Dude Watch Where You Point That Thing, Or The Manipulative Power of Religion

Though Jesus makes us new, it’s nearly impossible for me to think about Christianity without having flashbacks to how I was raised in a conservative, legalistic church – what I would call my old life. It speaks to the power of childhood and how it is so formative for the rest of a person’s life. For crying out loud it’s been 7 years when will those images stop popping up as the very first thing?!

Possibly sparked by visiting that church of my youth a few weeks ago I’ve been seeing over and over again how manipulative religion has been in so many people’s lives. It seems like I turn a corner to find an example and can’t reach the next corner without finding yet another way religion has been used for oppressive purposes. But you don’t need me to lament this any more than it has been by thousands of others. So worry not, this post won’t be a rant about something you already know.

It goes without saying that Jesus not only didn’t come to set up a religion (what are the implications of that, by the way?), let alone a system that could be used as leverage over other people. If anything Jesus was smashing the traditional power systems used. So how did Christianity receive that very ability?

It’s because we are dealing with a very flammable thing. It doesn’t take many clicks to take a message of grace and turn it into a message of obligation.

I think we have to be oh-so-careful because it doesn’t take much to make Christianity a very manipulative tool. It doesn’t take very big twists or tweaks to turn into into a way to guilt someone or coerce them into doing something because you’ve tacked God on to it. I know I volunteered in children’s ministry so I could feel good that my faith was producing works, and that’s a very mild example.

So when I say be careful, I think we need to incredibly intentional about how we speak of Jesus, belief in God and what our faith means. I really can’t emphasize this enough. I think we need to all slow down and really think about howe we’re going about things. We are dealing with a delicate thing that can almost unknowingly be turned into something else that is subtly destructive. It isn’t hard. At all.

How have you seen Christianity used to manipulate? What do we have to do stop this?

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19 Responses to Dude Watch Where You Point That Thing, Or The Manipulative Power of Religion

  1. I don’t think the influences will ever go away. I still find myself treading very carefully around those that I grew up with. I am careful not to mention certain things because I know it can cause offense and ignite a religious debate. It is just easier to let people be.

    • I experienced that on my last visit back home when someone brought up Obama as the anti-christ and what events were surefire examples that the end times were coming. I just let it go, though I was stunned.

      • David says:

        Charlie, so you don’t think there is an end times? I am not saying Obama is the anti-Christ, but there are seasons that are plainly laid out in the Bible.

      • no, I’m merely saying that the people I interacted with are convinced the world is ending this year based on news events, and they’ve been doing that ever since I was a child. That I don’t buy.

  2. “Manipulate” seems to me to imply intentionality, so I struggle with whether that’s the right word for what I’ve seen. It appears to me that much of what causes problems in Christianity is simply human nature, misunderstanding, and plain old error. Very few legalistic preachers are preaching something just to manipulate someone. Typically they are preaching exactly what they believe themselves. To me, that’s very different.

  3. Glad you’re back!
    I see manipulation in not calling a spade a spade, but couching something we want (some very good things, by the way,) in spiritual terms. For example, our church recently voted to begin a building campaign. Instead of saying, “OK, this is what we as a church have voted/decided to do, this is what it’s going to cost, please commit to whatever share you can in this expense.” We had a 40 day series on giving, an offsite, catered breakfast where everyone could sign their pledge cards, and follow up phone calls for those who didn’t, to make sure everyone “feels included.” Right.
    To stop this kind of thing? Don’t play into it. Be clear in your own mind what’s going on. Did I give? Yes, but only because I voted FOR this campaign and think it right. I didn’t need to be guilted into it.

  4. David says:

    I don’t know Charlie. I think lots of religious folks mean well. They don’t set out to put people in bondage to legalism. (I am sure there are some.) The problem is that some of that works for people. They like the rules and the boundaries. That is why it is so easy to miss amazing grace which comes from a personal relationship with Christ.

    Religion is a world of rules, opinions, programs, good ideas, empty prayers, intellectualism, false pride, false humility and worst of all, conditional love. The Kingdom of God on the other hand, is full of hope, faith, grace, mercy, love and POWER for those the obey the voice of God.

    I personally don’t really care what religious Christians do.

  5. Larry hughes says:

    I think manipuation can be considered a very thin line between christian action and cult actions. It is when the manipulative factor brow beats one into doing something against their will or reasoning.through gentle nudging or forced actions. I for one will give willingly if a project I feel is spirit led for the good of others. I find a bit of repulsion if forced or manipulated to give for a cause that I find not God inspired.

  6. I think the biggest travesty in Christendom is peddling a gospel totally devoid of love. This is especially detrimental to young people as well as those new to the faith. I attended a fire and brimstone christian school that really enjoyed debasing and manipulating kids through fear, guilt, and shame. It took me almost 18 years to put that crap behind me. Other manipulations can come in the form of coercing money from parishioners, that goes well above and beyond the tithe. My wife and I briefly attended a church where you literally got calculus from passing the offering/building-fund plate so many times during a service.

  7. Su says:

    Well… I know an unfortunately large number of parents who use Christianity against their children. My own parents were among them– after I decided to become a Christian, I couldn’t sneeze without one of them telling me I wasn’t being Christlike. To make matters even worse, my father is a non-practising (if there is such a thing) Christian, so it’s not like he really had any grounds from which to tell me that whatever shocking thing I was doing was causing offense to God.

    I really, really hope I don’t end up doing the same. And I tend to react badly when I hear other parents doing it, which does not endear me to them. :/

  8. Pingback: You Can’t Induce Desire, Or Are We Slaves To Jesus? | Charlie's Church of Christ

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