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Hi and welcome to our new series on authoritarians! Last time we met up, we explored the fear that drives people into authoritarian personalities and groups. This time, we examine the main tool authoritarians use to soothe that fear: obedience. We’ll dive into a new breed of mobile apps that take advantage of authoritarians’ need for rules and routines, too!
I’ve talked about THE ANGLE for a while now. When I was just a wee little Pentecostal lass, I noticed that my boyfriend-then-husband Biff had dedicated his entire life to one belief that went far, far past Christianity.
He believed that rich, successful, happy people knew something he didn’t.
Whatever this thing was, it was completely groundbreaking as well as simple and easy to put into motion. He needed to figure out what that thing was. Once he did, then he would become just as rich, successful, and happy as they were.
So his entire life consisted of him chasing this ANGLE that they knew that he didn’t. Maybe they weren’t intentionally holding it back from him. It might not be malicious, after all. Maybe they thought it was such a no-brainer that it didn’t occur to them that others didn’t know it. Whatever the case, he needed to find out what it was.
If he never found out what the ANGLE was, then he’d be like everybody else: scuttling along the kennel run, whizzing along in the hamster wheel, always working hard but never breaking even, discovering way more month at the end of his paycheck than money, and seeing it all just get worse with every passing year.
No wonder he fell into the extremist flavor of Christianity that he did. Really, looking back at the whole situation, I’m just astonished it took as long for him to discover it as he did. Once he connected with that flavor, he took a running swan-dive into it and never looked back.
Do This, Get That.
When we look at authoritarian groups, we discover leadersand followers.
The leaders stand out as far more visible and obvious, of course, since they’re the ones up front making demands. And hoo boy, what demands! But they also issue threats aplenty to go along with those demands, as well as wheedling promises. Often those threats and promises run together like cheap dyes in the wash. For example, take this tweet from Matt Hagee (the son of megachurch pastor John Hagee, who did those stupid Blood Moon prophecies):
Matt Hagee admonishes his followers to Jesus super-hard if they want to see anything “blossom this year” in their lives. It’s a promise–as well as a threat. If they don’t drill down hard on his instructions, then they will not prosper.
He doesn’t just make promises and threats, however. He also sets forth the mechanism by which his followers can enjoy the promises and avoid the threats. Of course, he cloaks that mechanism in Christianese. His instructions boil down to do what I tell you to do and quit doing all the stuff I forbid you to do. Once his followers start following his instructions, Matt Hagee promises that they will receive love, joy, and peace.
He makes it sound so easy, doesn’t he?
Do this, and you’ll get that good thing.
Avoid this, and you’ll dodge that bad thing.
The Seduction of the Machine.
WereBear brought up an eye-opening article last month. In it, its writer discusses machine envy. That’s the belief that problems, questions, and situations can be fed into a computer-like machine that spits out, in turn, answers and instructions that always work. No matter how complicated the input might be, the machine reduces it down to something understandable. And authoritarians can always count on their machine to work consistently and correctly, giving them only consistent, correct answers and instructions.
Remember we talked about Two Boxes morality recently? That’s the belief authoritarian Christians have that something is right or wrong according to whether or not their god approves of it. And they think that their god communicates his approval or disapproval through the Bible. Proof-texted Bible verses become, in essence, their machine. They view the world through the lens of those myriad deceptively-chosen, isolated verses, which become in turn their bludgeon to use on all dissenting voices–including their own, if they ever feel doubts.
The trust authoritarians place in their machine staggers those who aren’t authoritarians. No matter how often the machine fails, authoritarians find ways to explain away those failures.
They will guard it with their very lives, if need be. Anything standing between them and their machine must be mowed down. Even if their own children get in the way, they prioritize the machine more highly.
It’s Just So Easy!
Authoritarian leaders demand utter obedience. In turn, authoritarian followers submit utterly (at least in theory) to the creators of the machine. Those followers receive, in turn, something presented to them as a completely trustworthy machine. They receive THE ANGLE they’ve sought all their lives. It’s like a Rosetta Stone for life–and I’ve heard Christian leaders with my own two ears making that exact comparison with the Bible. Once believers have it, everything else falls into place (at least in theory).
It’s that trust that produces the either/or, black/white, this/that mentality that truly marks the authoritarian mindset. Their trust soothes their many, wild, overwhelming fears. The machine, THE ANGLE, makes everything so easy for those who believe in its power.
To lose faith in the machine, to question THE ANGLE, brings their fears roiling back to the surface.
That’s why apologetics, as an industry, exists. Protecting believers’ faith in the machine is its sole function. Of course, even then, by that pathetic standard, apologetics is a colossal failure. But very little else comes close to offering that level of protection.
That’s what makes evangelism apps so funny to me.
