Hi and welcome back! Recently, we reviewed an evangelical-pandering movie called Only God Can. It’s a stirring take on that age-old tale about Christians preying upon their loved ones at times of crisis in order to gain recruits for their tribe. And because the movie’s made by actual Christians, those efforts succeed grandly! Here, we look at the recruits themselves. Even in a movie made by Christians to completely pander to other Christians, Only God Can peddles neat, tidy endings for these converts that don’t even halfway look like reality. Today, we look at their conversions–and where these new recruits would likely end up in the real world.
(Previous posts about this movie: Pre-Review Warmup; The Poor Widdle Heathens; The Jesus Beatings Shall Continue Until Salvation Improves.)
Here’s a quick writeup of the plot points we’re looking at today. Namely, here are the three heathen characters and their reasons for converting to TRUE CHRISTIANITY™.
- Coley, the clique’s ringleader, competed in pageants in her youth. Now divorced and obscenely wealthy, she’s busy gadding about and drinking herself to death. She feels that her life is meaningless and nobody really likes her. She’s correct on both counts, and it’s all her own doing.
- Patrice, arguably Coley’s best friend, is an office manager by day and a celebrated social-justice poet by night. She’s also the only black character in the movie. Alas, she never got married or had kids because she was so focused on finding success elsewhere. The movie decides that she’s very upset about having missed out on these evangelical requirements for women.
- Glen works for some kind of nonprofit that focuses on helping poor and abused women. She married and had kids, but her family treats her poorly and her husband’s cheating on her. Finally, she decides to do something for herself. In this movie, that means starting an internet romance with a stranger. This sorta-affair is discovered and everyone freaks totally out.
Sara, the TRUE CHRISTIAN™ heroine of the movie, sells all of her heathen friends a product that can fix all their problems.
Except it doesn’t–not even within this movie’s parameters.
Selling a Product.
Evangelism is just a fancy word for selling a product. It’s why Guy Kawasaki famously and officially called himself a “Mac Evangelist” for Apple. He understood exactly what he was doing there.
In evangelicals’ case, they’re selling membership in their particular flavor of Christianity. I used to think they were selling a particular vision of Jesus. That isn’t entirely the case, though. If they made a sale of their beliefs but failed to procure that mark as a new recruit for their tribe, they’d consider their job half-done.
No, they need their marks to go the whole way. They need to hear the Sinner’s Prayer (or whatever outward show of submission they think is necessary that approximates that cultural practice). Then they need to see the baptism, and then of course they need to encounter the new recruit on Sunday mornings and in their social-media groups forever after.
To make a sale, would-be soulwinners make sales pitches just like any other salesperson would. However, their product is not actually in any kind of demand in much of the world these days. So they must scout the field carefully before deciding upon a particular mark. They need a mark who feels vulnerable–who needs something that they can’t get for themselves.
More than that, even, these brave warriors for Jesus need marks who are just desperate enough to get that something, whatever it is, that they’re willing to grasp at straws–to believe pie-in-the-sky promises made on behalf of imaginary friends: yes, people can totally get whatever they need with this product.
Chances are the promise will be forgotten anyway once the new recruit’s indoctrination is finished. If it isn’t, the tribe has ways to deal with that as well.
Generally speaking, sales pitches for Christianity tend to be very generic. They make the same sorts of promises over and over again, like this Christian site does. In effect, they crow out, Join us and you’ll receive these wonderful prizes!
And they all tend to be the same prizes: twoo wuv, weelayshunship-not-weewijjin, instant-friends-just-add-Jesus, meaning and purpose handed out as if on cards, etc. Sure, some of these lists lightly touch on escape from the horrific eternal torment they think awaits non-members, but most go for broke on the lovey-dovey stuff.
In actual experience, however, the best soulwinners tailor their sales pitches very carefully to their marks. They’re very much like multi-level marketing (MLM) scammers in that way. Did a MLM scammer’s mark accidentally let slip that she’s broke? Or that she’s got a serious illness, or just feels tired? Yay! That’s an opening!
In similar fashion, Christian salespeople carefully look for openings in their own marks. Did someone mention feeling lonely? Or anxious for no real reason? Maybe their kids are going astray and the mark has no clue what to do about it? Or maybe the mark worries about money or war or death?
A proper salesperson has a script for anything and everything. If they can’t exploit a need, they’ll happily create one and then exploit it.
The Downside of Scripts.
Unfortunately for Christians, in real life their scripts fail almost constantly–and their use tends to seriously alienate people. Nobody likes discovering that their friendship was really just a foot in the door to an unwanted pitch.
That’s where these insipid Christian movies come in.
Half modeling for the scripts and half encouragement to get out there and use them, Christian movies show their target audiences a world where everything works according to plan. Reality completely lines up with their fantasies–at last and in every detail.
In this case, we see heathen women who are already Christian–just the wrong kind, in evangelicals’ view. They have cartoonishly simple needs that dominate their lives, and all of these needs just so happen to be the ones that evangelicals think respond best to their equally cartoonish pitches.
