Part Two – Comfort, Cameron, and “The Way of the Master”

Welcome to part two of my article on Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. (Part 1 is here.)

My original intent for this part of my article was to show Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron applying their methods of evangelism and to suggest possible scenarios about how a non-believer might counter the methods taught in “The Way of the Master”.

However, thanks to my readers I’ve found a resource that is further along in this than am I. I would like to give a warm thank you to Matt D. and to Kazim, team members of “The Atheist Experience”, for showing me the wonderful counter-apologetics Wiki called “Iron Chariots”. Because of this site I’m going to modify what I had planned to write – which means that I’ll actually be writing more than I originally planned! (If you notice me twitching due to stress, or have complaints about the length of today’s article, it is entirely their fault! Thanks guys!)

More on Ray Comfort’s background:
Before I lead into Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s “Way of the Master” evangelistic methodology, I’d like to add a little more about Ray Comfort’s background. As I said in yesterday’s article, Calvary Chapel is a loose affiliation of churches whose pastors have a great deal of autonomy. The original Calvary Chapel was pastored by Chuck Smith, who was previously a charismatic Bible teacher. Smith didn’t get along with the Elders at his previous church due to micromanagement and because of this he teaches that churches should have a pastor that is accountable only to God, and not to a board of Elders or other church bureaucracy.

The problem with an ultimate authority in any group is that of abuse. Many, maybe even most pastors of Calvary Chapel are honest and hardworking gentlemen, but a few have instead used the Calvary Chapel structure for their own gain, and perhaps even some minor cult-building. The only recourse that the Calvary Chapel fellowship has to control these wayward groups is to kick them out of the fellowship. Even Chuck Smith himself is having problems with this level of power, and at the age of 79 he seems to be having trouble letting go his reins of control.

Christianity Today has all of this in an article posted February 16, 2007, entitled “Day of Reckoning” that details many of the problems of Calvary Chapel. I would quote bits of it here, but it is all quotable, and fascinating. I urge you to read it for yourself.

What I want you to come away with about Calvary Chapel is that individual fellowship churches are accountable only to their individual pastors – who is accountable only to God. If such power were applied to a nation we would call it the “Divine Right of Kings”, but in this context we have a much easier name for this sort of position – Cult Leader.

Ray Comfort the Sales Person:
Ray Comfort first worked as a pastor at the Hosanna Chapel in Bellflower California. His previous ministry was as an open-air preacher, he also sold tracts and pamphlets for his Living Waters ministry.

Although Calvary Chapel creates conditions favorable for leaders with cultic qualities, I honestly don’t think that Ray Comfort has ever been interested in being any sort of cult leader. However misguided I believe his ministry to be, I think he is honestly trying to help us all. As for Kirk Cameron, (Comfort’s heir apparent to Living Waters, Way of the Master and any other holdings) I’m not as optimistic that he will be as wise.

Ray Comfort’s time at Calvary Chapel, his experience as an open-air preacher, and his experience in selling tracts from his Living Waters ministry have made him quite good in the art of Selling.

Tactics used in High Pressure Sales:
Allow me to make a brief aside here. I promise I’ll come back on target in a moment. Okay? Confession time. For a brief time in my life I attempted to sell Kirby Vacuum Cleaners.

Please wait! Before you start yelling at me, I was never actually very successful. I’m just unable to manipulate people at that level without feeling guilty. I was between jobs, I answered a nondescript “Help Wanted” ad, and the job interview was actually a high pressure sales pitch to get me to join up. (They promised fame, fortune, and fabulous holidays. They promised me a free laptop computer!) I stayed on for almost 3 weeks, long enough to learn the basics of high pressure sales tactics. I left with most of my dignity intact.

I don’t regret that time. Now I immediately recognize those tactics when I see them applied. I haven’t found a handbook or method that teaches these tactics, so I would sum them up as my own series of rules:

  1. Allow the subject to assume that you have a common goal. This goal could be as simple as a mutual unspoken agreement to be polite, or it could be a goal of financial relief, spiritual or intellectual growth, or the gain of something more material.
  2. As part of the “common goal” you should get the subject to participate in their own sale. This could be as simple as getting them to agree with reasonable statements, or it can be as elaborate as having them hold or assist you with any sales equipment props, or merchandise. (If they’re holding a prop and you politely ignore attempts to give it back, you are holding them hostage for your pitch.)
  3. Never, ever, ask a question that could close the conversation. A question like, “May I have a few minutes to speak to you about time share?” invites a “No!” response. Always control the types of question that you ask to lead the subject where you wish them to go.
  4. Develop a sense of excitement and/or urgency about the product during the pitch.
  5. Never ask for the sale, assume that the sale has already been made. Don’t ask the subject if he or she wants the product, instead ask for their information and start filling out the blanks on the order form.
  6. Ask for sales leads. You may do this as part of the closing or in order to increase incentives for the customer.
  7. If the customer balks you may offer incentives. Simple incentives are freely offered, but more substantial incentives may include conditions – such as “Buy Now” or “Limited Offer”.
  8. If you lose the sale keep in mind that you have only temporarily lost the sale. By this point you should have enough of a rapport with the subject to hold the door open for future sales calls.

