What’s the Best Method for Evangelism?

Roar in the Forums asks:

What method was the worst when people tried to share their faith with you? I know some people hand out pamphlets and other people tell you you’re going to hell on the street corner, all kinds of ‘fun’ things. As a follow up question, how has rude/mean/annoying encounters like that caused you to feel about the Christian faith ? My last question is, what method of sharing faith has made you at least open to talking to the other person about their faith?

I hope the wording hasn’t offended anyone. I’ve never talked to an atheist before (well I did over this forum for the past few days but not in person) and I would really like to learn more. Thanks for taking time and reading this.

In addition: Are there any methods of Evangelism you would actually consider listening to?

Or are they all pointless?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    The worst forms of evangelism ever – the suicide belt, the iron maiden…

  • Graham

    All evangelism is utterly pointless in my opinion. I have heard every angle they can come from and each one makes me angrier than the last. Maybe, just maybe if they could approach with a scientific viewpoint I would listen but that is impossible considering the subject matter…

  • http://www.jimloomisphotography.com Jimmy

    If it weren’t so predictable, I might listen.

    I also might listen if they took a more philosophical approach rather than a definitive/authoritative one. Religion doesn’t need to explain anything. Re-write the bible to make it much more modern and morally reliable, and stop relying on it for explanations about “why we’re here”.

    Stop wasting time on the unprovable stuff, get to the heart of the message!

  • Grimalkin

    The worst that I have personally experienced involved threats. It was a perfectly well-meaning person who told me, in a concerned voice, that I would go to hell if I don’t accept Jesus as my personal saviour. Well-meaning, but I don’t respond to threats – at all.

    So when you tell me that your all-good, all-loving, merciful god will torture me for all eternity if I don’t worship him, not only are you threatening me (and thereby pushing me away), you also aren’t making any sense. If god loves me, why would be punish me for not brown-nosing him? I’ve heard this explained away multiple times, but never in a way that made sense to me.

    So if you are to have any hope of converting me, I would recommend an approach that never even mentioned hell. In fact, don’t mention heaven either. The whole idea of doing something just to avoid punishment or get a reward feels morally dishonest to me.

    Just to illustrate what I mean, there was one woman who made me seriously consider Christianity as an option (and, though I didn’t convert, I at least looked favourable on the religion until I met someone who dealt with me in the above-mentioned way). She was an older woman and she was having trouble getting onto the bus (you had to go up three steps before getting on, and they were quite large steps too). I held her arm and helped her in. Once sitting, she thanked me and told me in a sweet voice that she would pray for me. That’s human decency. She was kind, thoughtful, and truly grateful for help (whereas I find that most people simply expect help to be given). More than that, she told me that she would pay me back in the only way she could – she would give of her time to do something that, in her belief system, would help me get up a few steps.

    I respond to kindness in a way that I will never respond to threats of violence or bribery – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what the whole concept of heaven and hell is to me.

  • http://www.hoggworks.com/ Brian Hogg

    Ultimately their evangelism is futile, but the part that annoys me about it, even when it’s framed as a genuine desire to help me (which I know that a lot of people have; few are the angry religious folks trying to whack me on the head with their religion. Most, I think, honestly believe that they’re working so save my soul), is a lack of respect. The town I live in (Kitchener, ON) seems to have a good number of mormons walking the streets, and they’re all loudly asking you if you’ve been saved by Jesus Christ. There’s a quality to their approach that’s very off-putting, and I imagine it would be even if I was religious. Why the presumption that I’m a lost sinner? Why read from the canned speech? Why not talk to me respectfully, and assume that I have my belief — or my lack of belief — because I’ve given it some thought? Whatever their opinions on god, the state of my soul et al, they must be aware of human nature.

    What’s the worst that can happen, in that case? If they treat me respectfully, I’ll tell ‘em no thank you. If they treat me like I’m a jerk, I might yell at them. Nothing is gained for them in either case, and if they’re rude, they increase the chances that one of the people they approach is going to pop ‘em in the mouth.

  • chatterbox

    The current methods of evangelism seem to work quite well for what they’re intended to do. What they don’t, and can’t, do is convince people who are not open to emotional appeals and magical thinking.

  • Adrian

    As far as I’m concerned, they’re all useless and embarrassing since they all ignore the one thing that should be front and centre: evidence.

    That said there are tactics that can actively alienate the right-thinking members of society. Acting like a hate-filled coward, spewing threats and retreating under your master’s skirts whenever challenged personally evokes revulsion and contempt, not interest. Acting like a vacuous bubblehead, offering platitudes without a glimmer of comprehension appears harmless but reinforces the stereotype of thoughtless, ignorant theists.

    In a way, I appreciate when an evangelist recognizes that they don’t have what I’m looking on and move on. If they aren’t evangelizing and want to talk peacefully and respectfully as between two adults, that’s a totally different story.

  • Jamie

    The only forms of evangelism I have encountered which did not immediately turn me off were discussions of religion with trusted friends in casual settings, when we both were clearly interested in dialog and in understanding each other. I have only experienced this on a handful of occasions, and only with friends or family, so it may not fall into the category of “evangelism” in the strictest sense. But, I think this, in and of itself, is an important message to get across.

    The only people who have even the remotest chance of getting through to me must have first earned my trust on some level, and must clearly be as interested in understanding my point of view as they are in having me understand theirs. I’m almost only going to listen to people who seem interested in seeking an understanding themselves. Someone who is clearly only interested in getting me to understand them, but not vice versa, is never going to get anywhere with me.

  • Keri

    No form of evangelism would work for me. I grew up a Christian and even went to bible college and converted a few people myself. But now I am a completely disillusioned atheist and nothing will convice me to go back. I know from experience it’s not true and it doesn’t work and I’m a little bitter about being lied to my entire life.

  • Ron in Houston

    In a way evangelism is a form of violence. It is an unwillingness to accept another as they are. If is the desire by the evangelist to change the other. It is a lack of respect for the dignity and autonomy of the other.

    In its most malicious forms it amounts to telling another that they are bad, awful, or sinful people. It is a passive aggressive form of lashing out at someone.

    So, there is no such thing as benign evangelism.

  • Kori

    I’ve had a newly-converted muslim try to proselytize me (he said he wasn’t, but he really was), and I think that’s about it. But I think any kind of method of “oh here, let me save you” is presumptuous and also represents the tendency for religion to feed on proselytizing and the idea that once you believe in it, you’re stuck, because of the cyclical logic involved. Kind of makes me sick.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Being as I’m an ex-Christian, I’m not interested in being witnessed to at all. That said, if a friend is talking to me about their personal life and tells me a story about something that happened to them and how they personally relate that to God, I will listen because that’s their experience and opinion and that’s what friends do — share experiences from their lives.

    If I thought they were just telling the story to “witness” to me, I would just walk away.

    So basically, if you’re trying to share you’re faith with me, I’m not interested. There’s nothing you can do to make that better. If you’re just a Christian and your faith is part of your life, and it comes out in conversation, you might catch my ear for a few minutes. But you’re not going to convert me, so don’t even waste your time thinking about that. I’ve already tried religion (and a personal relationship with Jesus, in case that’s going through anyone’s mind) and I found it to be useless for me and, ultimately, untrue.

    The thing is, Hemant, the only reason Christians read your book is they think it will give them some insight into how they can show us atheists how poor and lost and terrible we are so we go crawling to Jesus for forgiveness. Yes, even if they avoid those words because your book tells them we find that offensive, that is the core of the gospel (at least for evangelicals) so there’s no getting around it.

    (Mike C, if you’re reading this, I’d love your perspective on what the core message of the gospel is.)

  • Katie H

    The worst form that I’ve seen actually happened recently.

    I was babysitting my niece, at my sister’s place, which is kind of in a rough neighborhood. It’s beside a housing project.

    So, I was in the middle of feeding her, when some Jehovah’s came to the door. Now, previously when I’ve come in contact with Jehovah’s, they’ve just handed me a disguised copy of The Watchtower, and left. This time was different.

    So, immediately, they brought out this book, and said to me “Here are some pictures that illustrate God’s promises for us. Which picture would you like to learn more about?”

    Nice. No literature or anything. They just assumed that because my sister lives in a rougher neighborhood, that I must have been illiterate. Picture book ministry.

    Anything that insults a person’s intelligence is generally a bad way to spread around ideas.

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com nonfictions

    I don’t appreciate being talked down to – whether it’s in a polite way or not. I don’t the arrogance of someone feeling like they’re better than me (or as some might phrase it, “you’re living in sin.”)

    I don’t like the smugness of them thinking that they know what’s best for me, and that they can interpret the bible in a way that’s appropriate for my life. I don’t like when scare tactics (armaggedon, hell) are used. I liked Jehovah’s Witnesses because they didn’t believe in a literal hell (they said, “how could a loving God actually have a literal hell and they say that it’s actuallly Gehenna, a graveyard in Israel that was hellish). I don’t think I could be a part of a religion that focused their teachings around armaggedon and hell.

  • http://intrinsicallyknotted.wordpress.com Susan B.

    The ONLY thing that works for me (in the absence of evidence) is genuine, open conversation, particularly with a friend. I’m not sure I would even call this evangelism since nobody’s trying to convert anyone, but it’s the only way I will listen to religious discussion.

    Some of my religious friends and I talk all the time about the meta-issues surrounding religion–how do we “know” things, whether personal experiences should be convincing, etc. In the process we both learn about each other’s worldview, and have an opportunity to test our own.

    If a theist wants to convert me and is not willing to sit down and have a frank and open conversation where we each listen to each other, then it just isn’t going to work.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com hoverFrog

    I wrote an article on this over at the Friendly Christian that uses some of the points from the forum and my answer there…if anyone wants to add anything to that discussion.

    I do also want to say that I had a friend who converted to a Jehovah’s Witness who was simply unable to answer questions about his new religion. We’ve all heard that JWs can’t accept blood donations but what about organ transplants with no blood, that kind of thing. Not knowing the answer wasn’t so bad but saying “I don’t know, I’ll need to check” when asked what his opinion was is sort of creepy. It is displaying a level of ignorance and a desire to be brainwashed into a religion that is profoundly disturbing in my eyes.

    Why not make up your mind and then find a faith (or no faith) that matches your opinions? Why change your ideas to suit a dogma?

    Being unable to answer a question about your faith or justify the answer is a big turn off in proselytising.

    I’d listen to positive action though. Helping others, not to attract converts but just to help others. Living in the way that Jesus was supposed to have lived. That would make me listen.

  • Alex

    I think a very simple way to describe the best way to talk to an atheist about religion is with this simple comparison.

    If two atheists are having a disagreement or argument about something, it will generally be resolved by one person conceding that the other’s evidence or proof is better supported and that they are probably correct. That, or that there is insufficient proof and they’ll agree to revisit it later when more is available while each holding onto their own theories for the meantime.

    With religious people there is no point in such a discussion because the possibility that they are wrong does not exist to them. This is a severe turnoff to most atheists because it isn’t how we function.

    If a Christian somehow had verifiable proof of the existance of god, we would all stop and listen but most of the time it comes down to “the bible says” and not to generalize, but most of us (atheists) know more about the bible than the devout. At least from my experience.

  • TheOtherOne

    I don’t like being evangelized to, but do my best to ignore the various street preachers and singers around here, and turn down the people who are passing out ads for their church.

