Evangelism and “The Neg”

When I worked at a coffee shop I observed a man in line make a rude comment and a woman who did not know him said, “There are ladies present.” He said, “Where?” She then spent the rest of her time in line explaining her lady-ness to him. Then she sat at his table. It blew my mind. I later learned from conversation with a co-worker to whom I explained this event that this is a flirting device known as “the neg.”

According to Dr. Jeremy Nicholson, there is a well known-mechanism for this guy’s success. Here’s his explanation of the research:

Walster (1965) investigated the influence of momentary self-esteem on receptivity to the romantic advances of a stranger. The researcher arranged for a group of female participants to interact with a male research assistant who flirted with them. The female participants were then given positive or negative personality test feedback. After their self-esteem was increased or decreased in that way, they were asked to rate their liking for the male research assistant.

The results of the study indicated that women who had their self-esteem temporarily lowered found the male research assistant significantly more attractive than the women with temporary high-self esteem. Walster (1965) theorized that this effect occurred for two reasons. First, individuals who feel “imperfect” themselves may demand less in a partner. Second, a person usually has an increased need for acceptance and affection when their self-esteem is low. Overall then, when an individual is made to feel “low”, they find potential romantic partners more attractive.

Research by Gudjonsson and Sigurdsson (2003) explored the relationship between self-esteem and compliance with requests. Both male and female participants were asked to complete various measures of self-esteem, compliance, and coping behaviors. The results of their analysis supported the hypothesis that individuals with lower self-esteem are more compliant and agreeable to the requests of others. Thus, lower self-esteem appears to lead to greater compliance with requests (or demands) as well.

Anyway, this reminds me of the version of evangelism which involves asking people this series of questions:

  1. Do you think you’re a good person?
  2. Have you ever lied?
  3. What do you call a liar?
  4. Have you ever coveted?
  5. Have you ever murdered? The Bible says that whoever hates his brother has committed murder.
  6. So you’re a lying covetous murder?
  7. Are you a good person?
  8. If God judged you on the last day, what would you have to say for yourself?

This puts the person experiencing this onslaught into a similar state of lowered self-esteem and may make them more willing to listen to the offer of mercy made by God on the cross.

I’m not opposed to using rhetoric to help people believe the gospel. Paul used it. The question is whether or not the rhetoric has substance behind it and whether or not it can help people come to believe the gospel is true rather than merely comply with the requests of a person who made them feel bad. I’m neither for nor against using this technique to evangelize. I just noticed the similarity when I was thinking about sweet and sour sauce today.

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