From the study I’ve put into other cults, I notice that some of my rules here look like tactics used by cults. (A 12 minute Youtube video on Mind Control Cults shows those tactics too. It’s a fun film to watch as long as you don’t dwell too long on the different cults who have actually used the tactics shown.)

Although I don’t think that Ray Comfort is a cult leader of any sort, I do think he is using high pressure sales tactics, and even some cult recruitment tactics in order to achieve his goals. I believe that Ray Comfort’s experience in “selling” the gospel is mixed with Kirk Cameron’s experience in showmanship to make this message more compelling. “The Way of the Master” is nothing more than an elaborate sales script.

An example of Ray Comfort’s evangelistic / sales technique:
I’m linking here to a Ray Comfort / Kirk Cameron site called Hollywood Blasphemy. Comfort and Cameron have a problem with cursing and the taking of God’s name in movies – they blame the Virgina Tech shootings on Hollywood. (Maybe they’re right, maybe not. Who knows? I think they’re tragedy whoring, but they don’t seem to care.) There is a video on this site that shows Ray Comfort behind a microphone talking to innocent bystanders on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd. The whole video is instructive, but I’d like you to pay particular attention to the woman who appears at 8:35 in the video.

You can see the aggressive salesmanship in this video. It isn’t shown, but it is implied by previous interviews, that Comfort has established a quick rapport with the poor sinner, a woman named Jessica, and has immediately got her to start participating in her own “sale”. At no point does Ray Comfort give her an opening to end the conversation – but he does it in such a friendly, polite way that Jessica would feel like a heel if she interrupted him and said she had to leave.

This is the difference between a sale, and a meeting between friendly strangers. A friendly stranger would follow polite social conventions. “You don’t have to be anywhere, do you?” or “You’re not going to lose your place in line, are you?” Heh, Kirby taught me to never even glance at my wristwatch – it was an unspoken indication that the conversation was over. Ray Comfort is projecting that he has nowhere else to go, and that he is completely fascinated by the person he is speaking with.

He also has no problem with making Jessica feel uncomfortable, while Jessica is clearly reluctant to reciprocate. She’s still playing by social rules and won’t break off because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings – Ray Comfort uses this to his advantage.

This is where he starts to apply his “Way of the Master” ministry. In this ministry, you use the 10 commandments to ‘prove’ that the person in question is a sinner. Comfort is good at this. I can almost feel poor Jessica’s psyche breaking as she succumbs to the pressure of these questions. By the time that Comfort asks Jessica if she would be judged innocent or guilty by God, he’s got her cornered into only one answer – Jessica tries to get out of it but Comfort boxes her in again.

By the time Comfort introduces Jesus (who pays the fine in God’s courtroom with his gift of blood – more on that in a bit) Jessica is visually looking for an escape. She didn’t come to Hollywood prepared to handle complex questions on philosophy or theology. She’s miserable, but her own guilt and politeness keep her from bolting. Because of this, she misses Comfort’s fallacious reasoning, or perhaps it is because it is similar the Christian mythology that she’s grown up with. The fallacy here is that it is moral for one person to pay for the crime of another.

Think about it, if a murderer is on trial, if it’s obvious he is guilty, and he’s heading for a quick trip to the electric chair, would it be right for an innocent person to trade his life for the murderer? But wait, before you answer, realize that this is a special courtroom, where everyone is judged guilty, and everyone receives the same sentence – torture for the rest of eternity. Murder someone? You get tortured for eternity. Steal a candy bar? You get tortured for eternity. Infinite punishment for finite crimes is against basic human rights. And killing the innocent to let the guilty go free is insanity.

