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Quick: How many Alka-Seltzer tablets does someone take at a time?

Even if you’ve never actually taken Alka-Seltzer in your entire life, you know the answer to that question, don’t you? And you know it because an advertiser made a jingle (“Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is!”) that sticks in the head so well. And the advertiser made that jingle to double sales of his client’s product. And let me tell you, brothers and sisters: that was one ad campaign that worked.

If you shave your legs, you probably do it because an American advertiser decades ago decided to make ads implying that smooth legs were a critical component of femininity so he could effectively double his consumer base. If you wash your hair twice like the shampoo label says you should, you succumbed to a marketer’s creation of a need (and yes, I had a boyfriend long ago who always washed his hair twice; he was so dubious about my suggestion that he just try doing it once–what foul sorcery was I waving in front of him?!?). People who want to sell you stuff create needs, and by some miraculous coincidence, their products just so happen to fill those needs perfectly.

It’s hard to imagine a better advertising and marketing scheme than Christianity.

First, tell people they’re broken. They need fixing. They need help. Would most of us even think people were intrinsically broken if someone wasn’t telling us so?

Then tell people they can’t fix themselves by themselves. They need something else that can do the job. They aren’t sufficient. They can’t do it alone.

Then convince people that you speak for someone with great authority. Cloak yourself in borrowed power and might. What comes next won’t impact people as much if you don’t. Tons of people are telling the world how to get fixed. You have to stand out. How better to do that than to speak on behalf of no less than the creator of the entire universe? It’s like the “times infinity!” argument children use to try to trump each other.

Then–aha! Wait! Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No… it’s SUPERJESUS!

Faster than actually doing something to help those who need help! More powerful than all those invisible demons who keep trying to make you crash on the interstate! Able to cure your broken leg–as long as you go to the doctor too! Here’s the fix for everything that ails everybody! Come and get it before it’s too late! (It’s best if you can provide a sense that there’s a scarcity or a time limit–it sets that sense of urgency that compels people to plunge into a purchase before thinking too much about it.) If you don’t get in on the ground floor right now, there’s a penalty that is gruesomely horrible and obscenely out-of-proportion to not doing it, so even though not a single bit of these claims can be verified, don’t take the chance that it might not be true!

Now provide some compelling anecdotes. Don’t worry about credibility. Verification isn’t your problem. Convince any competition or nay-sayers that they’re the ones who have to disprove you, not the other way around. Get some high-profile people on board as quickly as you can, and if you can talk a government into supporting you, that’s even better.

If someone dissents, tear that person apart. Use threats if you must. Get skeptics silenced immediately before they infect anybody else with their madness.

Occasionally release statements that your faithful can parrot to others. If those statements don’t make any sense at all on any rational level, that’s fine. Use doublespeak and gaslighting to make dissenters doubt their very sanity. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia, don’t you know. Don’t you see five lights up there?

But always, always, always make sure that at the core of your message is that your audience is not able to resolve their problems on their own and need your product to get out of the dilemma you created in the first place.

I have to say that if I were designing a religion, the blueprint for how to do it successfully is very clear. I can’t get away from how incredibly, how damnably, how thoroughly Christianity has destroyed so many people’s senses of self-worth and dignity with these tactics.

The thinking’s even invaded non-Christians. Right after I fled Biff, I got involved with a drug addict who sincerely thought, who was absolutely convinced, that the best relationships are those in which the participants help each other better themselves. I’m not talking about those noble feelings that your partner is making you into a better person–we all feel that way, I reckon, and the key is that we’re doing our ennobling ourselves. I’m talking about actively trying to fix each other, like someone can be a big DIY project. I bought into that thinking for years before I realized that there are just not enough years in a human lifetime to waste any of them dragging another person kicking and screaming into being a fit partner for me.

The idea of a god who fixes people boggles my mind. What, did he not do a good enough job from the beginning that now he has to spend all that time on each and every one of us to make us tolerable companions for his afterlife? Why isn’t he demanding that people take responsibility for themselves and fix their own problems without coming to him for every little thing? I’m not even a god and I can think of a bunch of ways to set up a cosmology that doesn’t require people to waste time pleading with me to become their therapist, lover, plumber, and carpenter.

Though one must reflect that if the Christian god does like to fix people, he doesn’t show it. He always seems to fix people in ways that are either really iffy or can’t be directly attributed to him. You can never know, when praying to that god, if he’s going to fix you or not. He might ignore you (or say “no” or “maybe later” as the Christians like to rationalize being ignored). Or whatever he does might not stick–in my day I have heard countless prayers for people to be cured of depression or other mental situations, including one heartbreaking youth who kept trying to pray his gayness away, and they always cheered when they thought God had fixed their self-described maladies–but the next week they discovered that the euphoria and group catharsis had worn off and they were depressed again or still gay after all. My experience reflects every study I’ve ever seen on the subject of healings. If a god is fixing people, he’s doing his level best to hide his activity.

And that doesn’t even get into the morality of the Christian concept of their god. What kind of sniveling, abusive, controlling person delights in the forced helplessness of his child? What kind of horrible parent makes it a sin for his child to become independent? I’ve heard of parents who do that, who penalize their kids for growing up and wanting to do their own thing, and nobody sane ever thinks this is a good thing ever. But we give the Christian god a pass entirely. Why?

With all of this in mind, I ask: what if the central premise itself is what is wrong? What if people aren’t actually inherently flawed and broken? Well, that’d mess up the entire train of thought, wouldn’t it?

So why are Christians so unwilling to even examine this critical part of the equation?

Even very liberal Christians hold this idea as part of why they still feel drawn to Christianity. They may reject the idea of an eternal hell. They may reject the idea that Jesus is the only way to heaven. They may reject any number of doctrines and practices that most of Christianity’s 41,000-some-odd denominations hold close to their hearts. But they still can’t lose this essential piece of the religion, this idea that humans need a god to do something they simply can’t manage on their own, and its corollary that humans need a god who not only can fix humans but dearly wants to do so.

There’s no evidence for any of these ideas at all. We can’t even demonstrate that any god exists, much less a god who interacts with humanity, much less a god who loves anybody. Not that little details like that stop some people from believing anything to be true. It’s scary to imagine we’re really on our own out here in the big wide world. But the truth doesn’t care if we’re scared of it or not. I’d rather live in truth than hide from it. I’d rather believe reality than what Christianity’s Mad Men want me to believe. I reject the need that Christianity tried to tell me I had, because I’ve discovered it is a manufactured need.

I’m fine the way I am. If I do decide to change something about myself, I’m more than capable of doing most of my self-improvement by myself. And if I discover I’m not, then I know where to find resources that actually work way more consistently and reliably than the Christian god does. I’m responsible for myself and my own stuff. If such a being actually did exist, I would denounce him for being so small-minded and evil that he actually wants me–that he actually demands of me, and will penalize me if I refuse–to handle life any other way.

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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,...