When Christians try to sell us their religion, they bristle when we treat their assertions like subjective opinions. But even more than that, these Christians get downright annoyed when we respond to their earnest and tedious sales pitches by saying we’re glad that Christianity works for them. My goodness, a whole bunch of them just hate that phrase! Today, I’ll show you what it means–and then I’ll show you the pity party a lot of Christians are throwing for themselves lately over it.
A Solid Refusal.
Just as a quick reminder, apologetics is a field of (usually inept) rhetoric that seeks to reconcile why the real world looks nothing whatsoever like what Christianity says it does. And apologists are people who engage in apologetics. They can be professionals or amateurs, though online we’re most likely to run into the amateurs.
Usually, amateur apologists engage with non-Christians in an attempt to evangelize, or recruit us to their religion. Their sales pitches consist of various canned apologetics routines they’ve learned from their professional idols. But plenty of evangelists don’t bother with apologetics at all and go straight for the come-ons and threats.
Generally speaking, one of the easiest responses we can make to these earnest evangelism-minded soulwinners is, “I’m glad your beliefs work for you.” (Often followed with: “But they don’t work for me.”)
With this reply, we acknowledge–in a culturally-appropriate and polite way–that we know that beliefs can be really personal. We don’t want to get into a discussion about it. Instead, we offer a show of approval to that Christian evangelist for having found something they believe in that is super-important to them. We’re not being rude or dismissive. Instead, we’re hinting that the salesperson’s pitch has failed and that we’d rather not engage further on that topic.
Here’s the hilarious part. The salespeople themselves are well aware of what this phrase means and why we use it. They know they’re getting brushed off.
And they don’t like it!
When They Realized What We Meant.
So they realized we were politely concluding their sales attempts. Immediately, these Christians put on their thinking
fedoras caps and set to work…
…to find real evidence for their claims, so they were no longer just spewing talking points without support from real-world facts, using threats to force our compliance, and trying to emotionally manipulate us into signing up to join their groups.
HAHA! Just kidding!
Bet I got you good there, eh?
I wish. No, that’s not what they did at all. Here’s what they really did:
They set about trying to find ways to slash our dismissals to ribbons so they could keep making sales pitches without changing anything they learned to say from their favorite apologists.
Why They Hate This Phrase.
Christian leaders do every single thing they can to discredit the idea that they’re Christians because it works for them. They do everything except piss on the idea from a great height.
For years now, I’ve chuckled over Christians reacting poorly to this response. The hardline conservative Christian blog First Things regularly sneers at the phrase “Christianity works for you.” (See: Here, here, here, here, and especially here in “An Interview with Timothy Keller.”)
The evangelical site The Gospel Coalition (TGC) similarly dismisses the idea. A 2011 post of theirs declared in full throat, “Here is truth which is true, not just because it works for me, but because . . it is truth for all time.” In 2018, a post there declared that Christian evangelists must take care not to let Millennials wreck Christianity. They’re totally turning it into “just another self-expressive spirituality, chosen because ‘it works for me.'” And Timothy Keller pops up again there in 2017. He whined about PEOPLE TODAY. See, he feels they “aren’t so much concerned with truth as with ‘what works for me.'”
Mainly, Christians are upset because it works for you makes their faith sound like any other personal philosophy or belief system, which is absolutely NOT okay with them. A staggering number of Christians–even really nice ones sometimes–desperately need to believe that their religion is the one unique, truly divine, truly real belief system in the whole wide world. But this phrase puts Christianity on the same shelf as all the other belief systems in the religious marketplace.
Then, to add insult to injury, the phrase implies to Christian evangelists that they’re only Christians because they’re getting something out of the religion. It makes them sound like opportunists, and that runs counter to their self-image.
The “Well I Never!” Sermon.
Sometimes, a pastor bases a sermon around this idea of Christianity working for them, as we see here. Or a Christian writes an essay decrying the phrase, like this one. Here’s my paraphrase of the basic gist of these rants:
WELL, I NEVER! Someone told me that Christianity doesn’t work for them and they’re glad it works for me! But it doesn’t “work for me!” It’s true, and that is why I’m a Christian! It’s just the facts, ma’am! Facts don’t “work,” they just are!
Often the Christians going this route will then count up the sacrifices they’ve made for their beliefs–the opportunities they’ve missed out on or declined, the embarrassment they’ve suffered, and the constraints they’ve allowed to restrict their lives on a daily basis. (Then, they often destroy their point by insisting that it’s all worrrrth it.)
They offer these sacrifices up as PROOF YES PROOF that they truly and really believe that their religion is the one correct one out of many thousands of religions in the world. They would never ever do all of this stuff if the religion wasn’t objectively true, they insist. It doesn’t return enough to them.
For what it’s worth, I believe that they believe that Christianity is objectively true. And I also believe it doesn’t return much that’s beneficial or desirable to most folks.I just don’t think they’re being honest with themselves or us about what they are getting out of their affiliation with it.
Wow, Another Christian Leader Is Upset, Y’All.
A few days ago, yet another of these Christian hucksters got me thinking about this phrase. He crawled out of the woodwork to rail about it.
