Captive Audiences.

Captive Audiences. November 13, 2014

Hi and welcome back! Today we’re going to talk about something else I noticed about that post Sensous Curmudgeon did about Jack Chick and his chiropractic visit. Namely, we’re going to talk about Christians evangelizing people who don’t have a choice about listening or not. It’s nothing less than a form of religious abuse, and it’s high time we began paying more attention to this underhanded Christian tactic.

In his post, Jack Chick, the now-geriatric creator of those little cartoon tracts so popular in the 80s and 90s, talks about how he is currently trying to proselytize one of the nurses at his chiropractor’s office. After making sure he had plenty of Halloween-themed cartoon tracts to hand out, he headed for the chiro’s office and then this happened:

The one who was always looking forward to my visit ushered me into the waiting room. I asked her, “Have you ever prayed the suggested prayer in the back of the tracts?” She froze. Her face became almost tragic, then frightened. Then she replied, “No.” I said, “Don’t you realize how close we are to the Lord’s returning?” She was almost shaking and said, “Yes.” Just then the doctor walked in and she had to leave. I hope she will consider what I said, take that step and trust Christ for her salvation.

And I realized right then that this little anecdote perfectly illustrates a big problem in modern Christianity: the religion is less about converting people and more about forcing them to listen whether they like it or not.

At this point, everybody pretty much knows what Christianity is about. The Great Commission can safely be said to have been accomplished. Let’s face it: there is nothing in the world more hilarious or goofy than seeing a bunch of foreign, barely-fluent missionaries in some huge American city (especially if it’s named after a Christian saint) witnessing to American Christians on the street. Christian churches are like cell phone companies at this point–having gone through all the potential first-time owners, they’re now cannibalizing each other and hoping for the best.

And Christians are well aware that if people are allowed to freely choose not to listen to them or to indulge their sanctimonious showboating, why then, people will choose not to do so. That’s the big problem here, friends. Their demands are being ignored, and there is absolutely nothing a control freak hates more than that.

That’s why you often hear fundagelicals whining about prayer being “banned in schools” when actually the reality of the situation is that people are allowed to pray all they want on their own time, even on school grounds, but they are not allowed to force unwilling bystanders to pray. Alas, that’s actually what such Christians want. It’s not about prayer itself. It never was. It’s actually about the ability to force bystanders to comply. They clearly couldn’t care less about praying on their own time, or else they would be doing it. No, they want everybody else to pray too, or else they’d be praying by themselves and that’d just look silly. Everybody’s got to play the game or else there’s no point in playing it.

We need to be paying attention to times when Christians trample over others’ free will and independence in an effort to force them to participate in their showboating or to listen to their proselytization efforts. The most toxic of Christians don’t care about niceties like consent when it comes to taking any opportunity whatsoever, using whatever force is necessary, telling whatever whoppers they have to tell, and twisting whatever arms they have to twist to make people stand there and listen to them.

English: A waitress walking past the tables at...
English: A waitress walking past the tables at Elmo’s Diner in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). No, she doesn’t want to hear about your religion, your romantic interest, or your MLM. Ever.

I learned very quickly how offensive and disastrously backfiring this tactic is when I was a Christian myself. I had a great many friends in the foodservice business who were very quick to share with me how much they hated serving Christians because either there’d be a baldfaced preaching episode involved or else a tract left after the meal in lieu of a tip. I noticed as well, when I worked at a print shop in college, how often Christians chose to proselytize people behind the counter. And always the people being preached at wore that same frozen polite half-smile as they had to stand there and listen, because their jobs involved being nice to customers and they were afraid of the repercussions if they told those Christians what they really thought of this underhanded and manipulative behavior.

The people being preached at like this always thought it felt unfair, like someone was hitting them and they weren’t allowed to hit back, and the Christians surely realized that at some level–but they did it anyway. A bit of resentment was a small price to pay for the opportunity to save a soul–except I don’t know of anybody who got “saved” that way, and even if someone ever did, the smear on my then-religion’s good name was deep and stinky enough that I wasn’t sure one shaky conversion was worth alienating hundreds of other people.

I can credit my friends’ honesty with training myself out of similar behavior. It became more important to me to share my faith with people who really wanted to hear it, and to be fair about only sharing it with people who could react naturally. I was coming to a vague understanding of consent, though I didn’t think of it in those terms back then.

I didn’t have public-facing jobs for the most part at that time so I was largely immune to such attempts, but when I worked at a laser-tag arena in a mall around that same time, I entered a new phase of my work life, one in which I was often accosted by wild-eyed Christians who were freaked out about video games and virtual-reality machines and wanted to tell me–a Pentecostal lass in full “holiness” kit of long skirt, socks with white tennis shoes, long stringy uncut hair, no makeup, and generally frowsy Amish appearance–about how those things were all demonic and would send me straight to Hell.

