Many of us have seen the big wooden cross displayed right in front of the University of Arizona Bookstore Starbucks. Beside it, a group of familiar faces hand out fake million dollar bills with images of Jesus Christ featured on the front. They hand out these bills eagerly and do not seem to care whether you accept their offer or not. They give us pamphlets anyway, describing all of the countless ways we are sinners. They smile and ask us if we think we are going to hell. Often, these questions make students visibly uncomfortable. Most of us are just trying to grab our iced coffee and get to class.
Whether you are a Christian, a Buddhist or an atheist — it really doesn’t matter. The religious groups on campus often go way too far and their style of student outreach is both inappropriate and predatory. These groups target students — young people — who are more impressionable and susceptible to the harsh notions being pushed upon them.
After receiving the infamous fake million dollar bill (after a few no thank you's), I found its content to be particularly interesting. One particular highlight being the sentence “If I keep rejecting Jesus and choosing sin, it will lead me to hell forever.” No email, no church hours or any other useful information — just threatening sentences with empty meaning. With this, I am reminded of what feels like playground bullying. Do this, or I’m gonna tell the teacher!
As I read this fake money, I cannot help but wonder what the benefits are for any respectable organization (religiously affiliated or not) to scare and bully their audience into joining.
The answer is short and simple — they don’t want to genuinely inform students of their beliefs, they want to manipulate them. After months of observing the way they approach students, it's more than obvious most of these groups’ efforts are both systematic and strategic.
It’s common knowledge that college students are shifting and changing every single day. We are all still figuring out who we are, what we want and what we believe in. At a time when most of our minds aren’t even developed yet, this intense and manipulative way of speaking to students is unacceptable on campus.
An excerpt from Freedom from Fear Magazine touches on how phobia indoctrination is an emotional control technique, typically relying on threats like “going to hell” or being judged for eternity. While this may seem extreme compared with the seemingly harmless groups we see on campus, it really is not too far from our reality. There is a reason why these specific religious groups and cults alike go about their outreach in a rather unconventional way — for the same reason they do it on college campuses instead of public parks.
Unfortunately, their influence relies solely on fear and guilt tactics used in an attempt to herd in young and impressionable students.
It is within human nature, especially in young people, to create some sort of a brand for ourselves. We seek labels, groups that we can belong to just for the sake of belonging to one. As a society, we have created an unsaid importance of fitting someplace, being a part of something.
For the most part, this notion is almost entirely harmless. Whether it’s in GreekLife or clubs, students have a way to involve themselves with any organization that is of interest to them. This norm becomes problematic, however, when there are plenty of students who do not find themselves being able to place within any one of those groups.
According to a sociologist in a Heather R. Hayes article, a group provides safety, security and comfort, a sometimes dangerous combination when mixed with the desire to belong that is so often synonymous with being young. It is unfortunate to think that these religious groups on campus know this, and continue to prey on students needing a sense of belonging the most.
With this, I would encourage students here on campus to be mindful and aware of these kinds of groups on campus. Whether it’s evangelists or a club about saving puppies, no organization should try to scare you into joining.
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Olivia is a freshman who has yet to declare her major. She enjoys reading, foreign films and poetry in her free time