Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Dopamine-Driven Church

Part 1: C’mon God, Light My Fire

“There is a generation rising that is hungry to see the power of God evidenced with signs and wonders. The Bible says, according to Hebrews 11:1, that faith is to be accompanied with substance and evidence. This rising generation is not satisfied with the preaching of mere words alone, but is, however, after the Biblical preaching of the gospel evidenced by the power of miracles, healings, signs, and wonders fully manifesting the Kingdom.”
-- The Elijah List advertisement for the “Fire Glory & Harvest Conference, Feb.28-March 3, 2007.

Replacing the Holy Spirit with a dopamine high: this is the agenda of the New Apostolic Reformation. If people can be trained to be ruled by their senses, they are more malleable, easily manipulated, and ready to be driven from one new lustful fad to another.

What is dopamine and how does it work? For a thorough scholarly analysis see the full article by Dean Gotcher, entitled “The Dialectical Drug Culture.” Below is a descriptive excerpt:

"Dopamine is a chemical which the body naturally synthesizes to transmit messages of pleasure from the nerve endings to the midbrain. The midbrain then synthesizes the neurotransmitter dopamine to activate other parts of the brain in an effort to find what caused the pleasure, to record it, and if necessary to figure out how to continue, restore, or create the environment which caused the pleasure. Our body naturally loves the effect of dopamine. It seeks after the conditions which trigger its release in the body. Most drugs of habit are related in some way to affecting dopamine production, replacement, or inhibition . . . .

"Any time we touch, taste, smell, see, hear, and then think about something which activates the neurons of pleasure, dopamine is used to convey this message to the brain which then seeks to continue the state of pleasure. The body in essence has a mind of its own to seek pleasure. . . .

“After studying this system of the body it has become apparent the effect this chemical (the neurotransmitter dopamine) has had on the history of man. Eve's desire to touch the tree (dopamine), Adam's desire to listen to Eve (dopamine), Esau giving up his birthright for food (dopamine), the ten spies, David and Bathsheba, etc. are only a few examples we find in the Bible the effect this chemical (the love of it's effect upon the brain) has had upon our lives. Self loves pleasure. Instead of hearing self control, self discipline, humble yourself, deny yourself, today we hear of 'self esteem.'

Self-esteem (love of dopamine) always comes from group-esteem (group respect--love of the respect of men). God is not a respecter of persons. Consensus is group dopamine―orgy, love fest, worship of man, social Eros, etc. All that is of the world is dopamine-producing, flesh, eyes, and pride―Maslow's Hierarchy of 'felt' needs. . . .

“There is nothing wrong with dopamine; it serves its God created purpose, but when we seek it above the lords command, we let the body control us (id, impulse, natural desires, etc.) and we fall into and become slaves to sin. The dialectical process is discourse (which we all do with ourselves or others) in an effort to create a dopamine-producing world. Call it by groupthink, lovefest, love of love, consensus, globalism, world peace, Emerging church, Church Growth or any other name, it is simply the love of pleasure. It can even be disguised as the love of God―experiencing God―'love that feeling.'"

How does dopamine work in everyday life? Your feelings! One key area of vulnerability to its effects can be found by examining how the advertising industry preys upon these feelings. Below is a recent, poignant example of how good feelings in the brain can circumvent rational thought. It comes from a NPR transcript of "All Things Considered" that ran last Friday, April 13th:

Drug Ads Play Up Benefits, Downsize Risks
by Allison Aubrey

Taking medicine used to be only for the sick. But in the age of direct-to-consumer advertising, drugmakers have persuaded a lot of people that taking medicine can be a casual affair, something healthy people should do to stay well.

With more than $4 billion a year spent on pharmaceutical ads, studies show it's increasingly common for people to ask their doctors for drugs they've heard about on TV.

TV ads for the sleeping pill Lunesta air during many popular network shows. One ad begins with a pitch-black screen.

"This is you," a narrator's voice says. "You've awakened in the dark because your sleep aid didn't give you a full night's sleep."

On screen, viewers see a woman with lying in her bed. She's tossing and turning, clearly frustrated.
But during the 60-second advertisement, her sleep problems are put to rest.

"Tomorrow, ask your doctor about Lunesta," says the narrator as gentle music plays and a glowing moth appears.

The woman appears to fall into a deep sleep.

Selling a Feeling

She looks so restful, says former TV producer Al Tompkins. "And when she wakes up, she's just gorgeous," Tompkins says. "She sits right up and stretches and looks great. Who doesn't want that?"
Tompkins, now a consultant with the Poynter Institute, says TV ads like these are persuasive because they sell you a feeling. "I believe you remember what you feel, longer than what you know," he says. "And this spot is long on feeling and clearly the things you could know — the facts, the numbers — are things you'll never remember."

A litany of warnings and side effects is spoken clearly during the Lunesta ad.

The narrator's voice tells viewers, "Until you know how you'll react to Lunesta, you should not drive or operate machinery. Do not take Lunesta with alcohol. Most sleep medicines include some risk of dependency. Side effects may include unpleasant taste, headaches, drowsiness or dizziness."

Reading these warnings, it's easier to remember the details. But when people watch the ad, they're much more likely to be distracted by the moving pictures and music. The images of the gliding luna moth almost feel like an IMAX movie.

"When the eye and the ear compete," says Tompkins, "the eye wins.". . .

It is an interesting exercise to read the complete text to this "All Things Considered" radio show. The advertising industry has learned that by appealing to people’s “felt needs” they can sell a new product. Likewise, the church growth movement has borrowed the same tools and strategies to market new doctrines and practices to modern Christianity – a group already saturated with, and desensitized by, the media dopamine-driven culture in which we live.

Bear in mind that the original neoevangelicals, as described by H.J. Ockenga, repudiated separation. Old-time fundamentalist separation, particularly well-described by J.C. Wenger in the classic work Separated Unto God (Herald Press, 1951, reprinted by Sword and Trumpet), once taught that true believers should separate from the popular culture in order to truly preserve their ability to function as “salt and light” within that culture. Therefore, a neoevangelical church immersed in the constant barrage modern media, particularly dopamine-inducing ads, becomes trained to salivate upon stimulation. People fall for anything "new, better or more," as Jeremy Rifkin noted (quoted in the 4/12 post).

There is a certain symbolism with running an advertising excerpt about a sleep-inducing product in the context of discussing dopamine's effect on the Church. Obviously, those who are spiritually lulled to sleep by the antics of the dopamine-enhanced New Apostolic Reformation aren't going to want to be bothered to wake up and read discernment materials! Side effects? Apathy to Scripture. Warnings? Forget facts, this "feels" so right! God is doing a new thing? Rush off to the latest signs and wonders “revival”! God is making people laugh like hyenas, bark like dogs and contort their bodies into birthing positions? Disregard the fine print warning labels!

Slick new packaging helps to sell products. Likewise, sugar-coating dopamine-inducing events with a spiritual patina works to sell new theologies. So if you can be induced to attend the latest rally, revival, prayer event, then the organizers know you can more easily be persuaded, seduced, manipulated, marketed to. Why was Promise Keepers such a raging success? Because men were lured into mass rallies complete with hype, hoopla, and an extreme focus on "felt needs" -- breaking down the walls emotionally and spiritually. Small groups modeled on the encounter group format of humanistic psychology work the same way.

Addiction to the latest dopamine high. If it feels good, do it. Whatever it takes.

Part 2 will continue this topic, Lord willing.

The Truth:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (I John 2:15-16)