The music in church was great last Sunday. Unfortunately my mind wasn’t on it totally. I flashed back on the memory of some atheist or skeptic’s complaint that we Christians subject ourselves willingly to emotional manipulation with our minds in cognitive neutral. Later I went to look for where I had read that, and while I didn’t find exactly what I recalled, I ran across this from a blog post lovingly(?) labeled “dining with dunces:”
… contrary to how evangelicals present the spiritual aspects of obviously banal and carnal methods, it is always fabrication and manipulation. It was apparent the friends at the table did not like my use of the word manipulation. They appeared defensive and started on a rhetorical monologue on how it is always the holy spirit [sic] and since human beings are primarily emotional beings, God does use such means to evoke powerful emotions in the lambs.
Yawn. I am allergic to these [sic] all-too-familiar goobledygook which is nothing but pontifications that are meaning-less and non-sense (in the semantic sense of the word). There is no way anyone can verify such fairy stories – akin to listening to a religious crackpot who claims a daily hotline to God – we can either spurn all critical thought and take these nonsense at face value or simply reject them as rantings of the delusional.
Anyhow, simply asserting that it is the work of the holy spirit is not enough. One has to be able to RULE OUT the possibility of crowd psychology and manipulation….
The only way one can at least attribute to something other than this worldly causes is to maybe, preach in monotone using a manuscript. If the lambs still have a “spiritual reaction”, then it is likely that the experience is a genuine one.
There is something even sadder here than his apparent reliance on verificationism (a philosophical doctrine long since defunct). It is his flattened view of genuine experience. If the “lambs” have a “spiritual reaction” to a preacher monotoning from a manuscript, he says, then their experience is real.
Some readers will undoubtedly wonder whether this man has heard of Jonathan Edwards and America’s First Great Awakening. Why, though, is emotion less genuine than cognition? Manipulation is certainly possible, yes, and feelings are notoriously not the best test of truth; but not all calls to emotion are dishonest. I was focused enough last Sunday to know what I was singing. The same message could have been delivered without the music and I could have nodded in thoughtful agreement. The words were honest and right.[pullquote]It’s not manipulation, it’s holistic self-integration.[/pullquote]
But God did not create brains in vats. He created whole people living in community. Christianity is the most holistic religion I know of. Its spirituality is not walled off in some disconnected mystical/ethereal compartment. It’s for the whole person, and worshipful singing involves the whole person like nothing else. It’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s relational, it’s auditory, and it’s cognitive, all at once. Nothing can match it for expressiveness. If it helps drive the truths we believe deeper into our emotional centers, that’s not manipulation, it’s holistic self-integration. And what is a spiritual experience if not the whole person’s encounter with God?
Group singing is also one of the more unifying acts of community a person can participate in. It’s a way of being together. Add it all up and what you have is one way (there are many others) of moving toward the fullness of humanness, which is at the same time a move toward the fullness of spirituality in relation to God.
This skeptic’s view of Christianity reminds me of how I have viewed some others’ view of the universe: “sad, dry, cold, and mechanical.” No wonder he rejects it. I would too. God’s ways are far more interesting than that. If we can get a taste of that in all its rough and rich glory, then it is likely the experience is a genuine one.
Related: On Belief and Emotional Reasoning