There is a false, but effective, fiction that one has to be born again to be a Christian. The Christian right refuses to acknowledge the worth of anyone's religious experience unless -- in the words of the tired and opaque cliché -- one has accepted "Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior."
The meltdown, often skillfully manipulated by preachers and teams of evangelists, is one of the most pernicious tools of the movement. Through conversion one surrenders to a higher authority. And the higher authority, rather than God, is the preacher who steps in to take over your life. Being born again, and the process it entails, is more often about submission and the surrender of moral responsibility than genuine belief.
I am a born-again Christian. I went to the altar at an old-fashioned tent meeting in a small, southern-Indiana fundamentalist church. If you've never been in a situation where your emotions have been folded, spindled and mutilated by someone highly-trained in the art of religious brainwashing, and then completely surrounded by a mob of zealots speaking in tongues and laying hands on you -- with the express purpose of not letting you move until you are properly "saved" -- then you can't really know the potency of such an experience.
I'm still a Christian, and very glad to be one, but I've outgrown my fundamentalist days. There were simply too many questions I raised that they couldn't properly answer with their rigid, simplistic beliefs.
However, this article (and the comments posted there, so be sure to click the link) makes it clear that these folks don't just fling the gospel around randomly and hope it sticks somewhere. Instead, they seek out those who are vulnerable to their tactics.
Back in the 70s, the brother of my best friend was serving on a submarine in the Navy. While he was on a tour of duty, his fiancee decided that she'd rather not wait for him to return to continue their relationship. But there was nothing he could do about it. Serving on a sub is stressful enough -- I can't even imagine being shut in a can for months on end with hardly a glimpse of sunlight or a breath of fresh air -- but having the emotional gut-kick of ending a relationship to which he was spiritually-committed was the last straw.
When his enlistment ended, he did not know what to do with himself. But while he was wandering aimlessly in a town far from his home, he encountered a group of cultists who are like vultures in their search for fresh meat for the group. I won't name the group they were with, but if the name V. P. Wierwille rings any bells, that was the one.
These people took my friend in and provided for all of his needs, both physical and emotional. In fact, they deliberately set out to make him dependent on them for everything. And it worked like a charm. To make a long story short, he became an apostle of this cult, and after he'd given them all his money and two years of his life, they literally dropped him off at a restaurant at the side of the road and told him that he "lacked the faith" to continue to give back to the group as they had given to him. His brother had to drive hundreds of miles to rescue him, but he was a shattered man for years afterward. Fortunately, now he's recovered.
I will not smear all religions with the tar of groups such as this, but it's a sad thing when the fastest-growing branch of Christianity are groups such as D. James Kennedy's and the other radical religionists who seem to see the Great Commission as an excuse to exploit the vulnerable. All you have to do is watch any of the televangelists in action to see their coin-operated beliefs in action.
All you have to do is put a little "seed faith" into their ministry -- and by that, they mean money, of course -- and God will give you health, wealth and happiness. If you are not healthy, wealthy and happy, that can't be God's fault, so it must be your's. It's a very pernicious belief system, but one that reaps great rewards in terms of both cash flow and butts in the seats.
Of course most people outgrow this shallow religion eventually. Some just treat it like some spiritual fad and move along without any damage. But others, like my friend, are deeply scarred. I just wish that many more mature believers, such as myself, cared as much about the needy to bring them into churches which didn't see these folks as a mere human resource.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!