“Let us pray” said the minister and the whole congregation, observing the traditional social convention, bowed their heads as one, performing the same simple action in unison, and thus relinquished their individualities and for a few brief moments became part of the larger organism of the group.
The simple act of bowing heads and closing eyes made the entire flock just that little bit more suggestible and the ritual began. “Lord, we are not worthy” intoned the minister… “Lord we are not worthy” answered the congregation, repeating the time honoured canon, irresistibly reinforcing the established belief.
It was the same this week as it was last week, shall be next week and the week after. It never occurred to anyone to question what it was about this custom that was so compelling. Perhaps it was the comforting familiarity of sitting in the same seats, in the same surroundings, among the same and going through the same uncomplicated motions that were the real addiction. Nonetheless, none would dissent, none would stand out from the group, none would risk the opprobrium of their peers and none would gamble on the possibility of being singled out to be told they were wrong.
Note that this chapter is headed Hypnosis in Religion and not Hypnosis and Religion because hypnosis and the techniques of hypnosis are so much a part of religious practice.
While much of Europe and Asia is becoming less religious, America is becoming noticeably more religious. This is partly due to the political influence of the religious right. In Britain, thirty seven percent of people think that David Beckham exerts more of an influence on their lives than God and I am very much afraid that this might be true. John Lennon once said that The Beatles were more famous than Jesus Christ, a remark which earned him the condemnation of many church groups, particularly in the United States where they are very sensitive about that sort of thing.
The power of belief is incredible. It inspires men to build pyramids and cathedrals, to murder their fellows and become martyrs. Religion can sometimes be a practical way of getting to grips with problems and in this respect, therapy and religion have a lot in common. Many people are encouraged to believe in God by someone outside their immediate family. Religion and the existence of God are sociological and anthropological issues – the way in which an individual defines God has a direct bearing upon the usefulness of God to that individual. However, religion, or God, does not have the copyright on decency or morals or values or the altruism that has been such an important part of man’s survival strategy; it merely reminds us of them.
Those who experience extreme religious feelings should know that their cognitive immune system is inactive. Ghandi said that “faith must be reinforced by reason” and there is a great deal of truth in this superbly rational and logical statement. Interestingly, twenty nine percent of atheists sometimes pray. Even the most devout non-believer will call on God’s help when faced with a situation of extreme fear and have even been known to call out God’s name while having sex!
A more cynical approach would be to suggest that organised religion proposes particular occasions for prayer, whether those occasions are daily or limited to special festivals. It is accepted by some religious authorities that quiet contemplation (not to be confused with daydreaming) is also prayer.
We must be careful though to discriminate between commercialism and spiritualism. In other words, a lot of the time, prayer is merely a way of asking for something. Away from church, therapy is also a way of asking for something – the difference is that instead of relying on God, therapy teaches us how to achieve our goals ourselves. Having a mentor, even a God, can also do a lot to help personal encouragement.
Religious belief is still part of man’s survival strategy. But the big question is this; did evolution instil us with a sense of the divine so that we would gather into the communities essential to keep the species going, or is our innate sense of wonder at the universe being confused with a healthy respect for things that we can’t understand? Certainly religious belief is very handy for keeping order in a dog eat dog world, particularly in primitive societies and belief often acts as a moral policeman.
In short, religion may be one of the dynamics that help to hold societies together. Worshipping God however does not have to be a collective experience, it can be, and often is done, in isolation, disconnected from more formal, organised prayer. The overwhelming majority of people however, congregate to prayer, observing the same rituals and creeds. Once the congregation is in place it’s only a matter of using the common system of beliefs and practices as the basis for the secular rules and laws that will protect the group and keep it functioning.
An example of this is the Ten Commandments. Injunctions against murder, theft, adultery etc. can be effective social organisers. The natural progressions consequential from these religious rules are injunctions to pay taxes and submit to authority. Fulfilment in today’s world also means “get a job and pay tax.”
The downside to all this is that sometimes religions organise themselves not into congregations but into camps – sometimes armed camps. History is littered with wars of religious persecution, Spanish Inquisitions, Crusades, Holocausts and Jihads and these still happen today. This is without doubt something that has been useful for the survival of certain groups, but it can also be a double edged sword. Fire can keep the village warm but it can also burn the same village to the ground, depending on one’s inclination.
