The Emperor Has No Clothes Part 2: By Lawrence A. Pile
In the last issue of the Wellspring Messenger, Part 1 of this article began a look at some current manifestations of alleged spirituality within both Christian and New Age religious organizations. Specifically, I pointed out the strong similarities between what in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches is called being "slain in the Spirit" and what in Hindu sects is called "raising the Kundalini." Often accompanying both experiences are such phenomena as falling down, twitching, hopping, writhing on the floor, laughing, crying, making animal sounds, feeling as if an electric current is coursing through the body, and many other remarkable manifestations.
One is compelled to ask, "How are these phenomena, when found in Eastern religious settings, different from what has been reported in Christian settings? Why are those who experience the phenomena in churches so quick to ascribe them to the action of the Holy Spirit?" I suggest the urge to identify the manifestations with the Holy Spirit is due to several factors:
Those who have the experiences are, so far as anyone can determine, sincere Christians, and the experiences occur in churches or in convention halls during Christian gatherings. Thus the Christian character of the participants and the setting would lead naturally to the assumption that God was causing these effects.
Those who have the experiences generally desire to have them, believe God wants them to have them (and that in having them they will have a greater experience of God), accept the preacher as an "anointed servant of God," and expect the manifestations to occur. These are all very similar to the frame of mind of those who are shown coming forward to be hypnotized in "Captive Minds." It is clear that they all wanted to be hypnotized, believed in the ability of the hypnotist, and expected to be hypnotized.
The setting is typically emotionally charged. Prior to the manifestations, the congregants join in the singing of worship and praise songs, frequently lasting one-half to three-quarters of an hour or more. Often accompanied by an upbeat orchestra the singing can produce an emotional state of euphoria, putting the participants in a highly suggestible state of mind.
Do the similarities between "holy laughter" meetings and hypnosis sessions prove they are the same? No, of course not; a number of similarities between any two things do not prove they are the same. However, if it looks like a duck, etc., we ought at least to consider that maybe, just maybe, it's a duck. Other manifestations often associated with "holy laughter" and are also disturbing, especially when one learns that they are found also in settings that are anything but Christian. For example, in his article "The Strange Teaching Of Rodney Howard-Browne" (in The Quarterly Journal published by Personal Freedom Outreach), G. Richard Fisher quotes Howard-Browne as having written of an experience he had:
"I must have called out to God for about twenty minutes that day. The fire of God came on me. It started on my head and went right down to my feet. His power burned in my body and stayed like that for four days. I thought I was going to die. I thought He was going to kill me. I was plugged into heaven's electric light supply and since then, my desire has been to go and plug other people in. My body was on fire from the top of my head to the souls of my feet and out of my belly began to flow rivers of living water. I began to laugh uncontrollably and then I began to weep and speak with other tongues. This continued not for one hour only, but for hours on end. I was so intoxicated on the wine of the Holy Ghost that I was beside myself. The fire of God was coursing through my whole being and it didn't quit. One day, two days, three days and in the fourth day I couldn't bear it anymore" (Fresh Oil From Heaven, pg. 27).
Similarly, Benny Hinn wrote in his book Good Morning, Holy Spirit:
"And then like a child, with my hands raised, I asked, 'Can I meet you? Can I really meet you?' ...After I spoke to the Holy Spirit, nothing seemed to happen... Then, like a jolt of electricity my body began to vibrate all over... I felt as if I had been translated to heaven... (p. 12-13; cited in The "Toronto Blessing": A Theological Examination of the Roots, Teaching and Manifestations, and Connection Between the Faith Movement and the Vineyard Church, by The Rev. Stephen Sizer; November 21, 1995).
