Monday, May 5, 2014

SOLVED: the mystery of the laughing evangelist!

BAM! I solved the sucker. Ever since I saw a good chunk of video of this guy pushing people over while laughing maniacally, I HAD to find out who it was. Wasn't that easy to track him down. Had to keep looking under search terms like, "Evangelist who heals while laughing". Found out a bit about the phenomenon of "holy laughter" and "the Toronto blessing" (which I vaguely remember from years ago). It basically means laughing your ass off in the name of Jesus. Yeah, OK.

Well, this ol' guy, see, after years of a more-or-less Oral Roberts-like life of preaching with some head-pushing on the side, decided to get on the cackle-and-guffaw bandwagon, taking an entire congregation with him. This is the other part of the original video I saw from the compilation, with much better picture quality (aren't you glad?).

So I have solved the mystery. This is one Kenneth E. Hagin, who also made numerous videos of reasonably sane preaching along evangelical lines, so I am not sure exactly what it was that pushed him over the edge. And I was right, this was at some kind of conference in St. Louis, something called a Holy Ghost Meeting, with everybody all dressed up in suits and ties and lovely '90s dresses with puffy hair. Compared to earlier videos, Hagin looks bent and frail (he died in 2003, alas), and I've finally figured out why three or four guys had to hold him up: if they didn't, he would literally die laughing.

This holy laughter stuff induces a kind of oxygen-deprivation trance which, combined with a mass-hysteria effect, makes large groups of people stoned out of their minds and prone to completely wacky behaviour. To my eyes at least, the so-called convulsions are completely fake in almost every case, though the occasional genuine orgasm of faith might have squirmed through. (And you can't tell ME this stuff isn't pretty orgiastic in nature.)

Watching this again, though, even the laughter sounds extremely phony, and the expressions on people's faces are - oh, get real, people, this isn't funny! Hagin looks like he should be committed, and the guy in the red tie, well. . . If I was a standup comedian, which this guy is, I suppose, I'd expect better laughs than this, at least more spirited than the "AHAHAHAHAHA" I'm hearing. When the whole thing degenerates into moans and howls, with men in suits flailing around on the floor, it all gets a little tiresome.

I found a web page that has links to seemingly hundreds of articles furiously denouncing the holy laughter/Toronto blessing phenomenon as the work of the Old Scratch himself. I didn't read any of them because I was beginning to go totally numb. It's a defense mechanism, see, when things get overloaded. I just sort of short out. . .

. . .a. . .n. . . d.. . . . 

. . . excuse me.

Post-Blog Thoughts. Typical of me, since I am a bloodhound and a bloodthirsty busybody, I had to poke my nose into the subject of "holy laughter" in all its manifestations. It ain't a pretty sight. What I came up with was extremely polarized, both for and against. True, the "for" camp didn't seem to need much scriptural justification for all that screaming and rolling around: it was fun, and I suppose there's nothing wrong with fun so long as no one gets hurt. But I refuse to believe that no one ever gets hurt.

This doesn't appear on the videos, which are no doubt edited, but things MUST get out of hand sometimes. Out of hand might take various forms - flailing so violently so that you hurt yourself or others, peeing yourself, peeling off to get hot and heavy with a favorite flailing partner (for it's well-known that uncontrollable laughter has a sexual component, a slap-and-tickle effect), biting and scratching, unwelcome (or welcome?) grabbing of someone's none-of-your-business, and basically falling into a violent mass hysteria that has absolutely nothing to do with spirituality. The worst of it, though, is looking like a damn jackass (on YouTube no less), and not even caring who sees it.

Here is a partial list of "symptoms" of this phenomenon (and the more I read about it, the more I am dying to try this thing for myself). It's from a site called Unholy Laughter, one of the many purse-lipped, disapproving screeds which condemns all that carpet-lint-gathering-on-one's-Sunday-suit:

Some other phenomena that take place at these laughing revivals include: "shaking, jerking, loss of bodily strength, heavy breathing, eyes fluttering, lips trembling, oil on the body, changes in skin color, weeping, laughing, 'drunkenness,' staggering, travailing, dancing, falling, visions, hearing audibly into the spirit realm, inspired utterances--i.e. prophecy, tongues, interpretation, angelic visitations and manifestations, jumping, violent rolling, screaming, wind, heat, electricity, coldness, nausea as discernment of evil, smelling or tasting good or evil presences, tingling, pain in body as discernment of illness, feeling heavy weight or lightness, trances--altered physical state while seeing and hearing into the spiritual world, inability to speak normally, disruption of natural realm--i.e. electrical circuits blown, the 'fire of God' burning you that you have to remove some clothing, pawing people and roaring like a lion, walking like a chicken, howling like a wolf, digging the ground with hoofs like a bull while prophesying, flying like an eagle, throwing communion bread around to show your joy in the Lord, screaming AHHHHH as a mighty warrior to stop the preaching of the word of God during a service, incoherent babbling, pounding the floor with your arms while holding a conversation in tongues with the minister in charge of the service, feeling electricity shoot through your body, affecting electronic scanning devices in airports, etc."(22)

It's that (22) part that just devastates me. 

Listen, I've had my own strange experiences, things which I still don't understand, but they've never been communal. It's hard for me to believe I could experience real revelation in the midst of a cacophany of cuckoos. I'm of two minds about all spiritual experiences: they often seem dodgy because they're self-proving, i. e. it MUST be God because God's telling me it is; I don't need proof because I have faith, etc. But at the same time, the game could be vastly more complicated than we can even comprehend (in fact, this seems likely), in which case logic falls down like a house of cards, blown away by the howling winds of Pentecost. 