There are more modern-day and frankly, disturbing examples of this tribal behaviour. In the United Kingdom, the 2000 census showed that there had been an increase in the number of people describing themselves as Christian, but only in areas where there were large Moslem communities, such as Bradford, Oldham and Birmingham. It is conceivable that this points to the old ‘safety in numbers’ routine where groups who feel they may be at risk of being outnumbered start to reunite against a perceived common enemy. Certainly in areas of the world where religious groups are more extreme in the protection of their own particular ideals, we see extreme measures coming into force. The best example of this behaviour is in the Middle East where the antagonism between Jews and Palestinians (and their supporters) has reverted to Old Testament proportions. Religious belief exacerbates the conflict in Northern Ireland between the Nationalists and the Unionists – Catholics on the one hand support the idea of joining with the Republic and Protestants are keen to retain the status quo of being a part of the United Kingdom, complete with loyalty to the Queen as head of state. Thus religion has become inextricably linked to the politics of the region. In fact history is littered with examples of religions dividing along political lines; the civil war now raging in Iraq is also a direct result of the desire for political control between Shiites and Sunnis being fought out on the streets of Baghdad.
It may be that belief in God has become more and more deeply ingrained in our genes with every generation. It might be that societies with no ‘God gene’ could run the risk of exterminating themselves. If this is the case then it follows that as societies become more technologically advanced, as information flows more and more freely, original thought is allowed to flourish and human beings become more responsible, the need to believe in God could become less and less part of our genes.
Western religions are doctrinal. This means that the ‘divine’ is interpreted and the religious hierarchy enforces both the rules and the religion.
In any society there will be some people who are more spiritual, although not necessarily religious, than others in the same way that some people appreciate music more than others or have more of an affinity for speed than others. Some hear the music of spirituality clearly enough while others remain spiritually tone- deaf.
One of the problems which arise when one looks for any kind of common thread of profound spirituality is that no two mystic types describe their experiences in exactly the same way. This makes sense when one considers that all brains are different and each brain has a unique take on the world. Is there really any difference between the religious oneness with God or the atheist’s more scientific wonder at the immensity and complexity of the universe?
In the United States, molecular biologist Dean Hamer has found one of the genes responsible for belief in God and it just happens to be one of the genes that codes the production of neurotransmitters that regulate our moods. Our most profound feelings of spirituality may be nothing more than a shot of intoxicating brain chemicals, the dosage of which is governed by our DNA. This is of course reductionist thinking and will not sit well with theists – it ignores the fact that religious belief is a highly personal, not to mention varied, experience.
Just as with any other kind of human behaviour, psychologists are able to measure these peculiarities and carry out experiments to support their observations. Identical twins carry matching DNA and therefore have lots of things in common. For example, some pairs of identical twins suffer from migraines, the same fear of heights, the same eccentricities and so forth. When tested on religious feelings and spiritual values, they showed a similar overlap. They are twice as likely to display these similarities as siblings who are not twins and there is now enough evidence gathered on the subject for us to conclude that their similarities of belief are genetic. This is bad news for the God squad.
But these similarities did not hold up when they were questioned about their religious practices, for example, the number of times they attended church or the type of prayers they said. This has to be the result of nurture, that is, the stuff of environment, upbringing and culture. This could be good news for the God squad.
Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has found that the deeper people descend into prayer or meditation, the more active their frontal lobes and limbic system become. The frontal lobes are the seat of concentration and attention – the limbic system is where powerful feelings (such as religious rapture) are processed.
Even more importantly, at the same time these regions flash into life, activity in another important region, the parietal lobe (located at the back of the brain) diminishes. It’s this lobe that orients the individual in time and space. Reduce its influence and the boundaries of the self fall away, creating the feeling of being ‘at one with the universe.’ Further, combine this with what is happening in the other two lobes and what you get is the religious experience. God becomes an artefact of the brain, and belief in God resides in the brain.
In 2002, neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and colleagues used fMRI scans to look into the brains of meditating Buddhists from all over the world. During meditation, brain activity is more concentrated in areas containing the ability to concentrate and focus attention. This ground- breaking research was duplicated and confirmed by Newberg and D’Aquili in 2003 when they carried out similar tests on Franciscan Nuns. They discovered another pattern of activity in the brains of five women when they were ‘speaking in tongues’ that is, babbling nonsense in a language that only they could understand. Because the frontal lobes are used for self-control, the researchers concluded that the decrease in activity there opened the way for the loss of control necessary for such garrulous outbursts. It is impossible not to see the similarities between this behaviour and that brought about by hypnosis, particularly the stage variety, where getting subjects to speak Martian is one of the old stock-in- trade devices of the seasoned showman.
