[personal profile] wingedbeast
In social circles with a focus on evangelism and/or apologism for the Christian faith, you're likely to hear a number of two kinds of conversion stories. Atheists get to hear those, too, for reasons both of internet and of Christians telling us those stories. They come in the personal variety, in which the storyteller claims to have personally converted, and the third person variety in which the storyteller verifies their own success (or that of their strategy) in achieving conversions through the conversion of a usually unnamed third party.

They're also all on some level of dishonesty. I'm not saying each and every conversion story is a complete and utter, deliberate lie. But, they're certainly in there.

Mike Warnke*, for instance, is the peddler of a now-debunked account of having once been a Satanist. He's far from the only one, but he may be one of the early ones that helped spark off what is now known as the Satanic Panic. He wasn't alone, the likes of Laurel Rose Wilson**, pretended to be a survivor of Satanic abuses... before being debunked and later claiming to be Laura Grabowski, a Jewish Holocaust Survivor.

These out-and-out lies can be used to garner anything from cultural legitimacy, credibility, nurturing and positive attention, all the way up to the most obvious, money. But, believing these lies accomplish more than merely giving a grafter what they want. Check out the Documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hills*** for an account of people who are falsely accused and imprisoned due to the resulting Satanic Panic.

Again, I'm not saying each and every conversion story is a complete and utter, deliberate lie. These examples are a part of just the tip of an iceberg. They're big, flashy, and easy to see before they impact you, so long as you just take a moment to look, first. The rest of the iceberg is there. It's displacing water as we speak. And, believing those stories is going to cause problems, too.

For instance, Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, authors of the Left Behind series of books, claim to hear from people who, after reading their fictional account of the post-Rapture world, have converted to Christianity. Movies like Fireproof and God's Not Dead are, in part, conversion stories. And, believing these stories (either as fact or as true-to-life fiction) would leave you ill prepared for dealing with... well... people.

On the most honest side of the scale is just the people who say things like "I reached a point in my life where I just felt there had to be more." You've probably heard that one before. What you need to know, there, is how easy it is to say something like that, even believe something like that. It's so easy that, in the documentary Jesus Camp, a ten year old child says something similar about his own conversion to Christianity years prior.

Any subculture you can imagine will tend to reward its members for believing certain things. That's part of why skepticism is essential. There may be stories that are all true. There are more likely to be stories that are mostly true with some cultural expectation contaminating. There are certainly outright lies being spread as truth or as urban legends.

Practice a bit of skepticism on all of that. It's important. It's important to note when the details are too vague or the ideas communicated too convenient. The reason it's important is that you want to have reasonable expectations of dealing with people. You want to know what works, what doesn't, what offends, what pleases, and who people are. That's a difficult enough task. It becomes impossible if you don't know the ways your own culture's expected realities can get in the way.

Note: For many-to-most of the anecdotes I provide in this series, the vague details are, indeed, a red flag. I realize. And, I realize it's a balancing act between relating stories and not giving away someone else's information. So, yes, be skeptical of my anecdotes for the same reason you're skeptical of those coming from those like yourself. Here's hoping I give you a high bits-of-truth to personal-bias ratio.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Warnke
** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurel_Rose_Willson
*** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradise_Lost:_The_Child_Murders_at_Robin_Hood_Hills
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