Humanize Yourself In Four Steps When Evangelists Objectify You

PerishWant to know one thing that many atheists and ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses have in common? Dealing with aggressive evangelists who objectify us (or who want us to play our assigned role in their idealized conversion scenario). Whether they realize it or not, many evangelists tend to pigeonhole others into categories that are easy for them to handle. To them, we cease to be Jim, Rob, or Cindy. We become the generic angry atheist, the generic Witness who was hurt by the Elders, or whatever. And they’ll deal with everyone they’ve lumped in those categories in exactly the same way–even many people they’ve known all their life. This is one of the most annoying and even offensive aspects of aggressive evangelism. It insulates the proselytizer from the convert’s point of view, but makes it impossible for you to have a real conversation with them because they aren’t actually hearing you any more. No one likes to be objectified. How can you turn things around when your closest evangelist starts to objectify you?

Step One: Recognize When They’re About To Go There And Why

Cruise on OprahWe can usually sense it when an evangelist goes into full conversion mode. First comes the awkward segue or even the announcement that they’d like to talk about their religion now. Then they’ll ask a few questions to help them narrow down which pigeonhole we belong to. Finally, they’ll start blurting out whole arguments about points we haven’t even made yet and ignore any responses that don’t match the role they’ve assigned to us. After being thoroughly offended and frustrated, we ask them to leave us alone. Naturally, they refuse. Then it gets really weird.

Man, it sure sounds like being converted is gobs of fun. Wonder why it doesn’t work more often? That’s irony you’re hearing in my keystrokes, BTW. Why do evangelists do this when it only angers most people?

Objectifying potential recruits does offer them a few advantages. Surprisingly, one is that it pushes us away. If they cease to feel for us, they can come after us like gangbusters without feeling like a heel. It also renders them numb to our views. We can’t convince them that we’re the ones who are right if they aren’t really listening to us. Reverse-conversions can happen, even if we aren’t trying to convert the evangelist. Some former believers are eloquent … or even right … and can inadvertently force a devout believer to rethink their own beliefs. Many evangelists will objectify us as a subconscious means of protecting themselves.

The biggest advantage of objectifying others is that it allows evangelists to simply get the words out if they’re afraid to speak up. It’s hard to look another person in the eye and tell them they’re wrong about everything just because you or your religious literature say so. It’s much easier to do it when you’re looking them in the forehead and ignoring half of what they say.

Step Two: Make It Personal

I'm humanOnce they’ve ceased to see you as a person, evangelists have a list of strategies they use to maintain their distance. Even in the face of our growing anger and disinterest, these tactics will keep them from taking us too seriously as fellow human beings. Try short-circuiting those strategies to reconnect with them and they’ll start sensing the needless aggravation they’re dispensing. They should at least realize that they’re doing more harm to their cause than good if they have a functioning brain stem. You might even succeed in having a real conversation with them.

Here are some of their strategies and what to do.

Dehumanizing Strategy 1: Elevation, Because They’re Better Than You And You Need Them

awesome meOne strategy they’ll use to maintain the distance is to talk down to us. They’ll elevate themselves to the role of teacher (“I can help you find happiness and eternal life…”) or judge (“Someone needs to set you straight for your own good…”). By elevating themselves above you, they are increasing the distance between you while also trying to assert control of the conversation. You can short circuit this strategy by elevating yourself up to their level. Or, if you’re careful about it, you can try deflating them back to your level.

For instance, some elderly Jehovah’s Witnesses like to announce how many years they’ve been in “The Truth” as a way of over inflating their qualifications in a debate. They’re essentially telling you that you should listen to them because they’ve been doing this longer than you have. You can counter this by noting the years of intense research and thought you’ve put into your own views and by noting how many sources of information you’ve drawn upon. They, being Jehovah’s Witnesses, only have one source because Witnesses are strongly discouraged from considering any viewpoints that contradict the Society’s. You’ve probably got a variety of real experts to back up your views; they are relying on strongly biased amateurs as their only source of information. Note that citing both of these points will not only elevate you but diminish them at the same time. Hopefully, the two of you will meet somewhere in the middle. BTW, just so we’re clear, their source of information is the Governing Body. Unless they’ve been hearing voices or talking to a burning bush, it’s not God. Don’t be afraid to point that out if you must.

heavenlyawardAnother example of elevation is when an Elder or church leader points out their rank. They are basically saying, “I outrank you! Now you gotta shut up and listen!” Some may even quote scriptures about obeying church leaders to reinforce this point. You could respond by informing them that this isn’t about rank and that you’re not impressed by this statement. Or you could tell them that you don’t appreciate it when someone uses scripture to bully you into obedience. Both statements will deflate them back to your level.

One word of caution: whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of reversing your roles by trying to put yourself above them. Remember, the point is to draw them closer to you, not push them away. Then you can make them realize you’re a person, not just an opportunity to make another convert.