This is precisely the sort of thing that happens during the hypnotic experience. Concentration allied with suggestion and relaxation produces feelings of euphoria and this leads to belief in the suggestions given by the hypnotist and ultimately, at least in therapeutic terms, to a favourable outcome.
When tribes living in remote and isolated areas come up with a concept of God as readily as nations living shoulder to shoulder, it’s a fairly strong indication that the idea is pre-programmed in the genome rather than having been picked up by chance. If that is the case, then there is probably a very good reason for it to be there. As a species capable of contemplating its own ultimate death and decay, belief in a deity and of course the accompanying afterlife may serve to make the anticipation of our own demise tolerable. Maybe the passing on of these genes from generation to
generation is the result of Darwinian evolution. Only societies which are ordered survive to pass on genetic information, and these are the self-same societies that foster religious belief.
Spiritual contemplation is intuitive. The paradox is that this ability is distributed unevenly. Some people are spiritual virtuosos while others can’t even play a note. It is one of the central tenets of religion that ‘grace’ is available to all and yet some people just don’t get it. This is more bad news for the God squad; their claim that “all you have to do is believe” simply will not work on brains which do not, and will never, have the ability to believe. The same can be said of hypnosis; some people are great hypnotic subjects whilst others are relegated to the status of awkward customer – another argument in favour of nature over nurture.
It could be that we were all born with a tendency to believe in things supernatural. It might just be that that’s the way our brains have evolved over the last hundred thousand years. Human beings are unique in that they are able to predict, with some degree of accuracy, their own demise. We all know that eventually we are all going to die and all the atoms and molecules that make up our bodies will eventually go off and be something else.
There is a price to pay for this knowledge and that is the tempting belief that there might be life after death. All the religions support the notion of an afterlife. Richard Dawkins believes that religion is something that has been passed down from generation to generation, and in the true spirit of Darwinism, has evolved from generation to generation. Thus it is that we are burdened with the very attractive possibility that there might be something beyond the grave. Religion merely formalises that assumption, infecting the more gullible, and children, along the way. This is the view that I also hold. Shame God couldn’t be a little more demonstrative.
As an aside, I would strongly recommend seeing the documentary film ‘Jesus Camp’ to get a proper idea what effect unscrupulous religious types can have on children. The film correctly draws comparisons with the madrassa schools of Pakistan, but what is happening in America, right now, has to be seen to be believed. In fact I insist that you watch it, if only because it is so desperately shocking.
But what if religion (any kind of religion) is simply capitalising on an inbuilt need to believe in supernatural things? The brain has a habit of ‘filling in the gaps’ and if those gaps are caused by things that we cannot readily understand or explain scientifically, it’s easy to see how erroneous ideas can fill in the gaps and become lodged in the mind permanently. The brain is good at spotting coincidences, sometimes even assigning significance to those coincidences. We see shapes and faces in clouds and images of the Virgin Mary on a slice of toast. We form completely illogical attachments to inanimate objects. No way will a bride swap her wedding ring for one that is identical; no way will a child swap his battered teddy bear for a brand new one. And no way would anyone wish to wear a jumper that once belonged to Myra Hindley or Peter Sutcliffe.
Remember; the mind is a blank canvas and once an idea has been accepted by the mind, it remains in there, unchanged and unchallenged. With religious ideas, it’s virtually impossible to change, challenge, or even modify these ideas if they are very deeply held.
Yet, there are very religious people whose complete and utter certainty of belief bestows upon them a complete calm. Personally I find these people irritating because they always seem so smug. In China, there are now an estimated eighty million Christians – more Christians than there are members of the Communist Party! For over seventy years, the Chinese government did its level best to stamp out religion of any description and yet here it is – not just alive and well, but positively thriving, and with the permission of the more moderate authorities. No such luck in the case of Islam. I suspect that the Chinese realise that if there has to be a religion, it had better be one that agrees to some state control and to a large extent has agreed to ally itself with government thinking, and not one that might cause trouble for China’s future leaders.
There are similarities with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s clever decision to convert to Christianity, if only because he needed the cooperation of the Christian sect to hold an unwieldy and faltering empire together, realising that these early Christians had a better communications infrastructure than Rome itself. Constantine built churches and in the Roman Catholic Faith, priests still wear the purple sashes that because of the huge cost of the dye were once reserved for Emperors.
