I (Allie Henson) will never forget when, late in 2007, the price of wheat, rice, and barley spiked. Stories speculating the arrival of crisis-level food shortages were featured on the news. There was talk of super-inflation and food rationing, and I heard people quoting Revelation 6:6 not only in church, but in public settings: “A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny.” It was an economically unstable time, and all types of conjecture riddled conversations in workplaces, grocery stores, and bank lines—especially among Christians.
I had heard that local grocery stores had begun to limit the number of certain grain and rice products a customer could purchase at a time, but when I experienced the rationing firsthand, it still threw me. Somehow, the gravity of the situation was driven home in that single moment, and I immediately believed the reports of the food-supply shortage were valid. I remember seeing those around me give way to fear; many began stocking up food and supplies. I’ll admit that, during that season, I kept a very well-stocked pantry. To be sure, there’s a hunger problem throughout America and the rest of the world, and it’s prudent to be prepared. Yet, I eventually realized that those driving the panic were far removed from the problem itself. And while the shortages of certain foods were real, other groceries remained in healthy supply. But they weren’t brought into focus as an alternative—which would have helped reduce public panic (via utilization of the omission tactic). At least, not at first…
Then it happened: In January of 2008, the FDA announced that it had approved animal cloning for use in food-livestock resources. As we talked about earlier in this series, cloning had been a highly debated subject that met with much resistance, and its approval was worded in vague language. The administration’s response to consumer concern was dismissive and unspecific: “‘The milk and meat for cattle, swine and goat clones are as safe to eat as the food we eat every day,’ said Randall Lutter of the FDA.”[i]
For some, cloning anything brought moral questions to the forefront of discussion. However, setting aside the issue of ethics and morality, most people were simply “weirded out” by the idea of eating something that hadn’t been naturally bred. Those who opposed the approval of cloning also pointed out that lab-raised animals use the same amount of resources as naturally bred ones—on top of the additional costs involved in the cloning process. Thus, many questioned the true motives of the practice. They stated that cloning to create food was gratuitous and outlandish—not at all cost effective, and insisted that breeding healthy livestock would always be more practical than lab-generating any meat, for any reason. Add to this the ambiguity of the FDA’s guidelines regarding the process, and many of those watching were alarmed. A number of qualified, outspoken—but largely unheeded—critics called it a “huge, uncontrolled experiment on the American people,” for which there could potentially be “consequent effects the FDA has not yet looked at that could impact human health.”[ii] While some opponents of cloning arose, others were simply happy to see the headlines drift away from the topic of food shortage, hyper-inflation, and potential hunger-related riots. They were just glad “they” had found a way to feed us all again.
Do you see what happened there? Imagine strolling through the aisles of a grocery store and seeing labels that boast, “New, improved, lab-grown, cloned beef!” on display in the meat section. Gross. Few people would ever buy that. So what changed? A desperate time had fostered panic for many, causing them to consider an idea that previously hadn’t met their high standards. And, for those promoting the practice of cloning meat for the masses, this “crisis” provided a place and time to seize the moment and affirm their itinerary. While much of the population was hunkering down in fear, getting ready to “ride out the disaster” of the looming foot shortage, an opening presented itself through which those with dubious intentions could advance their alternate agendas. And, by the time this mind-job had taken place, many were relieved to see the very thing that they previously would not have accepted.
This is a recurring theme in society’s trends: When an idea meets adversity, it is withdrawn for a time, then reintroduced when it can be presented as the answer to a dire problem. (This will likely be a tactic utilized when the Mark of the Beast is implemented; more on this in a future chapter). The makers of the problem and solution are often one and the same, with the fear factor as their key selling point. You may have heard the adage that “some people make their own storms and then get mad when it rains.”[iii] There’s a lot of truth to that. But, what about those who create rainfall, then come out to sell their umbrellas? We should be on watch for such sinister peddlers.
Gaslighting is one of the most subversive of all the forms of manipulation, because its victims usually begin to doubt their own perception of reality. Despite their instincts to the contrary, they usually feel powerless because of their self-disbelief. Gaslighting involves a great deal of lying—but the deceit is subtle and is easily twisted to look like truth.
