I’m thankful that apologetics works weren’t anywhere near as numerous as they are today and didn’t hold nearly as much power over Christians’ minds as they do today, when I survey the damage done to recent deconverts by well-meaning family members with the books and videos produced by apologetics authors.
Apologetics is a field specifically geared toward persuading non-believers, via arguments and reasoning, to convert. They pretend to have evidence and build a case for their religion, and non-believers are supposed to hear their arguments and go “Oh wow! I had no idea! Let’s kneel together and pray!” at the end. At the very least, these arguments are meant to lurk in the back of non-believers’ minds for those inevitable vulnerable moments (and I gotta say here: it’s a mark against the religion that its adherents generally think it’s desirable to prey upon the weak at times of distress or vulnerability). But at the time I deconverted, it was a pretty new field and not very prolific.
It really wasn’t. Oh, we had our C.S. Lewis and our Jack Chick, and there were a couple of authors who seemed to write primarily for a non-Christian audience with the goal of persuading, yes, but mainly Christian authors were for Christians, and I don’t think anybody “assigned” their works to non-Christians the way I see it happening today. I see the field of apologetics now and it looks like a mushroom cloud exploding over the minds of Christians compared to its relatively minor influence back then.
There’s this mindset among Christians that these authors have some kind of line and handle on this evidence thing, and that these authors say something far better than the rank-and-file can say it–that they are somehow more persuasive than someone non-Christians know and trust and love.
Christians in the Unequally Yoked Club, let me get this out in the open right now: There simply is no apologetics book, video, or even argument that is genuinely persuasive to a critically-thinking mind. There just isn’t. Not a single one. Ray Comfort is a joke, as are the rest of his cronies really. The “evidence” demanding verdicts isn’t evidence at all, just more arguments and a lot of suspension of disbelief. I could go on and on. But please know that if you can’t articulate something, these idiots can’t say it any better than you can. They got published and they’re probably very wealthy people as a result, but their books and videos are meant for you, not non-Christians. They’re very polished, and they damned well should be, because they make a lot of money to repeat and refine their rhetoric to a razor’s edge. But they’re not for us. They’re meant to make you feel more persuaded, not to persuade (or re-persuade) us. They’re meant to make you feel more comfortable, not to make us convinced of anything. They’re meant to give you some easy talking points so you feel like your belief has some rational basis and that you have some edge in your witnessing attempts, not to zing non-believers.
And these materials accomplish their unstated goal in spades. Every time one comes out, I brace myself because I know its bumper-sticker tag lines are going to be trotted out for years before their users figure out they’re not effective and rush off to the next bumper-sticker tag line. Some of them never die, such as the much-debunked and mocked “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.” (Spoiler: Atheism isn’t based on faith.) You may laugh, but I spotted that one in the wild a couple of days ago and was seriously all “Wait, didn’t we destroy that a while back?” I saw a video some time ago about how some guy is convinced that his religion is a relationship, and now he’s got a book coming out about the same topic–and sure enough, Christians in droves are talking about how they are following Jesus and not a man-made religion.
(What I’m saying here is brace yourself, folks: the fake “relationship” stuff is coming. Again.)
But I was largely spared all those books and videos by virtue of the time period in which I deconverted. Biff knew I knew the arguments already that he tended to use, and those had not swayed me. I don’t remember any deep theological discussions occurring, not with him nor with anybody in my church’s leadership as I was drifting out. If they happened, I don’t remember them. Certainly Biff never demanded I read books or see videos or anything. I don’t think this oversight was out of any particular desire to show respect for my decision or intelligence or anything–but rather more due to the simple fact that there just weren’t any at the time.
We’ve come a long way, baby. Now you can walk into any bookstore and see whole shelves full of materials meant to persuade non-believers. You can pull up YouTube (which didn’t even exist in my Christian days) and see slews of videos all geared toward persuading those who don’t find any compelling reason to believe.
