Suggestive spirituality

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.

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6 Responses to Suggestive spirituality

  1. me says:

    ok, gotcha. I think part of the problem is that leaders are too afraid to start teaching discernment, thinking that its best to encourage people to try. However, that just results in people who never learn discernment.

  2. Elliot Swan says:

    Elliot- no, I’m not telling you that… what I am saying is that people can be manipulated and that discernment (not to mention integrity) are essential. You can’t assume things are fake, just as you can’t assume things are real.

    No, I misphrased that. By “you” I didn’t mean that’s what you were saying…

    What I meant is that for quite some time, things make too much sense. All the words people get simply rephrase the last song played…So it’s no wonder they all are related. If you’re paying attention, of course you’re going to think things related to what’s playing. I don’t see what makes that so special, that will happen in any situation where everybody is thinking about the same thing, whether spiritual or not.

    And if you’re praying and say vague things…I don’t doubt that eventually you’ll hit something true. Anybody with a good enough eye will be able to pick up on a “tell,” whether they believe in God or not.

    If this is all really God, then why can it be logically explained so easily? And I hear the buddah guys have something going too–what makes our experience God and not theirs? I’m betting the actual feeling is quite similar…

  3. Ken says:

    There will come a time when they will not listen to sound doctrine … but will surround them with teachers who will tickle their ears.”
    Most people really don’t want to anything ( this comes from watching their leadership) and as an excuse believe their are things which hinder them from being effective. so before they can be effective for God they need to deal with hidden issues, curses, or deliverance items. But the issues never end. Isn’t that interesting, “I would but I can’t, these things won’t allow me to, so it look to my spiritual leaders to expose these spiritual short comings.”
    Some day we will be “fixed enough” to do some good for God.
    My experience is that the larger percentage of “words” or what have you are just a spiritual excuse for not being obedient.
    Healing? What inner healing” If Christ is my life and He lives but not me how can I be in need of healing? Is Christ A.D.D.? Is he manic depresive? Does he have issues from being labeled a bastard?
    I hate to think what the consequences will be for failing to take God at his word.
    I was sitting in a church service one day when the “apostolic” pator said this to the congregation (verbatim)

    “Jesus can come before the Father and make a request on our behalf and because the Father had made a deal with the devil (generational curse) the devil has a legal right to certain areas of our lives therefore God the father must look to the Son and say, “I would like to but I can’t”
    I actually heard this!
    “God can and does refuse requests made by his Son on our behalf before His throne because of a generational curse”.
    If people continue to sit and receive this kind of teaching they will believe anything.
    And they do. “Christ wasn’t enough, and he isn’t enough”.
    That’s pretty much what is being preached in this mindset.

  4. me says:

    Elliot- no, I’m not telling you that… what I am saying is that people can be manipulated and that discernment (not to mention integrity) are essential. You can’t assume things are fake, just as you can’t assume things are real.

    As to “theophostic” – that’s the new-agey word I couldn’t remember. I don’t know much about it, but what I’ve heard hasn’t left a positive impression. I don’t see where Jesus or the apostles ever bothered with it…

  5. Quixote says:

    You post more than begs the question:

    What should we think about the theophostic prayer movement?

  6. Elliot Swan says:

    They tell me that when in a group a few people have “words” or “pictures” that seem to be saying the same thing, you know that “God’s saying something.” Are you telling me that it’s just coincidence that all these various “words” all restate the what that last song just said?

    They also tell me that when praying for people you should watch them for reactions to “see what God’s doing.” So basically, you spout random crap until they show the right signs? Sounds a lot like poker to me.

    I’m willing to bet that if we got a couple good poker players in one of these ministry times, things would be happening everywhere. And if it’s these experiences that you base your faith on (as many claim to), what would happen if I tell you that this new guy we brought in who was just praying for you is an atheist?

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