message in a bottle from david harsanyi
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Andrew Measham.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! The conservative politics site National Review ran a funny article the other day. It’s written by David Harsanyi, a non-Christian who apparently wishes to grant fundagelicals — his site’s main reading audience — a free and open blank permission slip to behave badly toward others. My goodness, he even compliments them for their boorishness! I suspect this article got accepted and run for a reason. As usual, though, it’s not a good one for fundagelicals. Today, let me show you how a conservative political opinion site decided to give its fundagelical readers a permission slip to mistreat others — and more importantly, why.

message in a bottle from david harsanyi
(Andrew Measham.)

(A ‘fundagelical’ is a hyper-politicized, evangelical, fundamentalist Christian. Years and years ago, evangelicals and fundamentalists were very distinct from each other. Now, they are almost completely identical in beliefs and behavior. They are also almost the only evangelists in Christianity. In that role, they act as salespeople pushing one very lackluster, disproportionately-expensive product: active membership in their own particular groups.)

The Odd Couple.

Today’s article is called “Convert Me If You Can.”

Oooh, a dare!

That totally won’t arouse the aggressive, belligerent, chest-thumping tendencies of fundagelicals!

Nope, not at all!

Writer David Harsanyi, describes himself as a culturally-Jewish “heathen.” He published his post on National Review on November 17. In it, he describes a strikingly-young Republican fundagelical lad named Madison Cawthorn.

Cawthorn just won election to Congressional office. And recently, he “has admitted he tried to convert Jews and Muslims to Christianity.” His methods sound like personal evangelism, which is person-to-person product sales.

The above quote comes from Daily Beast. Here’s the rest, which Harsanyi chose not to include:

In an interview with Jewish Insider, the 25-year-old, who came under fire for selfies he took at Hitler’s vacation retreat in Germany, claimed he had converted “several Muslims to Christ” and several “culturally Jewish people.” “If all you are is friends with other Christians, then how are you ever going to lead somebody to Christ?” Cawthorn said. “If you’re not wanting to lead somebody to Christ, then you’re probably not really a Christian.”

In turn, that Daily Beast quote originally came from Jewish InsiderThere, we find a lot more to this story. A lot more. Enough to land this callow youth and his cheerleader on our schedule, at any rate.

We’ll talk later on about this ambitious young hypocrite. He’s a whole other topic, all to himself.

For now, I want to focus on Madison Cawthorn’s bizarre fixation on selling his tribe’s product to one particular groupand the even more bizarre response to his fixation — which comes from one of those group members.

“So What?”

In his post, David Harsanyi has chosen to focus very hard on that bit from Daily Beast about Cawthorn admitting he’s tried to convert Jews and Muslims to his flavor of Christianity (an authoritarian fascist/theocratic movement thinly cloaked in Jesus jargon). The word “admitted” very clearly grabbed Harsanyi very hard.

In response, Harsanyi asks, bein’ all casual-like and provocative: “So what?”

Hey, he’s just askin’ questions here!

It’s not a totally-off-base question, though. “Admitted” is indeed a very strange choice of words. Daily Beast’s writer makes Cawthorn sound like he was sniffing bicycle seats. Proselytization might be shameful and disrespectful, but it doesn’t sound like this guy is doing anything markedly unusual for a sales-minded fundagelical.

As far as I can tell, in fact, Madison Cawthorn is really just a standard-issue fundagelical guy. Like most of that lot, he absolutely revels in the unearned, unwarranted power that his tribe habitually grants men exactly like him. Also like most of that lot, he’s got a major boner for Jews. So yes, he’s focused on evangelizing them.

I married a man just like that. They’re ten-a-penny in fundagelicalism, largely because the tribe often richly rewards them for their bombastic, narcissistic behavior.

But with his “so what,” Harsanyi’s taken that strangeness football and run all the way to Wingnut Touchdown with it.

And it’s the post fundagelical leaders most want to see right now, I am certain.

How Permission Slips Work.

David Harsanyi’s post functions like a blank permission slip for predatory fundagelicals.

