This weekend I went to our State Fair, which is always an enlightening experience. It’s always amazing to me how many kinds of food you can actually get on a stick, or how exciting some people can make waterless cookware sound. I did have a somewhat enlightening experience, but nothing to do with deep-fried twinkies or cookware.
Mainly, I enjoy walking around, watching people, and taking hundreds of photos that I will probably never look at again. We had to leave the fair before I had a chance to view the photography exhibit, so I went back later on and walked around after dark, where I got some interesting shots of the midway lights. It was then that my attention was directed toward the one and only Travis Fox, the hypnotist.
Usually I avoid hypnotists; I recall going to these traveling shows as a kid, always being slightly spooked by the weirdness. I’m not quite so spooked now, as I’m older, hopefully wiser, and have been exposed to a number of revival meetings that were way spookier than any hypnotist. However, this guy was not your standard, sleazy, hypno-fake; he certainly could be a fake, but he wasn’t sleazy, and besides, I had nothing better to do. (I looked him up online after the show, and found that among other things, he’s got a Ph.D. in psychology.)
It is not a new thought to me that many “spiritual” experiences that people have are not unlike a hypnotist’s act. Watching the show, seeing how easily people were controlled and the amazing power of suggestion, I thought again of many of the weird “Christian” things I have seen over the years, plus many things that perhaps are not so weird.
On the Christian extreme, we have the various pentecostal performers/ministers; in the old days, it was Charles & Frances Hunter (“The Happy Hunters”); more recently, we have Benny Hinn, and many more lesser known folks. Are they sincere? Probably, for the most part. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t using the same techniques to elicit responses; people will respond extremely quickly to suggestion (and even to their own expectations).
Things I’ve seen include falling over (including injuries resulting from falling over), various odd and not-so-odd physical responses, laughter, and making animal noises. These, by the way, don’t include the things I’ve seen in “exorcisms,” which I think often drift into the hypotrance arena. I’ve also witnessed people being controlled by various “words” spoken over them.
The power of suggestion, especially in a therapy / ministry situation, is extremely powerful and dangerous; however, most ministers (and many therapists) fail to recognize it, rather choosing to believe that these manifestations are always signs of God’s work.
The power of suggestion in ministry worries me. Our church has recently announced a class in some kind of inner healing method with a new-agey name; have you ever wondered why there is no inner healing in the New Testament? (I’ve often wondered if it’s because we’re finally at the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy.) All of this emphasis on prophetic words, guided imagery, and so on worries me; it’s all too easy to manipulate people. And, those who minister are people, too – we all long to be effective, and the temptation is always there to manipulate manifestations in order to affirm the minister.
I’m not saying that all spiritual experiences are phony – I’m just saying that one of the gifts that is seldom displayed is that of discernment. If I want to see a hypnosis demonstration, I’ll go to the fair; I’d rather not see it in church.