Dehumanizing Strategy 2: Humility–Or It’s All About Them, You Big Meany

catsurrendersMore experienced evangelists may try to play the humble card. They’ll wax poetic about how much they want to save you and tell you repeatedly that they aren’t deciding what’s best for you out of arrogance. They’re doing it because they care. (This is actually kinda weird when you think about it, but okay…) Then they’ll tell you how worried they are for you, that you’ll lose your chance for whatever reward their religion is promising, all in bid to make you feel bad for disagreeing with them while making themselves into the hero.

This is a clever strategy because it turns the tables on us. It makes you out to be a heel while focusing their attention on their own feelings so they don’t have to think about yours. It’s really just a more sophisticated version of the previous strategy and it often works. You can humanize yourself again by telling them how their tactics are making you feel. This pulls them out of the martyr’s chair and reminds them that you’re a person, too.

Dehumanizing Strategy 3: They’re Just The Messenger. Talk To The Hand … Er, To God  … If You Have Any Complaints

killthemessengerBizarrely, many evangelists will try to swear off responsibility for bad behavior by passing the buck right to their authority of choice. It could be God, Jesus, or the Governing Body of their religion. The point is that you aren’t allowed to get mad at them for their own behavior. They’re literally telling you that they’re not responsible for their actions and it would be unfair of you to hold them accountable.

This is an easy way for evangelists to sidestep your objections and to jump back to whatever they were talking about before you dared open your mouth. They don’t even have to deal with your feelings because they’re just following orders. Hey, they didn’t choose to offend you, their god did.

You can short circuit this evasion by asserting the reality: they are the ones talking here, they are the ones who chose to have this conversation, and there’s no use in blaming the god they claim to love. Inform them outright that you hold them responsible for their own behavior. Otherwise, you’ll only embolden them.

Step Three: Tell Them Why They’ve Failed To Reach You

leapingcatI’m not talking about a critique of how they formulate arguments or how they’ve gotten their facts wrong with this one. I mean you should tell them that they’ve failed to connect with you as a human being. Tell them how being talked down to makes you feel. Tell them that you want respect, you want to be treated as an equal, and that while a real conversation about religion might interest you a sermon does not.

In other words, remind them that you’re a human who doesn’t appreciate being treated like a sales opportunity. Make them realize that they haven’t just struck a nerve by hitting you with a hard truth. They’ve pushed you away from their “truth” and from them as a person. If you’re going to continue to be friends or family, they’ll have to treat you like friends or family.

Step Four: Reconciliation

friendsIf you can make it past step three and arrive at an understanding, then it’s time to give them a chance to change. If they can forgive you for disappointing them (not that it’s their right to pass judgment…) then now’s the time to be just as big a person by letting them off the hook for their bad behavior. So long as they’ve learned their lesson and don’t repeat the same mistakes, of course.

If the goal is to reconnect with someone who’s let religion stand between you, this is your big chance. If the goal is simply to get them to leave you alone, forgive them anyway. You can always forgive them while hoping you’ll never see them again. Either way, closure will help you achieve your goal.

About The Atheist Geek

The Atheist Geek is a former Jehovah's Witness turned secular humanist. He's a lifelong sci-fi geek and a writer wannabe.
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6 Responses to Humanize Yourself In Four Steps When Evangelists Objectify You

  1. Tyler says:

    I find these situations happening quite a bit as a 16 year old living in a Witness Household.

    I’ve directly discussed my Agnostic Atheist beliefs with my parents, my old study partner for the bible teach book and a elder that was close to my family. It seems like age has a big deal to do with everything, witnesses think they can come up to you and spend an hour or so having a “conversation” trying to prove you wrong. Which we all know isn’t a conversation, they’re simply standing there because they like to hear themselves talk about how right they are. (I’m not trying to bash JW’s as I’ve done this a bit myself as a Witness)

    I find your articles quite compelling and helpful, living in Canada I could leave my house if I wanted but I don’t see things as that bad. (Considering all my associates are witnesses). As a 16 year old the elder who I discussed my current Agnostic Atheist beliefs with labeled me an apostate. He seems to have kept his mouth shut and not said anything to any other elders, but some in the congregation I’m assuming have come to that realization. (They’re always in a “hurry” and can’t talk to me).

    One witness friend of mine said “But I know you know it’s the truth”, to which I had no response I was afraid of hurting his feelings…Your articles have helped me quite a bit in dealing with my parents and letting them know (without confrontation of course) that I am mature enough to come up with my own thoughts and ideas on things.

    Please Continue Writing,

    -Tyler

    • Hi Tyler. It’s always great to know that someone finds the advice articles useful. You’re 16, and I’m 37, yet many of our experiences are the same as you’ve described your own. We all get the “you know it’s the Truth” line and the other experiences you mentioned. I think it’s great that you got your position out there up front. Especially if you haven’t been baptized yet (but even if you have been). It sure beats having to be a non-Witness in secret to hide your true feelings.

