Strategic Responses to Tract Thruster Tactics: Let Us Brainstorm Together!

This article at No Longer Quivering gives some insight onto the tactics and motivations of Tract Thrusters. You’ve probably encountered at least one of these annoyingly religious folks who make it their business to get up in your business and thrust their terrible tracts at you, then run off having convinced themselves they’ve done something heroic. Or you’ve dealt with a shiny doorknocking person who’s just convinced you’ll come right to Jesus once you’ve heard their Extra Special Message You’ve Only Heard 1000x Before, and obviously you’ll want to forego sleep, food, etc. to hear the Good News.

Image shows an orange and white kitty dressed as a Mormon missionary, being held sitting up on its owner's lap with a mini Book Of Mormon.  Caption says, "Have you heard the good word about Ceiling Cat, Brother?c

Oftentimes, we’re caught flat-footed. Especially in the case of Tract Thrusters who impose themselves upon us in public without warning, we may not be ready with an instant riposte. So let’s think of creative ways to respond if some zealot tries to force religious tracts upon us.

For instance: if I’m in a hurry, I’ll hand their tract back, saying, “That’s so thoughtful, but I’m overstocked on butt wipes from bigots. Have a nice day!” If I have time and inclination, I shall sit down with them and ask them to explain exactly what each bit means, asking them to define terms like “God” and explain to me how the more violent or gross verses and stories in the Bible (or Holy Book in question) apply to the tract in question. Intersperse with horribly embarrassing personal anecdotes about fictional uncouth religious family members. Repeat until they flee.

Of course, the most efficient response would be to reciprocate with tracts from the Satanic Temple. Alas, those only come in a swag bag, but for cheap comebacks to religious solicitation, perhaps these spiffy buttons will do. And maybe, as an ordained minister of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I should write a tract or two myself…

What’s your strategy? Have you already countered a Tract Thruster with a brilliant counter-ploy? Do tell!

Strategic Responses to Tract Thruster Tactics: Let Us Brainstorm Together!

35 thoughts on “Strategic Responses to Tract Thruster Tactics: Let Us Brainstorm Together!

  1. 1

    In the UK I rarely, if ever, come across ‘tract thrusters’. If it was a common occurrence, I might be inclined to carry some of my ‘Get Out of Hell Free’ cards that I got from Randy Cunningham (who runs the “This is True” email newsletter), and hand one of them over.

    I almost regret the lack of opportunity to use mine.

  2. 3

    No tactics, but I did have some very surprised Jehovah’s Witnesses visit my apartment here in Japan a few months ago. They weren’t expecting a white woman, I guess. The conversation went something like this.

    JWs: Oh! Um… hi? We’re Jehova’s Witnesses.
    Me: I see.
    JWs: Where are you from?
    Me: America.
    JWs: That’s nice. Have you heard about Jesus Christ?
    Me: Ahahahahaha! Hahaha. Haha…hah… Uh, yes. But I’m not a believer at all.
    JWs: Can we talk to you about Jesus Christ.
    Me: Nope, not interested in religion at all.
    JWs: Well, can we have your email address?
    Me: I don’t use email.
    JWs: Okay, well, our Kingdom Hall is just down the street. Stop by anytime.
    Me: That’s not going to happen, but thanks.

    Then they went on to get an even bigger surprise when they knocked on my coworker/neighbor’s door as, while I at least fit within the stereotypical image of a foreigner, he is a rather tall black guy.

  3. 6

    I don’t understand. Wouldn’t it be more efficient simply not to let it bother one? If someone offers me an undesired tract, I can train my hand to be held out in a palm-down way, to signal rejection, and to avoid the temptation to accept the item. And if I fail, and accept it accidentally, I can just put it in a recycle bin without reading it, or at least without letting it bother me.
    Isn’t that good enough? Anyone can speak through a pamphlet freely, but I can freely choose not to listen to any paper.

  4. 8

    “Save this pamphlet to give to someone else (actually don’t bother them either.) I’ve heard all the arguments, read the silly parables, listened to all the sermons and concluded it’s all bull shit. I’ve heard the good news, I’ve known Jesus (or whoever) and I reject him. Have a nice day.”

  5. 9


    Maybe for you the most efficient way to let something not bother you is to take a few deep breaths and walk away; that doesn’t mean this will be easy for everyone. If someone finds it easier to not be bothered by telling an intrusive stranger “I’m overstocked on butt-wipe, go away” than “no thank you,” I see no reason they should follow your model instead of Dana’s.