The term “gaslight” originates from the 1940 and 1944 films by the same name that have similar plots: A man planning to murder his wife first makes her believe that she is losing her mind or having a nervous breakdown. Items are moved around, the gas-fed lights seemingly adjust on their own, and other strange incidents occur; the young bride can’t account for these oddities, but feels she must be responsible. Her husband is behind these actions, but he feigns innocence. Reminding the young woman that mental illness runs in her family, he suggests that perhaps she is succumbing to similar weakness. At one point, he removes a painting from the wall, hides it, then insinuates that his bride has intentionally hidden it and forgotten it—a manipulation (among many others) that causes her to doubt her reality, her memory, and her sanity. It’s not until, with the help of a trusted friend, the young woman discovers her husband’s scheme and finally realizes that she is not losing her grip on reality.
This type of manipulation is very common in abusive relationships, as well as in bullying. It often develops over time, with the perpetrator, early on, lavishing praise and compliments on the future victim. The positive affirmations, however, slowly but steadily become infected with “a snide comment every so often…and then it starts ramping up. Even the brightest, most self-aware people can be sucked into gaslighting—it is that effective.”[iv] If the strategy is allowed to escalate, eventually the perpetrator can even assert that the one being duped hasn’t seen something the person knows he or she saw, and the latter will acquiesce, believing himself or herself to be confused.
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Perhaps you’ve known someone who speaks to you condescendingly—for example, a smooth-talking bully at work—but, when you attempt to recall precisely what the person said or did that was so offensive, you can’t pinpoint it. Gaslighters are sometimes so smooth that they can demean a family member or coworker in a room filled with other people, yet the jab can go unrecognized.
In talking about gaslighters, their victims often make statements such as, “It wasn’t what he said, it was really more how he said it.” Folks who tend to believe the best in people are inclined to be particularly vulnerable to this type of manipulation, because their propensity to give the benefit of the doubt immobilizes them; they become their own worst enemy. In fact, the power behind this strategy relies on the notion that the victims will question their certainty of reality, and they’ll even begin to perceive that they themselves are at the root of the problem. Using the example of an interaction with a condescending person, a target of this method may begin to wonder, “Maybe he wasn’t that way at all; maybe it’s me who is the problem. Maybe I’m judgmental. Maybe I need to work on self-improvement.” See how quickly this approach can morph from a situation of bullying to one of the attacked person resorting to self-blame? (This dynamic is rampant in situations of domestic abuse; often, one partner accepts the blame for aggravating the other’s temper, “causing” the other to lash out physically.)
In addition to the reality-questioning element of this approach is the fact that it often occurs slowly, over a period of time, and is mixed with positive reinforcement, which further incites confusion. For example, perhaps the condescending individual we’ve talked about earlier also pays you gratuitous compliments now and again. Considering the sometimes-disdainful words spoken by this person, these flattering statements will likely make you feel very good—a nice reprieve from all the negatives. This, in turn, fortifies the self-doubt: “He’s not such a bad guy; perhaps I am the problem…” For many, the result is an elevated effort to please the person out of the desire to rectify the problem and in hopes of finally gaining the gaslighter’s approval. Unfortunately, this response often feeds a narcissistic or self-gratifying aspect of their own personality; thus, attempts to please the other person meet even higher (although still subtle) demands—and peace in the relationship is never found.
For example, a man might, in a disgusted tone, tell his wife in the privacy of their bedroom, “You need some new dresses. You’ve gained so much weight since having the baby that none of those look good on you anymore.” Likely, his wife would rightfully feel insulted. Later, however, in a gathering such as a party, the man might smile and say, “I was just telling Lily I’d like to take her dress shopping this week.” Of course, this comment—out of context and presented differently than earlier—draws gleeful and even jealous smiles from Lily’s friends. But this isn’t how she is struck by the comment. For her, it’s a public reminder of the cruel reality that her husband has told her, in so many words, that she isn’t as attractive to him as she used to be. However, if she shows offense in front of their friends, he’ll feign innocence and say, “I’m just trying to spoil you, honey. After all, you deserve it, with all the work you’ve put in since the baby was born.” (This is the most common type of lying that occurs in gaslighting: spinning the truth to prevent victims from being able to back their own argument).
