Hi and welcome back! Recently, we began examining a book by evangelical apologist and toxic Christian Lee Strobel: 1993’s Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. In it, he tried to teach his followers how to sell evangelicalism more effectively to people who weren’t part of any churches (the unchurched, as he and many other leaders put it). A big part of that book examines an extended listicle describing what unchurched people are supposedly totally like. Today, we’ll explore a part of the list that actually points directly to evangelicals themselves. (In the process, we’ll check out yet another similarity between multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) and toxic Christianity.) Let’s dive in!
(Previous posts about Lee Strobel’s book: The Many Lies About Harry and Mary; A Portrait of the Captain. Some past Lee Strobel mentions: The Second Big Mistake Apologists Make; Science- and History-Based Apologetics; Throwdown: Ex-Atheist vs Ex-Satanist Testimonies.)
BEING the Product.
In the world of multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs), queen bees and leaders there often tell their followers to be the product of the product they sell.
That means they want huns (those involved in recruiting for MLMs) to buy and consume whatever it is their scheme sells to keep the Feds off their backs a bit longer. More than that, even, MLM leaders want their huns to do all this consumption in the most public and enthusiastic ways possible.
By now, MLM leaders and gurus consider this advice an absolute must. It goes right up there with not talking to anyone who actually understands how MLMs operate because of the negativity that engagement might create in a recruit’s mind.
As the thinking goes, if huns very publicly buy and consume their products, talking them up the whole time, then others will see how wonderful the product is. In turn, that will inspire those observers to buy and consume it themselves. Maybe some of those onlookers will even want to join the MLM!
And this advice can be found everywhere in the MLM world. I’ve heard it in connection with countless MLMs.
As one MLM victim parrots on Quora:
Make sure you will be the product of your own product because that will show your belief. If you don’t take your product, you will not be convincing enough.
What those MLM leaders/victims are talking about is modeling.
And Lee Strobel seems to just love the idea.
Modeling in Toxic Christianity.
Often in his writing, Lee Strobel claims to do various things that he wants his fans to start doing. A couple years ago, I spotted this tweet from his official account:
In the tweet, Lee Strobel says he dislikes Mexican food, and yet he eats at a particular “little Mexican restaurant three times a week.” He claims to do this specifically so he can “get to know [the staff] personally and share Jesus with them.”
Of course, I call shenanigans. No evangelical man, much less one of their big-name leaders, will happily do anything he dislikes for long. It’s even harder to imagine an evangelical leader eating food he doesn’t like “three times a week” just to gain an opportunity to hard-sell his religion to people who are just trying to do their job — and who have obviously rejected his overtures for quite some time.
My guess is that Lee Strobel just has some kind of thrice-weekly Liars-for-Jesus meeting that’s coincidentally set at this restaurant. But he very obviously wants his readers to think that he’s chosen to evangelize these poor restaurant owners/workers in this way, and that he shares the story now as a way to encourage them to do likewise.
So as we go through this part of his listicle about unchurched people, be watching for his modeling attempts.
“5) Has Legitimate Questions About Spiritual Matters But Doesn’t Expect Answers from Christians.”
Don’t you love the shade here — and the implicit command from King Lee Strobel to his followers to danged well have answers to all those “legitimate” questions.
In the book, Lee Strobel illustrates this “observation” with an anecdote about an argument he had with someone he specifically identifies as a Jewish guy, a professional comedian who “cornered” Strobel after some panel discussion “about the credibility of Christianity.” He says their argument about the supposed Resurrection of Jesus got so heated that “an off-duty FBI agent tried to break [them] up.” However, after a half hour of wrangling the comedian thanked him for “being willing to argue.”
When Strobel totally apologized for “having gotten emotional,” which is a dishonest softening of how evangelical blowhards actually react to any pushback, his opponent shushed him. Now that they’d had it out, said this Jewish comedian who totally exists, “he would be willing to more calmly look for answers.”
