TF: How Not To Do Evangelism

Tribulation Force, pp. 386-396

Reading the Left Behind series has caused me to re-evaluate many of the “Bible prophecy,” End-Times works I encountered before opening these books. The more I read of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, the better that Hal Lindsay and Donald W. Thompson seem.

Thompson was the auteur behind A Thief in the Night and its sequels, the premillennial dispensationalist thrillers that circulated in church basements and coffee houses for years before the age of VHS. Thief was not a good movie. The dialogue was awful and Thompson’s endearingly awkward cast of nonprofessional actors was never able to rise above it. But the guy did have some idea of what to do with a camera and how to make the most of his tiny budget, so he was able to create some memorable images. Thompson conveys the disappearances of the Rapture with a neighbor’s lawnmower, still running but suddenly unattended — a scene that is both simpler and creepier than any of the Rapture scenes in Left Behind.

Thompson’s movies are like a PMD version of Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” — earnest, overwrought and unintentionally campy, but sprinkled throughout with memorably unnerving bits. Those movies were also made with the same intent as Edwards’ archetypal fire-and-brimstone rant — to frighten audiences into repentance so that the unsaved might be spared the horrors portrayed. It’s that intent, that motive of sincere if strangely expressed concern for others, that makes A Thief in the Night and its many imitators vastly preferable to the Left Behind books, in which one finds only very rare expressions of concern for those unsaved others, and in which those few expressions do not seem sincere.

Thompson was part of a wave of 1970s End Times mania and nearly all of the popular “prophecy” books, movies and albums of that time shared this fire-and-brimstone, repent-for-the-end-is-nigh desire to save the unsaved. This was true of Hal Lindsey’s books from that period, and of Larry Norman’s rock and roll records, and of nearly every other PMD ancestor of the Left Behind series. They were all urgently concerned with evangelism — with saving the lost before it’s too late. Their approach to such evangelism may have been horribly askew, but that was their intent.

I expected the Left Behind books to follow that pattern, but one of the many awful surprises they held in store was that they don’t. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins invoke fire and brimstone, but not in the hopes of frightening the unsaved into heaven. Instead they present it as a kind of revenge fantasy — a variation of the “abominable fancy.” Their central message is not, “Repent before it is too late because I do not want you to suffer all these torments I am describing,” but rather, “You’ll see, you’ll suffer all these torments and then you’ll realize too late that we were right.”

Instead of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready,” LaHaye & Jenkins’ message is “We’re ready, you’re not — neener neener neener.”*

This is true in these books even in chapters like this one, presenting Rabbi Tsion Ben-Judah’s ostensibly evangelistic message. Ben-Judah’s message turns out not to be an upbeat, Billy Graham-style gospel of hope (“Good news — the Messiah has come and salvation is at hand”). Nor is it even a Jonathan Edwards or Donald W. Thompson-style message urgently pleading with others to escape the coming wrath. Ben-Judah’s message, instead, boils down to a reiteration of the core message of these books: “We’re right. You’re wrong.”

It’s worth pausing for a moment to consider how and why the authors came to believe that such a message constitutes evangelism.

It shows, I think, that the authors are unable or unwilling to consider how their message is likely to be perceived by others. That comes in part from an inability or unwillingness to listen to what others have to say. (Why should they listen, when they already know that those others are wrong?) That’s part of a larger lack of concern for or interest in others as actual people — real human beings who bring their own lives, stories, experiences and ideas to the conversation.

This lack of interest in learning about others goes hand in hand with the authors’ seeming lack of interest in learning about themselves, raising a chicken-and-egg question of cause and effect. Is their distorted and unexamined self-concept a result of their distorted and unexamined concept of others? Or vice versa?

For a sense of what I mean by this self-concept, consider that this whole business with Tsion Ben-Judah’s “research” is based on a flattering lie. It’s one thing to tell flattering lies to someone else. It’s worse to tell them to yourself. And it’s worst of all to then believe them.

The authors are pretending that this is why they believe what they believe and how they came to believe it. Ben-Judah’s research project is presented as a depiction of their “personal testimony,” as we evangelicals say — and more generally as the testimony of all real, true Christians. Ben-Judah was simply a disinterested, unbiased, rational scholar drawing disinterested, unbiased, rational conclusions from the study of sacred texts that are obviously and self-evidently authoritative to any such unbiased and rational reader.

This is how LaHaye wants to think of himself. It’s how he wants to portray himself as having come to religion. But that is not how it happened — for him or for anyone else. He was introduced to these sacred texts — these particular texts and not to other ones — and began to read them with a host of preconditioned and predetermined interpretations. His decision to accept those interpretations was shaped by his personal history and experience, by his relationships and encounters with others, and by a host of other variables including — most essentially, we Christians believe — the grace of God. The Ben-Judah scenario denies the existence and importance of all those other factors, presenting the rabbi’s conversion — and by implication, LaHaye’s — as something else, as simply an inevitable and undeniable intellectual conclusion reached from an honest and objective evaluation of data.

This is why — apart from all the howlingly awful errors and misapprehensions we discussed earlier — I cannot believe Ben-Judah’s story. That’s just not how it works. It didn’t work that way for me, or for LaHaye or Jenkins, or for anyone else. That is not my testimony or theirs or anyone else’s and so I cannot believe that it is Ben-Judah’s.

L&J have presented this “conclusions of research” myth not just to flatter their fictional representative (and thereby themselves), but also to accuse the rest of the world. Their false portrayal of how Ben-Judah came to be a real, true Christian also conveys a false portrayal of everyone who isn’t an RTC. They’re not just claiming that this is how Ben-Judah became a believer, but that this is how all nonbelievers became nonbelievers. Ben-Judah, they say, became an RTC from an honest investigation of the undeniable data. Therefore, if you are a Jew — or an atheist, a Catholic, an Episcopalian, Lutheran, Hindu, Mormon, Pagan, etc., etc. — it is because you are dishonest or because you are ignorant of the data or obstinately refusing to accept its self-evident truth.

All of us non-RTCs can thus be lumped into two and only two categories: the malicious and the ignorant.

The former category is necessary to make the plot of the Left Behind series palatable. The horrific suffering these books present for non-RTCs couldn’t be tolerated — much less enjoyed and savored — unless those others were portrayed as fully and consciously deserving such punishments. The damned here are thus portrayed a bit like the damned in a Jack Chick tract — as arrogant and deliberate deniers of what they know to be true. Like Nicolae, they hear Ben-Judah’s enumeration of the clear evidence and perversely choose to reject it.

The latter category, the ignorant, isn’t so much a subset of Them as it is a subset of Us. The merely ignorant are still innocent and thus are portrayed less as non-RTCs than as not-yet-RTCs. Since the malicious are unreachable, this latter category is the only real intended audience for Ben-Judah’s evangelistic message — or for the evangelistic message, such as it is, of the authors. The ignorant have never heard of Jesus, never been told what it is that Christians believe. Once they are told, they will either accept this obvious and compelling truth and convert to become RTCs, or else they will reject it for perverse and evil reasons and become part of the category of the malicious, the cackling, Chickian damned (“Har har!”).

That one might hear Ben-Judah’s message and simply not find it persuasive for any legitimate reason isn’t an option the authors imagine or allow for.

You may have noticed that these two categories of the malicious and the ignorant don’t seem to account for any actual humans you have ever actually met. The authors present them as comprehensive, but experience proves them to be almost nonexistent.

That’s why L&J-style evangelism will always be fruitless. A message intended for a nonexistent audience won’t be heard. And you cannot convince others of anything if you’re already convinced of something about them that just isn’t true.

This doesn’t just mean that the the authors are failing at evangelism themselves. It also means they’re setting up their readers to fail as well. Those readers are being sent forth with the expectation of encountering people who do not actually exist. They are being taught to expect to meet these imaginary innocent ignorant, the RTCs-in-waiting who have never heard of Jesus before and will gratefully ask to hear more — finding the message instantly persuasive and thus eagerly converting.

I don’t think that has ever really happened. Maybe once, but probably never.

And when this doesn’t happen for the would-be-evangelist readers of Left Behind, what have they been taught to conclude about those they actually do encounter? They have been taught that these people must all belong to that other category of the malicious and perverse deniers. So those readers’ hapless attempts at Ben-Judah-style evangelism are not just doomed to fail, they’re also designed to reinforce the Manichaean, Us-vs.-Them worldview that underlies LaHaye’s John Birch Society politics.

How convenient.

I don’t want to leave off here only saying that L&J have provided a manual on How Not To Do Evangelism. They certainly have provided that — offering a template for evangelism that seems designed to inspire ill-feeling on all sides and to be as ineffectual as it is unpleasant. But before we return to our journey through the instructively appalling pages of Tribulation Force, let me suggest a few things I think I’ve learned about a better way to approach this matter of evangelism.

1. Evangelism is hospitality.

Hospitality means opening up your life to share it with others. Sometimes that means sharing your home or your food, but here it means sharing that which is centrally and essentially important to you, the core of your identity and your source of meaning.

That seems kind of overwhelming — a bit more fraught than just inviting someone over for a cup of coffee. But in either case, it bears keeping in mind that this is what you’re doing — extending an invitation. And that this is who you’re dealing with — guests.

Guests are not obliged to swallow everything you’re serving, nor should they be compelled or feel pressured to do so. Your job, as host, is to defer to the preferences of your guests. Guests are not prisoners or detainees. If your attempts at hospitality cause your guests to feel more like prisoners — if you can see in their eyes the look of someone desperate to escape — then you’re doing it wrong. Stop. Step away. Let them go.

When you invite someone over to dinner, they will sometimes bring something with them to share in return — a nice bottle of wine, maybe, or some pie for dessert. If you turn up your nose at this contribution then you’re not being a good host. You’re not the only one sharing here and it would be unfair, not to mention rude, not to appreciate and honor what they’re sharing with you.

When I’m asked if I can recommend a good book on evangelism, I sometimes jokingly suggest Emily Post’s etiquette manual. Except I’m not really joking.

2. Evangelism requires relationship.

Without relationship, it’s not really evangelism, merely sales. Evangelism should never be anything like sales. This is not a transaction, not commerce.

People who are in a relationship with one another talk about those things that they regard as important. Unlike many white guys my age, I am not a member of the Cult of Golf. But since many of my friends are also white guys my age I often wind up talking about golf a lot. Why? Because they are my friends and it’s important to them. That’s how human relationships work.

Evangelism directed toward strangers often seems awkward and weird because it is awkward and weird. Evangelism in the context of relationship, by contrast, is natural and organic. It’s not weird when two friends talk about the things that are important to them. It would be far stranger if they didn’t.

A word of caution: It won’t do to try to start a friendship with someone as a means to evangelizing them. A friendship that exists only as a means to some other ends isn’t really a friendship at all. It’s more like the unctuous faux-friendliness of the salesman. We can all tell the difference between such professional chumminess and the real thing it imitates. Your local car salesman is probably a friendly guy, but he’s not your friend, he’s your salesman.

Life sometimes conspires to create encounters that bring about something like the trust and mutuality of friendship even if they’re not really part of any pre- or post-existing relationship. The train breaks down in the tunnel or the elevator gets stuck between floors and soon you may find yourself having one of those sacred, crossroads-of-life conversations with a complete stranger. You don’t know this person’s full name, you’ve never met before and you’ll likely never meet again, but despite that — or because of it — you find yourselves telling one another things you wouldn’t be able to say to the friends and family you have to live with every day. The old man next to you on the train says he had a child about your age, and because the train has stopped there in the tunnel he tells you something about that child that he’d needed to say for a very long time but had never been able to before. And because he told you that, and because the train is still not moving, you tell him things you also had needed to say — hopes, fears, dreams, confessions — that you had never before been able to articulate aloud.

That happens sometimes, miraculously. I don’t know that such encounters quite count as “relationships,” but they also can be, sometimes, appropriate contexts for what might be called evangelism.

3. Listen.

Like improv, evangelism is usually more about listening than it is about talking.

The Cherokee Baptist theologian Bill Baldridge tells a story about white missionaries who arrived at the Indian settlement. “We are here to tell you the story of our God and of salvation,” they announced.

The elders welcomed them, brought them food, and gathered around to hear this story. The missionaries, pleased by this enthusiastic audience, decided to go with the Long Version. They started at the beginning and over the next several hours they told the whole great Christian saga of creation, fall and redemption.

When at last the missionaries were finished, the elders thanked them. “This is a good story,” the elders said. “Now we would like to share with you our story.”

The missionaries were furious. Hadn’t these people been listening? Didn’t they realize that they had just heard the One True Story and that their old story, whatever it was, no longer mattered?

The missionaries abruptly left, shaking the dust off their shoes and heading out to find some other group more receptive to to their message.

4. Your story is not an argument.

Evangelism is often presented as something that starts with a sales pitch and ends in an argument. That’s wrong from start to finish. At its core, evangelism involves telling your story. That’s not a debate or an argument, it’s a testimony, a narrative (one that hasn’t ended yet).

Arguments about religion can be a lot of fun and they can sometimes even be productive. Their usefulness, though, is almost never a matter of persuasion, but rather of two friendly foes helping one another to clarify their own thoughts.

That’s the healthy version. In the unhealthy version, it’s more about two unfriendly foes using each other to reinforce for themselves what they already believe.