In America, many of the larger and mainstream churches have begun to preach an even more strict adherence to the scriptures while at the same time, attendance at more moderate churches is declining. America voted for a proudly born-again Christian President, although some White House officials have publicly stated that while George W. Bush was grateful for their votes, he was laughing at them behind their backs.
Which brings me to my next target – the born-agains. Being ‘born again’ is exactly the same sort of catharsis that represents a peak experience in all its ritual, hand-clapping and stranger-hugging glory. My parents had me baptised when I was but a babe in arms (without my permission, I have to add, but in their defence I would say that they thought they were doing the right thing) and the procedure was carried out with a few simple prayers, a hymn or two, and most important of all, with a mere drop of water from the baptismal font dabbed on my forehead in the sign of the cross. That was nothing compared to what they get up to these days in the more charismatic churches when they have a baptism.
The new Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has had installed what can only be described as a baptismal font of Olympic proportions. Archbishop Sentamu is obviously a man who takes his baptisms seriously. Opting for the full body immersion method, he stands waist deep in the water and after the prayers and the hymn singing throws the new recruit bodily backwards, fully submerging them in the water, a wholly unnatural experience (unless you are a scuba-diver) and one which is guaranteed to get the heart racing. The recruit then stands up, gasping for breath whereupon, and to the wild applause of the congregation, he can now consider himself one of us – or one of them, if you prefer. He’s just had a peak experience which he will remember for a very long time to come and his loyalty to the church is now guaranteed forever. When I witnessed this particular ritual, I couldn’t help wondering whether or not the Archbishop knew about this.
There is another thing about the born-agains in particular that I have noticed. A disturbingly large number of them seem to be able to lose themselves in the moment, to achieve total concentration, to become totally rapt in prayer, even when ‘speaking in tongues.’ I have seen these symptoms many times before – on the stage and in private practice. It is exactly, and I do mean exactly, the same phenomenon that makes for a really good hypnotic subject.
Could this be why religion and religious ideas are so powerful and so easily passed down from one generation to another? Could it be that we believe in this kind of thing because we are so remarkably suggestible? Yes it could.
When we talk about hypnosis, we should always be very circumspect about what it is that we are actually talking about, and that is, suggestion. In fact, as we have already discussed, hypnosis as a standalone phenomenon doesn’t really exist at all. It’s a very bad word to describe what hypnosis is… or isn’t. Advertisers use suggestion; so do politicians, lawyers and, this may come as a big surprise to some, so do most religious leaders. Most of the techniques of suggestion, and therefore hypnosis, are well known; the focussing of the attention, repetition of and reinforcement of a single idea by a figure of authority in a location specifically dedicated to that very purpose. Only the fear of having to share a flat with Salman Rushdie has dissuaded me from taking this argument to its next logical step… which is that if the same things are repeated over and over again, say, five times a day and in an attitude of submission, they are more likely to be accepted by and established in both the conscious and the unconscious mind. Emile Cue already knew this but never made the connection, or maybe he did make the connection but didn’t fancy sharing a flat with Salman Rushdie either…
In fairness to Islam however, not to mention the interests of historical accuracy, Europe entered the Dark Ages after the departure of the Romans in the fifth century AD, whereas the Moslem world sustained its custom of discovery and enlightenment. At a time when Medieval Europe was forced into backwardness by the Christian Church (Galileo was imprisoned for fifteen years by idiotic priests for daring to suggest the earth revolved around the sun), Islam continued to encourage scientific enquiry and innovation. The Koran encourages the understanding of science because science is also part of God’s Work. Pre- reformation Christianity on the other hand, went for more of an ‘ask no questions just give us your money’ approach, the end result of which was a thousand years of stagnation and ignorance. His holiness the Pope once told Professor Stephen Hawking that he should not enquire into the state of the universe before the Big Bang because that was the moment of creation – to inquire further would be to inquire into the mind of God and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah…
The Moonies and similar cults make full use of all the really powerful hypnotic procedures – sleep deprivation, repetition, temporal distortion, peer-pressure, isolation – in one intensive session which can last three, four or even five days. New initiates are indoctrinated by means of a crash course which commences the moment they arrive at Camp Moonie. This is just one of the things that make this specific sect so insidious. It’s the nearest thing to brainwashing and the appalling results have been widely documented. Beware of young strangers presenting you with flowers at airports (a favourite Moonie hunting-ground in the United States) and offering something for nothing. Once in, it’s very difficult to get out. These people are skilled in the arts of seduction and represent a very great danger to those who are particularly suggestible! The Moonies are adept at spotting trusting, often lonely, individuals (possibly because they were once trusting and lonely themselves!)
