Palm Bay, Florida
With nearly 20 years of writing experience, I am turning my attention to something near and dear to my heart; the Catholic Church. I have written screenplays, books, short stories, magazine/E-zine articles, opinion pieces, ad copy, web content and more. Now, I would like to contribute something new and inspiring to Catholicism.
Category: Education & Research
Start Date: September 20, 2016
My name is Oliver J. Olinger, and I am a writer, linguist, and Catholic theologian. I received training in linguistics and interrogation from the U.S. Marine Corps, where I completed my degree in Arabic Language and Cultural Studies. I currently work as a freelance copy/web content writer on several online marketplaces. And I have studied body language extensively for the past 15 years. I continue to be shocked that virtually no work is being done to define and study body language in the context of Catholicism and Apologetics. Therefore, I am embarking on a mission to create an institute devoted to the study of body language in the light of Catholic doctrine. This will include an informative, educational blog, a book, and eventually some educational seminars.
Apologetics almost necessarily involves a tense meeting of opposing forces, one in defense of Catholicism and one in defense of some other creed or belief system. Defensiveness is the common denominator, regardless. Since much of human interaction and communication is non-verbal and, more often than not, unconscious, it can be hugely beneficial to the apologist to become familiar with the interpretation of human body language. We can say all of the right words in an Apologetics situation, but if those words are landing on deaf ears behind a shield of defensive posturing and a mood of general resistance, our "right words" may all be for naught. The right words can be much more effective if we can successfully lower our opponent's defenses, break through their worries, and give off the impression (through our own, tailored body language) that we are present not as an enemy but as a friend attempting only to present a personal, heart-felt case and to build a productive rapport. The proper understanding and use of body language techniques allows the apologist to communicate directly with his opponent's limbic (unconscious, instinctive) brain. In this way, the apologist can cultivate positive emotional responses, hone in on and dispel unconscious worries or anxieties, and deliver his or her own words in a way designed to make the most constructive impact possible.
This fundraiser is necessary for me to complete this project, as it is a massive undertaking. I am a husband and father to a beautiful family of six, and I am the sole earner in my household. My family depends on the income I generate through my freelance writing activities, so if I am to create a website, coordinate expert contributors, and write a detailed, well-researched book about body language and Apologetics I must first ensure that there is no interruption in that income. I anticipate that it will take three to six months to complete the book and produce enough content to launch the website/blog. I will do my best to launch the institute and to finish the book regardless of the outcome of this fundraising campaign, but if I fall substantially short it will take me much longer to complete. If I raise more than the stated goal, any excess funds will be used to produce educational videos, hold seminars, and to fund research projects. Those who contribute will get a free copy of the book, signed by yours truly. I thank you for taking the time to read my plea and I look forward to writing this book for the benefit of Catholics everywhere. I pray that this book will inspire others to devote time and resources to the Catholic/Christian study of body language sciences. Attached below is my introductory chapter:
Apologetics and Body Language
by Oliver J. Olinger
Catholic Apologetics involves the instructive, systematic defense of Christian principles and doctrines through the use of carefully constructed, informative statements and Socratic Method-styled questions designed to stand up to harsh criticism. By using apologetics correctly, a Catholic becomes equipped with a variety of effective, dialectic tools contrived in such a way as to apply correct human reasoning and logic to the tenets of the Catholic Faith.
For example, in refuting the concept of Sola Scriptura (the Protestant belief that all religious authority begins and ends with the Bible), the Catholic apologist might suggest that the first Christians did not have a Bible for several centuries, and that the Bible itself was compiled via Church Authority. How did Christianity survive and thrive without the Bible for so long if there was no authority outside of it? And if the authority of the Church was responsible for codifying the Bible in the first place, why would that authority suddenly end at that point?
Rather, the original Church authorities assembled sacred scripture into a universal arrangement, which would then become a reference for divine influence and teaching. Since Bibles had to be handwritten at first (centuries before the introduction of the printing press), the only copies resided in Churches and were primarily used to support the teaching authority of Catholic clergymen. It was never meant to supplant preexisting oral traditions, the writings of the saints and Church Doctors, and other such sources of Catholic teaching in the realm of Christian culture, political science, economics, philosophy, art, literature, etc.
