Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

"Gotcha" proselytizing

A frequent reader and commenter on Skeptophilia sent me a note a few days ago, with a link and the cryptic comment, "Gordon, I think you need to take a look at this."  At first, I was a bit puzzled, because it looked like the link was to my own website -- but underneath the link was an explanation that the individual had discovered the link by accidentally mistyping the website address as  (Bet it took you a while to notice the misspelling, didn't it?  It did me.)

So, anyway, I clicked on the link, and was brought to a website that says it's going to "PROVE that the Bible is the Word of God."

Vincent van Gogh, Still Life With Bible (April 1885) [image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

To say that I found this a little alarming was an understatement.  Had someone gone to the lengths of purchasing a website name one letter off from mine, to catch off guard the unwary (and possibly uneasy) skeptics and agnostics who thought they were going to visit a site devoted to rationalism?  I've been the target of negative comments before, from angry believers in everything from homeopathy to hauntings, and certainly have gotten my share of hate mail from the vehemently religious contingent who are bothered by the fact that I am an atheist who is completely, and confidently, "out," and am unapologetic about teaching evolution in my biology classroom.  But this seemed kind of out there even for those folks.

Fortunately, my wife, who is blessed with a better-than-her-fair-share amount of common sense and a good grounding in technology, suggested that I try typing in  So I did.  I first tried the address for my fiction blog, but put in the deliberate misspelling for "blogspot."  It brought me to the same place.  Then I tried ""  Same thing.

So apparently, the owner of this ultra-fundamentalist website, with its babble about the Rapture and Armageddon and the literal truth of the bible, had just bought the domain name "," so that any time anyone makes that particular misspelling in heading to their favorite blog, it takes them to that site.  I was relieved, actually; the thought that someone would go to all that trouble to target me in particular was a little alarming.  (And evidently the fact that on the homepage of the "blogpsot" site, there is a link for "The World's Biggest Skeptic" is just a coincidence.)

However, you have to wonder if the person who owns the site really is laboring under the mistaken impression that this is an effective proselytizing tool.  Can you really imagine someone who is trying to check out the latest post on his/her favorite blog on, say, sewing, and lands here -- and then suddenly goes all glassy-eyed, and says, "Good heavens.  I get it now.  The bible is true, the Rapture is coming, and I'd better repent right now."

No, neither can I.

And when you think about it, the door-to-door religion salesmen that periodically show up in our neighborhoods are the same kind of thing, aren't they?  A little less covert and sneaky, that's all.  But they're trying to accomplish the same goal -- catching you off guard, getting a foot in the door, spreading the message.

Although, for the good of the order, I have to admit that the Mormons who showed up last year while I was stacking firewood were pretty cool.  When they found out in short order that I was a poor prospect for conversion, they shrugged and smiled and we chatted for a while about other stuff, and then they offered to help me stack firewood.  Which I refused, mainly because they weren't really dressed for yard work, but it was an awfully nice gesture.

Anyhow, my previous comment about its being an ineffective tool is probably irrelevant, really.  It's like spam emails.  If you send out a million emails, and your success rate is 0.1%, you've still made money, because of the extremely low overhead.  Same here; you get unsuspecting drop-ins, people who thought they were going to read a blog on cake baking or fishing or chess, and suddenly they find they're on a "gotcha" proselytizing webpage.  Most of the target individuals say no, or hit the "Back" button -- but the fraction of a percent that don't are your payoff.

The whole thing pisses me off, frankly, because it's so sneaky.  Even if it wasn't targeted at me specifically, it just seems like a skeevy way to get converts.  But to a lot of these folks, how you convert people is unimportant -- the essential thing is to convert them in the first place.  If you can grab people when their rational faculties are not expecting it, all the better -- because, after all, rationality is the last thing they want to engage.

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