    Also, efficiency in not being upset is not the only possible goal. Someone’s goal might be to stop the tract-thrusters from coming back or bothering other people; for that, a blunter “go away and stop wasting my time” or a point-by-point attempt at deconversion might be better. The tract-thruster who is being challenged with a point-by-point questioning of their tract is a tract-thruster who is not bothering the people at the next dozen houses down the street, or the next fifty people who walk past. The one who reports back to their church that the person at 123 Main Street spent two hours with them, and tract-thruster couldn’t answer some of their questions, so excuse me reverend, can you help me with these? is using up a chunk of the minister’s time. The minister may not much care whether you take the tract, or really expect tract-thrusting to bring in new converts: at least part of the goal of that sort of door-to-door missioning is to strengthen the proselytizer’s belief and connection with the group. If going out with tracts diminishes people’s faith or sense of connection, the church will try something else.

  6. 10

    Crush tract and litter.

    Okay, not nice.

    The ONLY time I litter on purpose is litter placed under my windshield wiper. Especially for ads for pizza places in the same shopping area. I WANT the shopping center to be pissed.

    To a tract pusher I might say, “I have no need for Jewish fairy tales. Save a tree.” and keep walking.

  7. 12

    Killing the impulse to take something someone has thrust at you is difficult, but the truth is that tearing it up, or any other overtly hostile action just gives them a thrill. They faced down a demon-controlled evil one. Danger that isn’t is as satisfying as persecution that isn’t. All very comfortable and fun.

    My approach is to smile, hand the tract back (if I wan’t able to stop myself from taking it) and say in a very friendly manner, “Sorry, I’m an atheist. Have a nice day.” If I am at the door of my own house I consider myself free to gaze earnestly at the youngest member of the door knockers and add, “You have a good day too, sweetheart.” I am an old lady and that sort of thing is expected of old ladies confronted with children they don’t know. At least down here in the south.

    In other words, I am friendly and polite. I don’t snarl. I don’t fuss at them. I represent atheists as just ordinary people, in fact, rather less intolerant ordinary people.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. They are imposing on you and if you feel like letting them know that in no uncertain terms, I have no problem with that. Frankly, I think that short of violence, they deserve whatever treatment you wish. However, I personally feel that the more often they encounter a cheerful, friendly person who simply rejects what they have to offer, as if you were asking them if they wanted fries with that, the more that those who have any unchained thoughts left in them, especially the young, will begin to wonder, “If atheists are supposed to be so miserable and evil, why was that atheist so pleasant?” YMMV, but that is my approach.

    I do admit that the smiling especially at the kid is mean. That is my little revenge for invading my personal space. Believe me, they don’t like it. Especially if the kid is really young. I have been known to get down on their level and say, “What a pretty dress” or “Look at you all dressed up, you look so handsome” before I state that I am an atheist. It makes them very uncomfortable and they leave that much faster. I dislike people who drag their kids along on such missions.

  8. 13

    I agree about the litter thing, even if the shopping area does not contain whatever is being advertised. If they have to clean up the mess enough, maybe they’ll stop letting people do that.

  9. 15

    Luckily I am just lacking enough in social conditioning that I leave my hands at my sides when people I do not know attempt to hand me things, until I’ve ascertained what they’re offering. If it’s tracts, the hands stay put, and then I politely refuse and wish them well. Confuses the hell out of them when I don’t follow the social script of taking what’s offered.

  10. 17

    You’d think so, except that some of the people doing this are very physically in your space, forcing pamphlets or bibles or whatever into your hand (I’ve seen one that actually grabbed a friend’s wrist and turned her hand up so he could shove a bible into it, when she tried exactly what you suggest), or dropping them in people’s bags as they go by.
    Polite refusal only works if the person is politely offering something, and that’s not always the case.

  11. 18

    A couple of different things to try – lots of encounters with this stuff as a university student.
    1: answer door naked, optional bonus points for snake and/or large knife. This is especially fun if the knocker is male (I’m female) – one of them immediately flung himself around the corner of the building to “preserve my modesty” which rather backfired as I then came further out the door to see who the crap was lurking in my flower bed. He never came back.

