Category Archives: persuasion

Evangelism and apologetics fail in our time — here’s the social science explaining why

What I see of evangelism and apologetics are essentially debate tactics and marketing strategies. In other words, they tend to speak to less than the full scope of human experience, so by themselves they cannot convert humans.

Granted, I’m looking at evangelism and apologetics through a skeptical lens right now, and I’m looking at persuasion as an ongoing subject for learning and research.

I want to learn good persuasion strategies to attract my university students to topics I think they need to know, and I want to learn bad persuasion strategies to filter the political, advertising, and religious messages. (I’m spending more time on that general project at TwistedSpeech.com.)

What’s missing from evangelism and apologetics? Probably a long-game perspective (instead of a quick-sell agenda), but most certainly attunement. And my guess is, attunement is missing from attempts at evangelism and apologetics because attunement probably takes time.

We Americans, we Westerners, myself absolutely included, love technologies of any sort — mechanical technologies, political technologies, psychological technologies. We like to set up assembly lines, literally and metaphorically, and then to sit back and watch the work get done. Technology is not unlike magic.

Thinking of persuasion, how can I forget: The Apostle Paul once wrote to the early Christians in ancient Galatia, referring to them as, “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”

I doubt anyone can “form” anything inside another person without cultivating real empathy and attunement.

Daniel Pink explains attunement in part of the below short video from The RSA.

Are Pink’s “attunement, buoyancy, and clarity,” as described in the below video, their own technologies? Maybe so. But I think attunement requires some genuine humanity, corresponding to the best of reality, whereas some psychological technologies are attempts to “subdue reality to the wishes of men.”

(Also see this Jacques Ellul passage on Christianity as propaganda.)

‘An illusion can never be destroyed directly’

Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard. Based on a sketch...

Image via Wikipedia

“No, an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed…. That is, one must approach from behind the person who is under an illusion.” — Soren Kierkegaard, The Point of View for My Work as an Author, found in Kierkegaard’s Philosophy: Self-Deception and Cowardice in the Present Age by John Douglas Mullen

For an explication of this point of view, see Thomas C. Oden’s introductory essay to Parables of Kierkegaard.

Consider a similar perspective in the following poem, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant–“, by Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Cirrcuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—