There’s always a reason, in religion, for the stuff we see religious people doing.
It might not be a great reason, no, but there’s always one there somewhere. Hell, sometimes there are several. Nowhere is that rule more in evidence than when we consider how terrible Christians are at selling their religion to others.
When we look at how genuinely awful Christians are at being ambassadors for their faith, the reasons are easy to see–especially for ex-Christians. Christians live within a system that doesn’t teach them how to deal with stress or heartache, and that doesn’t even really allow them to live authentically or work toward their own best interests. The further right one travels in the religion’s many thousands of flavors, the worse things get for adherents. Of course they’re not going to be really bangerz at living within their society’s rules or being good representatives of their religion. Either they’re doing their level best just to hang on every day, or they’re trying to figure out how to profit from that system.
But when we look at how terrible they are at selling their religion to others, we might feel a little more adrift in trying to explain what we’re seeing exactly. We can get why they’re such terrible ambassadors, but considering how important sales are to the religion, maybe we don’t see why they’re also such terrible salespeople.
Well, there’s a reason for that as well. In fact, there are several. I won’t promise that they’re wonderful reasons, but Christians’ shitty salesmanship is the way it is for reasons that they at least find very compelling on the unspoken, tacit, implicit level.
Here are just some of them.
Outraged Narcissists Make Bad Salespeople.
We spent quite a lot of time recently talking about how Christianity went from being a little bitty homebrew Jewish/Hellenic mystery-religion cult to a dominant world power. It took a couple of centuries for things to really get rolling, sure, but once they had, Christian leaders discovered that they had the power to coerce people into complying with their demands. They had force of law and simple cultural hegemony, and they commanded the Western world for over a thousand years.
The last couple of centuries–since the Enlightenment, really–have been one long process of peeling back that unwarranted dominance, debunking the vast library of pseudoscience and false historical claims that Christians have amassed, and pushing back against the grabby hands of Christian zealots who want to control everyone’s lives and don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be given that power. That process has seen Christians on the wrong side of pretty much every single advance that humanity has made since then: our rejection of slavery, our recognition of women’s rights, our refining of the scientific method and subsequent rejection of “goddidit” as an adequate explanation for anything, our slow and stumbling attempt to address racial inequality and anti-LGBTQ bigotry, our growing awareness of children’s rights…. you name it, and Christians stood and are standing on the wrong side of the fight until way past the time when everyone else was moving forward.
As Christians lose more and more of their cultural dominance, they are getting more and more angry and vengeful. They’re used to being in charge. They’re used to their voices carrying the conversation, and their opinions mattering–on whatever topic they care to hold forth about! Now suddenly their ideas must compete with all the other ideas floating around, and I really don’t think they like having to compete on equal terms. Nor do I think they can.
When someone’s lost a little tiny smidgen of their onetime supremacy, that sudden lurch can feel very scary to them–especially if their worldview is extremely hierarchical and they know how those low in the hierarchy get treated. One blogger calls this situation privilege distress, and it’s an essay that’s well worth the time to read (as are his updates–a lot of his ideas are absolute essentials to know about). In conservative minds, as hidebound as they so often are and as terrified of change as they can be, privilege distress can be a real problem. The only way to ease and soothe that hurt and fear is for the distressed person to clamp down harder on supremacy.
But in a sales situation, people accustomed to total supremacy now have to lower themselves to win over a potential recruit. Their wares and products are suddenly subject to scrutiny and examination by those who they view as inferior and unworthy in all ways.
It’s not hard to find examples of Christian salespeople doing what I describe: Ray Comfort openly discusses atheists as if they are literally toddlers who want candy for dinner, David Marshall descends upon some little blog’s comment section to accuse the blog’s owner of being a slapstick, inept raver (you can find screencaps at the end of this link), and more than a few folks wonder just what in ten hells Sye Ten Bruggencate’s damage actually even is because of how purely weird and off-putting he acts around everyone. It’s hard even to imagine, either, what William Lane Craig expects to happen when he goes on at length about how all those genocide and sex-slavery victims of the Jews in the Old Testament’s myths clearly had it comin‘ to them.
And with one exception, these are Christianity’s biggest guns, metaphorically speaking. These are the people that Christians generally regard as effective salespeople. They buy these apologists’ books and study their techniques for soulwinning (that’s Christianese for “sales”).