Isn’t it strange that these materials proliferate at a time in which people are leaving the religion in droves? Almost makes one wonder which came first–the people leaving, making apologetics authors freak out and make materials to keep them in place? Or the massive efforts to produce apologetics works, making people realize just how little is holding this religion together? We could talk about it all day. Maybe I’ll dig up some numbers and we will. For now, let’s move on.
So I personally was spared the parade of books and videos. Biff didn’t really have anything to say or demand I read or watch on the matter, and my friends dropped me like a hot potato when I deconverted so none of them had any contact with me in which these recommendations could occur. In that sense, I was very lucky, and don’t I know it! My ex-Christians friends, however, have not been so lucky. And in recent years, I’ve run into plenty of Christians online who thought that if I’d only watch this or read that, I’d realize the “truth” again.
Books sprout like screams at a haunted house, sometimes mailed, sometimes handed to the deconvert. “Have you seen…” questions peck and pester at us like a rooster trying to herd us back into the henhouse. One video I’ve talked about here before insists that nobody can possibly remain an “atheist” (by which I think the creator of the video means “non-Christian”) after seeing its argument; I watched it out of curiosity and was disappointed to discover it was just a nice standard argument from ignorance coupled with a circular argument–no evidence, just more fallacies breathlessly pushed as evidence.
We can’t win, either. If we see the video or read the book and come away unconvinced, we’re “hard-hearted” and “closed-minded.” If we refuse to read the book or see the video at all, we’re “scared.” The only conclusion the Christian will accept is us reading or viewing the material and converting at the end, or at the least conceding the apologetics work has some kind of merit, either of which would at least validate the Christian’s faith as having merit as well (as well as validate the Christian’s high opinion of the apologetics author). And that’s not a conclusion that’s in the cards. I’ve literally never heard of that happening, though apologetics authors themselves make it sound like their arguments are tested in the field and foolproof.
What’s really hilarious is that often the Christian pushing this stuff on us hasn’t actually read or viewed the material in question. They’re relying upon it to do their arguing. They heard that this book is really convincing, or that video is really persuasive, and that’s all they need. They haven’t looked at it critically or examined its arguments on their own.
Even more galling and presumptuously, I’ve even been told by Christians to purchase these materials on my own to view or read them. Not only has the Christian in question not read or viewed the material him/herself or, if s/he has, hasn’t assimilated its argument well enough to articulate it on his/her own, but it costs money and I am required to spend my own money to experience the fallacious arguments on display (WWJD? Start a publishing empire, clearly!). I laughed in the face of a Christian telling me this once, and man did he get mad. Accused me of being scared, too. But given how not a single apologetics work on the market is compelling to an educated mind on the watch for fallacies and biases, it seems especially flagrantly disrespectful to tell me to buy something on my own dime just to experience yet another flawed and seriously lacking argument.
I know it’s very tempting to fall back on these materials when one is scared about a spouse or family member deconverting. I know it can be tempting to recommend these videos and books. I know Christians want to be sure their loved ones have considered all the angles. There’s this “just one more” mentality going on here that I’m very well familiar with. And I know that plenty of Christians themselves, largely thanks to the junk science, pseudo-archaeology, and fallacious arguments peddled in these awful books and videos, erroneously think that their religion has lots of bases in objective fact and tons of compelling pieces of credible evidence.
One of the hardest things I think for a Christian spouse to deal with after a deconversion is the realization that those things aren’t true–and that the faith is meant to be taken on, well, faith rather than on knowledge or credible, objective facts. I know that’s not easy to think about.
I know that most spouses don’t want to treat each other hatefully or disrespectfully. Christianity encourages this kind of abuse, unfortunately, and the pushing of apologetics materials is extremely mean-spirited and disrespectful–especially when the Christian in question hasn’t even read or understood the material in question, and especially when there’s no graceful answer the non-Christian can make besides the desired one. I know, right? How dare we stray off the script!
