I wanted to mention one last thing about the wild guesses that Christians make about their churn rate before we move on to The Shack. Specifically, I mentioned that evangelicals have no clue about what’s going on with all these people leaving their ranks–but that this ignorance happens on purpose. In comments last time we met up, we learned about yet another set of those guesses, all presented as amazing new ideas that would totally work to convert people without backfiring and making evangelicals look like pickup-artist creeps.
A Shoddy Foundation.
Oh, Josh. Oh, my. Oh, you poor dear.
— Repeated 30 times as I read his post.
Boundaries and consent have never been evangelical Christians’ strong suit. If you’re wondering if Josh Daffern, the evangelical blogger in question here, is going to move that needle to the left, rest assured that he won’t be making you reassess that bleak (but remarkably well-supported) conclusion anytime soon.
In his blog post “The Thing That Keeps Most Non-Religious People Away From Church and 3 Ways to Solve It,” his main goal appears to be reassuring his tribemates that their narrative about non-Christians is correct. The post is the typical over-simplified listicle that one sees these days. In it, the blogger develops a narrative and then attacks that narrative with gusto. If you’ve just noticed that this description also outlines a strawman argument, then yes, that’s exactly what I thought too when I saw it.
Mr. Daffern is riffing off of a post he saw on Christianity Today (CT) about why Christians have so much trouble evangelizing their non-Christian friends–especially those who consider themselves Nones, who are unaffiliated with any religions. The original CT post is found on a blog run by Ed Stetzer of the Southern Baptist Convention, so you know there’s already a big risk that the foundation that Mr. Daffern is building upon is unsteady. That’s a risk that will turn out to be a serious problem indeed.
Ed Stetzer invited a guy I’ve never even heard of, Khaldoun Sweis, to write mournfully about how Nones “not only think that they don’t need God, but many have never been given a single reason as to why He is relevant to their lives.” (Do not be expecting Mr. Sweis to provide such a reason.) Nones are very impatient with evangelism attempts, he asserts, because they think that they simply don’t need evangelicals’ product.
Naturally, Mr. Sweis implies that the problem here isn’t that Nones legitimately don’t need his product, but that his tribe isn’t adequately marketing that product–which is a slam against his tribe for not being hardcore and dedicated enough. His solution: his tribe of 24/7 salespeople must redouble their efforts to market their product. (We’ve seen this admonition before, incidentally.)
If all those silly Nones could only see how much they need his product, they’d be lining up around the block to purchase it, insists Khaldoun Sweis. So he offers up some evangelism tips that he insists have “worked for [him]” for “the past 15 years.” He doesn’t mention what “working for him” means, but he does say that he thinks “these [techniques] leave a fragrance for Christ that cannot be ignored.”
(Insert fart jokes here.)
(So, so, so many fart jokes.)
If you’re wondering, that weirdly euphemistic phrasing, which has the same exact meaning as that odious Christianese phrase “planting a seed,” almost certainly means that Khaldoun Sweis hasn’t ever successfully converted a single person. If he had, I have no doubt he’d never let anybody hear the end of it. Very likely all it means is that occasionally he isn’t forcefully rejected or outright mocked by the students he pulls his various intellectually-dishonest and scientifically-illiterate zingers on. But he’s got to lend his advice legitimacy somehow, and this is how you do it in a religion that considers conversions to be a metric for measuring success. Do what I suggest, he tells his readers, and you’ll be as successful as I am!
And the weird part is, he’s totally correct: people who follow this advice will, in fact, be just as successful as he is.
Khaldoun Sweis’ advice is more of that pickup-artist/Nice Guy™ scammery that we see out of right-wing Christianity lately masquerading as love. Having finally realized that literally nobody wants the product that they are selling, Christian salespeople have decided that–rather than address the issues with their product, which they cannot do–they will instead become sneakier in their sales techniques. It amounts to pure deception, but since it’s for Jesus it’s totally okay.
