Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Look Twice: A Primer in Manipulation

I will freely admit, right up front, that this is difficult to write about, because when I see spiritual manipulation taking place, it really steams my shorts. I will try my best to be civil.

My preference is to focus on the techniques that are so regularly used to shape—or, more accurately, to manipulate—people’s opinions, beliefs, and paradigms. I don’t want to point the finger at specific individuals, but if you see them using these manipulative techniques, you may want to pay closer attention to what they're trying to sell you.

Therefore, I now present the following, tongue firmly in cheek . . .

The “How-To’s of Spiritual Manipulation

If, perchance, you have a desire to become better skilled in the art of manipulating people into accepting your own personal heresies, here’s a few insider tips:

(Ahem . . . cough, cough)

First and foremost, it’s vitally important to begin well: this is best achieved by mocking anyone who values theology, before introducing any of your questionable teachings.

It’s basically a preemptive strike: If you’re going to introduce a biblically-questionable concept, remember that the people best equipped to recognize, react, and refute it are those who value theology (and perhaps have theological training). Therefore, it only makes sense to discredit them in the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of your audience, first.

This is best done by using humor, caricatures, and apocryphal anecdotal horror stories about heartless theological thuggery (throw in a reference to the overlords in The Hunger Games for the desired emotional impact—this will also establish your “culturally relevant” credentials). At the same time, be careful to style yourself as “just a regular guy/girl trying to follow Jesus.”

Another powerful and effective tactic is the Straw Man Argument:

Create a caricature of people’s beliefs that you disagree with and then “prove” why only knuckle-dragging neanderthals with the collective IQ of algae would believe like they do. Be sure to infer that pastors and theologians fit this caricature (make that clear). Use humor to disguise the insults, misrepresentations, and character assassination—if you can get them laughing (especially at their pastors), they’ll believe just about anything you tell them after that.

Appealing to the emotions also works like a charm:
  1. You can get the audience “in your corner” by inviting them to feel empathy for you; once they identify with you sympathetically, herd mentality will police discourage anyone from voicing concerns.
  2. By appealing to the emotions (tell lots of tear-jerking stories, at regular intervals), you can effectively get people to stop thinking, which will create the ideal passive environment.
You can also deepen this level of sympathetic identification with testimonials about how misunderstood and attacked you've been, and how this has really wounded you. Very effective as a preemptive strike: anyone who would dare to later voice a concern with your teaching will be seen as “attacking,” and will be lynched by the sympathetic sheeple herd.
Keep your voice carefully modulated and use a relaxed words-per-minute pace. This gains trust and reinforces your “average person” credibility. Disguise your more obviously unbiblical ideas by saying them way too fast. Move to your next point quickly (or divert attention with a heart-warming story).

This is especially important when using out-of-context Bible verses. Quote these verses (or the fragments that you like) in rapid-fire succession, and quickly move on, before anyone has time to notice (or—God forbid—look them up).

Above all, remember to sprinkle your presentation—casually but repeatedly—with comments containing loaded language (eg. institutional church, pharisees, control, hierarchy, dead religion, hypocrites, etc.) so people will quickly agree with you, out of fear of being labeled in the same way.

Finally, emphasize your personal journey into humility, grace, and love, love, love (as opposed to anyone who disagrees with you, who are obviously arrogant, power-hungry haters).
(NOTE: These are just the techniques. Feel free to create your own false teachings to apply them to. You can't expect me to do everything for you.)