Comfort wraps up his evangelism by confusing the difference between faith and trust with his elevator example. This is easily untangled by realizing that we trust in things in which we have past experience. I trust a particular elevator will work because the last elevator I was in worked. I trust the sun will come up today because I have 45 years of experience in sunrises. Faith, as Mark Twain said, is “…believing what you know ain’t so.” Christians rightly have faith that God can be a trinity and still be One God – faith doesn’t need to have an apparent contradiction explained. Christians have faith that there is an afterlife – the lack of evidence of a afterlife is not a hindrance to faith.

Christians have faith that there is a God. As frustrated Atheists have been pointing out (a lot, lately) they do not have evidence that there is a God. So claims of trust are premature.

But what is an Atheist to do?
How would an Atheist respond to Comfort’s “Way of the Master” ministry?

The first, and easiest response is to keep in mind that this is a SALES PITCH. It is the job of the salesperson to keep the subject from leaving, to make the subject feel guilty for leaving, and to even find ways to hold the subject hostage to the salesperson’s pitch. Jessica was not allowed to leave until Ray Comfort was through with her, and he wasn’t through until he got her to say everything he wanted her to say.

This isn’t a meeting between polite strangers following normal social conventions. This is a meeting between a salesman who is willing to warp normal social conventions to meet his needs. You are being manipulated. As soon as you realize this you have the choice to break the salesman’s pitch. You are not being rude to do so – they are being rude for setting you up in this fashion. Stop. Stop talking. Stop associating. Leave, or if you are unable to leave then ask for help from the “rude person who won’t leave me alone.”

Of course, you could instead argue with the religious salesperson. We Atheists (and other nonbelievers) are cantankerous in that way. But choosing to stay and argue still does NOT obligate you to stay to the end of the salesperson’s pitch! You are not required to wait for him to get to the point where he’s filling out your Baptismal card!

Here’s the key – at any point where you feel like you’re getting in over your head, don’t attempt to BS your way through because you are up against someone who is trained with a system of pat answers. You will lose if you BS. Instead stop the evangelist / salesperson and say you want to take the time to think things over a day or two. If you’re being polite about this it will be hard to do, VERY hard, because a salesperson does NOT want you to walk away without a commitment! They will use every means of polite (and not so polite) persuasion to get you to continue the conversation. They will immediately apply pressure, and you’ll have to resist until either you, or they, leave the conversation.

Remember that some salespeople are really bad sports about a broken pitch. They are competitive, and won’t like to lose. I don’t know if Ray Comfort would do this, but I’ve had a sales person follow me around a store and harass me after I broke a pitch. Maybe it will be easier with an evangelist, and maybe worse – remember that an evangelist professes to believe that he or she is saving your eternal life – perhaps that will make them more aggressive.

If you really want to argue about it:
But what if you want to stick around and debate? No, let’s call it plainly as it is. If you stick around you will at some point be arguing with the evangelist / salesman.

Richard, one of the founders of our (very small) Fresno Atheists group said something during the last meeting that has stuck with me all weekend. Richard said that he teaches his children that there is a big difference between “Glib” and “Intelligent”. A glib person can speak confidently, and exudes competence in his or her subject. An intelligent person may actually be a very poor speaker. (Sort of like the after and before version of Moses, Ex 4:10.)

This is a problem with debates and arguments – and it is a problem in which creationists and evangelists take gleeful advantage. These people are glib, they’ve practiced pat answers for hours and can rattle them off at the drop of a hat.

There are two street preachers that I know of here in Fresno who are spending hours and hours learning how to argue, one on the State University campus, and one at City Hall. Kent Hovind, before the start of his recent 10 year vacation, was famous for a massive Powerpoint presentation about Creationism – he could flip through hundreds of slides during a 30 minute debate. Dwain Gish is famous for his “Gish Gallop”. Fallwell, Robertson, Dobson and just about any televangelist you see are glib, and make their living by creating sound bytes that are quick, easy to understand, devastating to the opposition, and wrong on so many levels.

In the time it takes you to unpack a dense statement during a debate or sales pitch, find its flaws, and refute it, the evangelist / salesperson will have trotted out another 10 statements. Your only defense is to unpack these statements in your own time so that you can recognize them when they are applied. You still won’t be able to refute them as quickly as they can spew them – but at least you will be inoculated against them.

Ray Comfort’s evangelistic tactic toward Atheists is to get them to admit the possibility of God, then use Pascal’s Wager and the 10 commandments in order to bring them to salvation. Each step is glib, quick, easy to understand, and wrong. This is where the power of the Internet comes in. I will once again direct my readers to resources where they can be inoculated against these methods of evangelism. Feel free to expand this list by leaving links in the comments section.

And in closing – if you are all still reading at this point, my apologies. I’ll break the next article of this size into 3 parts.