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Lee Strobel’s Martyrbation List (#13-15)

Lee Strobel’s Martyrbation List (#13-15) June 12, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been examining a listicle from Lee Strobel’s 1993 book Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. This listicle represents various ‘observations’ he says he’s made over the years — and drawn from his own life as a totally-used-to-be-an-atheist-y’all. In this last installment, Lee Strobel stops selling evangelicals on seeker-sensitive churches to remind them that only they, as evangelicals, understand how to Jesus correctly. Moreover, he warns them that if anybody criticizes their Jesus-osity, it’s literally only because of their blazing-bright Jesus Auras. Today, let me show you how Lee Strobel models martyrbation for his readers.

martyrbation
(Jack Hunter.) This is exactly like not being able to put your kids through reparative therapy against their will.

(Previous Lee Strobel listicle posts: Seeker-Sensitive Churches Ahoy; The Many Lies Lee Strobel Tells About Unchurched Harry and MaryA Portrait of the Captain as a Young Hell-Bound Pagan (1-4)Indoctrinating Evangelicals More (5-8)The Original Listicle and Comments. A Jesus aura is the imaginary halo of bright Jesus-y essence that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ imagine surrounds themselves. It both inexorably attracts and utterly repels others, depending on the Christians’ desires of the moment.)

Martyrbation: The Sport of Crybullies.

The second I spotted marytrbation on Slacktivist’s comment section years ago, it clocked me. What a perfect word to describe so many Christians today! (Random_Lurker may have invented it.)

Martyrbation consists of glorying in imaginary persecution. When Christians need a hit of validation and superiority, they seek out or provoke criticism and pushback. Then, when they get it, they smugly tell themselves (and anybody who’ll listen) that their victims only criticized and pushed back against them because of their Jesus Auras — not because they were jerks. Gosh golly, they were only doin’ whut Jesus tol’ them t’do! It’s not their fault errybody hates them for their faith!

Or they’ll make a demand that represents 100% overreach — for something that is absolutely not theirs to even covet, much less demand, much less seize. When denied, they retreat into martyrbation: everyone hates them! Everyone wants to rip away their religious liberty

It’s so hilariously obvious, what they’re doing — obvious, that is, to everyone but themselves.

A great many irresponsible Christian leaders encourage martyrbation in their flocks. Lee Strobel’s only one of those leaders, but his book came very early in their evolution into their current form.

So let’s see how this oh-so-evolved, totally-used-to-be-an-atheist-y’all, completely seeker-sensitive evangelical dude teaches his followers to see people outside their bubble.

“13) Confused about sex roles but don’t know the Bible can clarify for them what it means to be a man and woman.”

Ah, I knew we’d run into the culture wars sooner or later. That’s all this is about. In 1993, LGBT rights were barely on the radar, but this item’s more about straight, cis men and women. Women’s rights were very much on the radar at that time, and men began to second-guess themselves — or, in evangelicals’ case, to bristle at all these changes that impacted their leisure time and preferred behavior patterns, leading them to clamp down on their sexism all the harder.

Indeed, in the book itself Lee Strobel starts with poor widdle Unchurched Harry:

He feels whipsawed between the women’s movement that’s urging him to be more sensitive and the men’s movement that’s advising him to get back to his primal roots.

But Unchurched Mary is having similar concerns:

Often, she’s doing an exhausting juggling act, trying to balance marriage, family, and a career. Feminists are shouting in one ear, ‘You can have it all,’ while her churched friends are whispering with disdain in the other, ‘A mother’s place should be at home with her kids.’

But don’t worry! TRUE CHRISTIANITY™ will take care of both of them! Sort of. Strobel actually doesn’t offer any real answers to either quandary, or give any reasons for his preferences. Instead, he Jesus-glosses over both in his rush to declare that his preferred flavor of Christians are the only group ever that understands sex roles and how people should conduct relationships. Everyone else, by definition, doesn’t.

Imagine being an evangelical reading that. This isn’t a description of unchurched people; it’s a polemic aimed at scaring the flocks out of reconsidering their affiliation with evangelicalism.

And in 1993 and as a Pentecostal married gal, I was already realizing just how shockingly abusive, unfair, predatory, and cruel evangelical men tend to be toward women. But the unchurched people I knew had already figured that out long ago.

“14) Proud to be tolerant of various faiths but thinks Christians are narrow-minded.”

Ah, now we get into the real martyrbation. Here’s how Lee Strobel describes this totally-for-realsies “observation” of his:

Harry is willing to let Christians worship their God, Muslims worship Allah, and Hindus worship their proliferation of gods. But when Christians assert that their way is the only way to heaven, Harry calls that bigotry.

Well, no, actually, that is absolutely not what’s going on here. This is a strawman argument. Evangelicals (like Lee Strobel) aren’t “asserting” this. They’re bellowing their inept sales pitches in the faces of unwilling, nonconsenting audiences, then trying to seize other people’s human rights and liberties to create a theocracy in America run exactly like the Republic of Gilead, just with extra Jesus Power to make it awesome instead of hellish.

Also, literally nobody thinks that evangelicals are bigots because they think their religion alone grants salvation. Instead, we think bigotry involves trying to rob entire demographics of their rights and liberties, dehumanizing them, and negating their dignity.

But Lee Strobel really needs his tribe to pity themselves to the point of martyrbation. He needs them to feel like they get accused of bigotry for totally unfair and invalid reasons. Aww, poor them! Poor widdle TRUE CHRISTIANS™! Look how they suffer compared to other religious groups! Oh, they SUFFER!

The solution, of course, looks like Lee Strobel-style apologetics to knock down that strawman. He promises that this tactic will lead Unchurched Harry to “shelve his objection that Christians are narrow-minded.” 

“15) May try church if invited, but that may do more harm than good.”

I loved this one. What a baldfaced manipulation attempt this sorry mess represents.

First, Strobel reaches for a Barna Group survey (reminder) that found that about 25% of unchurched people “would gladly attend church if a friend would only extend an invitation.”

He marvels:

Can you imagine what would happen if we really got serious about evangelism and invited all those people to church one Sunday? The pews would be packed!

Haha, sure. Those fields are so white unto harvest, y’all.

After waxing poetic about friendship evangelism and lifestyle evangelism, he asks — in italics no less:

One in four unchurched people may give church a try, but what will they find when they get there?

It’s a fair cop. Evangelicals are notoriously incapable of extending real hospitality to visitors. They’re downright awful as a group. Strobel’s galaxy-brained solution involves demanding churches reform themselves so visitors will want to join — as if that is even a possibility with such a control-hungry bunch of narcissists.

What makes this item so hilarious is that it’s not really a description of unchurched people. It’s more a demand that churched evangelicals act more like Lee Strobel’s ideal TRUE CHRISTIANS™ so they don’t drive off visitors. Bad Christians wreck sales, donchaknow!

The Lessons of This Section.

Evangelicals will absorb some key lessons from these three “observations.”

  1. If they leave their churches, they won’t know what to do about their gender roles anymore. The secular world is soooooo confused! Gosh, not at all like TRUE CHRISTIANS™ following Jesus’ prescribed gender roles and relationship rules, which look remarkably like a mashup of Mad Men, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Leave It To Beaver.
  2. Everyone accusing them of bigotry is just being mean to them. Evangelicals should drill down harder on being offensive, controlling, and self-pitying. Jesus likes that stuff. He gets mad if they let up at all on any of it.
  3. Apologetics totally resolves unchurched people’s objections to evangelicals’ behavior. Totally. Buy and memorize lots of it.
  4. Evangelicals need to Jesus harder so visitors will want to stick around. If visitors reject them, obviously they aren’t Jesus-ing hard enough yet. A properly Jesus-ing church attracts and keeps visitors.

Lee Strobel isn’t even pretending at this point to offer a description of unchurched people. They’re not buying his book, after all. Instead, in these last few “observations” he speaks directly to his followers. Here, he grants them permission to impose on others and be absolute jerks — and then to pity themselves when others criticize them or slap their grabby hands away. Finally, he tells them to drill down harder on their tactics, using that criticism and rejection as PROOF YES PROOF that Jesus approves completely of their antics.

Why Martyrbation Happens.

She just wanted to gain christofascist points for bearding the lions hornets in their den and satisfy her martyrbation by (more or less deliberately) getting banned.

John Pieret, regarding a drive-by Christian

Martyrbation appears very unseemly to those outside the in-group. But it serves an important purpose within it. Leaders like Lee Strobel encourage martyrbation to keep the flocks feeling defensive and focused on themselves, and yet also smug and superior to the unwashed heathens criticizing them. Above all, leaders keep the martyrbation focus on continuing to provoke criticism.

If the flocks think that they’re being hard-done-by and unfairly criticized, it’s much harder for them to second-guess their own behavior. Defensive people have a tough time with introspection. Indeed, they spend every bit of energy they have on defense. Martyrbation looks very similar to antiprocess in that respect.

Evangelicals indulging in martyrbation tell themselves over and over again that they’re right, everyone else is wrong, and one day — oh, one day soon — we’ll all see the truth and we’ll be sorry. Until that fine day arrives, they continue to fight the culture wars and push their product.

What Martyrbation’s Doing to Evangelicalism.

A thing of beauty and a joy forever. 

Already, we see hints that Americans are getting over evangelicals’ blustery self-pity and belligerent chest-thumping and control-grabs. Last year, a survey came out from Pew Research Center (one of the reputable survey houses) that found that “to know evangelicals is to dislike them.”

Indeed, the better survey respondents knew people of various religions, the warmer they felt toward those religions — except for evangelicals. The better they knew evangelicals and their religious views, the less they liked them!

In 2017, another survey from another reputable source found that white American evangelicals think they experience more discrimination than Muslims. I remember everyone just having a field day with that — while evangelicals pouted and sulked and insisted that they were being persecuted for feeling so persecuted.

By now, evangelicals take as read that the whole wide world hates them and wishes ill on them — for no reason at all except that they’re TRUE CHRISTIANS™ following Jesus’ direct orders (sort of).

So this encouragement toward martyrbation might lead to some evangelicals drilling down all the harder, sure. But this bizarre display also alienates them even further from the very people they desperately need to join them, fill their churches, pay tithes, and vote straight-ticket Republican in every election.

Even those firmly planted in evangelical pews might start wondering, as I once did, “Are we actually the baddies here?”

Mitchell & Webb sketch.

And the answer, unfortunately, is yes. At all costs, the Lee Strobels of the evangelical world need to keep the flocks from considering that possibility. Luckily, the flocks seem very happy to be deceived. That’s at least part of why their decline will only continue.

NEXT UP: Let’s take a brief segue to check out a multi-level marketing (MLM) hun who’s latched onto trendy testimonies to sell her scam to others. Yes, y’all, she totally used to be anti-MLM! It’s happened at last! See you tomorrow!


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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