    The one that really *annoyed* me, though, was one morning when I was walking to work. It’s a pretty well-traveled route – a large parking garage that directly connects to the mall, and you can walk through the mall and come out on the other street near a lot of the business buildings in the area.
    The are a lot of people walking through – it’s not like it’s ever really deserted.

    A woman in front of me drops something. I see it fall and notice that it looks like a folded $ bill. I try to do her a favor and called out to catch her attention, and also picked it up to give it to her. She kept walking, and as I picked it up I saw that it was a trick. The outside looked like a $10 bill from a distance, but up close was clearly run off a color copier. The inside of the folded paper was some bs about “real value” and it turns out it was an ad for a church.

    It seemed like a really LOUSY way to advertise your church. It was essentially lying. I imagine the intent was to catch the attention of someone who would think “ooh, free money” but I felt pretty annoyed that I had tried to help someone who was just trying to trick me into reading an ad for her church that I would have turned down had she been upfront and tried to hand it to me.

  • Karen

    I recently had a Baptist couple come up my driveway (past the TRex eating a Jesus Fish on my car) and to my door. I’m not sure what possessed me, but in response to the man’s question of, “Are you at peace?” I answered that my family had recently lost the two remaining elders, and that peace was hard to find these days.

    He then asked me if I believed that they were in heaven. I tend to skirt questions like this, and said something along the lines of being sure than any good and loving God would have accepted them with open arms. His response (I’m not kidding!) was, “Well, if they weren’t born again, they are in hell today, but they wouldn’t want that for you, so will you accept Jesus Christ into your heart right here on the front stoop?”

    When relaying this story to my (Episcopalian) mother, she asked me if the man was OK. I didn’t lay a finger on him, but I would have liked to. It was certainly the most distasteful conversion attempt I’ve run into.

  • http://www.sexysecularist.com SexySecularist

    I think for most nonbelievers, evangelism in the proper sense of the word is pointless, even when it’s in a friendly, nonjudgmental, rational-seeming package. The chance of changing my mind about the truth of any given religion at this point is virtually nil, and nonbelievers tend to know much more about religion than proselytizers think – I’ve been having and viewing many discussions on many religions for years now and I don’t think I heard a single new argument after the first few weeks of discussion.

    Where my mind has changed, however, is in how I treat religion, how I treat religious people, and what I think about the institution(s). Open dialogue without any expectation (or even hope) of changing the other person’s mind works really well. Showing a curiosity about your own religion when contradictory items are brought up, and being curious about the nature of unbelief; actually knowing what you’re talking about; distinguishing proof from persuasion and understanding that certain types of statements (arguments from ignorance, arguments from authority, et cetera) won’t be seriously considered.

    The most effective proselytizing I’ve seen has been simple leading by example – knowing, meeting, and talking to religious people for whom religion is a very important part of life, who are also good people who lead ethical lives and can show respect for different but supported viewpoints.

    I know very few unbelievers who have more than a 1% chance of being converted, but I know plenty who could gain new understanding of what religion means to some people (above the condescending level of “well, if it makes ignorant people happy…”), and it could pave the way for friendships and alliances between religious and secular groups in pursuit of ethical causes.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I would think that the people who hang around here would not be particularly vulnerable to any kind of evangelism. I mean, most every one of us has seen the whole deal. Sorry to say, I think it’s a futile effort, unless the objective is merely discussion.

    But we here on the internet are not necessarily representative of atheists/freethinkers in general. I know one atheist who started vaguely believing in “something”. Guess what happened? There was a traumatic experience around the same time. I think emotional appeals and experiences are in fact effective. But I also think it’s ethically wrong to rely on them.

    What would I at least be willing to listen to? First of all, I’d limit it to personal friends. I like to hear people’s thoughts on religion, since most everyone has different thoughts. As far as actual “evangelism” goes, I’d be willing to listen if I have opportunity to reply. But I’d probably get annoyed if the subject was brought up over and over, especially if it consisted of emotional appeals.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Oh, and write books and websites on your evangelism topic. If I am ever interested, I will look up the information myself. I don’t want anyone to bring it to me. That’s how I shop for everything.

  • Gadren

    The best kind of evangelism, IMHO, is just people living their lives well, treating people with a common humanity, and letting people see the influence of [insert belief system here] in your life.

    However, most evangelists get this wrong, because they realize that this is a “good” kind of evangelism. I was raised in the Mormon Church, and people never talked about being kind to non-members and treating them as fellow humans just to be good. They always encouraged such behavior as a strategy, a tool to get more converts.

  • http://redwinegums.wordpress.com Red Wine Gums

    @Ron in Houston
    In a way evangelism is a form of violence. It is an unwillingness to accept another as they are. If is the desire by the evangelist to change the other. It is a lack of respect for the dignity and autonomy of the other.

    By using this definition isn’t a person attempting to solicit your vote in engaging in violence?

  • John

    The best way to evangelize is not to evangelize. “Evangelize”, to me, has a connotation of monologue, not dialogue. If we’re going to have a conversation about belief, you need to be just as open to criticism as I am, or else I’m completely disinterested.

  • John

    @Red Wine Gums
    By using this definition isn’t a person attempting to solicit your vote in engaging in violence?

    Vote solicitators and evangelists alike often carry the message, “Here, let me do your thinking for you!” And while I don’t know that I would strictly characterize it as violent, it is at the very least extremely condescending.

  • Siamang

    Roar,

    Good question, and I like and appreciate the effort involved in coming here to ask.

    I think a lot of people have given very thoughtful responses. I couldn’t answer better than what people have already said.

    I’d like to turn this question on its head to see if it provokes any thoughts, though.

    Is there an approach that you would most like to see if an atheist was trying to get you to abandon your faith? What method of talking about atheism has made you at least open to talking to the other person about atheism?

    I don’t actually need an answer here. I just think that sometimes turning the tables (BIBLICAL REFERENCE! W00T!) on a question can help illuminate it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    This is a great answer Grimalkin. Would you mind if I quote you on my blog?

  • Jason

    I was actually presented the “Are you a good person?” test.

    I responded with “Say, isn’t that the same “Way of the Master” episode where Kirk Cameron presents a banana as the Evolutionists Nightmare?”

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Is there an approach that you would most like to see if an atheist was trying to get you to abandon your faith? What method of talking about atheism has made you at least open to talking to the other person about atheism?

    I don’t actually need an answer here.

    I think that’s actually a really good question. But do you suppose most atheists are really all that interested in the answer? For instance you just said that you aren’t.

  • cipher

    there is no such thing as benign evangelism

    I think I’d have to agree. There’s always a subtext of “I’m right, you’re wrong – and the consequence of that wrongness is eternal damnation “. I’ve never encountered an exception.

    On all of the various atheist and deconverted Christian blogs I visit, there’s a scenario that plays itself out, repeatedly. A Christian will appear spouting off about hellfire and damnation. Then, shortly after, another Christian will arrive on the scene, apologize, and talk about how badly he feels when Christians of the former sort give non-believers the “wrong idea” about Christianity (I swear, it seems choreographed at times, like a “good cop, bad cop” routine). Jesus wouldn’t approve, blah, blah. In other words – it’s all in the presentation.

    The things is – the newcomer’s belief system is the same as the other guy’s. He still thinks we’re all going to hell; he just doesn’t make as much noise about it.

    I used to visit and post comments on the de-conversion blog. They’ve got a couple of young guys from a conservative evangelical seminary who post comments regularly. They’re both Calvinists; they believe that God has created the vast majority of human beings for the sole purpose of damning them for all of eternity – and, of course, that this doesn’t make God a bad guy. The really ludicrous thing is that they pride themselves on being “civil”, and, when I’ve made some snappish remarks, they’ve made a couple of wry comments about my lack of “civility”. Their attitude is, “Why, of course you’re going to hell – but we can at least be polite to one another in the meantime!” They’re waving me off cheerfully on my way to eternal perdition, and congratulating themselves for it. This is an attitude that I find manifesting increasingly in those circles, and I can’t tell you how much it offends me.

    Even when evangelism involves meeting people’s material needs – food, shelter, clothing – it’s still being done from a proselytizing perspective. They aren’t Buddhists; they aren’t doing it solely for the purpose of alleviating suffering. There’s always the subtext of, “If you don’t believe, you’re going to hell”. I’ve been hearing it all of my life, and I’m sick of it.

    Damn it, now I’ve made myself angry!

  • Siamang

    Well, it’s actually two questions. One of which I really don’t think there is a good answer for.

    This one is a good question though:

    What method of talking about atheism has made you at least open to talking to the other person about atheism?

    As far as continuing the dialog, that’s a good question. But my goals in this dialog aren’t conversion or de-conversion. They are discussion, challenging my own thoughts, learning how to talk to others about this stuff without getting too emotional, learning other’s perspectives and promoting understanding of atheists within Christian circles.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I would think that the people who hang around here would not be particularly vulnerable to any kind of evangelism. I mean, most every one of us has seen the whole deal. Sorry to say, I think it’s a futile effort, unless the objective is merely discussion.

    But we here on the internet are not necessarily representative of atheists/freethinkers in general.

    I had the same thought miller. The crowd at this blog is probably the wrong group to ask since I think the folks here are probably a lot less susceptible to evangelism than the average non-Christian. Most people who come to discuss religion and atheism online (from either side) have probably given a lot more thought to their views and thus are much more secure in them than the average believer or non-believer you meet on the street. Most non-Christians I meet in day to day life are not committed atheists. Most are vaguely agnostic and just haven’t cared enough about religion to really give much thought to what they do or don’t believe or what difference, if any, it should make in their lives. It’s these sorts of people that are probably more generally responsive to attempts at evangelism.

  • Grimalkin

    Mike Clawson – Of course you may. :)

  • cipher

    Is there an approach that you would most like to see if an atheist was trying to get you to abandon your faith? What method of talking about atheism has made you at least open to talking to the other person about atheism?

    I don’t think that most of them can answer this sort of question. This was being talked about on one of the secular blogs, recently – PZ Meyers or Ed Brayton, I can’t remember. Someone suggested that that is the main difference between an atheist and a staunch theist. An atheist (or agnostic) can envision a scenario in which he/she could change his/her mind. Try asking this of a conservative Christian; either you won’t get a straight answer, or the answer will be “no” – and they don’t see the dissonance. There is no dissonance, because they have the TRUTH™.

    I did this with my Hasidic nephew the other day. He had to admit that he couldn’t even conceptualize any set of circumstances under which he’d be able or willing to say, “I could be wrong.”

  • QrazyQat

    Their best possible method? Evangelising by example: shutting up and living their lives in such a way as to show they are good happy tolerant people. Alas, this seems to be something they find impossible to do.

  • Stephanie

    How to evangelize? Don’t.
    I will talk to anyone and everyone about their religion. I’m fascinated by people and so also their beliefs. But the second the evangelism starts, the conversation is over. It is no longer a discussion but a lecture- which brings the undertone that I have done something wrong for choosing not to believe the tenants of whatever dogma the follower is espousing.
    You can talk to someone about religion or you can evangelize. You can’t do both.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    (Mike C, if you’re reading this, I’d love your perspective on what the core message of the gospel is.)

