The Emperor Has No Clothes
Part 1: The Chicken Little Syndrome and Spirituality By Lawrence A. Pile
These three articles document some of the mind control going on in churches throughout the land. These movements borrow from ancient wineskins movements flooding the church with new wine. The Jubilee is another code word or affect image borrowed from the Pope's 1987 call for Jubilee 2000. No two sites agree with one another perfectly but truth is where we can find it and pass it on to create an open, honest dialog of the Word. Kenneth Sublett.
Several years ago, while living south of Oakland, California, a couple of friends and I drove to Berkeley to visit a couple of bookstores near the University of California. It was a Saturday and parking places were scarce. After driving around the Telegraph Avenue area several times (and ignoring my friends'advice that I do what many others had done and park illegally) I finally found a spot by a parking meter. I quickly pulled in and we set off on our bookstore prowl. While browsing in one store, I suddenly realized I had neglected to put a quarter in the parking meter! I had been so intent on parking legally, that I had ended up nevertheless parking illegally! By now I figured I had already received a ticket from the diligent meter cops that roamed the area. However, returning to the car after a couple hours of shopping, I was surprised and elated to find no ticket on my windshield! Half in jest, I exclaimed to my friends, "It's a good thing God looks out for children and idiots!"
Many years before that incident I might not have said that in any degree of jest. I had come to believe that almost every event in life was directly caused by God for some purpose. I now know that such a view is much too simplistic, and ultimately can lead one to take less responsibility for one's own actions. As a child growing up in a residential suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, I learned a different, but similar, way of thinking that had the opposite consequence of assuming too much responsibility for my actions. Perhaps you, too, learned the frightening "fact" that if you stepped on a crack in the sidewalk you would "break your mother's back." Or if you walked under a ladder, looked in a cracked mirror, or had a black cat walk across your path you would have bad luck. Like you, though, as I grew older I learned that such "facts" are false, and I needn't fear breaking my mother's back or bringing bad luck on myself by such things. (However, I frequently found myself stepping over sidewalk cracks "just in case"!)
These superstitions ar call the "Chicken Little Syndrome." You remember the story. Chicken Little was sleeping under an oak tree when, "out of the blue," an acorn hit him on the head and woke him up. Not knowing what hit him, Chicken Little reached the only "logical" conclusion he could think of: the sky was falling! Having reached this conclusion, he then ran around "like a chicken with his head cut off" yelling, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" By the end of the story he had convinced most of his neighbors that the sky was indeed falling, and they were all taken by intense panic until one wise animal investigated further and learned the truth. I believe many people are guilty of succumbing to the same Chicken Little Syndrome when it comes to spiritual matters and alleged spiritual matters. Much like my childhood belief in various common superstitions, we too often, like Chicken Little, draw false conclusions from inadequate, inappropriate, or even no evidence. Often the consequences are slight, but occasionally they can be of major impact on our lives, even changing our beliefs and way of life. Consider the following scenes and see if you can determine what is happening in each.
Scene 1: A line of people winds from the floor of the auditorium and trails across the platform to the visiting speaker as mellow music plays in the background. The man says a few words to each person, then vigorously presses his thumb in the middle of each one's forehead, while speaking in a foreign language and instructing him or her to "Breathe! Breathe!" Instantly the person drops to the floor, seemingly unconscious. The speaker goes from one to the next down the line, occasionally directing a person off to the side, but otherwise having the same effect on each one. Before long bodies are lying all over the platform.
Scene 2: Another line of people stretches up to another platform in another city. A small band plays slow, mellow music as the guest speaker similarly says a few words to each person and places the palm of his hand on their foreheads. The man frequently shouts out phrases of a foreign-sounding language. Several of these people likewise collapse onto the floor of the platform. Those who don't, nevertheless walk away in ecstasy, staggering as if drunk.
Scene 3: In yet a third meeting room a man is surrounded by swaying men and women as, one by one, he passes among them vigorously pressing his thumb on their foreheads, sending them into rapturous ecstasy. Music plays and the congregants sing harmoniously. As the man moves through the crowd he occasionally utters words in a strange accent.
Scene 4: Another line of people weaves to the front of an auditorium to receive the touch of the speaker's hand on their foreheads. Many of these folks will also fall to the floor as if unconscious. After a few minutes they rise and move away in ecstasy, several swaying and dancing to the sound of the up-tempo music played by a small orchestra.
What Is Happening In Each Of These Scenes?
What is happening in each of these scenes? In spite of the many similarities among them, there are some very significant differences.
