On January 12, 2015, Jon Webster, atheist blogger at Examiner.com, wrote an article entitled, “The 6 Emotional Manipulations of the Fire and Brimstone Sermon“. He lists the six ways that Christians manipulate people emotionally as: shame, paranoia, guilt, fear, hope and peace (of mind).
I don’t have any problem with his six points. A lot of the sermons I went to followed this pattern fairly often. I would like to add one of my own points based on my experiences. I spent most of my youth and teenage years being subjected to this type of preaching.
The Seven Emotional Manipulations of the Fire and Brimstone Sermon
- Shame – They made you feel like a dirty sinner.
- Paranoia – The gods know all about your dirty little secrets (usually sexual) and your horrible thoughts. Your actions, your sinful thoughts and lusts are filthy
- Guilt/Worthlessness – You are dirty. The gods can’t handle the presence of filth. The gods reject you in your present worthless condition.
- Fear – If you continue to behave “of the world” by committing sin, you are going to go to hell. Eternal torment awaits the sinners. You will be cast into the lack of fire, where you will burn for eternity.
- Hope – Here’s the good news. Jesus was sent down from Heaven to save you from his fathers rather. His blood sacrifice has cleansed you.
- Easy Fix/Peace – All you have to do is accept Jesus as your savior and all your sins are forgiven. That’s it. It is easy and you can do it right now even if you have doubts. Faith comes later. You will be rewarded with an eternity of pleasure.
- Urgency – Do it now. You could die in a car crash on the way home. You never know when you are going to do, so you have to act before it is too late.
Mr. Webster also writes, “Anytime you hear a person of faith say to a non-believer, ‘Open your heart to Jesus,’ it means one thing: open yourself up to be emotionally manipulated, because belief doesn’t have anything to do with emotions, but rather intellect and critical thinking.”
I think this is completely wrong. During an emotionally charged Fire and Brimstone sermon, people are operating on pure feelings. Their emotions are being manipulated. They are feeling the passion of the pulpit. The music involved is very dramatic. The unbeliever is being masterfully terrified and then given a chance to escape the horrors of hell. There is also immediate peer pressure from all the other believers in the room. Most unbelievers are taken to the sermon by family members or friends. Those theists are most likely putting pressure on the unbeliever to “open their heart” and to accept Jesus before it is too late. They are encouraged to believe even if they don’t. Faith comes later. The whole experience is designed to get one excited, to follow one’s feelings and to stop thinking. They even say, “Don’t trust your mind; follow your heart.”
During the emotionally charged Fire and Brimstone sermon, people are operating on pure emotion. They are feeling the general the passion of the pulpit. The music involved is very dramatic. The unbeliever was masterfully terrified and then given a chance to escape the horrors of hell. There is also gentle peer pressure from all the other believers in the room. Most unbelievers are taken to the sermon by family members or friends. Those theists are also most likely putting mild pressure on the unbeliever to open their heart and to accept Jesus. They are encouraged to believe even if they don’t. Faith comes later. The whole experience is designed to get one excited and to follow one’s feelings. They even say, “Don’t trust your mind; follow your heart.”
To say that the Fire and Brimstone sermon elicits “intellect and critical thinking” is to say that converting to Christianity is logical. If that were true, there would be no need for a Fire and Brimstone sermon to convert people to Christianity. There would also be no need to break people down by shaming them and making them feel terrible. These sermons are dramatic, emotional manipulations, not pleas to reasons. If critical thinking were involved, evidence would be all that it took to convince intelligent people of the message being sold.
The best way to avoid being tricked and manipulated by these con-artists is to learn how to critically think. A really good resource for critical thinking is Stuart Sutherland’s book, “Irrationality – The Enemy Within“. Each time I read this book, I discover new ways that my reasoning is flawed. Fuzzy logic needs to be erased. We all trick ourselves into making bad decisions. Stuart Sutherland’s book will help you learn the art of thinking clearly.
Lastly, I recommend going to Jon Webster‘s blog and supporting a fellow atheist.