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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  • Rob Brown

    Card Games On Motorcycles?

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

  • 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.

  • Anonymous
  • 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)

  • 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

    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!

  • 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.

  • 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.


    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • 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.


    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • 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.


    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • 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.


    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • 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.


    (10pts for the reference >.>)

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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

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

  • 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

    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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • “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. 

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Anonymous

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

    That makes no sense whatsoever.

  • 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

  • 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!”


    Hilarity ensues. ^_^

  • 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.

  • 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

    No, hindsight is 4d10.

    Jesus saves! (and takes half damage.)

  • 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.

  • *snerk* >_<

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.


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

    Or something like that.

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

  • 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.

  • Incredible:

    See definition (1) below…

  • 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:

  • w/r/t LB++

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


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.” =)

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Reverend Ref

    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

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

  • Anonymous


    that’s horrible.