    Easy, it’s what Jesus said when he kicked off his ministry:

    “Change your life, for the kingdom of God has arrived.”

    and as for what that kingdom is about and what that change should look like, it’s summarized in what Luke records as Jesus’ innaugural sermon in 4:18-19

    “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

  • http://www.sexysecularist.com SexySecularist

    Reconsidering –

    Honestly, if you want to convert nonbelievers, you’re best off catching them when they’re down and when irrational appeals work for them. Periods of serious drug addiction, divorce, the death of a child, upon learning that they have a terminal illness, periods of extreme debt… around the same time they would be open to entering an abusive relationship or joining a cult.

    In other words, the only time you’re really gonna catch a good deal of us is when you’re being sneaky, and dishonest, and preying on people when their defenses are down. I know that this is a nasty way to put it, but I’ve seen it happen and it’s usually the first thing that makes me suspicious of religion.

    As I said above, open dialogue without the goal of conversion and simply leading a good life are the best ways to foster relationships with nonbelievers in which religion isn’t the elephant in the room. They’ll probably end up with a more positive view on religion and religious people, and you’ll have a common ally in the causes of your faith and church that happen to ally with secular causes. And when it comes time for them to make life decisions, they may end up turning to the institutions to which you’ve introduced them. Their children will probably grow up with a more positive attitude towards faith by having non-proselytizing, good, religious people as role models.

    It’s long-term, it’s less effective, and you probably won’t net as many conversions. But you’ll be converting honestly and openly without preying on people who are so far gone that they can’t rationally make the decision (and if you think that religion is “saving” them from their problem, it isn’t – people get free of their problems with and without religion, and I’ve noticed that those who get free by way of religion tend to carry an awful lot more shame and have a harder time moving on).

  • laterose

    The worst method I’ve run into is the social pressure one. I’m guessing I’m one of the few around here who was raised Agnostic, and this method doesn’t seem to show up much in adult life, but it was a huge problem for a non-religious person in grade school. Basically you’re hanging out with friends, maybe getting to know some new friends, then all of a sudden someone starts testifying and asks you to declare your faith in Jesus. Now that I’m older and wiser I can tell those people off, but as a somewhat awkward child who wanted to fit in, it was rather insidious. It actually kind of worked on me as a kid, but the long term effect is that I’m more disgusted with Christianity.

    Like some of the commenters above I am open to discussing religion, just don’t expect either of our religions to change.

    Also, whatever you do, do not try to re-frame my own experiences for me. My sister converted to Mormonism, and spent a few month trying to convert the rest of us. I’m an artist, and she kept trying to redefine my art and inspirations in terms of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Telling me I can’t interpret my own life without religion, when clearly I can, doesn’t make a convincing argument.

  • Siamang

    The crowd at this blog is probably the wrong group to ask since I think the folks here are probably a lot less susceptible to evangelism than the average non-Christian.

    I agree. I mean pragmatically why change what’s been successful… overwhelmingly successful in sweeping in members? Isn’t it a bit like Coca-Cola saying “what should we change in our formula that will cause people who don’t like cola to drink it?”

    At some point, there will be people who aren’t swept in by whatever you’re selling… why give up your dominating strategy in the marketplace just to sweep in the malcontents?

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    I’m always open to conversation because I might be wrong, just as they might be wrong. Conversation is the tool we have to try to correct our assumptions, our ignorance, our incorrect conclusions, and the fallacies in our thinking, if there are any.

    That said, I am very confident that I am correct, and unless new evidence is brought forth I highly doubt that any theist will convert me (that is, unless I’m at a bad stage in my life where I’m feeling down and out and a theist preys on my vulnerability).

    But of course I am always open to dialog — as every atheist should be, and as most are.

  • BobJohnson29

    I know this isn’t the question you were asking, but I would like to share it anyway. The absolute worst conversion attempt I have ever experienced was in a hospital following a car accident that my brother was killed in and my sister was in the hospital recovering from a spinal cord injury. I was in the hospital for 4 days, but had been out for a week or so and was visiting my sister… taking a break in the family room and some LDS folks started in on me, I was in no mood but they wouldn’t leave me alone.

    I shut them down, but it just bugged the hell out of me that they would attempt to convert people in the hardest time of their lives. At that point in my life I was agnostic, I think I would have handled it differently now.

  • http://uillinois.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2252245006 Citizen Steve

    I had an atheist friend living on my floor of the dorms last year. Some members of Campus Crusade for Christ asked for a few minutes of his time to speak with him. They asked if he was interested in attended church services and Christian events. He said he has no interest in religion. They asked if he’s curious about God, and he said no, he’s pretty sure he has things figured out pretty well. One of the Cru guys said, “Well, there was this one group of people who thought they had things pretty well figured out, and they ended up killing millions of Jews during World War II.”
    That approach to evangelism is no good.

  • K

    How can someone convince me to not only believe in their personal imaginary friend, but that only they have the RIGHT imaginary friend? Heavy drugs.

  • http://www.sexysecularist.com SexySecularist

    K’s correct. At my (small, liberal-arts-and-conservatory, super-liberal, almost-entirely-agnostic-or-atheist-or-apatheist-or-”vaguely spritual”) college, the only conversions I’ve witnessed have come at the hands of LSD. All the evangelists and proselytizers and CCC folks are nothing compared to hallucigenic drugs that distort your perception of reality and make you (temporarily) more credulous.

  • Richard Wade

    NO, NO NO!! You people have it all wrong! Evangelicals, listen up! The very best way, in fact the only way to win converts is to do what the guy on the street corner with the bullhorn does. That guy does it right. He stands on the street corner, on a soap box surrounded by posters with quotations of scripture written in magic marker so densely that they are basically illegible, and screams into his bullhorn about love, hell, salvation, hell, God, hell, Jesus, hell, the Holy Spirit, hell, the Bible, hell, Adam and Eve, hell, Noah’s Flood, hell, oh and once in a while he mentions hell.

    This method is the only method that works!

    Forget all that stuff about classes and training for converting through soft, persuasive conversation, forget all that hooey about using powerful psychological ploys to worm your way into a person’s psyche, forget all that nonsense about preying upon people when they’re vulnerable, most of all forget all that bullshit about actually living a life that would be an attractive example of your faith in action. NO! Get a magic marker, a soap box and a bullhorn and get started!

    Imagine the effect: Not just one guy on the street corner but hundreds of thousands of people on soap boxes lined down the streets of our cities everywhere, all about four feet apart, all surrounded by their magic marker posters, all screaming, screaming, screaming into their bullhorns about love, hell, salvation, hell, God, hell, Jesus, hell, the Holy Spirit, hell, the Bible, hell, Adam and Eve, hell, Noah’s Flood, hell, oh and of course hell.

    The sound will be amazing the vision will be astonishing and the effect will be irresistible. Millions of unbelievers will be rushing into stores to buy magic markers, soap boxes and bullhorns. Quickly they will join you on the sidewalks, even into the streets, blocking what little traffic is left, standing on their soap boxes with their posters and screaming, screaming, screaming about love, hell, salvation, hell, God, hell, Jesus, hell, the Holy Spirit, hell, the Bible, hell, Adam and Eve, hell, Noah’s Flood, hell, and every so often they talk about hell. Within just a few ear-bleeding days the whole world will be at a standstill, six and a half billion people standing still on billions of soap boxes with their billions of posters and screaming into billions of bullhorns or whatever makeshift cardboard megaphones they were able to put together, all screaming, screaming, screaming about love, hell, salvation, hell, God, hell, Jesus, hell, the Holy Spirit, hell, the Bible, hell, Adam and Eve, hell, Noah’s Flood, hell, and oh yeah, hell.

    And the world will be saved.

  • http://www.theinfinityprogram.com Kevin

    If the evangalism comes with a sincerity to have a humble chat, I don’t much mind.

    But so often I get a passive-aggressive evangalist, who pretends he’s just trying to help me while what he actually tries to do is to attack my character through the art of implication and use whatever I say as material to further advance his theory that I have deep-seated psychological issues and am actually living a loser lifestyle because of a loser mindset.

  • Spurs Fan

    I

    had an atheist friend living on my floor of the dorms last year. Some members of Campus Crusade for Christ asked for a few minutes of his time to speak with him. They asked if he was interested in attended church services and Christian events. He said he has no interest in religion. They asked if he’s curious about God, and he said no, he’s pretty sure he has things figured out pretty well. One of the Cru guys said, “Well, there was this one group of people who thought they had things pretty well figured out, and they ended up killing millions of Jews during World War II.”
    That approach to evangelism is no good.

    Wow. I agree. No good.

  • jonathan

    My feeling is that, if I don’t know you; if we aren’t close enough to openly discuss deeper topics; if we haven’t developed a mutual respect, don’t tell me about your faith.

  • Darryl

    Two things:

    First, people who ask this kind of question don’t care about my opinion, they’re just doing market research–what methods are effective for selling the product. I don’t like being treated like an economic factor when advertisers only want my money, and I really resent being market tested when Churches want my money and my soul. And, by the way, doesn’t it disturb you folks that you’re commodifying your Saviour?

    Second, the utter failure of evangelism to stem the tide of secularism is why the most rabid evangelizers–the fundies–have resorted in the last 30 years to forcing religion on us by political means. Doesn’t this demonstrate that they’ve really already given up on the whole idea? Do they really think they’ll find a new 21st-Century mode of advertising that’s going to turn the trend around? Christians are the subculture most lacking in imagination, so I doubt they’ll succeed, which is ironic since they put so much stock in imaginations.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/johnpritzlaff John Pritzlaff

    I agree with Stephanie and others that there is a difference between honest, open conversation and evangelizing. The difference is that a conversation is a two-way street, where both parties can learn from each other, and evangelizing is a one-way street, where one party lectures the other about their dogma. The former is good, the latter is bad.

  • Susan

    Ron in Houston said:

    In a way evangelism is a form of violence. It is an unwillingness to accept another as they are. If is the desire by the evangelist to change the other. It is a lack of respect for the dignity and autonomy of the other.

    Ron sums it up well for me. I have been on the receiving end of some deep Christian hatred. At the time, my feelings were still mixed but the pain inflicted on me by these “Christians” was actually what I needed to realize that, yes, I am an atheist.

    Since that time, I have encountered many Christians who are polar opposites. We discuss our beliefs, but none of us tries to force the other to come over to their “side.” Still, I remain firm in my own belief and comfortable within myself.

  • Nancy

    I want to answer your question backwards. The best way….My cousin and a friend of mine at work are both VERY Christian. But they never, ever flaunt it. They LIVE it. These two women are as good as they come.

    My friend at work would do anything for me. She has already done some incredible things that no one else I know would do. This woman is also capable of discussing the challenging questions I have for her about faith without becoming defensive, and with a totally open mind.

    Anything short of that now for me is the worst way to approach an atheist.

  • Xeonicus

    I see so many experiences that others have had that echo my own experiences with evangelism. As a young adolescent a friend of mine encouraged me to “get saved” one day. I was enthusiastic about it because he was my friend and I wanted to do what he does. Only later did I realize that I was nothing more than a “customer”. After not taking the bait, our friendship basically ended after he realized I wasn’t in his club. You know those sales guys that go around trying to convince you to join a pyramid scheme? They’re reeeeally nice guys when they’re making their pitch, but the instant they realize you’re serious about not buying it, they give you the cold shoulder fast.

