated to knowing their stuff, and who had read the entire bible and had heard every argument before? Warren gives no advice and shares no experiences in regards to converting atheists. These people are told to incessantly harass every last person in their community, but if they have only Warren’s feel-good message to go from, then they’re just going to get themselves blocked. (This atheist does a better job of explaining how to convert people than Warren does.)

From here, I want to wrap up my experience reading this book as a whole. I’ve been thinking about what a Christian friend of mine said a few days ago regarding me writing about this book, and that’s that of course I wouldn’t like it—it wasn’t written for me. She had a point, but I want to address this and say that the Christian audience is what makes this book so dangerous. Many Christians will blindly do as Warren says, which includes taking no time to care for yourself, not saving for retirement, taking spontaneous short-term mission trips, and worst of all, seeing everyone who isn’t Christian as beneath you. So much of this book is objectively toxic, no matter how you slice it.

But I found something interesting when I was giving this book a one star rating on Goodreads. Most of the other one star reviews were given by Christians. They said that this book was a “short-cut to spirituality,” “feel-good consumerized Christianity,” and “speak[s] on behalf of God,” but I think that the sentiment was best expressed when someone said, “If you are going to read about being a Christian, then read the Bible. If you must spend money, then buy something useful or help the poor.” I said in my review of Part 2 that Warren was idolizing his work over the bible itself, and it seems I’m not alone in thinking that.

So then, why did I do a series reading The Purpose-Driven Life at all? Most of the comments I’ve gotten on all five posts so far have said, “I’m amazed you were able to read this. I could never do that.” I think that for a few reasons, I needed to. Firstly, as I’ve said before, this book has reminded me of the terrible beliefs that I’ve left behind and that millions still believe these ideas and love this book. It makes me appreciate my freedom.

Secondly, it showed me some of the things that Christians might say to each other when they think no one is listening (like that unbelievers are hopelessly lost—okay, maybe I’ll stop thinking about that eventually…). Lastly, I can’t help but hope that maybe one Christian, one day, will find this and know that they don’t have to adhere to Rick Warren’s noxious rules in order to be a good person, or even a good Christian.

10 thoughts on “The Purpose-Driven Life: Toxic Christianity

  • She has a lifetime of awesome quotes, Rebekah, look them up. You’ll love them!
    “I require three things in a man. He must be handsome, ruthless, and stupid.”
    “First thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth, and sharpen my tongue.”

    Liked by 1 person

  • As the great poet & satirist Dorothy Parker once said during a book review, “This is a book that should not be put down lightly. It should be thrown with great force!”

    I’m sure this drivel falls into the same category. But remember, these are people that have dedicated their lives mindlessly and gullibly to a mythology which makes no sense, has no coherency, nor does it stand up to scrutiny. And yet, despite all this, they continue to delude themselves into thinking that it’s all real, someone up in the sky is going to come down and “save” them, and we’re all going to an imaginary hot place, called “hell.” My advice is always the same; consider the source.

    Liked by 2 people

  • While I can understand why one could be mad at being called ‘Hopelessly lost’, I just can’t be. My reaction is more along the lines of ‘eh, It’s their delusion’. What does annoy me though is the level of ignorance Rick Warren and many other Christians display toward non-Christians. You would think they had never met one in their life! Once again, I have to admire your dedication to reading an reviewing books which you probably don’t like.

    Liked by 1 person

  • That’s alright I run into a fair number of Christians and I always ask them how well they know the Bible. It’s then I tell them there’s somewhat a logical trap in Genesis and that depending on the version the language changes drastically. One thing that surprised me non of them have read the Bible of their own volition. None of them. Having read the entirety of the KJV it astounds me.

    Liked by 1 person

  • You wrote: Many Christians will blindly do as Warren says,

    This is the key. They will not only do what Warren says, but they will also “blindly do” what every individual that stands behind a pulpit tells them to do. Christianity may be based on the bible, but few believers have read it and are far more likely to follow the pied pipers they call their leaders.

    Liked by 3 people

  • I enjoyed reading this review. I like it when you can let go of the ‘be nice’ you and make your objections loud and clear.
    I would not have read this book. After your reviews I can say, “I thought so.”
    I do find that many religion/Christian writings such as this are indeed written to and for “the choir” (so to speak). C. S. Lewis does the same thing (I have read a number of his/them).

    Liked by 1 person

  • I am a christian and also not fond of Rick Warren and what he preaches as “Christianity/religion” because it coincides with the prosperity Gospel which is false doctrine. I own two of his books, including this one, and The Daniel Plan. I still have yet to read them fully from beginning to end. From what I’ve read, The Purpose Driven Life is more like a self-help book laced with bits and pieces of scripture taken out if context. Some people with simple minds will find the book quiet appealing and probably beneficial while others who are shrewd thinkers will perceive it quite differently than the rest. Another mega church preacher on the same agenda is Joel Osteen.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Well, that we are “hopelessly lost” is one of the less objectionable smears that we atheists have tasted over the years. More offensive are the claims that we cannot be moral, are baby eaters (yes), a threat to their children, untrustworthy, not allowed to hold public office, etc. On top of that being an atheist in certain circles can still get you fired from your job (yes it is legal in “at will” businesses, which is most of all of them).

    And then believers ask why or opposition is tinged with anger.

    Liked by 2 people

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