The Cult of “Before” Stories Got a New Member Last Month.

One of my earliest blog entries, A Cult of “Before” Stories, remains one of the most-often-viewed pages on the entire blog (thanks, RationalWiki readers!). It was about how my preacher ex-husband Biff, as well as other Christians including the very well-known-at-the-time Mike Warnke, lied constantly while telling his “testimony” (for non-fundagelicals, a “testimony” is a Christian’s mini-biography detailing his or her life before conversion, the circumstances around the conversion, and how life’s been since conversion; they are often deployed in preaching, evangelizing, or witnessing to others).

At the time, it surprised me that this entry over the other ones had spoken on such a level to people, but over time I began to realize that my experience with Christian liars served a real function in our post-Christian society. The simple truth is that Christians lie. They lie just as often as non-Christians lie, maybe more even, and our society hasn’t quite come to grips with that fact yet. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Christians do not have a monopoly on decency or morality, and until people realize that and stop giving them passes or taking their word for things, the religion’s more toxic elements are not going to do anything but get worse.

Stories about Christians being saved from lives of wretched sin and debauchery sell. Testimonies about these conversions and rescues get a lot of attention and a lot of rewards both socially and financially. Obviously not just Christians lie about their redemption or their medical miracles/problems, but in the Christian world, you can pretty much count on any testimonies involving dramatic turnarounds to be at the very least exaggerated or distorted if they aren’t outright lies. Simply put, I have never heard or read a single dramatic testimony that stood up to inquiry.

There’s a good reason why these dramatic stories aren’t trustworthy. Like the Gospels themselves, they aren’t simple histories or anecdotes. These testimonies are created for the express purposes of swaying non-believers and convincing people of the Christian god’s power and grace, and because of those goals, they simply cannot be trusted. Moreover, from the earliest days of Christianity itself, even in Paul’s day, to the modern day, “lying for Jesus” was not only acceptable but seen as necessary at times to convert the lost; lying might not be awesome, but a sinner spending an eternity getting tortured was surely far worse, so lies got rationalized as essential tools in saving the lost.

That whole mindset was definitely Biff’s attitude about his lies–he was helping cement people’s faith and convert sinners, so in his mind it was okay to misrepresent things the way he did. And let me tell you: it blew his mind that his lies bothered me as much as they did. He didn’t see the problem at all. The ends justified the means 100%. That I was even questioning his tactics was a serious black mark against me–did I not want to save sinners? Did I not care about someone going to hell? (My answer, bee tee dubs: Yes, of course I did, but I didn’t see why just telling the truth wasn’t good enough if we were in fact following a real god with a truthful source book. You can guess how well that went over with him.) And that’s what Christians are saying even now about Mike Warnke–he’s got supporters still like Dwayna Litz who were still insisting years after Warnke’s fall from grace that he was unfairly attacked and that these attacks are no less than attacks on Christianity and goodness itself.

The rewards for telling lies are just too great, and the social penalties for questioning lies are just too serious.

Even to speculate about their truthfulness is like questioning the Christian god’s grace and power–and nobody wants to do that! So lies get compounded on lies and told and retold, often by Christians who value truth but also don’t understand that the people who’ve created these tales might not hold the same values they do. Christians are well-known for retelling and passing along feel-good or obviously manipulative scare-tactic stories and urban legends without questioning them. The other day on Facebook I ran into a Christian who genuinely believes in miracles. That’s fine, he’s allowed, but he began pushing them as objective and real “evidence” of his god’s existence and power. Every one of his miracle stories had already been debunked–some decades ago–and others were clearly blatant con games or urban legends, but he seemed blissfully unaware that they had been discounted long before he’d put his faith into them. He went on to attack the people questioning his stories as “close-minded” and “hard-hearted” if I remember correctly, and clung to his illusions on the basis of “well, that’s just your opinion.” No, you idiot, it’s a fact that there is no evidence supporting your claims, I wanted to shout. And he’s far from unique in his reaction, in my experience. If someone does question Christians’ stories, the questioner gets attacked and demonized, their motivations get questioned and picked apart, and the story’s veracity gets drilled down on even harder.