    I can’t go along with those kind of people anymore, because I don’t think they’re trying to be my friend. I’m just a goal for them to conquer. Even if I were to go along with it, I’d be ill at ease, because the friendship would come with conditions: “You can be my friend if you are a Christian. If not, get lost.” There is always an ulterior motive. I like people to like me for “me”. There are too many fake smiles in this day and age.

    Honestly though, I don’t think direct evangelism works. In my life, I would say that I change because of personal experience. It’s an internal process. However, I agree that preying upon vulnerable and sad people works great. When I was at my lowest years ago I even considered several irrational notions about God. In the end, I decided that I was being a pussy and I needed to pull my life back together and be responsible. And I did. Individuals have amazing self-potential when they put their minds too it. If I had converted at that point in my life, everyone would have said “God did it”. Funny that.

  • J Myers

    The current methods of evangelism seem to work quite well for what they’re intended to do. What they don’t, and can’t, do is convince people who are not open vulnerable to emotional appeals and magical thinking.

    Fixed.

  • ash

    i think evangelicism will only work on the kind of atheists that visit here once you have substantial proof that either
    #1 god not only exists, but it’s the god of the christian bible, in the way that you choose to interpret it, or
    #2 being ‘your’ type of christian has provable benefits, not only to the individual, but to the world at large.

    i consider such proof lacking, therefore am unlikely to be susceptible to any evangelical methods.

    however, you can still convince me that you’re a worthwhile person who i should value interacting with; this would be acheived not through false platitudes and shallow condescention, rather by demonstration of your moral integrity and commitment to your fellow man in practical application.

    on a side note…due to my geographical location (England) i find that in most religious conversations with friends, i have to play the christian. this gives me a valuable insight to the world of apologetics, but i always lose the argument due to 2 reasons;
    #1 i’m not convinced by said arguments, therefore i can only pay lip service
    #2 i’m not willing to ever claim superior or alternately ‘discovered’ knowledge that means i can prioritise my point of view over someone else’s. this may be where the most grating flaw of evangelicalism rears it’s head for me.

  • http://www.myspace.com/timandjeffrey Tim D.

    The big issue I have with evangelism is that it generally accompanies a lack of life experience.

    Now, now, hear me out—I know there are a million ways to respond negatively to that. But what I mean is, the people who “preach” to me in that sense always (or often) seem to come from a background in which they came to depend on religion because of one single experience, or because they were raised in that religion. Now if you’ll give me just a few paragraphs or so to explain why neither of those tactics works for me….

    First off, the idea of a person converting because of one single “experience with God” is no more compelling to me than the story of the Troubled Hero Who Blames Himself For the Murder Of His Family. When I hear that a person is (or has been) ready and able to completely overhaul his or her world view based solely on an isolated, emotionally-grounded incident, I am not exactly compelled to pursue his or her newfound ideology, because I already have a sufficient explanation for his or her “conversion” in my mind; he/she didn’t “convert” out of honesty, he/she did so because it made him/her feel better. And as much as I like to feel better about things that bother me, I don’t feel that taking such a potentially dishonest approach as joining a religious faith is a very wise way to confront those things.

    Let me give you a more specific analogy; for some time now, there has been this recycled American myth about the “Hero with a Tragic Past,” the one I mentioned above. I first heard of it in superhero backstories (such as Batman, for example); but in any case, the idea is dramatized by our society, as though the person’s decision to pursue vigilante justice to compensate for his/her own perceived “weakness” or “wrongdoing” is somehow mentally or emotionally healthy. In reality, I do not think this is healthy or satisfying at all; it represents to me an inability to cope with one’s own flaws, perceived or otherwise. That desire manifests itself into acts of vigilante justice—desparate attempts to assert one’s power in a world that makes him/her feel powerless.

    How this relates to evangelism, of course, is that I often hear about “miracle conversions” from purported “former atheists” who have (supposedly) experienced some particular occasion (or occasions) that caused him/her to convert to Christianity. These kinds of stories are, of course, related to me in an attempt to convert me by showing how the person in question “used to be Just Like Me(TM)!” and how they Understand Everything About Me And The Way I Think. They’ve already been there and experienced everything I have and then some….or so they’d like to think. That is a pretentious assumption, and if you try to convince me using that method then you are insulting both of our intelligences.

    As for the Evangelists who were born into the faith….my basic complaint about them is that they have not actually taken the time to experience the life of an individual outside of the church. He/she does not understand the issues and priorities of a person who does not believe in a religious deity. For that reason, I’m all the more insulted when someone tries to approach me in a way that suggests they understand more about Life, The Universe, and Everything—especially morality, given much of the content of the Bible itself.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    To me it’s the same moronic drivel in different clothing.

    A reasonable approach will get a polite, pleasant response. If I have time, I might even debate a while.

    But if it’s the usual delusional yelling but not listening dork, expect short shrift.

    What would get my interest: An all in brawl – two strapping young Mormons vs a largish family of Jehovahs Witnesses, and let’s just see whose side god is on, eh? Now that’s evangelism I’d sit still for!

  • http://brownjs.wordpress.com J.S.Brown

    I particularly despise attempts to befriend me for the sake of lowering my defense to the message. Friend or not, your ideas will receive the same treatment.

  • Mark

    @Ron in Houston wrote

    In a way evangelism is a form of violence. It is an unwillingness to accept another as they are. If is the desire by the evangelist to change the other. It is a lack of respect for the dignity and autonomy of the other.

    That’s why an evangelist should only talk about what their faith has done for them. They should never be so arrogant as to claim authority or knowledge over other people. There are many sad little people in religion today who know that their opinions don’t matter to anyone else so they “convert” to a religion and try to claim they speak for God in a desperate attempt to make themselves feel more important. There is a special place in hell reserved for these liars.

    Red Wine Gums said,

    By using this definition isn’t a person attempting to solicit your vote in engaging in violence?

    I have never been told by a vote solicitor that they speak for God and that God would send me to hell if I don’t vote the way he tells me to vote.

    I have had a few tell me that the COUNTRY will go to hell if I don’t vote the way I’m told to vote. ;-)

  • Mark

    Susan wrote:

    I have been on the receiving end of some deep Christian hatred. At the time, my feelings were still mixed but the pain inflicted on me by these “Christians” was actually what I needed to realize that, yes, I am an atheist.

    Sounds like you came upon some liars who claimed to be Christians but were fakes. Should we let those evil people steal the good name of Christ? I say that perhaps it is you, by your good deeds, who is the Christian and they, by their hate, are the atheists.

    Have you ever read Matthew 7:21?

    “Not everyone … will enter the kingdom of heaven…Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out homosexuals and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

    The behavior of the average Christian is the best proof atheists have that there is no God.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Sounds like you came upon some liars who claimed to be Christians but were fakes.

    Oh please. What an old, tired argument. What gives one Christian the right or authority to say that someone else is a false Christian? Every Christian group constantly proclaims that the rest are not “real” Christians.

    I think the existence of “bad” Christians just proves that Christianity doesn’t work. There are some good and some bad people who are born again and some good and some bad people who are not. Getting saved doesn’t do anything. It’s a joke.

    P.S. Yes, I get your ironic twist. Just sayin’.

  • wwyoud

    Frankly, I don’t trust ANYONE who’s trying to evangelize me, friend or not, to understand my reasons or have a discussion that ends in something other than bad feelings on both sides. There are so many rewards dangled for even the most well-meaning evangelist, and so many “how-to” teachings out there to make them ever more insidious, that I really doubt strangers have a personal interest in me; in some way or another, I’m just another potential mark on their cross. For me, anyone who is a fundie is in a cult and is helping, knowingly or not, to convert my secular town, state, and country into a fundie nation. As soon as someone can’t make it through a work meeting with saying something about prayer or god, or can’t finish an everyday conversation without a praise the lord, they’re gone in my opinion, and everything else they do or say is suspect as an attempt to convert. I understand that my friends and family who are fundies truly want me in heaven with them, out of love for me, but that just hurts me even more. I don’t participate in such “conversations” any more, and absolutely do not want some stranger discussing something so private with me in any way.

    As for “real” christians – the very bible you all share is used to define each sect; the variety of core beliefs should be evidence enough of the contradictions contained in that book. If there was proof, then it should be very easy to agree on a real christianity. And then it would be much easier to convert us logic-based atheists…

  • Rest

    I went to a charismatic Christian camp two years ago with my parents. I stayed away from the services as I was just interested in the camping experience. Anyway, I was having a camp fire and this lady comes walking up the path toward me. She asks me if I’m a Christian. I say No. She then starts telling me some silly story about a young man who apparently died or had a dream that he went to Hell and how terrible it was. She knew nothing about me but started going on about how she knows I like to sleep around with girls, party and get drunk and be a man of the world, but that’s no way to get to Heaven. (I was laughing inside because I’m still a virgin, I’m not a party person, and I’ve never even been drunk or taken drugs.) I tell her that I’m happy with my own beliefs, thank you, and she hands me one of these annoying “Smile, Jesus Loves You” booklets and walks off. I threw it into straight the fire. (I felt guilty about doing that because I could’ve taken it home for recycling!)

    I wasn’t mad though. I found it amusing because I used to be believe just like her, especially the part about non-believers being promiscuous, etc. I was “saved” (for the second time – just to be sure) at that very camp and baptized in the lake so I knew exactly the time of teachings she was exposed to. I did sneak into the back of the service one night just to have a peep and it felt so liberating that I was no longer a part of that judgmental, close-minded mindset. It was a breath of fresh air.

    So, no, evangelism won’t work on me. Been there, done that. No thanks.

  • Spacesocks

    Evangelism wouldn’t work on me; I know too much about religion to believe a word of it.

    I can tell you what makes me lose respect for evangelists, though:
    1) Not taking my objections to religion seriously
    2) Trying to cast me as “mean” for criticizing beliefs
    3) Citing “changed lives” as evidence for your religion, rather than actual evidence
    4) Pretending your beliefs are rational and that people are mean to accuse you of “blind faith,” when it actually does come down to blind faith after all
    5) Assuming that atheists are “amoral” and nihilistic

    I can respect religious people who know their beliefs are irrational, as long as they claim it as something that works for them and don’t try to convince other people that their religion is “True” in spite of its nonsensical nature. But these people are generally not evangelists.

  • Darryl

    I think the existence of “bad” Christians just proves that Christianity doesn’t work. There are some good and some bad people who are born again and some good and some bad people who are not. Getting saved doesn’t do anything. It’s a joke.

    Well, it’s not that simple. There is no question that some people who are real jackasses are still jackasses after their conversion. They use the negative side of religion because it agrees with them. And I think it’s true that some people who are real nice people are still nice people after their conversion. They use the positive side of religion because it appeals to them. But, I think it’s also the case, and can be demonstrated, that religion helps some people to be better people. There are those that will credit their faith with saving their lives, or turning it around when it was going down a bad road.

    For instance, if someone who has been living a selfish life, taking no thought for the poor or marginalized or oppressed, converts to a faith that preaches that one ought to feed the poor, and visit those in prison, and care for those who suffer, etc., and that one begins to do those things out of a sense of duty, and having begun to do them finds them deeply rewarding experiences, and gains compassion and empathy for those less fortunate, and becomes concerned about justice and peace, and gains a peace of mind therefrom, knowing that these things are good, hasn’t that person’s faith “worked” for them? Hasn’t it turned them from a lesser to a greater path, speaking from an ethical point of view?

