Payoff: Mostly Mental

19Feb09

Yogi Berra in one of his famous quotes is reported to have said this about baseball:  “Ninety percent of this game is mental, and the other half is physical.”   Others have repeated the quote in this form:  “Ninety percent of this game is half mental.”

Yogi Berra - "90% of the Game is Half Mental"

Yogi Berra - "90% of the Game is Half Mental"

Religion can play mind games with faithful followers.  These mind games are designed to keep them tightly tethered to the organization.  Certain mental manipulations are pervasive throughout churches, to one degree or another.  It’s as if there is a pot of gold out there under some “religious rainbow” and if you keep trying hard enough or believing hard enough you will reach that pot of gold:  health, happiness, peace of mind, a regained passion or zeal for life.  However, the more you run to reach that rainbow, the farther away the rainbow appears.  It is always “out there,” not yet within reach.  With this aspect of the payoff, few people ever reach their perceived rainbow, much less find the spiritual pot of gold.

The Mental Game is Poweful In Religion

The Mental Game is Poweful In Religion

To many, the exercise of  faith becomes the equivalent to the lure of the toxic gambler’s “sure thing.”

Much of the verbiage spread around in churches serves to feed this “elusive rainbow” phenomenon.  The attitudes and utterances of preachers, pastors,  and other church members  perpetuate the tragedy of unrealized expectations and hopes in achieving bliss at the feet of a far off deity.

You are not being honest. This manifests itself by putting the word “really” in front of an assertion.  “Many regular church-goers attend faithfully.  But are you really faithful?”  Another refrain, cleverly paraphrased to impinge the character of faithful attendees, “Are you really believing God?”  In a masochistic light:  ” Are you really broken before God.”

Only the least creative church members put these phrases in their rawest forms.  Those who make a living “proclaiming the word” are skillful at couching such phrases in less obvious terms.

One evening, I paused on one of my satellite services channels while a highly popular “Word of Faith” preacher was delivering a sermon.  He was, by way of illustration, answering some concerns others had expressed to him.  He said (paraphrase):

Many people have said to me, “I listened to your sermons and attended all of your seminars.  I’ve done everything you’ve said.  But God is not prospering me.  I’m not receiving His abundance.  I don’t get what I ask for when I pray” .  .  . You may have taken it in.  You may have heard the words. You may have memorized them and done them.  But you haven’t processed it.  You haven’t taken it into yourself and made it a reality.”

Without using the exact words, this minister of a prosperity gospel was telling these  people, “if you are not getting rich or getting what you want you didn’t really follow my teachings.  The implication there is that you should be more honest.  You really aren’t doing what you say you are doing.

You need to do more.  Pray more.  Give more.  Serve more.  More faith.

If you are promised A but don’t receive A, then you didn’t pray enough, give enough, serve enough or believe hard enough.  And the converse applies.  “You need to [pray more, give more, serve more, believe harder].

One preacher who spoke at a relative’s funeral even concluded that , “Yes, you had faith in Christ, but was that faith acceptable to God?”  Notice that the word “more” or “enough” is not in that sentence, but for some reason beyond your control you need to have good “enough” faith, or you will be rejected for not having faith (!!!).

I imagine the religious faithful sometimes  feel like a hamster running on a wheel.   The more they try and try and try, the less progress seems to be made.  I believe the thought process is, “if I try harder to be ‘good enough’ then what the leader and the group imply about my character or my sincerity will not be true.”  Of course the cycle never ends.  There will be yet another standard, set up in the “out there,”  for the believer to try to achieve.

What’s the payoff?  The payoff is the preservation of a faltering self esteem perpetrated from the pulpit and other aspects religious organization.    If I keep “spinning that wheel”, then just maybe I’m a “good enough” believer.  But, you will never be good enough, faithful enough or sincere enough.  The odds are in the house’s favor.  That way, you will keep coming back.  And in the end that’s all that matters.

Is the payoff really worth it?

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