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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Influence- The Psychology of Persuasion Review


The Psychology

of Persuasion

by Robert B. Cialdini

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

Cialdini is a psychologist who has studied what it takes to persuade people to do act. When I consulted with parents and teachers about child behavior, I asked about commercials they remembered, which was often a fun exercise. Then I asked about influence— most admit remembering ads when in a store or buying something on impulse. My point is, businesses know they that a 30 or 60-second commercial can influence human behavior.

If you are trying to sell a product or service, protest for change, or win converts to your cause, Cialdini’s principles backed by fascinating research might be helpful.

The numbers refer to the chapters in the book, Influence.

1. The Contrast Principle.

When we have two experiences—one after another—the first one influences the second. Meet a mean person first and the next person will seem kinder even if they are neutral. Meet a kind and welcoming person first and the next person will seem cool and unfriendly if they are just a bit reserved.

2. Reciprocation is the “give and take” principle

Most people have a built-in feeling of obligation. If you get a favor, you are expected to repay the favor. If someone buys you a drink, you are wired to repay the drink. If a salesperson offers a book or a meal, they are trying to get you to buy a product. Churches evangelize by inviting people to free meals and concerts. Politicians offer to make your life better if you vote for them.

3 Commitment and Consistency

People like to think they are consistent even when they are not. And people like others to be consistent too. Getting a commitment from people builds loyalty and helps people act consistently with their commitment. Commitment is crucial to long-term relationships like marriage. Nations expect others to honor their commitment to treaties. Companies offer free content in exchange for an email. Amazon offers a free “wishlist,” which can help build customer loyalty. Churches ask for your name and address on a visitor card—they hope you will come back. Nonprofit organizations assume you are committed when you send a gift and expect you to be consistent and give more so they send mail and make calls. And the better churches will show consistent commitment by sending pastoral staff to visit you or call you. If you voted for someone, you are apt to remain loyal to re-elect that person even if they do not fulfill their promises because you want to be consistent in terms of your original act of voting. Politicians know that- “they activate the base” and hope voters will give them more time to do what they promise to do.

4 Social Proof

Social proof has been called herd mentality. Salespeople know people want to know what others are doing or buying. Bestseller lists work this way. My best selling books are Creating Surveys and Applied Statistics—hard to believe right?

Cialdini reminds us of the effectiveness of canned laughter, which helps audiences laugh and think something is funny.

5 Liking

People generally like to do things with other people they like. So, favorite sports figures, singers, and movie stars help sell just about anything. Here’s what affects liking:

1. Physical attractiveness- people assume good looks are linked to humor, trust, and honesty

2. Similarity- we like people who share similar interests, opinions, hobbies, backgrounds and so forth.

3. Compliments- praise is rewarding- no surprise-we like people who offer praise

4. Contact and cooperation- we feel connected to people when working toward a common goal

5. Conditioning and association- associating an attractive model with a product creates a favorable impression

6 Authority

Most people are socialized into respecting people who are in authority like parents and teachers, which carries over into adulthood. People in authority can influence other people's behavior to vote, buy, change, and improve.

7 Scarcity

Creating an impression of scarcity motivated people to act. In 2020, people rushed out to stock up on toilet rolls and hand sanitizer our of fear there would not be enough. Salespeople advertise “while supplies last” or “available to the first 100 customers.” Some Christian churches told people there were only a few days left (we are living in the last days) to get right with God before it would be too late.


As I mentioned above, Cialdini’s book on Influence and the Psychology of Persuasion is applicable to a wide range of activities when people are trying to influence others.

If you tend to be an easy target for influence, Cialdini helps you recognize what is happening. Identifying the triggers causing our automatic sequences can help us resist unhealthy or unwise choices.

If you are wanting to persuade people to act in a prosocial way, understanding what triggers behavior might help you create a better society. At least, I hope you learn a bit more about human behavior.

Of course, I would be delighted if you followed me and bought my books. But this review is free without obligation.