Strobel wants his followers to go do exactly the same thing he claims he did. He tells them that their marks really do want to have these sorts of arguments, and then models how things will proceed if only Christians are brave enough to dig in with those questioners.
Both are stone-cold lies, probably much like this whole scenario is. But his flocks trust him. See, he used to totally be an atheist, y’all.
By 1993, I knew very well that no, actually, almost nobody has any questions for TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
By 1994, I’d figured out that Christians couldn’t answer any questions anyone had anyway. I’d spent a lifetime in Christianity earnestly seeking answers, and never once found any there.
“6) Doesn’t Just Ask, “Is Christianity True?” But Often Also “Does Christianity Work?”
Here, Lee Strobel slices objective truth away from his ideology’s workability in lived reality.
However, he’s not selling supernatural claims. He sells active membership in his social group, which pays lip service to those claims. And he knows that claims of workability figure prominently in marks’ minds when they evaluate a sales pitch. So this “observation” represents implicit advice to his followers to make sure they show that Christianity works wonderfully for them.
In the book, Strobel simpers quite a bit about how much he thinks Christianity could totally help young adults from dysfunctional families:
We need to help Harry understand the absolute and unchanging truth of Christ, but we should also explain how Christ is available to help him in practical ways to heal his hurts and help him deal with everyday living.
Of course, nobody joins Christianity to gain these supposed “practical” and “everyday” benefits without first buying all those supernatural claims.
In either order, recruits soon discover that Christianity doesn’t “work” at all. The sheer number of suffering evangelicals and horrifying scandals should be a major tip-off there. However, evangelicals learn early and well to pretend that their group works way better for them than it really does — all to attract vulnerable marks with their facades.
In 1993, I already sensed that being honest about my experiences would only drive away potential recruits.
By 1994, I was done with pretending. If I can’t honestly sell an idea, then
maybe it’s not worth selling at all.
“7) Doesn’t Just Want to Know Something; Wants to Experience It.”
This one’s also hilarious, and also an implicit directive to the flocks about how to sell their product to marks who aren’t part of church culture.
Here, Lee Strobel tells his followers: You’d better have an experience to show potential recruits that looks compelling to them!
In the book, he lavishes quite some time on describing how a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ church service should look. Here are some of the words he uses to describe these services:
Then, he promises readers that if they make sure their services look like that, then recruits will line up around the block to join up. He promises that such services will end Poor Unchurched Harry’s “quest for a personal experience with Him.”
And again, I call shenanigans. When I was Christian, I invited countless people to my church (that first Pentecostal one). I 100% promise it looked exactly like what he describes.
By 1993, I had made not one single sale. Nobody in my entire gaggle of friends had, either.
And by 1994, I’d realized just how inadequate experience is as a signifier of objective truth. After deconversion, I finally began to notice just how easily someone’s experiences can be manipulated, shaped, and molded by dishonest hucksters and our own hopes and fears.
Lee Strobel doesn’t have reality to sell. He has only lies to sell. So he goes for broke on stuff like experiences.
“8) Doesn’t Want to Be Someone’s Project, But Would Like to Be Someone’s Friend.”
This. Was. Gross.
Lee Strobel, Mr. “I only eat at this restaurant whose food I dislike so I can evangelize the workers there” himself, tut-tuts over Christians who act friendly toward others only to get a shot at converting them.
Does he not remember that earlier in this very book he called his non-Christian friends “hell-bound pagans,” cuz HAW HAW IT’S SO FUNNY, THIS ETERNAL TORTURE THING, and talked about how much he hungers to evangelize them? Does he not realize we saw what he wrote? Indeed, we were there! We saw him talking about them like he considers them his own personal human DIY projects!
What a hypocrite! What a foul and disgusting hypocrite!
He tells his followers to definitely be seeking sales among all their friends — like he does. But they should also act super-friendly, because Unchurched Harry suuuuure wants real friends and that’ll help them score some sales with him.
