InPlainSite.org Note. What has been described on this page.. The phenomena in Eastern religious settings is no different from what has been reported in Christian settings with the evidence being misinterpreted in line with the presuppositions, beliefs, hopes, and desires of the participants, bears eerie resemblance to the experiences of Contemplative Prayer. Since it is certain that, regardless of personal belief, something does transpire during mystical experiences, the question that springs to mind is what can explain this phenomena. To say it is the Holy Spirit is just so much tosh, since there is not one, not two, but seven common themes of mysticism between Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and American agnostic mystical experiences. See Contemplating The Alternative
Also See Slain In The Spirit and Related Manifestations
Compared to The Ancient and Occult Practice of A Kundalini Awakening in Hinduism]
Part 1: The Chicken Little Syndrome and Spirituality
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 are 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?
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 though 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 afterwards 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).
Also See Slain In The Spirit and Related Manifestations
Compared to The Ancient and Occult Practice of A Kundalini Awakening in Hinduism]
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).
The Emperor Has No Clothes Part 2:
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.
Also See Slain In The Spirit and Related Manifestations
Compared to The Ancient and Occult Practice of A Kundalini Awakening in Hinduism]
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.
Lawrence A. (Larry) Pile
Wellspring Retreat & Resource Center
PO Box 67
Albany OH 45710