First, he advises, Christians must “engage,” which does not actually mean to pretend to be interested in other people. Instead and by stark contrast, he actually means by this advice that Christians should grab for as much political and social power as they can, assume as many positions of leadership over others as they can, and abuse modern people’s admiration of diversity and pluralism “to gain a seat at [our] table.” He flat-out declares that Christians should totally and ruthlessly take advantage of our values of tolerance and mutual respect to sneak into our dialogues without permission and from there to impose themselves and their oppressive viewpoints upon us. And remember, he made this suggestion under the banner of one of the leaders of the biggest Christian groups in the Western world. (I even screenshotted it because it was so staggeringly and blatantly dishonest–and reveals just how little evangelicals understand of any of the ideals that they are abusing.) If we mean ole Nones object to his dishonest intrusion, then he gets to zinger us about how intolerant we are of his intolerance.
There is really no way that this suggestion could ever backfire and cause even deeper resentment of opportunistic Christians by their victims!
Second, Khaldoun Sweis tells his audience to “enquire,” by which he means that Christians should dishonestly pretend to want conversations and dialogue with others. This deception is employed so that Christian salespeople can then gain the opportunity to deploy the array of witty zingers that apologists sell as effective marketing slogans. That is exactly how Mr. Sweis illustrates this suggestion, incidentally, which he does as a way of introducing another favorite talking point of his–science denial. (Like most fundagelicals, he clearly believes that if he can knock science far enough, he might make Christianity look more viable to unwary non-believers. “Last Belief Standing” is one of their favorite games.)
His stated goal with this suggestion is to “get [non-believers] to condemn [themselves]” as the prophet Nathan got David to do in the Old Testament myths (yeah, sure, /thathappened). In service to this goal, he tells his audience to use Christian apologists’ long-revered warping of Socratic questioning rather than trying to offer actual evidence for his religion’s claims.
Again, there’s no way that non-Christians, who are not motivated and primed to think that these arguments constitute legitimate evidence, could ever fail to be impressed by this tactic.
Third, Christians are told to “edify,” which means to be friendly with people so they’ll see that Jesus Aura shining brightly and want to convert to get some o’ dat. In simple terms, Christians who are super-spiritual enough are thought to glow with the love of “Jesus.” This glow is supposed to radiate almost visibly to everyone who sees that Christian. It has two effects on non-believers: first, it’s supposed to absolutely freak us out and repel us because the demons living inside us can’t handle the white-hot purity of a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ who is fully juiced up on Jesus Power. Secondly, however, it’s supposed to attract and intrigue us (like a bug-zapper, for much the same reasons and with much the same results) because it’s just soooooo different from the darkness that we supposedly live with all the time. At no point does Mr. Sweis suggest that Christians should be kind and friendly just because that’s just part of being a good person; in his world, a Christian is compassionate only because it’ll make that Christian’s marketing targets more vulnerable to evangelism at some point.
It’s almost cringe-inducing to imagine all the perky, bright-eyed Christians who will read this dishonest bullshit and think these are great, viable ideas that will revitalize their evangelism efforts and save tons of people from the oncoming bus that is Hell. The only positive side is that there is no indication whatsoever that lying for Jesus is at any risk of making a comeback as a Christian marketing tool, as hard as Christians keep trying to bring it back.
But an evangelical blogger on Patheos saw some value in this dishonest bullshit.
Six of One and Half-a-Dozen of the Other.
Though Josh Daffern’s ideas and suggestions might seem different from those found in the inspiration to his post, and (I’d like to stress) he seems ten times more sincere than that SBC blogger, both posts are marked by deception. Like Mr. Sweis, Josh Daffern is deceiving both himself and others, creating in the process a totally false narrative that serves both to insult non-believers and to strengthen tribal contempt for outsiders–while pretending to be an effective means of persuading those outsiders to buy a product that, again, very few people actually want to buy nowadays. However, instead of giving us a good reason to buy the product, Mr. Daffern’s solution is for his tribemates to be so incredibly nice to us heathens that we convert out of sheer amazement at the brightness of their Jesus Aura.
He begins his post much the same way that Khaldoun Sweis did, with a narrative about how very, very sad he is that non-Christians don’t perceive any need for Christianity in their lives. (Like Mr. Sweis, he’ll provide no reasons here; he just takes for granted, as his inspiration did, that obviously such a need exists and that we’re just too stupid or ignorant to notice it.) He ends similarly as well, with a set of suggestions that are different enough from those in the original to suggest that maybe he didn’t quite understand the original suggestions (or, more charitably speaking, he missed how sneaky, dishonest, predatory, and hypocritical these ideas truly are).
