People in dominant positions in groups don’t usually like losing even a single nugget of their power over others. When they start losing that power, they sometimes act out in really terrible ways. Their behavior might seem just bizarre, but it all makes perfect sense when we understand what they really hope to achieve. Today, I’ll show you three different ways that such people act out–and why they do it. You’ll see that they’re getting exactly what they want, in that moment.
That Rush of Power.
At the end of June, the city manager of Sunrise, Florida, threw a tantrum over cake.
Richard Salamon had a coupon. The coupon entitled the holder to a free little cake. Normally, the cake on offer costs USD$3.99. But this coupon gave the holder this cake for free.
Unfortunately, the coupon had expired.
Thankfully, Richard Salamon makes the kind of money that most Americans can only dream of. He draws just over $200,000 a year in compensation for working as the city manager for Sunrise, Florida. So he could certainly afford a $3.99 treat for himself.
But he wanted his cake for free. Alas, the bakery could not offer him the cake for free anymore. He had waited too long to redeem his coupon.
And he knew it, too.
Customers Like This Are THE ABSOLUTE WORST.
We know he knew, because when he came into the bakery, he asked the clerk behind the counter to honor the coupon anyway. As he put it, he wanted her to “break the rules” just for him.
When that hapless worker refused his demand to “break the rules” for him, Richard Salamon got to do something he’d likely been itching to do for a while.
He flew into a rage at her.
The Sun-Sentinel, covering the incident, characterized Salamon’s immediate response as a “tantrum.” The bakery manager himself said Salamon “had a fit.” Salamon’s wife also “blasted the bakery on Facebook,” according to another source.
In response, the bakery manager informed the city council of what had happened. They had to decide whether or not their ultra-classy city manager should keep his cushy job.
In the end, to save his job, Salamon had to issue a completely undignified, tearful apology to literally everyone.
All of this kerfluffle and fuss happened because a powerful local official decided to throw an enraged tantrum over an employee’s refusal to “break the rules” for him.
His point of rage wasn’t free cake.
It was what that free cake represented to him in that context, on that evening, in that bakery.
Really, the cake itself was completely incidental. It was just a MacGuffin (TVTropes Walkabout Warning). He’d asked someone to do something he knew was out-of-bounds, a demand he felt entitled to make. Then he had been denied.
His tantrum sounds a lot like an expression of frustration. Abusing retail workers is a long-established way for terrible people to feel superior–and to shift a changing power balance back into their own favor for a brief while.
And we’ve seen this anger elsewhere, many times.
The Lines of Power.
A big part of Christianity’s source material deals in apparent logical contradictions that probably sounded very deep and mysterious to the religion’s earliest members. The notion of the last shall be first, the concept of being born a second time (ahem), deepities like do unto others (also ahem), and more flood the New Testament.
Many of those ideas deal in up-ending the lines of power–between people, institutions, the government, and more. And right up until Christianity’s leaders gained legal powers of coercion over others in their various countries, around the fourth century, maybe that’s how the religion rolled.
But very quickly after that point, the religion and its officers became just as focused on temporal power as any other oppressive group ever is.
Indeed, oppressive groups operate in many of the same exact ways. They suffer exactly the same weaknesses, and they do the same kinds of damage to their unfortunate adherents.
The Good Ole Days.
By the middle of the 20th century, Christianity was a dominant world power in huge chunks of the world. But even by then, Christians in the know saw hints of future problems. I’ve read numerous World War II-era books that mention a sense of growing “secularism” and “atheism” in American society in particular.
In As We Were, printed right after WWII in 1946, the person I suspect wrote the text for the book pointedly mentions how “early New England. . . lived in close proximity to its God” (p.36). Then he gets down to complaining about how “the little white church in the valley is falling into disrepair” (p. 41). The culprit causing this lawlessness, you might wonder? Cars.
Elsewhere, he laments “the growing agnosticism and the sophistication of the younger generation” (p. 27). Let’s remember that he’s largely talking about what historians call the Silent Generation, or people born between 1925-1945. According to Pew Research (p.11 of that report), that generation is the most religious in America, with a solid 85% of them professing to be Christian, with a majority saying they’re Protestant. But here’s this dude clutching his pearls over their “growing agnosticism!”
To me, the writer sounded angry and frustrated with the way the world seemed to be going then, in 1946. This book was his way of striking back at the loss of so much of his societal dominance.1
Obviously, The Big Problem Here.
In every decade, problems–as defined by the members of the dominant groups of their day–run along strikingly similar lines. Those in positions of dominance in their groups had certain priorities. They accused their enemies of not taking them seriously enough. Because of their enemies’ inability to toe the line, now everyone was going to suffer.
