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.