An individual, having lost their job, suffering a devastating loss of a relative, having been severely injured, about to lose every possession due to foreclosure and bankruptcy, sits, crying on a park bench. Contemplating suicide, this shadow, this down and out, pitiful wreck, awaits an answer. A friend approaches, sits down by him/her, and puts his/her hand on the shoulder of this beaten man/woman.
“I have hope to offer, the hope of salvation, my friend, in the form of Jesus Christ.” he/she speaks.
Religious proselytizing seeks such opportunities. It is not an intellectual appeal that is made, but an emotional one. No converts to a religious faith were made through an appeal to reason. The proselytizing methods are varied, as the low points people suffer vary. The individual approached need not be the virtual wreck offered above, simple depression will do.
Upon accepting help as described, an individual will be told of the virtues of the religion, perhaps even go to a church. Upon attendance at a church, and following a highly charged emotional appeal, most often laced with music; salvation is received, and conversion accompanied with experiences of joy and relief occurs. With those surrounding rejoicing and exclaiming in resonance, the experience is reinforced and magnified. (Imagine the past, in a jungle, natives dancing furiously around a fire)
How true or false the conversion is, is readily apparent in the following days, weeks, months, and years of an individual’s life. Life changes are usually touted in the Christian’s toolbox, useful in proselytizing the next prospect in a continuous chain.
On the point of conversion some report an awakening, a new consciousness of the presence of a divine being, or divine reality. Jesus did say, according to the Bible, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Mathew 18:3
Different cults require differing conversion experiences. Protestant churches use the terms: saved, born again, converted. Evangelical, fundamentalist, and Pentecostal churches require intense personal encounters with “the power of God”. Frequently they call them “born again” experiences. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the Oriental Orthodox churches require baptism, believing it a rite by which a person enters the church and becomes Christian.
Appealing to emotion is a very powerful tool of persuasion. It is used by many salesman to get the job done. From selling a car to soliciting an insurance policy, it is the tool of choice. It is used by all the world’s religions.
There is no question that changes in lifestyles occur in the lives of many of those converted to the various religions. Changes do occur in the lives of many people without the involvement of religion as well. Changes can occur simply due to a conscious decision to do so. Changes in one’s lifestyle cannot prove supernatural intervention by a divine entity. Reports of conversion experiences also fall short as evidence.
There have been experiments with magnetic fields related to conversion experiences. A test subject is fitted with a helmet, dubbed the “God Helmet”, containing coils for the purpose of generating a mild magnetic field. The temporal lobe of the subjects brains were excited by the magnetic field and produced surreal experiences for these individuals. Four out of five reported a spectral presence.
There are many personal testaments of conversion experiences. In Luke it tells of Peter’s awakening to an awareness of Jesus’ uniqueness. Jesus elicited awe, reverence, and fear within Peter. Peter allegedly confessed his wretchedness and unworthiness on the spot. Apostle Paul, previously guilty of persecuting Christians, was, by his own report, surrounded by a white light and addressed by God; an instant conversion.
No doubt that some Christians have had such conversion experiences. Some experiences more dramatic than others. However, not all report such vivid nor intense experiences. Some go in expecting much more than is experienced.
I have taken a small survey of some former believers as to their conversion experiences, if any.
-One lady responded that at 15, upon baptism, she experienced what seemed at the time a very real transformation. Looking back now, from a different perspective, she realizes that the event was a response to an intense emotional state generated by the behavior of her mother and the rest of the congregation. She stated: “I was just caught up in the emotion of the moment. That to me was the transformation… one can feel transformed, but to me it’s just an emotional state of mind that all religious ceremonies create.”
-Another lady responded that she did not experience anything extraordinary, no electric charge or tingle, nothing “to write home about”, as she put it. All she felt was a subtle change, similar to the feeling of wearing a new outfit, or new hairstyle. “You want to show it off and wear it all the time, make sure everyone will see it…the newness wears off.”