I have seen them in action and one of the most disturbing things I noticed about them was that they each displayed all the signs of a permanent opiate fix, a condition we will examine in more detail shortly. This brief encounter was in Los Angeles in the early 1980’s. Fear not however, I dealt with the situation with my usual subtle comedic efficacy and thus successfully remained in possession of the rest of my holiday money.
Compared to the Moonies, the Hare-Krishna’s are really quite a nice bunch. Actually, compared to the Moonies, the Gestapo was not such a bad bunch either. But membership of the Hare- Krishna’s is optional and members are free to do as they like and when the novelty of shaving their heads (apart from a bit at the back) wears off they are free to leave whenever they choose and go on to be secondary-school science teachers. They are pleasant, peaceful and fastidiously polite people, if a little off-beat and the only reason I mention them here is because of their love of chanting, which brings us back to Emile Cue…
As with most formal religious practices and rituals, including hypnosis, it makes no difference whether the suggestions emanate from the priest, the therapist or the entertainer – precisely the same processes are taking place. Once you understand the nature of suggestion, any ideas of the supernatural or the occult simply evaporate. So why do some very religious people get so hot under the collar about hypnosis and reach for their Bibles at the mere mention of the word?
To be fair, even the most zealously religious accept that hypnosis used for medical purposes is probably acceptable and therefore nothing to get too excited about. It’s only when confronted with the persona of the stage hypnotist that the praying and hymn singing really starts.
To be totally fair, stage hypnotists have brought much of this opprobrium on their own heads. The traditional image of the hypnotist, particularly the image presented in the early Hollywood movies of the 1930’s and 1940’s was originally derived from the neatly top-hat-and-tailed world of magic and illusion, which in its turn was steeped in the traditions of the Victorian music hall. By default, complete with black cloak and goatee, the stage hypnotists inherited the same facade as the diabolical Svengali who, it was said, could exert supernatural and mysterious power and influence and enforce his will upon unsuspecting damsels in distress. Part of the problem is that Svengali never existed in the first place – he was an invention of the novelist Daphne du Maurier, but the image became fixed.
With a combination of laziness and a collective lack of originality, the modern day mesmerists have remained stuck in this gloomy mould because they have found it easier to reproduce the exact same reflection from generation to generation – beautifully parodied on the TV show Little Britain – without trying to progress in the same way the magicians have. They are unwilling to part with their smoke machines, decorative facial hair and sequined waist-coats.
Hypnosis is a singularly western cultural phenomenon. The techniques have been used by the Christian Church for nigh on two thousand years and they are also fundamental to a host of dark arts and pseudo-sciences. So it’s natural then to assume that some churches don’t like the competition.
In the eighteenth century there was a very famous priest called Father Glassner; famous for the many successful exorcisms he carried out, casting out devils of sickness and infirmity. His most rapid and successful exorcisms seem to be connected to illnesses that were either purely or at least in part, psychosomatic.
The possessed were brought to the church and during the lengthy and ritualistic preparations, they would be given many indirect suggestions; the atmosphere of the place itself, the presence of other priests and Father Glassner’s own formidable reputation being paramount among them. Most important among these suggestions were those concerning the good priest’s potent powers.
Glassner’s great success also had the very welcome side-effect of giving a great deal of good publicity to the church itself and exorcisms were routinely attended by high church officials and occasionally visiting medical doctors. One of these doctors just happened to be Franz Mesmer who was struck by the theatricality of the proceedings and considered them to be an obviously well rehearsed ritual. When Father Glassner entered the church and laid the brass cross upon the head of the patient, the patient immediately collapsed, then on command rose to his feet, praised God and announced he was cured. Mesmer realised at once that the spectacle had nothing to do with religion but thought instead that it must be something to do with the metal in the cross. Thus Mesmer’s own career began.
The laying on of hands is a biblical phrase and crops up in exorcisms, evangelical healings, tribal witch doctor practices and… stage hypnosis. Again the expectation of effect is all part and parcel of the overriding principle of suggestion.
So is there a difference between suggestion and what is perceived by some as the power of the Holy Spirit? In reality, it’s all down to personal perception and belief because the often euphoric feelings which accompany such religious experiences are the same as those experienced as a result of hypnotic suggestion. The only difference is that the attention is focussed on a different subject matter. Interesting to note that the born-agains also dislike anything to do with tarot cards, fortune tellers, tea-leaf reading and more recently, Harry Potter; in fact anything beyond their own narrow understanding or that threatens their own beliefs.