A permission slip is a metaphorical free pass to misbehave. It takes a particular kind of off-limits behavior, then makes it acceptable by revoking the usual repercussions for that behavior. After declaring that behavior licit, it then usually exhorts its recipients to go out and perform that behavior. Generally speaking, the person giving a permission slip isn’t one of the people who’ll be harmed or offended by the behavior it encourages. Ideally, though, the writer of the slip should be similar to those folks.

Permission slips fulfill a vital function in authoritarian groups: they help raise followers’ compliance levels.

The followers in authoritarian groups aren’t always obedient. They balk when faced with ambiguous, complex, nuanced, or difficult to read situations. They also tend to shy away from tasks that might result in censure and disapproval from others. And if a leader’s demand requires consent beforehand from others, they might never obey.

In such situations, a well-written permission slip can goose recalcitrant flocks into moving in the directions their Dear Leaders desire. We saw Ed Stetzer offer his readers a permission slip before Easter a few years ago. In it, he subtly informed fundagelical readers that he’d just softened up the heathens for church invitations — so they should get started invitin’ people!

David Harsanyi has done something similar here. He informs his mostly-fundagelical readers that he, a Jew, doesn’t mind fundagelicals’ evangelism of Jews at all. So obviously no Jews will — unless of course they are meaniepies who just hate TRUE CHRISTIANS™ for absolutely no good reason.

Fundagelical Catcalling: A-OK!

In this post, David Harsanyi talks about how incredibly “flattered by the attention” he is when Christians try to convert him. (It comes off so poorly, reminding me of this strange post.) He marvels at how “exceptionally polite” all of them have ever been. And he wonders why oh why so many of them are “shy [. . .] at performing this task.”

Then, he hand-waves away anybody who’s ever found this behavior creepy and aggressive. King David Harsanyi has never ever felt threatened or insulted by Christian evangelists. Therefore, nobody else is allowed to feel that way:

As a heathen, though, I am flattered by the attention. And as a person in possession of free will, I am also unconcerned. Never once have I found such efforts to be “anti-Semitic.” The very universality of the endeavor tells me it is not. I simply assume that my friends are troubled that I have forsaken salvation. Maybe they’re right. I’ll find out soon enough.

Ah, okay. If he’s flattered, everyone should be. I see. It’s just entitlement on steroids. His feelings should be everybody’s feelings.

No wonder he likes Madison Cawthorn. And fundagelicals, just generally. They’re like two peas in a rotting pod.

An Accusation That Sounds Just Like a Confession.

David Harsanyi then graces us with another pronouncement:

Anybody who does get offended by Cawthorn’s childish antics must be a meaniepie who just hates TRUE CHRISTIANS™ for no good reason:

But all the feigned anger direct at Cawthorn is, as is usually the case when the topic arises, about smearing Evangelical Christians — all orthodox Christians, really — and little do with anti-Semitism.

Now, I do kinda agree that Cawthorn’s odd admission does not seem to constitute anti-Semitism. At least, it doesn’t seem over-and-above whatever anti-Semitism is present in fundagelicals’ obsession with Israel and All Things Jewish. If I’m wrong, I’m glad to be corrected there.

It’s just that for years now, fundagelicals have been pushing themselves on all kinds of targets. They don’t just do this stuff to Jews. No, they push their product at anyone and everyone they think might be vulnerable enough to respond to it!

They’re often not as polite to their targets as they seem to be to Harsanyi personally, either, nor as reasonable. In fact, we’ve got very good reasons to push back against them.

So it’d probably blow his mind to know that nobody’s feigning any emotions here. It’s weird he makes that accusation at all. 

(PS: It’s also weird that a non-Christian would reach for the term “orthodox Christian” like Harsanyi does. Super-authoritarian hard-right Calvinist fundagelicals like to call themselves that to borrow authority. But I don’t think it’s caught on much outside that ego-stroking crowd.)

The Real Deal.

Non-Christians don’t need to fake anything, unlike fundagelicals. (And conservative secular writers, apparently.) The idea that critics are faking their feelings is a very common one in fundagelicalism. Their leaders often claim that Hollywood, or mean ole atheists, or whatever other boogeyman they hate most right then is behind the public’s dislike of fundagelicals. It can’t possibly be them and their own behavior causing this animosity! They’re JUS’ BEIN’ KRISCHIN, after all!