Scene 1 is from a film called "Captive Minds: Hypnosis and Beyond," produced by the National Film Board of Canada. The scene is of a stage hypnotist in Quebec (he is speaking French, hence the "foreign language"). The film shows a line of people coming forward to be hypnotized as part of the hypnotist's public performance. The people clearly want to be hypnotized. In addition, they believe in the hypnotist's ability, having perhaps already witnessed various demonstrations of his skill. The mellow classical music being played over the loudspeakers helps to create the proper relaxed mood. The hypnotist judges a few as inadequately prepared to be hypnotized, and shunts them to the side while he moves on to the next person. Then, just as I have described, he simply presses his thumb on the middle of each person's forehead (albeit vigorously) and the person slides or falls to the floor immediately hypnotized.
Scene 2 is from a film entitled "Marjoe," a documentary made with the full assistance and cooperation of former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner. Gortner decided to make the film to show what his life as a child and adolescent preacher was like. He made one last preaching tour, visiting Pentecostal churches and tent meetings in various parts of the country, preaching energetically in every place. At each meetings conclusion Marjoe called for all to come forward who desired healing, the filling of the Holy Spirit, or some other blessing of God. In each preaching venue, the same effects resulted: people were "healed," "slain in the Spirit," "filled with the Spirit," and variously "blessed with the presence of God." The only problem was that Marjoe did not himself believe what he preached, and claims he never did. In fact, in the course of the film he enunciates beliefs that are more in line with New Age or Eastern religious ideas rather than with Christianity. And yet the people upon whose heads he placed his hands experienced the "touch of God" or so they thought. Marjoe was the consummate con. One of the saddest scenes in the movie is a lunchtime conversation between Marjoe and a Pentecostal preacher and his wife. The wife remarks, "There are so many preachers nowadays... you can't have 'em but only once, and after that you can't have 'em back, because they're not honest, and they don't treat the people right, either, y'know. And if they don't treat the people right, the people won't back 'em up." Then she adds, "That's one thing we appreciate about your ministry you've always blessed our people." Her husband, the pastor, then says, "When ya tell 'em somethin', they believe it." While the wife solemnly nods in agreement Marjoe replies, "I think nowadays people have seen so much happen they can tell one o'these shysters when they come through, 'cause they've heard everything." If only it were possible to strike a gong and yell at that pastor and his wife, "Wake up! You're talking to a shyster now!" Even tho believed to be spiritual phenomena.
Scene 3 is also from "Captive Minds." In this case the man at the focal point is not a stage hypnotist, nor a fake preacher/faith healer, but an Indian guru, Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In a voice-over in the film the viewer hears Rajneesh say, "Without a Living Master, no method, howsoever beautiful it is, works. In fact, it is the Master ... that works. That is the real thing, not the methods. With a live Master everything works. With a dead Master nothing works. It is not the method it is the Master. It is the man behind. It is the golden touch, the magical touch of the Master. It is his charisma that works. Being with the Living Master is what works." And indeed it seems to. His disciples are transported to levels of ecstasy seldom reached, and they conclude they have come in contact with God.
Scene 4 is typical of what happens in tens of thousands of churches, schools, and storefront gathering places around the world usually twice every Sunday and at other times in the week.
What differentiates Scenes 1,2, and 3 from Scene 4? Pastors and worship leaders who are totally sincere and devout are producing the same, or very similar, results that hypnotists, frauds, and gurus produce. What, if anything, makes one "legitimate" and "genuine" visitations of the Holy Spirit, and the other merely "psychological" or even "demonic"? Is the Christian commitment of the preacher in Scene 4 sufficient to understand the ecstatic phenomena he calls forth as being from God? Is it possible the evidence is being misinterpreted in line with the presuppositions, beliefs, hopes, and desires of the participants?