While Mr. Sweis thought that Nones rejected Christianity because we’re just so ignorant that we didn’t understand the religion well enough to see how totally awesome it is, Mr. Daffern thinks we reject it because we’re distracted. And he’s sure that if he can get his Jesus Aura shining brightly enough, that dazzling light will get our attention like nothing else ever could.
Quite a few evangelicals think that distraction accounts for most of their religion’s losses. By this term, they mean that lots of other stuff keeps cockblocking their evangelism attempts and making it difficult for their targets to focus on their sales pitch. The usual culprits are modern technology, the internet, and (the perennial favorite) unapproved sex, but I’ve seen Christians blame their failure to turn their ship around on everything under the sun: a lack of parking spots at churches, the rise of kiddie sports leagues that play on Sundays, too much pornography, excessive liberal emphasis on charity over hardcore proselytization (obliquely mentioned here)… it’s just dizzying.
This idea that the world outside of Christianity is just so distracting that it’s driving people away from the arms of Jesus is all but axiomatic throughout the religion by now. One pastor warns about “the danger of distraction,” which he identifies as technology like cell phones, social media, and email. A blogger for Christian Post rather hilariously thinks that literal demons create the unspecified distractions that he thinks prevent TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (like himself, one presumes) from evangelizing successfully. One Christian website blames so many things for being distractions to Christians that one wonders if they’ve actually thought this one through enough to realize that they’re basically saying that their religion is really so completely lackluster and uncompelling that anything, even an urge to hang out with friends from work or a desire to hit the snooze button too many times in the morning, can completely derail a Christian’s worship of and communion with the totally for-real and true and honest-to-goodness god of the entire universe, who is also coincidentally the one being in the entire universe that can save you from what’s going to happen if you neglect worship and communion with him.
Distractions are universally portrayed by these Christians as shallow and not really worth the time that people spend on them. For that matter, non-Christians’ lives are often portrayed in much the same way: as shallow, wasted, unfulfilling years spent romping through one sex-fueled escapade after another in search of something really fulfilling and satisfying–and never finding it because fulfillment, meaning, and purpose are only to be found in Christianity.
That is definitely the narrative that Josh Daffern subscribes to, as he outlines:
Rather than open hostility, it’s indifference that keeps many out of church. They’re simply too distracted. The beautiful technology that we love and depend on has created a pandora’s box of distractions that keep our minds from drifting to the eternal. There are too many other fun and fulfilling (at least in the short term) options for people looking for something to do on the weekends. It would probably shock us religious folk to realize just how little non-religious people even think about the issues that are core to us.
And I wonder if he realizes that we can totally hear him talking about us. We hear his dripping condescension toward those poor, dense little savages who can’t possibly see past the weekend and can’t possibly appreciate really important matters like TRUE CHRISTIANS™ (like himself) can. What’s important to us is shallow and inconsequential to Christians like him; what we value is silly and not worth the time, unlike the lofty concerns and values of Christians like this. Little wonder Christians tend to have so little respect for other people’s time and resources–they literally think that whatever they’ve got going on is so important that they can bust into our privacy at will to interrupt us.
There’s just so much wrong going on in that one paragraph that it’s hard to know even where to start. I mean, we could begin with the fact that literally nobody has ever credibly demonstrated that some part of a human being lives on past that person’s death, let alone eternally. That alone would be a game-changer for Christian evangelists, yet none of them seem interested in answering that question in a satisfying way. We could also talk about how purely boring, routine, miserable, lonely, restricted, emotionally-stunted, dishonest, and banal most Christians’ lives are–and how toxic and harmful religion is for even the most fervent of adherents. We could mention that a lot of folks think that life is precious precisely because it is so limited. We could observe that Christians themselves love technology just as much as non-Christians do and yet somehow manage to maintain belief despite owning smartphones. We could ask exactly what his particular group has that is actually a compelling reason to consider joining it instead of some other group that doesn’t make false claims or contain such a huge number of abusive hypocrites.