    This is the salutary part of religion. This is the justification for liberal theologies. So long as the ethical component of religion is emphasized, albeit stripped of its archaisms, prejudices, and irrationalities, it inhabits the sphere of the truly moral, and ethical, and, I dare say, ‘spiritual,’ sharing this sphere will all ethical philosophies.

    If a habit can be induced in the common person to take a part of one day out of seven to reflect upon one’s own shortcomings as well as one’s ethical obligations to the world, knowing how empty and absurd the rest of life can be, isn’t this a positive thing? Though I would prefer that people would not carry the extra baggage of religion’s negatives along with its ethical component, it would be dishonest of me not to note its good points.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I think the existence of “bad” Christians just proves that Christianity doesn’t work. There are some good and some bad people who are born again and some good and some bad people who are not. Getting saved doesn’t do anything. It’s a joke.

    I understand why you say that, though I have to say that I disagree. First off, I don’t think there is such a thing as “good people” and “bad people”, we’re all a mixed bag. And I do think that our beliefs and ideologies, whether religious or otherwise, can and do play a very large role in which aspects predominate. If you hold to an ideology that encourages love, justice, compassion, generosity, etc. then that very often will make a difference on whether you are a person that tends to express those virtues in your life. And if you hold to an ideology that encourages the opposite, then you will tend to display the opposite.

    Therefore I wouldn’t say that Christianity doesn’t work. Rather I would say that it depends on what kind of Christianity we’re talking about. Wouldn’t you agree that the kind of Christianity people like Jerry Falwell preached tends to produce people that act a lot like Jerry Falwell? And if bad forms of Christianity can be effective at producing relatively “bad” people, wouldn’t you also be willing to concede that positive forms of Christianity can sometimes produce relatively decent people?

    Bottom line IMHO, beliefs do matter, they do “work” to produce various kinds of people, and the fact that Christianity produces different kinds of people is not evidence that Christianity doesn’t “work”, but that Christianity is not some monolithic thing that can be all lumped in together. It’s not for me to say who is or is not a “true Christian”, but that doesn’t mean I have to close my eyes to the fact that there are differences, and it’s not all just the same thing.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Darryl, looks like you and I cross posted. Seems we’re both making essentially the same point here. :)

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    MikeC, I knew you were going to say something like that. Darryl, I didn’t know you were going to say it.

    But I disagree. Yes, lives can be changed. But it doesn’t require religion or the supernatural. That is no more or less effective than anything else that people claim is life changing such as a near death experience, reading a literary book (not necessarily the Bible), having a child, seeing an amazing occurrence in nature, being in a war, and so forth.

    “Salvation” is nothing more than a placebo, nothing more than any other natural event.

    People change because at some point they decide they want to change. That’s all there is to it. You change yourself or you don’t change.

  • Adrian

    Not that you need my vote, but I’d side with Mike C on this one – the existence of “bad” (however you define it) Christians doesn’t mean Christianity is wrong. If there’s no discernible difference between Born Again Christians and others, then that would argue the transformative value of Christianity is overstated, especially since any social grouping will tend to lead to some personality changes.

    Ultimately however, I think the claims of Christianity are much broader than making personal transformations. I think a critique of Jesus or the existence of God would be necessary, if not sufficient. Personal changes would just disprove some of the weakest of postmodernist liberal Christianity, which says the truth of Christianity is irrelevant, and all that matters are how we feel. I think this is such a disingenuous position that no critique is necessary.

  • Maria

    if someone is reasonable and respectful, I’ll usually listen. the whole hell threat is really bad. I shut down when I hear that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    But I disagree. Yes, lives can be changed. But it doesn’t require religion or the supernatural.

    Did I say that it did? I was simply talking about beliefs, of any sort. In fact I specifically said:

    I do think that our beliefs and ideologies, whether religious or otherwise, can and do play a very large role in which aspects predominate.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Personal changes would just disprove some of the weakest of postmodernist liberal Christianity, which says the truth of Christianity is irrelevant, and all that matters are how we feel.

    I know a lot of “postmodernist liberal Christians”, in fact, I am one myself, and I don’t a single one who would say that. Ironically your description sounds more like something our conservative Christian critics (e.g. Chuck Colson, John MacArthur, etc.) accuse us of than anything any postmodern liberals I know would actually believe.

    Though, I probably you probably have some other group in mind than who I tend to associate those terms with anyway (your description actually reminds me more of liberal modernist Christians like Jack Spong), so it’s a moot point.

  • MercuryBlue

    The guy with the bullhorn and Bible is supremely ineffective. One of that type hangs out in the grove in the middle of campus where everybody who comes near the grove—which just about everyone has to, as most of the academic buildings are there—and is roundly ignored except for the occasional joke at his expense.

    The teenage girl on fire for Jesus and eagerly awaiting the Rapture is also ineffective. I’m working on converting one of this type to a less insane flavor of Christianity. However, she has said flat out that since obviously non-Christians (read, not-special-enough Christians, since most people who self-identify as Christian are excluded whenever she says ‘Christian’) don’t do good deeds at Jesus’s instruction, and equally obviously the good deeds a non-Christian does have no effect on the afterlife (good deeds Christians do determine the extent of their reward in heaven, but non-Christians are all doomed to hell) and are thus ultimately pointless, she can’t see why non-Christians do good deeds at all. So this may take a while.

    The mother wailing about “Where did we go so badly wrong with you?” is excellent at laying on a guilt trip about being an atheist but otherwise accomplishes nothing.

    The young woman quietly living by Christian values as best she can is rather more effective. The one of this type I know is ineffective mostly because she can’t disentangle one of her sect’s beliefs from another any more than the above-mentioned teenager can, and certain of her sect’s beliefs are tearing her apart. (For example, she’s told me she feels she’s betraying her faith to believe several of her friends are not wrong to engage in homosexual activity, but she’s betraying those friends to believe homosexual behavior is sinful.) She and I have agreed that the difference between theism and atheism is that between “Ceiling Cat: do want” and “Ceiling Cat: do not want” and tacitly agreed to disagree on further points.

  • Darryl

    Yes, lives can be changed. But it doesn’t require religion or the supernatural. That is no more or less effective than anything else that people claim is life changing such as a near death experience, reading a literary book (not necessarily the Bible), having a child, seeing an amazing occurrence in nature, being in a war, and so forth.

    I think we’re talking around each other. I basically agree with this statement, and it dovetails with what I said, and with what Mike was saying. I guess I misunderstood your unequivocal-sounding initial comments. But, it would be short-sided to suggest that religions–as totalizing world-views imbedded in ornate rituals–act in lives in “no more or less effective” ways than simple, limited experiences like “a near death experience, reading a literary book . . . having a child, seeing an amazing occurrence in nature, being in a war, and so forth.”

  • http://ozatheist.wordpress.com Oz Atheist

    SexySecularist makes a good point about the somewhat deceitful way some religions gather followers, that is: catching them when they are ‘down’. The Scientologists were/are particularly good at this.

    The Scientologists even managed to get Australia’s wealthiest man when, as the SMH put it:

    He was overweight and depressed, his marriage to his first wife, Jodhi Meares, had ended and he was reeling from the humiliating and very public collapse of One.Tel, losing $350 million from the family business on the way.

    Un-Surprisingly now Packer is ‘back on his feet’ he has realised he doesn’t need the cult any more.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    I do think that our beliefs and ideologies, whether religious or otherwise, can and do play a very large role in which aspects predominate.

    MikeC, sorry I missed that. So I guess we agree: “salvation” is nothing special.

    I really don’t get the kind of Christianity that doesn’t believe in anything. I just don’t see the point. What makes you different than an atheist who thinks that Jesus made some good points about how humans should treat each other?

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    MikeC, sorry I missed that. So I guess we agree: “salvation” is nothing special.

    Depends on what you mean by “salvation”. To me salvation is a way of life, and it has made all the difference in mine – as I’ve been trying to say, I think the way that one chooses to live (which includes the beliefs this way is founded on) is very important and makes a big difference in people’s lives.

    Some people can discover this way without reference to Jesus, which I think is great, but I don’t think this is in spite of him. To me it is still the “way of Christ” even if one doesn’t call it that. That is, I think people can be following God’s way even when they don’t believe he exists. In fact, my view of God requires that since I don’t think God limits his activity in the world merely to people who claim to be “Christians”.

    I really don’t get the kind of Christianity that doesn’t believe in anything. I just don’t see the point. What makes you different than an atheist who thinks that Jesus made some good points about how humans should treat each other?

    I’m sorry, are you asking me personally or was this rhetorical? Because I definitely believe in many things, including the divinity and resurrection of Jesus, as well as in the way of life he taught and demonstrated.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Mike, the more I hear about your type of Christianity the more I like it. It’s still not for me, but that’s besides the point. But I still think it’s a little arrogant to say, “They’re really following Christ even if they don’t know it,” as if other religions are invalid or wrong while Christianity is true. Is that what you meant?

    The other question was rhetorical, more or less.

    Donna

  • wwyoud

    I don’t mind the idea that

    They’re really following Christ even if they don’t know it

    To me, it’s just a different way of acknowledging that there is a common agreement on what moral behavior is, whether you think it comes from a higher power or from your own conscience/genes/whatever. Many religions, cultures, etc. have the same agreement on what basic moral behavior is, whether they apply it to only members of their group or to a wider circle of humanity.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    But I still think it’s a little arrogant to say, “They’re really following Christ even if they don’t know it,” as if other religions are invalid or wrong while Christianity is true. Is that what you meant?

    I think all religions, including Christianity, contain a mixture of truth and error (though I know I’m not wise enough to discern where the line between each of these lies in every religion). I find a lot of things that strike me as true and valid in many different belief systems.

    However, of course I also believe that Jesus, as God incarnate, is the embodiment of truth, so that any truth I find in other places necessarily comes from/reflects back to him (please note that I’m talking about Jesus as God, not necessarily “Christianity” as a religion). So yes, I do interpret the goodness and truth I find elsewhere through the lens of Jesus. Is that arrogant? Maybe. But, I think, no more arrogant than atheists who re-interpret my religious beliefs and experiences in terms of naturalistic explanations. We each have our own ideas about what is true and it’s only natural that we would attempt to understand the beliefs of others in light of those ideas.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Thx for explaining, Mike.

  • Spurs Fan

    Some people can discover this way without reference to Jesus, which I think is great, but I don’t think this is in spite of him. To me it is still the “way of Christ” even if one doesn’t call it that.

    This goes back to a previous post, but why does it have to be the “way of Christ”? Why not the “way of Jane” or any other person who seems to be an inspiring, loving person?

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    My friend at work would do anything for me. She has already done some incredible things that no one else I know would do. This woman is also capable of discussing the challenging questions I have for her about faith without becoming defensive, and with a totally open mind.

    That’s interesting. I too have a friend at work like this. He’s also an atheist.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Let me just play devil’s advocate here for a second…

    I don’t think most well-meaning Evangelicals—at least not the low-level ones—are purposefully arrogant, threatening, or manipulative. I think the reality is more like seeing a person in imminent danger and “knowing” they can and/or should do something to help. It’s like that disturbing anti-drug commercial a few years back where a teenage girl is drowning in a lake and her friend is just standing on the pier rationalizing that it’s not her problem and it’s best to just stay out of it and not interfere.

