highlyeccentric: Sign on Little Queen St - One Way both directions (Jesus Called)
[personal profile] highlyeccentric

This is a very rough story I wrote for

[livejournal.com profile] goblinpaladin  tonight. He asked me what I would say to a person in crisis if I thought that evangelism would help them. How do you talk to someone who is at rock bottom? Can you promise them that God will make everything better? What do you tell them about a loving God when they are suffering?
I said that I didn't know, but that I have known several people who hit rock bottom and found God there.

 

me: sighs i don't know what to say to people who are at rock bottom, B
 Brenton: I'm curious as to how those folk who hit rock bottom and 'found god' operated. In general terms, mind.
 me: um... one was a school friend
  she joined a fundamentalist church
  she believed everything got better
 
 me: and although it in fact, did not
  she believed it did, and that was all that was important
21:23 she found a community, which was crucial
  and a sense of being important in the world
  a sense of purpose
 Brenton: nods
 me: of Someone having a bigger plan for her
  and that's still the only thing holding her together, i think
21:24 unfortunately, she became a judgemental bitch as a side effect, and i don't like her much anymore
 Brenton: Yeah, I'm not surprised about any of that.
  That's how I figured it worked.
 Brenton: ...especially, unfortunately, the heinous bitch part. No fanatic like a convert.
me: that's how it worked for her.
  i know others
  but... i can't share their stories with you.
 
 me: not all rock-bottom converts become fanatics
  its... god doesn't pick you up out of rock bottom
 Brenton: they do if it is a fundamentalist church that is there to help them
 me: yes
  but sometimes it's a nice church
  sometimes it's no church at all
21:27 sometimes it's pure, scary-making, i-don't-want-to-hear-about-this-and-i-BELIEVE-in-god revelation.

which i don't want to hear about because it's the easiest to explain away (hallucination!) and yet invariable the most powerful.
21:28 Brenton: nods
  agrees
  Yet it's hard to disagree with.
 me: but... even then. god doesn't pick them up from rock bottom
  they get to rock bottom and they find that god is already there
  aint no mountain high enough, and all that

So then I told a stowy. I have trouble logic-ing God anymore. Critical analysis and deconstructing and writing essays, that's my work now. God is in the narratives.
22:02 me: you are walking in a wasteland.
the sky is black.
the sand underfoot is burning and the rocks are cutting your feet.
22:03 you can barely see
  the ground beneath your feet gives way at crazy angles
  you have no idea where you are going and you've no idea where you came from
22:04 you are fighting to keep upright, but the rocks are loose and the slope is steep.
  you loose your balance
22:05 you fall.
  you don't know how far.
  you don't know how fast.
  you don't know your way back
  but that seems futile anyway, because you didn't know where you were to begin with.
22:06 you have heard of other people who came here before you
  but you have seen no one
  nowhere you have walked even remotely resembles the place you have heard of
22:07 you are alone. you are alone, hurting and lost
22:08 when people go out to the wilderness, they are supposed to achieve enlightenment
  well, fuck enlightenment
  it is dark and you never wanted to be here in the first place
22:09 what use is enlightenment anyway?
22:10 what would be more use to you right now is a fiery angel. a rescuer. Someone to find you and lift you up out of this hell on earth.
  but you get out here and you realise that enlightenment is useless and angels don't exist
22:11 you get up. because you have nothing else to do.
  you slither a few feet and fall again
22:12 you land on your face
  this time you cannot be bothered to move
22:13 the rocks beneath you are cutting into your chest.
  you are all alone at the end of all things
22:14 for some reason, you look up.
22:15 and there at the end of all things, there is another man.
a man of indeterminate age. a man holding a little, dim lantern.
  you look up at him.
  you want to say something
  ask how he came to be here
22:16 yell at him, perhaps. for being here and being whole.
  this whole place must be his fault
  he could be anywhere else on earth
  why is he here?
  you resent him. this was your hell. why should there be anyone else in it?
22:17 and if he must be here, why isn't he any use?
  can he fly?
  can he take you out of here somehow?
  you haven't the energy. you stare up at him.
22:18 He sits down on the rock beside you and doesn't say anything.
  just sits there, shining his little dim light.
  waiting until you can get up.
  waiting until you can speak.
  just waiting.
22:19 for you.


that last line is a shout-out to a wordsketch he wrote at my request a while back, called Eternity. it was pretty. you should all read it.

[livejournal.com profile] lepsdavid, [livejournal.com profile] daiskmeliadorn, [livejournal.com profile] mangelbojangel, anyone else out there: what do you think, guys? what would you say to a hypothetical subject of evangelism in crisis? is there a code of ethics for these things? isn't it manipulative to take advantage of someone's vulnerable state? would you be afraid of manipulating them into faith?