There’s a lot riding on these stories; if they are questioned, then the Christian’s very integrity is also being questioned, as well as his or her judgement and critical thinking skills. And that’s before we get into the question of where their god’s power and grace is if these stories aren’t true. I mean, think about it: if this kid’s “healing” wasn’t real, then is anybody’s? If this miracle claim is untrue, then what about this claim? Or that one? Or that other one over yonder? It’s probably not surprising that we so rarely hear about a Christian minister saying “whoops, that story I told you all last Sunday about how the song ‘Amazing Grace’ got written wasn’t actually true. It was just an urban legend and I didn’t fact-check well enough before deciding to retell it. Turn in your hymnbooks to…” And just as rarely do we see a Facebook Christian recant a false story or apologize for spreading testimonies that aren’t true. Actually, I’d say “never” rather than “rarely.” In my direct–albeit brief–experience on La Facebook, when one of their breathless miracle stories gets debunked, usually there’s just a big argument and then the next day there’s another breathless claim made. I’ve never seen a Christian retract a disproven claim yet.

The whole sickening and diseased situation is a predator’s wet dream. Because of the high social penalties imposed upon doubters, the people telling these lies know that nobody’s going to check their stories. Nobody’s going to ask them hard questions or demand evidence for their claims. If anybody does push past all that potential censure to ask for evidence, the common procedure is to attack the person asking for proof rather than furnish that proof; if the liar is definitively caught out, then there are plenty of ways to control and contain the damage without recanting or admitting a lie was told.

Really, you’d think people who value truthfulness would be more concerned about finding out if a story they spread is true or not, but apparently you’d be wrong.

Or at least, that’s how things generally work.

Maybe things are improving.

Yesterday I ran across the story of Tony Anthony, who wrote the stirring testimonial Taming the Tiger.

Tony Anthony kind of blew in from nowhere to catapult into stardom about ten years ago with his testimony. And wow, it had all the elements that should have made Christians’ ears perk up and their eyes squint in doubt: martial arts goodness, white tigers, murders, the Mafia, exotic locales, important people, and of course a super-dramatic turnaround at the weirdest possible time as he discovered that Christianity was true. Rather than make Christians even more determined to verify these preposterous stories, the dramatic elements that Anthony fantasized into print just titillated his audiences and made them want more–and he was happy to provide. Thanks to the money pouring in, he was able to evangelize all over the world, and his interviews were broadcast to adoring fans.

Well, mostly his audience was adoring fans. There were some detractors, even early on. His book read like a fiction novel, they said, and they were right. The martial arts details sounded really off, they said, and they were right. There was no evidence for a single thing he was saying about his life, they said, and they were sort of right–there was evidence, but the evidence disproved his story (such as his insistence that his kung-fu grandmaster grandfather had taken him to China at the age of four, when his grandfather was neither a grandmaster nor even alive when Anthony was born). Heck, even the name he used, Tony Anthony, wasn’t his real birth name, and he’d been using a false date of birth that made his story completely ludicrous. (Source.) And of course, just like all the other Christians in the Cult of “Before” Stories, Tony Anthony claimed to have committed horrific crimes like murder–but nobody seemed interested in holding him accountable for those crimes or even investigating them.

One of the larger martial arts websites and fan groups, Bullshido, had a long-running thread starting in 2007 debunking him and his claims. It’s pretty good reading, if you have some time and like hearing martial artists shoot the breeze (disclaimer: I’ve been a registered member on that site for many years). The Christians who listened all breathless to his accounts and believed him could have saved themselves a lot of time and effort and money if they’d just read the Bullshido thread. Not many evangelicals probably know much about martial arts, which is clearly something Tony Anthony was counting on, but martial artists do, and they watch a lot of martial arts movies and TV shows and read a lot of books about martial artists. So when he describes in his book an incident wherein he lifted a super-hot cauldron with his wrists and carried it around, these guys immediately realized he was describing a scene from the TV series “Kung Fu.” They knew how to check out his claims of holding multiple world championships in Kung Fu. They also knew that there is no such thing as the “IKFF” he describes belonging to, another thing that evangelicals wouldn’t likely know anything about either. (For that matter, martial arts groups don’t normally function like Mission Impossible spy rings, sending their members off to be trained and assigning them jobs to do.)

Bullshido’s list of errors and lies goes on and on, but I’ll leave it at this: without any doubt in the world, like all con artists, Tony Anthony knew that the people who were likely to know he was a total fraud, actual martial artists, were not likely to be in his audiences, while the people who were most likely to hear about him, evangelical Christians, were also the least likely to know that what he was describing was a complete fantasy.

