How tools to manipulate self are inherent to conversion.
I recently read a blog where a woman was asking the audience if she should join Islam, the religion of her boyfriend of six years—his family didn’t know she was an infidel, and they were scheduled to meet the parents in a few weeks. Should she join with the Muslim faith to appease her boyfriend? I reviewed these steps to religious conversion after posting my reply.
In no precise order, and often overlapping:
1. New Identity—Although not always mandatory, a name change is required if her given name was an affront to Islam (Christina) It is common in many religions to assume a new name after conversion. Catholics, muslims, mormon, Hindus, and more. If no new name is officially or ritually given, aligning with the group is done voluntarily. Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, etc. Giving up your old identity and assuming a new, is just part of the program.
2. Guilt—You are bad. You are born a fallen sinner. Your sin is so grievous in fact, is as though your sin is driving the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet. As a sinner you are eternally separated from the presence of god. Your body is a temple that you have defiled with the ways of the world. You continue to make the lord suffer by your disobedience. He loves you.
3. Self-betrayal—Agree with me that you are bad. Once the prospect agrees that they are worthless without god, they can begin to see their own dilemma before the lord—not a highly evolved organism, but a child of god. Don’t you know what you are? You want to come from monkeys?
4. Breaking point—I am a sinner. I am not a good person nor could I possibly live a peaceful life knowing I am worthless. I need to be saved.
5. Leniency—You can be forgiven of all your sins if you simply believe, confess your sins, repent and be baptized. You want to be forgiven, don’t you? You want to return to god.
6. Compulsion to confess—Confess your sins, often to a clergy member, or authority. I am a sinner lord.
7. Channeling of guilt—the investigators guilt has lost all meaning—he’s not sure what he has done wrong, he just knows he is wrong. Things he didn’t know were wrong, are now wrong. This confusion creates something of a blank slate that lets the teacher fill in the blanks.
8. Releasing of guilt—It’s not me; it’s my beliefs. The embattled soul is relieved to learn there is an external cause of his wrongness, that it is not he himself that is inescapably bad—he was born this way because of the act of another. This means he can escape his wrongness by escaping the wrong belief system, or lack of one. All he has to do is denounce the people and institutions associated with that belief system, and he won’t suffer guilt anymore. The investigator has the power to release himself from wrongness by abandoning his old belief system. With his full confessions, the convert has completed his psychological rejection of his former identity. It is now up to the teacher to offer the prospect a new one. Scapgoating…placing your burdens on another to make you whole. Relief and salvation. I am saved, and I will now be a faithful follower.
9. Progress and harmony—Friendships and alliances form. New family, friends, phrases, I belong here. This is good. Backslapping, hugs and joy. You’re in!
10. Final confession and rebirth—I choose good. Contrasting the agony of the old with the peacefulness of the new, the convert chooses the new identity, clinging to it like a life preserver. He rejects his old or non-belief system and pledges allegiance to the new one that is going to make his life better. At this final stage, there are often rituals or ceremonies to induct the converted target into his new community. This stage has been described by some brainwashing victims as a feeling of “rebirth.”
You may have guessed by now, but these are not conversion tactics listed in the numbered headings, but brainwashing techniques discovered by Robert J Lifton used on POWs in N Korean and Chinese camps. Conversion merely follows the same steps.
Here is one version of the sinners prayer. Don’t worry, I’m not fooling you into salvation…but it contains the elements.
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and there is nothing that I can do to save myself. I confess my complete helplessness to forgive my own sin or to work my way to heaven. At this moment I trust Christ alone as the One who bore my sin when He died on the cross. I believe that He did all that will ever be necessary for me to stand in your holy presence. I thank you that Christ was raised from the dead as a guarantee of my own resurrection. As best as I can, I now transfer my trust to Him. I am grateful that He has promised to receive me despite my many sins and failures. Father, I take you at your word. I thank you that I can face death now that you are my Savior. Thank you for the assurance that you will walk with me through the deep valley. Thank you for hearing this prayer. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.