Then those at the gathering will no doubt tell Lily how very lucky she is to have a husband who cares about her enough to spoil her, and they’ll remark on how especially fortunate she is that he, unlike their own spouses, is willing to go shopping with her. However, later that week, when her husband takes her on that shopping trip, she is miserable, she feels fat or ugly in everything she tries on, and she doesn’t choose clothes based on her own preferences. Rather, she looks for something—anything—that he thinks she’s pretty in, hoping to finally meet his approval and fix the problems in their relationship. Likely she’ll see her own physical, post-baby body as the issue; she may respond to that by self-criticizing—a misdirected effort to get relief. Instead of seeing the gaslighting for what it is, she may turn to diet and exercise for help, but she could also even begin a dangerous venture into behaviors that lead to eating disorders.
On a large scale, gaslighting occurs in our society every day, although it can look a little different than the husband/wife example given here. When we discuss how it plays out across the populace, the first major symptom of gaslighting is that culture seems suspended in a state of constant questioning regarding reality. For example, nearly anyone these days will admit—even laughingly—that they’re not sure what news is true versus what’s fake. But this is no joking matter. Think about the implications of a population that’s become so accustomed to being lied to that even public news outlets are perceived as knowingly giving false information, and this is passively accepted. Consider the fact that, in 2016, candidate Hillary Clinton was simultaneously potentially headed for either prison or the presidency! How had we arrived at a world where the same person could be facing both possible futures at once? Our population no longer knows what’s real and what’s not. Elections of all types feel, to many, like charades put on to placate a public who will never really control the outcome. Selective omission of details in news reports cause us to wonder if events occurring or charges/accusations against public servants are truly represented. And, caught in the middle are the masses—who attempt to decipher what in the world around them is truly happening.
News broadcasters lie, and we take it in stride. Officials fib, and we accept it with resignation. We hear of organizational corruption and we shrug, unsurprised. Bankers operate shady dealings at our expense, yet we shake our heads and go about our day. We expect falsehoods from politicians of all ranks. Teachers, and, sadly, even a lot of preachers talk out of both sides of their mouths, and the wary population has grown mindful that when it comes to the public arena, nothing can be perceived as real.
As we touched on in the example of the husband gaslighting his wife, this type of manipulation often results in the victim’s willingness to self-improve in order to remedy the issue. Gaslighting plays out a little differently, however, when used on the masses. One reason is that there is no single entity to appease and gain the approval of (until the manifestation of Antichrist; more on that later). So those who mistrust nearly all the powers that be begin to shift their attention away from politicians, organizations, institutions, rulers, and—sadly, for those who’ve been let down by religious leaders—even God, and refocus it on causes. After all, people will let you down, right? But causes are worthy. To fix what is broken, many folks look to a world in need of help and search for a place to sow good seeds.
Understand that this can be a good thing. Our desire to make things better—whether in our relationships or in the world around us—is a reflection of the fact that we are made in the image of God. When He gave Adam dominion over the earth and when He ordered the first couple to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:26–28), He invited mankind to replicate the creative and nurturing process He had initiated during the first six days of Creation (Genesis 2:2). Our desire to “fix” what is wrong in the world is God-given and ordained. In fact, this innate, driving need is ultimately the desire for redemption; we want to find the missing part of our souls that allows us to be drawn to God.
Unfortunately, just as in the example of the gaslighting man and his wife, this yearning can be exploited, and it often is. Many give their hearts, hands, time, and resources to causes they deem worthy, but that ultimately exploit them. In such cases, passionate, earnest folks may begin the search for truth, justice, and world improvement with a wide-eyed, open-hearted zeal. Then, sadly, the enthusiasm of activism sometimes overrides discernment, and, depending on the cause, unwary people may find themselves on a bandwagon heading for a destructive destination.
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Polarize the Crowd via “Causes”
All of us, whether or not we’ll admit it, have the deep-seeded need to believe that our lives have purpose and meaning. As stated previously, in a world where truth is hard to find, many engage their efforts and resources in causes to try to meet this need. This is a simple, understandable, and even healthy concept that needs no elaboration. However, also as noted earlier, a compulsion toward activism can be exploited and abused. Sadly, when this occurs, those who have given their all to a movement are often left with little to show for their sacrifice. How can a motivation that starts out healthy become destructive? This occurs when the “cause” becomes the label by which people expend their energy, yet their connections with others are cut off. This may seem contradictory, but subtleties reveal when a cause is more destructive than it is good. Allow us to explain.
