Unexpected Evangelism Roadblocks

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People trying to get millennials into or back to the faith have their work cut out for them.  Sometimes for reasons they don’t expect:

Psychotropic medications have done a better job at giving us hope, strength, and peace than our experience of God has.  Anti anxiety drugs like Ativan and Xanax give us peace.  Antidepressants like Prozac give us strength and hope.  Antipsychotics like Zyprexa and Seroquel keep demons at bay.  Experience with mental illness and mental illness treatment instills a kind of kinetic materialism; for those of us inside of it it’s difficult to believe we are any more than our brain (keep in mind as many as one in four millennials have a mental illness).  Add to that a lot of us don’t trust our minds and are pretty metacognitive.  This allows us to see the “man behind the curtain” in our supposedly spiritual experiences.

Screen time and isolation have meant that social skills have atrophied.  The same social skills needed to interact with people are ones needed to interact with God.  People without social skills such as those on the autistic spectrum have much higher rates of non religiosity than the general population.  On a more practical level group cohesion is a prerequisite for spreading and nurturing religiosity and in populations with impaired social skills this is a more difficult thing to achieve.

We trust God the way we trust a person.  We keep a stiff upper lip and tell people we don’t need God but deeper down we need him too much.  We took God up on his promises of hope and sustenance because we didn’t have anything to hope for in this world (no career, no stable relationships, no house).  However, when nothing materialized we fell away, but it was because we were often so close to the edge we couldn’t afford to give cart blanch and unlimited second chances to those who didn’t come through.  Rejecting those who don’t come through is a sign of respect (for their word) and we’d expect the same if the situation was reversed and we didn’t come through for them.  This applies to all relationships including our relationship with God.

Meekness is seen as weakness and selected against, even in Christian circles.  We are steeped in culture where people do the most self serving thing and the only way to preempt this is to overpower them.  We’ll do things for nothing like working for free at an internship to get our foot in the door for jobs but we are well aware virtue is weakness.  Then you have women complaining Christian guys are “too nice” and people who care about the state of the world being denigrated as “social justice warriors”.  The only situations where one can be both virtuous and strong is when there are a critical mass of virtuous people around them.  For example at a job which is OK with and supportive of a person having a mental illness.  Or a church where people are actually helping each other.  It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma where if both parties cooperate, there is a good outcome, and if both parties defect, there is a good outcome, but the party who defects always has the upper hand so naturally everyone ends up defecting.

Our definition of truth is often reactionary; a reaction against the way we’ve been lied to.  How we are lied to has informed how we reckon truth.  We have been marketed to and fed B.S. basically from the cradle.  We push against this.  Some of us turn into empiricists, if something is put forth and the evidence says otherwise, then we trust what the evidence points to (when we were 3 we saw that McDonald’s burgers didn’t look like what they did in the commercials).  Others of us come to the conclusion that since we’ve been swimming in a sea of lies for so long, there mustn’t be any truth at all.  Some of us even want to be lied to because we no longer see the truth as a safe space.  What doesn’t usually end up happening is any of us seeing any beauty at all in truth.

Shame has supplanted guilt as the primary corrective force in society.  Religion is largely powered by guilt but modern culture is more powered by shame.  Boomers can’t fathom why a lot of us don’t feel guilt for sleeping around but get worked up over still having a flip phone.  The moral dynamic has changed under their noses.  Shame drives everything partly as an artifact of consumerism (you got shamed into buying things, not guilted into buying them).  Part of the culture’s power is it’s just so potent and pervasive that the shame of resisting it crowds out any guilt we might have felt over what we were going to do.  With guilt there is the possibility of absolution, with shame absolution is a farce.  This makes the gospel, largely a cycle of guilt and absolution, seem strange to us.  We don’t feel guilty and we know we will never be forgiven for the shameful things we do (that is part of what made the Bart Simpson permanent record folder joke so funny).

We often don’t have (and often don’t want) a car.  It’s true one can get rides initially for church functions but as people have become more atomized it’s gotten harder finding people who will give consistent rides places.  Public transportation runs the least on Sundays and even then many churches are in the nicer parts of the suburbs where there is none.

The thought of living forever (even in heaven) creeps a lot of us out.  We’ve been taught not to trust bliss.  Bliss could be bipolar mania or a trip on meth.  Either way there will be consequences.  Eventually the heat death of the universe will happen and there will be nothing again.  We are at peace with the prospect of eventually not existing.

Pour

From an interview with John Sculley (CEO of Apple before they brought Steve Jobs back):

One of the things that fascinated him: I described to him that there’s not much difference between a Pepsi and a Coke, but we were outsold 9 to 1. Our job was to convince people that Pepsi was a big enough decision that they ought to pay attention to it, and eventually switch. We decided that we had to treat Pepsi like a necktie. In that era people cared what necktie they wore. The necktie said: “Here’s how I want you to see me.” So we have to make Pepsi like a nice necktie. When you are holding a Pepsi in your hand, its says, “Here’s how I want you to see me.”

