Tonight I read an article about the way churches manipulate music and atmosphere so that people achieve feelings of well-being and peace. It’s not the first time I’ve read something like this, though most of the articles I’ve read focus on Charismatic or Pentecostal experiences. This one didn’t. And being written by a musician, it went into more detail about the way the music manipulates emotion… and not just music in certain churches but music in general.

I think this sort of thing is why I still have trouble with prayer, Christian music, and church, in part. I see this sort of thing — manipulation of atmosphere, music, volume, tone — I want to join in slipping into that ‘state’… and pull back. What I always thought of as ‘feeling God’ has become a dangerous thing to me. When I’m in that state, I’m highly suggestible. It’s easy to believe anything I’m told. I want to believe, and because I feel a certain way I think I should believe whatever is being told. The feeling makes me feel special, and I want to think that everything is right about where I am.

And yet… and yet it isn’t. Not for me, not any more. For me that state, that feeling that church is safe and that God is near (in a Pentecostal church way, not in a “God is omnipresent” way) and that I’m special isn’t right and isn’t safe. Part of me wants to slip back into that place in what must be the same way that an addict wants to go back to their drug of choice. Another part of me wants to resist. It’s hard to resist, though, because to do that I shut down and block things out.

It’s hard for me to go to church. I’ve tried churches more or less like the one I left, fundamental churches, evangelical churches, and more liturgical churches. I’m frustrated. In many I feel the same feelings and see similar emotional or mental manipulation by way of music and atmosphere that I did in my former church. In others, I feel completely foreign because they are so very different than anything I’ve ever known.