We could even wonder aloud why Mr. Daffern hasn’t asked some ex-Christians why they left their churches, since even in his comments a number of people have responded to let him know that distraction played not one single role in their decisions to leave Christianity–that instead, they left because they realized that their religious leaders and fellow adherents made claims that simply weren’t true and they didn’t want to be in groups that made untrue claims. It’s not hard to find out why people are leaving Christianity–as long as someone’s narrative doesn’t depend on creating reasons out of whole cloth that bear no resemblance to reality.
But we’re not supposed to respond in any of those ways. Instead we’re supposed to tut-tut over how distracted those silly heathens are and how shortsighted and weirdly subhuman we are for not caring about a serious threat looming in our futures.
Oh, how sad it is that that Christians can’t simply grab us by our chins and direct our gaze to the topics they personally think are so much more important than whatever vain foolishness we’re up to now!
Oh! But wait!
They can–through lying for Jesus!
A Three-Step Plan.
Remember, Josh Daffern’s post was written after reading that of Khaldoun Sweis on Christianity Today. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that his three-point plan looks very similar to that original one.
First, he suggests, Christians should befriend non-Christians. He suggests that Christians join non-religious groups like sportsball leagues so they can brush up against non-Christians on the regular. He says that when he did something similar, he felt “convicted” for not having ventured out of his Christian bubble more often. (“Convicted” is Christianese; it means he felt guilty, but it was extra-bad guilt because it was thought to come from Jesus himself for doing Christianity wrong somehow. Jesus can’t just tell his followers to leave their bubble sometimes; he must rely on after-the-fact guilt trips instead.)
Christians may not realize, as they are grimly armoring themselves with Bible verses and accountabilibuddies in preparation for leaving their Vaults, that their future victims are well aware that they’re only making friendly with us because they want to add us to their list of conquests. We’ve just about all been sweet-talked by evangelism-minded Christians who normally wouldn’t give us the time of day–until they suddenly have a demographic opening in their friends list that we’d fit into (or they just learned some zinger they think will work on us). And we’ve also seen those OMG TRUE CHRISTIAN FRIENDS just vanish into thin air when they finally realized we were not ever going to buy their product.
If you’ve been out of the religion for very long, chances are you’ve had some well-meaning doofus of a Christian flop down next to you, give you a toothy Kirk Cameron pseudo-friendly grin meant to disarm your misgivings, and announce that he or she wants to “learn about what it’s like being a non-Christian” from you. I’ve had this happen more than a few times, and it’s not only tiresome, but it’s painfully obvious that the Christian is only doing it to set up an evangelism attempt later on down the road. I’ve had to learn, at great expense, to immediately decline those gracious invitations to be some lucky fundagelical’s guide to the world of creative heathenry.
Note that Josh Daffern’s suggestion differs slightly from the inspiration post, which suggested that Christians try to slide into leadership positions over non-Christians. This spin on the idea improves the situation only a very little bit. It’s still hugely dishonest.
Second, Josh Daffern advises his tribemates to “be curious” about the non-Christians they encounter. But–he cautions–they should be careful not to be there just to convert people because “that’s not really a true friendship.” Instead, they should act friendly and nice until they get a chance to evangelize, then they should try to convert people. That slight delay in evangelism makes all the difference!
Except it doesn’t.
He takes for granted that Christians are always angling for such openings–if not immediately, then “down the road,” as he puts it. When he tells his tribemates to “find out what makes [non-Christians] tick,” it is purely for the purpose of using that information later as part of a conversion attempt.
It simply doesn’t occur to him that in a true friendship (or really, in any relationship based on affection) people don’t actually try to change each other like that. It couldn’t. In Christianity, adherents’ twisted version of love actually requires that they try to fix and change each other constantly. I don’t think very many evangelicals even possess the emotional education or maturity to even approach a friendship on mutually respectful and satisfying terms. Their entire paradigm is based around not accepting each other.
I might also add that Mr. Daffern approaches relationships with non-Christians the way that ancient travelogue writers like Tacitus approached tourism in foreign lands. He talks like he’s describing a potential excursion to the primitive Malombo people to teach us the ways of the exalted Westerner.
