Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been talking about Lee Strobel’s 1993 Christian book, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. In this book, Strobel offers his evangelical followers a peek into the minds of those outside their church bubbles. Ostensibly, he offers these insights along with strategies for recruiting those folks — though the insights don’t resemble reality in any way, and the strategies backfire considerably more than they work. In Chapter 7 of his book, he outlines what he calls ‘sticking points.’ These are the obstacles that he sees as stopping a new recruit from joining up. But they, too, do not resemble reality. So today, I’ll reveal my actual ‘sticking points,’ and hope you’ll share yours in comments!
(Previous Lee Strobel posts: Sticking Points; The Mystery Atheist; The Semi-Sales; Lee Strobel’s Best Friends; The Coin He Offers; Lee Strobel’s Friendship Evangelism; Friendship Evangelism; This Action Plan Doesn’t Work; Tickling Evangelical Ears; This Book’s Revealing Endorsements; The Many Lies Lee Strobel Tells About Unchurched Harry and Mary; A Non-Portrait of the Captain (1-4); Indoctrinating Evangelicals More (5-8); Seeker-Sensitive Churches (9-12); Martyrbation Ahoy (13-15); The Original Listicle. Page numbers come from the 1993 paperback edition of the book.)
Sticking Point #1: “I Can’t Believe.”
At first, Lee Strobel almost gets it (p. 104):
That’s the sentiment of people who have a specific intellectual or emotional issue that has halted their headway toward God.
He thinks people express this sticking point as “I can’t believe in the Bible/your god because…” The stuff that follows the “because” is where he goes off the rails, because it’s very clear he doesn’t think anything after that word represents any sort of valid reason to reject his product (active membership in his church). Here’s a sampling:
- “It conflicts with modern science.”
- “He permits my son to suffer when so many evil people seem to be successful.”
- “I can’t believe in something that we’re asked to accept purely on faith.”
- “I can’t believe in a god who ignores my calls for help.”
Every one of the objections he names is completely accurate.
All of these objections involve Christianity’s claims being utterly untrue. That’s not actually a “specific intellectual” issue. The problem is Christianity as a whole. Nor is what he describes emotional at all. It’s all based on the religion not being based in objective reality.
And that’s definitely one of the reasons I reject Christianity: it isn’t based on reality. I don’t want anything in my life that’s not based on reality.
When I say he almost got it up there, I mean that if he just sat down right there and swiveled, that’d be fine. Christians who accept the lack of objective support for their religion’s many claims tend to be all right as people. They don’t score a lot of sales, but I guarantee you that Lee Strobel doesn’t either — and neither do his fanboys.
But he’s Lee Strobel, and he makes a living in apologetics. So he doesn’t accept that his religion isn’t based in reality or that Christians can’t lay hands on any evidence whatsoever for their claims. His grand non-solution to “sticking point #1” consists of manipulation and apologetics. Seriously. He recommends a variant of Pascal’s Wager (p. 105):
I tell Unchurched Harry and Mary that there’s no advantage to being in Camp C [people who aren’t “seeking God”]. Unless God does something dramatic, as He did when he transformed Saul of Tarsus into Paul the evangelist, Camp C is a dead end. It’s a place that’s populated by closed-minded people who refuse to seek after the truth.
It amazes me that so many Christians listen to this asshat. This is so incredibly offensive.
Chasing the Truth Right Out of Christianity.
I always seek after the truth. I chased it right out of Christianity, after all!
When I use reality as my guide, it keeps me out of trouble. It also takes me to some amazing and wondrous places — and now, it’s Christians like Strobel who seem sadly self-limited and closed-minded to me. His “sticking points” strike me as projection more than anything else.
Strobel goes on to advise his followers to manipulate their marks by double-dog-death-daring them to pray, or to troll them by demanding that the marks spoon-feed the salesperson all the stuff in the Bible that’s inaccurate or erroneous. It’s appalling.
I’ve had many Christians try these exact strategies on me over the years — though I didn’t know then where they were getting their ideas. Obviously, none succeeded.
And Those Emotional Issues.
In this first section, Strobel also lumps in all the emotional issues that he sees as stopping people from signing up for his church. It’s plain that he considers both intellectual sticking points and emotional ones as coming from the same well: that both come from ignorance of apologetics and insufficient manipulation.