    2: there was a particular stretch of sidewalk on campus where ‘thrusters’ would line up about 50 feet apart with stacks of New Testaments to force on people as they went by. So one of my friends got nabbed and a book shoved into his hand. He listened carefully to the spiel, walked to the next guy in line, handed him the book and parroted back what the first guy’d said, then walked off, leaving me laughing and both ‘thrusters’ looking at each other in confusion.

    3: ask really inane questions having nothing to do with what they’re trying to talk about. You can kill an amazing amount of time trying to get people to talk about the belief systems of fantasy novels or why calico cats are clearly superior to tuxedo cats while they try frantically to steer you back to the book of Mormon or whatever.

    4: ask for donations for charity. I’ll take your copy of Watchtower if you write a check to the local Humane Society or Food Bank and leave it with me to drop off on my way into town this afternoon. Bonus points for dropping the Watchtower off at the Humane Society to use for cage-liner when you drop the check off.

    5: When they ask if you have any questions about how a good God can let bad things happen, and doesn’t that disprove God (seriously, a woman walked up to me as I was doing yard work and asked this) say no – you believe in God, you just think he’s an asshole who likes to get all up in people’s business for kicks.

    6: Invite them to an orgy, and/or off them a hit from your bong or bottle. Politely, smiling, and clearly sincere – if you’re sarcastic about this, they just blow you off.

  12. 19

    I took Adam Lee’s “Ten Questions to Ask Your Pastor” and made my own tract. I keep a small stack of them handy by the door. The idea was to make the door-knocker this offer: “I will take your pamphlet, and I promise to read it and consider it carefully, as long as you take my pamphlet and make the same promise.” The one time I actually got to do this, the visitor seemed very surprised and confused, but he accepted my offer.

    Like I say, I only did this once — years ago. I haven’t been bothered since.

  13. 20

    A friend I used to know online ran a reptile rescue center. He responded to the people coming to his door as follows.

    First, invite them in.

    Second, explain to them that the large black snake you keep in a cage by the door is a deadly black mamba. (It wasn’t.)

    Third, Quote the Bible verse about people who have enough faith being able to pick up serpents safely.

    Fourth, offer to open the cage for them.

    In all his years of doing that, not a single thruster had strong enough faith, it seems.

  14. 21

    There is the option of going along a little too enthusiastically. They hand you a pamphlet you ask for more. Tell them how you just love these things and could you please have as many as possible. If there are multiple thrusters play them off each other. He gave me three of those pamphlets, will you give me more? And the next guy even more. Never engage in discussion and never donate anything. Other than a few seconds delay if they give you more tracts keep walking. Limit it to abstract enthusiasm at getting their paperwork. Try to make it a contest to see who can get the most. Extra points for getting all of them a tract thruster has.

    What do you do with them?
    Keep them as trophies.

    Use them to light camp fires and get the BBQ briquettes going.

    Add water and run them through a blender to make paper-mache dancing devil figures in obscene poses. Using quasi-holy paper to make a devil figure has to give it some mystical power, if you believe in that sort of thing. Worth doing on general principle, just to piss off the religious.

    Use a short stack of them to perform the hydraulic version of pennying a door. Stack dry, compress, place stack which will barely fit under door, add water with a bit of dish washing soap. The stack swells up and binds up the door. Hilarity, and entrapment hazards, ensue.

    Let your imagination, creativity, and conscience be you guides.

  15. 22

    A friend of mine tells the story of her days in college. She and her friends were on their way to lunch when they were accosted by a member of the CCC (Campus Crusade for Christ). Most didn’t want to be bothered, one said, hang on, let’s hear what he’s got to say. He listened to the CCC’s whole spiel and responded, “Yes, I understand the man’s place as the head of the household, the woman’s place barefoot and pregnant, and Jesus is our savior an all that. I just have one question before I join your church.”
    “Yes, my friend? What is it? Maybe I can help.”
    “I like to fuck!”

  16. 24

    These are persistent assholes who insist on imposing their fairy tales on others. They’re bigoted, rude, and intolerant. They may not bother you, and that’s fine, but they infuriate many of us. Coming up with ways to make their bullshit backfire on them makes us feel better. So no, it’s not “more efficient simply not to let it bother one.” It’s a better use of our time to push back. You are free to remain unruffled if you wish, but please don’t assume that’s best for everyone.

