Christianity and its Adherents (Sequel to Christianity and its Discontents)


Having examined why so much animosity exists in certain quarters towards the Christian faith and its adherents, we now proceed to examine why people take up and retain said faith - over and above the ones explaining why people are religious in the first place (i.e. beyond neurological and psychological explanations which apply to other religions as well).

It can be observed that in recent decades, the more traditional churches have been losing mindshare as more modern establishments have arisen. This is evident from, among other things, falling church attendence in Europe where most churches remain traditional, while across the Atlantic, where churches are more in tune with the prevailing zeitgeist, there has even been a religious revival of sorts. Since it is the more modern churches which are gaining in mindshare, the following analysis will inevitably be biased towards their techniques and characteristics.

There has been a great explosion of Christianity in Africa and the Third World, but being unacquainted with the circumstances of those places and the nature of Christianity there, I feel unable to comment with any degree of authority or certainty, except to note the amount of work done by Christian missionaries there and the relative absence of activity from representitives of other faiths. It would be safe to say, though, that at least some of the factors listed below can help to account for the growth of African Christianity.

1. Constant evangelism

Joseph Goebbels remarked that if you repeat a big lie often enough, people will eventually come to believe it. Whether or not what evangelists repeat is a lie or otherwise, the fact is that they assuredly repeat it often enough.

When one is ambushed often enough while walking down corridors, or receives enough pamphlets and flyers, one might be persuaded to the point of view that is relentlessly paraded in front of him. The persuasive power of such evangelism is also increased when it comes from the target's friends, family members or other associates, especially if pressure (implicit or explicit) is applied, or when one is preyed upon in the wake of personal disaster and tragedy (eg A death in the family, bankruptcy, illness etc)

2. Slick Marketing

Modern churches and modern christianity has imbibed many of the lessons of modern marketing. For example, Christian Music, known as Praise and Worship, is very different from the church hymms of yesteryear, with genres such as Christian rock often being well-nigh indistinguishable from mainstream music, save for their lyrics. When churches move with the times, they can even appear "cool", especially compared to such stodgy activities as burning joss sticks and "devil worshipping". In this respect, the examination of the activities and services of such churches as City Harvest would be especially educational, especially their preaching of a gospel of prosperity and success.

The Charismatic movement in particular especially has learnt well the lessons of marketing, offering solid "proof" of "miracles", such as talking in tongues, healings, exorcisms, visions and the like. Advertising the "healing power of Christ" and other such tangibles, they make church a tangible, emotionally rousing and moving experience through rallies, revivals and other such mass mobilisation events, ensuring that mindshare is kept.

3. Comfort and company

The comfort and company offered by Christianity can be divided into two categories: social and divine.

Regardless of what one might say about the joys of relationships with divine beings, the social rewards of being a Christian on earth are evident. Churches are veritable social and social support networks, with some young people even going to them primarily for socialisation. Community, company and support are thus provided for adherents, and a sense of identity and belonging can also be had; with the declining importance of familial kinship in modern societies, churches can step in to fill that gap.

Just as with fax machines, SMSes and email, there is a strong network effect with churches: the more people in a church, the greater the social benefits of joining one; if all your friends are Christian, being non-Christian would at the very least diminish the opportunities you have to interact with them.

As for the divine aspect of comfort and company, modern Christianity is marketed as being a "relationship" with a personal god, rather than a "religion" dedicated to a distant one. There is thus a feeling of being loved, valued, watched out and cared for by a higher being: much more attention is lavished on the Christian than on members of other religions. One might place this in the context of Freudian wish fulfilment.

4. Intimidation, fear and Stockholm Syndrome

One method of converting people to your cause is by intimidating and threatening them. Talking darkly of the horrors of hell, or of how those not "saved" will suffer on Judgment Day persuades some to take the ticket to salvation.

There is also Stockholm Syndrome, a survival mechanism of captives where they sympathise with their captors, that kicks in when the following conditions are met:

* Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one's captor is willing to act on that threat (Read: Sending sinners to hell)
* The captive's perception of small kindnesses from the captor within a context of terror (Read: 'Grace')
* Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor (Read: Few Christians read non-Christian views)
* Perceived inability to escape. (Read: An omnipotent god)

5. Seemingly simple answers to existential questions and surrender

On Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, once one's Physiological Needs (eg Food, water, shelter) are fulfilled, one seeks to fulfill the needs of Safety, Love, Esteem and Self-Actualisation. Christianity helps with this fulfilment: Safety ('Knowing' that a god is watching out for you and that there's a life after death), Love ('Knowing' that the Christian God loves you, Esteem ('Knowing' that the Christian god values you) and finally Self-actualisation ('Knowing' the meaning of life, being fulfilled etc).

Man might not live by bread alone, but the higher concerns in life are not pressing when one does not have enough bread to eat, so we see that as societies develop and the problem of day-to-day survival is resolved, existential angst sets in. This is especially important in societies such as (say) Singapore, where many have mortgaged their souls in the mindless pursuit of materialism, which leaves people feeling empty, defiled and alienated. People want to believe; they need to believe.

This might also be a result of the engineering mentality: people do not think about questions like the meaning of life, what truth is et al, because they're taught not to, so they are effective sponges for what they're told, not having been trained in the process of free inquiry.

This is where Christianity comes in, as it offers answers to the problems of existential angst and Self-actualisation. All questions are resolved by looking to the Christian god and trusting in his "plan" for one's life; a possible alternative - thinking that no higher powers exist, that one's consciousness disappears once one dies, and that there is no ultimate meaning of life is deeply troubling, even unsatisfying, and so the simpler answer is sought and clung to. The Christian thus feels at ease and has a warm fuzzy feeling knowing that his problems are resolved; the bliss of surrender and ignorance is a heady opiate indeed, as one becomes a mindless sheep and does not need to think, merely to accept and submit. However, in reality said problems have not been resolved, but merely ignored, or at least answered simplistically, which nonetheless is a great attraction in a complex world.

6. Disingenuous arguments and logicide

Christianity has a two millennia old tradition of apologetics which remains very active today. This tradition has come up with many disingenuous, yet complex and seemingly robust, answers to many challenges to faith and doctrine. It is thus quite hard to debunk said arguments, and much simpler to just accept them at face value despite the logicide being committed (Some examples may be found in my review of George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God).

Apologetics also works in Christianity's favour because apologetics makes it seem more rational and logical, at least at a cursory glance, than other religions, thus helping to convert some fringe skeptics.

Even if the disingenuous arguments of apologetics break down, there is a possible fallback to the condemnation of logic and reason, and trusting in faith; this misology - hate and/or denigration of reason - is indeed at the heart of much Christian theology.

7. Natural evolution of religion

Sociological theories have it that as societies develop, so do the social institutions of religion, which progress from simple supernaturalism to animism, to polytheism, then monotheism and finally to transcendent idealism. The movement towards Christianity is thus a natural progression in the social evolution of religion (though I am not so sure about the final postulated stage in societal evolution).

8. Emotional outlet

Modern Christianity allows, even encourages unrestrained emotionalism. The open display of such emotionalism is frowned on in modern society, and religion is one of the few socially sanctioned outlets for it.

One would do well to notice what is not here - the dictates of logic and reason. This is because people don't believe in religion because of logic and reason, but despite it.