      May I ask how your family took the news? Are they “full fledged” Witnesses?

      Thanks for writing.

  2. Tyler says:

    Hey Atheist Geek,

    Personally I don’t mind answering questions about my family situation or what I had to go through. Some might find it traumatizing to “relive” such experiences but everyone has their own way of coping. Mine just happens to be talking about what I’ve gone through instead of keeping it bottled up.

    Much to your obvious surprise (sarcasm), I was met with hostility and the look on my fathers face of betrayal nearly made me want to take what I said back. Things aren’t as easy as that however…..My dad is disfellowshipped from smoking (outside of “the truth” I don’t consider it a private matter).

    However my mother is a “full fledged” Witness combat boots and all, who said I was “evil” and I shouldn’t talk to my brother or his friends, or any witness. And both parents thought I should talk to an elder….which instead of answering my religious questions like I expected simply told me why I was wrong to think god didn’t exist.

    We both know, (I hope) that witnesses use “proofs” on “exxers”, from the Watchtower, even if we say we don’t believe it. If we repeat ourselves enough times, they seem to think we’re mentally challenged since they can’t see how their wrong.

    But I seem to have forgotten to add one more thing, No I am not baptized but my entire life has been situated around JW’s…my parents going so far as to have previously cut me off from “worldy” influences. (Friends). Which you’ll be glad to know no longer occurs.

    Hope that answers your question, :)
    I’d be glad to hear your story if it’s not already posted on this site, and then you could direct me there, Thanks.

    -Tyler

    • There’s a little bio info on my about page (on the top of the web site). I actually got off kinda light compared to most exxers: I wasn’t raised in “the Truth.” I do have Witness in-laws, which is a real peach. Every other convention or so they feel like they have to save me from myself and I’m supposed to enjoy it. As you say, they hit you full force with pseudo science and make believe that they trust fully because it’s all they know. They aren’t supposed to entertain any source of information that contradicts the Society’s.

      I would like to suggest something to you if you haven’t already tried it. You’ll find a lot of supportive people at the Jehovah’s Witness Discussion Forum and Moxie’s Jehovah’s Witness Recovery Forum. I haven’t been there in a while, but I’ve been meaning to go back for a visit. Say hi to Moxie for me. There are plenty of people at both places who’ll get you totally. Lots of discussions to peruse, or you can start some of your own. I suggest you introduce yourself to both groups … well, actually, many of them are the same people. But you get my meaning.

      Hope to hear from you again.

  3. Courage says:

    Very interesting article.

    Are evangelist pastors governed or ruled by anyone?

    If a Evangelist Pastor is saying one thing about being ‘unmaterialistic’ but harming others in his own family that are catholic by taking everything away from us, is there anyone that we can speak with? Maybe someone that can set him straight.

    It seems that either he is mentally unwell or is using the reason of preaching to his advantage…or maybe he actually is doing something good as he claims to save souls except he is taking things against our will and justifying with religion, so it’s a strange situation we don’t how to deal with. As far as we know the Bible says Thou shalt not steal…..thanks for any response…or if there are any suggestions we would be most grateful.

    • Hi Courage.

      Bear in mind that I’m not an expert in Catholicism. So when it comes to using the church’s bureaucracy, I’m not the best one to ask. But I can share my experience with the Watchtower Society, which I think most ex-Witnesses can relate to.

      I was 18 when I started going to my local Kingdom Hall (a Jehovah’s Witness church) and had studied with an Elder for a couple of years. He had a very controlling and domineering personality, all while seeing himself as very much the opposite. He made me miserable. Gradually, others learned of his behavior and went to the circuit and district overseers about him. They did this because they didn’t expect the other Elders to help out in the least. There were only 2 that most in the congregation felt comfortable in approaching about problems of this type, but they these two were often put on restrictions by our presiding overseer because they were so outspoken. So while these two were Elders, they were easily–and often–slapped down. That left the circuit and district overseers to help.

      Note that these people did this on my behalf. I really thought something was about to happen. But nothing did. Except that the overseers saw me as a trouble maker.

      That’s when I discovered that the Elders and the overseers were part of the same club. I lost any and all credibility with the body of Elders after that. This was the first major ding that the image I had of the Society suffered at the time. It wasn’t the last.

      So I suggest that, if you do use church channels to help with your problem, that you make sure they will actually help. I have no idea how similar these organization’s are in this respect. But that seems like good advice to me.

      From your comment, it sounds like this person has real power over you. They’re more just bullying you. Are you a minor?

      For more advise, I suggest you search online for a forum–maybe even one specific to Catholics. There are several good ones for ex-Witnesses like myself. So there’s bound to be some out there for groups as large as the Catholic Church, whether they be past or present members.

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