The very last thing these salespeople want is to lower themselves too much. They’re already angry enough that they’ve lost as much dominance as they have. What they’re really trying to do is sound a trumpet call that their intended audience of frustrated, angry, privileged white racists and sexists will hear and respond to. So in that sense, it’s not sales so much as it is the issuing of a mating call.
Salespeople Who Don’t Like Working Hard to Close a Deal Make Bad Salespeople.
As I noted last time, the relationship between a seller and a buyer is inherently imbalanced. The person who has the money–the buyer–is the person who holds the power in that transaction. The seller wants the money, and thus must persuade the buyer into parting with some of it. If the seller is particularly loathsome, they might not even care exactly how they manage that trick.
Sometimes I get this sense that Christians are indignant over the very idea of having to sell their religion to others. I get this feeling that they think all they should have to do is swan around playing at being heralds (to use the exact term I’ve seen bandied about by various Christian authors and leaders), that all they should have to do is announce that their religion exists and that their god will be very angry if Christians’ demands are unmet, and then be rewarded by conversions aplenty. They should just need to put out the shingle for the shop and then get overrun with customers!
You usually have to read between the lines to get that impression, though some Christians say it in their out-loud voices. Look at how richly they reward evangelists who claim to convert massive numbers of heathens over a very short period of time–versus how they give side-eye to missionaries who spend decades toiling abroad without a single conversion to show for it. Similarly, churches that grow very quickly are considered to have a divine stamp of approval–while churches that struggle or even fall apart are considered to be doing something very wrong spiritually. And Christians who notice how few of these sales translate into lifelong customers generally don’t talk about it much except to blame those who drift away for a rich variety of reasons. Their folklore and mythology is filled with examples just like these: of salespeople who didn’t really have to do much selling at all to make huge sales.
I really think that this attitude is behind the strange lack of sales education in Christian circles. The Christians who actually would be okay with working their asses off to make sales don’t ever learn effective techniques for doing it. And Christians who ache to do that work for compassionate reasons–and there are many of them, don’t mistake me here; they’re not all complete conjobs and predators obviously–still have to deal with a society that thinks that these sales should be quick and easy, sparked by a coincidental happening or off-hand comment that culminates in an impromptu baptism somewhere in the middle of the night. I was present for one of these, incidentally; no, the guy thus dunked did not materialize into a permanent churchgoer–don’t be silly. My then-husband Biff also had various “projects” he was working on to convert, but I never saw any of those projects turn into actual Christians either.
That kind of long-term evangelism and painstaking, dogged determination is rare to see in the religion (thankfully so, because oh my goodness it’s so excruciating to deal with). Most of the time, as many of us here could attest, a Christian gloms onto us, trots out some talking points, realizes we’re nowhere near amenable to the idea of conversion, and scoots away to find a better prospect. Even among Christians who ostensibly know better, there’s this feeling that evangelism should be very simple, quick, and easy, like puzzle pieces falling into place on a board, and it should be driven by the supernatural agent they believe is living in their heads and directing their actions. Learning the techniques of hardcore sales would defeat the whole purpose of it seeming totally miraculous (similarly to how a Christian who was TOTALLY OMG CURED OF CANCER never wants to talk much about the very real medical stuff they did to try to defeat the disease).
Hell, it’d be a real issue for those Christians to find out that there is actual science behind salesmanship–that a successful sales call is way less miraculous than they’d ever like to pretend.
Christians are terrible at sales in part, therefore, because they really don’t like the idea of having to sell their ideas.
People Who Want to Be Rejected Make Especially Bad Salespeople.
I realize that’s a little shots-fired. But it’s true. The Christians who most value the concept of proselytization and evangelism are also the Christians who most treasure the notion of failing to persuade others to buy into their worldview. In this sense, they’re like hipsters who are always going on and on about their favorite band, but they love being the only ones in their groups who love that band. They’d be miffed if their band actually caught on too much!
Christian mythology pushes this idea that Christians are poor widdle underdogs, put-upon and unfairly persecuted, constantly maligned and yet somehow oh-so-very-triumphant and powerful because of their Jesus Aura. I’ve used that term before, but if you’re not familiar with it, here’s a quick rundown:
Most Christians (toxic or otherwise, liberal or conservative; this is close to being one of the few universal ideas in the religion) think that their belief in Christianity confers upon them a sort of spiritual glow–a light, or aura, so to speak. Christian movies feature this idea constantly–in God’s Club and in Fireproof, the heroes both think that their Christian woobies have a sort of glow about them that makes them seem more vibrant, alive, and interesting. Christians’ Jesus Aura is partly fueled by Jesus dwelling within them (which I jokingly call “Jesus Power” sometimes), it’s thought, though some of them think it’s also their particular squeaky-clean demeanor of cheerfulness, optimism, and rigidly upright morality. I thought it was equal parts, back when I was Christian, but obviously there’s no consensus on the matter.