We did some research and we discovered that when people were going to serve soft drinks to a friend in their home, if they had Coca Cola in the fridge, they would go out to the kitchen, open the fridge, take out the Coke bottle, bring it out, put it on the table and pour a glass in front of their guests.

If it was a Pepsi, they would go out in to the kitchen, take it out of the fridge, open it, and pour it in a glass in the kitchen, and only bring the glass out. The point was people were embarrassed to have someone know that they were serving Pepsi. Maybe they would think it was Coke because Coke had a better perception. It was a better necktie. Steve was fascinated by that.

Things that I say that offend Christians part 3

radiation

There is an “uncanny valley” of prayer where Christians do less for people than their secular counterparts.  The term uncanny valley is a term for computer graphics that refers to how 3D rendered faces that are almost like human faces look like dead people which is why computer generated movies like Up use stylized faces instead.  People prayer shaming have a point because a lot of times at a certain level prayer becomes a stand in for action.  A Christian who is really pious and prays fervently for something is likely to be primed to do something besides praying.  An atheist who sees prayer as worthless will do something or nothing.  But a Christian in the middle might use prayer as a convenience the same way someone will send an e-mail instead of writing a letter.

Service as an outcast (in the group doing the serving) is much worse than not serving at all.  There is little more disheartening than trying to be love while not being shown any love by your compatriots. In this context it’s almost impossible for one not believe they are just being exploited like a paper plate, used and ready to be discarded.  Eudemonic pleasure generally needs to be enjoyed communally or it’s not enjoyed at all.  We are used to hedonic pleasure which is often enjoyed alone and sometimes we assume the other kind of pleasure can be enjoyed this way too.

Encouraging people to overshare is a form of entrapment.  Being vulnerable and “Scary Close” is all the rage in Christian circles.  What people don’t realize is for those of us with mental illnesses sharing is tantamount to outing and we could lose our jobs if our employer found out about our diagnosis.  Not letting one’s guard down often makes one come across as cold and uninviting but for some of us it’s a matter of survival.

Life is tragic and the silver lining rarely justifies the cloud.  The happy, successful people always control the discourse in this day and age, especially in Christian circles.  The senseless suffering and chaos of life gets swept under the rug and people are shamed and ostracized for their suffering when it doesn’t fit some neat little mold, when one can’t cobble together some kind of “redemption” story out of it.  Often these redemption stories don’t serve so much as a way God supposedly worked as much as defanging suffering in order make those who suffer less (who generally hold more power) feel comfortable.

Christians treat you on the basis of what prayers you prayed that already worked, not the ones that are going to work.  If Christians truly prayed in faith they would have to believe their prayers were going to work and treat you as if those prayers had been answered.  For example, they would have to treat you the way they’d treat someone who already had a job even if you didn’t have one (but they were praying for you to get one).  When Christians encounter people with disabilities it kind of crashes their system because the stench of unanswered prayer precedes those with disabilities.  They have to compartmentalize, now they are confronted with opportunities to pray prayers that obviously won’t work.  It stops them in their tracks.

Poor people are less welcome in the church than they used to be.  As income inequality has increased the people at the bottom (particularly poor whites) have largely been left behind by the church.  Part of this is structural as going to a church generally requires having a reliable automobile which many lower class people do not possess.  The other part is the inroads the prosperity and progress gospel (teaching that doesn’t promise wealth but tacitly expects it to come in time) has made into the church.  The church crows about diversity while neglecting to realize if they tried to attack it via the class end they could make much more of an impact (and help poor whites like myself as well).  But attacking it from this angle requires much more sacrifice from the administration and laity.

It’s ridiculous for the church lionize and organize everything around the nuclear family when the nuclear family has been in melt down for tens of years.  The day and age of the self-sufficient single family unit is long gone (if it ever really existed).  This might be a hidden reason millennials are leaving the church in droves.  We’re sick of being treated like a half of person because we’re single.  We’re sick of being shamed for not reaching all the markers of adulthood (owning a car, owning a home, getting married, having a high paying full time job, etc..).  We are more needy and often form relationships that ask more of people than what those in the shallow Christian culture can provide.

Love’s presence (and it’s absence) is conspicuous.  Sometimes those of us (especially those of us with more education), underestimate people’s powers of perception.  We millennials were born into a world where we were basically being sold something since the cradle.  You can’t pull a fast one on us.  So stop trying.

See also: Part 2, Part 1

group cohesion

I think religion was made for a society where group cohesion was of utmost importance.  This can be most perfectly seen in having to think the right things to end up in heaven.  Group cohesion was how things got done.  You couldn’t build a castle without a lot of willing, obedient subjects.  In this day and age group cohesion is achieved more by technology (such as firearmed policing/military and burglar alarms).  The things we desperately need now mostly are scientific breakthroughs for things like clean energy, medicine, and social science.  These things come about through people who ask questions, even questions they are not supposed to ask (the discipline of scientific thinking tends to make people less religious).  People wring their hands over millennials’ exodus from religion but they have internalized the idea that human progress now comes about by people thinking for themselves, not applying what they’re told to think.