    Evangelical Christians really truly believe that all non-professed-Christians (and many professed ones) are drowning in a sea of their own iniquity. They really truly believe that they themselves are also in this sea of iniquity but have been spared and are now waiting for the rescue boat to come take them to heaven and they should try their best to stay dry in the meantime. They really truly believe that they have the means and responsibility to help save as many other people from drowning as possible. They really truly believe that to do any less is tantamount to murder. They really truly feel absolutely awful when people don’t take the lifeline when offered, and they really truly feel absolutely joyful when someone does, not because they did something good but because one less person has to drown that way.

    To them this is, metaphorically speaking, more or less exactly what is going on on some other plane of existence that they believe more “real” than the physical world around them. Some of them get frustrated and angry and violent and arrogant because they feel that it’s better to prevent a person from drowning than it is to be their friend.

    It’s certainly right to regard this behavior as highly delusional and regard the people as victims of manipulation themselves, just as it’s totally normal to act quizzical when someone hands you a life jacket on the street and talks cryptically and urgently of drowning and a rescue boat… in the middle of Denver (yeah, I know, cue the Noahic allusions). You can get angry and defensive about these people but when you see it from their perspective, you can at least understand they’re being sincere.

  • cipher

    I don’t think most well-meaning Evangelicals—at least not the low-level ones—are purposefully arrogant, threatening, or manipulative. I think the reality is more like seeing a person in imminent danger and “knowing” they can and/or should do something to help.

    I hear this often, and I don’t agree with it. I think that a lot of evangelicals secretly relish the idea of our impending perdition. It’s a power fantasy, ego boost, makes them feel validated, etc. I also think there are sublimated erotic feelings involved, but lets not even go there.

    I came across this over the weekend: http://www.rr-bb.com/showthread.php?t=38891. Someone in the group quoted someone else asking how a loving god can send anyone to hell. Peruse the answers; they speak for themselves.

    My two favorite gems:

    The world is lucky that I am not God. I would not be gracious at all. I would start everyone out with a time out in hell just so all would know not to disrespect me.

    He can do it without pity or mercy. When judgment day comes, there won’t be a tear shed by the saved for the unsaved, because we will see and understand as our God does.

    I read Matt Taibbi’s book (the one Hemant interviewed him about) over the weekend. I recommend it highly. It alternates between his experiences as a reporter in Washington and as an undercover fundie in Texas. His anecdotes demonstrate the greed and corruption in Washington, the hatefulness and stupidity that characterize the evangelical subculture, and how they feed one another.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    I hear this often, and I don’t agree with it. I think that a lot of evangelicals secretly relish the idea of our impending perdition.

    Well, speaking as a former Evangelical Christian, I can assure you that at the time this was not so, at least in my case and among other Christians I knew at the time (with the exception of a couple nuts that we all tended to avoid anyway). Hell was an uncomfortable topic for everyone and a lot of us agreed it was no fun whatsoever talking about hell with the “unsaved”, but nevertheless a necessary backdrop for the “good news” (which nowadays conjures up images of Stewie Griffin saying “Good news! I’ve decided not to kill you!”)

    Speaking from my experience on the inside, a lot of evangelical Christians really are just people trying their best to “prove” their salvation and “do right by God” as it were.

  • http://www.skepchick.org writerdd

    Well, speaking as a former Evangelical Christian, I can assure you that at the time this was not so, at least in my case and among other Christians I knew at the time

    You saved me from having to type that exact sentence!

  • cipher

    Speaking from my experience on the inside, a lot of evangelical Christians really are just people trying their best to “prove” their salvation and “do right by God” as it were.

    You saved me from having to type that exact sentence!

    As I said – I hear this a lot. I don’t buy it. When I wander into places like the board I linked to above, the attitude I see is very different. I had this conversation recently with Helen Mindenhall at Conversations at the Edge (Mike, I believe you and your wife know her). She told me the same thing that you’re telling me. I think – forgive my presumption – that some deconverted evangelicals simply want to think kindly of their former co-religionists, especially as you often have friends and family still on the inside. You want to think well of them, of their motives. I understand that, but when I talk to angry former Christians, like the folks at Ex-Christian.net, the responses I get are quite different. I’m also basing it on a lifetime of experience with addictive personalities, and that’s what fundamentalism is – an addiction.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Cipher,

    I’m not knocking your opinion in any way and I am certainly aware of why you would come to this conclusion.

    However, while I understand anecdotal evidence is shaky discussion fodder, for all intents and purposes, you’ve dismissed my witness by accusing me of letting my former addictions cloud my present judgment of past events. This is, in my mind, the same kind of re-interpretive casting that angry Christians use to “prove” that I was never a Christian in the first place, and frankly that bullshit rhetoric irks me no matter who uses it.

    Yes, there are absolutely Christians who love to use their religion to feel superior, love that the people they dislike are all going to hell, and love to spread hate and resentment. They were easy to spot and, again, they were mostly ignored. And, from the outside, they appear a lot more prevalent.

    This was not me, and it was not the majority of Christians I knew and trusted. I want to be absolutely clear to you: my beliefs about hell were an embarrassment to me about what I otherwise regarded as a beautiful faith and I was ashamed and began fumbling and stuttering every time I brought it up, and I felt like a huge asshole doing it. I felt the indignant reactions it sparked were totally justified. I truly wished I could “speak the gospel” without having to mention eternal damnation, but I felt to do so would be abandoning people to hell, disobedient to God, and would “prove” I wasn’t “truly saved”.

    I know you don’t buy it and that’s certainly your prerogative, and I presume you will quickly tire of rehashing old arguments. So with that I apologize for accidentally imposing my woefully ignorant views on you. As a former Christian, I clearly am still partially brain-damaged and not capable of interpreting past events in my life correctly.

  • cipher

    I’m not knocking your opinion in any way and I am certainly aware of why you would come to this conclusion.

    I realize that.

    This was not me, and it was not the majority of Christians I knew and trusted.

    I believe you. Here’s the thing, Derek – I’m 51 years old. My opinion reflects half a century of interaction with these people, but as an outsider. Furthermore, every time someone on our side of the fence – Mike Taibbi, Michelle Goldberg, et al – goes inside that world to a little investigative journalism, this is what they come away with as well.

    Look, what can l what can I say? You were on the inside; I wasn’t. I concede.

    I will add that even if no one in that world felt as I describe, it really wouldn’t make me thing much better of them. I still see it as a form of addiction, a willingness to abandon billions of one’s human siblings, for all of eternity, so that they can have the security blanket for a few brief decades while here – easy answers to life’s complexities, spoon fed to them by paranoid, egotistic opportunists. “As long as I’m safe, as long as I feel secure, that’s all that matters.” If a few billion people have to burn in hell for eternity for them to have that- well, it’s a price they’re willing to pay!

    Not to mention the fact that, increasingly, America is becoming part of their franchise. The inmates are in charge of the asylum.

    I realize that they’re victims, but please don’t ask me to feel sorry for them.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    I apologize for my emotional reaction earlier. I guess as a late twentysomething I’m still young and often reactive.

    I’ll pick up the books you are citing as I’m sure it will give me a better perspective of people who have never been insiders. However, that’s not to say I wasn’t aware of the “problem” of violent, angry Christians sullying our good name. The problem was, much of the time when I spoke about it with church leaders I got these kinds of “we don’t talk about that” reactions, which were extraordinarily frustrating. However, when talking with fellow Christians outside church authority, the story was quite different and many people agreed with me and shared my frustration.

    “As long as I’m safe, as long as I feel secure, that’s all that matters.” If a few billion people have to burn in hell for eternity for them to have that- well, it’s a price they’re willing to pay!

    Well, again, I will say that coming from the perspective of a former “concerned Christian” as it were, we were certainly not happy that this was the case (although we never blamed God of course) and we felt it our biblical duty to try and save as many as possible.

    I realize that they’re victims, but please don’t ask me to feel sorry for them.

    I don’t. But understanding is a big part of reconciliation and since we share a nation with them I think it’s better to try and extend the olive branch no matter how rabid some of their constituents get.

  • cipher

    I apologize for my emotional reaction earlier. I guess as a late twentysomething I’m still young and often reactive.

    No problem.

    I’ll pick up the books you are citing as I’m sure it will give me a better perspective of people who have never been insiders.

    Yeah, I’d recommend Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming. She deals with the parrallel reality the evangelical subculture is creating for itself, complete with its own revisionist science and history, and its own pop culture – like some bizarre fun house mirror-image of American culture. I heard her speak when the book came out as well; the whole experience really seemed to unsettle her.

    Well, again, I will say that coming from the perspective of a former “concerned Christian” as it were, we were certainly not happy that this was the case (although we never blamed God of course) and we felt it our biblical duty to try and save as many as possible.

    Yeah, I know. The thing is – they still believe it. Very few have the courage to break away, to say, “No, this is unconscionable. I refuse to believe it.” And I know that there are many factors involved – childhood conditioning, peer pressure, innate personality (itself probably determined by physiological factors) – but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for them. At the end of the day, they’re still willing to toddle off to heaven while we burn in hell. Salvific exclusivism is the line of demarcation for me – always has been, probably always will be. When the train comes in, everybody rides. Nothing else is acceptable. And I’m not even a particularly good person!

  • Darryl

    es, there are absolutely Christians who love to use their religion to feel superior, love that the people they dislike are all going to hell, and love to spread hate and resentment. They were easy to spot and, again, they were mostly ignored. And, from the outside, they appear a lot more prevalent.

    This was not me, and it was not the majority of Christians I knew and trusted.

    Cipher mentioned the relation between Evangelicals and government. This is where things get messy. It may be that the majority of Christians are nice folks, but it is undeniable that they act at times monolithically in social and political affairs in negative ways.

    My mother, for example, is a nice Christian, a friend to everyone, self-sacrificing, and all the rest. Yet, she believes homosexuality is an abomination to God, attends a church that preaches against homosexuals, and is inclined to vote for ballot initiatives that discriminate against them. She had neighbors once that were a gay couple. She liked them both, but believed they were both going to Hell. “She hated the sin, but loved the sinner.” This is how Christians can be nice people, and yet do great damage to others.

    If most Christians are nice, then a whole lot of nice people are against gay marriage, and stem-cell research, and are for overturning Roe vs. Wade, and amending the Constitution to reflect ‘Biblical principles,’ and were in favor of going to war in Iraq, and voted for George Bush twice. I don’t care what your politics are, there has to be at least one item in that list that is not “nice.”

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    It may be that the majority of Christians are nice folks, but it is undeniable that they act at times monolithically in social and political affairs in negative ways.

    I think we’re getting sidetracked here. My original point was simply that many Christians who evangelize do so out of genuineness, sincerity and concern, and had little to do with the disposition of individual Christians or their sociopolitical influences.

    And for what it’s worth, it still bugs the crap out of me when people try to evangelize me, but remembering this I can at least try and be gracious until they reveal themselves to be of the angry, violent persuasion.

