There seems to be a modern resurgence of the Christian charismatic movement that is focused largely on evangelizing young people, hyper-emotional worship services, and “experiences” with the “Holy Spirit”. The kids these new ministries are reaching out for are largely between the ages of 10 and 18 and tend to take on a very “Jesus Camp” like atmosphere. Some of the trends I’ve seen in these groups I find rather disturbing because of my own past experience with similar groups.
When I was little (between 6 and 10 if my memory serves correctly), I attended a Charismatic Pentecostal church – of the Church of God denomination. There was always the typical fire-breathing and fear mongering but with that was coupled this amazing experience….what I was told to believe was the result of God’s “Holy Spirit”, the third person of the Hypostatic Union – or Trinity that identifies the currently “orthodox” Christian deity. The experience was amazing, for lack of a better word. I remember this feeling of euphoria as I begged God to bless me with his physical presence – a heat would overwhelm my body, I shook uncontrollably, cried tears of joy, and sometimes when the pastor or evangelist would pray with me directly lost the ability to stay on my two feet – a phenomena called being “Slain in the Spirit“. These experiences were magnified when I would attend a yearly summer camp – it was like a week long charismatic church service – kinda like the one in this video except with mostly kids under the age of 12 and in a dark room with a full light show like at a rock concert:
*Watch this whole video, an excerpt from Jesus camp – it’s something important for people to see.
These experiences, for many many years, solidified my belief in god – they were physical evidences of spiritual truths that my god had gifted me with the ability to experience. I still remember them strongly and I still feel that immense “heart tug” when I hear the sort of worship music that was present during those times…if ever an atmosphere was ripe for manipulation of young minds it was this one and I was it’s victim.
Today I’m not really writing to tell my story – I’m writing to try to explain the dangers of experiences like these pose to young people and how some of these youth will ultimately be let down by these experiences and why they, as great as they may seem, are the result of psychosomatic responses to emotional over-stimulation.
At this point in our understanding of human psychology and development we know that young people are more susceptible to manipulation of all sorts, more often that not those that remain in charismatic churches and uphold charismatic beliefs are those that are either born into the movement or are young when they get into it….it appeals to that lack of emotional maturity that so many young people have as well as the overwhelming lack of critical thinking skill that make them the perfect candidates for this newly emergent version of Christianity.
For me, these experiences eventually turned into a pursuit for more of god…almost like a better fix on your drug of choice, it becomes insatiable. This pursuit consumed me and had me on my face seeking “him” often – this pursuit and the eventual let down it became made me into the the atheist I am today. Yes, seeking god’s presence ultimately brought me to this place the moment I realized just how easily my emotions and emotional ineptitude could have lead up to the experiences I had already had and brought me ultimately to question the weight of experiences in determining truth. I had to reject those experiences, something many can never do because of the crippling fear instilled in them from an early age, in order to reject the god I had. That fear, coupled with this incredibly emotionally subjective experience are a cruel way of gaining converts.
So why do these experiences seem so very real?
The answer is quite simple, but somewhat complex to truly understand – the art of Hypnosis and Suggestion as originally coined by Franz Mesmer, is the ability to suggest to an individual or group under the right conditions as to what will occur and to have that prophecy of sorts come true. It can be complex or simple, intentional and completely accidental, but it is very very possible. For instance:
Let’s say you are at one of these emotionally thick worship services for the first time, the lights are very dim, the music is emotionally charged, and you are convinced that “god’s holy spirit” is bound to show up- and you want him too…you are a Christian already, but you’ve never had an experience with god. The music fades, though the band keeps playing lightly and slowly, the minister takes the floor. He talks about how he’s a sinner and completely unworthy of all the goodness that his god gives him, he talks about how god loves us despite our near constant failings and imperfections, and eventually he’ll talk about how he can feel god there now in the room with you…and you feel it too – it’s this pressure around your heart and your lungs, the hair on your arms and neck stands up.
The minister makes an altar call and a few of the people around you walk up and you can see them have what seems to be an incredible experience. The minister is laying hands on them and praying, they are falling on the floor, crying, their skin red with heat, some of them are talking in strange languages and you can’t wait any longer…you’ve got to have this.