That distinction between healthy and unhealthy arguments has to do with whether those involved in the argument are willing to listen to and to try to understand what the other is saying. If they both are, then the argument may prove enjoyable and useful — and perhaps even marginally persuasive. But if neither one is really listening or really interested in understanding what the other side is saying, then all that’s going on is two people with their fingers stuck in their ears shouting slogans in an effort to drown out the sound of their own doubts.

The Ben-Judah broadcast in Tribulation Force strikes me as the unhealthy kind of religious argument. Nothing in this chapter is really designed to persuade those who disagree with Ben-Judah’s or the authors’ views. It is designed, rather, to reassure those who already believe and to help them buttress their faltering faith.

Those in need of such reassurance would do well to avoid attempts at evangelism. Better that way for all involved.

Anyway, my point here is not to describe how best to argue evangelistically, but rather that evangelism usually ought to avoid argument. Your story is not an argument. Stick with your story.

That story should tell more than just how or why or when you began to be a Christian. That’s how we evangelicals are often taught to present our “personal testimony,” but that’s like telling a story that consists of nothing but “Once upon a time.” Telling your story means telling what it means to you that you are a Christian — why this is the most important thing to you, how it changes and shapes and directs your life, how you wouldn’t be you without the faith, hope and love you have found.

Of course, if you’re telling this story to a friend, to someone who knows you and has known you for some time, then they may already know all of that.

And if you’re trying to tell such a story but you realize that you can’t say how the faith you are trying to share actually does change or shape or direct your life, then you may find that you’re going to need to tell a better story.

And the only way to tell a better story and still have it be your story is to start living a better story.

That’s probably why so many people seem to find it easier to get in arguments than it is to tell their stories.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* The Left Behind series is thus a reflection of a larger cultural change in American evangelical Christianity. The earlier wave of PMD enthusiasm came at a time when evangelicals’ contact with the larger culture was primarily evangelistic, but by the 1990s when these books were typed, that contact had become primarily political. Where Norman, Thompson and 1970s-era Lindsey were oddball expressions of the hopeful, inclusive faith typified by Billy Graham, the Left Behind books are expressions of the partisan, militant, power-seeking faith of Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Pat Robertson. They’re not primarily about invitation, but about identity. Not about drawing others to Christ, but about drawing lines between us and them and mobilizing “the base” as a special-interest voting bloc.

But then it’s not quite accurate to say that Left Behind is a reflection of this dismaying cultural shift. It’s more deliberate than that. Tim LaHaye was one of the central figures who worked hard to bring about this change in American evangelicalism. The John Birchification of American evangelical Christianity has always been his life’s work.

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  • Flying Squid with Goggles

    This is an absolute gem of a post. Evangelism all too often is not only arguing at an audience who isn’t really there (like some fictitious atheist who believes in the accuracy of the Bible) but also by a speaker who isn’t really there either, an RTC who came to the religion through pure thought rather than any cultural or personal influences. Well said, Fred.

  • Anonymous

    This. I was raised on Chick Tracts, and though I swallowed most of the doctrines without too much question (easy to do when your social world is your immediate family, your pastor’s immediate family, and the missionary’s immediate family), but that always seemed weird. If these people have never heard the Bible before, why do they suddenly believe that everything in it is truth? And couldn’t they be just as easily dissuaded from the faith when someone from another religion came along and claimed their book was truth? And it somehow seemed utterly unlikely that the world was entirely populated with Real True Christians, Evil Catholics/Jehovah’s Witnesses/Muslims/Satanists, and nearly-spineless people constantly shifting from one religion to another as different people came along and went “Hey, this time, this is the real truth!”

  • Jeffrey Kramer

    If these people have never heard the Bible before, why do they suddenly
    believe that everything in it is truth? And couldn’t they be just as
    easily dissuaded from the faith when someone from another religion came
    along and claimed their book was truth?

    But here you’re assuming that they’re thinking of conversion in terms of “persuasion” and “dissuasion,” of decisions which are reached on the basis of “if… then… but… therefore”: i.e., reasoning.  It seems to me that most “evangelicals” reject this assumption, that for them it is purely and simply magic.  The sacred words have the right, good magic, and so they will work on those people who have never heard them before (assuming they are among the saveable), but other faiths’ words don’t have the magic and so have no power.

  • The_L

    The “constant shifters” do exist though, albeit not always in regard to religion. I have a relation, gods bless her, who is remarkably receptive to fad diets, new exercise machines, and pretty much anything said by anyone claiming to be Christian.

    Her Christianity has held firm, but the rest of her identity is an ever-changing morass of “Buy this vitamin!” and “RTC’s should watch this show, not that one!”

  • Anonymous

    I suppose this is true. I do know a guy who goes through constant phases of attention to all things in life (MonaVie, for example, if you’ve heard of that), and it does include religion. But religion is more of a thing on his part “I’ve gained what spiritual experience and knowledge I could here, I value it, but I feel Buddhism was better for me,” not “That guy says his book says we’re all going to burn for doing yoga! I’d better go convert.”

    I understand shifters, but I don’t think they’re so credulous as Chick and Ellenjay make  them out to be.

  • Rob Brown

    If these people have never heard the Bible before, why do they suddenly
    believe that everything in it is truth? And couldn’t they be just as
    easily dissuaded from the faith when someone from another religion came
    along and claimed their book was truth?

    That reminds me of something I read recently in a dissection of a Chick Tract:

    These people are extremely easily led. All you need is a ridiculous
    premise and someone to verify it, and they’re apparently sold. “Mrs.
    Comfort, is it true that if I don’t smear peanut butter into my hair
    while chewing tree bark, God will never love me?” “Yes, child, it’s
    true.” “Oh, no! I’m in deep trouble!”

  • Anonymous

    Their central message is not, “Repent before it is too late because I do
    not want you to suffer all these torments I am describing,” but rather,
    “You’ll see, you’ll suffer all these torments and then you’ll realize too late that we were right.”

    Or, to phrase it another way, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!”

  • Junojava

    I’m pretty sure Chickian damned go “Haw Haw”, not “Har Har”.

  • Donalbain
  • http://profiles.google.com/anoncollie Anon Collie

    Admittedly, I’ve met too many Catholics who follow the “Neener, neener, neener” route as well. They are so convinced that they have the totality of all Christian theology, and any Catholic who disagrees with the Church on something is part of the “malicious” non-RTCs, while Protestants are perceived at best the “ignorant” crowd and at worst, the malicious ones.

    Recently, I had an e-mail exchange with one over Linked In; this gentlemen was seeking investment funding for a surefire Catholic alternative to the eeevvviillls of Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, etc. in the form of card games. (Unfortunately, not Card Games on Motorcycles)

    I wrote back, telling him that such influences are mostly harmless; kids usually get involved with that stuff because of bullies or ostracized from the popular elements, and when kids are made aware of actual evil elements, they’re smart enough to know the difference, and I would not be investing, especially not with someone who contacted me over the Internet.

    He wrote back and insulted my professional abilites as a teacher, said I was not a Catholic, and even worse? I was a *liberal*. OH NOES.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marchantshapiro Andrew Abrams Marchant-Shapiro

    Seen the same thing in some–well, lots–of my LDS brethren. 

    The thing is, once you convince yourself that you have the One True Faith, then everyone else can be only ignorant or malicious.  There are (it seems to me) no other possibilities.  If I am right, and if my right is the *only* right, then you *must* be wrong, and that can only be through choice or ignorance.  What’s more, if you don’t immediately embrace my gentle explanation of the truth so as to correct your ignorance, you are by definition perverse, and going against the truth out of choice.

    The only way out of this conundrum, it seems to me, is for me to acknowledge that I *may not* have all of the truth (hence the need to actually listen to, as opposed to tolerate, other stories).  Unfortunately, that level of uncertainty is not a comfortable place for most humans.  I am reminded, sadly, of Tevya’s outburst in Fiddler on the Roof:  “There *is* NO OTHER HAND!”

  • Anonymous

     Maybe I misunderstood you, but did you mean to say that people get involved with D&D, Harry Potter, and WoW because they are socially ostracized?

    There is certainly a group dynamic for D&D and a social aspect to all of these things, but it’s certainly not just something people turn to because no one else will have them.  These are hobbies that people can enjoy just because they are enjoyable and interesting activities.  Also, what evil elements are there in these things?

  • Matri

    Demons. And spell-casting mages and wizards.

    These are the “eeevils” that are focused on. Somehow, kids rolling a dice so their mage on paper can cast a spell to defeat a demon morphs into a satanist who’ll steal your soul to feed to the devil in exchange for unimaginable power… which he’ll use to have college sex. (Okay, I’m just paraphrasing the “college sex” bit).

  • Anonymous

    Somehow, kids rolling a dice so their mage on paper can cast a spell to
    defeat a demon morphs into a satanist who’ll steal your soul to feed to
    the devil in exchange for unimaginable power… which he’ll use to have
    college sex.

    So that was the trick to having college sex.  If I’d known that at the time, I would have signed right up.  Oh well, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, live and learn.

  • Anonymous

    Dear god, and all that time I spent studying was for nothing. Nothing! /cries

  • Anonymous

    No, hindsight is 4d10.

    Jesus saves! (and takes half damage.)

  • sagra

    If you’re playing D&D to get more college sex… you might want to rethink your strategy.  

  • Rikalous

    It is a good way to meet geeks, if you’re into that.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    On the other hand it’s perfectly possible to think your religion is 100% right and still respect that other people might not agree with you even once you explain your beliefs, because these things aren’t self-evident, if they were we wouldn’t need faith.

    As to that Catholic guy – speaking as an orthodox Catholic who reads Harry Potter and plays D&D occassionally (though I prefer some other RP settings and systems) his position has nothing to do with Catholicism as I know it.

  • TheSquirrel

    Bullies push kids into D&D and Harry Potter? I’m sorry shoot your theory, but I only started reading Harry Potter because my friends were reading it. I play RPGs because I enjoy them. I read fantasy in general, because I like it. Had nothing to do with loneliness or oppression, and I feel just a wee bit insulted when people assume my interests were formed due to some tragic failing.

  • Anonymous

    such influences are mostly harmless; kids
    usually get involved with that stuff because of bullies or ostracized
    from the popular elements

    *facepalm*  Really?  It never occured to you that people might simply like D&D, Harry Potter, World of Warcraft, and other fantasy games and stories?  I know of absolutely no one who plays D&D or WoW or read the Harry Potter books who did so because they were an outcast or bullied.  I’ve never met a gamer or fantasy fan, period, who was only one because they were ostracized from whatever the heck the “popular elements” are.  I’ve been a fantasy fan since I read Tolkien at 6 or 7 and a gamer for *does the math* 21 years.  I’ve met plenty of people who share those interests.  Some of us were picked on or bullied in school, yes, but either because of those interests or because they were smart, or different in some way (which would cover the first, actually).

    So, no, you can’t “save” people from the evils of D&D, WoW, and Harry Potter by making sure people aren’t ostracized by the popular kids.

  • Rob Brown

    Card Games On Motorcycles?

    (Actually, never mind.  I guess I don’t want to start that up in here. :p )

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I like all of your post but one element:

    Generally speaking, you get involved in D&D or other RPGs because you like the material.  It has little to do with whether you’ve been bullied. (though sadly sometimes it will get you bullied, though I do hear that’s a much lesser thing these days.)

    I got into D&D through my friends, which is also where I got into Shadowrun, Traveller and a couple other RPGs – they are, ultimately, just games.

    It goes a little something like this really.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, Traveller….  I remember that game really well.  I really liked the system, it was simple and direct, and gleefully modular.

    Doug Berry, one of the GOOs on the TML, wrote a wonderful ‘farewell’ letter to that setting

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Sadly it’s one of the settings I have the least experience with.  We only ran a few sessions (though I personally enjoyed them) – mostly because we were very, very new to the whole roleplaying thing at the time and no one quite ‘got’ what we were doing.

    It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to look back into but never quite had the time or inclination.

  • Anonymous

    Once it was a good setting, and in some ways it still is, but… not really for ‘Travelling’ anymore.  If you’re into courtly intrigue, or military action, or trading, sure; but there’s not a lot of frontier left in the setting.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Sadly it’s one of the settings I have the least experience with.  We only ran a few sessions (though I personally enjoyed them) – mostly because we were very, very new to the whole roleplaying thing at the time and no one quite ‘got’ what we were doing.

    It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to look back into but never quite had the time or inclination.

  • Samantha C.

    man, I hated Traveller from day one. I just recently was in a game….the majority of the system was fine (as long as I can figure out what I’m supposed to roll, most systems are kind of interchangeable to me). But I couldn’t get into the job I wanted first thing out of character creation, wound up with a completely different character than I wanted to play, and it was just an irritant that continued to chafe through the whole game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Count your blessings.  Some characters don’t survive the creation process.

    My Father-Law loves Traveller, and I respect it, but it’s really not my kind of system.  I managed to proved this to myself thoroughly when I tried to play a scientist/space hobo based on the Dude from The Big Lebowski.  There are systems (like FATE 3.0, my personal favorite) where a stoned slacker pacifist with a genius for computer and sensor systems could be really effective, but in Traveller, poor laid-back Bob Kovacs had to spend most of his time finding the most effective cover he could and cowering under it until the shooting stopped, pretty much every time we left the ship.