At that job I got to endure the full brunt of being a captive audience. And the last piece clicked into place for me as I had to stand there with the same frozen half-smile on my face that I’d seen on my earlier co-workers’ faces, listening to people preaching at me till they were red-faced, and unable to say a word in my own defense out of fears that whatever I said would be blown out of proportion and it’d get back to my manager that I’d been anything but polite and accommodating to a customer.

This behavior isn’t limited to Christians, of course. Most public-facing workers have had the unique thrill of being romantically accosted by Nice Guys™/Gals™ who mistake work-niceness for personal romantic interest and who don’t care about little details like their targets consenting to their inept flirtations. It’s incredibly skeevy stuff, and I’ve been there often enough that I just won’t do those sorts of jobs anymore–just as one example of what people in retail have to deal with, one really weird, creepy guy recognized me at college from the print shop, though I didn’t recognize him right off the bat. Well, I sure recognized him once he followed me onto an elevator and began hitting on me! We had our own version of ElevatorGate right there while I wondered if I’d be leaving that enclosed space in one piece. That’s a somewhat extreme example, but Elevator Creep thought–as the later one did–that it was more important to him to hit on me than to ensure that I felt comfortable or safe around him. And these Nice Guys™ think that way for the exact same reason that toxic Christians do: because who knows, maybe it will work this time.

Such Christians think it’s more important to witness at people than to behave lovingly toward them. I totally understand that in their weird Bizarro universe, their redefined version of love perfectly encompasses making people feel unsafe or putting them into situations where their consent is trampled and ignored, but out here in the real universe, they’re not the ones who get to decide if what they’re doing is loving or not. We are. And it doesn’t feel like love to be accosted while at work, nor to be forced to participate in Christian antics against our consent.

So while I can’t say for sure what Jack Chick’s nurse really thinks (because I’m not her), I know what I’d be thinking if I were her. I’d smile and thank him for his goofy cartoon tracts because that builds rapport with customers–and refusing them would create quite a lot of awkwardness. I’m thinking she didn’t freeze when he asked if she’d ever said his magic incantation because she was nervous about the state of her eternal soul; she froze because she knew that if she was honest with him, it’d disappoint a customer and maybe even provoke him. She didn’t say “yes” to his question about the end of the world coming Any Day Now™ because she agreed, because even in his self-serving retelling of the anecdote it’s clear that she doesn’t really agree; she very clearly said “yes” to humor him–to shut the old zealot up and get him moving on his way with as little blowback on her as possible.

And all her forced niceness did was encourage him to redouble his efforts. He concludes:

Will I give up on that lady? No way! I know what she faces. My worst fear is for her to go into a Christless grave.

It took me a long time to learn to establish boundaries with people who think it’s okay to prey on workers who have no choice about humoring them. You can’t be nice to predatory Christians; you can’t humor them at your own expense. All they’ll do is take that niceness and humoring as an excuse to drill down harder. They’d far rather ask forgiveness than permission, and they view any means as justifying their desired end. The only thing that works on them is concrete and unmistakeable firmness in boundary-drawing.

And oh, they do learn this behavior young. As any atheist in a public-school setting knows, even young Christians know how to trample over someone’s consent and proselytize at people who have no way to meaningfully consent to their efforts. A friend of mine who just revealed his disbelief at his school is now on the receiving end of “Christian love” as his fellow students begin plastering his space with Christian pamphlets and snarking him in classes and in the halls. As you can imagine, their efforts are backfiring on a scale I can only describe as “hilarious,” but they’re also making this atheist feel very unsafe and unloved–not that these dominance-minded, chest-thumping teenaged Christians care, of course. Their parents aren’t teaching them about consent, and their religion certainly doesn’t put a high premium on it. It didn’t even when I was Christian, and that tendency has only gotten worse since I left.

Indeed, about ten years ago, I ended up at a call center in a training/mentoring position. One of the people I was helping was a very fervent–but distinctly weird–Christian, the daughter of a local fundagelical pastor. She viewed the entire building and all of her co-workers as her own personal mission field, a fact I figured out after she eavesdropped on me while I was chatting with my manager–a really sweet older Mormon guy–about not being religious anymore (thankfully, she’d missed the earlier part of our chat about his struggles with religion). She decided that this overheard statement was a declaration of spiritual war, and further that she had been appointed by her god right then to do battle for my soul.