Date: 2007-11-11 08:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
I'd argue that you're unable to make a free choice at that time, hence your acceptance of the flying spaghetti monster wouldn't be sincere. Ergo, pushing evangelism at the same time would be both unethical ('cause you're taking advantage) and, in the sense mentioned above, pointless.

Date: 2007-11-11 10:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] highlyeccentric.livejournal.com
that's [livejournal.com profile] goblinpaladin's response too. And my instinctive one.

but then, if acceptance of the FSM helps *at the time* does it really matter if it's sincere or not? i don't think the FSM is going to be any more upset about a post-conversaion apostate than an atheist.

Sometimes depressed people *grasp* at faith. it's a pretty comforting thought, after all. What can you give them that isn't exploiting their weakness?

Date: 2007-11-12 12:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
You can give them something that's not allied with your own interests. You've got a keen interests in evangelising people to the ways of the FSM, as he may give them peace and noodles forever, amen. If I, or your aforementioned au pair, were to recommend they seek religious advice then that would be fine due to it being not biased and not tied into our own interests.

For a less contentious analysis, taking a mate out drinking to get him over a breakup is fine so long as you don't actually own a liquor company.

Date: 2007-11-13 07:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] highlyeccentric.livejournal.com
that assumes it is "in my interests" to convert Hypothetical person. unless there's a Grand Universal Tall of converts, how is it in my personal interests to evangelise anyone?
evangelism should never be something done for your OWN benefit.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goblinpaladin.livejournal.com
While I agree with you -that it would be unethical and manipulative- I'm not sure that converting someone in distress is the same as a liquor company CEO taking a mate out for beer. A minister trying to convert someone would be the same thing. But a Pastafarian who wants to help a friend, and thinks that His Noodly Appendage would be comforting? I don't think that it is quite the same.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
No, because both the minister and the evangelist have broadly the same aims. They believe that they are doing God's work in converting someone, which presumably goes on the sin-free side of the tallyboard. Also, there's no doubt that they'd experience a reasonable degree of personal satisfaction from bringing someone to what they believe is the light. Nothing sinister; but nevertheless, furthering your aims in some way necessarily implies bias.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] highlyeccentric.livejournal.com
so the only aims which can be furthered without manipulation are *other people's* aims?

I agree with you, it *is* manipulative, and what's more insincere, if you see a broken person as just a target for conversion. That *would* be selfish.

But I maintain, there must ways to talk about faith with people- and to allow them space to talk back- without turning the entire exercise into a cosmic tally.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
Yes. That's what unbiased is - an arm's length perspective. If you thought you could honestly convey an unbiased religious perspective to someone, then you must believe that your reserve is inhuman. The desire to help the other person would overpower it. I have no doubt that your intentions would be good, but I feel that the upshot would be unsatisfactory.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] highlyeccentric.livejournal.com
I'm not saying i would be unbiased! but that's a stupid requirement. There is no such thing as an unbiased religious perspective. Religion is nothing but bias, no?

Date: 2007-11-13 09:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
yeah, and ordinarily there's a wealth of information that someone can use to evaluate the merits of a particular faith. But if a particular faith is held out to someone as a lifeline in their time of grief, do you think that it is possible for them to make an informed decision vis a vis their eternal soul?

Date: 2007-11-13 10:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] highlyeccentric.livejournal.com
If someone comes to you and *asks* for a lifeline, and you have it, you can't not offer it. That's cruel. You can't stand there and say "God could help you, IF YOU WERE SANE."

The thing is not to bind them to it. Not to try to take ownership of their experience, i guess. It's their business and God's. But you can't *refuse* to talk to them about faith just because they're broken.

Date: 2007-11-13 10:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
Depends. Is that the only lifeline you have to offer them? The usual human sympathy, commiserations, suggestions of healthy exercise and moving on, chemical concoctions and the like simply aren't available to you?

Date: 2007-11-13 09:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goblinpaladin.livejournal.com
Conceded. Your example of a liquor company CEO was confusing, but I think I see what you mean here. What if said religite was of a faith (whether orthodox or not) where there was no 'tallyboard' of sin, or doctrine of God needing more souls: in short, if they genuinely thought they were helping, is your answer the same?

I have no idea why I'm playing advocatus angeli here, but it's fun.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
In that case, it's probably still not really in the comforted person's interests, because the advice of the person is still biased (because religion worked for them).