So it comes down to the question, for each of us: what is authentic and  important to ME? This is my sticky spot. All this guffawing and staggering around isn't individual; it's surrender to a bizarre group mood or group energy in which the participants dance around like marionettes controlled by some force outside the self. It's NOT coming from within or everyone wouldn't be goose-stepping to it so gleefully. These people have thrown their individual will away and surrendered to a sort of collective will, which is the most frightening force there is. Think how suggestible such a gibbering mob is. If half the "symptoms" I've listed above are real, there are aspects of the experience that are downright frightening. At very least, it's disturbing, especially (Land o' Goshen!) that "affecting electronic scanning devices in airports, etc." thing. 

They say "affecting", however, without spelling out exactly how. Could I disable the security scanners with the Holy Spirit and smuggle a 48-piece set of silverware aboard a plane, maybe hidden in the lining of my coat? Guess I'll never find out.

POST-POST Revelation! I just noticed something when making the gif of the poor bugger in the red suit: the seats have plastic on them! Maybe these people aren't so insane after all. Seems to me they must be ready for anything.

Jesus! They're at it again

I keep thinking I've hit the bottom of the barrel, then find something even more inexplicable. It's hard to imagine this could be satire: someone would be exaggerating just a bit, as if to say, "OK folks, you can laugh now". But they're all so earnest. I don't know if they belong to some cult, or what. The camera work alone is enough to induce vertigo.

When you look at Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar (whose wife has the lovely name of Taffi) and all those holy-roller types, the audiences are right there with them, falling over backwards into convulsions that almost seem real. Never mind that almost ALL these evangelical types eventually end up in some sort of scandal, financial, sexual, or (most likely) both. Even during the worst reputation-dragged-through-the-mud debacle, some faction of the church will choose to believe the media is spreading lies to discredit their idol. It always happens. A split, a civil war. No one wants to believe they were wrong, that they were duped. A mixture of pride and blind allegience keeps them on-board unto death.

I know all about these dynamics because I experienced it, not in some fundamentalist snake-handling setting but in the good ol' Charlie Brown of religion, the United Church of Canada. We were charmed and seduced into hiring (and WE made the decision over three or four other perfectly good candidates) someone who could not have been more unsuitable for the job, someone we knew did not have the proper credentials to lead us, and we proceeded to demonize him for a year, cornering him on some of his worst behaviour (and believe me, it was bad) while remaining oblivous to our own.

The church never recovered, and due to some personal issues both connected and not connected to the church, my old belief system fell apart. Actually, it sort of went back to the way it was before I joined. Not being so sure of things, but being VERY sure of the darkness at the core of the human heart.

I wonder at all this tribal caterwauling. I suppose it does no harm, and may do some good. Sometimes I wish I could join in, wish I wasn't so dead-bored with droning hymns that are 200 years old (and were not very interesting even then) and the blanding-out that has enabled even United Church moderators to be, basically, atheists. Let's open those doors so wide we might even be able to pay the mortgage this month.

My entire 15-year experience with the church was one of scrambling anxiety, not over the problems of the community or even faith, but one thing only: money. Every year we had an Annual Meeting that was nothing short of an exercise in despair. It might as well have been held on the deck of the Titanic. Yet if you didn't attend, you were frowned upon, excluded. If you weren't there to discuss our chronic financial dysfunction at the meeting, if you didn't have a ready solution to these insurmountable problems, you weren't allowed to state an opinion on any of it. 

After several hours of incomprehensible, often wildly inaccurate and unspeakably dreary financial reports, we always came to the same conclusion. We're in the hole, we're sinking, we can't pay the bills, we've got to get asses in seats. We were visited in our homes and interrogated about how much we were giving, and if it wasn't enough by church standards, we were guilt-tripped. This was even true of people on fixed incomes. Later, we were guilt-tripped if we wouldn't tithe. What's wrong with you people, aren't you committed to your faith?

We were shown pie charts and Venn diagrams about giving, and it was explained to us how, if each of us gave 15% of our income, we could make our mortgage and building upkeep commitments with no trouble at all. All we had to do was distribute the burden fairly. So what was the matter with us, why weren't we doing it?

This was all about maintaining a building that in essence was used once a week for a couple of hours. The rest of the time it had to be heated, repaired, tended to and endlessly fed with OUR money. Squeezed out with guilt.

I've written a lot about religion on this blog (especially lately - God, when does it stop?), in some sort of attempt to come to terms with my role in it, my need for it, and how I outgrew that need. It didn't happen gradually and painlessly, but in a violent yank that shattered my world. Meantime the church goes on chattering about commitment, and it's not to Jesus. Though much is said about homeless people, we don't associate with them and don't want to have them around (in our big, warm, dry, empty sanctuary) because "those people" are offputting, too needy and too much trouble.

So where is God in all this? I don't believe in God any more, or at least, what I do believe is so far from my original concept that you'd have to call me a non-believer now. Atheist and agnostic are terms that piss me off and offend me because they are LABELS, because people affix them and feel sure they have drawn a bead on who you really are.  I am not an "anything" except a human being, trying to figure it out as I go along. I suspect there are more of me than most of us care to realize.