This tactic also backfires badly on the Christian when it gets pointed out that what’s really being required is for the non-Christian to know much more about theology and about logical fallacies than they were ever required to know as Christians. Any idiot can get into the religion and not know anything at all beyond the Sinner’s Prayer. But to get out, you’ve got to have an M.Div. and years of education before you’re “allowed.” I suspect privately that even then you’re not allowed–I’ve heard from friends with those qualifications who still get lame apologetics books pushed at them (which is kind of like demanding that a professional historian read David Barton). One blogger calls this the Courtier’s Reply–and it’s not very loving or respectful to do to someone, nor is it even halfway rational. It is, rather, the response of the frightened and helpless. It seems to me that if there were actual evidence for the religion’s claims, we wouldn’t need apologetics books and videos and we certainly wouldn’t need to become experts in theology before our deconversion got taken seriously.
Even worse are the Christians who are deceptive about their motivations to get a deconverted spouse to read something. Think I’m kidding? I’m totally serious. “I’m so confused about this book–can you read it and let me know if it’s good or not?” But then the rest of the charade proceeds as planned–when the answer comes about just why the book’s not compelling, the deconverted spouse still gets the “hard-hearted,” “closed-minded” song and dance. Don’t be that Christian, okay?
This kind of behavior is a punishment and a silencing tactic. It is a strong-arming tactic. It is a grab for control. It is not loving to demand someone do something that takes them out of their way, then punish that person for refusing to expend time, energy, and money on the Christian’s current pet apologetics argument. It’s especially not loving to imply that someone’s “scared” when there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the person is in fact fearful that this one time the argument might actually contain a nugget of real evidence or something compelling. I find that attitude disrespectful as well–it implies that the deconverted spouse actively doesn’t want to believe something truthful. It implies that the ex-Christian has some deep-seated desire to live falsely. But my direct experience and that of my friends says the opposite–we ended up deconverting because we care about the truth and that was the only way the truth led. Many of us have read and studied way more theology than the Christian pushing these works on us ever will–because we cared enough to make sure we were doing the right thing. If there were real evidence for the religion, we’d be the first people who’d want to know what that was.
(Perhaps we’re being judged by the Christian spouse’s own standards here? Either way, it sure isn’t the Biblical standard of believing the best of our loved one, is it?)
No, my deconversion led to a different song and dance, though it used the same music. I felt compelled to convince Biff that we’d had a terrible marriage and that I’d been right to leave. He stalked me for over a year after I fled from him, and for reasons it took me years to really understand, I had this idea that I’d be able to make him understand that he was a terrible person and that I’d been right to leave, and when I found out what that magic incantation was, everything would be okay and he’d leave me alone. I kept trying and trying and trying to find the right magic words, the right spell. I was so sure that one day he’d get this blinding flash of understanding and go “Oh wow! You’re right! I’m a horrible person and you were right to leave!” Weirdly, that never happened. The same dynamic is at work here, with non-Christians often bashing their brains out trying to convince their families that they left the religion for a good reason.
To the non-Christians in the UYC: You have my permission to refuse to jump through hoops. You and I both know that the only way to win is not to play the game. You may not be able to find the magic words to make this deconversion totally understandable right now. Maybe you won’t ever. Continue to behave respectfully, lovingly, and courteously, but know that when someone’s spiritual paycheck depends on not understanding something, that thing ain’t gonna be understood. Respectfully stand your ground and call out controlling or manipulative behavior when you see it. For example: “It’s not fair to suggest that I’m scared when I’ve given no indication that I’m scared and I’ve said I don’t feel scared.” Use “that’s why” statements instead of “but” in your refusals to avoid setting up a negation or conflict: “I appreciate your suggestion to read this book. I know you’re concerned. That’s why I want to tell you that its argument is very faulty, and I don’t want to waste my time on it. Is it okay if we talk about its argument now/soon?” And if you feel like you’re in over your head, seek help.
