Anxiety In The Church: The Conversion Experience

Christian evangelists universally believe and proclaim that the convert becomes a better person. Some say immediately; the wiser talk about a process called “sanctification”, and admit that this can take a long time. The claim has not, of course, ever been subjected to any objective verification, assuming that such a thing is methodologically possible. One good reason for subjecting it to some criticism, however, is the economic and psychological dependence of the claimants themselves on the thesis.

Evangelists say that converts become better people because that is what they are obliged to say if they wish to continue earning their living. But suppose that it is not actually true?

Christians believe in a thing called “redemption”, which is a metaphor from a slave-owning society; they think that Christ buys us free from bondage to sin — purchases us from our previous owner and then manumits us. Such a process is, of course, visible only to the eye of faith; we have no receipt for the purchase (slave one, previous owners one) that will be recognised by the courts. To some extent it is self-reported, a person is considered to be redeemed if he goes round proclaiming that he has performed the interior acts required.

Different sects lay differing emphases on what is variously called “conversion of manners” or “sanctification” as a proof of this redemption. This means that their readiness to say “No, you haven’t” to a person who claims to have been redeemed will also vary. Once people start doing that, it is difficult to stop, and notoriously ends up with every alpha male forming his own True Church.

The less that is demanded in terms of outward action and askesis, however, the easier it is for a person to fake his redemption. And why should he do that? Because it gives him a sudden and drastic increase in social acceptance. Many converts are isolated and lonely losers, who find to their astonished gratification that there exists a large band of people who seem very interested in them. It becomes very difficult to disentangle the attractions of the deity and the theology from the attractions, both social and sexual, of the members of the church. Human nature being what it is, the male loser may believe that he is sincere in his intention to repent and begin a new life; that the new life involves a building full of lonely women is entirely coincidental! Female converts frequently stalk the pastor.

That new converts do generally exhibit changes in behaviour is not in doubt. There is a honeymoon period, which in quite other contexts is described as a “contact high” or “new-relationship buzz”. Like these other states of excitement and exaltation, it comes to an end, and all good pastors know that the convert needs careful handling in this period of anti-climax. When no such aftercare is provided, the conversion lasts precisely as long as the “high” period and hardly a week longer. In some cases the counselling given to the convert at that point will flatly contradict the promises made to him in the original evangelical pitch; that is, whereas he was formerly told that Coming to the Lord will make him deliriously happy for the rest of his life, he is now informed about tribulation, temptation, demonic counter-attacks and the Dark Night of the Soul. In fact, they will tell him that his disappointment and misery is direct proof of his redemption, because now Satan is out to get him as a deserter. This makes him feel important again. Christianity is thus the only commercial operation that makes product dissatisfaction into a guarantee of product quality. The Jews, in contrast, tell the prospective convert as much as possible about the tsores that awaits him, which is why there are far fewer converts to Judaism.

The scalp having been collected, the community’s interest in the new convert may subsequently fall, although the commercially successful churches strive to ensure that it doesn’t; should it nevertheless attenuate, and the new convert feel lonely again, he has the option of exhibiting behaviour that gets him “ministered to”. The members doing this ministering may be strong and stable givers, high on empathy and wisdom, or they may be another kind of loser, people who need to feel themselves important and push other people around. Hence the incidence of abusive, injurious or even fatal “exorcisms”. The new convert will be well advised, therefore, to find out what kind of people his elders are before he seeks a fresh dose of attention by behaving in such a way as to cast doubt on the genuineness of the original redemption. The bottom line is that he must learn to fake it better, become a permanent client of the givers of ministry, or get out.

Posted on January 4, 2010 at 11:17 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Soulbusters

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