Saturday, April 9, 2011

Trying to Scare the Hell Out of Everybody

Have you ever watched someone complete a task purely motivated by fear? There is something so disturbing about it. You see it with small children as they walk on egg shells trying to avoid punishment from their strict parents. You see it happen in movies where one follows the instructions of a bank robber or kidnapper. (In that instance, most viewers usually watch with the understanding that completing the demanded tasks are no guarantee of appeasing the criminal's anger.)

Lately I've been training my dog. I utilize (and am a huge fan of) positive reinforcement training. Rather than holler "NO!" at my pup every time he does something he shouldn't, positive reinforcement training focuses on rewarding him when he does what he should. The two pups in my house are both rescues. They were not treated as beloved pets and family members in the first stages of their lives. They came to us with a bit of baggage.  One in particular was extremely timid and fearful. He spent at least the first week he was with us hiding behind furniture and grumbling at us whenever we got too close. The amazing thing is that positive reinforcement training has helped give him more confidence and decrease his fear. If you catch him doing something wrong, and say "No!" in an angry tone, he will run away from you and hide for at least 10-15 minutes. Contrary to what some may believe, causing your dog to fear you doesn't make him learn to obey any more or more quickly. Time and time again I've seen the opposite. When a dog is encouraged and rewarded, he wants to obey. It is fun for him and helps him bond with his owner. Dogs who are only punished on the other hand, don't necessarily want to be very close to their owners. They tend to hang back in a corner and will often cower when their name is called. Although they may exhibit a level of loyalty towards their owners, the manner in which they regard them could not be described as affectionate.

One of the most disturbing trends I've seen in American Evangelical Culture is trying to scare the Hell out of people, quite literally. They are so focused on getting people "saved" that they seem to think little about what long term effects the manner in which they do so will have.

This whole issue came to mind again today when I saw this video:

If you're unfamiliar with the tactic, this is what is sometimes referred to as a "Hell House." They often pop up as a church outreach event around Halloween (although Final Exit seems to be a year round traveling event) and may be advertised as a type of haunted house. Their purpose is to show people sinful lifestyles and deaths they cause that ultimately lead to those people burning in hell. Once they've (hopefully) instilled all that fear in you, they usher you into a room where they present the gospel and ask who wants to be saved from all that horror.

If you're still a little confused as to how this works, here's a trailer from a documentary that was made about a well known Texas Hell House:

*If you're interested in seeing the entire documentary, this user has it uploaded in segments. This American Life also did a segment on it.

I have a few immediate reactions to such tactics. When I see the teenagers involved in the Texas production, it strikes me as a way for pious youth to get to participate in all that bad kid rebellion without actually having to commit the sins themselves. I wonder if in their quest to combat the glamorization of such events in our society, they are merely desensitizing people to such violence. I wonder how much it costs and how the money could be better used in the community. I wonder why anyone would take kids that look so young to see mock abortion, murder, and suicide scenes. But most of all, I wonder about the people that decide to become "saved" after seeing this. I wonder what impact such a catalyst to conversion has on them later as they try to navigate a life of faith.

Think about it. This type of tactic basically rewrites the Bible to say "For God so scared the Hell out of world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." It takes Jesus from an incarnation of God's love, compassion, and grace and turns him into nothing more than eternal fire insurance. Do you see how this may create a problem? One of the major concepts of Christianity is that there is no condemnation in Christ. (Romans 8) How do we expect people to live in that truth if we only bring them to "faith" by piling condemnation upon them?

I wonder if the results will be not unlike what I've seen in dog training. I wonder if this fear emphasis will cause these new converts to show a loyalty to God, but never truly draw close to Him. I think of 1 John 4:18: "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." If we are commanded to love one another (we are), how can we fulfill that command when seeking to instill great fear in others? How do we expect them to experience the love of God if their first supposed encounter with him is shaped by condemnation, fear, and judgement?

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