Now, it’s normal for people in these oppressive groups to look back and think that things are going to hell in a handbasket (even when it isn’t). That’s perfectly normal. They all think fondly of some golden Good Ole Days paradise that their tribal enemies have cruelly stolen from them. No matter the year in question, the people who think this always reach back to some long-gone-but-still-vaguely-remembered decade when everything was perfect.
For the proto-fundagelicals in the post-WWII boom, that time was roughly the turn of the century. For fundagelicals in America today, that decade is roughly the 1950s.
Their solutions always sound depressingly similar, too. Literally the only thing that can set everything to rights is to give those dominant members of society more power over other people’s lives, more deference in society, and more (and greater) unearned privileges than their enemies are allowed to have.
And if they can’t get what they want through legal means, then they utilize other methods to shift the balance in their favor again.
Catcalling, or street harassment, is a type of targeted public harassment typically perpetrated by men against women. In it, a man aggressively comments on a woman’s appearance or invites her on dates or to have sex, in carefully-chosen situations where his female victim will feel trapped and terrorized.
Sometimes you hear perpetrators phrase their street harassment as “appreciation” or “flirting,” but their real motivations are revealed when the women they’ve targeted don’t respond exactly as they’ve demanded. In India, where such harassment is called “eve-teasing” and seems to be on the rise, harassers threaten their female victims with acid attacks and other forms of violence for rejecting them. Entire blogs–like When Women Refuse–devote themselves to detailing the violence these harassers deal out to women who refuse their come-ons.
Very few men who commit these acts acknowledge that their real goal is a brief, risk-free power trip they can enjoy at women’s expense. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to observe this harassment close-up, then you’ve probably noted (as I have, many times) how exultant every single one of these men are over terrorizing their tribal enemies. They’re not upset about being rejected. They’re overjoyed, because now they can really get to work abusing their victims.
This isn’t about flirtation, or preserving the entire human race from extinction, as one harasser put it huffily to Ferrett Steinmetz some years back.
It’s about power. It’s about a large swathe of men who feel like they’re losing their formerly-exalted place in the world, all striking back to try to re-seize some of this lost power before it’s gone forever.
And something similar happens in Christian evangelism, too.
Last time we met up, one of our commenters, Withheld, mentioned seeing a Christian handing out tracts at a parade. The tracts in question offered up Ray Comfort’s “Are You a Good Person?” line of emotional manipulation. Comfort’s been using this tactic for years, to the point where it’s his main export. However, I didn’t know till now that he’d created evangelism tracts based upon it. (Here’s one of them.)
The comment got me thinking about all the times I’ve seen Christians handing out tracts or evangelizing. My ex, Biff, was a big one for tract evangelism (that’s what it’s called). He never went anywhere without handfuls of tracts, each customized to a particular type of prospect. Like a lot of Christians do today, he even hid them in various places so they could be discovered and
thrown in the trash savored. He often talked about them as a “seed” he was planting in people’s minds, and yes, it sounded just as creepy and rapey in real life as it does on the page here. So they represented both an expense he was happy to pay and a use of his free time he was happy to spare.
Many millions of Christians feel that exact same way today about this kind of evangelism. Marketers sometimes call it interrupt marketing because the salesperson initiates the encounter by interrupting whatever their prospect is doing right then. Marketers themselves are slowly becoming aware of people’s hostility toward interruptions.
But Christians still cling to this tactic.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Library.
I was indoctrinated much the same way. However, looking back at my eight-ish years in fundamentalism, I cannot remember a single person who converted as a result of Christian interrupt marketing. I can’t even remember anybody who called our church asking for more information as a result of encountering Biff’s tracts, much less who visited our church. Dude spent USD$10-20/month on tracts for most of the time we were together, and I don’t think I ever once saw a single person “saved” out of any of it.
In the same manner, I’ve never met anybody or heard of anybody who converted to Christianity as a result of Ray Comfort’s dishonest “are you a good person” sneak attacks. Nor have I ever heard of anybody who converted after hearing the spewed insults and invectives hurled by “Brother Jed and Sister Cindy” in their many appearances at campuses across the United States.2 Maybe someone has, since it is a big world. It just can’t be very common. Ray Comfort himself almost never mentions making any actual sales with his antics.
Any hint of criticism for these methods draws heated defenses–usually from Christians who make a living printing and selling these materials, or who love using the tactics themselves.
What Is the Real Motive?
Sometimes, Christians hate this method of evangelism, but their guilt or fear overwhelms them even more than their desire not to bother others. (That’s exactly why so much of the religion utilizes those mechanisms of guilt and fear. It’s a spectacularly effective and insidious strategy.) That was me. The few times I tried to win souls, which is Christianese for making sales, I felt absolutely miserable–and failed miserably as well.
