March 23, 2009
The Sad Side of Ray Comfort
Okay, so making fun of Ray Comfort is kind of a cottage industry for atheists; Richard Dawkins calls him the “Banana Man” for his infamous (and unintentionally hilarious video), and searching for Ray Comfort on YouTube is far more likely to take you to a parody or rebuttal video than to anything from Comfort himself.
But there’s a sad side as well: Comfort’s techniques encourage Christians to evangelize aggressively, confronting strangers in the street shouting a memorized “choose-your-own-adventure” style script that isn’t nearly as clever as Comfort thinks it is. And this sort of thing appears to be on the rise in churches big and small. Last year, in The Great Derangement, Taibbi went undercover at an evangelical megachurch overly fond of Comfort’s “Way of the Master” techniques.
Now, we have a report in Salon from Kevin Roose, who did basically the same thing during Spring Break with his Liberty University classmates. Comfort, it seems, is growing in popularity.
I don’t think Taibbi’s and Roose’s accounts are all that funny. (Well, besides the bit about Richard Simmons.) I find them depressingly sad. I can only imagine the weight on these people’s shoulders as they run out to get rebuffed, over and over again, trying to win converts from a bad script. Here’s the moment I found most poignant:
For these students, the choice is clear: The risk of being loathed and humiliated by strangers is far outweighed by the possibility that even one person will see the light and be saved.
Of course, just because the choice is clear doesn’t mean it’s easy. Tonight, at Razzle’s, I see Valentina, the Italian girl from Manhattan, sitting on a curb with a homeless veteran, her arm slung around his shoulder. It’s pouring rain, a real torrential storm, and both of them are being pounded by the thick drops. After a few minutes, she stops telling the veteran about God’s love and just sits there, holding him. And from across the street, I see her start to cry.
Later, back at the host church, Valentina tells the group about her breakdown.
“I was just sitting there on the curb, and I started thinking about how sad this all is. How sad it is that billions and billions of people are just dying without Christ. I hate that Hell is a real place, and I hate that sin came into the world through Adam, and most of all, I hate thinking about how all we can do — all anyone can do — is try to tell these people that there’s hope out there. They might not want to listen, but we have to keep telling them. For the rest of our lives, guys, we have to keep telling them.”
Every atheist has gotten the “well, what’s the harm if someone wants to be a Christian?” question. Not all Christians are forced to swallow Ray Comfort’s tripe, of course, but this strikes me as a real, psychological harm being inflicted on otherwise decent people.