Monday, September 9, 2013

How Conveeeenient! The Church Lady Tactic

If you are older than 25, you probably remember Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" character from Saturday Night Live. For those who are not familiar, I will provide a brief (and totally unfunny) synopsis. The church lady interviews various celebrities for her "Church Chat" television program. Every interview begins in fairly mundane fashion. That is, until the church lady starts grilling her guests. She inevitably asks a question about some questionable behavior attributed to the guest. When the guest shows no sense of shame, the church lady smugly replies, "Well, isn't that special?" Then, the church lady rhetorically asks the audience, "Who do you think could be behind this bad behavior?" Without skipping a beat, she emphatically answers her own question, "Could it be; oh I don't know; Satan!?" At this point, the guest usually tries to offer some excuse for his behavior, but the church lady simply will not let him off the hook. She quickly rejects the excuse and employs another of her comical catchphrases; "How conveeeeenient!" she quips. The crowd erupts in laughter and applause. Sometimes, when the church lady is feeling especially triumphant, she does a little dance -- a magnificent sight.

Never mind the obvious irony in the title, but I have recently noticed many critics of Christianity utilizing what I would like to call, "The Church Lady Tactic." Here is how it generally looks. First, the critic calls into question some perceived Christian doctrine that he finds inconsistent, illogical, or immoral. Next, the Christian responds by explaining how the critic has grossly misrepresented and/or misunderstood the doctrine. Then, the critic simply dismisses the explanation by saying, "How convenient!" Much like the church lady, the critic feels victorious. Often times, he will even gloat over the perceived absurdity of his opponent's response.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I think the best strategy for answering the church lady tactic is to agree with the critic. You can say something like, "You're right, it is convenient, but what does that have to do with anything?" You might also ask, "What do you mean by convenient?" The obvious implication is that he thinks your explanation is contrived and unworthy of an intelligent response. Even so, you do not have to take the bait and get defensive. Simply ask him to explain his problems with your argument. If he is willing, great, then you are back on track to an intelligent conversation. However, if he is unwilling, then you simply have to move on.

The truth is that many critics resort to moves like the church lady tactic because they are afraid to face the explanation that you have provided. Dismissing it as "convenient" keeps them from having to deal with the implications. And that principle does not only apply to issues of religion, but also to friendships, marriages, families etc. When I am obviously and loudly convinced that I am right about something and my wife confronts me with clear evidence to the contrary, I naturally want to find a way to dismiss it. The more obvious my shortcomings, the more negatively I am inclined to react. What happens next is an even uglier secret. That is, if I react smugly to her comment and then she snaps back at me, I subconsciously feel like I have dodged the bullet. Now we are both upset and we are not even talking about the original issue anymore. It is a vicious cycle, all perpetuated by a form of the church lady tactic. I pray that you can learn from my embarrassing admission how to better maneuver in these circumstances, regardless of which side you find yourself on.

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