Tuesday, January 13, 2009

State-Induced Learning for On-the-Fence People

A lot of us know religious people who go to church/temple/mosque for reasons other than their fundamentalist zeal. They go because of the community, they go because they like the ceremonies, they go because they like the music or it makes them feel good or just out of habit. They go because if they don't, they're no longer Christian/Muslim/etc. and that means they can't be a good person. They go because friends and family would be disappointed if they didn't, or because the family just plain makes them. Maybe they believe some of what's being said while they're sitting there; for most of it they're just tuning out.

This is a great opportunity. Most of us know people in the on-the-fence, inertially religious category. Many of these people on some level have questions or doubts about what they're hearing, but usually they let it pass. Time for some conditioning! I don't mean this condescendingly. Conditioning is just another word for forming habits.

The key is the trigger for the habituated behavior. So, when talking to these on-the-fence churchgoers, ask them to visualize the next time they're in church, and consider your words while they're sitting in the pews, listening to the sermon, wondering about the person giving the sermon, digging the hymnal books out of the slot in front of them, adjusting her dress or quieting the children down. Ask them to think about whether this sermon really relates to their life, and whether they would be better off figuring out questions of right and wrong on their own. Above all, ask them if they wouldn't really be better off at home balancing their checkbook or mowing the lawn or just spending a quiet Sunday morning with pancakes and a newspaper. Once those wheels start turning, the stepwise deversion process is never far behind. There's no need for logos when you have pancakes.

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