The Rights of Consumers in the Post-Christian Marketplace.

Hi y’all! Last time we were talking about how America’s quickly turning into a post-Christian nation–meaning that with every passing day, more and more people reject fundagelicals’ simple and transcendent human message of hatred, exclusion, bigotry, misogyny, cruelty, warmongering, violence, and class warfare. I thought it’d be good to break out one part of yesterday’s post into a separate one. We’re going to look more closely at one important aspect of the spiritual marketplace: would-be Christian evangelists are salespeople, and the people they want to recruit into their various groups are, therefore, potential customers. Now, customers might not always be right, but we’ve got certain rights and privileges that these particular salespeople appear to have forgotten. Here are some of them.

Some stuff just sells itself. Other stuff, not so much. (Dennis Jarvis, CC.)
Some stuff just sells itself. Other stuff, not so much. (Dennis Jarvis, CC.)

Consumer Rights (in an Industry That Wishes Those Didn’t Exist).

Consumer rights are sets of rules and expectations that help consumers make educated, informed choices about their purchases. Typically these bills of rights include stuff like truthful marketing and honest representation of the product in images and labeling. And often these rights are enforced by law, though some countries (*cough*USA*cough*) are way more lax in both having and enforcing laws meant to protect consumers.

Most people have been slow to recognize churches as a provider of services, probably because churches get a lot of leeway in a lot of their business dealings. Congregations don’t usually see themselves as having any rights at all in their relationship with their churches–a situation that their leaders encourage through the use of totally one-sided church discipline covenants that assign church leaders an outsized measure of disciplinary and controlling power over followers’ lives, while giving followers absolutely no rights to expect anything in turn from their leaders.

Indeed, most congregations wouldn’t even dream of demanding that their leaders make their financial dealings transparent, which would be the first thing most people would demand of any other organization they gave money to–especially concerning groups billing themselves as charities! This weirdly one-sided situation, as well, is one that churches push hard to maintain, and it isn’t hard to imagine why they might do so. As it is, church leaders panic over the idea of simply losing their tax-exempt status because they know perfectly well that most of them would not have their jobs if churches had to face the same financial obligations that every other group does.

Any chipping-away of their many dozens of perks and concessions threatens leaders’ profit margins–especially in a world where they are losing more and more adherents by the day. We’re still waiting for the survey that tells us that Christianity’s losses have bottomed out and Christian groups have finally stabilized in number; most surveyors and industry observers don’t appear to think that we’ll be seeing that survey anytime soon, either. So adherents and leaders alike in Christianity must do everything they can to hang onto the privileges they still enjoy.

One of the biggest privileges Christians still have is a certain amount of slack granted to their salespeople. As strange as it seems, most folks naturally tend to consider these salespeople as doing good or charitable things when they’re out trying to recruit new members to replace the many who have left their groups. Just as most Christians don’t realize that their donations are almost all going toward their own group’s salaries and building upkeep, most people generally don’t realize that these salespeople are really only trying to gain members to benefit their own religion. Ultimately, Christian salespeople are no different from those food court workers who walk around with trays of teriyaki chicken–though at least the food court workers actually have a real product to offer.

The last thing that Christian evangelists want to think about is that their marks have rights–and that they, as salespeople, are distinctly the supplicants in their relationship with those marks.

Unfortunately for those Christians, consumers even in the spiritual marketplace have rights.

And here they are.

First: Honesty is a Requirement.

When Billy Graham is busy advising his flocks to do friendship evangelism and telling them never to worry about trying “to prove God’s existence beyond a reasonable doubt,” which he immediately follows with a statement about such a task being totally possible but just not worth a salesperson’s time, you know that honesty isn’t going to be a real requirement for Christian salespeople. They’re in it to emotionally manipulate people, not win new customers through honestly presenting their product’s benefits. They know that very few people convert to Christianity through reasoned, rationality-based examinations of the religion’s claims–and so the successful salespeople of the religion don’t even bother going there with their sales pitches.

Are your claims based on reality is one of the first questions that any sensible, reality-embracing person would ask of any salesperson. It doesn’t matter how grand the claims sound or how good the salesperson promises the product will make its purchaser feel if those claims aren’t based in facts and firmly tethered to reality.

Now, a lot of folks will be so desperate that they will reach for that product anyway without any evidence to support its claims–and those are the folks that Christian salespeople want. They don’t want people like you and me, who’ll immediately check out of the pitch when we realize that the Christian salesperson before us doesn’t care at all about supporting their own claims. They want people who are prone to buying in to stuff without knowing if any of it’s even true. They want people who have demonstrated that they are vulnerable to the kind of emotional manipulation that Christian salespeople rely upon to make their sales, because they know damned well they can’t make sales any other way.

And simply put, dishonesty just doesn’t sell like it used to. People are simply more aware of sales tactics and tend to reject salespeople who use dishonesty and manipulation to make sales. Unfortunately, that is literally all Christians have ever had. There’s some indication that dishonesty and manipulation might not even have worked in and of themselves, but Christianity itself had enough coercive power and enough of a whiff of respectability that those tactics at least had a veneer of credibility–enough that Christians adopted them across the length and breadth of the religion!

