Reading Time: 9 minutes (Noah Buscher.) A field of goldenrod flowers in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi! Recently, we discussed a question Christians really don’t like. Today, I’ll show you one they vastly prefer–to pose to other people, at least! By remarkable coincidence, their preferred question looks quite similar to the one they don’t like! Whatever are the odds?

(Noah Buscher.) A field of goldenrod flowers in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Stuff Christians Vastly Prefer.

Instead of contemplating what might make them doubt their own beliefs’ veracity, many Christians vastly prefer asking atheists and ex-Christians what might spark their faith (again).

My interest in this question isn’t purely academic. I’ve had many Christians ask me it directly. As well, I’ve seen many Christians asking this question of the people they consider their fix-it projects du jour. Not one of them was asking out of simple interest or casual curiosity. No, evangelism-minded Christians definitely utilize it as a sales tool: a negotiation opener, so to speak, or perhaps a Hail Mary pass. (See endnote about one eye-opening forum discussion I found.)

The question often takes forms like:

  • What would convince you that Jesus is real?
  • … that the Bible is the word of any gods at all?
  • to change your mind?

It boils down to the same thing: Tell me what your price is. Where your line is drawn. Your conditions. What will it take for me to help you drive this shiny new godling off this lot today? To get you to sign on the line that is dotted?

It feels so sleazy and dishonest to me. It feels like a sales tactic. And that’s exactly what it is. These Christians have a product to sell: membership in their flavor of Christianity.

However, the flocks don’t like evangelizing, as a given rule, any more than we like being threatened, manipulated, wheedled, and cajoled into adopting a huckster’s wackadoo beliefs. Little wonder they’ve evolved tactics like these (if not far worse) to get the job done as quickly as possible.

Hardly Casual Interest.

Over on Thom Rainer’s blog, for example, we see a sterling example of this tactic:

(Source.) Click to embiggen.

Transcription: (Comment by Treebird) So what would make Christians more “appealing” to you? In other words, what would make their faith something you would respect, even if you disagreed with it? Would quiet faith do it, or would just watching them live what they teach be the thing? Perhaps something else I may not have thought of before.

The question came out of left field–or at least, it would seem so to someone who hasn’t tangled much with evangelicals. She directed this question to a non-Christian, Bolekwa, who had earlier expressed deep discomfort with the many Christians who see us as targets, as potential notches on their Bible covers, and as unconsenting human fix-it projects.

Bolekwa wasn’t talking about sales tactics that do or don’t work. Rather, Bolekwa sought to correct another Christian’s way of seeing non-Christians. (See endnote about how that shook out.)

But Christians like Treebird, who focus so closely on selling their product, can’t get out of that mindset. They operate in SALES MODE, 24/7. They see everything in terms of whether it helps them or hinders them in selling their product. And they see everyone not in their tribe as a mark.

Yet Another Dishonest Evangelism Tactic.

Now, I know sometimes good, mixed-faith friends might discuss this topic. Sometimes it does come from an honest place. I’m talking here more about Christians you don’t know who spring this big question on you and expect you to have an answer.

Generally speaking, any random Christian asking you this question only wants you to help them hone their sales pitch. They’re exactly like those Nice Guys who demand that a targeted feeeeemale explain to them exactly why she rejected their date request. They just want another opportunity to wear you down–to argue a defeat into a victory somehow.

And it’d super help them out if you’d play along.

If the Christians asking the question don’t understand concepts like burden of proof, extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary evidence, basic logical fallacies like the Argument from X, and what credible support for a claim even looks like, then answering their question becomes a total waste of time. Such Christians will always interpret whatever we tell them as the old gag from Dumb and Dumber. “So… you’re saying there’s a chance.” (See endnote for the full setup, if you haven’t seen this movie.)

Over many years, I’ve learned simply not to trust the intentions of Christians who pose such questions.

Setting Your Price.

“What would convince you that [insert religious belief here] is true?”

In the discussion over the first “Questions” post, Jeremy Shaffer noted that one of the big problems with us ever answering this question is that the dishonest Christians asking it will then try to use our reply as a zinger against us.

I liked how Jeremy put it:

It’s sort of like that old car dealer’s trick where they ask you what price do they need to get it down to for you to buy the car. Even if you throw out a ridiculously low number, they’ll meet it- because they’ll just throw on whatever fees and taxes and leans and what-not they need to get the price back up anyway- but now you’re trapped. That’s the price you gave; that’s your price; here they are meeting it- living up to their end of the bargain- and now you’re backing out? That makes you the bad guy now, you know? Now, you’re more dishonest than a car dealer. (source)

No wonder many of us simply assure these Christians that their god surely knows exactly what it’d take to convince us, and not to worry about us!

But many of us play along. Sometimes it’s cathartic to show Christians how low they’ve set their bar, how cheaply they’ve sold their lives, and how little they get back for the resources they expend (and the opportunities they miss), as David Thorne put it so well:

Also, your inference that I am without religion is incorrect and I am actually torn between two faiths; while your god’s promise of eternal life is very persuasive, the Papua New Guinean mud god, Pikkiwoki, is promising a pig and as many coconuts as you can carry.

Everyone’s got their price, I suppose.

Redefinitions and Moved Goalposts.

And in payment for our incredible generosity in playing at all with them, dishonest Christians seek to meet our named price by using apologetics hand-waving, as someone at Summit Church did a while ago. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because that’s J.D. Greear’s megachurch. He’s the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention. But I’m not sure who wrote the link we’re about to discuss.