Strobel doesn’t name too many of these sticking points, but here’s the basic idea:
- Daddy issues/bad home life
- Fear of intimacy, especially if the mark has unapproved sex
He doesn’t advise doing much there, going so far as to suggest that soulwinners should tell such marks to visit “a Christian counselor who can help him deal with the root issue.”
He’s got a lot of nerve, demanding his marks work overtime on their own dime to figure out why they don’t want to buy his product. I doubt a single mark he’s said that to has ever done it.
Lee Strobel Strikes Out Again.
And obviously, neither of these two emotional “sticking points” had anything to do with my own deconversion. People with the background he describes gravitate to his flavor of Christianity because of its authoritarian nature. So if anything, my emotional state drove me to conversion in the first place.
Later, it was my mind that freed me — not my emotions.
Not that it matters, of course. It’s not up to King Lee to decide if someone’s rejection or deconversion is valid or not. If I’d deconverted because I thought Jesus was a silly name for a godling, that’d be my perfect right.
Don’t ever let a Christian salesperson make you feel less-than because you didn’t jump through all the hoops they think you should have. You’ll never win the approval and validation of a hard-sales manipulator.
(Engage as far as you want, obviously. Just know it will probably end with the huckster still convinced you suffer from “sticking points.”)
Sticking Point #2: “I Don’t Want to Believe.”
This one’s straightforward as well as hilariously bad.
Lee Strobel thinks there’s some large number of people who totally do kinda-sorta believe already, but they refuse to close the deal. In Strobel-Land, they refuse because they know they’d have to give up something they like doing.
This subsection offers us scene after scene of Strobel pushing himself onto his marks with unwanted gotchas and zingers, getting shut down hard, evincing a total lack of self-awareness each time, and then finally recasting each vignette to make it sound like he totally scored that time. It’s really something to see.
However, this subsection reveals again that Strobel doesn’t understand the difference between actual real evidence for a claim and what Christians have created as substitutes for it. Over and over again, he makes that mistake.
I pretty much assume that any slam-dunk semi-sale sorta-victory is an exaggeration, while any unequivocal rejection largely did happen. However, I doubt those rejecting his pitches gave the specific reasons he names. Nobody in this book talks like a real person — not even Lee Strobel himself. It’s hard to imagine someone being this incredibly pushy, smarmy, self-impressed, and over-the-top hard-sales in ordinary conversation.
Case in Point: This Was Amazing.
Here’s just one example — for context, he shoved himself at a stranger at his sister’s Christmas party. After a brief exchange, here’s how the guy shot Strobel down in flames (p. 112):
“May I tell you about the evidence that convinced me that it’s rational to become a Christian?”
He said, “No way. That’s evidence for you, not for me.”
I said, “Well, evidence is evidence.”
And he said, “Look, I’m not interested in hearing anything about evidence, because I don’t believe it’s possible to have any real evidence that there’s a God.” With that, he firmly closed the subject.
And then, y’all, and then Strobel
sulked psychoanalyzed the guy’s sticking points.
OMG YALL, Strobel totally figured out this guy just didn’t wanna give up his life of SEEE-YINNN! That’s why this mark had really rejected the product! Evidence had nothing to do with it! It wasn’t Strobel’s own ineptitude and pushy rudeness that’d turned off this mark. It was the mark’s SEEE-YINNN that he knew Jesus would make him give up if he closed the deal! Cuz Christians are paragons and not complete hypocrites!
The image of Lee Strobel pouting over a hard rejection, then coming up with this rationalization to soothe his narcissistic injury, has had me chuckling all day.
(In the comments: What do you think the stranger really said? How’d this exchange really go, if it happened at all?)
Overcoming Sticking Points Through Reframing.
Poor Lee Strobel. He’s trying so, so hard to figure out why his marks just don’t accept all this evidence he has for his claims! So he lands on this idea that the refusals simply must be rooted in not wanting to lose out on life as it is now.
His solution, of course, is to reframe Christianity as this awesome romp of an adventure through life and to insist up and down that of course he has all kinds of powerful evidence supporting his claims!
Neither is true, but I’ve noticed both strategies in use over the years in all the sales-minded flavors of Christianity. Their hucksters love to talk up the benefits of belonging to their flavor of the religion and Jesus-ing just like they do. If someone says “I didn’t have that same experience at all,” then it’s very easy to accuse that person of not having belonged to the correct flavor (which is to say: theirs) or of not having Jesus-ed correctly (which is to say: like they do).