They’d never seen evangelicals before…
“Be curious about why [non-Christians] don’t have any interest in spiritual things,” he advises here with what seems like wide-eyed earnestness, like he’s advising his friends to be curious about why we type with our nipples or eat handfuls of dirt. It’s almost like he doesn’t realize that a lot of us do in fact take interest in spiritual matters; we just aren’t interested in something like Christianity because we know that it’s based on false claims and we’ve seen that its groups are nasty.
Third, Josh Daffern thinks it’s a good idea to show us heathens what “eternal love looks like.” You see, we’re just so distracted that we have no idea what love really is–not unless some TRUE CHRISTIAN™ comes along to show it to us. Real love, of course, is eternal love. And this is shown through acts of sacrifice toward the Christian’s marketing targets: “serving them, caring for them, sacrificing for them.” The Christians doing all this stuff hope to “break through [non-Christians’] temporal facade with a glimpse of eternal love, like the blinding sun breaking through a thick fog.” (BTW, these aren’t scare quotes. They’re all from his post.)
By talking in this way, Mr. Daffern reassures his tribe both of the correctness of their belief in their own superiority and in the effectiveness of their Jesus Auras. Like a lot of emotionally-immature people, they view relationships in really transactional ways: do XYZ, and you will get back ABC from your target. You’ve likely seen this formula expressed in terms of how Nice Guys™ put Niceness Tokens into women in the wild hope that once enough they’ve done enough favors for their target, she will dispense sex back to them.
The problem is, his Niceness Tokens don’t actually exist even in a metaphorical way.
The Problem(s) With Christian Love.
Christians are so inconsistent about how they treat people (and themselves for that matter) that nobody could ever look at Christians and automatically assume that they’re decent, law-abiding, kind, honest, or compassionate people. When we encounter a Christian who actually is a decent human being, we are far more likely to think that that Christian is that way due to some other factor besides his or her religious convictions. And when we encounter and confront a Christian who is the polar opposite (as indeed many of us saw right in Mr. Daffern’s very own comment section), often that hypocrite will actually claim to have license to behave that way precisely because of his or her religious convictions or otherwise drill down on that behavior–and might even try to say that loving, compassionate Christians are the ones doing the religion all wrong. So Christians themselves can’t even agree on a standard of behavior toward others, which makes any attempt on their part to connect compassion and decency with religious faith spurious at best, deliberately misleading at worst.
Worse still, however, Christians can’t really differentiate their notions of “Christian love” from any other type of love. Most of us can say with assurance that we know plenty of non-Christians who love others in the way Mr. Daffern describes: “serving them, caring for them, sacrificing for them.” One could easily say that any loving parent would do exactly these things for their children; many of us have, as adults, cared for our own partners or parents in much that way when they were sick. Many non-Christians donate our money and time to charities, even venturing abroad to help others. For that matter, even animals can be compassionate, and we’ve got evidence of ancient Neanderthals showing self-sacrificing kindness to each other as well. There’s simply no reason to think that Christians have some special and unique kind of love that only they get access to.
One might also ask what the value is in doing charity work and being compassionate if it’s only being done to make other people want to convert to one’s religion. That sounds less like love and more like opportunism. And this kind of love, like their god’s supposedly-free “gift,” comes with a whole lot of strings and requirements.
All in all, if what I see presented by Christians is the only real and true love that humans can possibly experience, I think I’ll stick with the kind of love that they look down on.
A Swing and a Miss.
As refreshing as it is to see a Christian try to make the case that he and his tribemates need to be more compassionate and charity-oriented, there are a lot of reasons to distrust the suggestions presented by Josh Daffern (and even more reasons to distrust those presented by Khaldoun Sweis!).
Without the power to simply coerce people into joining and sticking around, groups need to be able to offer potential members either truthful claims or a group experience that can’t be gotten elsewhere for the resource investment being asked.
Ultimately, Christians can’t really resolve the issue of false claims. Their leaders have amassed libraries’ worth of pseudoscience and historical revisionism, but those are only convincing to people who never learned critical-thinking skills (or who have them but choose not to utilize them when evaluating Christians’ claims).
That means that Christians must sell their groups–for good or ill.
And if these two posts are what passes for recruiting on that basis, Christianity is screwed.
Next up: a movie that is pure glurge. Yes, we’re talking about The Shack next. Bring your pickle-flavored popcorn!