Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

            Look what I found!


            Since the weather was nice, I went for a little walk during my lunch break the other day as is my habit. And as I ambled along I came across this million dollar bill just sitting there in the middle of the sidewalk. Can you believe it? I’m rich! All my financial concerns are evaporated! I’m gonna…


            Aw, shit. It’s a religious tract.

            OK, to be honest, I was pretty sure that’s what it was before I even picked it up. I’d heard about these things, but it’s the first time I’d ever actually come across one. For those who don’t know, some enterprising Christian groups have taken to printing these little things up and leaving them lying around on sidewalks (you know, what us godless heathens call “littering”) in the hopes that some vulnerable soul will pick it up and read it (and presumably also in the hopes that they won’t laugh, wad it around a piece of chewing gum, and toss it in the nearest trash can). Naturally they make it look like money because, let’s face it, trickery is the bread and butter of religious proselytization.

            By the way, in case you can’t make it out in the picture, this is the text that’s printed on the back of that little piece of specialness:

                “The million dollar question: Will you go to heaven when you die? Here’s a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain? Jesus said ,’Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on Judgment Day? If you have done those things, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell. That’s not God’s will.

                “He sent his Son to suffer and die on the cross for you. You broke God’s law, but Jesus paid your fine. That means He can legally dismiss your case. He can commute your death sentence. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Then Jesus rose from the dead and defeated death. Please repent from sin today and trust in Jesus alone, and God will grant you the gift of everlasting life. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.”

            Well, that’s convincing.

            Clearly, I’m not the target audience for this. It starts way too many steps down the line. Will I go to heaven when I die? Convince me there’s a heaven first. Convince me that there’s anything coming after I die. Jesus thinks looking at a woman lustfully is exactly the same as actually committing adultery? Convince me that the opinion of a possibly fictional (and certainly long-dead) individual on the bounds of my relationship with my wife or anyone else should matter to me. God sees me as a lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterer at heart? Convince me that God even exists, and then his opinions might be worth discussing.

            But no, the target audience for this piece of trash is someone very different from me. He or she is someone who already sort of believes in God and heaven, and is kind of worried about what will happen to them “after they die.” Someone who’s just aware enough of their own imperfections to feel a bit guilty about them, but not aware enough to think about why they have them and how they might be addressed. Someone who is willing to accept “You’re just an awful and worthless person, but if you do as I say I’ll overlook that for you,” as a means of relieving their anxiety. Someone who is vulnerable to negging.

            What’s negging? It’s a pick-up artist term. It refers to the strategy of attacking a mark’s self-esteem and insecurities as a way of manipulating them into having sex in the false hope that it will restore their sense of self-worth. It’s a way of getting into someone’s pants that displays callous disregard for the emotional harm done in the process, and pretty much everyone outside of pick-up artist culture regards it as fairly high-order douchebaggery.

            Well, apparently not quite everyone. The authors of this tract seem to be big fans.

            The whole purpose of the tract is to convince you that you are awful, horrible, deserving of the worst possible fate. Even if you’ve never done anything wrong, just having thought about it is enough to convict you of being a vile creature that deserves nothing more than to be tortured forever. Of course, when people say things like that about each other, especially in a context of trying to compel obedience to their demands, the applicable term is “emotional abuse.”

             Now, believers might have two objections to my characterization of this argument. The first of these being that they aren’t saying nonbelievers are worse than them, but that everyone is this awful and this deserving of eternal torment. I’ve heard this objection before, and it holds no water to me. All it says to me is that the believer has internalized the abuse, and therefore feels justified in projecting it onward. The abused have become the abusers, a cycle which we generally try to break in any other context.

            The other objection, of course, is that it’s not the believer who makes the claim, but God himself. And when God says it, it’s just true and not really abuse. This, also, is a non-starter from my perspective. Firstly, because no god has ever told me any such thing. People have said it, people have written it down, people have spread internet memes to this effect, and people have directly said such things to me, but no god ever has. Every instance I have ever seen of this claim has been one person passing abuse on to another. The argument makes sense only if a God exists to say these things in the first place, but possibly not even then. After all... if God said it, why is it not still abuse? The difference between a person saying this, and a god saying it, is only the power of the being doing the talking. One might feel compelled to acquiesce to it simply because one is helpless to prevent it, but it’s still abuse.

            If the message the authors of this tract are trying to convey were genuinely positive and evidently true, there would be no need to attempt to heap abuse on people to get them to accept it. The tactics employed give lie to the value of the message.

            And so, I will end this post as I began it: with a picture. This time, of the tract in the dwelling to which it ultimately belongs.