  • Samantha C.

    It just didn’t seem suited to the kind of roleplay I like to do. The very idea that I can’t have control over what class I am…the thought that any character might not survive to be playable (although in the version we used I think that possibility had been taken out). It was a very Gritty system that wanted to do a lot of combat and for people to be hurt for a long time and have to take a lot of time to learn anything new and…just really not fun for me.

    On the other hand, I just started playing in a game using the Smallville system, which is about the most open-ended, character-driven, RP-heavy system I’ve ever seen. Every roll of the dice is determined by how strongly your character feels about the other characters and her own convictions, and it’s designed to create inter-character conflict for delicious soap-opera drama.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    The very idea that I can’t have control over what class I am…the thought that any character might not survive to be playable (although in the version we used I think that possibility had been taken out

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all
    options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent
    additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten
    years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the
    light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

    Must resist… urge to shill… favorite system…

    (fails EGO roll)

    Except that those have been basic concepts of the Hero System even back when it was just Champions.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “Except that those have been basic concepts of the Hero System even back when it was just Champions. ”

    Which would be in 1980.  And I’ve been playing it since.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “Except that those have been basic concepts of the Hero System even back when it was just Champions. ”

    Which would be in 1980.  And I’ve been playing it since.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    “Except that those have been basic concepts of the Hero System even back when it was just Champions. ”

    Which would be in 1980.  And I’ve been playing it since.

  • Rikalous

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all
    options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent
    additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten
    years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the
    light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

    You could get away with either one of those concepts as long as you have the other. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had your class rolled for, because the Warhammer universe is grimdark and the people in it don’t have much freedom to pick their job (you could move from one class to a related class, though). D&D had NPC classes so every farmer, shopkeeper, and lord wasn’t at least as badass as the first level PCs they’re hiring. The only game I’d heard of before this thread that combined the two was FATAL. FATAL, for those of you not in the know, is a racist, sexist, sex-obsessed, unwieldy, poorly edited mess of a system widely considered the Worst Tabletop Game ever.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    Most tabletop RPGs before the late 90’s had these kinds of problems. Spellcasters in sword & sorcery games were frail and shrieking right up until they became unholy mobile firing platforms of death. Becoming a Jedi in West End Game’s Star Wars system was an exercise in masochism. (“You mean my character development is totally dependent on the Storyteller AND I’ll be less effective than every other character at non-Force things? Sign me up!”) RIFTS was full of classes that were either godly-powerful or paper-thin weak with very few in the middle-ground.

    A lot of games of that era substituted random die rolls for playable balance. (“It’s OK for this ability to be super-powered, because only one in a thousand characters will get it from a random die roll!”) The reason so few examples stick out in memory is that almost everyone house-ruled away those flaws. Demi-human level limits? House-ruled! Random character trait tables? House-ruled!

    It takes a special kind of awful to be remembered. F.A.T.A.L. is so bad it has it’s own TV Tropes page.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    By Odin’s bunions, how could you bring up the game we dare not speak of?!

    I once looked at the F.A.T.A.L. sourcebook (downloaded of course, I’m not paying money to slake my morbid curiosity) – it was as bad as it sounds.

    Ho. Lee. Shit.

    Extreme Trigger Warning for rape in effect, the following will be ROT13ed because it’s awful:

    Gb tvir lbh na vqrn bs whfg ubj njshy S.N.G.N.Y. vf, guvf vf n tnzr jurer lbh ebyy enaqbzyl sbe nyzbfg rirelguvat.  Rirelguvat.  Rkprcg Traqre – jr’yy rkcynva jul va n zbzrag.

    Nyfb guvf ebyyvat vapyhqrf cravf fvmr, intvany pvephzsrerapr naq nany pvephzsrerapr.  Jul qb lbh arrq gb ebyy sbe nany pvephzsrerapr?  Orpnhfr S.N.G.N.Y. vf abg n fjbeqf naq fbeprel tnzr.  Vg’f Encr, gur ECT.

    Guvf vf abg n wbxr – lbh znl ynhtu orpnhfr vg’f fb ubeevoyr naq gur bgure bcgvba vf gb pel, ohg vg’f abg zr vagraqvat gb perngr uhzbe.  S.N.G.N.Y.’f ehyrobbx vf pbafgnagyl, pbafgnagyl tbvat ba nobhg encr.  Lbh ebyy sbe nany pvephzsrerapr orpnhfr gurer vf n uvtu cebonovyvgl bs orvat ivbyragyl crargengrq naq gurer vf n evfx bs grnevat.

    Abg. Znxvat. Vg. Hc.

    Qrne tbqf V pna’g oryvrir V unq gb fnl gung.

    Qba’g rira trg zr fgnegrq ba gur enzcnag ubzbcubovn, enpvfz, frkvfz naq whfg nobhg rirel bgure “vfz” lbh pner gb anzr.

    Bu naq bs pbhefr ba gbc bs gung, vg’f nyfb avtu hagb hacynlnoyr rira vs lbh jrer gjvfgrq rabhtu gb jnag gb.

    Fhzznel:  UBYL ZBGURE BS TBQ JUL QBRF GUVF RKVFG?

    ——-

    *shudder*

    So yes. F.A.T.A.L. is in fact what a lot of people seem to think D&D is. …only worse, and without the cool factor of magical powers.

    I’m going to go vomit now; you’re welcome to join me.

    (Part of why I wrote the above is so you don’t have to go to the TVTropes page without knowing what exactly you’re getting into.)

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to go vomit now; you’re welcome to join me.

    *pat pat*  That is the standard response to finding out about F.A.T.A.L.  That or gibbering quietly in a corner for a bit.

  • http://dumas1.livejournal.com/ Winter

    I found myself embodying the I Need a Freakin’ Drink trope after reading about F.A.T.A.L.

  • Rikalous

    Those two concepts (“players decide what their character is” and “all
    options should be equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent
    additions to the framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten
    years, and you’ll be horrified at how alien those systems look in the
    light of those two seemingly basic concepts.

    You could get away with either one of those concepts as long as you have the other. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay had your class rolled for, because the Warhammer universe is grimdark and the people in it don’t have much freedom to pick their job (you could move from one class to a related class, though). D&D had NPC classes so every farmer, shopkeeper, and lord wasn’t at least as badass as the first level PCs they’re hiring. The only game I’d heard of before this thread that combined the two was FATAL. FATAL, for those of you not in the know, is a racist, sexist, sex-obsessed, unwieldy, poorly edited mess of a system widely considered the Worst Tabletop Game ever.

  • Anonymous

    (“players decide what their character is” and “all options should be
    equally playable”) are, I’m sorry to say, recent additions to the
    framework of role-playing games. Go back even ten years

    The first has been around far longer than ten years.  The very, very first incarnation of D&D and Traveler are the only systems I can think of… oh, wait, there may have been a Star Trek one… where you don’t decide what your character is.

    As for the second… that rather depends on how you’re defining it.  Games weren’t balanced ala MMOS until pretty recently (and, other than nuD&D, I still can’t think of any that are), but generally the only times people ended up with non-playable characters were when a) someone really, really new to role playing tried to make a character with no help at all or b) when someone made a character that didn’t fit the game master’s campaign (either because the player ignored what the game master said or because the game master misrepresented the focus of the game).

    And, while I rolled up plenty of less-than-optimal (not very first edition) D&D characters, they were still playable and I can’t think of any game masters who didn’t have the house rule that if you somehow rolled absurdly low in everything, you could start over. 

  • Anonymous

    I would contend that weather a particular character is effective or not is a function of the kind of game the GM is running.  I ran a Firefly/Serenity game (HSR, not Cortex or Traveller) where one of the characters really was a pacifist with a genius for computer and sensor systems, and they did very well. =) (They weren’t stoned or a slacker, but they did have sass and an ornery streak a league wide and a lightyear long.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    I would contend that weather a particular character is effective or not is a function of the kind of game the GM is running.  I ran a Firefly/Serenity game (HSR, not Cortex or Traveller) where one of the characters really was a pacifist with a genius for computer and sensor systems, and they did very well. =) (They weren’t stoned or a slacker, but they did have sass and an ornery streak a league wide and a lightyear long.)

    True, to an extent, but the system and setting both, I would argue, impose assumptions about what kind of game can or should be run.  In my particular case, it was a game being run primarily for the benefit of my Father-in-Law, who’s an old-school grognard who likes an old-fashioned, rules-heavy action-intensive playstyle, which leads to a hostile work environment for non-violent drifters with no personal combat skills whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    That was one of the things about the game that some people adore, some people think is awful, and some people look at oddly.  I think the Mongoose (T6?) version fixed that somewhat, letting you have more control over your character.

    Traveller came out of the school of RPGs that arose from wargaming (same school that D&D came out of) and the system reflects that strongly.  Its original iteration was not helpful if you wanted to play something even remotely specific since everything was random… and you effectively had a one in six chance of your character dying during chargen anyway!

  • Rikalous

    The linked video has me wondering what kind of campaign they’re playing that a piddly d6 roll is the difference between life or death.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Hehe, the reason it’s a d6 is because the song it’s based on is “Like a G6”  >_>

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Bunnies and Burrows. Although, slightly more seriously, they could have been playing Tri-Stat dX.

    Oh man Traveller. I enjoyed that game. It is, however, one of those games where sometimes the die rolls conflict with fun, and IMO, fun wins out every time. Of course, having a planet with TL16 medicine (WOOHOO ANAGATHICS) makes it a LOT easier to get a very playable character.

  • Anonymous

    Recently, I had an e-mail exchange with one over Linked In; this
    gentlemen was seeking investment funding for a surefire Catholic
    alternative to the eeevvviillls of Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter,
    World of Warcraft, etc. in the form of card games. (Unfortunately, not
    Card Games on Motorcycles)

    I wrote back, telling him that such
    influences are mostly harmless; kids usually get involved with that
    stuff because of bullies or ostracized from the popular elements, and
    when kids are made aware of actual evil elements, they’re smart enough
    to know the difference, and I would not be investing, especially not
    with someone who contacted me over the Internet.

    Lots of other people have already responded to this post concerning how and why someone starts playing RPGs and collectible card games.

    WoW is very popular, however, and I’m sure it’s not all people smarting from the wedgies they routinely received in PhysEd.

    My mind is also boggling at the concept of a “sure-fire Catholic alternative” to all these things that deal in occult knowledge that would be successful without seeming preachy and after-school-special-y.  Perhaps my experience is more limited than I think it is, but “wholesome Christian alternatives” to popular culture almost always has a Message that lies much closer to the surface than even morals in 1980s cartoons by Funimation, and in my experience that tends to turn people off and work out to being a niche product.

  • http://scientistcarrie.blogspot.com/ snowmentality

    I guess it’s a question of what your goal is. If it’s “frightening the unsaved into heaven,” then all the politeness in the world isn’t going to make that less obnoxious. At best, it’s condescending to assume that someone who doesn’t share your religion is “lost.” At worst, you’re actively threatening someone with eternal torment and/or worldly unhappiness unless they agree with you, no matter whether that’s phrased as kindly concern.

    I don’t think you can set out to convince someone to convert without setting up an antagonistic, salesman/mark relationship.

    But if your goal is to understand a friend’s beliefs and/or philosophy, and to share your own beliefs with them, and generally learn from each other? Then, cool. (Depending on the people and the relationship, that might happen through friendly debate, or by storytelling, or giving advice to each other, etc.)

    But I don’t know if that’s really something called “evangelism.” I think it’s something called “friendship.”

  • Shay Guy

    For a half-second I read the title as “How Not To Do Evangelion.”

  • MaryKaye

    I had a Fundamentalist (his term) internet acquaintance who was a keen D&D player.  He wrote a letter to the 700 Club deploring the incorrect and unhelpful things they had said about the game, and received something like the following in reply:

    Dear Fellow Christian,

    Thank you for joining the millions of Christians who are concerned about D&D.  Won’t you consider making a donation to support our struggle against it?

    (He told me this story several years after it happened, but you could see the electrons blistering on the page….)

    So there are at least three things passing as evangelism.  Efforts to reach another person out of friendship.  Efforts to bolster one’s own faith out of fear.  And efforts to make a quick buck, masquerading as one of the other two.  It seems likely that _Left Behind_ owes something to both motive #2 and motive #3, but the exact proportion is hard to discern.

  • http://www.iki.fi/wwwwolf/ Urpo Lankinen

    They are being taught to expect to meet these imaginary innocent
    ignorant, the RTCs-in-waiting who have never heard of Jesus before and
    will gratefully ask to hear more — finding the message instantly
    persuasive and thus eagerly converting.

    I’ve heard similar ideas before, in this form: “Why are the atheists/non-Christians criticising Christianity? They’re probably completely ignorant anyway. They have probably not even read the Bible.” The implication, of course, being that if they had read the Bible, they’d obviously agree with every word.

    You know what happens next. The said atheist or non-Christian shows up and shows that s/he knows more about the Bible than the person who made this claim. And quips something about actually reading the Bible being one of the biggest causes of atheism.

