9 years ago: Evangelical Anxiety

August 30, 2004, on this blog: Evangelical Anxiety

For now I’ll just share a sad, lonely example of evangelical anxiety described by Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk. … Annie rings a doorbell to ask the homeowners for their permission to walk along Tinker Creek where it passes through their property:

The woman was very nervous. She was dark, pretty, hard, with the same trembling lashes as the boy. She wore a black dress and one brush roller in the front of her hair. She did not ask me in.

My explanation of myself confused her, but she gave permission. Yes, I could walk their property. … She did not let me go; she was worried about something else. She worked her hands. I waited on the other side of the screen door until she came out with it:

“Do you know the Lord as your personal savior?”

My heart went out to her. No wonder she had been so nervous. She must have to ask this of everyone, absolutely everyone, she meets. That is Christian witness. It makes sense, given its premises. I wanted to make her as happy as possible, reward her courage, and run.

She was stunned that I knew the Lord, and clearly uncertain whether we were referring to the same third party. But she had done her bit, bumped over the hump, and now she could relax.

"Sounds like time for a nice hat. Good luck with the interview!"

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  • stjebus

    I remember this feeling. The guilt-tripping over not destroying every single relationship I had was awful. It’s part of what pushed me away from the church.

  • picklefactory

    I actually remember the original post…

  • Cathy W

    From an outsider’s perspective, I’d also like to point out that what Michael Spencer called “wretched urgency” (a classic on the topic! I’m tempted to print it in brochure form so I can hand it back to anyone who tries to give me tracts and leaflets) is not a really good sales pitch. I see your fear; I see your guilt. Your goal is to bring me into the fold, where I, too, can be afraid and guilty because I’m uncomfortable proselytizing to either friends or strangers. Not exactly “Know Jesus, know peace”, you know?

  • Sagrav

    I agree, though I think that these terrified evangelicals do get an odd and jittery kind of peace from surrendering to their lord. It’s the same kind of peace that an abuse victim feels if they meekly surrender to their abuser. “Uncle! I’ll do what you say! Please don’t hurt me any more!”

    If the Christian god is actually a being of love, then this sort of obedience must be as painful to it as open rebellion. Imagine if a child cowered in a corner screaming “Please don’t kill me!” every time you entered their room?

  • eamonknight

    Being mildly (and in some situations, more than that) social-phobic, the requirement to evangelize was excruciating — especially when many of the standard recommended “pitches” were so contrived that I couldn’t deliver them without feeling like a complete fool. And of course, the nagging sense that the core message that God was going to torture you for eternity if you didn’t convert (however much it was soft-peddled), was fundamentally *wrong*, both intellectually and morally, didn’t help.

    Damn, but ditching that in favour of a more liberal Christianity was one of the nicest, healthiest things I ever did for myself.

  • I remember reading this quoted in one of the Left Behind threads when Rayford is proselytizing to his copilots.

  • AnonaMiss

    That’d just guilt them doubly because they’d be afraid that they were sending you to hell by showing that they were afraid of sending you to hell :-

  • Albanaeon

    I can respect evangelicals like this one. If they truly believe in their asshole god, then trying to save me from it, despite their discomfort, is the right thing to do. I just wish the few like this I’ve encountered would not make it such an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. To be fair, though, the absolute worse was a mother making her young daughter a War on Christmas warrior in the entrance to Walmart. That was a vile woman..

    Anyway, I rarely encounter these evangelicals. Most are a combination of used car salesperson and freshman debater with a chip on their shoulder. Them making the situation unpleasant seems deliberate as I’m either the latest mark or a chance to test out their latest “unassailable fact” that proves them right to the unbeliever. They deserve any embarrassment from the dressing down I usually manage.

    The last type is “I’m gonna suffer for my faith even if it entirely my own doing.”. By far the worst, because making it unpleasant is the goal. How else are they going to know their persecuted unless they’ve been escorted out of a restaurant because they started shouting at someone who was just reading a book they didn’t like? (Personal experience…)

    When every encounter I’ve had with evangelicizing is built to be awkward and unpleasant, is it any wonder that I have such a dim view of the group?