-A fellow responded that he had no “Transformation”. “I grew up in a Catholic family and started catholic grade school in first grade.” he said. Christianity was a given in his family and he was never offered an alternative. Being in a Catholic school insulated him from other religions, he stated. He also added that he had never experienced any supernatural or other unexplained phenomenon.
-Another fellow replied that his mother was very devout and forced him and his sister to attend church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night throughout his childhood. One particular day during an emotional low point he was convinced he had been “saved”. As a teenager, and very impressionable, this event seemed life changing. Later, however, other than a feeling of belonging, nothing else was different, and he felt cheated. “I slowly came to realize this (event) was a mild form of hysteria.” he said. Now as an adult he looks back on the event as being the result of “years of brainwashing and manipulation by the church” as well as his need to “belong”, at the time.
-A man who says he is a Christian (I have no reason to doubt him) told me he could not point to a specific time and date, only to experiences that occurred over a span of time in his life. He described one incident that occurred while he sat in Church listening to a message. As he listened he became aware of hearing more than the message being given, “I had the overwhelming sense of conviction and overwhelming sense of love at the same time. I became super aware of some sins in my life, and at the same time I became super aware of how much I meant to Jesus and that he loved me so much that he died for those sins in my life.. This had nothing to do with the message that was being preached, but I just couldn’t stop crying.. I had no idea what was going on, but I was just broken.. tears of joy, tears of love —” After that he noted that his friends saw a change in his behavior. “I wasn’t as much of an ass as I had been before. I wasn’t a “snow plow” which many people said about my personality. I had a love for people that had never been displayed before. This feeling stayed with me for about 15-20 hours.” Other experiences, similar, yet not for the same reasons, were relayed to me by this fellow.
I myself when accepting Jesus felt no major experience. The room just seemed calmer, and my focus on the moment became clearer. I expected something much more grand and was disappointed at it’s absence. After that moment I felt as if I was simply faking it though I was very sincere beforehand. I don’t know what I expected… Perhaps a loud crack of lightning overhead, a booming voice that only I could hear. At that moment even a piece of toast with Jesus’ face on it, would have sufficed. Nothing, just nothing.
My opinion: Conclusions….
If there were indeed a supernatural transformation which changed a person on a base level then how could anyone who experienced such change, such power, ever leave? Without the weekly reinforcements induced by surrounding yourself with like-minded people why would the state of mind dissipate, if the actual transforming source were of supernatural origin? How can an experience which “seemed real at the time” look so unreal from a perspective bereft of weekly reoccurring re-enforcement? I can hear the remarks that “Their commitment was not real”, or “They faked it”, “They have back sliden!” I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the respondents to my survey.
How are the followers kept faithful for the most part?….
Proverbs 13:20 “ He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Proverbs 14:7 “Go from the presence of a foolish man when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.” 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Be not deceived: “Evil associations corrupt good manners.” 1 Corinthians 3:18 “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. Most of these exhort the believer to refrain from exposure to outsiders. Some simply berate and ridicule wisdom of this world (real knowledge). A cloak is drawn around the believer in an attempt to guard them from worldly knowledge. By proclaiming outsiders and outside knowledge evil, in effect demonizing them, fear is utilized to insulate believers from contradictory influence.
While in the grip of such powerful admonishments they remain under the control of their irrational beliefs and are able to see and interpret events only from that perspective. Once freed, through whatever means, their rational minds are able to look from a different perspective and see the prior religious experiences for what they were: emotional responses to a purposely created emotional appeal.
My final personal conclusion:
Religious conversion is an emotional response to an intense emotional appeal to many facets of a person, including guilt. The appeal is more successful if the individual is in a low period in his/her life: a tragedy, depression, death of a loved one. The emotional response is magnified by being surrounded by like-minded individuals. No supernatural power is evident.
Thanks to everyone who participated in my survey.