    Dear RTCs: While I am Wiccan, I’m very much aware of the intricacies of Christian eschatology (in large part thanks to this fascinating article series). The more I read of it, the more convinced I am that no sane person will ever need to know this stuff to live happy and productive lives as members of the society. Keep your acid visions. Thank you.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HGMZ6PZ2IXJHTE3XLXQIC22OMM Richard

    “Dear RTCs: While I am Wiccan, I’m very much aware of the intricacies of Christian eschatology (in large part thanks to this fascinating article series).”

    Keep in mind that the eschatology Fred describes in this series is at best only distantly related to orthodox Christianity. 

  • http://www.iki.fi/wwwwolf/ Urpo Lankinen

    Keep in mind that the eschatology Fred describes in this series is at best only distantly related to orthodox Christianity.

    Oh, I do keep it in mind. I was raised Lutheran and the general view on the eschatology was, as far as I can remember, “well, there’s this stuff about the end of the world, but don’t worry about it, seriously.” =)

  • Amaryllis

    Guests are not obliged to swallow everything you’re serving, nor should they be compelled or feel pressured to do so.

    In a recent thread over on the Slacktiverse, somebody– my apologies to whoever-it-was, but I can’t re-read that one again– quoted the aphorism about “evangelism is a hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread.” And added that the teller, as a matter of common politeness, needs to accept “No thanks, I’m gluten-intolerant,” or “No thanks, I’ve already got food,” or “No thanks, I’m really not hungry” as answers.

    Or to mix analogies, Sam-I-Am is a cute little monster, but really, not everybody likes green eggs and ham.

  • Anonymous

    Right.  And I think, in addition to accepting “No thanks” as an answer sometimes the conversation won’t work unless the teller waits for for someone to ask, “Say, I’ve been feeling sort of hungry lately.  What’s your idea on the best place to find bread?”

  • Anonymous

    Right.  And I think, in addition to accepting “No thanks” as an answer sometimes the conversation won’t work unless the teller waits for for someone to ask, “Say, I’ve been feeling sort of hungry lately.  What’s your idea on the best place to find bread?”

  • Tonio

    Excellent. To extend that analogy, perhaps evangelism is not shoving meat in the face of a vegetarian, saying “C’mon, you know you want to try it.” Or taking meat away from a carnivore, saying “It’s for your own good.” I suspect this type of “evangelism” arises from an ego-need to feel like one is saving the world. Reminds me of the opening credits of The Odd Couple show (I’m showing my age here) where Felix tries to help an elderly lady cross the street when she’s already being helped by a Boy Scout.  At best, it may be a misplaced belief that one has the objectively best or healthiest way to live, not recognizing that other religious stances may be just as happy or fulfilling.

  • Amaryllis

    Yes, I liked the analogy too. Which is why I’m sorry I can’t give credit to the Slacktivite who deserves it.

  • ako

    Glad you liked the analogy.  I said that in the last TF thread.

  • Amaryllis

    The last TF thread here? I could have sworn it was a Slacktiverse thing. I get confused…in any case, since my paraphrase seems to garnered a number of “Likes,” please consider them your own, credit where credit is due, with my thanks for the loan.

  • X

    Tonio: Interesting analogy. Three years ago, a new acquaintance–actually, my new mentor at my new job–started telling me about why he had become a vegetarian. Unprovoked. While we were at a barbecue. And there was a hamburger in my hand.

    I now have a new job.

    Fred: Brilliant post! I want to save it and read it again and again. Oh, hey, I can! Love you, Internets.

  • Daughter

    Similar story in my life:  I was at a mall with my mom when I was about 14, when an announcement came over the PA system about a missing 2-year-girl.  My mom and I walked on for a while, and then noticed a small crying girl who matched the description.  NO ONE else was paying attention to this child, so we walked over and asked if she was (whatever her name was).  She nodded, so we took her hands and told her we would take her to her mother.

    From out of nowhere, six women descended on us and started trying to snatch the girl from our hands, shouting things like, “I’ll take her back!” “No, I will!”  “No, I saw her first!”  It was nuts!  My mom and I held tightly to the child’s hands and we walked as a weird group back to the customer service booth where her mom was waiting, with all these women trying to hold on to pieces of the little girl’s clothing.

    I didn’t get the motivation of these women.  If they were concerned that my mom and I would try to harm the girl, they could have just followed us to make sure we didn’t.  But their attempts to snatch the child made it seem like they wanted to be heroes, even if they had to literally push and shove and grab to do so.

  • Anonymous

    WTF

    that’s horrible.

  • http://kippahandcollar.wordpress.com/ Alana

    Thank you for this. Actually, thank you for everything you write (because I never comment to say that), but especially thank you for this.

  • Ked

    It’s been a very long time since Fred coined “RTC”, and it’s become such an important definition/touchstone/element of jargon in the blog and its comments that it would be very nice if he could circle back over exactly what that concept covers.

    I read through the entire LB/Slacktivist backlog a couple of years ago, soon after I found the blog.  (We really need, as a community, to work on archiving those posts in a more readable form – not really fair to force all that work on Fred, but it’s getting harder and harder to find it all.)  The RTC definition gets covered over a few posts about the conversion experiences in LB1, and there’s a bit of really worthwhile nuance there.

  • Anonymous

    Um. I think that’s probably a bad idea, since although this is a community, the blog itself is Fred’s, and therefore archiving it somehow without his permission/consent/aid is a really bad idea. Also, IIRC, he’s got some kind of a contract with Patheos, and his stuff has to be hosted on here for now; archiving it elsewhere may break the rules of that contract.

    On the subject of RTC and so on, though, I don’t think anyone would be against a post on Slacktiverse (TBAT willing!) explaining what Key Words such as RTC, and… uh, the only other one I can think of right now is Nicky Things-Shakira-Doesn’t-Want-You-To-Confuse-Her-Breasts-With, but you get the idea.

  • Tana

    I’ve chosen to not read any LB posts prior to this one because the LB books scared the crap out of me and I still sometimes have trigger responses to anything relating to the End Days or rapture theology and the like. 

    For some reason I read this post and I’m just blown away.  This is such a terrific post.  Thank you for pulling back the curtain to reveal the wizard.

  • Beachfox

    On a side note, something that came to me… If you were trying to rewrite Left Behind to make a bit more sense, wouldn’t it be better if Jewson McJewitosh’s broadcast was the results of his team’s study into the possible Religious/Spiritual cause of -all of the children vanishing last month-?

    -That- is a broadcast that would grip the world’s attention, and -that- is a broadcast that would end with “The only possible explanation is the RTCs were right and we all need to convert post-haste.”

    Accepting Jesus Christ as the Messiah would follow naturally.

  • Anonymous

    great explanation Fred.

    keep up the good work

  • Anonymous

    You are a wise man, Fred. A very wise man.

  • Enoch Root

    “Is their distorted and unexamined self-concept a result of their distorted and unexamined concept of others? Or vice versa?”

    It’s because they can tell a story and get paid. That’s why. It’s in their self-interest to ignore reality and have ‘faith’ in a narrative. That’s why they’re so smug… They have a formula in their head that goes like this: “If I weren’t telling the truth, people wouldn’t respond. People respond, so it must be the truth. Even if they criticize me, it’s a response, so therefore it must be the truth.” And that’s the rationale that allows them to ignore reality.

  • Enoch Root

    “4. Your story is not an argument.”

    I remember once visiting a friend who was very ‘out’ as an evangelical, and had all evangelical friends. They were having a party and I was invited.

    So I went and said hi, and they welcomed me in, and my friend said, “This is Enoch, our pagan friend.” Har har. Thanks a lot, dude.

    After an initial moment of shock, the evangelicals all began to pair off. They started telling their conversion stories to each other. I exchanged looks with my friend. He was as baffled as I was. We had both figured they’d start hating me, but instead they had started hating themselves, and had to reboot and start from the moment of conversion. Which I guess was marginally better from my perspective, but still…

    So I made a big pentagram on the floor out of hors d’oeuvres and stood inside it all night reading Aleister Crowley. No big. :-)

  • Enoch Root

    “4. Your story is not an argument.”

    I remember once visiting a friend who was very ‘out’ as an evangelical, and had all evangelical friends. They were having a party and I was invited.

    So I went and said hi, and they welcomed me in, and my friend said, “This is Enoch, our pagan friend.” Har har. Thanks a lot, dude.

    After an initial moment of shock, the evangelicals all began to pair off. They started telling their conversion stories to each other. I exchanged looks with my friend. He was as baffled as I was. We had both figured they’d start hating me, but instead they had started hating themselves, and had to reboot and start from the moment of conversion. Which I guess was marginally better from my perspective, but still…

    So I made a big pentagram on the floor out of hors d’oeuvres and stood inside it all night reading Aleister Crowley. No big. :-)

  • Muenchner_Kindl

    First, excellent post as usually, Fred.

    Second, one thing I missed in the list about what evangelism should and should not be – it’s probably implied in the “being polite” part – is that for many people outside the US, faith is a very personal thing, and that the very idea of being badgered at your door or on the train whether you’ve been saved is horrendous. It’s more intimate for many people than asking about your sex life; a bit like asking about your relationship with your spouse.

    So you only talk with very good friends about your faith, and only if the occasion warrants it, and if somebody declines to talk about it because they don’t feel comfortable discussing such personal things, that’s okay.

    Discussing theology is different, because it deals at least partly with facts. But you still need a good friend and not just a casual aquaintance for that.

    And of course the RTCs can’t discuss theology because they don’t know any, they believe what their pastor tells them, who apparently also doesn’t automatically have a theological education.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Ya know, now that you mention it, the way some people ‘evangelize’ isn’t all that different from this scene from a very bad movie…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pJEPtxjDmM

    “So anyway, how is your sex life?” Its just as shocking and “What?!” causing, but somehow when the question is about faith rather than sex, it’s ‘okay’.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    That entire movie is a series of the Most Awkward Exchanges on Earth, played completely straight.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    I know, it’s awesome for that

    I think the one in the video is my favorite though, it’s just so very “What.” >_<

  • Bificommander

    Would the content of this post have something to do with a certain disliked commenter demanding Fred evangelizes more? Either way, I’d say Monoblade is 0 for 4 on Fred’s points.

    As I think (but not know) that I’m right, I’m not a big fan of evangelizing personally, because I think it is incorrect, but I think Fred outlines some nice points. I wouldn’t mind sitting next to an evangelizer like Fred in a stopped train. I’d like a nice discussion. And hey, maybe I will change my mind.

    But as much as I would like otherwise, I’m not sure it is truely the only, or even most, effective way of evangelizing. The missionaries in Africa weren’t very friendly to my knowledge, but racked up impressive conversion rates, to the point that most internationally organized churches currently have conflicts between the more liberal Europian branches and the conservative African branches (see the angelical church and it’s treatment of women and gays). I wish it didn’t work, but it does apparently.

    And a side note, I think an essential part of good evangelizing should be to, as Fred did, let go of Hell. Aside from any theological arguments, it’s bad to tell someone the good news about the true and righteous God… while simultaneously saying that your potential convertee, as he is now, will be damned to everlasting torment. That is not Good news, and it will strain your credibility and (if it exists) your friendship with your subject, when you essentially tell him that you do consider his eventual damnation for what he is now an act by a good and just God.

  • Tonio

    Their central message is not, “Repent before it is too late because I do
    not want you to suffer all these torments I am describing,” but rather,
    “You’ll see, you’ll suffer all these torments and then you’ll realize too late that we were right.”

    It’s possible that LaHaye and Jenkins may indeed “believe that such a message constitutes evangelism.” But my theory is that they never even intended for these books to evangelize, or that the evangelizing was low on their list of priorities. Instead, I suspect that their only or foremost agenda was pandering to the egos of people like themselves.

  • Anonymous

    As an atheist who is also a former Evangelical minister, all I can say is bless you, Fred. I think if Christians can put compassionate humanity back into play, everyone will be the better for it. I know firsthand how hard so many of these (particularly young) Christians push their Gospel without even understanding it’s very fundamentals. They go onward and upward with “Jesus loves you and died for you so that you might be saved from sin!”. They are equipped with a matchbook theology, and a fortune cookie faith.

    Add to it the haranguing one receives when one doesn’t accept. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard “you don’t understand the Bible!” in response to a polite “No thank you, I was a minister, and I do not consider the Bible to be the one true word of God.” It’s as if your perspective, your experiences, your own knowledge mean nothing, that if only you’d magically see it their way, you’d suddenly understand that you were so very wrong and they were very right.

    I don’t expect that to change, but I do hope more Christians take your advice, and that they really live the imperfect, fallible humanity in Christianity rather than just the rigid God-like perfection that they seem to strive for instead.

  • Tonio

    They are equipped with a matchbook theology, and a fortune cookie faith.

    And from the outside, such evangelists strike me as trying to meet their quota. Like they’re Ricky Roma or, more often, Shelley Levene. (Ugh, that would mean Alec Baldwin’s Blake was Jesus.) Years ago I went with a friend to an Excel Communications seminar for potential sellers, and everything about the presentation screamed “pyramid scheme.” That’s a good term for the type of evangelism that you describe.

  • Bificommander

    That attitude came to an ironic high-point in yet another Chick tract, which featured a reformed criminal who had converted his cellmate and a pair of missionaries that had set up a huge relief center in Africa but didn’t use the aid as a tool for evangelizing, dying in a plane-crash. The missionaries were send to hell by turbo-Jesus, while slamming them with ‘faith, not works’ verses… ignoring that the missionaries did have faith, and they were rejected for not converting people, instead paying attention to making their lives a bit better. In short, they were condemned for not doing the right work, despite having faith.