Here’s the presentation in question. In speaking of an unnamed Jewish rabbi and Bart Ehrman (an atheist historian and author), the Christian brought up that both men considered Jesus’ inability to bring “the peace on earth that He promised” as a dealbreaker to belief in him as a Messiah. And this dishonest Christian plunged into this as his zinger attempt:

What both the Rabbi and Dr. Ehrman don’t understand is that the real problem in the world is not the Philistines, it’s not just famine or poverty or nuclear weapons… listen… the real problem in the world is the heart of Saul in each one of us. . . What Dr. Ehrman and the Rabbi want is another Saul. But God cannot build his kingdom and fill it with a bunch of people, like Saul, who don’t want God to be King. Jesus could only bring the Kingdom to earth by creating a race of people that have peace in here because they have peace in God.

SO. GROSS. It’s hard to imagine how he can look at himself in a mirror.

And despite that dishonesty and his insults toward his tribal enemies, I bet he got standing ovations from his adoring flocks for this dishonest, self-serving redefinition of peace on earth, too! Obviously we’re all supposed to hear this hand-waving and be struck silent in awe. Then we’re supposed to cry out: Ohhh, so that’s what that meant. We just weren’t looking at it the right way! Baptize us! NOW!

(See endnote for a Star Wars gripe.)

From a Certain Point of View.

If Christian hucksters can make our conditions happen from a certain point of view, then they think that we’ll absolutely be required to convert on the spot. They probably know we won’t, but they like to pretend that they’re setting up rules that we’re morally obligated to play along with. Then, they can look down on us later for refusing to follow their silly script.

Plenty of them sneer at atheists on exactly that basis, assuming that we simply refuse to accept all their PROOF YES PROOF out of stubbornness or pridefulness or or or jus’ wantin’ ta SIIIIIN. (A proper Southerner can stretch the word sin out to about four syllables on a good day.) Thus, even our conditions met grandly would not sway us to obey their cruel and wicked god that obviously we totally secretly completely believe in, no matter how much we might protest otherwise.

If nothing else, though, their flocks will at least feel more validated in their own beliefs. They’ll have another hand-waving excuse to offer if anybody ever brings up Jesus’ various messianic disqualifications.

Oh, I mean, sure, it won’t work, any more than this Summit leader’s blathering would on that rabbi or Bart Ehrman. But in a very real sense, persuasive effectiveness stopped being a requirement for apologetics hand-waving quite some time ago. So did intellectual honesty.

Soulwinners ain’t got time for that ethics stuff!

The Relative Rights of Salespeople and Customers.

And the comment section of this Creationist’s post alone ought to demonstrate that fact in spades! A Logical Christian in the comments threw today’s topic question out to an atheist reader, and hooboy, he did everything you can imagine to look like the worst salesperson ever!

Truth is, if we throw something out there that sounds implausible and then it happens somehow, chances are good we’ll simply realize how little that thing mattered at all to the question of joining Christianity.

As the customers in this equation, we’re allowed to decide upon a purchase condition, then change our minds. We can’t force ourselves to buy into an idea, after all. Salespeople do not get to “hold us to” a previous stated condition. They do not have the right. They don’t even get the right to insult or demean us for having changed our minds.

We owe nothing to a salesperson.

And that’s kinda the big problem Christianity’s salespeople are having here.

The Religious Marketplace in Reality-Land.

Sometimes people pull out of a purchasing decision. Sometimes we make a different decision, that’s all.

It happens.

When that happens in Reality-Land, a good salesperson swallows their disappointment, thanks us for our time, and invites us back at our convenience. (When I was Christian, that’s what I did after a failed soulwinning attempt, though I didn’t think of it like that at the time.)

But we don’t deal here with good salespeople. They’re amateurs, at best. And they’ve had years to simmer and ferment in frustrated entitlement.

Why on earth would we ever allow snotty, insulting, incompetent salespeople try to set our conditions for purchase? Or care if they think less of us for refusing to buy their product or even engage with them at all?

At the end of the day, these Christians’ own behavior only convinces us we made the right decision to reject them and their product.

Worse for them, however, their behavior confirms that their product flat-out doesn’t work at all.

NEXT UP: The huge differences between testimonies and ex-timoniesThen, we look at the latest awful advice to Christian parents–and maybe see how well it works. See you soon!


This forum discussion blew my mind: On this drag-racing forum, someone asked: “If you are a non-believer, what would change your mind?” The OP asked that question in 2014. It was still going strong as of late September this year: almost 4000 pages and almost 60000 responses all told, much of it consisting of MAGA-style Christians behaving in unpleasantly Trumpkin-like ways. I offer the link here only as a demonstration of how long-lived these sorts of online tussles can get. (Back to the post!)

What ended up happening: Several non-Christians tried to set Treebird straight about her total misunderstanding of Bolekwa’s comment. Predictably, her response to them took the form of a vow of silence. Shocking, innit? There’s no sign at all that she even read what all those people tried to tell her. Gal wanted sales tips. She got instead a request to STOP SELLING SO MUCH. Oops. (Back to the post!)

In 1994’s Dumb and Dumber: Loyd finally asks Mary to tell him honestly whether she sees them getting together as a couple. She tells him that his chances are “not good.” He gulps and asks, “You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?” She replies, “I’d say more like one out of a million.” He thinks that over, then breaks into an eager smile. “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” (Spoiler: They do not get together.) (Back to the post!)

jfc I can't stand nice guys
From 1994’s Dumb and Dumber. I officially feel old realizing this movie came out that long ago. Of course, I never saw it in theaters cuz I was in a fundagelical cult.

A Star Wars gripe: If you haven’t noticed, I hate that whole “from a certain point of view” thing from the Star Wars movies. I hate it with the fiery burning passion of a thousand exploding suns. Like I get that it probably had to be there from a plot-cohesion standpoint, but it broke the deal for me with the Jedi as a whole. (Back to the post!)

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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,...

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