Autosuggestion + Church = Spiritual Experience?

I’m sorry… I know I’m supposed to be objective and tolerant of religious diversity and be open to varying view points, but can I still occasionally laugh? Honestly – and I really am being honest right now – I literally don’t know what to do aside from chuckle in utter dismay when I look at the video of the Christian minister, Benny Hinn, conducting his “Slain in the Spirit” alter call. Hinn has gathered millions of followers and people by the hundreds are knocked to the floor unconscious (aka “resting in the spirit”) during his “Miracle Services.” What is more impressive – if you watch the last two seconds of the video you will see this – is that he can render unconscious a large number of people with one swing of his jacket. Seriously, it’s like he just bowled a strike! What is even more unbelievable is that the people can be unconscious for up to thirty minutes. Damn! At times religion is literally incredible. Truth be told, the Benny Hill theme song pops into my head every time I watch this video.

Skeptics (and I’m one of them) argue that the event of people collapsing under these circumstances is a kind of self-hypnosis or autosuggestion. In other words, the participants are people who truly want this event to happen and truly believe it will happen, and it does – similar to hypnosis. And it is worth noting that it is a fact that people who do not want to be hypnotized cannot fall under the influence of a hypnotist; I’m certain the same is true for being “slain in the spirit.” If it wasn’t true, I’m pretty sure every police officer and soldier would be trained in the “Hinnian method.” (Say goodbye to tasers?)

So what is really going on here? Honestly, I don’t think I’m conscious enough to truly know. The cynical and judgmental side of me is telling me that Hinn is a clever millionaire charlatan preying (not praying) on the hopes, dreams, and wallets of people seeking spiritual experiences, and people (especially children) need to be warned. The noncynical and disconnected-rational-observing-social-scientist side of me is telling me that Hinn is simply supplying a service (literally) that is meeting the emotional demands of people seeking an experience for what they hope and believe to be spiritual. However – and this is a huge “however” – in between these two sides is my gut. And my gut feeling is telling me that this is something I would never let my children get involved in. And again, being totally honest, I always go with my gut. Always! How about you? Any thoughts? Are some white jackets a clear sign of “danger”?

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