This will be part of an ongoing series I’m going to henceforth call Black Jeezus’ Guide to Knowing Believers (in the Non-Biblical Sense, Of Course). The title needs work, I guess, but it’s a series of articles intended to help both non-believers and believers, wherein I lay out a few observations about a particular faction or type of religious believer and give tips on clever and constructive ways to respond and communicate to/with them.
Who knows… I might even get a few guest writers to contribute to the series. So stay tuned.
Today’s segment focuses on evangelists.
Allow me to set the scene for you; like an acting coach, if you will. (Except I promise not to make you blow me for a shot at the big time.) Here’s the scene:
You’re at the park, minding your own business, enjoying your atheist life, partaking in leisurely activities like kite flying, Frisbee golf, or public breastfeeding.
Out of the corner of your eye, you see him. He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt (maybe it’s tucked in, with a belt), he’s got sandals on, his eyes are kinda glazed over and accompanied by a notable quasi-sociopathic smile, and he’s carrying something. A book?
Maybe it’s a bible?
Yes, it’s definitely a bible. He’s either the last Branch Davidian alive, or he’s an evangelist. A bible-thumper. A Jesus-head.
Your eyes begin to roll, but you go back to your activity and hope that perhaps he won’t notice you. Perhaps he’ll sense your godless aura and leave you alone. Or maybe if you don’t move, he won’t see you. Like a velociraptor.
But before you know it, he’s right in front of you, and with little hesitation he opens his mouth and says, “Good evening. Do you have some time to talk? I’d like to share the good news with you…”
Section 1: Many Shapes and Forms
That’s just one common way the evangelist makes his or herself known, but it could almost literally happen anywhere, including:
- On a public bus
- On the subway
- In the library
- On the beach
- At a restaurant
- Before or after class
- At a urinal
- At a strip club
- In his hotel room after he’s hired you to “carry his luggage” via a popular gay prostitution website, RentBoy.com
There are also several different types of evangelist.
The Town Crier’s method is to annoy several bystanders simultaneously, rather than just one at a time. He or she might stand on a soapbox or soapbox-like platform on a street corner and spew made-up nonsense about hell and damnation, or they might get on a public bus and loudly read pre-written made-up nonsense from the bible.
The Litterer’s specialty is printed religious propaganda, commonly known as tracts. Bible tracts are small booklets or pamphlets with a written message on it. Sometimes they include pictures, because studies show that when you lie to people, it’s best to use cartoons. No one really understands the rationale behind tracts (my guess is, they figure “if it works for North Korea…”), and it’s doubtful anyone would be convinced that Jack and the Beanstalk were real because of a comic book someone gave them at the Brownsville metro station, but there are a lot of silly people out there, so… maybe.
The Televangelist is irrelevant to this discussion, since their brand of abrasive evangelism is done over fiber optic cable and satellite signals, with no opportunity to respond. But I’m including them anyway, just for the hell of it. These are the guys like Joel Osteen or Pat Robertson or TD Jakes or Deepak Chopra, who go on television and tell you that you’re an idiot and a terrible person, but that the Hebrew space god loves you and wants to make you rich so you can buy Amy Grant CDs and bitches. And all you have to do to open up the proverbial floodgates of heaven is make yourself poorer by giving your money to the guy in the television (and not question at all why he can’t simply use the same method for himself).
The Jehovah’s Witness is essentially The Litterer, but much more invasive. They’ll bring their pamphlets and assorted propaganda right to your door, saving you the trouble of having to get properly dressed. Why go through the hassle of going out to get pestered, when you can do so from the comfort and now-invaded privacy of your own home? (It’s worth noting that the Jehovah’s Witness door-to-door approach has been adopted by other non-Watchtower-Society religious factions as well, usually in the context of inviting you to a church event, youth group meeting, hootnanny, shindig, or ice cream social at their place of worship)
Finally, The Internet Evangelist (related to The Internet Apologist, which we’ll get into another day) makes their presence known by tossing up occasional bible verses and nuggets of religious dogma on their facebook wall or on twitter. This makes Internet Evangelists easier to ignore. It’s also a noteworthy fact that the non-confrontational quality of the internet tends to instill Internet Evangelists with a sense of unsubstantiated confidence in their statements; a confidence which they’ll rarely have the intellectual prowess to back up, if challenged. This is a phenomenon I like to call The Holographic Balls Factor.
Section 2: Talking to Evangelists
Dealing with evangelists gets easier and more effective with experience. If you really don’t want to be bothered, most of them have enough sense to politely excuse themselves after hearing a simple “No thanks.” But if you think you’re up to the challenge, it’s really not hard.
The tactics they use are pretty common and formulaic, and they’re rarely adequately prepared for a clever response from an educated party. Occasionally the believer will even follow a kind of general script.
