A common manipulation technique often used in the Institutional Church is called “appeal to fear.” According to Wikipedia, “An appeal to fear (also called argumentum ad metum or argumentum in terrorem) is a fallacy in which a person attempts to create support for an idea by using deception and propaganda in attempts to increase fear and prejudice toward a competitor.”
- “If you continue to drink, you will die early as your father did.”
- “If you cannot graduate from high school, you will live in poverty for the rest of your life.”
- “Voting for him is the same as voting for the terrorists.”
- “If you tell a lie, then no one will ever believe what you say again.”
- “If we don’t go to war, our country will be destroyed.”
As I’m sure we all know, the most common use of “appeal to fear” in the Institutional church is in telling people they will go to hell unless they do what they are told. In some of the churches I grew up in, it was a little more subtle and indirect. I suspect the leadership of these churches instinctively knew that this would be too obvious and scare people off. They had to find a smoother way to do it.
One Sunday at my old church, the preacher said the name of the sermon was “How to Deal with Adversity.” The gist of it was this: bad things will come upon a person if they rebel against God. The pastor is in spiritual authority over the members (an example of the “begging the question” fallacy – they couldn’t prove whether God had actually called that pastor to be over an individual). Since the Bible says that to rebel against authority is to rebel against God himself, if you didn’t do what the pastor asked, you were in rebellion and opening yourself up to potential catastrophes or tragedies.
He then brought up the church building fund, talking about how the pastor had asked everyone to pledge. Mind you, the majority of the congregation was struggling financially, and they were being required to pledge on top of tithing. We had already had one building fund, and when we reached that goal, the pastor had decided it wasn’t enough and began another one.
By the end of the sermon, it was clear to me it had never been about how to deal with adversity at all. It had all been carefully constructed to scare people into giving more money – implying that they could get cancer and die, get in a horrible car wreck, lose their house and car, etc., or possibly even go to hell if they didn’t do what they were told.
In what ways has the “appeal to fear” tactic been used on you?