No, our dislike is all legit, and it is indeed all because of their own behavior.

Criticizing evangelicals’ predatory and sleazy sales tactics does not smear them, either. It’s only the truth.

But David Harsanyi won’t care about anything I say. I know that.

He sings a siren song meant for fundagelicals alone. He tickles their ears by telling them that what they’re doing is fine and proper and acceptable.

It’s the lie fundagelicals ache most to hear.

The truth they hear from their victims and targets doesn’t sound nearly as sweet. So they ignore it and clamor after honeyed lies.

One Size Fits Vanishingly Few.

We saw this same thing happen years ago with Penn Jillette. In 2009, he made fundagelicals’ entire decade by speaking nicely of a Christian who gave him a Bible and evangelized him after a performance.

Fundagelicals went wild over the incident.

Many fundagelical news sites blared the shocking news:

Penn Jillette, speaking on behalf of all atheists everywhere, had just declared that atheists would forevermore be fine with evangelism. Hooray Team Jesus!

In fact, fundagelicals could now and forevermore consider themselves completely encouraged to get out there and SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY to the heathens.

A few even wondered aloud if — gosh, y’all — if non-sales-oriented fundagelicals just hated non-Christians or somethin’.

Now, Penn Jillette didn’t convert, nor did he magically change his mind about Christianity in general. All that happened there was an atheist giving his personal opinion about his own situation and feelings about one thing that happened. He didn’t give blanket permission to all fundagelicals to SELL SELL SELL WITHOUT MERCY.

And as I recall from the time, atheists were very quick to tell fundagelicals that Penn Jillette did not speak for all atheists. Thus, yes, fundagelicals still needed to gain consent from their evangelism targets. Very few of those fundagelicals listened, but the caution was raised at any rate.

I guess every few years fundagelicals need to hear this lie again. Their last high wore off. It was David Harsanyi’s turn to deliver it, I suppose. 

One Grand Lie.

David Harsanyi ends with one last grand lie to top an entire series of them:

If an Evangelical Christian approaches you while saying God is Good, the only thing you are likely to lose is your time.

Really? I wish.

Because if that’s all evangelism was, just some massive waste of time for everyone, fundagelicals would be so much easier to deal with. They’d still be in the wrong to think they’re entitled to a single moment of anybody’s time, but it’d be a big step up for them as a group.

It’s mind-blowing how little this guy really knows of how nasty evangelists can be. Like all authoritarians, fundagelicals can become unthinkably vicious when thwarted.

Really, we count ourselves lucky if we escape aspiring soulwinners with just a smirking passive-aggressiveOh, well, I surely do hope you’re riiiiiiight about HAY-elllll. Or with Designated Adults telling us they’ll pray for us. Hey, if all they do is screech insults and threats after us as we walk away, that’s a relief.

Evangelists, especially the amateur variety, are not just harmless crackpots chirping about Jesus. They’re more like catcallers: potentially malevolent, definitely dominance-minded, and completely unpredictable and untrustworthy.

We are 100% in the right to push back against shoddy salespeople’s entitled behavior, to think poorly of them, and to refuse to entertain their delusions or demands.

(See also: Schrödinger’s Rapist.)

The Rights of Customers and Bystanders in the Religious Marketplace.

So yes. We’re quite right to push back against fundagelicals’ awful sales tactics. We’re right to hold them accountable for their open disdain for consent. And yes, we’re even completely in the right to criticize those whose mischaracterization of fundagelicals’ behavior will potentially drive them to greater and worse overreach — like David Harsanyi.

And like, y’all, I’m totally crying inside over the idea that this fellow thinks it’s completely unreasonable and mean for me to condemn fundagelicals’ behavior or push back against them.

The thing is, though, I know that David Harsanyi doesn’t speak for me or heathens generally, any more than he speaks for all Jews. He doesn’t get to tell anybody but himself how to feel about anything.

So I really, really hope that fundagelicals just ignore him. While we’re on the subject of sweet dreams, I’d also like them to start caring about consent in evangelism — and everywhere else.

NEXT UP: When I was Christian, I encountered a group that was just immune to my evangelism attempts, just as religious Jews are to Madison Cawthorn. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about it — and why my talking points never fazed them. See you then!

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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,...