J. Warner Wallace, a big name in apologetics, gave a speech in which he said that he believed in Christianity because of “data” and not at all because “it works for me.” He’s a typical omg-I-totally-used-to-be-an-atheist trendy Christian. He claims that only hard facts could have converted him. (I’m guessing he appeals greatly to logical Christians.)
Also, Wallace and his pals admitted that the Problem of Evil is a big issue for Christians. It is. After all, an incredible amount of terrible stuff happens in this world. And its existence seriously undercuts apologetics arguments for the existence of an omnimax good god. The Problem of Evil offers a potent, unavoidable contradiction of Christian claims. As folks used to say down South, yew damn’ right it’s a problem.
If you’re wondering, these super-big-name professional apologists offered their habitual response to this simple but serious challenge to every single assertion they have ever made about their god, too. Yep, they waved their hands around and chanted “objective morality” a few times. Then they declared victory. That’s part of their “data,” if you’re wondering.
Wallace’s speech sounds like he wants to do more than just offer the flocks more sales tools, doesn’t it?
Why He’s Completely Wrong.
Remember, authoritarian people (and there are these sorts in all flavors of Christianity) put a lot of store by expressed certainty. That’s what their leaders sell in these rants. They believe that their belief in the truth of their claims completely supersedes any perceived benefits they could possibly be deriving from adopting their beliefs.
The problem they have here is that they still can’t support these beliefs with real-world facts. All they have, literally, is their own certainty in the claims’ veracity. Nobody accuses them of being swivel-eyed opportunists, though a great many Christians demonstrate daily that they are exactly that. Instead, we state the obvious: they found a religion that expresses how they feel about the supernatural, and good for them for being so sure it’s the right one. (On that note: who’d ever have thunk that they’d end up discovering that the One True Religion was the exact one they were raised in and/or that dominates their culture? Gosh, what are the chances?)
Nobody converts to Christianity because it’s the strongest-supported of all religions. They convert out of fear, or greed, or hope, or to gain solidarity with a loved one, or to meet any number of other needs. But they do not convert because Christianity simply has an avalanche of evidence supporting its claims. It has none. Instead, believers buy into a wealth of bad arguments deployed in the place of real-world evidence.
The last thing these believers want is a reminder that “data” had nothing to do with their affiliation with Christianity.
The Vain Folly of Unnecessary Sacrifice.
That’s what makes Christians’ outraged recited litanies of their sacrifices sound so cosmically, galactically sad and hilarious. They offer up these litanies to demonstrate that Christianity totally doesn’t work for them, so their motivations in adopting it remain purely evidence-based.
But out here in Reality-Land, we know that often, someone will engage in an enterprise that profoundly hurts them in the end. Every day, we see people get into relationships guaranteed to turn out poorly. We see people beginning ventures or businesses doomed to failure. We see them begin projects that cost them a great deal of time and money and still turn out disastrously. And we see them doing a whole lot of work for beliefs that aren’t true and cause harm.
Gang, none of this is new or weird. Christians aren’t unique for having great certainty about stuff that isn’t true, that backfires, that costs them much for little positive return. What we get out of our beliefs or enterprises might not look wonderful, fun, constructive, profit-generating, or successful in any way. But sometimes, none of that is what we really want to get from them.
That which feeds us isn’t always pretty or beneficial.
The Meaning of the Rants.
These rants–delivered as they are by Christians to purely Christian audiences–may have another meaning.
Often, it feels like Christian leaders say stuff that seems aimed at non-believers that is really aimed straight at the sheepfold. Apologetics, as I’ve shown today, operates in exactly that way. So, it seems, do a lot of the exhortations Christian leaders offer their followers.
I wonder if Christians themselves feel staggered by having their divinely-dictated sales speeches rebuffed so casually and easily. I remember giving a word from the Lord to non-Christians and still getting rebuffed (as happened during a class in college). It really rattled me. How could my god give me the words to say, and my efforts still not be effective at all? Not even the hand-waving around planting a seed could ease my concerns.
In similar fashion, I wonder if some Christians are starting to wonder if yes, maybe they are involved with the religion because it works for them. It’s certainly a question that would have plagued me back then.
Christians railing at it works for you may be seeking to give their fellow Christians a sense of renewed certainty.
Remember Who You Are.
Either way, Christian salespeople’s bruised feelings ain’t our circus and ain’t our monkeys. None of us should ever feel obligated to give any salesperson the time of day. As the potential buyers in this whole engagement, we control and own any interaction we have with any seller(s).
I just thought it was hilarious to see just how frustrated Christian evangelists get when they hear this one phrase. It refutes so many of their talking points and then stomps all over them. Out of every rejection we could ever hand all these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ trying so hard (and so ineptly) to sell their religion to us, this one really seems custom-designed to annoy the tar out of them.
It’s also the most true of all the objections most of us could offer, which surely only makes the matter worse for them.
NEXT UP: A tour through the magical land of SPEERCHUL WARFARE. Then we’ll be heading to the Unequally Yoked Club! See you soon! <3
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