They exist because of authoritarian Christians’ need for a foolproof, never-fail mechanism to give them enough courage to follow their leaders’ nonstop commands to make sales. These apps clearly are intended to make Christians feel safe enough to do what they think a real live god totally told them to do anyway.
Enter: Evangelism Apps.
I find it downright hilarious that evangelism apps exist on the mobile market. It’s just so comical. The internet is destroying Christian credibility and their cultural control. The religion stands revealed to millions now as a worldview that no longer adequately prepares believers to engage with the world or each other. It is a thing from the past. And yet (thanks to David Thatcher clueing us in) here we are with dozens of apps seeking to help Christians evangelize!
So–because I am nothing if not methodical–I downloaded all of the recent ones I could find.
These apps tend to be very much of a muchness–bland, pictograph-driven, full of Bible verses that won’t mean a lot to people who don’t already believe the Bible is true, and rife with logical fallacies. Most of them don’t even really explain how to use the cattle-chute evangelism they present–which became glaringly obvious when I ran across one that actually did. It offered a piss-poor explanation, but bless its heart, it tried.
Feel free to skip to about 5:15, which is how long it takes this guy to GET TO THE FREAKIN’ POINT.
As that above video demonstrates, even a long-time Christian can be completely, totally incoherent about the major points of the religion. That’s what these apps hope to help with.
Leaping on Trends.
Christian leaders don’t know a whole lot about the internet. Most of them grew up in the years before social media even existed, or were already almost adults when social media hit the scene. But dang, they sure know that kids these days love them some social media!
Case in point – a 2015 talk about how churches can totally turn their decline around through mobile apps.
Now, the above video doesn’t only mean creating whole new apps. This guy’s talking more about using existing social media. I like this video because it outlines how Christian leaders see the process of mobile evangelism working. As this speaker puts it (at 6:18), with these apps Christians must do exactly the same things they do in person to evangelize:
- Find common ground
- Strike up a conversation
- Build relationship
- Share the Gospel
Notice how he just assumes that this evangelism routine works? It’s one of the most standard-issue routines that exist in evangelicalism, despite its near-total absence of any objective indications of effectiveness.
For example, around 15 minutes into that above video, the speaker talks about sending messages via digital apps to non-Christians to advise them that they’re totally being prayed for by TRUE CHRISTIANS™. He says, marveling, “Think about the impact you could have on an unbeliever!” And I’d agree. That sort of intrusion would certainly have a lot of impact–just not in the direction he imagines.
So if a beloved routine doesn’t work in real life, it’s going to be hilariously painful to see Christians using the exact same routine on social media and in specialized evangelism apps and expecting anything different to happen.
How to Use an Evangelism App.
Gang, do you remember that awful evangelism book I reviewed a few weeks ago, the one from the 50s-70s? Remember how I laughed about how carefully the author explained (and used photos to explain!) how to stand and exactly how to touch a prospect while evangelizing?
Well, these apps don’t really make demands that are that detailed, but that just makes them all the funnier.
Here’s how these apps’ designers generally intend Christians to utilize them:
- They open the app while standing/sitting/snuggling/whatever with a prospect.
- They fire up the app’s diagram-driven evangelism slideshow.
- The slideshow opens and begins. Simple pictures and diagrams depict the sad and sorry state of a non-Christian’s rebellion against authority. Then the slideshow makes clear that only submission to that authority will save the prospect from the Christian god’s ineptitude and vengefulness.
- If the prospect requires extra persuasion, apps typically offer up some Bible verses to PROVE YES PROVE the points being made in their particular relevant slides. The Christian evangelist recites all of this out loud or allows the prospect to read them.
- Ta-da! Then the app assumes that the evangelism totally worked and offers up a Sinner’s Prayer for the prospect to recite. At the very end, the app offers hearty congratulations to the new “baby Christian.”
Crash and Burn!
There is nothing in the world funnier to me than the idea of some earnest (probably very young) Christian using one of these apps to evangelize. Mobile apps are meant to help Christians evangelize through the use of routines–but they do anything but that. The crash-and-burn that must inevitably result must be a thing of beauty and a joy forever to behold. I’m just dying over here of second-hand cringe.
On a more serious note, though, we’re going to talk about the failure of the no-fail routine in this series–and how Christian authoritarians notice and then deal with that failure.
Ultimately, I think it’s great that Christians have yet another source of contradictory reality-based evidence to encourage them to wonder why their ANGLE fails so often and so grandly. Thanks to their desperate, flailing trust in their ANGLE, Christian leaders don’t worry too much about creating so many of those opportunities.
So… more good news, I reckon!
NEXT UP: Obviously we must examine these apps in more detail next time! We must–and we will! See you next time, folks!