Martial Arts Exhibition 1

Martial Arts Exhibition 1 (Photo credit: pennstatenews). Ia! Ia! ! Cthluhu fhtagn!

If I were going to defraud and fool Christians, you can absolutely bet that I’d choose a topic they simply had no experience with or expertise in and build up a reputation as some kind of expert at it. I can’t imagine a better way for a con artist to borrow a little authority or make himself seem more exotic. What better topic to pretend a background in than martial arts? Evangelicals don’t trust martial arts anyway; as a group, they distrust anything Asian like that–yoga, meditation, and martial arts are all things that toxic Christians genuinely hate and fear as demonic (when the Miata came out when I was in college, my church denounced it as demonic because ads for it claimed that its creators had incorporated feng shui in its design; me and my Pentecostal friends called the ones we saw “evil Miatas”). Anthony might as well have claimed to have been a Satanist, but Satanism was so drearily 80s. The new thing to fear-and-hate for the last decade has been the mysterious East, so it’s easy for me to see that that’s why he went that direction.

And the rewards for going that direction are huge. I don’t think most Christians realize how much money there can be in evangelizing. If an evangelist is really good, then s/he (usually he, though there are plenty of shes in it) can get invited to really big churches to speak and preach. Besides whatever support the home church is giving, these speaking engagements may pay in and of themselves–and typically in addition there’ll be a tip, or “love offering,” taken up during the service added to that fee. If a church of a thousand people gives even a little money, that can add up fast–and the evangelist will be speaking at churches every week, ideally. Charles Templeton, the famous evangelist and later de-convert, called this custom of tips a “scandal” and asked for a flat fee instead. Think of evangelism like professional sports or acting: many people struggle for little to no pay in the field, but for a chosen few with “star power,” they can quickly catapult into fame, riches, and greatness. And every extra on every soap opera and every bench-warmer in a minor league bullpen is hoping and dreaming for their big break. Well, Tony Anthony found his.

Now, twenty years ago, he might have gotten away with this act. Mike Warnke certainly lasted a very long time before Cornerstone decided to investigate. Christians lie all the time, but they don’t publish books or become famous at it for the most part, so nobody even thinks to question them or publicly expose them. The ones who do, though, are discovering more quickly than they used to that those other fraudsters have ruined everything for them. Yep. This is why they can’t have nice things. What confuses me is why it took over five years for the criticisms and demands for evidence to finally come to a head. In the age of information, with the world at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to check a story out–but for some reason, for years, nobody substantial seems to have done so. Anthony could afford to ignore his detractors; they were isolated occurrences, forum pests, niggling voices drowned out by the crowds. It took over five years for anybody important to really make headway with Anthony’s story.

One of his charity’s own directors finally asked for evidence for the amazing stories they were pushing. Instead of just giving it to him, the charity was apparently evasive and refused to furnish any. The director resigned and with some other Christians (including another director who’d resigned a while ago) did what these guys should have done from the get-go and did some digging around to find out if this ludicrous story really happened. And guess what? Just about nothing in it had. What parts of it weren’t pure fantasy were lifted right out of TV shows and movies (like the incidents mentioned above). Notice that the TV shows and movies Tony Anthony plagiarized were also ones that evangelical Christians do not typically watch. If you think the lies I’ve outlined are all of them, read up on him. It’s astonishing what he lied about that apparently nobody ever thought to ask about. Though I’m not sure how well that’d have worked: “Hey, Tony, you wrote about how you’d crossed a desert with just a bottle of Evian water. How’d that go again?”

Naturally, in the wake of the criticisms of his truthfulness, Anthony has insisted that the details might not be accurate, but that his testimony is truthful; just like all the other lying Christians before him, “he claimed instead that the criticisms against him were a “stern attack” and an attempt to destroy his ministry and dismantle Avanti.” Yep. It’s an “attack” to question him and demand evidence for his claims. I’m sure it wouldn’t take long to find a host of Christians who either support him even though his story has been proven categorically false, or support him and insist that he is being “attacked” just like he says he is; one journalist even discusses this tactic in detail. It’s hard for me not to draw a clear line from the fatal car accident he caused just a couple years before he started a ministry charity, Avanti, and got his testimonial book published, to the last month’s events swirling around him. That he has a perennial and long-standing problem with being truthful and honest seems quite clear to me.