Rev. Sizer also quotes Vineyard pastor Randy Clark's testimony of an experience he had at a Howard-Browne meeting:
"I wanted to be prayed for, so I came forward. Rodney's coming by: 'Fill, fill, fill, come to me, fill, fill,' and I went, [Randy Clark gets on the floor to show what happened to him] and I went down like this. Now you have to understand [laughter], I had been touched by the power of God before, in a Baptist church in '84, and in the Vineyard in '89, but every time major baptisms of the Spirit, I was getting electrocuted, I was doing this, shaking like this, feeling ... from electricity all the next day in the joints. Now I had a couple of those, so I equate strong anointing with shaking and electricity only problem is I'm not shaking, I don't feel no electricity ... Why don't you just get up? ... All right ... [laughter] Nothing's working, something happened, I can't move. 'OK God, I don't understand this, I'll just lay here.' I can't move, I might as well lay [laughter]. While I'm laying there, there's this woman two bodies down, she gets the cackles, she starts cackling and she gets the 'anoinking,'and you can hear her, [sound of Randy Clark making the sound of a pig grunting with audience laughing]. At first I think it's just natural, I'm just laughing because she has the 'anoinking,'and I was really laughing and I couldn't stop laughing... [Shows how he attempted to get up off the floor.] I get together with the other guys and we start to go home; only problem is, the longer after that... How drunk have we got? [Laughter] So we're going down that mile walk. [Shows how he staggered home with much laughter from the audience.] I'm afraid the police are going to pick us up, and how are we going to explain this, laughing our heads off? That was wonderful ... only problem is that was August '93, now a long time, and I've only been like that three times... I think (because of a Baptist background) subconsciously it's difficult for us to enter into this holy drunkenness... So Rodney says, "Tomorrow night were going to have a Holy Ghost blowout..." (Taken from a Toronto Vineyard video and included in "A Plague in Land," a video recording of a talk by Alan Morrison (1995); some editing by author).
Bill Jackson of the Champaign-Urbana (Ill.) Vineyard quotes Charles Finney:
"...the Holy Ghost descended on me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. The waves came over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, "I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me." I said, "Lord, I cannot bear any more;" yet I had no fear of death. ("What In The World Is Happening To Us?", by Bill Jackson; no source given for Finney quote).
Finally, in an article entitled "The 'Toronto Blessing'or 'the New Wave of Holy Laughter,'" Rev. Fred Grigg of Australia's Mandate Ministries writes:
"Worth noting is how one pastor, currently promoting 'holy laughter' throughout Australia, in a recent two-page magazine article described the experience in the following way, he said, '...one minister, after shaking for about 45 minutes, screamed at the top of his voice, "Don't touch me, you'll get electrocuted!" Others were on the floor rolling or laughing or shaking under the power of God.' Of another pastor's experience, with whom this pastor said he had prayed for one morning, without any 'powerful manifestations' at that time, he said, '...When he tried to start the meeting (in his own church) that night he was struck dumb and, then, all he could do was laugh!' The response of this same pastor, in answering the question, 'How is it possible that people can be changed by lying on the floor, rolling, or laughing or shaking,' is very intriguing. He responds, 'Well, if the power of God touches you, it's like 20,000 volts (of electricity) trying to go through a piece of fuse wire something has to give!'" (The Gospel Truth, Vol. 13 No. 1, January 1996; emphasis in original).
Compare the preceding accounts to the following. In his book King of Cults, E.J. Daniels recounts an incident first related by Arthur H. Howland concerning an experience the latter had as a follower of the late George Baker, alias Father Divine, who claimed to be God in the flesh. Howland's story, published in Father Divine's paper The Spoken Word, tells of a midnight meeting held in the cult's "heaven" at 20 W. 115th Street, New York. Howland had just gotten off work at his office in the organization's building down the street from Number 20 when he heard that "Father is talking." This announcement emptied the building of all workers, and Howland decided to join the throng to hear what Divine was saying. Unable to get into the banquet room where Father Divine was holding forth, Howland found a place in the auditorium upstairs, into which Divine's voice was carried by a scratchy sound system. At first Howland was put off by the shouted responses of the crowd around him, but as he continued to listen he was enthralled by the words of Father Divine. As Divine recounted the words of Jesus to the demons possessing the Gadarene demoniac "HOLD THY PEACE AND COME OUT OF HIM!" Howland reports:
"And then I, too, so in need of blessing and of quieting, was struck by the Lightning. Who can describe it. Who can explain it. There is no earthly explanation for it is a heavenly experience. The body is on fire; the brain blazes with light; the heart turns over; the lungs contract; eyes are flooded with tears What has happened I long ago gave up trying to find out. But I thought if there were any devils in me when I came in and maybe there were they were all gone now. They could not stand the POWER, and GLORY and the LOVE of that MAJESTIC VOICE. (The Spoken Word, May 19, 1936; punctuation and capitalization as in original; cited in E. J. Daniels, King of Cults.)