Many avenues of activism are based on a desire to help people. Obviously, lots of folks join up with this in mind. However, they may soon realize that it isn’t the “cause” itself that’s motivating them; it’s the fact that they want to help others. For example, if I (Allie Henson) join an effort to raise awareness regarding human equality, my compulsion isn’t about bolstering the words “human equality,” which are touted in numerous arenas every day. Rather, it’s about the fact that I have compassion on those who don’t yet enjoy equality in all of its fullness, and I want to help remedy that. Essentially, my motivation for participating in the movement is my concern for people, not for the cause itself. As such, the program I join is merely a vehicle I use to take me to my goal regarding people.
Unfortunately, this simple line is often blurred; as a result, people who serve in movements that occupy similar spaces but who don’t see eye to eye often begin to see each other as enemies. This happens often, and is a sad exploitation of the energies of those who became activists so they could help people. Sadly, it divides them against their neighbors. In these cases, the movement itself hijacks the passions of those involved, and the connection to fellow humanity they sought—what motivated them to begin with—is unwittingly traded for loyalty to a faction.
The danger of a society that becomes heavily involved in pursuing causes is easily seen when it becomes divided against itself, which we see in spades during this current tumultuous time. Rather than having a population that unites to make the world a better place, many are at war with one another over issues such as methods, political correctness, and expenditures of resources. Soon, the good intentions behind the movement’s original goals are buried in division that turns the very individuals who joined to improve society against each other on the basis of technicalities.
Unfortunately, an added danger in activism is that, at the administrative and structural levels, causes are susceptible to being seized by individuals who have self-serving or ulterior motives. Considering the current state of events in our country, it’s easy to see that many organizations founded with good intentions have transformed into entities far different from what their original founders had in mind. This is the case with political movements, charities, philanthropic efforts, and, sadly, even religious institutions. Many of these were built upon the compassion, resources, dreams and visions, energy, blood, sweat, and tears of their originators, but subsequently, they evolved into something that more closely resembles a corporate machine.
Endeavors that begin with good intentions can become the means by which people are exploited, but we see it happen every day. Many of the movements that our young generations are caught up in are highly divisive—even when they operate under the heading of “equality.” Those who disagree with a particular worldview are considered enemies or radicals who should be feared, their statements even labeled “hate speech.” In such cases, those who once viewed the world as a place where all should be lovingly accepted soon find that they, themselves, cannot accept another because of these clashing perspectives.
Here is the crux of the issue: “Causes” are not people, and those who serve in them but lose sight of surrounding humanity are misled. Additionally, those who become detached from the original dream of these crusades’ founders can quickly realize they are passengers on a machine that has captured and derailed their original passions. Activism is only a vehicle by which one’s desire to connect with other human beings manifests. When it separates rather than unites people, the participants’ motives are exploited. Because of this, no one can find fulfillment by serving a movement, because the link with other human beings can perpetually be severed in the process. When the group is separated, it’s a type of sociocultural civil war (this is what we saw in our cities in 2020). In this way, movements that masquerade as the glue holding people together actually divide them, tying up resources, energy, and time. The sad cost is that the population—comprised of many who earnestly strive to make the world a better place in their own way—loses hope, feels defeated, and feels farther removed from finding truth (exacerbating the large-scale gaslighting going on). That which promises supporters a place of belonging and the pride of accomplishment only reveals rifts with fellow man. In this way, social and political causes can be (but aren’t always) the secular world’s counterfeit substitute for the camaraderie Jesus intended when He brought the Church Body together to bring light to the world. When they fall into this category, they always leave followers empty.
UP NEXT: Learned Helplessness
[i] “FDA Approves Cloned Meat for Consumption,” January 16, 2008. ABC News Online. Last accessed April 19, 2017, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/story?id=4142120&page=1.
[iii] Rodenhizer. Samuel. “Some People Create Their Own Storms and Then Get Mad When It Rains.” Quotation Celebration. August, 24, 2018. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://quotationcelebration.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/some-people-create-their-own-storms-and-then-get-mad-when-it-rains-unknown/.
[iv] Sarkis, Stephanie. “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting.” Psychology Today. January 22, 2017. Accessed November 6, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting.