lee strobel can write all the books he wants; evangelicals' free ride's ending eventually
Reading Time: 9 minutes (K. Mitch Hodge.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I shared some thoughts regarding a ridiculous listicle created by apologist Lee Strobel. In 1993, he released that listicle as part of a book, Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary. With his book, Lee Strobel sought to teach evangelicals all about unchurched people — so they could more effectively pitch their product to these strange, alien creatures. Well, I deconverted right around 1994! So today, I want to look at his list in light of what I was like in 1993 and about to walk away from Christianity forever.

lee strobel can write all the books he wants; evangelicals' free ride's ending eventually
(K. Mitch Hodge.)

(Quotes come from cited sources. The original listicle was reprinted by Kevin here. It’s not a direct quote from the book, as far as I can tell, but it’s a close summary. Each listicle item is a subsection in the book, reworded to remove pronouns and sound more list-y. Incidentally, whoever made this list was way kinder to us than Lee Strobel was. The few full subsections of his that I’ve seen so far are filled top to bottom with vile mischaracterizations and insults. “Morally adrift,” indeed.)

That Strange, Alien Creature Outside the Sheepfold.

Evangelicals have a tendency to get their real-world information from the worst possible sources. This book represents just one drop in a whole ocean of examples of that unfortunately-misplaced trust. In this case, evangelicals look to Lee Strobel — a dedicated authoritarian and liar-for-Jesus — to tell them all about people who reject church culture.

They call such folks unchurched, which sounds very rude and presumptuous to me. But the phrasing is hardly accidental, as we’ll see.

Now, curious evangelicals could go and ask those folks why they opted out of church culture. They could ask us about our feelings, motivations, reasoning, and all that. Maybe some of us would even answer. Maybe we’d form some connections that day. At the least, maybe evangelicals would learn something real and true for a change. Maybe.

But instead, they go to an apologist to tell them all about people they could go and ask for themselves.

Doing the Research.

Even worse, then they simply take that apologist’s word for everything instead of double-checking anything for themselves or even analyzing it from a critical-thinking perspective. (This is what evangelicals mean when they tell you they’ve done the research.) Evangelicals think apologists’ work is true and accurate even if reality fails markedly to play along with any of it.

As a result of these defects in the authoritarian thinking process, evangelicals have a tendency to treat outsiders to their culture like goo-covered, twitching subhumans from outer space. Their apologists write listicles like the one we’ll examine today that make the unchurched sound downright insane, self-destructive, malicious, and stupid — and so naturally they see the unchurched as such.

So today, I offer up a response to Strobel’s blatant strawman attempt. If it gets even one evangelical to finally start second-guessing the tripe apologists use to tickle their itching ears, then I’ll consider it a success.

Me in 1993.

In 1993, I still lived in Houston (this was shortly before my very ill-fated trip to Japan with my then-husband Biff). That summer, he came up with the idea of going to Japan, which meant he had to give up his beloved volunteer stint with a fakey-fake women’s clinic run by Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC). However, “Jesus” promised Biff that he’d reward him lavishly for his obedience.

Right at the tail end of Biff’s CPC gig, I read his volunteer manual.

I’d already suffered quite a few challenges to my beliefs. Though I didn’t conceptualize it like this at the time, my faith pool was draining much faster than it could refill again. And well, that manual answered a lot of my most difficult and pressing questions.

More of those questions got settled that night during a Bible study and deep prayer session that I initiated specifically to hang onto my faith. Isn’t that what everyone says to do when a Christian struggles hard with doubt? Well, I did it. It never even occurred to me that I’d end that night any way other than strengthened.

By morning, however, I was no longer Christian. Surprise!

(My full deconversion ex-timony can be found here.)

A Strange New World.

In a lot of ways, I entered a strange new world that next morning.

I’d never known anybody who’d deconverted. Seriously, I thought I was literally the only person who ever had.

I mean, sure: I knew people who barely lived out their faith at all, like my dad (I’m not even 100% sure what flavor of Christianity he considered his). And when I reached college, I met and befriended people who’d grown up atheist (real atheists, not the trendy claims of totally-used-to-be-an-atheist-you-GUIZE that lowlife apologists like to make to bolster their credibility).

But I didn’t know anybody who’d actually disavowed Christianity once they’d been deeply involved with it, especially not at the level I had. According to my indoctrination, my deconversion was as impossible as unicorns made of rainbows!

And yet it moves.

There I was.

And now, let’s look at Lee Strobel’s list from that perspective.

“1. Has Rejected Church But Not Necessarily God.”

As you might imagine given that background, I bristled hard when I read Strobel’s list. The first item sets the tone for the whole thing. He tells his readers that those who reject “church” might not “necessarily” have rejected the supernatural being those churches worship.

And to a degree, that’s perhaps the only semi-true thing on the list. Some people do, indeed, reject church membership and go it alone for various reasons while still considering themselves fervent Christians. But Strobel blends different types of rejections together to arrive at a composite that doesn’t look like it fits very many people at all.

This list item tells evangelicals to figure out exactly why their mark-of-the-day has rejected their product. Is it a problem with church culture itself? Or is it a rejection of the supernatural claims as a whole? This way, they know how to better stage their sales pitches.

Remember, always, that evangelicals don’t sell “God.” They sell active membership in their group. It does them no good if the mark accepts their claims about “God” but doesn’t turn into an active member of their group. They’ll only redouble their efforts in that unlikely event.

It’s just that someone who’s rejected “God” needs to be persuaded of that claim first, before the salesperson can launch into the real sales pitch — the one pushing their actual product.

“2. Morally Adrift But Secretly Wants An Anchor.”

Actually, my morals drove my deconversion. It staggered me to see just how dishonest TRUE CHRISTIANS™ truly were in pursuit of their culture wars. I absolutely couldn’t remain part of a group that condoned such knowing, cynical dishonesty.

I’m talking about forced-birther culture warriors there.

But very quickly, I began seeing the parallels between them and my church leaders. They all acted the same way, all condoned the same hypocrisy in the name of expediency. “Jesus” wasn’t making any of them better people. Whatever Christianity was about, it was not powered by any divine forces. Once I saw that truth laid bare on that fateful night, I could never un-know it again.

And if nothing divine existed within Christianity, then I refused to throw in with Christians any further.

I was not morally adrift. I still am not. My morals are in fine fettle, thank you. If I ever need an anchor, I know where not to find it.

But Lee Strobel tells evangelicals not to believe what people actually say, but instead assume they know how other people feel — and to proceed from there with amateur psychoanalysis. Worse, he tells them to assume their marks need evangelicals’ product to provide them with “an anchor” of morality. In 1993, I was only beginning to understand just how piss-poor Christianity was at doing that!

Tell me again who’s morally adrift here? This list item alone tells me everything I need to know about Lee Strobel and his flavor of Christianity.

“3. Resists Rules But Responds to Reason.”

As I mentioned yesterday, this item uses a lot of redefinitions and dogwhistle terms. In the full book, Strobel describes “unchurched Harry,” an insulting strawman who indignantly declares that by gosh and by golly, only King Him decides what rules he’ll follow!

To Strobel, then, “rules” means “the control-grabs of evangelical leaders.” And thus, “reason” means “the hand-waving that evangelical leaders do to rationalize their control-grabs, which especially includes apologetics.”

Obviously, Lee Strobel — who sells apologetics materials to evangelicals — wants evangelicals to think that his style of “reason” can win over those resistant to his style of “rules.”

There’s a more insidious side to this item, of course.

If someone “responds to reason,” that implies that they’re happy to comply with “rules” as long as they see the “reason” for it. Thus, if someone’s not following “rules,” they currently don’t know the “reasons” for them. So all that person needs is to be taught the “reasons” by some kindly evangelical salesperson, at which point they’ll begin following the “rules” — if they’re “reasonable” people at all, that is.

In 1993, I was slowly coming to see evangelicals’ “rules” as shameless control-grabs, and their “reasons” as emotionally manipulative, self-serving, and cruel.

And then, when I deconverted, Biff soon discovered that I simply wasn’t “reasonable” anymore.

“4. Doesn’t Understand Christianity But Also Ignorant About Own Professed Beliefs.”

Nothing like a little intellectual insult before an apologist moves on to a rousing game of Last Ideology Standing, eh?

I get why Lee Strobel went here. Evangelical salespeople go through major contortions to avoid facing the truth: that the people rejecting their product usually have a decent understanding of it. Instead, evangelicals need to believe that those rejecting them misunderstood something big about their product — or don’t want to understand it. So they rejoice when Lee Strobel tells them that unchurched people don’t understand their product.

To that, I genially reply:


(Gosh, I wish it bothered Christians to be so dishonest. I wish more Christians cared about dishonesty on the part of Dear Leaders like Lee Strobel. But I guess that problem points back to that whole nothing divine is involved anywhere in Christianity thing again, doesn’t it?)

No, in 1993 I understood Christianity quite well. I’d been a fervent believer for years. I studied the Bible, prayed, and did all that other stuff Christian leaders insist will keep anybody Christian for life.

When I deconverted, I didn’t know what I believed anymore. But I did know what I absolutely did not believe

Since deconverting, I’ve only learned more about the religion — and none of that exploration has done anything but confirm my deconversion and strengthen my non-belief.

The Game Nobody Needs to Play.

Y’all, I’ve told you about my fervor as a Christian, my deep sense of morality and ethics, and even my unshakeable conviction that a divine system should function as, well, a divine system and not a fustercluck of abuse and hypocrisy.

But I didn’t need to do any of that. And neither do you.

Nobody actually has to play Last Ideology Standing with Christians to know that their product isn’t based at all in reality. Heck, nobody even has to be an ex-Christian to know that, much less a very fervent and committed Christian in whatever exact group an evangelical judge concedes Jesus-es perfectly right.

In fact, someone could have been the filthiest casual to ever drape a jeans-covered, tattooed tuckus across a mainline pew, “attending church every Easter and Christmas whether I needed it or not,” to paraphrase one of the smears in Lee Strobel’s book, and that person still could have perceived that Christianity’s claims were simply all false.

But Lee Strobel needs his flocks to see unchurched people as rejecting them for reasons that the flocks can actually fix.

“It’s not based in reality, and I only join groups that base their ideology on reality” isn’t something they can fix.

No, they need emotional reasons, my-mom-died-of-cancer reasons, someone-religious-did-me-dirty reasons, Jesus-would-never-forgive-a-sinner-like-me reasons. They need pushback that their negging, gaslighting, and logical fallacy-riddled apologetics can overcome.

That’s what Lee Strobel gave evangelicals with this book, and they love him for it.

A Manipulative Portrait of Nonexistent People.

Had I seen this list in 1993, toward the tail end of my time in Christianity, it would have confused, concerned, and deeply distressed me. By then, I already knew what actual unchurched people were like. They weren’t anything like that list. And I already knew of the sales techniques he alludes to in the list alone — and knew that they backfired hard when trotted out on real people.

Lee Strobel’s suggested sales techniques have always backfired hard because the customers he describes don’t really exist. But I don’t think he cares. As long as evangelicals keep purchasing and praising this dishonest and wicked book, he won’t retract it or ever question its ideas.

lee strobel hawking his book
He insists this book is valid and helpful, even now. (July 2019 Instagram post)

Twenty-six years out of Christianity, I’ve run into countless evangelicals who have clearly seen and embraced this list (or other lists that borrow his ideas). I now recognize why these inept salespeople keep treating me like a subhuman, assuming things about me, and trying desperately to gaslight, neg, and psychoanalyze me. Their Dear Leaders have told them to mistreat people like this. Since this order dovetails nicely with how they want to behave anyway, it is one they’ll gladly obey.

Now duplicate what they’ve done to me by millions of backfired sales pitches, millions of failed salespeople, and many millions of disgruntled, increasingly-alienated marks. It’s breathtaking!

No wonder Christianity is in decline!

NEXT UP: Part II of Strobel’s listicle about unchurched people.

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...