To the Christians in the UYC: You have my permission to stop demanding your spouse jump through hoops. If you really think a book has some merit, feel free to read it yourself first and then discuss it in a loving way. But be aware that there are no apologetics works out there that are really compelling to us. They exist to fleece the sheep and nothing more. Whatever you think of it, chances are you’re not seeing things very clearly. And chances are your spouse is well aware of the book/video and its argument already and has taken its argument into account in making the decision to leave the religion or stay out of it.
Before you make a demand like that, think a little about what you’re hoping to accomplish and what outcomes are likely to occur. As I’ve mentioned, I have never once heard of this demand working out to a reconversion. I’m sure it happens sometimes, but the fact that I’ve never heard of it, when I’ve gone looking for these anecdotes in the real world, is quite strong evidence in my eyes that it doesn’t happen very bloody often. Chances are extremely good that your spouse is not going to read the work at all, or has already read it or knows enough about it to know it’s malarkey. If your spouse actually reads the book or sees the video, chances are beyond “extremely good” that s/he is going to think it was a pathetically bad attempt at rationality and will be able to tell you why. Will you be able to listen to those reasons? Will you accept them if they are presented with sound reasoning? What will that mean for you if the argument you pushed so hard turns out to be faulty?
I’m also going to make the radical suggestion that Christians show courtesy to their spouses in this regard: if there is a book or video being pushed, the Christian owes it to the spouse to accept a recommendation in turn. Yep, I’m going there. If you’re going to demand your spouse read a book, why can’t your spouse demand you read a book too? If you’re going to demand your spouse watch a video on YouTube, why can’t your spouse ask you to watch a video as well? Are you scared or closed-minded? (Yes, I’m kidding with that last bit. But only a little.) It sure doesn’t look good when someone is happy to demand I spend my time, money, and energy on some favor but isn’t willing to do one in turn for me. It says some awfully unsavory and unpleasant things about such a person. Your spouse isn’t broken and doesn’t need to read fix-it books to make you happy any more than you’re broken and needing to read fix-it books to make your spouse happy. Your spouse isn’t a monkey you can throw stuff at and demand to dance for you, like Derek in Zoolander. Your spouse is a person who deserves respect and loving kindness.
Tread very carefully before demanding someone jump through a hoop or dance for you. If you get a refusal, accept it graciously. If the person reads it and doesn’t find it compelling, be respectful. Your spouse is not required to make you understand–only to treat you with love, courtesy, and respect. You may not ever really understand why your spouse left the religion. And that’s okay. Your job is still to treat your spouse with love, courtesy, and respect in turn.
The deck’s stacked against Christians in this regard. Religious leaders often make their apologetics works sound like the end-all be-all of religious persuasion when the opposite is the reality of the situation. They want you to consider your ex-Christian spouse a DIY project and for you to view your spouse’s reconversion as your primary goal in life. They want you to view your spouse’s deconversion as the ultimate betrayal or horror story when really, it probably doesn’t impact that much about your marriage. They want you to consider your spouse’s religious outlook more important than anything else about your spouse. They’ve got Christians so turned around on this whole religion question that really the amazing thing is that I don’t hear a lot more often about couples divorcing over differences in religion. It’s nothing more than a culture war, with ex-Christian spouses threatened with the loss of absolutely everything if they step out of line (did you read or see The Firm? That’s exactly how the Firm kept its lawyers in check–by getting them married and giving them families so they had so much more to lose, which kept them from getting rebellious). But does it have to be that way? No, it doesn’t. And the shocking thing is that millions of people are, right now, in mixed-religion marriages and doing just fine, thank you.
Despite everything Christian-right leaders want, despite every lie they push, despite every deception they employ to turn spouses against each other, love wins out more often than it doesn’t.
Somehow we muddle through.
If we remember the important stuff, we can keep the culture war in perspective.
And in this manner we will all treat each other with love, courtesy, and respect.
It’s just crazy enough to work.