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Convert Poaching?


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Some Christians sure do leave a ton of pamphlets around. I had to work an entire wad of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries newsletters out of my windshield wipers, last Saturday - yes, each one was different, I checked. (These people do realize that he's a child molester, right?? ...right?) Okay, so that was the rant-ish part. 

 

I actually collect this propaganda, and I was weeding out duplicates and boxing up the collection last weekend (it had outgrown the dresser drawer, and I had to dig through it to find my socks, and those newsletters were the last straw), when I noticed something. Virtually all of these materials hinge on weird assumptions that require the target audience to already believe basically all of the premises of Christianity in order for them to work. Here's an example:

 

Am I Going to Heaven? QUIZ! What's Required?

(List of stuff, like "Obeying God's law and commandments" and "living a good life" etc, in a check-list.)

(The inside is stuffed with Bible verses.)

 

Following the information on the back, the tract comes from these guys, who run a slick, commercialized website.

 

Now, in order for this pamphlet to be effective and convincing, the audience already has to believe in God, think that heaven exists, and accept the validity of the Bible as a source of fundamental truth. This hypothetical audience isn't really substantially different than the one that already fills the pews. When I thought about it, it was actually really interesting, and has some surprisingly far-reaching implications. 

 

I figure there may be a few things going on here, but I'm not really sure:

1) The Christians who write these things take so many of these premises for granted that they cannot conceive of the idea that these pamphlets are unconvincing, and therefore are literally incapable of making any different arguments.

 

2) The tracts don't target non-Christians at all. They target people who are the "wrong kind" of Christians. Such pamphlets are instead a deliberate and calculated campaign to poach converts from other denominations. 

 

3) Regardless of the reason that the tracts tend to target only Christians, this does sort of imply that statistics about conversion to Christianity may reflect a large amount of circulation between denominations, rather than purely non-Christians becoming Christian. Have there been any studies on this?

 

Any way it falls, though, it sure looks like Christian culture may be further up the creek without a paddle than even their most dire millennial fever-dreams suggest. It's a really peculiar thing, though, and I'm not exactly sure what to make of it.

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Huh. I guess I don't understand collecting the propaganda. Just today, I went to the post office and an older lady gave me a book about Christ. I went inside and put it in the trash. Maybe it would have been interesting to have read it from an outsiders perspective.

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SDAs are notorious for this stuff.  Their 'evangelistic series' meetings (just check out Doug Batchelor, David Asscherick on youtube...) are tailored to get christians over to adventism.

'Do you want to unlock the secrets of Revelation?  We have the answers!'

 

Christians are already vulnerable to their bullshit, they're already fearful of god, the devil, hell, etc.  Just make up some story (check out End3, Ironhorse, and other christians in the den making up shit) that sounds credible and you've got new converts who will be so happy they'll throw money at your organization.

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I always thought that the Jack Chick tracts were meant for backsliders and non-churchgoing nominal Christians.

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Yes, I found that at the old seeker sensitive (but still evangelical) church I used to attend, this was also the case. Often the Christians doing the evangelizing aren't stupid, they just target those Americans who grew up in a church, call themselves Christians, but don't adhere to the doctrines and lifestyle of evangelical Christianity. I don't have the statistics off hand, but I'd wager to say that it's a very large portion of the American population, which most ex-C's may not realize since we're in a very niche community.

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I find it disgusting that the main strategy of christian evangelism is ensuring that young minds are exposed to the religion as young as possible.  They try and get to as many kids as possible, before they have the ability to reason.  Then they collect the older people who have been victimised, or have had personal failures, or people who are seeking answers about what they were told as children about a god loving them and having a plan for their lives.

 

If they had to convert people as adults who were never exposed to these silly ideas, chances are people wouldn't bite.  But when someone grows up with these ideas, they tend church hop, or backslide and re-commit rather than question the fundamental claims.

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I'd say, for most of the church goers, it's #1. Just watching them talk, or express their bafflement about non-christians, makes it pretty clear that securely trapped in their little bubble. I've even heard some complain about how people who weren't raised in a christian culture are so hard to evangelize to because you have to teach them the basics first. And since the church people have never thought through the basics themselves, this generally results in asserting their "obvious" premises over and over and never engaging in a discussion.

 

I'd suspect that some of the tract writers may fall under #2, but I'd guess that's a minority, or the ones who've been doing it the longest. But I'd bet that there's people who've been trying to evangelize their entire lives who've never bothered to pay attention to the actual thoughts of the people they're trying to convince.

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Huh. I guess I don't understand collecting the propaganda. Just today, I went to the post office and an older lady gave me a book about Christ. I went inside and put it in the trash. Maybe it would have been interesting to have read it from an outsiders perspective.

It sure is pretty fascinating from an outsider perspective. Imagine your environment were flooded with all sorts of incredibly earnest materials and even entire buildings, social movements, etc with a massive influence on politics, yet all the advertising for it was written in this weird moon-language composed of nonsense catchphrases and political dog-whistles. Yet, some 70% of your country's population responds to, produces, and believes this stuff, to the point that there's a whole bunch of cable channels dedicated to it. It's like Christianese is a different language, and the ones who speak it don't even know it. When there's just so many of them, and they can be so hostile, a little amateur anthropology can help keep you sane. Maybe, just maybe, Christianity will become culturally irrelevant enough that I'll be able to donate it to an archival library...

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I suppose this material is aimed at the "easy targets" - the people with a background in Christian culture, or a sort of belief in god that has never really bothered them or been thought through.  A "structured" approach to Christian evangelism presents certainties that will appeal to a proportion of such, as they have a base line of ideas upon which some sort of order can be stamped without their needing to think for themselves.

 

I believe there are publications aimed at those with no Christian background - I know an evangelist who keeps a stock of such to hand out to people of other nationalities and beliefs, and have met missionaries involved in producing literature for Moslems an even (shock & horror that they still exist!) polytheistic religious backgrounds.  I suspect these would read rather differently, but have never actually looked at any example.

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I'll have to keep one the next opportunity I have. I still get bulletins from my parent's church and my former church. They are definitely enlightening given my current outlook on religion. For the most part they are well-meaning, but one of them has a priest that is increasingly frustrated with lack of attendance. It's shocking how guilt-provoking he sounds.

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^^^ Yeah, watching those televangelists also brings home just how manipulative, dishonest, ignorant, shamelessly self-promoting, and money-grubbing they are. I can't take too much Christian TV, it bothers me so much that people just eat that dreck right up, and go on to buy the book and DVD set, too...

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The term I used to hear was "sheep stealing."  Here's a link for one discussion of the idea... http://www.tillhecomes.org/sheep-stealing/

 

Of course, in conservative Christian circles other types of Christians are either (1) damned or (2) may be damned/are a little sketchy (3) receiving "milk" instead of solid teaching.  

 

I think (within the warped system) there is often a desire to help a person obtain greater spiritual benefits.  A cynic would also note that he who steals the sheep gets the cash...

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Whoa, Aggie, that's fascinating. The very fact that there's a term for rustling members of another church's flock into your fold is pretty telling. The link, sadly, doesn't have citations, but they do say in the post that 80% of church growth is actually circulation between churches. I know that there's been some bellyaching from Southern Baptists lately over their precipitous decline, and several studies, in the Christian community and outside of it showing a vast generational gap in church attendance, and even Christian identity, but I do wonder why the 80% figure for "sheep stealing" doesn't spark the same level of alarm. Are they just in denial, or what?

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Good observations.

 

Looking back on my experience, I see why it happens so easily.  Christian promises tend to be very lofty but they can't deliver.  Charismatics/pentecostals can't actually deliver the miracles, Catholics/Orthodox can't actually deliver the authority, Reformed types provide just a pseudo-intellectual position, liberals discredit the basis for the faith that they try to uphold, fundamentalists can't agree on the fundamentals, etc., etc.  None of them provide the coveted "peace that surpasses all understanding."

 

Of course, the Reformation was in one sense a tremendous frenzy of sheep-stealing (everyone from Catholics, Lutheran vs. Reformed vs. Anabaptists vs. Anglican ...).  Roman Catholics made tremendous inroads into the Eastern Orthodox Churches http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Catholic_Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East Church http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaldean_Catholic_Church  in huge sheep-stealing events.

 

I guess I would see it as part of the bigger issues-- and why Christianity (in any form) makes less and less sense the more that you learn about it its history and rival theologies ...

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