But bear this in mind:
While Lee Strobel was writing about how wonderful it was to be a member of his church and to Jesus the way its leaders recommended, those same leaders were sexually harassing women like Willow Creek was their own private harem.
Oh yes, King Lee, tell me again how wunnerful Christianity is — for you.
It Had Nothing To Do With What I Wanted.
When I was Christian, my life was anything but a magical romp through Jesus-osity. I can’t say it was all horrible, but for the most part I lived a very restrictive life — all so that the men around me could benefit from my increased labor load. It wasn’t fun and it sure wasn’t something I’d have done if I hadn’t very firmly believed.
Later, when I found out about my friends’ churches in college, I liked the environment so much better. Still, I was never tempted to defy my indoctrination.
I was terrified of being Left Behind — or even of going to Hell for noncompliance. It didn’t matter what I liked or disliked. What mattered was what my magic invisible friend thought of it.
When I deconverted, I immediately dropped all those dumb rules and restrictions — because if a real live god had not ordered them, nothing else justified me following them.
Lee Strobel has this thing bass-ackwards — again. People don’t reject his product because they don’t wanna give up sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. I’ve never once encountered that — not while I was Christian, and certainly not since deconverting. It’s one of the most egregious of his many mischaracterizations of non-Christians.
It’s more like this: if someone doesn’t believe, then they can easily perceive that Christian rules are really just there so Christian leaders like Lee Strobel can better fleece their sheep.
The Yardstick Strikes Again.
The third and fourth “sticking points” concern disengaged Christians: (#3) not knowing what to believe out of all the competing claims in the religion, and (slightly reworded for #4) not knowing how to Jesus exactly perfectly like King Lee does. Naturally, Lee Strobel’s solution in both these situations involves lots of apologetics and emotional manipulation.
These two sticking points illustrate the Doctrinal Yardstick problem that I’ve outlined before:
It is almost impossible for any Christian to persuade other Christians that they’re wrong about something they believe. The more fervent the targets are, the harder it is to change their minds.
Generally speaking, an extremely fervent Christian can sandblast the soup cracker of a less-fervent one who’s in the right vulnerable mental state for such blatant manipulation. But equally fervent ones on both sides? Forget it. They’ll be arguing all night, invoking Bible verses and the original Greek and Hebrew like they’re all magic spells. By morning, all that will have happened is they both didn’t get enough sleep — and they’re each convinced the other has a “sticking point” labeled I just don’t WANNA change my mind.
In their way, though, both these sticking points illustrate what Lee Strobel’s really selling.
Since these sticking points represent already-believing Christians, now he must move them toward joining his group rather than staying in whatever group they’re in now. To do that, he must alter their beliefs to make their current groups seem unacceptable to them — while making his own group look like the only valid and viable option.
The Real Product Lee Strobel Sells.
At all times, we must remember that any evangelist’s actual product isn’t belief in Christianity. It’s active membership in evangelist’s own Christian group. At the end of the transaction, Strobel hopes to recruit a new tithes-paying, Republican-voting, volunteering church member. The belief system he peddles only becomes relevant in the context of selling that membership to the new mini-me he’s signed up.
In fact, he only goes as hard as he does on selling his flavor of belief because his actual product hinges so completely on it. His approach consists of creating a need by inducing belief in his supernatural claims, then whisking the mark along to (inadequately) fill that need by joining his group.
And in Unchurched, Lee Strobel reveals over and over again exactly why people reject this product. It has nothing to do with “sticking points,” either!
My Sticking Point.
As for me, I reject his product because it’s a poor-quality, overpriced, overhyped pile of garbage that hurts people and causes problems in society.
His group’s ideology simply isn’t true, and if it’s not based on the truth then there’s even less reason to join any Christian group. If Christianity turned out to be true (which is about as likely as Paris turning out to be in Yugoslavia and not France, or 2+2 equaling 647), then I still wouldn’t join Lee Strobel’s list of approved churches.
No, there’d be something much more important on my mind at that point.
What are your sticking points?
NEXT UP: What Lee Strobel says sotto voce to his followers represents the real success of Unchurched. I hope you’ll join me!
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PS: I loved this. Lee Strobel’s been working hard on one of his brothers for YEARS. But the guy’s still an “atheist,” whatever that means in Strobel’s mind.