    In any case, I came to realize long before I abandoned my Christian faith that liberal politics were much more in line with my religious views than conservative politics (though now I’m just as libertarian as I am liberal).

  • cipher

    She liked them both, but believed they were both going to Hell.

    I often want to ask them, but I so rarely have the opportunity – how do they see their own behavior on the Day of Judgment? Will they beg God for mercy on behalf of friends and loved ones – poor, benighted sinners who were too blind and ignorant to know any better? Or will they wave goodbye cheerfully, as the damned are being dragged off to hell? Do they even think about this at all?

    Last year, I was told by a fundie that his reward in heaven would be commensurate with the number of people he tried to save; he’d get extra crowns to wear, or some damn thing. And, years ago, during his heyday, I heard Jimmy Swaggart say (in admonishing his flock to be more proactive in their evangelism), “On the Day of Judgment, the blood of the unsaved will be on our hands!” What does a statement like that even mean? They’re going to heaven anyway! What does he think is going to happen – that God is going to cast all of the unsaved into hell, ignoring all of the begging and pleading, then turn to the assembled crowd (all dozen or so) and say, “This was all your fault! If you’d done as I told you, none of this would have been necessary! Oh well, that’s all behind us now. Off to Heaven!”?

    My patience with all of this is just about nil.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    “On the Day of Judgment, the blood of the unsaved will be on our hands!” What does a statement like that even mean?

    The Bible is vague about it but there are supposed to be “rewards in heaven”. Presumably the best evangelists would get “employee of the year” plaques in God’s living room and the lousy ones would get rooms next to the noisy ice machine for all eternity. Also, Jesus is supposed to be ashamed of you in Heaven if you don’t preach enough on earth.

    What I never really got was there is supposed to be a Judgment Day, but in the interim, people go to Heaven or Hell anyway. Is God going to pull everyone out of Heaven and Hell, judge them, and send them right on back, or what’s up with that?

  • MercuryBlue

    The only way I can make that make sense to me is if there’s a timeskip—people die and go straight to Judgment Day alongside their ancestors and eight-great-grandkids. But that doesn’t compute with the common idea that one’s sweet old aunt who attended church daily till she died yesterday is in heaven today, or that one’s no-good cousin who lied and stole and had wild crazy sex till he died yesterday is in hell today, because neither the aunt nor the cousin would exist on any level at this point along the yesterday-tomorrow axis, because they died yesterday and won’t reenter the time dimension till Judgment Day, which is obviously in the future because we haven’t gotten there yet.

    And I’m currently hearing the voice in my head who sounds like my roommate tell me to stop using Earth logic on this. Except she says that when we’re talking about Zelda or something. She wouldn’t say it when we’re talking about religion.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    This goes back to a previous post, but why does it have to be the “way of Christ”? Why not the “way of Jane” or any other person who seems to be an inspiring, loving person?

    Well, is Jane, besides being an inspiring, loving person, also God in the flesh, the reality by which all other things exist?

    If Jesus wasn’t God then he’s just another naive idealist who got himself killed. Inspiring maybe, but not someone I’m going to risk patterning my life after.

  • Darryl

    I think we’re getting sidetracked here. My original point was simply that many Christians who evangelize do so out of genuineness, sincerity and concern, and had little to do with the disposition of individual Christians or their sociopolitical influences.

    It has everything to do with it. Besides, it’s not individual Christians, but groups of them, acting together, that I am speaking about. Evangelizing us out of “genuineness, sincerity and concern” is to irritate and denigrate us for a good reason. This is my point. By this line of thinking just about any negative can be forgiven because of the motivation. Christians will always find a rationalization for what they do that is self-serving. How can you be a nice, sincere Christian and not take responsibility for your actions and their consequences?

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    In many cases the intentions are good; it is the execution and motivation that are not. I always wonder why people, when I try and make that distinction, get so defensive and start accusing me of attempting to excuse bad behavior. I’m not, and I frankly don’t see the connecting line there.

    OK, I’m washing my hands of this discussion once and for all. I was not prepared for a reaming and I don’t feel that strongly about this. You have your opinions; they seem well founded. I’m not here to change that.

  • Darryl

    Derek, no reaming intended.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    It may be that the majority of Christians are nice folks, but it is undeniable that they act at times monolithically in social and political affairs in negative ways.

    This such an extreme overstatement that is demonstrably false in so many ways that I can’t help but presume that you were deliberately exaggerating.

    Even if you were to qualify “Christians” with “conservative evangelical Christians”, it’s still highly inaccurate. If all evangelical Christians acted “monolithically” abortion would be illegal by now and they’d have already passed their “marriage amendment”. The fact that they’ve made almost no progress on their two biggest agenda items (some would say their only agenda items) demonstrates that they’re not as monolithic as the fear-mongers and pundits like to assume.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    If Jesus wasn’t God then he’s just another naive idealist who got himself killed. Inspiring maybe, but not someone I’m going to risk patterning my life after.

    Mike, if I may hazard a question, you frequently describe yourself as agnostic of the “Weak Theist” flavor. If this and the preceding are indeed the case, how can one justify staking such a decision on something that may or may not actually be true?

    To me, it really starts to feel like a Schrödinger’s Cat problem. There’s no way of knowing until the end of the experiment, so to speak, whether or not the poison has deployed; it seems a tad odd to build a worldview on the basis of trusting that Fluffy is still alive, if you get my analogy, especially if you feel this worldview is meaningless in the alternative case.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    As a former evangelical myself, I’m with Derek on this issue of evangelism. My experiences within the mainstream of moderate evangelicalism (e.g. Billy Graham, Youth for Christ, Christianity Today, Wheaton College, etc.) are the same as his (not surprising since I used to be the youth pastor at the church his mom still attends). Most evangelicals of this sort evangelize out of a genuine concern for others, not out of the nefarious motives suggested by cipher.

    However, as Derek noted, the people cipher mentioned are out there too, and sometimes in large numbers. What this points to is what I’ve said on many occasions, which is that Christianity is not at all monolithic. There are different kinds of Christians and different approaches. It’s not surprising to me at all if that if Matt Taibbi goes and hangs out with the folks from John Hagee’s church he will get a much more negative impression of evangelicals than if he were to go and hang out at, say, Willow Creek. (That’s not to say he’d like either one, but it would be different.)

    Part of the reason that “outsiders” like Matt Taibbi or whoever tend to find the most shocking and offensive versions of Christianity is that this is who they deliberately go looking for. It’s a lot more interesting to read about the wacko extremists than it is to read about good hearted people trying to act in ways that they genuinely believe are kind and loving. When you deliberately focus on the worst examples of religion, that is what you will tend to notice. I think most of the posts at this blog are an excellent illustration of that.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike, if I may hazard a question, you frequently describe yourself as agnostic of the “Weak Theist” flavor. If this and the preceding are indeed the case, how can one justify staking such a decision on something that may or may not actually be true?

    Because agnosticism is inescapable no matter which worldview I choose. I can’t escape uncertainty, so I just live with it, and do the best I can with what seems to make the most sense to me at the time (unlike Schrodinger’s Cat, it’s not just a purely 50/50 toss up for me), but keeping myself open to new ideas and new possibilities as well.

    Even if you’re not certain about what you believe, you still have to get on with your life and choose to live a certain way according to what seems best to you. Right now for me that is the way of Christ.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    I thought I’d just interject and say while I do know Mike personally and we are only three years apart I did not spend a great deal of time around him growing up, and that we for the most part have only become friends due to our recent interaction on our respective blogs.

    Just in case anyone gets the impression that he’s defending me because he knows me.

  • Karen

    If all evangelical Christians acted “monolithically” abortion would be illegal by now and they’d have already passed their “marriage amendment”. The fact that they’ve made almost no progress on their two biggest agenda items (some would say their only agenda items) demonstrates that they’re not as monolithic as the fear-mongers and pundits like to assume.

    It’s not that they’re not trying. It’s that they simply don’t have the numbers compared to the total U.S. population, even when they vote in a monolithic bloc (which I think they do, particularly on the issues you mentioned). I was a Democrat while I was an evangelical and I was in a tiny (I think less than 10%) minority of regular evangelical churchgoers. (I was also anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage, which made me at least marginally acceptable to my Sunday school class.)

    In terms of not making progress – what? I think they have made huge progress. They’ve restricted abortion hugely in many states, gotten their “partial birth abortion” laws passed, and put two new conservative justices on the Supreme Court who would reverse Roe v. Wade in a heartbeat.

    They got a bunch of states to outlaw gay marriage and they continue trying to push that too. In my state, California, I just heard that FotF will be putting yet another anti-abortion restriction on the ballot this year. They just never quit.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Even if you’re not certain about what you believe, you still have to get on with your life and choose to live a certain way according to what seems best to you. Right now for me that is the way of Christ.

    How aggravatingly postmodern of you ;-)

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    and put two new conservative justices on the Supreme Court who would reverse Roe v. Wade in a heartbeat.

    And they accuse us of supporting activist judges…

  • Karen

    Furthermore, every time someone on our side of the fence – Mike Taibbi, Michelle Goldberg, et al – goes inside that world to a little investigative journalism, this is what they come away with as well.

    Cipher, what happens when an outsider infiltrates another world is that they are likely to be most shocked by the fringe elements – the strongest, most “in your face” people – of that world. Those fringe people, and their nutty statements, also make the best copy for articles and books.

    Of course that is what they will emphasize when they write about their experiences – and that’s their prerogative. But it’s not always a balanced, nuanced understanding of the reality of that world that one would get after immersion of several years, say.

    Look, what can l what can I say? You were on the inside; I wasn’t. I concede.

    I think the point that some of the other ex-fundies here are trying to make is that – yes, there are nasty Christians. But the majority of them are not laughing or snarking about other people going to hell. The majority feel very badly about it – bad enough to put their own money and time into trying to evangelize, because they see that as the only remedy for eternal judgment.

    No, it makes no sense and I don’t expect you to feel “sorry” for them. I don’t particularly feel sorry for them myself. But I do understand the power of indoctrination and the difficulty in turning your back on your entire community, the vast majority of whom are not awful people but kind and well-meaning, just mistaken and not able to think for themselves (it’s tough when that is discouraged heavily).

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Actually, Mike, the trouble I have with that is that “not someone I’m going to risk patterning my life after (if Jesus is not God)” feels like such a definite statement and “get on with your life and choose to live a certain way according to what seems best to you” seems like the exact opposite, seeming to say “it might not be so, but I’ll do it anyway because that seems right”. Those really seem like mutually contradictory statements to me.

  • cipher

    I think I have to agree with Karen. I can’t say, of course, that all 100 million people in this country who identify as evangelicals vote the same way. It certainly does seem, however, that a significant number of them, probably the majority, do. And, as Karen said, it isn’t that they aren’t trying. I think they’ve accomplished quite a bit so far, and the main reason they haven’t accomplished more is that the rest of us have expended so much time and effort fighting them over the past three decades. Many of their goals are long term. They want to stack the Supreme Court. They’ve been building up a reserve of activist lawyers, who have been introducing much of the regressive legislation we’ve seen. I understand that a disproportionate number of government interns have been recruited from Patrick Henry College over the past few years. It all takes time, and as Karen also said, “they just never quit”. They really believe that they’re doing God’s will; the problem is that they got His will and theirs confused a long time ago.