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Friday, July 3, 2020

The Color of Compromise

The Color of Compromise
The Truth about the
American Church’s
Complicity in Racism

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

“On July 4, 2016, as my social media feeds filled with images of American flags and friends’ backyard barbecues celebrating America’s independence, I took to Twitter and posted a picture [sic] seven African Americans picking cotton in a field with the following caption: “My family on July 4th 1776.” (From the forward by Lecrae, p. 9)

Few would disagree that American slavery was immoral. As I examine The Color of Compromise in July 2020, I am keenly aware that my lessons in American history were whitewashed. And worse, I was never exposed to the degree to which the American Christian church failed to address slavery and its legacy of racism.

Tisby tells the story of American anti-black racism in 11 chapters arranged in chronological order. However, The Color of Compromise is not just the story of racism; it is the story of what Christian leaders said and did that supported slavery and the post-slavery stereotypes, prejudices, and acts of discrimination that persist in overt and covert ways to this day. As Tisby says racism is adaptive.

It is surely axiomatic by now that humans prefer to hang out with people like themselves. As an immigrant family, we interacted with other immigrant families as if we had a common bond. Strangely, I realized that a substantial proportion of the people in my book study group were born outside the US. We humans tend to like, help, and prefer those within our groups. But that natural tendency is far different from creating an economic system based on enslaving people with black skins. As Tisby writes in chapter 2, in the early years of colonial America “the colonists had not yet cemented skin color as an essential feature of life in their communities. Race was still being made (p. 26).”

In chapter 3, we are reminded that liberty was white and not black after British North Americans fought against their countrymen for liberty and justice for all. Africans fought on both sides but, as we know, the thirteen United States would not deal with the matter of slavery. By the time of the Civil War, Americans had built structures and economies based on slave labor for over 300 years1. Following the War for Independence, Christian revival meetings led by Methodists and Baptists won converts to these enthusiastic and less formal worship styles. Tisby adds the story of two famous slave-holding clergy to illustrate the support for slavery in the 1700s—George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards.

We learn more about the ugliness of chattel slavery in chapter 4. Thus, American slaves were not just men or women working to gain their freedom like a servant. Tisby quotes African American minister James W. C. Pennington:

“The being of slavery, its soul and its body, lives and moves in the chattel principle, the property principle, the bill of sale principle: the cart whip, starvation, and nakedness are its inevitable consequences.” (p. 60)

The Civil War (chapter 5) not only spilled the nation’s blood, but it split the Methodists and Baptists too. In this context, we learn how the church found a biblical basis to defend slavery.

In chapter 6, Tisby traces the rise of white supremacy and the increasing oppression of black people through intimidation and restrictions on important dimensions of life like voting. As the new century dawned, so did the promise of Pentecostalism (chapter 7). Unfortunately, the Pentecostals became segregated like the rest of society. The two world wars do not get much time in Tisby’s story. I suggest they should as President Truman ended segregation in the military in 1948.

Unfortunately, the church did too little during the 1950s and 60s (chapter 8). This is the era of Emmett Till and Rosa Parks, the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and that North Carolina moderate, Rev. Billy Graham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a temporary high-water mark.

In chapter 9, Tisby reminds us of the rise of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority. For those who are not old enough or who forgot, Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion in some cases before the Row v. Wade decision on abortion. Southern Baptist leader, W. A. Criswell’s view was:

“I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother . . . that it became an individual person.” He further explained, “It has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” (p. 181)

However, that view of abortion was about to change. Desegregation moved forward. Segregationist Bob Jones University (BJU) admitted black students, but mixed dating was prohibited. That race-based dating policy led to a loss of tax-exempt status in 1976. The Moral Majority rose to power on a platform of restoring Bible reading and Christian prayer to public schools and the wedge issue of abortion. The movement strengthened as Falwell and his organization blessed Ronald Reagan. Reagan spoke at BJU in 1980 and soon thereafter, their tax-exempt status was restored. The marriage of evangelical Christianity to the Republican party and an antiabortion rallying cry remains strong.