Just like all the Christian liars before him, the problem to him is not that he lied, but that people figured out he lied and were distancing themselves from him as a result of his lies. Just like all the other Christian liars before him, he blames the people who figured out the truth instead of taking accountability for himself and admitting it when he got found out beyond any shadow of doubt.

What blows my mind is that nobody actually checked this guy’s history. Nobody found that story about the car crash and that he’d lied to save his skin when he killed a woman by breaking a traffic law. Nobody thought it was weird that he was using a fake name and birth date. Nobody figured out if he’d really done anything he’d said, or even checked up on the few names he does provide (like the name of a diplomat who, of course, doesn’t exist). Dude must have a schwanzstucker the size of the Eiffel Tower or something to be so brazen. Nope, he is speaking as a Christian to Christian audiences, so obviously he’s telling the truth. And they embraced him just like they’d embraced Mike Warnke and my ex Biff before him, and believed everything he said just like they’d believed the lies of the liars who came before him.

Now, think about what outsiders think when a Tony Anthony comes along and gets debunked. Just consider it. Someone like me would say “Pfft, of course it was false.” Indeed, here’s an entertaining forum thread wherein skeptics laugh and joke about how yet another evangelist’s wild story has been proven to be nothing but lies from top to bottom. They’re not surprised at all, and neither am I. I’ve been out long enough that I’ve seen a dozen Tony Anthonys come and go. I know that Christians are not as a group any more trustworthy than anybody else, and that they tend to be a little gullible when it comes to outrageous claims. But imagine what a tender new convert would think. Or someone who is uncertain about their faith. Why can’t Christianity come up with true stories? Why are Christians so eager to believe lies if they’re really cool lies? Why the reliance on untruths and falsehoods to convert people? Why can’t they police themselves and be aware of the massive incentives they present to lie (and the massive penalties they present to those questioning the lies)? When I was struggling to hold onto my faith, liars were a big impact on me–not because they were “bad Christians” but because they made me question everything about my chosen religion.

I really wish Christians would, next time another Tony Anthony comes along with a wild testimony, do their own blasted police work and verify the story so when–not if–it gets debunked, they maybe won’t take yet another credibility hit. For people who think lying is a sin and claim a special understanding of morality and goodness, it doesn’t speak well for the validity of their religion that they make it so insanely easy to lie and yet so hard to get to the truth of their stars’ claims. And it makes me–and I’m sure lots of other folks–wonder what about their religion is so weak that it relies upon lies to this extent and why the standard reaction to getting caught spreading a lie is to demonize and attack the person(s) who have exposed the lie rather than admit the lie and make amends.

I’ve just got to wonder if Tony Anthony saw this coming at all–the shame, the humiliation, the exposure, the tatters of truth that finally, finally, finally obliterated the sparkling lies he told. Hope he enjoyed the high life while he had it. I’m sure he’ll find another angle to work. The end of a con never means the end of a con man. And as long as Christians value a great story over a truthful story, there’ll be another Tony Anthony along sooner or later to awe and astonish them and make them feel more secure in their faith–until their star gets debunked, and then, why, the ride will simply begin again with another conductor.

Next up, we’re going to talk a little more about bad Christians and “genuine Christianity,” since there still seems to be some confusion on that topic. I hope to see you there.

(My great thanks to one of my sharp-eyed readers for catching this dramatic development! I’m starting to think I should take the plunge into Twitter so I can keep up with this stuff.)

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About Captain Cassidy

I blog over at Roll to Disbelieve about religion, culture, cats, and tabletop RPGs.
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25 Responses to The Cult of “Before” Stories Got a New Member Last Month.

  1. Evangelicals don’t trust martial arts anyway; as a group, they distrust anything Asian like that–yoga, meditation, and martial arts are all things that toxic Christians genuinely hate and fear as demonic

    As a half-Japanese girl, I am especially amused by all the Evangelical conspiracy theories against Hello Kitty. Ridiculous nonsense like “Sanrio” means worship Satan in Japanese (no, no it doesn’t) and Hello Kitty represents a Shinto underworld demon is considered indisputable fact by many Christian preachers.

