Jesus also could have said, curious and cautious as goats, because these animals can be remarkably distrustful of strangers. Photo courtesy Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Sometimes, the truth is so simple that it’s difficult to believe.

Take manipulation, for example, which is to control another person’s behavior, generally without his knowledge, and in an unscrupulous manner. The word is not used in a positive sense.

Manipulation employs deceit; and deceit is a lie. Deceit, also, is not a positive word, although it is a familiar one, because it is the means by which the American culture runs. We expect to be lied to — by our politicians, by businessmen, by bureaucrats, by the news and entertainment media — and rather than bring the prevaricators to justice, we attack ourselves when we fall for their wiles.

“It’s our fault,” we reason. “We should have known better.” Let the buyer beware, and all that.

Caveat Emptor

Well this is good advice, because we do live in a fallen world filled with people who want more money than they could possibly spend in many lifetimes, and something even sweeter than that — power and control over other people.

But like all good advice, we don’t follow it, and while “caveat emptor” sounds so much more erudite because it’s in Latin, Jesus — whose words are translated for many of us in our own language, so we can read what he says for ourselves — told his disciples in Matthew 10:16.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Innocent and Shrewd

Innocent as doves means, “Don’t be a pessimistic, cynical, hard-assed misanthrope who lives life in bitterness and anger.”

Shrewd as snakes means, “Don’t be so damn trusting. There are liars out there, and if they weren’t good, they wouldn’t be successful.”

Okay, so that’s one way of paraphrasing it, but it works for this article. And yes, I used soft grown-up language. I’m sure that you’ve heard, and quite possibly, used it before.

Manipulation with “Intentionality”

Many years ago, we were involved with a religious establishment that had two major programs: Program A, which wasn’t particularly popular, and Program B, which was, Repeatedly, throughout Program B, participants were encouraged to involved themselves in Program A, but there weren’t many takers.

Trusting as a child; savvy as an adult — That’s our goal. Beachside Diversions; original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

So leadership decided to flip the events around, putting Program B first — at a considerably earlier hour than most people were comfortable with, but since one of the hallmarks of being a devout Christian is that you get up insanely early, most people were reluctant to say anything.

Not surprisingly, attendance at Program A increased, because the people were already there, like sheep ready to be shuttered through the chute. When I pointed this out to a Prominent Leader, he pointedly refused to deny it, preferring, instead, to tell me that, “Nobody else has had a problem with this.” (By the way, anytime you hear this sentence, don’t fall for it; most people won’t speak up because they’re afraid of being isolated as cranks.)

The sheep chuting technique is classic manipulation, prodding people into behavior they wouldn’t necessarily choose otherwise. If Program A had been worth attending in the first place, it would have been full.

Attacking People Who Speak Up

“You’re overreacting.”

That’s another one. The thing about manipulation, however, is that when it’s really well done, it’s hard to spot, and unless you’re well practiced in the shrewd as snakes part — tempered by the innocent as doves — you won’t see it. When you do, the people who are as shrewd as doves join the people who are as innocent as snakes to knock you down, trip you up, and roll you over.

And they get really frustrated when you won’t play dead.

All people — even devout, righteous ones — lie, and accepting and understanding this is part of being a dove/snake hybrid.

Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit

But devout, righteous people — when caught in the lie — eventually admit, repent, and do their best not to repeat. When somebody doesn’t, then no matter how loudly they proclaim their Christianity, the dove/snake looks at the fruit of their actions and says,

“Cow manure doesn’t grown on peach trees.”

While it doesn’t matter who this person is — a politician or a pastor, an evangelist or an educator, a barrister or a bureaucrat — the higher up they are, the more their lies affect people, and the more judiciously you need to compare their actions with their words.

The same standards of Christianity that apply to you apply to them.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. That’s one of the things Christians should be known for — commonsense — along with wisdom, understanding, and tolerance in the true meaning of the word. These are good attributes to ask God to help us with, and of far more value than many of the things we get overly excited about.

Posts randomly similar to this one are

Just How Naked Do I Have to Get? (this discusses the pressure in religious settings to expose more of our private thoughts and affairs than we feel comfortable doing)

The Dissident Christian (the closer you walk with Christ, the less you start to look, and act, like the societal “norm” around you)

Break away from Controlling People (if we don’t take aggressive measures to think for ourselves, others will do the thinking for us)

The Sinless Christian (for those of you offended by the soft Grown-up language above; this article includes a link to Do Christians Use the F-Word? at my sister-blog, This Woman Writes)

If you like what you read, please pass me on through word of mouth, social media, or just standing on the back porch and shouting out to your neighbor.




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