I am still reading the books I mentioned two weeks ago, Gorilla Mindset and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.
To me, both books seem come to the same conclusions: using personal affirmations is a good idea. (I think that Mike Cernovich basically says that affirmations work because they strengthen the mind, and Scott Adams says they work for some unexplained reason. They’re most likely both right.) Both authors also use strong persuasion.
The other day, I came to the realization that Prosperity Gospel preachers, and, to some extent, Gospel preachers as a whole, have also come to the same conclusions, but by a different route.
Several years ago, I read a book by Creflo Dollar, both because I needed to know about ‘righteousness in Christ’ and because I was curious about how in the heck he managed to convince hundreds of Atlantans to help purchase several large church buildings, as well as pay for him to have a mansion, a Rolls Royce, and, most recently, a private jet.
I didn’t finish the book because I didn’t understand it. At all. I saw a few Scriptures that I had heard before (and still didn’t understand), and was briefly convinced that saying ‘I am the righteousness of God in Christ’ over and over again is supposed to do something.
It didn’t work. Obviously I didn’t learn much.
What I did realize, many years later, was that Creflo Dollar, and other preachers like him such as Jesse Duplantis and Kenneth Copeland, are practicing both personal affirmations and persuasion on an expert level. They’re just doing it for what some say is dishonest gain. It’s most likely well-intentioned, but doesn’t always lead to good results for their ‘flock’.
Affirmations such as ‘I am very rich’, ‘I am the luckiest man alive’, and simple words such as ‘mighty’ or ‘invincible’, so I am told, work for some strange reason. What prosperity preachers will tell you is that this kind of thing involves blind faith, and probably so. I think that these folks are really adding a ‘spiritual spit-shine’ to an idea that anyone, whether Christian or not, can implement and succeed.
While composing this article, my initial argument was that the idea of personal affirmations is not necessarily a Biblical principle. Then something ‘clicked’, and I realized that affirmations are all over the Bible. They’re just not called affirmations.
They’re called prayer.
Specifically, Davidic prayer. One example is David ‘encouraging himself in the Lord’, 1 Samuel 30:
And David was greatly distressed…but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.
How did David encourage himself?
He talked to himself.
Psalm 3 contains a couple of examples:
O Lord, how many are my foes! …But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
David’s prayers, as far as I can see, always share the same formula: ask for help, then state some positive attribute of God, or express his confident expectation that God will get him out of whatever mess he was in at the time.
These Scriptures look like affirmations to me.
Again, affirmations are not a strictly Biblical principle–I believe this is an instance where there is just general wisdom and knowledge floating about in the universe that anyone can pick up–but I suspect that they work.
Personal example: After listening to a good portion of Adams’ book the other day on my commute, I decided to try it. I thought of a new affirmation and tested it immediately: ‘I am the luckiest man alive.’
Immediately after I said that phrase out loud a few times, I narrowly avoided getting in a serious traffic accident that would have been my fault.
Does that mean that the affirmation worked? Who knows? Maybe it’s complete coincidence. I’ve fallen for spiritual-sounding nonsense before. But I might as well keep this up and see what happens. It’s worked very well for Cernovich and Adams (and, I would argue, with these ‘Prosperity Gospel’ preachers), so it seems that I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Scott Adams has written an excellent series on Donald J. Trump as a Master Persuader.
Whether you like him or not, Trump is really, really good at bringing you to his side and closing the deal, whatever it is. Most likely the greatest deal he will win is the Presidency.
I won’t go into much detail here–you really need to read Scott Adams’ articles and, long-term, work on his persuasion reading list— but suffice it to say, if you’re good at persuading or manipulating people to get things done, you can accomplish great things (whether for good or for evil).
Can persuasion be found in the Bible? I think so. Both Jesus and Paul especially were masters of first-century Jewish logical arguments. Of Jesus, you especially see this in his arguments against the Pharisees, but also with his disciples. (The results were mixed, of course, to an extreme degree–the Pharisees had Jesus murdered, and his disciples either abandoned Jesus when he said offensive things, or reluctantly stayed with him because they didn’t see any better option.)
Paul is at his persuasive best probably in the books of Romans and Galatians, where he lays out his understanding of the Good News of Christ in very specific legal terms that would have been readily understood by both the Greeks and the Jews.
Side note: Many of Paul’s (and Jesus’s) arguments are commonly misunderstood today because the reader is ignorant of first-century Jewish logic. Arguments that sound strange to our modern ears, such as ‘if x is true, then how much more true is y‘, may seem complete nonsense to us, but were used by both Jesus and Paul several times as recorded in the Bible, and have been part of Jewish Talmudic thought for centuries.
Affirmations and the art of persuasion are not strictly Biblical principles, but they appear to work equally well for both Christians and non-Christians. To affirmation, Prosperity Gospel teachers add a spiritual context (also called ‘name it and claim it’), while non-Christians approach it from a more-sober ‘this works for some reason’ viewpoint. I think that the secular viewpoint is more useful and honest here, as it doesn’t involve twisting and massaging Holy Scripture to say things that it doesn’t say–a practice that makes me very uncomfortable as an amateur scholar.
For persuasion, successful preachers use these principles and give it spiritual-sounding buzzwords like ‘Godly Leadership’ and ‘Evangelism 101’. While I have attended courses, or heard sermons, on both of these topics, I never got much benefit out of them. (I have no interest in leading Bible studies or selling Jesus as a product.)
(Perhaps the reason I didn’t get much benefit from these principles, when I was taught from a Christian-ish perspective, is providential; I have, for survival purposes, memorized a good deal of the New Testament. I can usually instantly detect when a Scripture is being used out of context or twisted to mean something else. Spiritual senses, which I’ve built up, usually accidentally, through meditation and prayer, also help with this.)
I hope that this post will encourage you to study affirmations and persuasion, and learn to see through the motivation of any spiritual teacher before you put yourself under them. It’s very important to learn from the right people; otherwise, you can open yourself up to mindsets which will cause you all sorts of trouble. I am still a beginner student of these principles, but I think that, if used honestly, these ideas are both useful in strengthening the mind and spirit.