    The indisputable ridiculous nonsense is what I find to be the most frustrating aspect of Christian liars. How stupid do they think we are? If they’re so intent on lying to us, the least they could do is factor in our intelligence and make up a story that doesn’t instantly set off BS detectors. Tony Anthony’s story would have been a lot less suspicious if he had claimed to been, IDK, an actuary with DUI convictions. A dental assistant that ran a puppy mill in his backyard. A used cars salesman. Basically anything that doesn’t involve Kung-Fu assassin .

    And it makes me–and I’m sure lots of other folks–wonder what about their religion is so weak that it relies upon lies to this extent and why the standard reaction to getting caught spreading a lie is to demonize and attack the person(s) who have exposed the lie rather than admit the lie and make amends.

    QFT.

    Following my apostasy I attempted to call out a few Christians on their lies (since I no longer had to “turn the other cheek” and overlook their sins). Instead of them apologizing they just called me names. How dare a hell-bound apostate like me judge them! *rolls eyes*

    I realize now, a lot of people embrace Christianity solely as an excuse to justify their personality flaws. Outside of the church, pathological lying is frowned upon. Inside the church “we are all sinners” “he without sin throw the first stone” “we’re not perfect, just forgiven”. Christians are encouraged to forgive liars, no matter how cruel their lies are, or how much pain their lies cause us. I’ve noticed expecting a liar to own up to their lies, or to even to question an individual’s credibility, is viewed as heathen. “How dare you not trust a fellow Christians”.

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    • Welcome :) And so funny about the Sanrio hate! I heard that story too–that Hello Kitty’s world was some kind of Shinto afterlife analog. Even I knew that was just silly (plus Hello Kitty erasers smelled so amazingly good it was hard to believe they were demonic).

      As sad as it is that people like us are getting so mistreated when they speak out against lies like that, we have to speak out and keep speaking out. In time, wild Christian stories will automatically be taken with a grain of salt and will automatically face verification before getting pushed (and I bet we’ll see a major downtick on the amazing “miracle” stories just like we’ve seen a downtick on prank calls now that cell phones are ubiquitous). Does anybody use the term “family values” now without an audience member snickering? Same thing.

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      • (and I bet we’ll see a major downtick on the amazing “miracle” stories just like we’ve seen a downtick on prank calls now that cell phones are ubiquitous).

        I’d like to beleive that, it’s just the faith healing racket is a huge money maker. I doubt church leaders would want it to fade away – at least not without a fight. Ever since Oral Roberts hit it big, churches love to brag about the “miraculous” healings of their congregants. I suffer from Rhumetoid Arthritis so I am frequently invited to healing events by well meaning Christian folk. I hate how the advertisements ask for donations. Faith healers are some of the worst types of Christian liars, because they prey on sick people desperate for God’s healing. Outside of Christianity they’d be labeled con-artists and investigated by the FDA for promoting an unsubstantiated medical treatment.

        Hello Kitty’s world was some kind of Shinto afterlife analog. Even I knew that was just silly (plus Hello Kitty erasers smelled so amazingly good it was hard to believe they were demonic).

        I suspect the whole “Hello Kitty is an undead demon” hysteria stems from confusing the stationary brand San-X’s kawaii ghost/kami/vampire characters, with Sanrio. I can just picture a Christian mother wandering into a San-X stationary store looking for scented Hello Kitty erasers, and reading the blurb on the back of a San-X package about the cute undead lizard from the spirit world. (The Shinto “underworld” isn’t much of an underworld, at least not in the typical Western sense. Its more like Diagon Alley in Harry Potter – a vague elsewhere that overlaps with the real world, but is invisible to mortals. The Miyazaki movie “Spirited Away” has a pretty accurate depiction of the Shinto netherworld mythos)

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        • Spirited Away is one of my favorite movies. :)

          I was just deconverting when I moved to Japan for a short while in the early 90s; I was quickly engrossed and fascinated with Shintoism. It astounded me that there’d be this big shopping center with a tree shrine smack in the middle of it upon whose branches teenaged kids in stuffed-animal backpacks could tie written prayer papers and then go back to shopping. Try that in an American mall…

          I’m optimistic about the end of the healing thing. We don’t see too many people seriously trying to push splinters of the True Cross or finger-bones of prophets or Veronica cloths anymore–because we know those things are ridiculous (though there are still some folks clinging to them or pushing “Mary appeared on my door/in my cheese sandwich” cons, they’re distinctly seen as weirdos by most people). As we learn more about medicine and healing and as society gets less dysfunctional, these religious displays start looking sillier and sillier. Hard to imagine a cheese-sandwich Mary happening in Scandinavia where most folks are decently-educated, not terrified of the future or how they’ll pay for health care, and generally secular. A con like that takes an uneducated and gullible populace to get flying and a serious amount of fear for the future.