Another minister walks up to you, he asks you if you want to experience god and you know that you want nothing more so you say “yes”, already crying, anticipating what you’ve already seen. He asks god to touch you and lays his hands on your head and your knees buckle and you fall straight back, luckily someone is already there to catch you and lay you down gently – you saw them move behind you out of the corner of your eye as soon as the minister walked up to you but you didn’t care then and you really don’t care now….all you can think about is god, Jesus, and how much he loves you and how much you want to give everything up just to follow him.
Who knows how long you stay there, an hour or maybe two. The heat you feel leaves your shirt soaking wet with your sweat, and when you open your eyes the lights are on, there are a few other bodies on the floor but for the most part the music has stopped, there are a few people your age talking in one of the corners and the minister is talking to another group across the way. You can’t really explain what just happened, but you liked it, you want it to happen again and if you can you want to help others feel it too… this is better than any drug.
What have you just experienced? It certainly feels real – I know this from experience, and essentially it is real, but is it what you thought it was? Did you just encounter the almighty? I’m afraid not, what you’ve just experienced is a carefully designed set of suggestions that resulted in your being convinced in what was going to happen and your mind submitting itself to those suggestions in a process called Hypnotic Suggestion and it works because not only are you made open to suggestion by the music, mood, and lighting of the service but those things are amplified by your willingness to experience god in a tangible way. For an outsider looking in that knows what to look for the suggestions don’t seem very subtle at all…the minister will use words like “fire” to describe the “Holy Spirit”, speak in tongues at random times, and often times describe what it is that you “should” feel because of the presence of god.
The suggestions become more blatant during the altar call as you begin to see the more seasoned charismatics go up to the altar and react to the suggestions being made or that were made at previous services like this. When you see them fall or speak in tongues you’ve just been victim to the suggestion that this is normal, this is to be expected – if you love god you will experience this. Most people will and the only reason they do is because they are convinced that they will.
Derren Brown is a British illusionist and atheist that has two amazing videos on this very subject entitled: “Instant Conversion” Part 1 and Part 2. In the videos you can see him perform some of these same examples of suggestion in a much more sterile environment, keep in mind that there is no mood lighting or music involved with the subjects in these video’s which are a very big half of the whole equation of the New Charismatic resurgence – also remember that he is an atheist, using these suggestions to cause individuals that don’t believe in god to have a physical and emotional reaction that convinces many of them that a god does exist.
From one extreme of religion to the more subtle and quiet conversion, techniques like this are used to render people too emotionally inept to respond to suggestions with reason. Therefore even in the quietest churches making the suggestion that god is pulling on your hearts strings can be all that it takes for one to feel what you will perceive as god and to respond to any further suggestion from the minister in the same way – this is the stuff conversion experiences are made of and they exist in nearly all religions following the very same formula, they can range from the very simple and subtle to the complex and over the top.
One thing I don’t want to convey here is that all of the ministers that do this sort of thing are necessarily doing this intentionally. I’ve been involved in many roles in these sort of services, from the guy playing the music, to the person rushing to catch the soon to fall, and even as the minister laying hands and praying on someone thirsty for a taste of god and I can say with 100% certainty that I never, at any time, intentionally mislead anyone or suggested anything to anyone. Despite the fact that I was following a formula that has been used for hundreds of years in the Charismatic movement to the T, I had no idea that this was anything other than god’s “anointing” on my life that I had experienced hundreds of times.
The suggestions I made were unintentional, they were the result of my experience with the same formula and it had just become second nature to me because it was what worked. When I would lay hands on the head of some young person that I new was wanting nothing more than to experience god I truly believed that god’s “holy spirit” was running from my hands to their head and through their body. It wasn’t. It was their brain playing tricks on them through a combination of their desires and my actions. I believe that most ministers that perform this sort of ministry have no clue that they are manipulating minds in times of weakness, then again some do know very well exactly what they are doing.
If you’ve ever fallen prey to something like this, if you’ve been to a service where you felt emotionally insecure or inordinately open to suggestion then I hope that you will take this opportunity to examine how real this experience actually was. I hope that you will question what actually occurred and that you will guard in the future from any attempt to subvert your mind. If you are a minister and this is part of what you do…just think about it. Now you’ve got all that you need to determine how true the words on this page are…do you care enough to research? Do you care enough to stop?
This was another of a long list of things that I had to be willing to question before I could be free from the Christian faith.