Can anyone honestly say that what Arthur Howland experienced in the context of a cult led by a false Christ was essentially different from what was experienced by Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn, Randy Clark, Charles Finney, and the Australian ministers? If we cannot attribute Howland's experience to the working of the Holy Spirit, then how can we attribute the others' experiences to it? Is it not more reasonable (and honest) to look elsewhere for the explanation? (The same must be said regarding the practice of "throwing" or "wafting" the Holy Spirit towards an audience as done by Howard-Browne, Hinn, Reinhard Bonnke and others, which is virtually no different from the Qigong master mentioned above who caused Qi to fly about the auditorium by waving his arms.) I am convinced this is the only honorable thing to do, and I believe the explanation lies in the direction of hypnosis and other forms of trance induction. Some time ago I sent copies of several articles descriptive of the "holy laughter" phenomenon to Dennis Wier, director of the Trance Institute in Switzerland, and asked for his evaluation of the phenomena: is what is happening in such situations simply a form of hypnosis? He wrote back:
'Simply' is not the right word. The articles you sent do describe a form of trance, only in part hypnotic, but there are also addictive and centric trances present. These are advanced trance forms. Such trances do generate 'trance forces' of the kind that Rodney Howard-Browne describes experiencing. Such trance forces are certainly capable of spreading laughter in the forms that he has described. Such trance forces have nothing to do with God or Spirit they are simply the effects of centric trances. However, many people do not understand these rare forms of trance and attribute the manifestations of these trance forces to personal individual power or to unknown entities (God or Devil or Holy Spirit or drugs or UFOs). Improperly attributing the effects of these types of trance forces for purposes of exploiting the ignorant is a form of trance abuse."
I have no doubt that the men and women who engage in the practices associated with "holy laughter" and even faith healing have no intention or even awareness of indulging in trance induction. But I firmly believe this is what they are doing, and that, while the Holy Spirit may be present in some way in these meetings, as in all meetings of believers, most of what is experienced by those who fall under the spell is merely psychological and not spiritual. The context in which the phenomena are experienced, along with the explanations given by the ministers under whose direction they occur, are largely responsible for the spiritual interpretation of them. Early in the film "captive Minds" a hypnotist is shown demonstrating the powers of hypnosis to a university class. While in trance (though appearing wide awake) the young male student who is the subject of the demonstration is made to be unable to see or hear the other students in the room. Even when he hears the teacher address the others he asks, "Who are you talking to?" To the teacher's reply, "Some students in the room," the young man asks, "Where are they?" Then the hypnotist tells the subject, "It's time to go... But you can't go out of that door." The subject asks, "Why not?" The teacher answers, "I don't know. Why don't you try it?" But when the young man attempts to get out of his chair to leave the room, he finds to his chagrin that he is unable to do so he is "stuck" to the seat! The hypnotist didn't tell him he would be stuck to the chair, only that he wouldn't be able to go out of the room. But in the young man's mind that information was translated into the powerful suggestion that he couldn't get out of his chair, and as a consequence, no matter how hard he tried, he simply could not get out of his chair. Rodney Howard-Browne relates an incident in his booklet, Manifesting the Holy Ghost, that bears a marked similarity to this. He writes:
"Holy Ghost Glue. When this happened I noticed a woman on the floor who was laughing uncontrollably. Then she started weeping and speaking in other tongues. She was lying on her back under the power of God with her hands lying back above her head. She was stuck to the floor. ... The Mack truck of God's power is coming! She was lying there from noon until 1:30 drunk in the Spirit. At 1:30 she tried to get up. She wanted to get up. She couldn't. All she could do was flap her hands. So she was there flapping away flap, flap, flap, flap. She said 'I can't get up. I'm stuck to the floor.' I was walking up and down. It was 2:30, 3:30, 4:30. She was still stuck and I was still walking. Sometimes, as in her case, we close the meeting, but the Holy Spirit is still there. ... At 4:30 the woman was still saying, 'I can't get up. I'm stuck to the floor.' I turned to the Pastor and said, 'Look I haven't had either breakfast or lunch. It's 4:30. I'm not stuck and you're not stuck. These people are going to stay here with her, so let's go have a meal before the night service.' The ushers told us later that at 6 o'clock the woman finally peeled herself off the carpet. Then it took her an hour to crawl from the center of the church auditorium to the side wall. She had been stuck to the floor for 6 hours! ... So I said, "Bring on the fire God! Do whatever you want to do in my meetings. Stick the people to the floor, to the roof, to the wall whatever" (pp. 25, 26, 27, 29; cited in "The Strange Views of Rodney Howard-Browne," by G. Richard Fisher).
Could it be that, like the young man in "Captive Minds," this lady had heard something that her mind, against all her rational powers, had translated to mean that she would be unable to rise from the floor and as a result she remained "stuck" there for six hours? What possible purpose could the Holy Spirit have in sticking people to the floor or "to the roof, to the wall"? In the Randy Clark quote cited above he relates how he said to himself, "... Why don't you just get up?" But then he continues,
"... All right ... [laughter] Nothing's working, something happened, I can't move. 'OK God, I don't understand this, I'll just lay here.' I can't move, I might as well lay [laughter].
I suggest the same thing had happened to him as happened to the university student and the woman stuck to the floor. However, the context in which both Clark and the woman found themselves stuck to the floor (a church meeting conducted by a "man of God") led them both to conclude that what they experienced was from God. However, a very similar experience in a class taught by a university instructor led to no such conclusion. In another section of "Captive Minds" a young woman who had been recruited into the Unification Church. She describes her experience during the weekend retreat she attended (and before anyone told her it was connected with the Unification Church). After two or three days of lectures about God, philosophy, and morality she experienced an intense emotional breakdown. Surrounded by Unificationists who offered comfort, support, and the explanation that what she was feeling was "God's suffering heart," she concluded that that "must be what I'm feeling." But what her new friends were doing was simply the psychological "coin trick," interpreting her experience (as they no doubt had interpreted their own) according to Unification concepts, and in her distress she saw no other explanation. Like Chicken Little she, and they, drew false conclusions from the evidence, and as a consequence joined a cult led by a false messiah bent on taking over the world. Fortunately, this particular young woman later left the Unification Church, but not until after she had given precious time and energy to it. At this point some readers may be wondering whether there is any genuine mystical or supernatural experience at all! If so, how does one tell the genuine from the false or merely psychological? This, perhaps, the more important question, but unfortunately it must wait for a later article to be answered.
Sidebar: Factors that Determine One's Interpretation of a Mystical Experience
The setting in which one has the experience. If a church, it will be understood in Christian terms. If an ashram, in Hindu/Buddhist terms. If a hotel ballroom, in secular terms.
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 desired experience, and one's expectation of having the experience.
Equally important is the emotional level within the setting. A half hour or more of upbeat or mellow music/singing, oral prayer, chanting or speaking in tongues, and exhortations from the leader all produce an atmosphere in which trance induction of one kind or another is more easily facilitated.
Finally, the suggestions made by the authority figure(s) before and during the experience are crucial to the interpretation process.
Emphasis not in original. I have "colorized" a bit of what struck me. KLS
Lawrence A. (Larry) Pile
Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center
PO Box 67
Albany OH 45710
Included here by permission of Lawrence A. Pile.
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