A Psychological Coin Trick In my work at Wellspring in helping victims of cults and spiritual abuse understand what happened to them I often demonstrate a simple coin trick. I place three coins on a table and keep a fourth in one hand. Let's say the coins on the table are a quarter, a nickel, and a penny, and the one in my hand is also a penny. I don't tell the person what coin I have in my hand; rather, I say, "I can read your mind, and I have already predicted what you are about to do. The coin in my hand will prove to you that this is so. Now, what I want you to do is to pick up any two of the coins on the table." Let's say he picks up the quarter and the nickel, leaving the penny on the table. As I show him the penny in my hand I say, "Was there any way I could have known you would leave the penny on the table?" The answer, of course, is "No," and he begins to believe that maybe I do have ESP. But then I tell him to pick up a different combination of coins. So he picks up the quarter and the penny, leaving the nickel on the table. Now I say, "Give me either one of the coins you just picked up." Let's say he gives me the penny. Then I say to him as I again show him the penny in my hand, "Ah, ha! Was there any way I could have known you would give me the penny?" Again, the answer is "No." But by now he's beginning to see what I'm doing. Finally, I tell him that there is only one other possible outcome of the trick. Instead of leaving the penny on the table, or picking it up with another coin and then giving it me, he could have picked it up but then kept it while giving me the other coin. I explain that in that case I would have shown him the penny in my hand and said, "Ah, ha! Was there any way I could have known you would keep the penny?" Now he understands that all I'm doing is interpreting what he does after he does it. I don't say at the start that the coin in my hand will be the same as the coin he leaves or gives me or keeps. I wait till he makes his move and then I only interpret what he does afterwa seem like I have psychic powers.
A television program called "A Class Divided," originally broadcast on Public Broadcasting's Frontline in 1985, contains several examples of this type of manipulation. A third grade teacher named Jane Elliott is shown conducting an innovative but daring classroom exercise to teach her pupils about discrimination. She divides her class into two groups according to the color of their eyes: blue or brown. One day the blue-eyed children are the superior group, the next day the brown-eyed children are. The first day Mrs. Elliott "proves" to the children that "brown-eyed people are not as good as blue-eyed people" by using a psychological version of the coin trick. She says to Brian, "Is your father brown-eyed? ...One day you came to class and you told us that he kicked you... Do you think a blue-eyed father would kick his son? My dad's blue-eyed he's never kicked me. Greg's dad's blue-eyed he's never kicked him... This is a fact blue-eyed people are better than brown-eyed people." The next day, however, Mrs. Elliott employs the same psychological coin trick to "prove" just the opposite. She points out that Russell forgot his glasses that day, but Susan didn't. Because Russell has blue eyes and Susan has brown, that "proves" that brown-eyed people are superior to blue-eyed ones. Obviously, none of the examples Mrs. Elliott uses proves her conclusions, and at the end of the exercise she helps the children understand that neither eye color nor skin color determines superiority or inferiority, but that those determinations are made on the basis of inadequate and inappropriate evidence.
Perhaps the most remarkable result of this exercise was the fact that the children actually performed better on the days they were in the "superior" group. Mrs. Elliott gave tests in spelling, reading, and math two weeks before the exercise, each day of the exercise, and two weeks later. She found that, almost without exception, the pupils' grades "went up on the day they were on the top, down on the day they were on the bottom, and then maintained a higher level for the rest of the year." I believe what this shows is that our behavior is often at least partly a result of the way other people treat us, and is not necessarily a true measure of our character or intellect.
Holy Laughter And New Age Gurus
"Holy Laughter"? Let's return to the four scenes. Much has been written in the last few years about the so-called "Toronto Blessing" or "Holy Laughter" movement. Every account, whether pro or con, has described the phenomena the same way: in the context of a church service or Christian conference, a preacher (often Rodney Howard-Browne or someone who has been influenced by him) induces uncontrollable laughter in most of those in attendance. Frequently those so affected emit other noises, such as barking, roaring, and other animal sounds, as well as weeping. The affected people also evidence unusual bodily movements, such as shaking, dancing, staggering as if drunk, stiffening as if paralyzed, and falling to the floor with subsequent inability to get up, sometimes for hours. Most critics of the movement point to the complete lack of scriptural precedent for such phenomena. Others refer to the remarkable similarity of the phenomena with what is observed in numerous non-Christian and even non-religious settings.
Beyond the stage hypnotist, the fake faith healer, and guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, many other Hindu gurus have been known to impart a similar "grace" to their devotees. In a sidebar to "Holy Laughter or Strong Delusion?" by Warren Smith (published in the Spiritual Counterfeits Project Newsletter, Fall 1994). Smith and Danny Aguirre give "examples of Holy Laughter in other religions." Included among the examples were the Siddha Yoga Dham cult of the late Swami Baba Muktananda, the African Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the practice of "latihan" in the Malaysia-originated cult Subud, and Qigong (an ancient Chinese practice). In the case of Muktananda, he was to "awaken" the kundalini energy that, according to Hindu belief,
"is a powerful energy source lying dormant in the form of a coiled serpent at the base of the human spine. When freed it reputedly has the capacity to effect great physical and spiritual healings" (Smith and Aguirre).
