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If Proselytizing Speech Were Held to the Standards of Advertising Speech

I collect religious tracts, but with rules.  They must be given to me by someone in a way that implies that giver thinks something is really wrong with me.  Preferably with as much condescension as possible.   “Here, I think you need this” is good.  Left taped to my door anonymously is also acceptable.  Recently, one of my relatives seems to have realized I am no longer a sweet Christian girl and has taken to sending me letters with tracts inside.  I respond with letters decorated with Carl Sagan quotes, so we have achieved an equilibrium of passive aggressive communication.

This most recent tract, which is conveniently available online even though to my knowledge, emailing tracts is not really a thing, is attempting to convince the hapless conversion project that salvation and eternal heaven is a totally free gift.  Nothing I have to do for it besides having to pray some prayer with “all my heart.”  But there is no mention of the fine print here!  I have watched enough television and played enough DnD to know that bargains with supernatural things always always come with some mighty fine print.  I know from some experience with various sects of Christianity that this whole accepting Jesus into my heart/being baptized/somehow-acknowledging- that-I’m-a-terrible-person-but-totally-submissive-to-Jesus-through-some-futile-ritual comes with postconditions.  It varies, but there’s a good possibility that I will be, at the very least, expected to spend some non-trivial percent of my time and money supporting the local chapter of some sect, be overly concerned with the Evils of Sex, particularly the way other people are having it, and be absolutely convinced that whatever sect I belong to is the True Christianity (TM) and source of Truth, facts be damned.  Since I am a woman, I may be expected to change my preferred mode of dress, stop dancing, eschew any form of extramarital sex, and acknowledge men as the natural authority in all things, but it’s my fault if they ever experience lust.  I might be expecting the worst of the possible scenarios here, but the point stands that since evangelical speech is not regulated by the same rules that govern advertising speech, the tract writers are free to convince me their religion is perfectly ducky and then spring significant time commitments and a womanly second-class status on me only after I’ve bought the god they are trying to sell me.

Besides, specifying conditions honestly might take too much space away from all the fun threats!

The Bible says, “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day
nor night,” (Revelation 14:11a). “For the wages of sin is death;” (Romans 6:23a) This death is more than just
physical death. It is an “eternal burning!” The Bible says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable,
and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake
which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Now if the penalty for refusing this free gift is eternal burning, then it’s a free gift in the same way that mafia protection is an optional service.  Sure, I can decide to opt out of it, but all my things might mysteriously catch fire and I shouldn’t get too attached to my kneecaps.  Normally, threats are not actually a protected form of speech, in any kind of speech, advertising or otherwise (I am reasonably certain. I am not a lawyer.) but religious speech gets a special exemption on this as long as it’s hellfire involved.

Interestingly enough, the last mention in the tract of the titular free gift is in unnecessary quotation marks, which would seem to indicate that even the writers of this surprisingly dishonest tract of religious advertising don’t really believe in the freeness of what they are selling.

Please accept the “free gift” of eternal life God is offering you.

Yeah, I think I’ll pass.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.


  1. May 11, 2014 at 7:46 pm —

    From the tract author’s point of view, the hell fire bit isn’t a threat, it is pointing out consequences over which they have no control. It is very much like a climate scientist telling the world that if we keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere, there will be heat waves and coastal flooding. Although I agree with one and not the other, the situations are analogous.

  2. May 13, 2014 at 12:21 am —

    I’ve been given that same tract, by a group of Koreans in front of my local Asian supermarket. I folded it into an origami happy bird and meant to give it back to them as an improved version, but my cat made short work of it. At least he enjoyed getting his claws into it.

  3. November 30, 2014 at 9:20 pm —

    I don’t get why people trying to proselytize keep quoting the Bible. If I thought that was a reliable source, you wouldn’t need to proselytize to me!

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