    If we hadn’t had to spend the past 25, 30 years dealing with this unholy alliance between the evangelicals and the secular right, perhaps we could have accomplished more along the lines of creating a just and equitable society, there wouldn’t be so many people suffering and we wouldn’t be the laughing stock of the industrialized world.

    The thing that kills me is that they see themselves and their theology as the cure, yet they are themselves, in my opinion, the most egregious symptom of the brokenness of which humanity so desperately needs to be healed.

    That aside for the moment,

    As a former evangelical myself

    Mike, I thought you considered yourself to be a progressive evangelical, a la Brian McLaren. Isn’t that pretty much what an emergent Christian is, or not necessarily?

  • Darryl

    Mike, I agree with Karen and Cipher. A lot of damage has been done, and what have been the opportunity costs of an alliance between conservative Republicans and the Christian Right?

  • cipher

    Cipher, what happens when an outsider infiltrates another world is that they are likely to be most shocked by the fringe elements – the strongest, most “in your face” people – of that world. Those fringe people, and their nutty statements, also make the best copy for articles and books.

    yes, there are nasty Christians. But the majority of them are not laughing or snarking about other people going to hell. The majority feel very badly about it – bad enough to put their own money and time into trying to evangelize, because they see that as the only remedy for eternal judgment.

    Karen, I take your point. As I told Derek, I concede. Really, the best I can do at this point is to reserve judgment. But you’ll probably hear me complaining about this again (probably within a matter of days, because my memory is just shot to hell!). I’ve been so angry about this for so long; they really have, in large measure, ruined so much of life for me. I’m deeply resentful.

  • Karen

    I’ve been so angry about this for so long; they really have, in large measure, ruined so much of life for me. I’m deeply resentful.

    I understand. I have had a lot of anger and resentment also. I spent the majority of my life completely and totally devoted to something I now believe is a fairy tale. I made crucial life decisions based on that fantasy, and my trusted friends, family and mentors encouraged me to do so. Some of those decisions may have been totally wrong but I didn’t realize it because I was blinded by idiotic doctrine like “the rapture is going to happen any day now.”

    All that aside, I’ve found it helps to get on with my life and try to put the anger and resentment behind me. It is maybe easier for me because I’m a natural optimist, but I’ve realized that I can look back and find the good things as well as the bad in my past.

    Plus, I can’t change things so I’m more likely to be happy accepting my past for what it’s worth and moving forward in a positive direction.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Actually, Mike, the trouble I have with that is that “not someone I’m going to risk patterning my life after (if Jesus is not God)” feels like such a definite statement and “get on with your life and choose to live a certain way according to what seems best to you” seems like the exact opposite, seeming to say “it might not be so, but I’ll do it anyway because that seems right”. Those really seem like mutually contradictory statements to me.

    Perhaps it’s coming across as more definite than I meant it. I would still think the way of Jesus is a good way, regardless of whether he is God or not. I’m just not sure I’d be able to place much hope or faith in it’s effectiveness unless I thought that it was more than just a nice idea – that in some way it actually reflected the way the world was originally intended to work.

    BTW, just for the sake of clarity, what I mean by the “way of Jesus” is many things, but a short description would be “a passion for justice expressing itself through self-sacrificial love.” I can maintain both a passion for justice and for love without the divinity of Christ; it’s the “self-sacrificial” part that seems a little bit naive without it.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I thought I’d just interject and say while I do know Mike personally and we are only three years apart I did not spend a great deal of time around him growing up, and that we for the most part have only become friends due to our recent interaction on our respective blogs.

    Just in case anyone gets the impression that he’s defending me because he knows me.

    We did go hiking in the mountains together in New Mexico once, but even then I’m not sure that we actually had anything like a real conversation. :)

    And no, I wasn’t even trying to “defend” you. Just affirming that my experiences have matched your own.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I can’t say, of course, that all 100 million people in this country who identify as evangelicals vote the same way. It certainly does seem, however, that a significant number of them, probably the majority, do.

    I posted on this here a while ago, but Beliefnet recently published an analysis of what they called the Twelve Tribes of American Politics based on data from the Pew Forum’s Fourth National Survey on Religion and Politics. They showed that religious voters in America are actually quite diverse and even evangelicals do not all vote “monolithically”.

    For instance, according to the survey, even among the extreme Religious Right (accounting for only 12.6% of the population), 12% voted for Kerry in 2004. Among the closely related “Heartland Culture Warriors” (accounting for another 11.4% of the population) 28% voted for Kerry. Moderate Evangelicals (10.8%) voted 36% for Kerry, and “White Bread Protestants” (8%) voted 42% for Kerry. And this doesn’t even take into account the more liberal Christians who voted in the majority for Kerry.

    So yeah, while popular (mis)conceptions present evangelicals as a monolithic voting block, the data shows somewhat otherwise.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike, I thought you considered yourself to be a progressive evangelical, a la Brian McLaren. Isn’t that pretty much what an emergent Christian is, or not necessarily?

    The terminology is fluid, it just depends on what you mean by “evangelical”. I tend not to self-identify as such any more since the term has taken on so many political connotations, and become increasingly identified with one narrow brand of theology; though on a broader, more sociological definition one could probably still call me a progressive evangelical. However most conservative evangelicals these days are more than eager to kick both me and Brian out of the camp.

  • cipher

    I think I saw the Pew survey. Do you think these surveys are accurate? I always think there’s a difference between what people say and what they really do when they’re alone in the booth.

    However most conservative evangelicals these days are more than eager to kick both me and Brian out of the camp.

    Yeah – I know.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    I think I saw the Pew survey. Do you think these surveys are accurate?

    Well, they seem to match other surveys I’ve heard about evangelical voting trends.

  • Darryl

    It’s about outcomes. Outcomes, rather than surveys, tell the story. Evangelicals have for almost thirty years been a reliable voting block for the Repbulicans. According to many pundits and strategists they made the difference in the last two Presidential election cycles. Look at the Congress: it’s been filled with radical Christian Republicans and scared moderates who know where their support comes from. We can’t get shit done now. We’re in a war we can’t get out of, and Wall Street has sold the country down the river. Get real. Those suicidal “values voters” share the blame for this debacle–no matter how many of them voted for John Kerry.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Those suicidal “values voters” share the blame for this debacle–no matter how many of them voted for John Kerry.

    So according to you Darryl personal actions and choices don’t matter? It doesn’t matter if someone never supported Bush or his policies? If they share the label “Christian” or “evangelical” with someone who does, they’re just as culpable?

    Shall we apply that same standard to atheists as well? Do you want to be held responsible for every stupid or evil thing any other atheist has done?

  • Bryn

    The worst evangelizing style from my personal experience is not taking “no” for an answer. One Saturday, I received a visit from 2 people from the church up the road inviting me to their church. I told them, “No, thank you. I’m an atheist.” politely and told them I hoped they would enjoy the rest of their day. One week later, Saturday, 3 people are on my doorstep, 2 of whom had been in the group last week. I told them, “No.” again, a little less politely and asked them to not come back. One week later, Saturday, guess what? I now have *5* people on my doorstep and the spokesman for the group is the minister from the church. This time, I told him that I’d been contacted three weeks in a row, they were on my doorstep after specifically being asked not to come back and it was now verging on harassment. The minister tried to argue that it was his “right, as a Man of GOD”, yeah, you could hear the caps in his voice, “to spread the ‘good word’.” I informed him that it was my right as a citizen to take out a No Contact Order on him, his church and his membership, as well as being my right to contact the news media with a really interesting story (“Church harasses atheist in own home! Film at 11!!”). They left and didn’t come back the next week. Or ever again.

    As far as what would work? Nothing. I know the story. I know the drill. I probably know the bible better than the person making the attempt, so don’t even go there.

  • Darryl

    So according to you Darryl personal actions and choices don’t matter? It doesn’t matter if someone never supported Bush or his policies? If they share the label “Christian” or “evangelical” with someone who does, they’re just as culpable?

    No.

  • cipher

    So according to you Darryl personal actions and choices don’t matter? It doesn’t matter if someone never supported Bush or his policies? If they share the label “Christian” or “evangelical” with someone who does, they’re just as culpable?

    You know, Mike, I’ll say this – I would like to see progressive evangelicals being a lot more vocal about these issues. I’ve felt for some time that at least part of the reason the conservatives were able to seize control (denominationally and otherwise) is that liberals and moderates allowed them to. In recent years, you have people like Jim Wallis speaking out, but, even then, he’ll only go so far. I think they have a sentimental attachment to that world, and they display a reticence about criticizing their “brothers and sisters in Christ” too vehemently. Jim wants to bring the conservatives to the table; I heard him say as much in a public talk he gave in Boston about three years ago. It influenced my opinion of him, frankly. I’m not keen on engaging them, as I don’t think conservative evangelicals understand dialogue; they only understand monologue. I’d like to see Jim and the rest of you becoming visibly and publicly as angry as are those of us on the secular left.

    And you can tell him I said so!

  • Owen

    Well, I unfortunately can’t respond to the question as I can’t recall the worst experience I’ve had with an evangelist – but I can respond to it’s opposite, my best experience. Asking for the best experience I think would actually be revealing to a lot of people, and is, in my opinion, a better question to ask.

    I was brough up in the unitarian universalist church, as was a close friend of mine(whom I had no clue was brough up in my church, albeit 2 years after me). We were confronted in a mall at a monthly meeting we held there by some evangelists as we were leaving around christmas. We both gave long explanations of why we had doubts, the base being a)people who , in good faith, have believed things we now as a culture know to be wrong(such as slavery and the inquisition) were despite their ‘faithh, despite their ‘personal relationship to God’, wrong. If they, in all good faith were wrong, how could these evangelists know they were right in their -interpretation- of what they believed. And b) I had just read ‘Who Wrote the Bible’ by Richard Friedman, and recounted to the evangelists the real story behind the golden calf & the breaking of the tablets of the ten commandments. We ended up leaving with no real resolution, as with all confrontations with evangelists.

    But a year later, again at our monthly meetings, we were confronted by evangelists. Again, we engaged them in conversation, again offering similar statements which tried their faith – and eventually, after about half an hour, they asked if we were there a year previous. A group from their church had come to prosoletize the mall at christmas, and in the end, they all left their church – some entirely, some to less evangelical churches. We had deconverted them by getting into their worldview, and creating serious problems – it wasn’t by streight out telling them they were wrong, it was our core argument that we both could be wrong. I can handle the fact I could be wrong – their worldview couldn’t.

    The real challenge is not to bash heads with the religious, but to convince them of the error of their ways.
    The way to do this is not from our view, but from theirs.
    The question we need to be asking is not ‘what is the worst experience you’ve had’ but ‘how can we effect real change’ – because as much as conversations with evangelists can feel like smashing your head against a brick wall, it can work, and we as a group need to figure out how to do that on a larger scale. It can be done.

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  • Bagheera

    The best way to evangelize? Tell the Evangel (Good News) Tell what Christ has done to save sinners. Apart from God’s grace no one would believe the Gospel. Is there anything more foolish than preaching? But that is by design. In His own words:

    God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

  • Andrew

    Bagheera clearly knows nothing about what we’re talking about or where we’re coming from and just wants to grab a few souls.

    Come off it, parrot. Take your copy-paste gibberish somewhere else.

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