Smith and Aguirre quote New Age authors Christian and Stanislav writing that
"individuals involved in this process might find it difficult to control their behavior; during powerful rushes on kundalini energy, they often emit various involuntary sounds, and their bodies move in strange and unexpected patterns. Among the most common manifestations...are unmotivated and unnatural laughter or crying, talking tongues...and imitating a variety of animal sounds and movements."
Muktananda's physical touch produced remarkable
"manifestations includ[ing] uncontrollable laughing, roaring, barking, hissing, crying, shaking, etc. Some devotees became mute or unconscious. Many felt themselves being infused with feelings of great joy and peace and love. At other times, the 'fire'of kundalini was so overpowering they would find themselves involuntarily hyperventilating to cool themselves down (per former Muktananda follower Joy Smith)" (Smith and Aguirre).
Smith and Aguirre quote the Grofs concerning rituals of the Kung Bushmen during which
"[t]hey are often unable to maintain an upright position and are overcome by violent shaking. Following these dramatic experiences, they typically enter a state of ecstatic rapture."
Those who experience this "cosmic healing force" are then able to pass it on to others by direct touch. The Encyclopedia of American Religions by J. Gordon Melton (cited by Smith and Aguirre) has this to say regarding the latihan practice of Subud:
"the latihan proper is a time of moving the consciousness beyond mind and desire and allowing the power to enter and do its work...often accompanying the spontaneous period are various body movements and vocal manifestation cries, moans, laughter and singing. These occur in the voluntary surrender of the self to the power. During this time, people report sensations of love and freedom and often, healings. All reach a higher level of consciousness."
Finally, Smith and Aguirre mention Chinese Qigong master Yan Xin, who gave a talk in San Francisco in 1991. The San Francisco Chronicle reporter who witnessed the event wrote that experiencing what Yan Xin calls spontaneous movements... "before long, the scene began to resemble a Pentecostal prayer meeting with many people waving their arms and making unintelligible sounds." According to Smith and Aguirre,
"Yan told his audience, 'Those who are sensitive might start having some strong physical sensations or start laughing or crying. Don't worry. This is quite normal.'"
Carole Tyrrell, writing in FAIR News of January 1995 (published by a British cult information organization) also cites Qigong masters as eliciting similar manifestations as are commonly seen in "holy laughter" meetings. She quotes a 1988 article in the London Globe and Mail which likened a Qigong master to
"a faith healer at an old-fashioned revival meeting... [The master] stands slowly waving his arms. He is, he tells them, emitting Qi. As the Qi supposedly starts flying around the stadium, a woman in a white dress starts wailing uncontrollably. Another shrieks and then swoons. A young man beats his breast. People twitch and shake. Others cry, some laugh hysterically. An old man talks in tongues, then screams that he is cured."
One is compelled to ask, "How are these descriptions different from what has been reported at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church and elsewhere? Why are those who experience the phenomena so quick to ascribe them to the action of the Holy Spirit?" The urge to identify the manifestations with God, Qi kundalini, or enlightenment is due to several factors:
the setting in which one has the experience;
the strength of one's desire to have the experience, one's belief that such an experience is essential to one's spiritual advancement, one's acceptance of the preacher/guru/seminar leader as one who can provide the experience, and one's expectation of having the experience;
the emotional level within the setting; and
the suggestions made by the authority figure(s) before and during the experience.
These will be discussed in Part Two of this article, to be published in the next issue of the Wellspring Messenger.
Sidebar: [Watchman Nee attributes this phenomena to the work of the soul]:
"A great number of people desire to have joy in their feeling. The so-called holy laugh is an extreme case in point. It is taught that if a person is filled with the Holy Spirit he invariably will have this holy laugh. He who claims to have this kind of laughing cannot control himself. Without any reason he will laugh and laugh and laugh as if infected by a certain disease, and will appear to be partially insane.
"Once in a certain meeting, after the sermon was concluded, it was announced that everybody should seek for this holy laugh. All began to beat tables or chairs, jumping and leaping all around, until not long afterwards this so-called holy laughing came. People would merely look at one another and break out laughing. The more they thought about it the funnier it became. And so they could not contain themselves and kept on laughing. What is this? Can this possibly be the fullness of the Holy Spirit? Can this be His work? No, this is plainly one of the works of the soul." --Watchman Nee, The Latent Power of the Soul (1932).
Emphasis not in original. I have "colorized" a bit of what struck me. KS
Lawrence A. (Larry) Pile
Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center
PO Box 67
Albany OH 45710
Included here by permission of Lawrence A. Pile.
Go To Part Two