I have about a hundred pages left in Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radosh. I mentioned the in another essay, but for those who didn’t read it and don’t like to click links, the book details a year of Radosh’s life among Evangelical Christians, soaking up their burgeoning pop culture. It’s a decent read, I’ll probably review it when I’m done, but reading the book has made me recall other brushes with Evangelism in my life.
One sort of funny incident happened when I was in my twenties and visiting a friend at a college in upstate New York. We were hanging out on a porch swing outside an ice cream parlor–yes, it was that innocent–when a kid about our age came over and asked, “Have you ever heard of God?” We all chuckled and I probably made a snide comment. Have I ever heard of God? What the fuck kind of question is that? Most people define themselves by which God, if any, they believe in. As I recall, we jeered him until he sneaked away bashfully into the night. Of all the nerve!
You know, I hadn’t thought about that incident in about fifteen years. I routinely chat up religious pamphleteers and proselytizers because…I don’t know why. I think it’s fun. I don’t try to poke holes in their beliefs, I don’t contest them, but I will lie and say I belong to a religion that I don’t. “I am a lapsed Lutheran,” I might tell a Jew for Jesus, “but I am looking for some kind of spiritual insight.” Part of me wants to hear the spiel, part of me wants to chortle inwardly at another person’s earnestness. However, there is part of me that wants to engage this person because I want them to know that people are listening, even if the chance that I will ever attend a sermon or even seriously consider the literature being handed out is so remote, it’s more likely that I am the son of God than I will ever accept a messiah. It’s sort of a strange tendency I have to prove that people are good when, in fact, all evidence points to the contrary.
I am like this with girlfriends, too. There have been more than a few women I’ve dated because their stories about being mistreated by men in the past touched me deeply, and I wanted to prove that all men aren’t the same. So I went through the motions of being a Good Boyfriend, offered lots of platitudes and promises for the future. Eventually, reality catches up with the facade: I can’t rightly pretend to be deeply in love for the rest of my life. The truth that I don’t really give a shit comes before too long. That’s usually what happens, and these relationships end with me ironically being the worst boyfriend that woman’s ever had.
But back to this kid who asked if we’d ever heard of God, in reading Rapture Ready! I’ve come to see this kid (who could be a pedophile meth addict now, I have no idea) as being particularly brave, if a little naive. “Have you ever heard of God?” is a pretty good ice-breaker, it makes people chuckle and puts them at ease for the bombshell about God’s wrath you’re about to disseminate. Another good opener might be, “Has anyone seen God? He was right here a second ago but I can’t find him.” There’s a lot going on in the question, “Have you ever heard of God?” It personifies God, implies that God is someone you can know, and also allows a dialogue where someone can begin telling their side of the story, i.e. “You’ve heard of God, but here’s the truth about the dude.”
The main problem with that kind of opener, and it’s a problem I see with a lot of witnessing in America, is that it’s only ready for a few types of responses. The best would be “Of course I have heard of God, I am a Christian.” That leaves the person asking the question a lane where he or she can start expressing what they think God’s about. However, that question isn’t ready for a response like, “I heard of God, he’s the guy who gave my grandmother cancer.” Or “I have heard of God, and what I’ve heard is a bunch of retarded bullshit.” Whatever the response to the question, the person asking it is only prepared to answer with the same shtick. You could say, “Yeah, God and I are butt buddies,” and the person asking can only reply with tales of creationism and God’s love, or they can walk away in disgust, a tacit win for the secular world.
I am a big fan of the Prayer Channel because much of the programming is so insipid and ridiculous. One of my favorite shows is The Way of the Master, which is a witnessing technique developed by some dude that looks like he deals pot to junior high school students. Kirk Cameron is the spokesperson for this thing and is heavily featured on the program, which consists of Christians stopping people on the street and harassing them. “Do you think you’ll go to heaven?” is often the first question, to which the person being asked responds in the affirmative. “Have you ever lied?” is the next question, which is also replied to affirmatively. The Way of the Master disciple then proves that the person being grilled is a sinner and is going to Hell, based on quoted scripture, and that they essentially aren’t being pious enough.
I suppose this works if the person being targeted considers themselves a good Christian. But what if they don’t give a fuck? Does Way of the Master’s way only work to guilt existing Christians into being even better Christians? If someone asked me if I thought I was going to Heaven, I would tell them that I don’t. I think it’s a stupid concept and its inconsistencies are so many that I have neither the space or time to go into them. What first needs to happen, then, is for me to be convinced about Heaven existing. Asking me if I’ve lied or if I’ve ever lusted is inconsequential. Of course I’ve fucking lied and I don’t give a shit. I lied to you at the beginning of this conversation when I said I was a lapsed Lutheran.
I guess my point is that I have to respect someone who can gather up the nerve to approach someone else and share their thoughts on theology. At the same time, it’s stupid for an interviewer to ask questions when they’re only prepared to deal with a certain set of answers. If Evangelists really want to convert people for their own good, then approaching them with such an obvious agenda is probably not the best idea. It’s like if I wanted to advertise a brand of cream soda, I wouldn’t approach someone drinking root beer and tell them they’re sipping it wrong. Instead, I’d point out that I have a drink they can use in the same way as the beverage they’re currently drinking, but it will taste a whole lot better! Only after I get them hooked on my cream soda do I ask for a tithing.