          You just reminded me, btw, that there’s a Sanrio store here at the mall in my little super-Mormon town. Oh my. Suddenly wondering just how closely the super-conservative mommies are looking at this stuff.

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      • Mau de Katt says:

        I had no idea Hello Kitty was supposed to be demonic… but a friend and I had made “Hello Kitty is God” a running joke between us because of her sheer ubiquity. (Sanrio will pretty much let anyone label anything with Hello Kitty as long as you pay them the licensing fee, I’ve heard….) I even made a WWHKD bracelet several years ago to go along with the joke (pink, of course). ;D

        That said, there is a hilariously funny website called “Hello Kitty Hell,” dealing with the author’s wife’s Hello Kitty mega-fandom and his loathing of All Things HK as a result.
        http://www.kittyhell.com/

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  2. Psycho Gecko says:

    Reminds me of the 90s when myself and four teenager with attitude were called upon to defend the Earth by God-on and his assistant, Alpha Omega. We were cloaked in colorful armor of righteousness to defend earth from giant demons sent by an evil witch that had been released by the moon landing.

    Go go Holy rangers! Mighty praying holy rangeeeeers!

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  3. Cat Not Included says:

    I started telling my partner about this without context, just “so, there’s this guy who had a biography and lecture tours about…” and then describing some of the stuff he’s supposed to have done. It took her all of 30 seconds to declare “he’s full of BS”.
    Maybe if you come from a mindset where miraculous events are considered normal and accepted, it’s easier to accept a narrative that involves a lot of absurd and miraculous events?

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    • I think that’s absolutely what does it–when you have a belief system that encourages people to accept absurd things that supposedly happened long ago without questioning them and without worrying about whether or not they really happened, it’s a lot easier to get them to accept all sorts of other things that happened more recently under the same critical-thinking model.

      That’s so hilarious about how quick it took your partner (ETA: Yikes, I’m so sorry–for misstating earlier, I hate doing that.) to realize what was up. I did the same to a friend of mine who is way into martial arts. He just gave me this “you’re not seriously saying this, right?” look. It was awesome. I noticed that the few times Tony Anthony has addressed crowds of people into martial arts, he was decidedly not too interested in discussing the actual martial arts much; one person who attended said he spent about one minute of a fairly lengthy lecture talking about his martial arts stuff and all the rest talking about his conversion story. Considering the lecture was supposed to be about *martial arts* and not *religion*, the attendee was pretty torqued about the bait and switch. And more than a few of the Bullshido members who’ve talked to him have noticed he only wears long-sleeved shirts when talking to crowds who might know enough to ask where the burn scars are on his wrists if he picked up a cauldron of boiling-hot liquid metal. Ever met a deconvert who got tattoos about Christianity while in the religion? None of them act the way he does about his supposed scars. Yeah… not shocking that he tended to avoid actual martial artists and not talk about it much in places where people would know he was spouting BS.

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    • Mel says:

      “Maybe if you come from a mindset where miraculous events are considered normal and accepted, it’s easier to accept a narrative that involves a lot of absurd and miraculous events?”

      Word. I should have put my response here. Being raised in it makes you more credulous? I shudder to think of all the things I fell for!!

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      • When evidence becomes unimportant and all that someone needs to be persuaded of something are, basically, subjective feelings and fallacious arguments, then that person’s at risk to fall for a lot more nonsense than just an evangelist’s entreaties. I didn’t have a lot of critical thinking skills either when I was a Christian, but one positive thing about having been thoroughly fleeced is that I won’t make that mistake again. I bet you’re in much the same boat!

