2/28/2011 | Share this article:By RT ~
Aristotle remarked that self command can be achieved when "obedience to reason becomes habitual". We now know that new ‘front brain experiences' i.e. those first experiences we have, will eventually be stored deeper within the brain after repetition, thereby forming habits. After playing high level sport for most of my life - going to the gym now is like tying a shoe lace or brushing my teeth. Good things can be practiced for good habits to be formed and of course the same can be said for the opposite.
Christians often don't realize how much religious conditioning can form harmful habits, psychological strongholds and even problematic addictions. Sadly, the whip cracking servility so characteristic of religion is often mistaken for piety, devotion or spiritual depth. These ‘practices’ however can cause long term psychological harm. After many years of pastoring a Charismatic church - and then being forced to retreat because of a personal crisis (seen as failure by the judgmental majority) - I noticed how long it took me to overcome obsessive compulsive tendencies, emotional instability and vulnerability.
What makes me really cringe now - as an outside observer - is the churches awful reliance on 'pseudo psychology' or‘psycho babble’ and crass marketing to capture their clientele. Note the clever sounding phrases, the terminology, the alliteration, the words that frame powerful images and ideas of utopian domination and which unapologetically seek to lure, control or even addict people. 'Modern' churches have dropped biblical terms (not surprisingly) for cool sounding psych-speak. This really is no different to commonly known cults such as Scientology. The modern church realizes it must stay relevant in a society which has an ever decreasing appetite for outdated biblical norms. Further, given that our superficiality in society is at an all time high - church leaders have lowered their message to infomercial tackiness hoping to give the impression they have something truly intellectual yet common to offer.
The hardest part for the ‘ex-mega churchian’ is accepting that life actually is more about grey areas and uncertainties. The stark reality is the ‘repent or go to hell’ message doesn’t really fit a world of science and knowledge. Apart from extremists, the church isn’t going to attract members with such banal idiocy. Therefore, the church name and website must offer something that grabs the more sophisticated (yet just as vulnerable) members of our species. Hence terms such as empowerment, wholeness, vision, values, 'overcoming', 'organic life', 'planting', mandate, breakthrough, heights, victory, power, presence, community are spewed forth ad nauseum and designed to tickle the intellect. Sunday just isn’t Sunday without hyper-positivism either. The come down from this isn’t so different from the day after one too many G&T’s.
The church name no longer serves to differentiate locale and broad flavor; now it must have a powerful 21C enticement to draw the people in for more power and more ‘abundant life'. Even the church of 30 can claim to be ‘international' with a stroke of a pen. And then there’s the cool 'music', the cool clothes, ear piece mics, the pre-service hype, the exaggeration...the faces taut with ‘smilosis’.
The sheer arrogance of this falsity is cultish, controlling and psychologically disturbing. When things don't work out, as most often is the case - when there isn't victory, when there isn't 'empowerment' - people can be psychologically scarred for years. They believe they have failed. Personally. They have been rejected. God promised it. God’s presence has gone. For these people even the risk of reason is too high.
People invariably move on in this environment - because they have to. Failure is embarrassing in this guaranteed victory and power 'churchianity' but of course there is always a ‘god reason’ for moving on. Its been statistically shown that people average about 3 years per church. Approximately the same as changing over motor vehicles.
The term commonly used by the new church that receives these ‘try again’ types is 'transfer growth'. Transfer growth is the ultimate for the growing church – its like getting more business simply because the business up the street closed down. Humbly the church pastor never admits to wanting transfer growth, but secretly they delight in getting it.
New vision statements are common of course and these are changed regularly to fit but again it’s always just as the Lord instructed. That’s when Joshua and Isaiah are dusted off and quoted all over again. "Behold I am doing a new thing, do you not perceive it?. New alliterations spring forth, new maxims, new aphorisms abound. The deep ingraining has occurred. No one questions the constant ‘on the precipice’ dictum, year after year, after year. And sadly, new members don't realize what they have just signed up for.
The hardest part for the ‘ex-mega churchian’ is accepting that life actually is more about grey areas and uncertainties. Life is generally fairly mundane with some treasured moments. That’s what makes them treasured i.e. they are not every day. It’s healthy and real. False utopias create immature dependencies, not unlike the 20 yr old today who wants a never ceasing ‘experience’ without the responsibility.
Thankfully, reason rescued me from unreality. Thank you Aristotle.
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