Friday, May 09, 2008
Threats and Bribery
Another good question posted over at the Friendly Atheist blog:
… What method was the worst when people tried to share their faith with you? I know some people hand out pamphlets and other people tell you you’re going to hell on the street corner, all kinds of ‘fun’ things. As a follow up question, how has rude/mean/annoying encounters like that caused you to feel about the Christian faith ? My last question is, what method of sharing faith has made you at least open to talking to the other person about their faith?

I was especially struck by this particular response:

The worst that I have personally experienced involved threats. It was a perfectly well-meaning person who told me, in a concerned voice, that I would go to hell if I don’t accept Jesus as my personal saviour. Well-meaning, but I don’t respond to threats - at all.

So when you tell me that your all-good, all-loving, merciful god will torture me for all eternity if I don’t worship him, not only are you threatening me (and thereby pushing me away), you also aren’t making any sense. If god loves me, why would be punish me for not brown-nosing him? I’ve heard this explained away multiple times, but never in a way that made sense to me.

So if you are to have any hope of converting me, I would recommend an approach that never even mentioned hell. In fact, don’t mention heaven either. The whole idea of doing something just to avoid punishment or get a reward feels morally dishonest to me.

Just to illustrate what I mean, there was one woman who made me seriously consider Christianity as an option (and, though I didn’t convert, I at least looked favourable on the religion until I met someone who dealt with me in the above-mentioned way). She was an older woman and she was having trouble getting onto the bus (you had to go up three steps before getting on, and they were quite large steps too). I held her arm and helped her in. Once sitting, she thanked me and told me in a sweet voice that she would pray for me. That’s human decency. She was kind, thoughtful, and truly grateful for help (whereas I find that most people simply expect help to be given). More than that, she told me that she would pay me back in the only way she could - she would give of her time to do something that, in her belief system, would help me get up a few steps.

I respond to kindness in a way that I will never respond to threats of violence or bribery - and make no mistake, that’s exactly what the whole concept of heaven and hell is to me.

The bold type is my addition because I think that comment illustrates yet again my point that many atheists are motivated by a desire for a higher level of morality, not a lower one. And I agree, believing in God simply based on threats or bribery is morally immature. Of course, I don't personally believe that Heaven or Hell ought to be thought of in these ways in the first place, but let's face it, that's how they are too often presented to non-Christians in our attempts at evangelism.


posted by Mike Clawson at 1:03 PM | Permalink |


At 5/09/2008 05:25:00 PM, Blogger Andrew


The thing I find though is that most Christians who are steeped in Christian sub-culture cannot see from the outside enough to hear how absurd the threats and bribery sound.

Having moved to Utah recently, it had been very enlightening to be on the other side of evangelism. As my Mormon friends and neighbors try the same stunts on me that I used to try on others in the past, I see how truly awful it looked from the other side.



At 5/11/2008 07:17:00 PM, Anonymous Ben

OT: There is an emerging church article you might be interested in over at

The above is a www address, but your site didn't like it as an address. Strange.


At 5/12/2008 08:51:00 AM, Blogger Al Hsu

Mike - What I love about James Choung's new book True Story and his approach to the gospel is that it's not an appeal to either escape ticket to heaven or fear of flames of hell. It's an appeal to a desire for global justice, for a better world for all of us. That way Christianity is neither a threat nor bribery, but rather an invitation to join with God in his mission to restore this world to all the good it's supposed to be. I don't know if that would pass muster with the good folks at Friendly Atheist, but I think it's probably a lot better than the Four Spiritual Laws!


At 5/11/2010 01:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I came to your blog via your comment about Hemant's book on Amazon. I was so touched by your review as a pastor. It is refreshing to see a Christian treating atheists as people and not fighting or provoke debate. Thank you so much for your open mind to even read the book and I am pleased to see posts linked from I hope all people of all religions or non-religions can treat each other as humans, as you have demonstrated.


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