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  4. Cat Not Included says:

    Still trying to figure out what you are apologizing for misstating earlier. :p

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    • Oh my! You’d called your partner your partner and I missed that and somehow saw “friend” and used that word instead. I’ve heard folks talk about that being insulting in the past as well as have had that sort of thing happen to me in the past and I felt really bad I’d done it to someone else. Part of me was like “just correct the damned thing and move on, gurrrrl” but sometimes my German/Polish “least said, soonest mended” upbringing backfires and I start second-guessing myself all over the place and probably make things worse than if I’d just PTFD and corrected it without fussing.

      Anyway, I still think it’s funny that people who actually know anything at all about martial arts hear just a few seconds about this guy and go “wait, can’t possibly be true.” The Bullshido crowd has had a lot of fun over the years with him and his claims.

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  5. Mel says:

    Looking back over my years (30ish, spread out over a few churches) in an evangelical, quasi-fundie, independent Baptist church, I remember feeling badly because my testimony wasn’t tragic, horrifying or entertaining enough. I even went through a crisis-of-faith, where I “realized” I can’t really have been actually saved and reconverted, made amends (for lying), got re-Baptized, you name it. I was a naive xtian and it never occurred to me at the time that these people were lying.

    After I left the church (more than 10 years ago), but before I deconverted altogether (I’m a very happy atheist now), I finally figured it out, because I saw and heard (& heard reports of) someone I’d known since he was a child (I’d babysat for him) lying his wicked ass off. His testimonies were always situational – he had experienced whatever his audience had: beaten and abused by an alcoholic (actually a teetotaler) father, etc. Didn’t I feel stupid then, to realize that a huge percentage of the fascinating testimonies I’d heard and been shamed by were more than likely false!!

    I’m trying to remember the name of the speaker I heard several times who claimed to have been a dirty cop, completely addicted to porn and drugs, etc. until his magical transformation. He spoke at several retreats I attended in the early-to-mid 80s. I wonder if anyone has debunked his unbelievable stories?

    Anyway, I just discovered your blog today, which is why I’m responding to such an old post. Loving it!

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    • Welcome! And comment anywhere you like :) I don’t mind at all. I can’t remember the name of that speaker, but he probably has by now. Most of those guys have been disgraced. The money train lasts for a while, but not forever; sooner or later people figure it out. He was a bit before my time, I think.

      That’s sad that someone else had to go through that feeling of not being tragic enough. That’s exactly how I felt too: like I wasn’t as “good” as the Christians who became rock-stars because of their amazing turnarounds and shocking stories. At least we both came out of it realizing that the more outrageous the story, the less likely it is to be true.

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  8. Aram McLean says:

    I stumbled on your ‘Cult of Before Stories series’ during my usual random perusing through your site, and addictive reading aye. Looking back I can definitely believe that more than a few of the testimonies I heard were perhaps a wee bit embellished. I can’t get over your ex going up so brazenly right in front of you and saying all that shit without even so much as a heads up. What the hell?
    On a brief side note, likely you’ve seen it, but the ’72 documentary ‘Marjoe’ is definitely worth checking out. Incredible expose on how easy it is to take advantage of believers. Scary really. I’ve always thought, “If only I didn’t have these damn things called morals, could be rolling in the dough!” :)
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068924/

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    • Aram McLean says:

      PS I noticed through a FB ‘like’ on your post from our mutual friend Jonny Scaramanga, that you’re moving over to Patheos soon. Congratulations. Great to hear you’ll be reaching a wider audience! (And yes, FB is kind of creepy, I know ;)

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      • Quite okay, and thank you! I’m going to talk a little about it tomorrow, what’s changing, what’s not, etc. It’s been a really exciting week–and Jonny and the rest of the gang have been incredible about helping me get settled in and used to things.

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    • I’ve heard of it–quite eye-opening. I never heard of him while I was Christian–documentaries like that just weren’t available the way they are today. I know what you mean about having too much morality to con people like that. I couldn’t do it. I’m so careful about that sort of thing. I had enough lies in religion, not going to tolerate them now. (But remember, we’re the ones who don’t know what morality is. /s)

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      • Aram McLean says:

        I suppose I should have linked to the RationalWiki page on him :)
        It actually won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature in ’72. And then everyone saw the light and immediately became critical thinkers…mmkay…

        I look forward to your site being over on Patheos and therefore Disqus. I won’t get hit with such intense stress about typos every time I press ‘post’ ;) See you over there!
        Cheers

        http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Marjoe

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