Coley needs meaningfulness and love.
Patrice needs a husband and kids, STAT.
Glen needs to feel appreciated and to have her shameful internet flirtation be forgiven.
And why golly gosh, these are all things evangelicals think they’re really good at handing people!
(There are other people who convert peripherally, like Gracie’s kids. Those plotlines face exactly the same shortcomings and receive the same glib treatment.)
Where Loose Ends Don’t Matter and the Endings Are Made Up.
But once the three friends convert, what actually happens?
Oh, sure, they get their grand baptism scene. Pastor Rod’s church throws them a very special celebration devoted entirely to these baptisms. To be fair, a lot of churches have so few baptisms nowadays that they’re scheduling them in clumps. Back when I was Pentecostal, someone got baptized every weekend–and usually it was more than a few people.
The heathens all get dunked with joyous smiles on their faces.
And then what? What would evangelicalism actually do, as a worldview and social system, for these three women?
We never find out.
The movie ends there.
But the reasons the women give for conversion don’t even halfway match up to results in real life.
The Rest of the Story.
Here’s what would really happen if these women converted in real life for their stated reasons.
Coley would discover that Jesus doesn’t actually instantly cure alcoholism. Nor does belief in him grant Christians instant meaningfulness. Nor does belief instantly erase decades of learned behaviors. If she’s willing to do a lot of hard work to unlearn those behavior patterns and get help for her addictions, then she might be able to overcome those problems and find her own meaning in life–and if she could do that, she’d have no use for Sara’s pie-in-the-sky. But she’s used to broken promises, and she understands dysfunctional groups. She’d simply hide her flaws with Jesus noises while her church showered her with praise and attention as their newest ultra-wealthy donor.
Patrice would discover the reality of trying to find a husband in her 40s in evangelical Christianity–after spending decades getting a reputation in social justice advocacy. Soon enough, she’d notice that the song that so entranced her had nothing to do with actual evangelicalism in practice. Maybe she’d leave that tribe and find a good husband elsewhere and maintain her focus on social justice. I hope so. #TeamPatrice!
Glen would discover that evangelicals are quite possibly the worst gossips on the planet. It’s been a problem since their religion was invented! So within days, the whole church would condemn her for having (GASP) flirted with someone online once. After her baptism, her family would still treat her terribly. Her husband would still be philandering. The temporary euphoria of instant “forgiveness” would wear off soon enough. Then what?
This movie went to great pains to paint Glen as a woman of old-fashioned integrity, dignity, and honor. I don’t think she’d be really happy with evangelicals for long. Patrice, as well, would soon discover the hardcore streak of racism and sexism that runs all through the foul underbelly of her newfound group. I don’t think she’d stay quiet about it.
But Coley? Oh, Coley would be a match made in heaven for a super-fundie evangelical church.
The Promises I Believed.
For my own part, I recognized eventually why I’d so quickly converted to evangelicalism.
Mostly, I feared Hell. The Southern Baptist salespeople preying upon me as a child of 16 took ruthless advantage of my fear. They sold me this vision of a god who’d protect me and keep me safe not only from Hell, but from harm in this life as well. Demons, after all, were a big huge problem in my end of the religion pool.
As well, I responded eagerly to their promises about social structure, of certainty about absolutely everything, of strong relationships with my fellow Christian churchmates, and of the sheer narcissism of thinking of myself as the very literal daughter of a literal god (it took me years to connect that thinking to my childhood fantasies of being a real live Space Princess).
Those are some really awful promises to cling to anyway, so I’m glad they turned out not to be true. But it was devastating when I finally realized that they just weren’t what I’d been sold.
I was even more devastated when I realized why they weren’t.
They Kept Altering the Deal.
Of course, when I very meekly raised mention of any disappointment, I encountered the bait-and-switch that pretty much all converts do eventually.
You guessed it! I got told to be happy I wasn’t going to Hell. Anything else was just gravy to be doled out according to our god’s whims. If I didn’t get gravy, I didn’t have the right to complain.
It’s pure gaslighting, but it’s all Christian hucksters can do when their signed-up recruits complain.
Only God Can avoids that whole problem by ending its story with a baptism scene.
Real life plots don’t end so tidily. Life rolls on and on. Those joyous baptism scenes don’t tend to materialize into lifelong recruits. And the only thing evangelicals could do to fix the situation, which is following through on their own marketing promises about themselves, they won’t ever want to do.
They can’t force recruits to stick around, not like they used to anyway, and so it was better just to end the movie on what would be the last high note in a real-life version of this story.
Even a movie totally pandering to evangelicals about an all-powerful imaginary friend couldn’t dream that big.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then: What do Magic Christians wield? Why, Magic Sales Pitches, of course! And then we look at one of the goofiest outgrowths of narcissism imaginable: the revival. We’re cruising right into Christmas around here–see you soon for it!
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Obligatory final note.