I’ll freely admit, right up front: this is a tough topic. Whenever I see leaders/preachers resort to manipulation, it really steams my shorts. I’ll try my best to be civil. To that end, I’ll focus on the slippery techniques they employ to manipulate their listeners’ opinions, beliefs, and worldviews. If you see or hear anyone use these techniques, pay close attention to what they’re trying to sell you.
Forsooth and anon, I present the following, tongue placed firmly in cheek.
If, perchance, you wish to sharpen your skills in the dark art of manipulating others to accept your personal heresies, here’s a few insider tips (season to taste).
(A-hem … clears throat)
You want to hit the ground running. Your best bet is to tell a heartwarming story about yourself. Follow up immediately by poking “good-natured” fun at anyone who values or has formal training in theology. Note: Do this before introducing any of your questionable doctrines/flights of theological fantasy.
It’s a preemptive strike, if you intend to introduce biblically-sketchy ideas. Remember, the ones best-equipped to recognize what you’re up to are those who value theology (and perhaps have theological education). Therefore, it’s in your best interest to discredit them in the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of your audience at your first opportunity.
This is best done with 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 person following Jesus.”
Straw Man Argument
The most delicious irony about this technique is most people have heard of it, but don’t recognize it in action. It’s simple: create a humorous caricature of the beliefs of anyone with whom you disagree. Exaggerate to your heart’s content. Then “prove” why only knuckle-dragging Neanderthals with the collective IQ of algae would believe as they do.
Be sure to infer that pastors and theologians fit this caricature (repetition is good). 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 say.
Appeal to the Emotions
This technique works like a charm. It’s so effective, you may find it a guilty pleasure, but don’t let that deter you. Get the audience in your corner; invite them to feel empathy for you. Once the audience identifies with you, herd mentality will dissuade any concerned individuals from speaking up.
Appeal to the audience’s emotions (tell lots of tear-jerking/heartwarming stories at regular intervals), and they’ll effectively stop thinking. A passive environment is your best deterrent against discernment or critical reasoning.
You can deepen the level of sympathetic identification with testimonials about how you’ve been misunderstood, attacked, and wounded. Name—without naming names—the heartless thugs behind the attacks: dastardly pastors and their theologically-astute ilk. [See what I did there? A subtle-but-clever callback to your introductory remarks.]
It’s another preemptive strike, guaranteed to work: anyone who dares voice a concern during the Q&A will—in the audience’s mind—be lumped in with the soul-less vermin who’ve hurt you. They’ll either be lynched by the sympathetic sheeple herd, or they’ll self-censor for fear of ostracism (or getting their tires slashed).
An Orator’s Voice
Maintain a carefully modulated tone as you speak. Make sure you stick to a relaxed words-per-minute pace. This gains trust and reinforces your “average guy” credibility. Disguise your more obviously unbiblical ideas by saying them way too fast. Move quickly to your next point, or divert attention with a heartwarming story. Ignore any raised hands. Q&A is on your terms, not theirs.
This is particularly important when using out-of-context Bible verses. Quote the verses (or the fragments you like) in rapid-fire succession, and move 0n quickly, before anyone has time to notice.
Or — God forbid — look them up.
Sprinkle your presentation—casually but repeatedly—with loaded language. For example: institutional church, Pharisees, control, hierarchy, dead religion, self-appointed doctrine cops, etc. Your listeners will be quick to side with you. They won’t want to be labelled the same way, and the emotional angst of loaded language will cloud their judgment.
As your allotted time draws to a close, emphasize your personal journey into humility, grace, and love, love, love. Subtly remind your audience that anyone who disagrees with you is obviously an arrogant, power-hungry hater.
Share one last heartwarming story. By now, your listeners should be prepped and ready for a warm and fuzzy Q&A time.
NOTE: These are just the techniques. Feel free to create your own false/twisted doctrines before using them. You can’t expect me to do everything for you.