Christians think that this glow attracts people to them and makes them curious about what it is that the glow’s owners possess that normal, glow-less rubes just don’t have. It’s why Christians in our culture fantasize about non-believers faking interest in Christianity just to get close to them or even to marry them (as we saw the heroine doing very literally in Christian Mingle: The Movie). Losing belief means losing the Jesus Aura too, and coming into belief means instantly gaining it (sorta like how in Fifty Shades of Grey the heroine’s best friend knows when Ana lost her virginity: “You look… different.” Ana replies, “I feel different.” Clearly my space-opera trilogy never got picked up because it lacked such masterful dialogue…).
But the Jesus Aura also repels people because it is just so rigidly moral that evil nasty worldly people just can’t bear to be in its blindingly-bright presence for long without feeling convicted.* People who aren’t Christian, goes the thinking, recoil from that brightness. So obviously they’ll tend to reject the Christian sales pitch. Accepting it would mean giving up their hedonistic lives of debauchery and rapaciousness, and they know it and hate the idea–so they deny the truth they know deep down.
We find ourselves again in that weird cul-de-sac: lots of conversions are obviously a sign of Jesus Power doing its thing, but a total lack of conversions is also totally a sign of Jesus Power doing its thing. There is literally no way that a Christian can fail here–and no way to test the religion’s ideas.
There are other reasons to be okay with failure, to be sure. If someone refuses the sales pitch, then the Christian Mad Man who gave that pitch can then feel free to mistreat that person. This might sound shocking, but I’ve heard it myself from the very mouths of Christians. And the more forcefully one rejects their sales pitch, the nastier they get in turn, and the more justified they feel in being so because they know that their victim is not going to be driven even further away, after all!
Wayyyyy too many Christians get this weird and glittering-eyed glee when they contemplate the fate in store for those who have rejected their overtures and even wallow in delight over the idea of eternal torture for everyone who didn’t fall into line. And why not? Those nasty evil sinners fucking deserve what’s coming their way, after all. There’s no reason to feel any kind of pity or sadness for us; we “chose” our eventual fate, and the Christians who tried to sell us their religion can now wash their hands of us.
Too bad we non-Christians couldn’t be so fine and clever and wise and discerning as to have “chosen” to believe in Christianity like these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ have!
So our rejection eventually circles back around to reinforce Christians’ feelings of cultural dominance and supremacy over all non-Christians. Broken systems tend to do that–to create these closed loops and then to spin “Just-So Stories” to keep their systems moving and chugging along.
The Age of Dominance is Fading.
And once upon a time, Christians didn’t need to worry about sales anyway. Their simple cultural dominance handled everything.
Christians could, simply put, amass a whole slew of counterproductive, maladaptive, dysfunctional, even completely disastrous ways of relating to people, and they could still rest assured of having dominance. (This exact situation is one I’ve heard, with my own two ears, attributed to their god as a miracle–since only a miracle, they thought, could explain Christian dominance in light of their cultural practices and attitudes. I’m not kidding. I’ve been hearing this ever since I was a Christian.)
With that age fast fading into the rear-view mirrors, however, suddenly Christian sales techniques are starting to matter. And I don’t think they’re up to the task of seriously examining their shortcomings and fixing them. I don’t think they’re even ready to engage with exactly what’s wrong. They’ve been living in their bubble for so long that I don’t think they’re going to be able to salvage this situation.
I hope not, anyway. I’m an optimist. We’re going to be looking next at a genuinely shocking story of hypocrisy, illicit sex, and really, abysmally bad timing. See you next time!
* Worldly means “anybody who isn’t Christian or who maybe is Christian but isn’t serious enough about their religion;” to be convicted means to feel super-guilty. I’m oversimplifying by lots here though–both concepts are fueled by the supernatural in that Lucifer is supposed to influence worldly people, while Christians, being inhabited by Jesus, can’t be worldly because they live with one foot in Heaven already. And only Jesus can deliver the extra-whammy of guilt needed to drive someone to confession. Amazingly, nobody’s ever really tried to quantify or seriously nail down either concept; they mean exactly what Christians choose for them to mean, neither more nor less.