  • Tonio

    Yes, I referenced the Flight 144 tract in another thread. I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that would treat the idea without a shred of irony, someone who wouldn’t feel like retching at the idea that relieving suffering is a bad thing. One likely answer is that such people are so terrified at divine wrath that they worry that the god will blame them for the disobedience of others.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    everything about the presentation screamed “pyramid scheme.” That’s a good term for the type of evangelism that you describe.

    I’ve actually been thinking about starting The Church of the Holy Commission, whose main doctrine is “You Get Ten Percent.”  I just need to come up with a theology that’s not a TOTAL ripoff of the Church of the SubGenius….

  • Anonymous

    Reminds me of the Discworld religion of “Yen Buddhism”, which holds that
    money and possessions are what damn souls, so they nobly take it upon
    themselves to collect as much of both as they can, so as to reduce the
    amount out there to taint others.

  • Matri

    Reminds me of the Discworld religion of “Yen Buddhism”, which holds that
    money and possessions are what damn souls, so they nobly take it upon
    themselves to collect as much of both as they can, so as to reduce the
    amount out there to taint others.

    That is a good philosophy. I volunteer myself to collect your money & possessions.

    To save you all, that is. Yeah, let’s go with that…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    Man, I’ve been playing D&D since I was 12, and I never had “college sex.” Worse yet, I STILL can’t even cast Magic Missile!

    The RTCs lied to me!

  • Rikalous

    Worse yet, I STILL can’t even cast Magic Missile!

    Maybe you have rogue or fighter powers, instead. Have you tried picking locks or punching someone recently?

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Worse yet, I STILL can’t even cast Magic Missile!

    The RTCs lied to me!

    Well, that’s what happens when you play mostly fighters.  

    Obviously you need to play casters to get the “intense occult training” Jack Chick mentioned.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    Worse yet, I STILL can’t even cast Magic Missile!

    The RTCs lied to me!

    Well, that’s what happens when you play mostly fighters.  

    Obviously you need to play casters to get the “intense occult training” Jack Chick mentioned.

  • Bificommander

    Speaking of D&D=evil, Chick tracts, and the constant-shifters posts: On the Chick-site (sounds like a porn-website, doesn’t it?) below the D&D equals satanism cartoon was a link called Straight facts about D&D, which was bearing false witness with the title alone. But it got worse. It was written by someone who claimed to be a former practitioner of black magic. (See, this might be where that constant-shifter idea comes from. The crazier fundies include in their testimonies that they were in witch-covens or whatever before finding Jesus. I never heard anyone who wasn’t a fundie make such claims, which is no doubt evidence that satan has a stranglehold on his followers that only Christ can break, but if you live in such a subculture where this is regularly spoken, you might get the impression that six doomsday cults in your first 20 years is average for not-yet-RTCs)

     His claim was that the makers of D&D visited him to check their spell list, because they wanted to be sure that the spells in the player’s handbook and the way to cast them was all correct. This would be already hilarious if his claim ended with ‘so they are really fascinated with dark magic’, but that wasn’t all. He warned his readers that with the D&D manual in hand you could actually unleash fireballs and demons, that would kill your friends, even if you only meant to cast it in game. Just because you didn’t intent to cast a real spell didn’t matter. The rules were all very strict and clear, and it would be just like pulling the trigger of a gun: Even if you think the gun is fake, a real gun will still shoot, and the spell will still work.

    Yeah, this guy was far out. The best part: The D&D manual can’t contain an accurate description of how to cast a spell, because it doesn’t actually contain any description. It’s limited to saying if it involves saying words and/or moving your hands, but it doesn’t even say what the actual spell your wizard says is. All that’s listed is the spell components. But if intent doesn’t matter, and specific wording or motions can’t matter since they’re not listed, we’re lead to believe that anyone holding a pinch of sulfur while moving his hand  and talking to someone would shoot a fireball.

    This isn’t the kind of lie that you could fool yourself into believing. You might be able to convince yourself that you’re feeling God’s leading as you betitle gays, but you can’t in any way make yourself think that people stopped by your house for magical information that you insist they copied accurately even though they didn’t even write any information. Nor can you miss that there is a strange lack of documented cases of teens shooting lightning bolts, despite your claim they can do this by accident. It’s really, really blatant lying. For God!

  • Anonymous

    Bificommander: He warned his readers that with the D&D manual in hand you could
    actually unleash fireballs and demons, that would kill your friends,
    even if you only meant to cast it in game. Just because you didn’t
    intent to cast a real spell didn’t matter.

    Ah, so intent really isn’t magic: lack of intent is!

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Okay, so there was this time Randy Beaman was at boy scout camp, and he rolled maximum damage on a fireball spell and blew up everyone at the table.

    K’bye.

    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • Anonymous

    “What are you saying, that I am some sort of evangelist, that I’m trying to CONVERT you, that I am some sort of Jack Chick WANNABE?!”

    “Naw, naw, Pesto, that’s not what I’m sayin’!  I’m just saying you’ve got a good voice for preaching!”

    “ALL RIGHT, THAT’S IT!”

    Hilarity ensues. ^_^

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    *snerk* >_<

  • Anonymous

    *the “Animaniacs” fan in me cheers*

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Okay, so there was this time Randy Beaman was at boy scout camp, and he rolled maximum damage on a fireball spell and blew up everyone at the table.

    K’bye.

    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Okay, so there was this time Randy Beaman was at boy scout camp, and he rolled maximum damage on a fireball spell and blew up everyone at the table.

    K’bye.

    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Okay, so there was this time Randy Beaman was at boy scout camp, and he rolled maximum damage on a fireball spell and blew up everyone at the table.

    K’bye.

    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Okay, so there was this time Randy Beaman was at boy scout camp, and he rolled maximum damage on a fireball spell and blew up everyone at the table.

    K’bye.

    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • Anonymous

    It probably went down like this:

    The revealer of “Straight Facts” dabbled in dark magic, meaning that he probably read about it online and tried to make a potion or two.  Someone who was higher than him in the D&D world, such as a DM or even an organizer for some kind of convention heard about this guy’s involvement in the dark arts, and thought it sounded kinda cool.  So this person asked a few questions to make a campaign or convention have a certain feel to it.

    Through the power of narcissism and exaggeration, this guy who read about some spells online became a powerful dark magic practitioner.  He probably tried a potion or spell that had a very vague result, and then thought that it came true, such as a money spell where he found a coin on the sidewalk, or any of the ways that superstitions get started.  Then the DM or convention organizer became a maker of the actual game, and a few questions about atmosphere became an in-depth study of how to actually cast magic.

    He could be completely lying, but it’s also possible that he really has deluded himself into believing his ridiculous story.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. A fundamentalist I went to high-school with must have read that Chick Tract or similar propaganda, because he pretty much said all of those things to me during one of our many arguments, except he presented it as first-hand knowledge obtained through a friend of his (which, if true (which it clearly wasn’t), is technically second-hand information). He also claimed that he saw said friend levitate using the second-level Magic User spell and that he “cast the demon out” and brought his friend to Jesus right then an there. Talk about living in a fantasy world!

    On the other hand, the pair of brothers who taught me to play AD&D were both devout and rather conservative Christians and all of their characters were Christian as well.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Pelor commands you have no other gods before Him.  >.>

  • Rikalous

    Given that the Player’s Handbook shows his cleric casting an evil spell (symbol of pain), Pelor might be closer to RoboJesus than you’d think.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ JJohnson

    Ya know that reminds me of something I saw on the Giant In the Playground forums last year.  It was a list of reasons why Pelor is the most evil god. >.>  It was surprisingly convincing!

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    His claim was that the makers of D&D visited him to check their spell list, because they wanted to be sure that the spells in the player’s handbook and the way to cast them was all correct

    Sounds like he’s trying to be the Mike Warnke of D&D.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    His claim was that the makers of D&D visited him to check their spell list, because they wanted to be sure that the spells in the player’s handbook and the way to cast them was all correct

    Sounds like he’s trying to be the Mike Warnke of D&D.

  • http://profiles.google.com/james.e.hanley James Hanley

    Not too many people try to evangelize to me anymore, but I think the last one who did–a student (and a very bright and nice young man)–fell into this misled world of evangelism.  He was surprised to find I knew all the verses and arguments he had been equipped with (as we actually shared a very similar evangelical upbringing), so he realized I couldn’t be in the ignorant camp.  But from my responses he could tell I also wasn’t in the malicious camp, because I just wasn’t being nasty in any way.  The both funny and sad conclusion was when he asked if I’d mind if he prayed for me and I responded, “Sure–it can’t hurt me; if anything it can only do me good,” and he looked disconcerted by my failure to reject his offer.

  • http://profiles.google.com/james.e.hanley James Hanley

    Tana wrote:

    I still sometimes have trigger responses to anything relating to the End Days or rapture theology and the like

    I totally empathize with that.  That damned Larry Norman song still has the ability to make me feel like a terrified young adolescent.

  • patter

    “by the 1990s when these books were typed”

    Well played, sir.  [Mental image here of Jerry dutifully banging out his 1500 words per day, literature and/or theology be damned.]

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    strange that all the stories from people who said left behind changed their lives came from 2003.

  • Anonymous

    There have been few articles posted on the Left Behind website since the last book of the main series — Glorious Appearing — was released in 2004. 

    It seems that the only site updates involve promotion of the new books:
    * Collector Edition Series — all 12 books combined into four volumes,
    * “new look” books — all 12 books with spiffy new covers and some content updates (e.g. explaining why Buck had to use a pay phone instead of his cell phone, euros instead of marks, etc.)

  • Anonymous

    What they don’t pay with marks in Europe, but with so called “euros”.

    That makes no sense whatsoever.

  • Anonymous

    Original (from Chapter 1 of Left Behind):

    Streamlining world finance to three major currencies had taken years, but once the change was made, most were happy with it. All of Europe and Russia dealt exclusively in marks. Asia, Africa, and the Middle East traded in yen. North and South America and Australia dealt in dollars. A move was afoot to go to one global currency, but those nations that had reluctantly switched once were loath to do it again.

    Updated:

    All of Europe and Russia dealt exclusively in euros. Asia, Africa, and the Middle East traded in yen…

    Or something like that.

  • Anonymous

    I was kidding I have read that excerpt already and I am from Europe.

  • Bificommander

    So now one of L&J’s biblically predicted prophecies shown in the book has come true, even if it took a rewrite after the fact to do it. Wow, L&J are so sensitive to the spirit of the modern age! Reading Left Behind is as if you’re really there, it’s so life-like!

  • Anonymous

    A pastor in Illinois, while reading the signature first volume in the series, suddenly felt compelled to visit his cancer-stricken neighbor. After reading to him from the novel, he urged his friend to open his heart and receive Christ as Savior. The neighbor eagerly said the sinner’s prayer and reached out in faith to trust the Lord. A few hours later, he died.

    An atheist in Great Britain surrendered his doubts and opened his hard heart to Christ while reading Tribulation Force, the second volume in the series.

    A group of women in a Georgia rest home proclaimed tearfully, “We don’t want to be left behind!” after listening to a visitor read from the first book of the series.

    An alcoholic in Boston read the message in these books and trusted Christ because, as he said, “I want to see my mother in heaven.”

    Former drug addicts are overcoming the habits that have enslaved them and are finding hope and joy. The difficulties faced and defeated by Rayford, Chloe, and Buck in the Left Behind series have given them the vision and courage to confront their own troubles.

    From the introduction to These Will Not Be Left Behind: Incredible Stories of Lives Transformed After, Reading the Left Behind Novels (p xii)

  • http://www.facebook.com/marchantshapiro Andrew Abrams Marchant-Shapiro

    Incredible:

    See definition (1) below…

    http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/incredible

  • Anonymous

    A group of women in a Georgia rest home proclaimed tearfully, “We don’t want to be left behind!” after listening to a visitor read from the first book of the series.

    This doesn’t even sound like a conversion story.  Instead of using visiting time to entertain or simply listen to the residents of a rest home, someone used the opportunity to proselytize to a captive audience.  That’s bad enough, but to terrorize these women with a horror story/revenge fantasy in order to convert them is shameful.  On top of this, he or she got the warm fuzzies from the women’s tears and bragged about doing “God’s Work.”  Disgraceful.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how many people tearfully convert on the spot routinely just to mess with this sort of shaliach.

    Would be an interesting characteristic for a rather unpleasant but funny character in a novel.

  • Rikalous

    Former drug addicts are overcoming the habits that have enslaved them
    and are finding hope and joy. The difficulties faced and defeated by
    Rayford, Chloe, and Buck in the Left Behind series have given them the
    vision and courage to confront their own troubles.

    So, did they have to slog through a couple books to get to the “difficulties faced and defeated” or are the former junkies drawing strength from Buck fearlessly crying after Stonegal got shot?

  • Randall M

    A pastor in Illinois, while reading the signature first volume in the
    series, suddenly felt compelled to visit his cancer-stricken neighbor.
    After reading to him from the novel, he urged his friend to open his
    heart and receive Christ as Savior. The neighbor eagerly said the
    sinner’s prayer and reached out in faith to trust the Lord. A few hours
    later, he died.