Christian pastors have understood this simple truth about the growing importance of honesty in salesmanship for some years–and they don’t like it. That’s why every one of them hammers at the same ideas as totally for-sure successful sales tools and tactics, when anyone could tell them that no, none of that stuff actually works at all. They fear being seen as simply salespeople. They hate the idea of competing on a level playing field with all other religions (and with atheism most of all). And they deeply resent being pushed into a consumer-salesperson relationship, being as that relationship is the most tangible sign there could be that they are quickly losing the unwarranted power they once had in society. (Don’t miss the hilarious story on that last link told by a Christian who gets the keening vapors over a frickin’ bumper sticker.)

It’s like they’re hoping that their losses will reverse soon, so they don’t ever have to adapt to today’s world. They’ll just keep using their dishonest tactics through the changes until it circles around again and they start making sales again–except that doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to happen.

Second: We Demand Respect for Our Time and Intelligence.

Remember the rules about broken systems, however, if you catch yourself wondering why Christian salespeople keep pushing tactics that totally don’t work.

A broken system works exactly and precisely as its architects and masters want it to work–every time. No exceptions. So what we need to understand is what these failed tactics actually provide to the salespeople. Because if they really, truly wanted to make sales, then Christians would be figuring out that this stuff doesn’t work and trying to get better tactics in place in their sales force. They’re not. So there’s something about the failed tactics themselves that is working for at least the leaders of salespeople laboring under a broken system, if not the lot of them.

Part of what is working is the self-selection process that these tactics set in motion in potential victims. To put it simply, fundagelicals are well aware that most people are not going to want their product. Their goal is to reach as many customers as they can who’ll actually buy the product, to get them together as quickly as they can, and to push away would-be victims who’ll just waste the salespeople’s time without buying the product.

They accomplish all of these goals by showing disrespect for their marks’ time and intelligence.

Here’s how:

Phishing scams often contain a lot of misspellings and obvious grammatical mistakes to separate from the herd those victims who are so desperate or so lacking in discernment that the scam sounds plausible. Well-educated and non-desperate people will walk right on past these obviously-disreputable pitches (alert: seriously interesting link). In exactly the same way, Christian salespeople craft pitches that are only going to appeal to exactly the kind of people who’ll make good, obedient fundagelical sheep. (As we’ll see next time, that’s pretty much how my then-boyfriend Biff got sucked into the religion.)

That said, about the only thing worse than a Christian salesperson who doesn’t even try to support their own claims is one who makes a go of it. In my own experience, it was realizing just how cringeworthy Christian apologetics were that set my feet on the path that eventually led me right out of Christianity. It took a long time for me to recognize that all the stuff I thought was totally evidence for my religion’s claims wasn’t credible or trustworthy at all.

But when Christians literally don’t have reality to back them up on a single one of their claimssupernatural or not!–then they’re going to have to rely on all kinds of manipulative arguments to try to win new customers.

The other part of what’s working about these failed tactics is that they drag the salespeople even further under the riptide of lies that makes up Christianity. Remember, we’re not paying the bills of the hucksters giving them these terrible ideas. Christians are. So it almost doesn’t even matter if the tactics don’t work on us. Do they work to make sales for the people selling them to Christians? Then that’s what’s gonna get put on shelves for purchase at Christian bookstores.

Sometimes it's really hard to make some stuff for sale look appealing. (RP Norris, CC-SA.)
Sometimes it’s really hard to make some stuff for sale look appealing. (RP Norris, CC-SA.)

Third: We Get to Say When We Will or Won’t Listen to a Sales Pitch.

We will decide if we want to listen to a sales pitch or not. If we do, then we can stay and listen for as long as we wish. If we don’t, then we can leave at any point–and the salespeople involved don’t even have a right to get angry with us for doing so.

That simple reality is behind quite a bit of failed sales attempts in Christianity. In response, Christians have generated an astonishing number of posts, sermons, apologetics books, and videos trying to teach their followers how to successfully begin a sales pitch.

One of these advises Christians to simply begin by asking a prospect if they go to church anywhere–but seriously, it’d be hard to imagine anybody hearing that who wouldn’t instantly know that their acquaintance or friend is trying to begin a sales pitch. We know that there’s literally no reason for a Christian to ask such a question about our church attendance without wanting to make us members of their own church.

Another suggests ways for Christian salespeople to move conversations from small talk to a sales pitch–but similarly, who would be on the receiving end of this tactic who wouldn’t instantly know what was going on? As we’ve said before here, most of us cringe when we learn that a new acquaintance is Christian because we’re afraid that this person will not be a sincere friend to us, but rather will see us as potential sales prospects. The site arrogantly advises its followers to “please, dear reader, learn and practice these steps well,” but I honestly cringe just imagining some bright-eyed fundagelical making the dire mistake of thinking anything on that page is going to help them make sales.

But Christians know that they have to snake their way into a sales pitch because they are well aware that nobody wants to hear their sales pitches. We never did, but now that the religion’s lost so much of its coercive power in our society we can fully exercise our rights as consumers to shut down sales pitches we don’t want to hear. So that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Remember: Broken systems work the way that their masters want them to work. Though this representation is supposed to be a caricature, I’m sure most of us have seen very similar behavior out of would-be evangelists.