Another good example of apologetics which can be hugely beneficial in today's agnostic, secular environment is St. Thomas Aquinas's Five Proofs of the existence of God. Some people claim either that they don't believe God actually exists or that His existence can't be proved through human reason. But St. Thomas Aquinas, using his highly-developed faculties of rational thought, proved the very real, very observable existence of God using five, inarguable proofs. (This is not the venue to expound on all five proofs, as they have been exhaustively written about elsewhere. Suffice it to say, there are five proofs, and they are very convincing. For purposes of this example, however, we'll just focus on one of them.)
If you are dealing with a person who refuses to believe in the existence of God, who also refuses to deny the Big Bang Theory, you can explain this concept: “If nothing had ever existed at any point in the past, then nothing would or could ever exist either before or after that point.” Nothing can come from nothing, so the “big bang” that started the entire Universe (if such an event really did take place) must necessarily have required that something be present beforehand; one thing that existed and another thing that interacted with it in such a way as to result in a “bang.” And if something ever existed, even the total destruction of everything would leave at least something in its wake; some sort of ruins or debris… which of course is something, not nothing. That something that is necessarily always present, regardless of the state of everything else, is what Catholics call God.
This book, however, is not about apologetics directly, although many examples of apologetics (such as the two already mentioned) will be used in order to illustrate certain points. There are many, many books, websites and college courses on apologetics, and I cannot hope to add anything new to such a massive library of information. Instead, this book will focus on the way in which apologetics are delivered and how one can tell whether or not that information is being received well by the listener.
Only a small percentage of human communication is done through spoken dialog. Experts often disagree on what that percentage is (I've read that spoken words account for as little as 7% of communication or as high as 70%). Suffice it to say, body language and non-verbal communication account for a sizable portion of human interaction and communication. Our brains have been extensively studied and mapped through the use of recent technological developments in neurological science, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
Scientists have discovered that the neocortex area of the brain “lights up” when we are thinking, speaking, and otherwise operating at a conscious level. The limbic part of the brain (the part responsible for instinctual, biological thought) “lights up” when unconscious events take place. For example, when a person is nervous their leg may bounce up and down uncontrollably, without that person even taking notice of the event. While this is occurring, the limbic portion of the brain will be very active while the conscious part of the brain remains comparatively calm. Because of this, the limbic brain, sometimes called the “honest” brain by body language experts, speaks in a language that can be learned by an astute observer. And this “language” can also be consciously controlled through practice, in order to pick and choose what types of non-verbal information will be communicated by our own bodies.
Even without a formal education in body language, we are all unconsciously aware of it to some degree. Have you ever been standing with someone, chatting with them, and suddenly felt that they were trying to leave or impatiently attempting to get out of the conversation even though they continue to act engaged and to converse in a friendly manner? Next time this happens, look down at that person's legs and feet. Are both feet pointed towards you, or is one of them pointed elsewhere... like towards the nearest exit, for example? Our limbic brains point us in the direction we wish to go, and feet rarely lie in these situations. That “feeling” you had was essentially your unconscious mind catching-on to their non-verbal communication. You perceived that they were ready to stop talking and go about their day. Equipped with the proper knowledge and practice, you will be able to interpret these non-verbal clues consciously and incorporate whatever information is conveyed therein into your responses and reactions. The study and practice of apologetics can benefit immeasurably from the study of body language, non-verbal communication, and basic Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
First and foremost, the practice of apologetics involves fickle, unstable emotions and defensive posturing right from the start. Even if an apologetics session is approached through the spirit of formal debate and rational dialog the parties present will be actively defending their own positions to the best of their abilities. Because of this, stand-offish behavior and body language is very common in apologetics and can be easily observed. Observation and translation of body language, however, is only the first step in a process which can, if properly used, assist in driving home the various arguments and theological concepts of the apologist. Once he spots a certain type of body language, like defensiveness or self-pacifying behaviors, the apologist must know how he can orchestrate his own body language in such a way as to break through those defenses and to offer pacifying support from himself.
