We’ve been talking lately about sales-minded Christians and the various questions they love and hate. One question they never ask kept popping up in those discussions. Today, I’ll show you what it is and why these Christian evangelists don’t engage with it.
A Big Problem With Apologetics.
As a field, apologetics bears quite a few problems. It’s actually not easy to say exactly which might be its worst. But I see this one as a big problem: apologists’ processes never actually land where apologists insist they do. Almost every apologetics argument can be negated right out of the gate through the identification of its logical fallacies, manipulation attempts, or basic cognitive biases. Of the few remaining, they don’t whisk us away to the Happy Realm of Jesus-is-Real. Instead, apologists land themselves in the Iffy Realm of SOMEONE-Might-Be-Real and then simply declare they’ve reached their destination.
In the past, I’ve called this the Unicorn Test: any given apologetics argument not knocked out of the running through illogical reasoning accidentally demonstrates the validity of not just Jesus, but also of Santa Claus, Zeus, Space Princess Cassidy, Thor, Wonder Woman, leprechauns, Harry Potter, the state of Wyoming, and Russell’s Teapot. Substituting other names for “Jesus” in their arguments reveals the truth.
Christians have a really tough time moving from the claim that gods are not, in the main, logically ridiculous to demonstrating that their particular god simply must exist–while simultaneously demonstrating that these thousands of other deities absolutely do not. Apologists take as a given that once they demonstrate that gods in general might exist, they’ve already conclusively demonstrated those other points–and thus clinched their sale.
The problem is that evangelists don’t sell god-belief, not really. So they not only fail at persuading someone of belief in their particular god, but they fail at selling what they actually want customers to buy.
The Real Product for Sale.
Apologists are brim-full of terrible arguments that they think support their claims about their god existing. Indeed, they automatically assume that once their marks buy in with the idea of their particular god existing, that the sale is concluded. Wow, their church has a new member! Get the baptism tank ready! Hooray Team Jesus!
Oh, but there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip!
See, evangelists don’t sell a particular god-belief.
Rather, they sell membership in their flavor of their religion.
That’s why those big-time A-lister evangelists, like Billy Graham was, team up with local churches when they decide to run rallies in certain cities. Those churches pay the evangelist (and BIGLY) to be part of their city’s planned sales rally. In return, potential converts attending the rally sign and fill in decision cards with their names and addresses. Those cards go to the evangelist’s people, who then distribute each one to whatever sponsoring church is closest to that person’s home.
The rally does the sponsors no good at all if converts end up filtering to other churches after the crusade!
If someone buys into the idea of their god’s existence but then joins some other flavor of their religion–or ye cats, some other religion entirely, the salespeople won’t be happy. Back when I was Christian, I saw both happen. It’s like evangelism’s very own version of a ruined orgasm. At that point, these frustrated salespeople feel they must continue to sell their own flavor of Christianity to that mark, just from the angle of superior correctness compared to other flavors.
Thanks to the doctrinal yardstick problem, they’ll probably fail.
The Wrong Angle.
When Christians sit back and ask themselves why a non-member of their group refuses to join up, their usual answer involves claimed disbelief in their god. They might not accept that a non-believer really doesn’t believe, but they know it’s the stated reason at least. That’s why they first tackle god-belief. They need people using the same paradigm they are–and accepting the same lines of poor reasoning and faux-evidence. Then, they can make the push for recruitment.
Indeed, why should someone who rejects some or all of Christianity’s claims wish to join a group based around those claims?
However, as questions go, though, that’s not the right one. It leads them to adopt evangelism techniques based around PROVING YES PROVING that their god totally exists. That’s not really what they ultimately want from the engagement.
Plenty of people reject Christian claims and still attend groups based around those claims. Sometimes they must bear their dissent in secret as they travel through the woods to safety. At other times, they attend for the sake of believers in their families. And at other times entirely, they reject Christian claims but attend a group whose goals match their own.
So buy-in doesn’t automagically entail joining-up. Losing buy-in doesn’t automagically entail leaving, either.
The Better Angle.
Here’s the question that would boil evangelists’ noodles:
Why do so many people who fully accept these evangelists’ claims still leave or refuse to join their groups?
A desire to join a given Christian group–or to leave it–doesn’t hinge on belief or disbelief. It hinges on the customer’s perception of or experience with the group. As an afterthought, Christian salespeople offer assurances about their particular group’s friendliness or its welcoming nature. However, most people already know that most churches do not live up to those basically-decent standards. Adding to that problem, many groups, like the Southern Baptist Convention as well as evangelicalism generally, suffer serious hits to their visitor counts due to their own self-tainted brands.
Since these evangelists are thinking only of persuading their marks of the truth of their god-claims, the real goal–getting the mark to join up–often ends up being given short shrift. They simply assume that the customer’s buy-in will result in that person joining their group.
But Buy-In Doesn’t Necessarily Lead There.
It’s just hilarious to me, however, to think that Christian salespeople think that convincing me of their god’s reality will result in me becoming a Christian again.
Oh no, honey. That’s the last thing that would happen if I ever became persuaded that their god was real.
Believing this god exists stands very, very far away from believing that he’s worthy of humanity’s worship and obedience. In a very real sense, the fact that he doesn’t exist represents the best possible outcome for humans.
See, if I genuinely thought this god was real, I wouldn’t be sitting here blogging. I would be very honest about changing my mind on that topic. I sure wouldn’t be dishonest like so many projecting Christians are about denying truths I believed deep down.
Instead, I’d be reminding this tyrannical and evil god why he’s always tried to sabotage and limit humans. I’d help show him exactly why he’s always feared our potential. (See endnote about another ex-Christian who briefly came to a similar conclusion.)
And we’d need all the time we could get to do the job. There’d be no more time for faffing about.
What a Real God Would Mean.
When I deconverted, for a brief and agonizing couple of minutes I dangled between remaining belief in the Christian god and knowing that he was utterly unworthy of humanity’s worship and obedience.
Of course this god had always seemed so afraid of us. Through emotional torture and brutal subjugation, he’d broken our spirits and tamed us.
He was our enemy, and he knew that he was.
Thankfully, I soon came down from that dizzying panic attack. Nothing whatsoever about our entire universe indicated that this god was real. Whew! (See endnote about this experience.)
But still, Christians literally can’t conceive of someone buying into their first premise–and coming out with a totally opposite conclusion than “Jesus loves me, this I know. Friends and brethren, what shall I do?” Hooray Team Jesus!
Selling a Tainted Brand.
If Christianity’s salespeople ignore the very most basic requirements their supposed “Lord” laid upon them, acting like they at least kinda believe what they’re preaching, that doesn’t give anybody sensible any hope that their groups will function well and be safe for them (and their children).
And since that’s really what evangelists sell, they have a distinct problem here. They can’t fix their groups; nobody can but the top leaders, and they don’t want to do that. Consequently, evangelists’ only real solution involves convincing people to join up despite their groups’ demonstrated harmfulness.
They employ gaslighting to that end, or they attempt to shame and blame customers for refusing to join despite the evangelist having executed their soulwinning plan perfectly, or they outright lie about how functional, rewarding, and safe their groups really are.
It’s no wonder at all that evangelists prefer by a vast margin to keep selling their god’s existence, even as poorly as they do it. That’s much easier than selling unsafe, dysfunctional groups to people. If someone brings up their hypocrisy or their groups’ sordid underbelly, they have developed a great deal of hand-waving they can use to dismiss those concerns–thus maintaining their own beliefs even if they never make a sale.
The Rights of Consumers.
Unluckily for these salespeople, though, customers aren’t required to accept that hand-waving, nor even to agree that any of it absolves Christians of the charges against them. Ultimately, their customers stand superior to them in any sales interaction, and can accept or reject their arguments and claims for any reason whatsoever.
Christian salespeople can’t force anybody to purchase their product. And if they badmouth their targeted customers for rejecting their sales pitches, that only makes them look worse to both existing customers and potential ones. In itself, such behavior only decreases buy-in and further taints their brand.
That’s what’s really undoing Christianity from the inside out and the outside in.
Christians have lost the power to coerce our compliance. Even their own established customers slowly drift away, gradually cutting down on their donations and their attendance.
Without making their groups worth joining, Christians have no hope of recovering from their steady decline.
But if Christians could ever in their history have created good groups that could flourish on their own without artificial props like coercive cultural and legal power and copious tax breaks, they likely wouldn’t have gone into decline in the first place.
NEXT UP: The existential horror of living in the enemy’s warren and paying his price.
See you soon!
I wasn’t the only one: The YouTuber Evid3nc3 created a video series some years ago about his deconversion. The whole thing is excellent and highly recommended viewing. Part of it touches on how Evid3nc3 briefly saw Christianity’s god as the enemy of the true pantheistic god of the universe: as “a dark force that demanded to be glorified.”
The observations I mention start around 5:00 into this video.
Alongside that realization, Evid3nc3 briefly thought he was the second coming of Jesus Christ. He’d help rid the world of this evil god! Obviously, I didn’t end up there myself. Still, I’ve heard many times from other ex-Christians who briefly had similar reactions as we did. (Back to the post!)
“What if…?” can be powerful: I’d go through the same sort of brief crisis watching The Matrix years later. Hey, even in 1999 I was still really fresh out of deconversion. That movie provoked a similar “What if…” reaction that had to be soothed through compassionate reasoning. (“No, some future AI will not use humans as batteries because that’s ridiculously inefficient. [BUT.] No, believing something very hard won’t allow anyone to break the laws of physics. Really, Cas, if someone had ever learned anything like a complex martial art in seconds after a lifetime of not doing it even once, you’d have heard about it before now. Oh, and miracles aren’t real, so using psychic powers to stop bullets isn’t either.”)
It’s interesting to me that people involved in extremist flavors of religion tend to be more alert for potential dangers–and to react to them more strongly. That’s where I see “What if…?” originating. It’s a way to try to take back power in a situation that makes someone feel powerless. Preppers operate with this exact thinking. (Back to the post!)
Postscript: Yes, I’m totally arguing that evangelists would do way better to make their groups worth joining and staying in, rather than pushing their specific beliefs at people. If only they could!
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