Fourth: We Are Not Obligated to Provide Reasons for Anything We Do.

It seems like there are far fewer resources seeking to instruct Christians in how to react to a rejection of their sales pitches than there are teaching Christians how to open sales pitches. These resources are exactly as useful and as constructive as one would expect.

Over at Gospel Life, we see an example of what I mean. In step 5 of their advice for dealing with rejection, they tell their followers to “Re-ask for a different response.” That means that Christians should demand an explanation from the people who’ve rejected their sales pitch, so they can tweak that pitch a bit further to push it forward again. It’s downright infuriating to see them suggest in all seriousness that they should do this and then follow up with “Now that we’ve dealt with [your objection], would you like to say ‘yes’ to Jesus?”

I’m guessing actual used-car salespeople would cringe at something so farcically obvious as a hard-sales tactic. Too bad for Christians that nobody’s actually obligated to play along with their cattle-chute script. It can sometimes take a little effort for recently-deconverted Christians to disentangle ourselves from feelings of obligation to Christian salespeople, but it’s a skill that can be learned–easily.

“No” is a complete sentence, you see.

That’s all we have to say. There are variations, but they all mean the same thing. Repeat them as needed, using the most level and monotone voice you can:

“I’m not interested.”

“I said I’m not interested.”

“I’ll let you know if I’m ever interested.”

“Still not interested.”

“This conversation is over.”

If you refuse to give Christian salespeople a reason, you give them nothing to latch onto. They’re like Nice Guys™ in that regard. When you give Christian salespeople a reason for rejection, you allow them to tweak their sales pitch. They don’t accept anything you say as a valid no because they don’t believe that there’s any valid reason to reject them. They think that no means not unless you can overcome my objections.

A customer has no obligation to explain to a salesperson’s satisfaction why a rejection has occurred. None. 

By the way, here are the reasons for rejection that that Gospel Life link names: “I think I need to get my act together before I get religious,” “I’m not sure I can live up to God’s standards,” and “I think Christians are really a bunch of hypocrites and I want to be a real person.” Yes. That weaksauce nonsense is what the writer of this post considers to be not only common objections but also “easily-correctible [sic] concerns.” (Of course, he’s right. They are in fact very easily addressed by his sales pitch advice. He should know; he made them up himself.) He insists that every so often, the tactic he suggests works to make a sale–meaning he’s aware that most of the time, his suggestion will crash and burn. He then presents a script of his suggestions that ends with a sale, insinuating that if Christians follow his script then they, too, will achieve sales by doing this. Meanwhile, my spine popped out of my back and went on a walkabout from the galactic force of my constant cringing.

THIS sort of gently-steaming cow patties is exactly why Christians are alienating people and destroying their credibility, but this is one smirking conjob who knows that we, the unwashed heathenry of the world, are not his real marks; the bright-eyed Christians who mistake his blather for useful advice are the ones paying his bills, and he knows that nobody ever went broke by offering fundagelicals listicles of easily-digested pap that sounds super-Jesus-y.

Fifth: This is a Completely One-Sided Relationship. And That’s How It Should Be.

Christian salespeople often try to create or play upon what’s called the social contract. The social contract is a sociological/political/philosophical idea that says that people generally feel a certain obligation to play nicely with others. In effect, we give up a little of our rights to get along, in faith that others will do the same for us in other ways. For example, if someone walks up to you and asks you for the time, you’ll probably look at your wristwatch or phone and tell them the time even if you were in a hurry or burdened by groceries or bags. People might be annoyed if a total stranger at a bar asks us to keep an eye on her purse while she dances or goes to the bathroom, but a lot of them will probably stay there and watch it for her (probably).

And predators love it when their mark really buys into feelings of social obligation.

So the points I’ve outlined here today probably make the relationship between a Christian salesperson and their mark look very one-sided–and not in the Christian’s favor! To that accusation I say… And what? Because that’s exactly how this works.

A salesperson who comes up to us wanting something from us has no right to expect our time or our buy-in with their pitch. They’re the ones who came up to us; we didn’t go to them. They’re the ones who pushed their pitch onto us; we didn’t ask for them to pitch to us. They’re the ones who stand to benefit from our buy-in, while even the most ardent Christian salesperson knows that our buy-in would probably negatively impact us in a number of ways (and one of the pastors in my links here today acknowledged that point explicitly).

We are the ones with the power in this relationship, whether Christians admit it or not, whether they even like it or not. And the more people in our societies remember that fact, the harder it’s going to be for Christians to make sales using their favorite tactics. And if making sales were really the goal of their leaders, then that’d be just terrible for them. The real tragedy for those leaders would be if Christians themselves stopped buying into the tactics that their leaders have devised. When Christian salespeople themselves realize that they, too, have rights as the consumers purchasing their leaders’ products, boy, it’s gonna get REAL up in there.

Next time: How Biff converted to Christianity–and why I don’t take Christians seriously when they try to tell me that they’ve done all the research. See you then!

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