But many others thrive in the world of interrupt marketing as an evangelism tactic. Christians call these folks soulwinners. My churchmates regarded them as young gods who could do no wrong. Really, though, they are just hucksters who’ve found their natural element. Sometimes they even make some sales. Often they become evangelists on a professional level, going from town to town running revivals in established churches. Billy Graham rose to stratospheric prominence in exactly this fashion.
And a few others love this kind of evangelism for a more malevolent reason.
Permission Slips, Redux.
For Christians in that third group, this style of evangelism functions as a permission slip they can use to invade other people’s space, accost them with threats and manipulation, and then abuse their victims further when their “evangelism” is refused.
After the encounter, they can retreat back to the safe space of their church. There, they get to whine about how mean people are, how “this generation is falling away,” as the Christianese goes, and make pious shows of prayer for those poor lost souls who are going to Hell extra-lots for having refused the TRUTH YES TRUTH of the “gospel.”
I think it’d blow this third group of Christians away if someone actually accepted their boorish attacks and converted. I don’t know if they’d even know what to do with themselves.
Black Books, “Cooking the Books.”
Thankfully, we are spared that undignified spectacle because Christian evangelism nets them fewer and fewer sales as the years go by.
But it’s not about sales.
If it were, Christians would care more about finding tactics that work to recruit people. They wouldn’t cling to old tactics that simply don’t work. The tactics matter more to them than the results of those tactics.
The Tell-Tale Heart.
You can just about always tell which kind of Christian you’re dealing with, when one tries to evangelize you.
People in that first group I mentioned generally accept refusal well. They often seem grateful for the pushback, because it means they can drop the matter. That doesn’t excuse them, of course; it’s still boorish and rude to evangelize without consent. I’m just sayin’ that’s often what’s going on.
Those in the second group will pretend to take the refusal in good stride. They’ll be watching like hawks for any way to re-open the sales attempt. They push constantly at their targets’ boundaries. They’re deeply unpleasant people to have around, but not vicious.
People in the third group will get over-the-top riled when you refuse their overtures. They’ll get more and more aggressive, possibly even raising their voice, following you around, or threatening you with Hell (or even physical harm) for refusing to engage with them as they desire. For example, see this bit from Bill Hicks’ stage show:
I actually did that act one night in the south. Then, after the show, these three rednecks came up to me. “Hey, buddy! We’re Christians and we didn’t like what you said.” I said, “Then forgive me.” Later on, when I was hanging from the tree …
It’s not about sales, for these Christians. It’s about tribal and personal power, about a power-hungry, control-lusting Christian who sees that the tribe is losing both more and more every year.
And they want to shift the balance back into their own favor, at least for a little while. They want to enjoy a little power trip at their victims’ expense. They want to feel superior again, if only for a little while.
Truths We Can’t Ignore.
These predatory evangelists demonstrate exactly why Christianity is dying, and why it deserves to die. They show us two truths about the religion that we simply cannot ignore.
First, they show us that their religion absolutely doesn’t have anything divine or supernatural powering it, or there couldn’t exist so many of these hypocritical predators.
Second, they show us that Christianity itself, purely as a system of rules and a group framework for members, is not a safe group for people to join or inhabit. Plenty of nice people remain in the religion still, but they can’t stop the predators from harming others or preying upon anyone they can.
(A group that can’t stop bad people from harming others won’t be able to stop bad people from harming you, eventually.)
So when you see these efforts in the wild, see them for what they are: power plays by people who feel very, very challenged over their impending loss of dominance. Take heart, if you can. They wouldn’t be doing it if they felt secure in their dominance. These outbursts are the last death throes of a broken system that is in the process of rotting from the inside out. We just have to keep pushing back till the religion recedes into the rear-view mirror at last.
NEXT UP: A very special Lord Snow Presides. I hope you’ll join me!
1 One of the book’s two authors, Bellamy Partridge, was born in 1877. He worked as a country lawyer originally, which explains a lot about the book’s slobbering admiration of that profession. According to IMDB, in 1939 he wrote a bestselling book, Country Lawyer, which a Hollywood studio thought would make a fine movie. He’d only just completed the screenplay for them in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. His project got put on a back burner, never to be revived. He ended up moving back East, where he died in 1960.
The other author, Otto Bettmann, was born in 1903 to Jewish parents in Germany. In 1935, he immigrated to the United States. There, he started what would be a huge collection of images. In 1946 he helped with As We Were, contributing art for the book. In 1974, he wrote a book of his own: The Good Old Days–They Were Terrible! He died in 1998 after having “virtually invented the image resource business.”
2 Shortly before I married Biff, we ran into these hucksters. They operated out of an Airstream-type trailer, which was set up right in our campus commons area. Jed was out front screaming at people with a loudspeaker. Cindy wore a 1970s-style granny gingham dress and was just as vicious as her husband–just quieter. Their many daughters hid inside the trailer.
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