Spiritual Manipulation


Today, I listened to a podcast of Bishop Barron responding to a book that has topped the bestseller list. It’s called, “A Manual for Creating Atheists” by Peter Boghossian. It’s essentially an evangelism tool, but in reverse. It explains how ordinary atheists can join the mission to save lost religious souls. It has tips on how to engage a believer and help usher them into the light of the Enlightenment.

Gotta tell ya, the good Bishop was pissed! And rightly so. He has a real zeal for evangelizing himself. It’s hard enough seeing Catholics fall away from the church in droves without having to also contend with an organized atheistic movement.

Most of what he said, I heartily agreed with, being a Catholic myself, but one thing hit me a little too close to the heart. He was terribly bothered that the kind of Christians or Catholics atheists were targeting – or at least those who would be most susceptible to this targeting – were what you might call low-information believers. These were religious folks, to be sure, but people who on the whole are not really grounded in their faith. A lot of zeal but maybe not a lot of knowledge. And so, when an agnostic on the street comes up to them asking hard questions, they don’t know what to say.

This struck Bishop Barron as underhanded. It smacked of intellectual and emotional manipulation. The same kind that was prevalent in…well…. my fundamentalist upbringing.

That’s where it hit me. There was an irony in the thought that atheists were now using the best tactics of street preachers to their advantage. And it kind of hurt.

I remembered those fun camp days over the summer when every morning and evening a preacher would spend an hour trying to get us all to make a commitment to Christ. I had one of my most memorable spiritual moments at one of these camps at the age of twelve. We would hang out, play games all day, and then get hit with the Gospel in the evening while we were all tired and groggy.

I remember the countless “altar calls.” We were asked to come up front if we wanted to give our lives to Jesus or have someone pray for us. The music would be playing in the background. The preacher, with his soft lull and eloquent prose, would gently and tenderly call us to make a fateful decision.

Recently, as a Catholic, I got a knock on my door from an evangelist. We dialogued back and forth, if you could call it that. He pulled out all the same verses I learned growing up to combat Catholics and showed no interest at all in hearing my response to them.

Was I that manipulative? Trying to get another star on my belt? Another diamond in my crown in Heaven? Another soul for the Lord? I was never very good at it. I’m not charismatic. It’s good you don’t know about my Catholic YouTube videos. They suck. They suck so bad. Another reason to keep myself anonymous.

There’s a little too much truth in the pain. One thing comes after another and before you know it, Sunday morning has morphed into a crusade, a revival camp. I’m not saying authentic decisions to follow God aren’t made in circumstances like those, but there is at least a little bit of chicanery in it, isn’t there? Trying to pull the man on the street aside to quickly get a confession for Jesus out of them? Playing up the music and smoke machine to create an aura of spiritual renewal?

When I decided to become Catholic, they didn’t allow my decision to be that simple. I had to spend months going through something called an RCIA program, learning about this strange religion I thought I wanted to get into. Only after that process could I make the decision to join.

However boring some of those nights could be, sitting in a circle talking to strangers, the monotony and length of the process was it’s advantage. It was honest. I was given time to make the right decision. I was given a cooling-off period.

Can you imagine what a good old-fashioned revival meeting would look like if people were given that option?

“Brothers and sisters, praise God. Praise God!” Someone in the crowd shouts, “Alleluia!”

“Brothers and sisters, tonight is the night God wants to chaaaaaange you! Wants to grab you by the heart and grant you prosperity! Eternal life!….

“So go home now, and think about it for a couple months. No need to rush these things!”

We, as believers, would do better to be a little more transparent. I want people to know Jesus just like any other good Christian, but it’s a huge decision. It’s like getting married. The last thing you want is someone coming to the faith and then divorcing from it later because the church wasn’t what it was advertised to be.

When we give room to people to meander their way to the truth, it also shows that we respect them. When we leave the emotional headlocks out of it or leave our judgment at the door, we grant them space to sort out the truth for themselves. That’s the only way anyone can sincerely sort truth out anyway.

Maybe even harder to do: perhaps we should be honest about our opponents’ best arguments. Maybe before adults become Christians, they should be made aware of the difficulties of the faith, the crosses they’ll have to bear.

We probably won’t get as many converts, but the ones we keep we’ll keep for eternity.

©2020 Catholic Anonymous

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