Q: “What is the devil’s favorite tactic? How does he manipulate people?” - Gregory M.
A: It’s so important to understand the devil’s tactics so that you can be prepared for them and so you can recognize them when they are being used. And while there are sever tactics he uses all the time, there is one tactic he uses with every single person.
We humans have a natural weakness built into our brains that he loves to exploit in order to control us. To illustrate that weakness, let me tell you a true story. I’ll warn you, it’s pretty disturbing, but important to hear.
Several years ago there was a very strange series of crimes done by a very disturbed, but intelligent man. The man would call up fast food restaurants and talk to the employees pretending to be some position of authority. Sometimes he would pretend to be law enforcement, sometimes an owner of the franchise. By simply talking to the employees over the phone and without any kind of threat he eventually got them to sexually molest and abuse innocent customers and employees.
Sound impossible? Well, you aren’t alone. The incidents shocked psychologists and sociologists all over the world. How could this man possibly have convinced these seemingly normal employees to do such horrible things?
The answer seems too simple to be true, but it is. The way he accomplished these feats was to slowly stair-step his instructions to escalate the severity of their actions. You’d think there would come a point where the employees would draw the line and say NO. But, in reality, that doesn’t happen if the escalation is slow enough.
You see, when we evaluate our actions we don’t look at the big picture and compare the action or thought to what God says. Instead, we evaluate our actions based on how it relates to what we’re already doing.
Here’s how it works. When faced with a small easy morally-neutral decision, we don’t have any problem making it. But, then we’re faced with another decision that’s only slightly immoral but still perfectly understandable. We may feel a little conflicted with it, but it’s easy to justify to ourselves. Then later we’re faced with another decision that is a little less justifiable. But, because we’ve already justified the last decision, it’s easy to justify this one because it’s not much worse.
Everyone has the need deep inside to believe they are a good person. This need is so strong that our brains will do some crazy things to convince ourselves of our goodness, even to the point of creating delusions. And no, you aren’t immune from it.
Once we’ve made a morally questionable decision, even if it was perfectly justified, our brains are faced with a conflict. Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance” and it’s something our brains absolutely hate and will do almost anything to resolve. On one hand, our brains believe that we’re a good person, but conflicting with that is this morally questionable thing we did. Our brain has to resolve this conflict. Either it has to change its belief that we’re a good person, or it has to change its belief that the action was morally questionable.
Because of the strong need to believe that we’re a good person, our brain will do whatever it has to do to change the belief that the action was morally questionable. This is done through some type of “justification”.
Early on in the “stair stepping”, the decisions are very easy to justify. For instance, making an accusation on a customer and insisting that they go into the back for questioning, that’s easily justifiable if you believe they’ve been stealing from the store and a high authority figure told you to do it.
But, as things start to slowly escalate your brain is put into a really hard situation. The new decision you’re faced with is harder to justify, but it’s so similar to the last decision you made and justified that if you had to admit this new decision is immoral then you’d have to admit that the justification you made last time is wrong.
So now your brain is faced with a conflict and to resolve it you must either believe you actually weren’t justified for the previous decisions you made and are thus NOT a good person, or you have to somehow continue to justify the new action.
As the new decisions you’re faced with escalate, so have the previous decisions you’ve already made. As long as you are faced with decisions that are close enough to the last one to cause this conflict, you will continue to justify it in your own mind.
The end result, in the fast food caller case is employees justifying to themselves the sexual molestation and abuse of other people.
The devil is very aware of this weakness of ours and uses it to his benefit. And no one is exempt. There’s not one person alive that the devil has not successfully used this technique on. That includes me, and it includes you.
I’ve seen many a husband or wife end up cheating on their spouse because things slowly escalated from something they were easily able to justify all the way to doing something they never thought they would ever do.
What should we do?
That’s why it’s so important to always judge any potential decision by God’s standards. If you have to admit that you’ve been making mistakes and sinning, that’s okay. Stop holding on to the belief that you’re a good person and admit that you are a sinner and it is only through Jesus’s sacrifice that you are saved.
The more willing you are to admit this, the easier it will be to make the right decision despite previously making the wrong ones.
And remember, we are not compared to other Christians, we are compared to God’s perfection. So just because every other Christian at your church does it, doesn’t mean it’s okay. And just because someone in authority may have okay’d it, doesn’t mean that it’s actually okay. And just because you can find some way to justify it to yourself, doesn’t mean that it’s not a sin.
And that’s true whether you work at a fast food restaurant or not!