Chapter 10 takes us through the end of the 1900s and into the 2000s. Promise Keepers promotes racial reconciliation and offers some hope. Some Christian churches begin to diversify and in fact want to learn how to improve diversity. But the religious-political rift is exposed as black people are killed (Trayvon Martin, 2012). “Black Lives Matter” becomes a rallying cry only to be slammed by Christians who recoil at organizational links to LGBTQ rights. Tisby explains there’s a difference between an organization and a movement, but I doubt this will undo the emotionally tagged mental connection between Black Lives Matter and traditional enemies of Christian America. The chapter closes with a picture of a divided church and the 2016 presidential election. Tisby reports the statistics-- 84% of Blacks voted for Clinton and especially noteworthy, 94% of black women. In contrast, 81% of white evangelicals voted for the Republican ticket.

In chapter 11, Tisby evaluates American progress. Although the external "whites only" signs are down, Blacks and Whites are segregated in society, politics, and the church. He reminds us of differentials in unemployment and incarceration. On page 195, Tisby appears to respond to questions of “What can I do?” We can increase our awareness through books and videos and connect with Blacks and other minorities, he tells us. And we can use our other gifts or talents like writing and speaking to address issues of racial and social justice. There’s more here, which makes the chapter a useful guide to readers who have now developed their awareness of racism in US society.

Tisby concludes with a short essay on the importance of being strong and courageous.

I recommend The Color of Compromise to all Americans and those who want to understand racism in America. The years of chattel slavery and the subsequent century of oppression are unique among the world’s wealthy modern nations. The legacy of slavery has resulted in decades of white control of the federal and many state governments, wealthy multinational companies, political parties, and large church bodies. Tisby’s book will further enlighten sensitive white Christians and has the potential to energize some to act according to their gifts and resources. I do not think The Color of Compromise will reach those who do not identify with the blatant racism of the past or who are focused on the fetus and concomitant perceptions that they are fighting a spiritual battle against socialists and Marxists intent on destroying Christian America. I hope I am wrong.

The Color of Compromise is a Book and a Video Series

1. Although Tisby gives the short story of slavery, the first slaves entered Florida in 1539 where they built St Augustine, America’s oldest city.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Biblical Literalism as Heresy

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy
A Journey into a New Christianity
Through the Doorway of Matthew's Gospel

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

John Shelby Spong retired as Episcopal Bishop of Newark NJ in 2000. He is a strong voice for Progressive Christians.

In Biblical Literalism, Spong offers an easy to read commentary on Matthew's Gospel that reveals the Jewish roots of the stories, which are presented in the context of the Jewish calendar.

Spong opines that Christians who read the bible in a literal or near literal fashion and ignore Jewish culture cannot understand the gospel, which was written by a Jewish man for a Jewish audience decades after Jesus' ministry.

Spong reminds (or informs) readers that the story of Jesus in the New Testament begin with the early letters of Paul. Years later, we get Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. Paul's story of Jesus is limited and what he leaves out is significant. Mark's story comes much later and leaves out much added later by the other authors. But Matthew stands out to Spong as it appears to follow an order matching the reading of scripture in the synagogue.  People like Moses and Elijah figure prominently in Jewish life, in Matthew's gospel, and in Spong's understanding of Jesus. For example, Jesus' Red Sea experience occurs during his baptism and his shining moment, like that of Moses's meeting with God, occurs at the transfiguration.

If you read Biblical Literalism, I suggest creating a list of the Jewish holy days to track Spong's analysis of the gospel.

At times, Spong seems harsh in his reminder of the problem with fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, including this gospel. Perhaps that is understandable in light of the attacks he has experienced from those who continue to read these texts in a literal way.

It is no secret that Christians are leaving the church. And that many youth consider believers "unChristian." This book may be a way for ex-Christians to find their way back to a meaningful understanding of faith. Spong's Biblical Literalism may also appeal to those whose intelligence rebels against the simplistic biblical quips reinforcing someone's view of what the Bible says.

I would hesitate to recommend Biblical Literalism to fundamentalist and conservative evangelical friends because I hypothesize it would evoke anger and defensive maneuvers, but then again, the gospel has always been divisive.

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