But at the same time it is neither harmful nor manipulative, because the person attempting to convert has no interest whatsoever in whether the person adopts the faith, except insofar as it would help them overcome their grief.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
We should totally get a beer sometime.

Date: 2007-11-13 10:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goblinpaladin.livejournal.com
Cider or whiskey for me, but sure.

Be warned: I am almost guaranteed to go on a rant about some obscure medieval thing. Especially if Our Hostess is there, as she enjoys setting me loose on people with them. It's like I'm a well-trained puppy she wants to show off or something.

Date: 2007-11-13 10:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] flamearrows.livejournal.com
I'd just counter with something similarly obscure and related to accounting, finance or law. And I think we know who'd come off worse there.

I'll be around Sydney uni in... oh, about a week and a half? Sound alright? Specifics closer to the date.

Date: 2007-11-13 10:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] goblinpaladin.livejournal.com
Surely, it is so.

Date: 2007-11-13 09:32 am (UTC)

Date: 2007-11-14 06:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lepsdavid.livejournal.com
I will tell a story! A true one.

There is a man at the homeless hostel where I work. Like all people I don't want to identify his name is Bob. Bob is an alcoholic. During a normal week he swings between drunk and passed out on the pavement. However on Sunday mornings he turns up to the church service at the hostel (only tipsy) and at the time where they ask for prayers he speaks up, in stilted English, saying words to the rough meaning of "God, support my family because they have to carry me as a burden". Bob doesn't ask to pray for himself, just his family that God will help them where Bob can't. (Someone else inevitably asks to pray for Bob - for which he is grateful but sees as completely unexpected). After the prayers Bob leaves the service to resume his drinking.

This happens every Sunday I have been there. There is no radical change because others have prayed for him. Bob believes in God (I know this because he speaks about God at other times). His family don't get released from the stress and burden (I get the occasional call asking about him and a tearful lament about him when they saw him last week).

Bob is at rock bottom. Its not about evangelism, its not about providing all the facts (something useless to Bob) it is about support for Bob, from the small community that meets at the hostel and prays what he asks every week and it is about God, who waits patiently in the dark.

Cross-posted to http://lepsdavid2.livejournal.com

Date: 2007-11-14 07:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] highlyeccentric.livejournal.com
*smiles at you*

Date: 2007-11-27 03:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daiskmeliadorn.livejournal.com
huh, i like the story.

we were talking at church last sunday about something a little similar. warwick's sermon was about how the reading for 'christ the king' sunday is actually the story of the crucifixion (or, actually, jesus before pontius pilate) - and he was suggesting that the meaning of this was that christ's kingdom is, unbelievable as it seems, found in the crucifixion.

warwick then invited us to think of examples or stories as he is wont to do.

people started giving examples of the usual suspects - indigenous people, refugees - and the way they are (mis)treated in this country. they also claimed that in the midst of this darkness, the kingdom of christ was revealed through those tireless refugee advocates, or perhaps through the occasional aboriginal person who breaks out of various cycles.

i was a little unsure about these examples. it seemed to me that what they were describing was resurrection more than crucifixion. it's easy to find examples of people overcoming despair, and saying, 'god did that' or if you want to be at least a little vague about the mysterious ways that god works, 'god was in that somewhere'. but i think that is skipping over the really confronting part of the christian story, not just that jesus was resurrected, but that christ was crucified.

i think that your story is maybe a little better at explaining this. i especially like the line "you resent him. this was your hell. why should there be anyone else in it?"

because i feel like that a lot. when i'm in some sort of depth-moment (and for me, luckily, it's usually only a moment of some cope-able length) i can't usually recognise christ? or recognise the helping hand someone is reaching out to me. and when christ was crucified people didn't understand either, but the truth (?) is that it is in that crucifixion that god's love was revealed i guess.

but it's freaking hard to get your head around i tell you and if anyone says otherwise they're stupid :P

Date: 2007-11-27 03:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daiskmeliadorn.livejournal.com
oh, and to answer your question at the end.

my understanding of evangelism is that it's not evangelism if you are taking advantage of someone so as to manipulate them into accepting certain dogmas/starting going to church/whatever. evangelism = sharing the good news, and if anyone needs to hear the good news, it's the person in crisis - but if what you're telling them doesn't sound like good news to them then i think it's reasonable for me to suspect it's not The good news! does that make sense? so it's about listening to them and trying to show them, through words or actions or something else, that god loves them as they are (or something, heh) - if they don't then respond by coming to church with you or calling themselves a christian, that doesn't mean they haven't heard or understood, because calling yourself a christian isn't necessarily the result of hearing the good news...

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