In my day, we got told this same stuff: be friendly, but also always be selling. It’s the same thing MLM huns get told when their uplines demand they monetize all of their relationships. Evangelicals hear this advice, as they did in 1993, dutifully parrot of course not, we’re totally really wanting to be real friends here, and then rush out to be fake friends just like they were doing before.
Lee Strobel also demands that his readers try to cultivate church groups that are genuinely friendly, but that ship had already sailed by 1993. Even I knew that. I’d been the victim of friendship evangelism myself, and I decided then never to do that to anybody else. But evangelical leaders like Strobel push two competing demands:
- Be friends with everyone you can!
- SELL SELL SELL to everyone you can! WITHOUT MERCY!
There’s not a way to square those demands. By now, most of us are well aware of how it’ll go when a super-enthusiastic evangelical (or MLM hun) makes overtures of friendship toward us.
Speaking to the Flocks.
We’ve reached the end of this part of the listicle. In summary, Lee Strobel models here a certain kind of behavior for his readers. He promises them that if they act the way he suggests, they’ll make sales. Specifically, he advises they act like this:
- Get in arguments with people because obviously hell-bound pagans all have big questions. Also, the flocks need to learn apologetics answers for all those questions.
- Act like evangelicalism works great as a lived ideology.
- Be happy-clappy all the time. Belong to churches that are really happy-clappy.
- Act friendly. Really friendly. Oh but obviously don’t just be friendly to score sales, even though that is 100% what is going on.
And he promises his followers that this projected facade will attract recruits.
I use “promises” in the present tense, by the way, because Lee Strobel still thinks this pile of steaming buffalo patties contains accurate, timely, useful information 25+ years after publication.
I’ve always been impressed with Lee Strobel’s sheer and complete and total and nuclear-grade lack of self-awareness, and his narcissistic ego might be the only thing that rivals it. That’s a cage match I’d pay PPV rates to see.
The Real Reason for Modeling.
MLMs have a 99%+ failure rate, so it really doesn’t matter how much or how enthusiastically MLM huns model their consumption of their schemes’ products. Whatever they do, they’re almost completely assured of losing money on their scheme. Also, huns represent their MLMs’ primary and almost only customers, rather than being those MLMs’ distributors, salespeople, consultants, or small business owners.
So when their upline commands these huns to “be the product of their product,” meaning to purchase and consume lots of their scheme’s products in a super-enthusiastic public way, huns are actually only spending more money (sending it up the scheme to their upline) and indoctrinating themselves further.
I wonder how much Lee Strobel understands of that process.
Maybe he knows that when a group’s leader pushes modeling at the drones, the drones are the ones most affected — not any outsiders who might be watching the drones’ performance.
A Portrait of Emotional Manipulation.
Either way, I see these four list items as a demand that evangelicals behave in certain ways to get their marks’ attention — and a promise that the marks will, indeed, pay attention to these behaviors.
In this part of the list, Lee Strobel offers love-bombing and shows of great enthusiasm, pretenses of evangelicals’ product working marvelously well, and church environments that keep people busy and engaged to hopefully stop them from thinking too hard about anything going on around themselves.
But what he doesn’t offer, what he’ll never offer, what he can’t offer, are actual compelling objective reasons to buy his product.
Even in 1993, that realization would have hit me right between the eyes. I was already starting to notice that same shortcoming in my own leaders and salesmanship lessons.
By 1994, I finally understood the massive amounts of emotional manipulation and dishonesty that went into finding and then enlisting new recruits into the worst and biggest scam of them all.
Now that it’s 2020, I guess it doesn’t surprise me much that nothing’s changed on that score in the past 25+ years. Scams are always more alike than they’re different, and their recruitment techniques and group dysfunctions seem remarkably similar even if their ideologies look worlds apart.
NEXT UP: LSP! Then, we’ll tackle more of Lee Strobel’s listicle.
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