Preaching and the Art of Manipulation: Here’s Why You Should Care

On my campus, I met two preachers. I was with a group of friends, but two of my friends had the good judgment to walk away. The preachers we had encountered previously had a tendency and reputation for talking without end. The two preachers then proceeded to corner the remaining friend and I—but individually. I recognized their tactic immediately—the old divide and conquer rule (Thanks, Robert Greene).

My friend got Bucky, I got Joe (not their real names, of course).

My rule-of-thumb is to allow them to speak as they please. I’ve been taught to appreciate knowledge of every kind and to listen as someone is attempting to share wisdom with me. Not only is it respectful, but considering my belonging to a misrepresented people, this was an opportunity to establish a positive connection with someone who may be misinformed.

Joe was very kind. He explained to me his personal relationship with Jesus and how he merely wishes for others to have this wonderful relationship with him as well. He spoke to me about his missions and how he felt in his heart he was doing the right thing. His swore that Jesus speaks to him and he wanted that for me as well. He explained his logic to me, that if Christianity was the correct religion, then all other religions must be wrong. And vice versa, if Islam was the correct religion. I informed him that Christianity and Islam have common beliefs, such as the return of Jesus to guide the people. He acknowledged this, and continued to go on about how Christianity was the only correct religion and shamed other religions for not being more like his own.  

I share this story with an audience, not to bash these two men or their religion…Rather, I share this story as a warning.

It was only after he attempted to disprove and trash talk my religion that I decided to speak up and deliver my rebuttal. I proposed that a popular reason people rally behind organized religion is so that they have a guide on how to be a good person. People pick religions based on what resonates with them. Applying that logic, there is no “incorrect” truth. There is no incorrect truth because the truth is relative. There are unethical truths, but no wrong truths.

Joe handled my counter argument pretty well. He didn’t try to refute what I was saying. Instead, he changed the topic and asked about the hijab. When he was overseas with his wife, he noticed a niqabi staring him and his wife down. Because her eyes was the only visible part of her, he swore he read resentment and willfulness in her eyes. For this reason, he felt bad for her and assumed she was forced into wearing the veil.

But every Muslim knows what she was really thinking: “Why is this white man so loud and why is he staring at me? Look away. Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

Anyway, despite the content and exchange of our conversation, Joe seemed like a great person. I was beginning to feel bad about my initial deduction based only on first observations. Maybe my divide-and-conquer conclusion was nothing more than me reading the situation incorrectly. They weren’t being manipulative. Joe even asked if he could write my name down because he liked the sound of it. I caught a glance of his notes, I noticed he had written, “Momina, the beautiful Muslim girl.”

I proposed that a popular reason people rally behind organized religion is so that they have a guide on how to be a good person.

Throughout our conversation, he called me beautiful and told me it was a shame that I covered up with hijab. Normally, this would come off as creepy but because he was so kind and fatherly, I wrote it off as genuine and an honest misapprehend.

He went on to talk about his mission trips to Pakistan. At this point, half an hour had passed and my attention span was nearly depleted. I felt myself zone out and overheard my friend and Bucky’s conversation. My friend was wrapping up his point and Bucky exclaimed, “You’re an intelligent man!” That remark brought me back to reality. It hit me for a second time what was going on.

They were using flattery.

Flattery — the oldest, most overused rule in the history of manipulation and seduction. After years of using such tactics, you’d think humans would have grown immune to it. But no, the ego will remain the powerhouse, allowing flattery to be effective until the end of times.

Instantly the good feeling I had about Joe vanished. He was building up my ego to butter me up so that he could deliver his preachings. This way, I would associate all he said with a good feeling and the thoughts he planted would linger. If I were to recall any of what he said later, the good feeling would be expected to return. This creates a positive atmosphere when such thoughts occur.

As they walked away, I felt myself get angry. I don’t appreciate being taken for a fool. Hidden agendas belong to the likes of politicians, and therefore I cannot respect it when people of any religious orientations apply it when preaching. It’s deplorable and dishonest. If a religion is truly authentic, allow it to speak for itself. If you ask me, to manipulate translates to insecurity of one’s religion. I haven’t a clue if Bucky and Joe were aware of what they were doing. I suspect it’s the way they were trained, considering they both used the same method.

In a world of artificial advertisements, fake news, and two-faced leaders, now is the time to be aware.  

I share this story with an audience, not to bash these two men or their religion. I, of all people understand that individuals are not necessarily representative of their claimed religion. Besides, I’m sure it happens in every religion, mine included. Rather, I share this story as a warning. If the religious are capable of manipulation, who isn’t?

I credit Robert Greene for equipping the public with the kind of knowledge that allows us to see through to someone’s intentions. His books, “The 48 Laws of Power” and “The Art of Seduction” should be added to your reading lists ASAP. Not all of us have to deal with politicians or dictators, but con artists and cheaters are alive and real. We don’t live in a utopia, and that’s a harsh truth to stomach.

In a world of artificial advertisements, fake news, and two-faced leaders, now is the time to be aware.