Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Who Is This Jesus Fellow, Anyway?

On the one hand, I find Chick Tracts deeply disturbing because they are hateful beyond reason. I find that at local convenient stores and such all the time and feel the urge to wash my hands after handling them. (I throw them away because I do think of the children.)

On the other hand, Chick Tracts are hilarious. There is always that point in the story where the witnessee is all "Jesus- who's that?!" The only people in the US who would have that reaction to hearing about Jesus would be newborns or people who just got off a plane- from Mars.

So Michael Mock makes an excellent point* in his series on Christian evangelism:

Don't believe me? I recently got annoyed enough[3] to actually write out the reasons why I am not a Christian. They're... comprehensive. In order to bring me back into the fold, you would have to find a way to satisfactorily address everything in that post. That would require, among other things, some sort of epiphany - in the original sense of the word, where God reaches down and touches my thoughts - that seems to confirm not only God's existence, but Christianity as the best way of understanding Him. Can you provide all that? Now, every other former believer is going to have their own version of that list. It's not just a matter of offering a ground-up justification for Christian beliefs. You're going to have to start all the way down in the foundation, and work from there.

Does that sound like the sort of job where Sisyphus himself would watch you with a little gleam ofschadenfreude in his eyes?

I love a good Sisyphus reference.

I don't know why, but there is a certain segment of evangelical Christians who seem to think the only reason you aren't currently at church worshipping is because you simply don't know about this Jesus fellow, because if you had heard of Jesus once in your life, you'd automatically start worshipping him. To know him is to love him, to not love him is simply not to know him. There is literally no other reason one could have for not worshipping the Christian god (in exactly the way the witnessor does.)

In real life, I'm not very confrontational, so I generally deal with this in one of two ways, completely ignoring the earnest evangelist, or claiming to be of the faith already. The latter option can get a little dicey if they start asking questions about your church, etc., so I don't really recommend it. Sometimes, I thank them and then tell them they have convinced me to rejoin the Catholic Church. That's fun for the whole family!

Here's the thing, earnest evangelist, you know all those Way of the Master videos you see in which Ray Comfort, et al. claim to have converted atheists, et al.**? That's not true. Those people are not atheists. They belong to a certain subset of Christianity that is very common in the US, common because the US is a predominantly Christian country, in both numbers and culture. These people may not attend church or read the Bible, but they do accept that Christianity is the right way to go and that the Bible is the authoritative word of the Christian God, who is the correct god to worship. In fact, they don't consider any other god to be real, nor do they accept any other religion as being anything other than a confusing curiosity. This group may well be the largest group of Christians in the US.

It's not too hard to convince such a person that your particular interpretation of Christianity is true. You just need to be confident and insistent. Reference the Bible, they don't know what it says, but they do accept it as authoritative. Reference Hell, they believe in it. Reference Heaven, they want to go there. You can "convert" these people all day long. (Not that I think convincing one sort of Christian to be another sort of Christian is actually conversion.)

The problem is, Ray Comfort and his ilk sell this sort of evangelism and "conversion" as something it is not: effective against atheists, especially former believers who are now atheists. We've heard all your arguments, in fact, we probably made them at one point. We've read the Bible. I own 17 different Bibles and I've read every one of them cover to cover (well, not the Begats). I am intimately familiar with your holy book, I just don't think it's any holier than The Lord of the Rings. (And not nearly as well written.) I've also read the Q'ran and the Bhagavad Ghita, and I follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama on twitter (@DalaiLama). Quote the Bible at me and I'll quote it right it back, or ignore you. This isn't news to me.

That's really what it is. This is not news to me. Let me repeat myself: The Good News is not news to me. I have heard it before. Hearing the Good News did not convince me of anything the first 1,000 times I heard it, this time is not going to be different. Yes, yes, I know, I'm standing on the train tracks and the train is coming fast and ZOMG! Hell!!!1!!eleventy!!!

You know what? I am a competent, adult individual and that's a risk I have decided to take. I know, I'm scaring you and you would rather I did not take that risk, but I feel the same way about bungie jumping and sky diving. The big difference is you don't see me hanging out at airports and bridges screaming at people to stop exposing themselves to avoidable danger. I know the danger, okay? I have made an informed decision and continuing to inform me of the risk I have decided to take is completely unnecessary and really annoying.

So ask yourself something: have you, personally, ever been swayed by someone questioning your right to self determination in an annoying fashion? If not, why do you think that anyone else would be swayed by such a thing?

*Actually, MM almost always makes a good point in his posts.

**You would not believe how many legal documents I've typed in the last two days.


  1. I love Chick Tracts, I have file full of all sorts of Evangelical tracts. It makes me laugh.

  2. Hmm. Now I'm feeling a strange urge to make my own list...

  3. I am a really snotty person to Christians, especially of the proselytizing variety (I was raised in Jehovas Wittness family but grew up rejecting the whole thing. Fun times), I usually tilt my head, smile and tell them I just can't forgive them for the slaughter of my pagan ancestors whose demonic spirits cry out for bloody vengeance...even today. I hear them. Always.

    At this point, they leave me the eff alone.

    Because much like you PF, I have read the bible. All of it. They usually haven't, and I can make them stumble all over themselves about it and then tell them that by their own logic they should be stoned for that rayon cotton blend, and baby smooth shave.

    It's annoying. I'm not an atheist as such, but I'm...non-theist? I don't know, I don't talk about it, I rarely write about it and somehow this is not life threatening. STFUing-- it...doesn't hurt. If only they knew!

  4. @ ppbloggers - I'm kind of with you on that. Functionally, I'm an atheist, but I really don't self-identify in religious terms at all.

    Also, none of you can see it, but I'm seriously blushing over here. Thanks, PF.

  5. what *IS* it with this persistant belief that NO ONE "knows" who or what or why Jesus is? and how can they keep that belief while at the SAME TIME continue to believe that they're being "persecuted" for their belief? would said persecution require KNOWLEDGE?


  6. @denelian

    You make a very good point. I have heard lots of smug christians claim that we're all just jealous, and I lol'd.

    @Michael Mock I really enjoyed your writing, may I add you to our blog roll?

    I do identify as practicing a specific religion, Shinto, but it's not a theistic religion, so I don't know where that puts me.

  7. @ ppbloggers - feel free.

    Also, that's an interesting point: Shinto really doesn't really fit on the atheist-theist spectrum at all, does it? Personally, I'd say it puts you under "Religion: it's more complicated than that," but I imagine that isn't the sort of thing I'd care to have to explain to people on a regular basis.

  8. @MM

    Thanks! Yeah, I don't even try to explain Shinto to Christians. I was told by an evangelical that there are witches everywhere and I will regret it! BITTERLY! Lollerskates, jet powered.


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