If you are seated across a table from your opponent (for so he is in the context of a debate) and he is leaning back with folded arms in an effort to distance himself from the argument, you might want to move around to his side of the table so you can sit next to him. This will convey to his limbic brain that he is no longer standing downrange of the proverbial firing squad, and that you are willing to work with him, alongside him, as equals. This can result in the lowering of his defenses and leave his mind more open to your words. If, however, someone is exhibiting aggressive, domineering body language, it would be hugely beneficial to know that mirroring such body language is the best way to convey a non-verbal message of “I will not be subdued.” Apologetics works best if the opponent sees the apologist as his equal, not as his tormentor nor his inferior.
In the aforementioned example of Sola Scriptura, a body language-conscious apologist can identify when his opponent is turned off by “Catholic” and “Catholic teaching” terminology. Many protestants are conditioned over long years to turn their ears off at the very mention of the word “Catholic.” This may be done unconsciously, even if the opponent is attempting to approach the apologetics session with an open mind. If signs of defensiveness, disgust, or contempt are present the apologist can use the terms “Christian” and “Christian teaching” instead of “Catholic” and “Catholic teaching.” As Catholics, we can use these terms interchangeably without any significant loss in our meaning. Protestants are used to referring to themselves as Christian, and very few people disagree with the concept that early Christians were, in fact, Christians. This small change can also serve to build a sense of camaraderie as opposed to highlighting the division between Catholics and other “Christians.”
Concerning the above, St. Thomas Aquinas example, a knowledge of basic Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) can help you to drive your point home in your opponent's mind. When someone claims to be an atheist on scientific grounds, a competent apologist will turn the conversation towards science. You can mention some of the generally-accepted scientific accomplishments of the Church (such as Augustinian Friar Gregor Mendel's theory of dominant and recessive genes, for example), and use an anchoring technique with each new item in the list. An anchoring technique can range from a soft touch on a specific part of the hand or arm, to tapping a pen on the table in a specific pattern. Then, when you mention Aquinas' Proof, use the same anchoring technique one more time. This will recall thoughts of valid scientific accomplishment in the mind of your opponent.
Some might say that there is no reason to incorporate the study of body language and NLP into Apologetics. Apologetics, to some, is about making a reasonable case for Catholicism and leaving the rest to God. But if there are certain methods in place that can vastly improve the delivery of that case so much so that a person who might not have taken the time to consider your points beforehand, actually finds himself seriously considering Catholic teaching… wouldn't that be worth looking into? At its foundation, the reading of body language is simply a highly developed form of tactfulness, perceptiveness, charity, and humility. If you're trying to sell a car, and you notice that your potential customer is uncomfortable, defensive, and closed off, you would obviously want to put them at ease before proceeding. If you see that potential customer sitting there with arms crossed, leaning away from you, with expressions of contempt on their face, and you say, “Well, you'd be stupid if you don't buy this car. It's obviously better than all of the other cars and if you can't see that, you're wrong,” how well do you suppose that will work?
There is certainly something to be said for “leaving the rest to God.” In the end, He will either move their heart, or they will deny His guidance. But I would caution all would-be apologists to be very careful with the “leave the rest to God” approach. If you have truly tried your best, and implemented every technique you know to help someone see the light of Truth, then yes… there comes a point when your resources are tapped and you must to leave the rest to God. If, however, you don't want to put in the necessary effort to become more skilled and more effective as a Catholic apologist… then “leaving the rest to God” becomes an excuse for not exerting the time and effort necessary to hone your skill.
This book is arranged into three parts. The first section introduces basic human body language, including an analysis of conflicting theories from a Catholic point of view. Next, we will look at the types of body language one is likely to see in a religious conversation involving Apologetics, and how a practiced understanding of body language can be utilized and implemented by the apologist. The final section is more theoretical and will suggest possible methods of implementing Apologetics NLP in an effort to associate positive emotional responses with Catholic ideas and imagery. These techniques are NOT meant to be used in an aggressively manipulative manner. Rather, they are designed to help the apologist to be sensitive to their opponent's mental state, cultural and societal affiliations, and any other sensitive preconceptions while maintaining the forward momentum of the Apologetics session, so the main purpose of this book is to strive to avoid triggering defensive behavior.
Unfortunately, the author of this book does not have the resources to run a plethora of experiments in order to prove or disprove these theories. This book is meant to assist the apologist in their efforts to lead non-Catholics to the fullness of Faith. For the more academically-minded, this book may serve as a starting point for further research and experimentation, which will hopefully serve to improve the success rate of Apologetics training over time.