    So, read Left Behind and die.  Left Behind will kill you.  Good job dodging a bullet, Fred.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    DnD and bullying…
    I was bullied in Junior High School.
    I started playing DnD as a senior in High School.
    Time gap = 3 years.
    Now, I was a social outcast, because I read science fiction and fantasy, was too skinny, didn’t have proper personal hygiene or in style clothing… and the DnD group only cared about part one.
    I played (and still play) DnD because I could meet the standards of the social group without changing who *I* am.

    To be a member of a social group especially at the Jr. High/High School level, you must read what the group reads, wear what the group wears, groom as the group grooms, and reference the same music, movies and television.  Since I already had three of the four for DnD, I fit in without trying.

    But this is my personnel experience, and I realize that others might be different.

  • Anonymous

    I would say that the “dispassionate observer” model of conversion is the single biggest trope in contemporary Christian evangelism.  It’s Lee Strobel’s schtick-in-trade, of course, but it seems as though every apologist has jumped on board the bandwagon.  Heck, Kirk Cameron even begins his schmaltzy sales pitch with “When I was a devout atheist…”, somehow forgetting that he lived his teenage years as a celebrity and hence we can verify that his story is a lie from beginning to end.

    I love Fred’s use of the “car salesman” analogy.  Do these people honestly not understand that we can see through these transparently ridiculous lies?  When Lee Strobel tells us he’s a “former atheist” out to “ask the hard questions!”, does he honestly think we’re so stupid that we can’t click over to wikipedia and see that he’s been making his money shilling for (his brand of) Jesus for three decades?

  • Anonymous

    According to Wikipedia, Lee Strobel was born in 1952. He became a pastor in 1987. There’s plenty of time to have gone from atheist to RTC in there. I think the statement that he’s lying about having been an atheist unnecessarily assumes bad faith. 

  • Anonymous

    Apparently you’ve never read anything Strobel has written.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    I read Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” back in the late 1990’s.  It convinced me that Mr. Strobel was a lawyer, and like most lawyers only presents the side of the arguement that makes his client look good.  The very first chapter was about eyewitness testimony, and was very good, but then the rest of the book doesn’t have any eyewitness testimony *at all*.  His entire case is based on expert witnesses and hearsay.

  • Tonio

    I just found out from Jack Chick’s Wikipedia page that he apparently claims that the Vatican created Islam. Right now my brain has a WTF the size of the Hollywood sign. Any idea why fundamentalism is so hostile to Christianity?

  • Ken

    Ben-Judah was simply a disinterested, unbiased, rational scholar drawing disinterested, unbiased, rational conclusions from the study of sacred texts that are obviously and self-evidently authoritative to any such unbiased and rational reader. […] But that is not how it happened — for him or for anyone else.

    Because it’s impossible.  The only way such a thing could happen would be a big Skinner Box (or Truman Show set if you prefer) where several children were raised from birth.  They would have to have absolutely no exposure to religion or religious concepts – itself probably impossible – until they reached some chosen level of maturity.  Then you give them the religious texts to read, and see how they evaluate them.

    Even then there would be problems.  About halfway through the first sentence – whether from “In the beginning, God” or “In the name of Allah” – they’re going to ask “What does this word ‘God’ (‘Allah’, ‘Brahma’, ‘Ameratsu’) mean?” and how do you explain without instantly invalidating the experiment?

  • http://profiles.google.com/stantaylor Stan Taylor

    Fred, it would be great if you could incorporate the ‘how to do evangelism’ part of this post into a separate post so that I could direct people to it without them having to read it in the context of your TF critique.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    Been playing video games since I was two years old here, so I’m not sure how bullying might have influenced me. Then again, despite being a total and unabashed nerd, I was one of the popular kids, so who knows.

    D&D since I was 14, I’m through college, and I haven’t had any “college sex” either.

    A Catholic alternative to Harry Potter? Ummmm….A random kid who isn’t that special (God/Jesus is the only “chosen one”) is selected to go to a Catholic school? Where he or she (who am I kidding, it’s a he) has “wacky hijinks” and learns that God hates it when people do “wacky hijinks,” and then he cleaves directly to dogma in every way? Seriously, what the hell would a Catholic version even LOOK like. The Pentecostals might be able to crank out a half-way decent epic fantasy of the battle of good and evil, but Catholicism? I ain’t buying it.

  • Rikalous

    Seriously, what the hell would a Catholic version even LOOK like. The
    Pentecostals might be able to crank out a half-way decent epic fantasy
    of the battle of good and evil, but Catholicism? I ain’t buying it.

    Well, Catholicism is the one with all the patron saints of things like lost causes and people with dangerous jobs. In the hands of a decent writer, there’s a lot of material there. Sadly, the Good Christian Alternative (TM) is almost always dreck (I’m told the Christian metal band Burning Broadway is good, though).

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    The Good Christian Alternative tends to be too self-conscious and that’s what makes it dreck. When you’re constantly trying to stay on message you end up with an advert not a story.

    They’d have something shinier and better if they weren’t trying so hard.

  • http://twitter.com/shutsumon Becka Sutton

    The Good Christian Alternative tends to be too self-conscious and that’s what makes it dreck. When you’re constantly trying to stay on message you end up with an advert not a story.

    They’d have something shinier and better if they weren’t trying so hard.

  • Anonymous

    This idea – that those who disagree with you are evenly divisible into the bad and the dumb is not unique to religion.  In fact, I’d say it tends to arise within ANY group
    where the “answer” hinges on specialized knowledge and the
    interpretation thereof.

    Academics: People who disagree with my clear interpretation of the data are either too stupid to see the plain facts, or somehow captured by outside interests who
    wish to sway their interpretation.

    Computer Programmers:  There is clearly only one correct way to do this particular task, and there is only one tool chain that can be used to do it.  Failure to learn this is demonstrative of either your laziness or incompetence.

    Advertising People: Clearly, the campaign that I just came up with is better than your prior campaign.  The people who sold you that load of garbage previously were either there to collect the pay check (and nothing more) or had no idea what they were doing.

    Your wife (if you’re male): There’s some reason you can’t remember to close the
    toilet seat right?  Either you’re just a dumb hairy idiot of a male, or you’re secretly rebelling against her by little acts like this because you think she’s a fat nag.

    Your husband(if you’re female): Why on EARTH can’t you remember to get your oil
    changed?  It isn’t that hard.  Clearly you’re either just an empty-headed little girl or MY priorities don’t really matter to you as long as you get what you want.

    So, yes, I know you’ve probably never actually had those thoughts about your SO (if you have one) – but you’ve probably ascribed motives to them that they didn’t have.  Someone
    has done something to hurt you, or annoy you, or disagree with you, and you immediately think that they must either be dumb or bad. This sort of thinking is EASY, which is why it’s so prevalent.  I’d wager that most peoples first reaction, when other people do something that
    they perceive as wronging them in some way is not to try to place themselves in the others subjectivity, but to look for a simple explanation.  There’s nothing particularly WRONG with this – it’s human nature, and it’s probably a pretty good strategy (evolutionarily speaking) to classify as dumb or mean people who continually do things against your interests.

    But you can’t CONTINUE to think this way about everyone, or you develop that weird “Baptist Persecution Complex” – you have to be able to say to yourself.  “I wouldn’t have done this that way, but maybe I can understand why they did.” Without the “why they did” being “because they’re stupid” or “because they’re bad.”  They are tough thoughts to
    think, because invariably you have to address the idea that maybe in fact YOU were wrong, and that YOU might not be that good or that smart.  Even if you arrive at “well, different strokes” you had to pass through there, and it can be an uncomfortable place to be.

    edit: Fix the freaky linebreaks.

  • Tonio

    The “bad or dumb” equation is most likely the product of arrogance rooted in insecurity. You’re right that questioning the equation means confronting the possibility that one may be wrong or bad or dumb. But no one is arguing that this is unique to religion. The issue is when this equation shows up in religion, it usually takes the form of the dissenters deserving divine wrath or eternal damnation.

    …unless someone has written an IT version of Left Behind: “LB++.” All the Python programmers are Raptured and converted to digital storage. Visual Basic becomes the default language and the Iteration Force sets out to spread the knowledge of Python before it’s too late…

  • Anonymous

    The issue is when this equation shows up in religion, it usually takes the form of the dissenters deserving divine wrath or eternal damnation. 

     

    I’m guessing you don’t read Slashdot or Hacker News.

  • Tonio

    I’m guessing you don’t read Slashdot or Hacker News.

    I’m guessing that when a programmer says that users of rival languages deserve Regular Expressions Hell, such comments are intended as tongue in cheek.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marchantshapiro Andrew Abrams Marchant-Shapiro

    w/r/t LB++

    May I recommend two *very* ancient newsgroups in this regard?  They were around 30 years or so ago:

    alt.religion.emacs
    alt.religion.vi

    Or you could always raise the “There are 10 types of people in the world” argument.  You know:

    1.  Those who understand binary.
    10.  Those who don’t.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    …unless someone has written an IT version of Left Behind: “LB++.” All the Python programmers are Raptured and converted to digital storage. Visual Basic becomes the default language and the Iteration Force sets out to spread the knowledge of Python before it’s too late…

    Theology from an IT perspective.

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    FearlessSon,

    I love stuff done from IT perspectives. My favourite is the database engineer’s guide to gay marriage.

    TRiG.

  • Tonio

    The database engineer implies something that I’ve suspected for a while – that opposition to homosexuality often stems from beliefs about gender roles, or both share a common source.

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    The opponents of gay same sex marriage almost explicitly say as much. They insist on the absolute complementarity of men and women and that same sex marriages violate that complementarity.

    Even when they do accept same sex relationships, it’s virtually always in the context of assigning an opposite sex gender role to one of the partners (in a gay relationship, one of the partners must be “the woman,” and in a lesbian relationship, one of them must be “the man”), so that while they aren’t insisting on the complementarity of the the sexes, they are insisting, consciously or otherwise, to the complementarity of gender roles. Actually, this last point is endemic even to proponents of same sex marriage and contributes heavily to/is derived from the intense sexual/gender binarism we have as a society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

    I’ve made the argument before here so I’ll stick to the TL:DR version: The anti-equality movements big concern is not that same-sex marriage will result in society seeing gay men as equal, it’s that it will result in society seeing women as equal, which is a much bigger threat to their precious privilege.

    Actually, this last point is endemic even to proponents of same sex
    marriage and contributes heavily to/is derived from the intense
    sexual/gender binarism we have as a society.

    Hardly endemic. Far too common, certainly, but many of us that support marriage equality do so for the same reasons that we oppose gender roles and the sexual and gender binary that our society has: a belief in and commitment to liberty and justice. For me, that is derived from my religious beliefs as a Quaker, others’ reasons are their own.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    …unless someone has written an IT version of Left Behind: “LB++.” All the Python programmers are Raptured and converted to digital storage. Visual Basic becomes the default language and the Iteration Force sets out to spread the knowledge of Python before it’s too late…

    Theology from an IT perspective.

  • http://www.aqualgidus.org/ Michael Chui

    There’s a reason why these are often called “religious wars”.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Computer Programmers:  There is clearly only one correct way to do this particular task, and there is only one tool chain that can be used to do it.

    Any computer programmer who thinks that way is not a good programmer. Systems are so complex that the only way to be good at it is to be able to hit a problem from as many angles as possible, even if you have to invent them.

    (Though as thedailywtf.com shows, there are a *lot* of bad programmers out there.)

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Computer Programmers:  There is clearly only one correct way to do this particular task, and there is only one tool chain that can be used to do it.

    Any computer programmer who thinks that way is not a good programmer. Systems are so complex that the only way to be good at it is to be able to hit a problem from as many angles as possible, even if you have to invent them.

    (Though as thedailywtf.com shows, there are a *lot* of bad programmers out there.)

  • chris the cynic

    It’s not an archive, but there is an index to the Left Behind posts at Right Behind.  The index stretches from the first Left Behind post until August 10, 2010 (so it’s out of date now.)  Even within that time period the index is incomplete though.  I know that it is missing at least two posts, but I only know what one of them is (By the rivers of Babylon.)

    Anyway, even with those problems it is still a useful resource.The index is here:http://exharpazo.blogspot.com/2007/01/index-to-slactivists-left-behind.html

  • Anonymous

    My friends and I got into D&D in fifth grade, and that was a good two years before the ostracism and bullying set in, thankyouverymuch.  We did have to deal with the D&D-is-Satan crowd from the very beginning, though — this was the early ’80s, when the backlash was pretty strong and even fairly mainstream.  I remember one televangelist brandishing the Player’s Handbook (1st edition, naturally) and the big demonic idol on the cover.  Of course, in that picture, the characters aren’t worshipping the idol but looting it — but hey, when did any fundamentalist ever let a little something like context get in the way of a good self-righteous head of steam?  As noted in the Disney talk in the other thread, this is a class of people for whom any portrayal of something — even portrayal as bad or villainous — is interpreted as an endorsement.

    D&D was very educational for Li’l Vermic because it taught me early on that grown-ups can sometimes be really fucking stupid.  I would watch articulate, well-dressed adults on TV talking smack about D&D, and I would think, “I’m only 10 years old and even I know that’s bullshit.”  They also helped me grasp the concept of irony, because they would claim that D&D would muddle your ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and would also teach you to SUMMON DEMONS, WHICH ARE REAL THINGS.

    Gary Gygax never taught me any spells that worked, but I did learn a whole bunch of Latin phrases from the DMG so I guess that’s close.

  • Tonio

    I never got into D&D even though I would have been a good candidate. First, I was always more interested in science fiction than in fantasy – I’ve never read LOTR and only read The Hobbit when I was in my 30s. Second, when it first became popular, I was going through a rough stretch in school where I wanted to be accepted by my peers. Most of the kids I knew who were into D&D seemed nerdy, and I didn’t want to give people a reason to call me names. From probably third grade until I was at least a junior in high school, my definition of a good day was no one calling me a name when I walked by (“retard” when I was younger, “faggot” when I was older). In retrospect, I was being horribly unfair to the D&D fans.

  • Reverend Ref

    @f4454954e784e0a00b6fa1dd89e9bfa1:disqus
    Muenchner: the very idea of being badgered at your door or on the train whether
    you’ve been saved is horrendous. It’s more intimate for many people than
    asking about your sex life; a bit like asking about your relationship
    with your spouse.

    A Bishop I used to know said that when he was going through the dog & pony show (what we Episcopalians call the local episcopal election process), someone asked him about his “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”

    He replied, “It’s like my relationship with my wife — personal.”

    They elected him anyway.

  • Anonymous

    The “malicious or ignorant” dichotomy contains the classic 19th century Liberal idea that if people are given knowledge they will naturally make correct decisions (based on knowledge and reason).  [Yes it is a flawed notion especially in the light of quantum uncertainty, Schrodinger’s Cat and other non-deterministic notions affecting epistemological questions.]  The modern version shows up in political discourse as “Stupid or Lying” which pretty much describes last night’s dog and pony show on CNN.

  • chris the cynic

    The “malicious or ignorant” dichotomy contains the classic 19th century Liberal idea that if people are given knowledge they will naturally make correct decisions (based on knowledge and reason).

    I’m pretty sure that Socrates made that argument in his defense.  It failed, as evidenced by him being put to death, but the fact that it was made (assuming I’m remembering correctly) seems to indicate that it’s somewhat older than the 19th century.

  • Anonymous

    One year in summer camp, I was picked on fairly regularly by a kid who I later learned was into Traveller.  Had I but known, maybe we might’ve bonded over the planetary government randomization table or something.  Or maybe not.  By junior high, due in large point to my A grades and lousy coordination, it was obvious that my bottom-tier social standing had already been decided for me.  There wasn’t any point in trying to change by jettisoning unpopular hobbies like D&D, so I figured I might as well be the nerdiest nerd I knew how to be.  I mean — if you’re going to be seen as strange no matter what you do –then why not openly carry a Grimtooth’s Traps sourcebook around everywhere you go?  Why not?

    Of course, every kid takes their adolescent lumps in their own way; that’s just the shape mine took.  (With only one exception I know: I once had a girlfriend comment that junior high was the happiest years of her life.  I stared at her like she’d just sprouted a third ear from her forehead.)

    An atheist in Great Britain surrendered his doubts and opened his hard heart to Christ while reading Tribulation Force, the second volume in the series.

    I wish the person in this testimonial actually existed (oh, of course he doesn’t exist, he’s as made-up as Buck’s journalism skills), because that’s a story I’d love to hear in more detail.  Which is the scene that did it, do you think?  The cookie scene?  The chapter where nothing interesting happens?  The other chapter where nothing interesting happens?

  • Anonymous

    Vermic: I wish the person in this testimonial actually existed (oh, of course
    he doesn’t exist, he’s as made-up as Buck’s journalism skills), because
    that’s a story I’d love to hear in more detail.  Which is the scene
    that did it, do you think?  The cookie scene?  The chapter where nothing
    interesting happens?  The other chapter where nothing interesting
    happens?

    My guess is that they’re trying to claim Jew McHugeJew’s speech here actually managed to convert a flesh-and-blood person:

    “Why, now that he mentions it, Jesus was born of a virgin and rose from the dead!  That probably means he was the messiah!  Why’d I never think of that before?”

  • Tonio

    Why not?

    My answer back then was simple – I didn’t want anyone to be mean to me, physically or emotionally. It seemed to me at the time that what people thought of me was the single largest determinant for how they treated me. My unspoken attitude was, “If you don’t like me, then leave me alone, but get off my case.” It felt like the only way I could stop people from being mean to me was to go to classes with a Rottweiler. Even if I was only being ridiculed by a few classmates, it still created what a human resources expert would call a hostile environment.

    An atheist in Great Britain surrendered his doubts and opened his hard
    heart to Christ while reading Tribulation Force, the second volume in
    the series.

    That sounds similar to the Sean Hannity show, which has been accused of broadcasting staged phone calls. They’re usually of the “Democrat who hates Obama” variety.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post. Calvinists in particular have a tendency to assume that the #1 thing you need to know about Christianity is the correct theological setup, and launch straight into an argument about it, instead of explaining why they care about the finer points of doctrine in the first place.

  • Nanananana

    I’ve only ever met one kid who played WoW and he was both popular and an asshole.

    So that kills any stereotype right there. Harry Potter only gets you ostracized in Christian communities (that happened o me in elementary school to no end. My 5th grade TEACHER told me it was an evil book) however as people matured they realized it was actuallya good series an I’ve now set up a midnight showing facebook event for it :)

    Does anyone else read Chick Tracys for pure fun? Haw haw.

  • Anonymous

    WRT D&D, my mom was told by my cousin that she (my cousin) saw with her own eyes the steps for performing Satanic rituals in the D&D manuals.  When we visited them that summer, I read all of her son’s D&D manuals cover to cover, but never saw anything like that.  Finally I asked him and he said that she was probably talking about the procedure for changing alignment.

    To the day she died, my mom believed my cousin’s “there’s a Satanic ritual in them thar books” story over my “it’s all numbers and stuff about rolling dice” story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Pelikan/100000903137143 Jonathan Pelikan

    Every time I read about “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” for history or literature or something, I got really, really angry about it. Fred, you give entirely too much credit to ‘scare them straight’ people in terms of good intentions. Or, at least, I’d argue that such intentions don’t matter a single little bit when people are being harassed and traumatized by such an assault on them. 

    Maybe it’s because I’m an atheist, but it’s the same sort of ghastly, open moral dumpster fire as, say, when the preacher at my greatgrandmother’s funeral proselytized directly at me and my mom and dad. That guy knew this was his only chance to get me in a church, and great-grand would have been honestly okay with it… but holy shit. What unabashed, life-draining evil. It’s hard to explain how far that shifted me away from ever considering his message. His intent doesn’t matter one single bit at this point because he has failed before his argument began.

    If I may, your blog has been the closest I’ve ever come to going back, just because I agree with you so often and you’ve taught me a ton about Christianity; in fact, you sound a lot like my (pagan, but total literal living saint) mom in many ways. (I actually will need scientific evidence of the space jesus thing, but we agree on fundamentals like love and justice, so our differences seem so much smaller than the void between you and Fred Phelps.)

    In that way, strictly on the basis of ‘results’ that RTCs care about, you are a superior Christian to every fundamentalist and aggressive preacher on the planet. (Oh and in moral and intellectual ways too but that’s beyond the point) I have to believe you’ve won some people somewhere over, as opposed to, oh, say, Moonblade, who I am entirely sure will never convince anyone to think anything aside from wondering if he’s an adult infant or just a troll having a good time at the expense of more honest people.

  • Anonymous

    I think that what Fred’s describing is a perfectly decent way to behave, but it just doesn’t sound like evangelism to me.  I’m not going to say that he’s wrong to use the word that way, but it just doesn’t sound like a great way to win converts.  If you follow Fred’s advice, you’ll convince people that your coreligionists are decent folk, you’ll have genuine friendships with people who don’t believe as you do, and everyone involved will better understand everyone else’s beliefs.  These are all wonderful things which to my atheist mind are much more important than actually converting people, but I wouldn’t say it’s evangelizing.  One could argue that the people being interacted with are more likely to convert than they would be without this relationship, but the same can be said for the Christian.

    I also wouldn’t say that evangelism isn’t (intended to be persuasive) argument.  The evangelism I’m most comfortable with is argument.  Other sorts of evangelism have always struck me as fairly cultish – (conversion) evangelism by example or emotional appeal or high-pressure selling is most effective on vulnerable people.  I’ve had a lot of fun with religious arguments with Christian friends of mine, and, while we never go in expecting the other person to change his/her mind, there’s at least a presumption that the purpose of the argument is to try to resolve a disagreement.  And a lot of times you do resolve disagreements on the edges.

    I have liberal Christian friends who would agree with this post wholeheartedly, but they’re not interested in converting anyone.  My more conservatively religious friends wouldn’t agree at all, and I think it’d be because Fred’s not really talking about trying to convert people.  I think it’s fine to say that Christians shouldn’t try to convert others, but I don’t think you’ll convince people by using “evangelism” to mean something other than what they mean by it.

  • hapax

     

    I think that what Fred’s describing is a perfectly decent way to behave, but it just doesn’t sound like evangelism to me. 

    Well, the root of “evangelism” is “Good News.”

    Whether or not this is “evangelism” depends greatly on what you think the “good news” is.

    If you think that the Gospel is “God hates you right now, but if you say this magic spell it will get you out of His eternal torture chamber!” — probably not so much.

    If you think (as I do) that the Gospel is “The Kingdom of Heaven is in the midst of us!  Right here and right now!  Let’s all go and act like it!” — well, there really isn’t any other way to do it other than “behaving perfectly decently”, at the barest minimum.  “Genuine friendships” and “better mutual understanding” sound like pretty sound techniques as well.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Gotchaye, have you considered that some people might consider what Fred’s describing to be evangelism because that behaviour led to their own conversion? I’d say people who have “been evangelised” would be decent judges of what constitutes evangelism, and for a whole lot of people it wasn’t argument about theological statements that did it.

  • Tonio

    I would suggest that evangelism is not behavior that leads to the conversion of others, but behavior that is intended to produce conversion.

  • Tonio

    I would suggest that evangelism is not behavior that leads to the conversion of others, but behavior that is intended to produce conversion.

  • Anonymous

    Hapax: Sorry, I was trying to be clear that what Fred’s describing sounds pretty great to me, and I want to stress that I’m not even saying that he’s incorrect to use evangelism in the way that he does.  I’m just saying that it’s not consistent with the sense in which I would tend to use the word, nor do I think it matches up very well with what many Christians mean when they use the word.  Lots of people read “evangelism” as something to do with effective or intended conversion of the evangelized to the religious beliefs of the evangelizer.  Fred seems to me to be more or less rejecting this as a goal.  I’m saying that, for a lot of people, half of what Fred’s saying can fairly be characterized as “stop evangelizing” (noting that he himself understands what he’s describing as evangelizing so that he can still fairly call himself an evangelical, etc.)

    Sgt. Pepper: I’d thought of that, but the problem with the kind of thing that Fred’s describing is that it’s fairly symmetric.  He’s just saying to do what any decent person of any religion should do.  If a Christian who evangelizes in this sense is likely to convert someone else, then surely the Christian is also likely to be converted, since nothing about Fred’s evangelism is one-way.  I’d further argue that, in the United States, a Christian who takes Fred’s approach is far more likely to end up no longer a Christian (by that person’s original standards) than to convert even one person (averaged over all Christians).  Almost any interaction between Christians and non-Christians is likely to produce some converts if the scale is large enough, but I don’t know that I’d therefore say that any interaction is evangelism.  I’ll certainly grant that argument has probably not converted many people.  But I’m not sure that Fred’s approach has a great track record either.  Seems to me that the most notably effective conversion efforts have been strongly intended to produce converts (historical missionaries, for example), but that’s starting to get pretty far afield.

  • Lori

     I’d thought of that, but the problem with the kind of thing that Fred’s describing is that it’s fairly symmetric.  He’s just saying to do what any decent person of any religion should do.  If a Christian who evangelizes in this sense is likely to convert someone else, then surely the Christian is also likely to be converted, since nothing about Fred’s evangelism is one-way.  I’d further argue that, in the United States, a Christian who takes Fred’s approach is far more likely to end up no longer a Christian (by that person’s original standards) than to convert even one person (averaged over all Christians).  

    Your position is that Fred’s approach is not evangelism because American Christian’s have weak beliefs and can only hold onto their faith if they stick to practicing a dueling religions version of asymmetric warfare? 

  • Anonymous

    This is unfair.  I’ve said that, for me, evangelism is about trying to convert people.  I’m hardly alone in that.  I’ve stressed that I don’t think Fred is wrong to use it another way, but I do think it’s important to see that these uses are different.

    But yes, Fred’s approach is not effective evangelism as I would use the term because I do not believe that American Christians have uniquely strong or resilient beliefs such that, when they have symmetric interactions with people of other faiths, there will be net conversion to Christianity (also it’s not intended to win converts anyway).  In the United States today, because of facts about the prevalence of Christians and the preexisting exposure of Christians to non-Christian thought and vice versa, a substantial interaction between a Christian and a non-Christian seems to me to be likely to move the Christian more than it moves the non-Christian.  I suppose you could take that as saying that American Christians have weak beliefs, but I don’t really see it that way.  There are just lots of American Christians who have not had a great deal of substantial exposure to non-Christians.  The opposite is not true.  Non-Christians in the US tend to have a much better idea of what Christianity is about and what it does for people than Christians in the US have of any of a variety of belief systems.  This means that giving each person a certain level of understanding is a bigger change for the typical Christian.

    I suppose I was unclear when I said “a Christian who takes Fred’s approach”.  I meant “a Christian chosen at random from the US Christian population, who then starts doing what Fred is suggesting”.  I’m not going to speculate about the Christians who are likely to choose to follow this advice, although even in that case I think it’d be weird to assume that they have more resilient beliefs than the people they’re talking to.

  • Lori

    How is my question unfair? I asked for clarification on what you were saying. You clarified and frankly I seem to have gotten the essence of it right the first time. 

    It seems to me that if most US Christians aren’t strong enough in their faith to use Fred’s method the issue lies with the Christians or with the faith, not with the method. 

  • Anonymous

    I suppose it’s that I don’t follow you in saying that American Christians are to be picked out for special blame, and I took you as characterizing my view in a pejorative way (“weak beliefs”, “asymmetric warfare” as a model for effective evangelism).  I don’t think that a person in a majority is to be blamed for not being as aware of every minority viewpoint as a person in the minority is of the majority viewpoint (that got complicated – American Christians understanding paganism less well than American pagans understand Christianity is not ideal, but it doesn’t imply negligence).  To be clear, there is a minimum level of awareness that can be expected/required based on the prevalence and salience of the minority, but we can’t all be aware of everything and a majority view is going to be better understood just because it is the majority view.

    I’d agree that there are criticisms to be made of the beliefs of many American Christians (I love Fred’s blog), but I don’t know that American Christians are on average substantially worse than other religious groups, and I felt like you were having me pick them out for special blame.

    I’d also say that the ability to have one’s mind changed because of one’s honest and deep relationships with decent people is not a fault.

  • Lori

     I suppose it’s that I don’t follow you in saying that American Christians are to be picked out for special blame, and I took you as characterizing my view in a pejorative way (“weak beliefs”, “asymmetric warfare” as a model for effective evangelism).  

    I didn’t pick them out for special blame, you did. You said that you didn’t think Fred’s method was evangelism because it wouldn’t result in net positive conversions (because American Christians aren’t strong enough in their faith and aren’t familiar enough with other beliefs). That implies that those of other faith must be at least a tiny bit stronger than the Christians in that they’re apparently at least slightly more capable of holding onto their faith.

     

    I’d also say that the ability to have one’s mind changed because of one’s honest and deep relationships with decent people is not a fault.  

    In this context I think it is sort of a fault. Not in the individual Christian, but in RTCism. My observation is that the main reason many Christians change their mind because of “honest and deep relationships with decent people” is that they were raised to think that there aren’t any truly decent people who aren’t RTCs. When they actually get to know a non-RTC who is neither an idiot nor half a step away from a demon in human form they can’t cope. TIMO that’s a problem with the faith. 

  • hapax

    because of facts about the prevalence of Christians and the preexisting
    exposure of Christians to non-Christian thought and vice versa, a
    substantial interaction between a Christian and a non-Christian seems to
    me to be likely to move the Christian more than it moves the
    non-Christian.

    A)  Christianity is a religion that historically has put far more urgency into  evangelism than practically any other faith I can think of.  Even when it’s the kind of “evangelism” that my tradition prefers (“Look, see how those Christians love one another!”) it’s still more stressed than those faith traditions that actively *discourage* conversions.

    B) The kind of RTC Christianity that puts emphasis on “conversion” in the sense that you seem to mean (“Say the words so I can put another notch on my girdle of salvation”) is — even in the USA — still a minority faith, although its cultural insularity may indeed mean that many members have not had significant interaction with outsiders

    C)  Most Christian evangelism in the USA (of any type) is in fact aimed at other Christians.   While they’re busy trying to get me to say the Magic Words, and I’m trying to get them to live joyfully in love, the small percentage of USians who are not (at least nominally) Christian are often completely left out of the loop — which I personally think on the whole is a Good Thing.

    After all, who should I focus my efforts on — those who profess different beliefs but claim to be living happy and healthy lives, or those who share my label but are, by their own admission, constantly filled with guilt and fear of an avenging God? 

  • Anonymous

    Those are good points which I hadn’t considered.  Especially C.  I would like to think that a Christian like Fred is less likely to be convinced of RTC-ism than the other way around as a result of lots of interaction.

  • Tonio

    Most Christian evangelism in the USA (of any type) is in fact aimed at other Christians.

    Do you mean aimed at non-fundamentalist Christians? At non-evangelical Christians? With the “non-Fred” type of evangelism, I’ve noticed an assumption that the target is either a lapsed Christian or an atheist. But I could be misinterpreting this, where the evangelist assumes that non-evangelical Christianity is the equivalent of atheism.

  • Anonymous

    But I could be misinterpreting this, where the evangelist assumes that
    non-evangelical Christianity is the equivalent of atheism.

    This is how it worked in my vampiric Christian Club in high school.  I seemed to be the only one in the group who didn’t think that Christians were a tiny minority.  So the rest of them went out preaching to people that they assumed were atheist, even though the majority of them were already Christians.  But most people don’t talk about their Christianity at every chance or make a giant deal about it during every decision, so the RTCs in the club assumed that if anyone didn’t make an explicit point of being Christian, they must be atheists.  One girl yelled at a near-stranger when she overheard the stranger talking to a friend about boy problems.  This girl told her that she needed to live her life for Jesus and forget about boys and dating.  Apparently it’s impossible to love Jesus and date a boy (or wear make-up or wear trendy clothes or care about anything other than Jesus).  Needless to say, yelling at someone didn’t work well as a conversion tactic, largely because the girl was already Christian to begin with.

  • ako

    There are definitely different groups using different definitions of evangelism, and anyone who thinks the most important thing in the world is to get as many people as possible to mentally assent to a particular list of theological propositions is likely to be disappointed by Fred’s evangelical method.  Pushy asshole sales techniques are widespread in evangelical circles for the same reason they’re widespread in commerce – they successfully generate a fair number of hits.  Fred has different goals, and it’s consistent (as you acknowledged) for him to favor methods to spread love, mercy, and justice, and promote the idea that God favors those things and wants humans to support them.  It’s also reasonable for him to consider his approach better than the magic words approach, and argue for it.  And I’m not about to declare Fred’s Christianity less real than Magic Words Christianity, so it’s reasonable for him to present it as a better approach to Christian evangelism.)

    (I also think audience is a factor.  Most people here are likely to respond to Chick-tract style evangelism with amusement or disgust, so if Fred pushed that, he’d be duplicating a method that puts a lot of people off and already gets a lot of exposure, rather than bringing his unique and fascinating Fredly wisdom to the blog, and getting a lot of people who normally wouldn’t come near an evangelical Christian blog to read and keep reading.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    …his unique and fascinating Fredly wisdom…

     
    LOL. Fredly. Rhymes with ‘deadly’, which is Aboriginal slang for ‘awesome’, so made me think of that.

  • Caravelle

    I’d thought of that, but the problem with the kind of thing that Fred’s
    describing is that it’s fairly symmetric.  He’s just saying to do what
    any decent person of any religion should do.  If a Christian who
    evangelizes in this sense is likely to convert someone else, then surely
    the Christian is also likely to be converted, since nothing about
    Fred’s evangelism is one-way.

    I think I can sort of see what you’re saying : what Fred is proposing isn’t sure of converting the other person, and is even likely to convert the evangelist, and statistics suggest it will happen more often the “wrong” way, thus it is not an effective tool to convert other people to one’s religion.

    I can see how that makes sense as you seem to understand “evangelism” as just “convert others”, and I can also see you realize that Fred isn’t using the same definition. I’d suggest however that Fred’s definition is better – unless you particularly want “evangelical” to be a bad word.

    The question is basically, what are you converting others to ? The problem with “evangelism” = “converting others through any means necessary” is that it reduces Evangelical Christianity to a pyramid scheme, where the religion consists of converting others to the religion, which is converting others… Fred has spoken about this, and in many ways Evangelical Christianity seems to work that way, but I think it’s unfair. Not just for people like Fred who don’t want such an Amway religion, but even the most fundamentalist hypothetical-bus convert-everyone Christian has more beliefs on what Christianity is than just “convert others”. Those tend to be problematic “other beliefs”, but they’re there.

    So if you’re selling more than the act of selling, what are you selling ? Someone who actually thinks their beliefs are correct and good and useful will see this goodness and usefulness in their personal lives. And when additionally those very same beliefs give them rules on how to interact with people, then the evangelism will have to be consistent with those rules, or those beliefs aren’t honest. So when you put together a belief that is beneficial to those who hold it (in the opinion of the believer at least), that says others should be treated with respect, and that says others should be convinced of this belief (what with it being beneficial), we naturally get the evangelism rules Fred lays out. Don’t force conversion on people who don’t want it, and show how great what your selling is through your life and behavior. And if you really think your beliefs are great you shouldn’t be afraid of the process being symmetric.

    Now, somebody whose beliefs are incorrect or don’t have obvious good consequences for their lives (at least as far as others can tell), they’ll have trouble with this method. But if you think your own beliefs are incorrect or unhelpful, why do you hold them ? By that standard when people use pressure tactics and emphasize quantity over quality of converts, that suggests that by their own standard their beliefs can’t stand on their own.

    I’ll add that I’ve read a number of accounts from fundamentalists and ex-fundamentalists, and even in their cases you see a lot of people on the one side being convinced of the religion partly because they see all those happy and put-together families and want to be like that – and on the other side you see the huge pressure fundamentalist families are to seem happy and put-together. Because they, too, realize that how you live is part of your “witness”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wayofcats Pamela Merritt

    I once inadvertently evangelized.

    I was gardening one fine May morning when two Jehovah’s Witnesses targeted me, opening with the traditional greeting, “Have you ever thought about God?”

    Well, I had a fine time! I said I thought about it all the time, just look at this gorgeous day, and all the beautiful flowers I was fussing over. It makes me so happy, and that’s what God wants, it’s really the force of love, isn’t it, wanting us to be happy and making others happy…

    I had the young lady nodding and grooving on it and the middle-aged lady woke up and yanked her out of there.

    Fastest way to get away I’d ever had.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Somewhere around here I’ve got a SF convention badge ribbon that says “I died in character generation”.

    (It’s not actually true. The only time I’ve played with Traveller rules, we created characters instead of rolling them.)

  • https://profiles.google.com/ravanan101 Ravanan

    I was wondering when the Worst RPG Ever Created would be mentioned.

    TW: FATAL (This is short-hand for, “All of them.” By reading anything to do with FATAL you agree that you will not hold the messenger responsible for the message)

    You forgot the urination rolls. You see, while sane RPGs have skills like “Lock-picking,” “Craft,” and “Climb,” FATAL has skills like “Enunciation,” “Facial Charisma,” “Verbal Charisma (the lowest rating of which is ‘gay’),” and “Urination.” And if you max your urination skill, you can urinate every half an hour with perfect accuracy out to 16 feet without having drunk any liquids over the previous day.

    You also roll for fist circumference.

    And everything stated here is the tip of the iceberg. http://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/14/14567.phtml This link is a review of the game for those who are intense psychological masochists. You will feel dirty knowing that you share a planet with the authors of this game.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I’ve been blogging about the Worst RPG Ever Created for a while now, tackling a few pages at a time. I’m not big into self-promotion, but I’m around 500 pages in, and it lives down to it’s reputation. It’s not bad the way “Troll 2” is bad. (campy, nonsensical fun) It’s just awful from start to finish.

    The prose is like English, but not actually English. The content is deeply hateful to women and reveals some very unhealthy things about the author. The “mature” subject matter is best viewed from the lens of a poorly socialized tween with an obsession with bodily fluids. The game’s setting and creative elements aren’t creative, they’re mostly boring actually. Yes, every business includes some element of prostitution and/or slavery, but it’s sort of like drawing a penis in every Marmaduke cartoon; at first it’s shocking, then a little funny, and then just tedious. Basically, every imaginable mistake you could make in creating a game, they’ve made.

    The Hero System (aka Champions) really was ahead of its time. Before White Wolf’s Storyteller games, most tabletop RPGs forced players to randomly determine ability scores, and restricted player choices (like professions) based on ability requirements. It wasn’t as transparently bad as “randomly roll your race and class”, but if your randomly rolled ability scores disqualified you from your choice of race or class, the net effect was the same. Many games used the “incredibly rare chance of rolling event X means event X can be over-powered” approach to game balance, ignoring how much that incentivised cheating.

  • Anonymous

    Oh my god.  Mad props to you, Chris Doggett.

    I have read a review about FATAL that said burning the books would be an insult to fire.

    I can remember that review, but I really have to want to, and the rest of the time it sleeps in my mind, and I forget.

    Which is a good thing, because when I remember it makes me feel ashamed to be a man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    Have you heard the theme song?  Darren MacLennan wasn’t kidding when he said it was like listening to Cookie Monster falling down a flight of stairs while tangled in a drumset.


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