Way of the Master is a common one, popularized by a mustachioed Aussie who thinks a banana proves Jesus and the dude who played Mike Seaver on Growing Pains. Quite the intellectual team-up, obviously. Way of the Master relies on a lot of stupid, needless presuppositions and Pascal’s Wager.
In general, the formula for Way of the Master and most other evangelistic approaches is the same. Ask you a bunch of questions about your personal life. Point out that if you were judged by the rules of the bible, you’d fail and fry in hell. Then offer an arbitrary solution to your problem: say, verbal recognition of the blood sacrifice made by a Jewish zombie two thousand years ago.
The trick is to have questions of your own. You’ve got several choices. You can go the general route, and ask questions like these:
- What do you mean when you use the word “god”?
- How do you claim to know the things you know about god? Is this a reliable source of information?
- Given two conflicting statements about god (let’s say “god is good” or “god is a sadistic trickster who created the world and then decided to deceive as many people as he could and then torture them”), how do you determine which is accurate?
You can also take a more specific approach and ask questions about Christian doctrine that the evangelist will then be forced to defend:
- Why should we regard stories written about a man several decades after his death as accurate, especially when they contain supernatural occurrences that we wouldn’t believe in any other context?
- Why believe second-hand accounts of the life and lessons of Jesus, when a god-man could have easily written his life and teachings down himself to avoid confusion and misinterpretation?
- Who is Paul, and why should we believe him if he admits that he never met Jesus?
- What reason do we have to presuppose the bible is the “Word of God”?
Questions like these should cause the evangelist to at least fumble a bit. If they try to avoid such questions by saying “Let’s get back on topic,” you can counter with “But these questions are important, and the strength of your argument kinda relies on them being properly answered.”
You can also hone in on one particular topic of discussion. “Sin,” for instance:
- How is “sin” any different from a non-existent disease, made-up so that people would think they need the snake-oil salesman’s fake cure?
- Isn’t god at least partially responsible for sin?
You get the idea.
Enough questions, and eventually the evangelist will begin to answer with “we’re not meant to know everything,” or “some knowledge is meant only for god.” At that point, you can counter that this may be true, but then Christians should stop asserting that the bible has “all the answers,” if it is unable to provide consistent answers to simple questions.
Before long, the evangelist will inevitably reach for what he believes to be the end-all kibosh of evangelistic tactics: Pascal’s Wager.
“What if,” he’ll say, “you’re wrong? What if there is a god, and you die and there you are facing judgement? What then?”
A laugh is the best response to this. Followed by, “Well, what if you’re wrong, and there is no god? Or what if you’re wrong, and there is a god, but his name is Allah? Or Zeus? Or Cthuhlu? Or what if you’re wrong, and there is a god, but he’s only letting people into heaven who had the sense not to believe in him?”
This is usually the point where your new evangelist friend will start to end the conversation by offering up a “Jesus loves you” or an “I’ll pray for you.”
But it rarely ends any other way.
You can try to make them see reason, but as Gregory House said, “If you could reason with religious people, there’d be no religious people.”
See? We can quote fictional characters, too.
Section 3: Understanding Evangelists
Let’s pretend for a minute that you’re an irrational person, who’s not very good at checking facts or weighing evidence.
Now pretend that you had a vision or heard from someone you trust that the government had placed a microscopic nano-bomb on my car that would explode and burn me to smithereens the second I left the parking garage. Because I know too much. And because the government hates libertarians and Puerto Ricans, which makes me a double-whammy.
And let’s pretend that you believed this vision or this testimony. You’re convinced my car is going to blow up as soon as I leave the parking lot.
What’s my point? Well, my point is that if you were convinced of this, and you truly cared about me, you’d try as hard as you could to convince me of what you’re certain of. And it probably wouldn’t matter to you if I thought the idea was completely irrational.
In fact, in your effort to “save” me, you might even be tempted to make some things up. Skew some facts. Tell little white lies that would make your story more convincing to me.
Maybe you’d tell me that you personally saw a guy in a black suit with sunglasses planting something in my gas tank. Or you’d tell me a story about some other time that you had a vision and it turned out to be right.
And if I argued with you and tried to make you see how irrational you were being, you’d probably resort to “What if I’m right?” as well. You’d ask me if driving home is worth risking a government-funded fiery death. (Because no death pisses off a libertarian more than one paid for by taxes)
This is essentially what’s going on in the mind of the modern-day evangelist.
Even though it’s infinitesimally unlikely that their god is real and that their interpretation of the bible accurately represents the reality of our universe, they’re convinced by it, and they want you to be convinced by it.
They don’t care if they pester you, because they care about you.
Now, mind you, this isn’t at all the case with 100% of evangelists. And it doesn’t make evangelism any less annoying. But at least it gives you an idea of their motives and explains a bit why they’re unable to leave well enough alone.
There’s nothing quite so sad as irrational people with admirable intentions.