  17. Cas

    I don’t tend to come across many thrusters in the UK, thankfully. And when I do a smile and a polite ‘no thank you’ tends to work here.

    But I was in America a few years back at San Diego Comic Con and there were all these fire-and-brimstone protesters hanging around. I managed to avoid them for most of the time (and laughed at the Deadpool’s joining in with their “Kneel before Zod” and “Galactus is Nigh” signs) until my last morning there when I got caught up in a large crowd of people and one appeared in front of me screaming “Have you read the Bible?”. My response? A loud, clear, “Yes, that’s why I’m an atheist” left him open-mouthed and other people laughing. I think the British accent helped ;-)

    I do like petern’s idea of having your own pamphlet by the door though. If I got more people knocking I’d definitely keep that on hand!

  18. rq

    “I found god and I didn’t like him. So I drove him out into the fields as far away as possible and he hasn’t found his way back yet.”
    “You’re too late, god already found me and now he won’t get off my couch.” Insist that god is eating all your chips (or treat-of-choice) and you need advice on how to get him to stop. Or at least contribute to rent. Every time they start with a ‘but god loves you…’ and ‘god has a place for everyone’ or whatever their latest spiel is, insist that that’s not what god has been saying to you all this time, and, frankly, you’re rather tired of his bullshit.

    This also reminds me. Sister’s class-mate in college wrote a song about a chip-eating Jesus that wouldn’t leave Author’s couch. It was rather amusing and surprisingly deep, though Jesus did come off as a bit of an asshole.
    So that solves that issue of association (jesus = god = couch = chips).
    Mmm, jesuschips.

  19. 30

    A little over 50 years ago, in a suburb of a suburb of Los Angeles, my uncle opened the door and found a couple of evangelizers there. At the time, “Hi-Fi Stereo” was the New Big Thing, and these two accordingly came equipped with a vinyl LP album, which they offered to let him listen to.

    He invited them in, gave them Cokes, and politely listened to the recorded hymns and sermons. When they thanked him and prepared to leave, Uncle Monty pointed out that courtesy required them to listen to his album. He then broke out a gift he had been sent from friends in England, a record of a type exceedingly difficult to find over-the-counter in the US at that time, a compilation of sports-like commentary and special sound effects ~titled The Fahhting Contest.

    The door-to-door boys turned all sorts of dramatic colors but somehow made it to the end and expressed the usual expressions before scrambling away. They must have left some sort of hobo-sign warning scratched on the curb, because my uncle didn’t see any proselytizers whatsoever, from their church or any others, at his house for many years afterward.

  20. rq

    Also, when I first read ‘tract thrusters’ I had images of unpleasant bowel movements – as in, people who make one’s tract thrust. Which, I suppose, is rather applicable, too…

  21. 33

    As a former kid who used to get roped into “witnessing” to strangers on the street, I thank you for your acts of kindness toward the children. If my own experience is anything to go on it’s entirely possible that some, if not many, of them do not want to be there, because A) having people be rude assholes– or even just express disinterest– in your general direction over and over is emotionally taxing, and B) sitting there listening to the adults pontificate about religion with even the occasional willing participant is so. fucking. boring.

    As an aside, hey fundie grownups! A good way not to help a kid get over their social anxiety is to make them approach adults who do not want to talk to them about Jesus multiple times for hours in a row. In fact, doing so could even help cultivate aforementioned anxious feelings, and cause those feelings to solidify. Just so you know.

  22. 34

    That’s my tactic too. I can usually spot tract thrusters and other high pressure salespeople types from a good distance since I’ve been one and have a strong sense for… I don’t know what to call it, exactly. People who intend to gleefully ignore other people’s boundaries?

  23. 35

    Tract thrusters in public areas can be spotted a mile away. I usually fold my hands behind my back on my way past them, unless I’m already carrying a full load with both hands.

    Door-to-door missionaries used to take care of themselves in the house where I grew up. My mother used to be a fan of all sorts of mystical woo when she built it, and inscribed a large pentacle into the concrete doorstep, which guests had to stand in to reach the doorbell. Nowadays, I simply greet them dressed only in tighty-whities and bunny slippers, just to inform them what kind of mark they are trying to recruit. If that doesn’t immediately inspire them to awkwardly break off contact, I might even throw on a bathrobe, invite them in for tea, and display a disturbing familiarity with the parts of the bible rarely mentioned in sermons.

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