how to deal with evangelical youth leaders
hello, everyone. i just posted this in response to Infidelis over on the "new program targeting teens and college students" thread, regarding whether or not he should go to a youth function and challenge the christians to a debate. as i've noticed that the teen and college student population on this site is growing lately, i thought it might be useful to someone if i reposted it as a separate topic.
as i've mentioned before, i used to work on staff with campus crusade for christ. during that time i became familiar with the ins and outs of a youth-oriented evangelical parachurch organization. i myself led seminars, bible studies, and small group discussions many times, both in a crusade and regular church setting. i myself was sometimes challenged by an atheist or agnostic, and i myself often stooped to using the same tactics i'm going to outline below. most of you have probably encountered these before but i hope it will be helpful, particularly to the youth on this site, if i lay it out systematically. it's quite simple, really. in print, it's almost laughable, but in real situations, it's surprisingly effective.
before i begin, let me emphasize that, as in most situations in life, confidence is key in making a snake oil salesmen look like a fool. BUT it's important not to go into it with hubris. bear in mind that in a youth-oriented church or paracurch group, the leadership may be deluded, but they're not necessarily stupid. they've prepared for objections. since genuine arguments obviously won't help them, be prepared for the lowest common denominator. here goes:
1. they'll definitely rely on peer pressure. the angry stares of all those around you can be more intimidating than you realize. i say this as someone who's been on both sides of this situation: i've used it and had it used against me. they'll be counting on their adoring fans to help them reduce your confidence and trip you up verbally. be ready for it.
2. specious reasoning can be a lot more effective with the kind of idiots they pander to when it comes with mild ridicule and a good ol' flash of pearly whites. like it or not, these guys are almost always charismatic, and with most of our retarded species charisma is all it takes. whatever you do, don't let him get you flustered. if he makes a wisecrack, keep standing firm and wait patiently for the giggles to die down. don't be afraid to use his own weapons against him, either. these guys are seldom daunted by a superior intellect, but a superior wit can sometimes throw them.
3. keep the exchange on track. keep the topic as specific as possible. he's definitely going to try to deflect you onto some other issue, usually trying to guide things to the personal level ("why do you hate god?" or some shit like that). don't let him get away with responses that begin with something like, "well, let me ask you a question..."
4. finally, if all else fails, he's going to try an out like "well, we're pressed for time, so i'll tell you what, come see me after this is over and we'll talk about it some more." then after the event is over he'll try to put as much human wall between the two of you as possible until he can duck out without looking or feeling like a chickenshit. try not to let him get away with this. if you still have an opening, tell him that you're pressed for time as well and that if he doesn't answer your question now he'll just have to leave you unconvinced (although, to be honest, the thought of that probably won't bother him much and won't decrease his standing in the eyes of his fans, as they'll view you as a pushy bastard, but it might be some modicum of a personal victory for you). if he doesn't leave you an opening (most likely scenario), then definitely take him up on it. be aggressive. fight your way through the crowd and pin him to the wall on the issue. when he's no longer the center of attention he'll be much more vulnerable and more likely to cede victory with some statement like, "well, you obviously know a lot more about this than me, and i'm not qualified to speak about it, but i believe blah blah blah..." he might even ask for your email so he can put you in touch with someone "who knows a lot more about this" but i wouldn't hold my breath if i were you.
hope this helps.
"I have never felt comfortable around people who talk about their feelings for Jesus, or any other deity for that matter, because they are usually none too bright. . . . Or maybe 'stupid' is a better way of saying it; but I have never seen much point in getting heavy with either stupid people or Jesus freaks, just as long as they don't bother me. In a world as weird and cruel as this one we have made for ourselves, I figure anybody who can find peace and personal happiness without ripping off somebody else deserves to be left alone. They will not inherit the earth, but then neither will I. . . . And I have learned to live, as it were, with the idea that I will never find peace and happiness, either. But as long as I know there's a pretty good chance I can get my hands on either one of them every once in a while, I do the best I can between high spots."
--Hunter S. Thompson