It was an uncomfortable week or so as she tried to maneuver into position to open a conversation about Christianity. I knew what she was doing–I hadn’t spent a half-lifetime as a fundamentalist for nothing–and gave her no quarter whatsoever. Every time she began asking things like “So you said you weren’t in church anymore? I hope it wasn’t anything anybody did to you to make you fall away…” Seriously, it felt like she was saying repeatedly, “Nice soul you got there. It’d be a shame if anything happened to it…..” She was already a hugely unpleasant person to be around, being one of those sorts who simply cannot hear any criticism or feedback and who must have every single thing just the way she likes it even at the expense of everybody else in her area, and every single person around her was already annoyed with her religious showboating as it was, so though I’m usually fine with religious discussions, I wouldn’t have had one with her in the first place. I didn’t trust her to be respectful of my views or to use anything I disclosed as anything but a springboard for a proselytization attempt and the job was awful enough without adding that kind of fighting to it.

After making my manager aware of her new campaign, I began brushing her off. I had to do it several times, because she really did not want to come to grips with the point that I was not receptive to such conversation. Just as even Nice Guys™ who claim they’re “socially awkward” are perfectly aware that their targets don’t want to be flirted with, I’m sure she knew at some level that what she was doing was unwanted and non-consensual, but again, it’s more important to toxic Christians to witness to an unwilling target than not to witness to that target at all.

When she asked repeatedly if “bad Christians” had driven me off, I told her repeatedly in turn that that would have been pretty stupid considering the stakes the religion threatened, and then redirected the conversation without revealing anything else about why I’d deconverted. When she asked repeatedly if I wanted to go to church functions with her, I declined repeatedly without giving a reason so she couldn’t try to argue with me about going. When she finally got up the nerve to ask me what I actually believed, I finally told her that I had too much respect for my belief system to discuss it at work and to please quit trying to wrangle me into a conversation I’d dropped numerous hints about not wanting to have, because it was starting to feel like harassment.

That’s what finally ended the campaign–because as dense as she was, even she understood how serious the H-word is in corporate environments like our workplace–and yes, it was awkward for a bit, but that’s what toxic Christians and Nice Guys™ alike count on, isn’t it? That their targets will fear that awkwardness and let them trample all over everything to avoid it and maintain the group’s harmony. Folks like that take advantage of our courtesy and our politeness and they count on us to endure their predations without argument. By that time, though, I didn’t give a shit if things were awkward. I knew my rights and had done the necessary HR stuff to cover my ass in case she blew up, but she didn’t; she just avoided me after that and sought greener pastures, once she realized I wasn’t going to let her abuse me any further.

I really hope that Jack Chick’s nurse talks to her office manager and finds a way to shut the guy down before he makes her life really uncomfortable. It’s not fair that she should have to endure his nonsense just because her job requires her to be nice to him. But on the plus side, chances are she’s never going to convert as a result of what he’s doing. He’s proving to her, just like my work acquaintance proved to me, that his god doesn’t care about being courteous, kind, or loving; both Christians are showing their targets that they value predatory tactics and unfair fights over anything else and that the ends justify the means. They are showing that they’re happy to force someone to listen to them even if they don’t want to listen. They’re like super-pushy salespeople–and sometimes we, their targets, just have to push back if it’s safe to do so.

I’m not saying that’s how things should work in the ideal world, but that’s how it unfortunately works in this one. Toxic Christians expand to fill available space and will take every inch of leeway they are afforded. Thankfully, this sort of abuse is usually way against the rules in most workplaces and school environments (a point they whine quite a bit about and would love to change!).

Christians like these are the symptom of the disease rotting that religion from the inside out like an impacted, infected tooth. They’re not the reason why I don’t buy into Christianity, as I recently told a similar fellow over email, but they are certainly the symptom of the reason I don’t.

And their tactics may feel good in the short term, but Christians are just going to make their religion fail all the harder and all the faster doing this stuff. Americans don’t put up with being forced to do things, and we tend to resent people who strong-arm us into participating in things we don’t want to participate in. Until Christians as a group realize this and start policing themselves, until they learn what consent is and why it’s so important, they’re going to keep alienating people and losing numbers. That really is what it’s going to take: Christians policing themselves and calling out this abusive behavior when they encounter it. Christians don’t listen to us non-Christians when we protest abuse because–again–they think love means abusing and controlling people “for their own good” sometimes.  If you accuse such a Christian of being abusive, you’ll quickly receive in turn that Christian’s impressive recitation of rationalizations for why they think they’re being perfectly loving and why they should keep doing what they’re doing. But they might start to listen if some big names in the religion start teaching about the importance of consent.

I’d like to encourage you, my friends, to become aware–if you aren’t already–of the trampling of your consent when Christians try to proselytize at you, and if you are the victim of overreach like this, I encourage you to talk to your managers or bosses to find ways to stop this behavior. Do whatever you can to be polite but firm. You don’t have to put up with this bullshit. You’re not going to appease them with anything but full compliance anyway, so there’s no point in trying to go halfway when they will just take that appeasement as license to push you harder.

#teamjackchicksnurse

"Yes, really. The filter never fails to surprise, doesn’t it?"

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