Human beings are influenced on a daily basis by the authority driven and hierarchical societies which are part and parcel of life on planet earth, so obviously, in the imagination of the God- botherer, all these practices will have very real meaning and effect. Again, I return to the principle of the placebo effect, which when it boils down to it, is solely responsible for all that is actually happening, and that is, a psychological response to a given set of conditions.
We are getting so close to the territory of reward and punishment here, that it deserves at least a brief reminder. Generally speaking, good behaviour merits reward and this is especially true when dealing with children. We are all God’s children, by the way and this philosophy forms the basis of every organised religion. The better we behave here on earth the better our chances of achieving life after death. This is a potent bribe.
With hierarchy and authority however, comes the need for control, and that means control of one’s fellows and control of society in general. Without economic or political control, society would almost certainly descend into chaos. Democracy is fine at the local level or when dealing with relatively small groups, but to keep the masses under control, a firmer hand is required if government is to function effectively. More than that, it is an absolute must when it comes to the maintenance of social stability. Human beings need to be herded properly or they will quickly spill out of control.
One has only to take a peremptory glance at the new world order to see that the more powerful the nation state, the less freedom its individual subjects enjoy. The citizens of the new South Africa now benefit from much greater freedom than their counterparts in the United States of America or even Great Britain, formerly that great bastion of equanimity. The money talks, virtue walks ideal is no mere abstract; the struggle for power and dominance is as old as mankind itself – every species on the planet from the smallest bacteria to the mightiest elephant struggles for dominance. It is only with the advent of modern civilization and civilisation’s ever more brutal and efficient ways of enforcing its will that the struggle has taken on monumental proportions.
So where are we going with this? It is well known and not just by conspiracy theorists, that politicians employ the use of suggestion in their speeches and political broadcasts in the same way as the advertising agencies do in their manipulative propaganda. Short, easy to understand phrases or sound-bites repeated at every opportunity reinforce and eventually convince the listener. What isn’t generally recognised is how great a part this use of suggestion plays in their nefarious dealings. The use of suggestion in politics is just as important a part of government as are tax breaks and tanks. The only difference is that suggestion is free of charge to anyone who knows how to use it; it costs absolutely nothing, whereas armies and secret police forces are expensive accoutrements.
Before the dissolution of the monasteries, when priests and monks were relieved of their stranglehold on almost every facet of everyday life, the Church relied heavily on the old tried and tested smoke-screen of symbolism and imagery – the medium being infinitely more effective than the message. The mystique and ceremony of Catholicism bamboozled the general populace who were, to a man, ignorant of the precise meaning of the ancient Latin phrases. Christianity is supremely the most hierarchical religious organisation in existence today. The chain of command of priests, bishops, archbishops, deacons, cardinals and popes makes it the largest pyramid selling organisation in the world. And remember they are only selling you an idea!
It was Jesus who invented the Tupperware party. One guy gets twelve guys, who in turn get twelve other guys, who in turn get twelve other guys… before long, the base of the pyramid starts to get bigger and bigger, all the time growing at an exponential rate up to the point where entire populations become involved. Unlike Tupperware however, there is no need for any initial investment as nothing is actually produced in the way of goods, just the basic philosophy….
And the idea is basically this: two thousand years ago, a man without a proper job, whose own family thought he was an oddball and with the aid of a few cheap conjuring tricks was nailed to a tree because he claimed to be the son of God. Unquestioning worship of this man, who was also famous for telling stories with a moral at the end like an early day Aesop, will buy you life after death and eternal happiness and salvation. Jesus and his followers inadvertently started a world religion.
And a good way to annoy Jesus’ modern day followers is to remind them that Jesus was in fact a hypnotist. Yes, that’s right, a hypnotist, and the proof can be found in the last place you would expect to find it… the Bible.
If the reports of the miracles of Jesus in the New Testament are even remotely accurate, it is possible to detect a very clear pattern emerging. In Matthew 8:1-3 Jesus cures a man of leprosy. Not all dermatological problems are actually leprosy; it is a well known fact that all sorts of rashes, hives, blisters, eczema, warts and other lesions (yuck) respond extremely well to hypnotic intervention and suggestion. In the 1940’s there was a celebrated case known as ‘the rhino boy’ where a young man with severe and disfiguring eczema was cured by hypnosis alone in a matter of a very few weeks, in fact the improvement was noticeable the day after the first session.
In Matthew 8:5-11, Jesus cures the servant of a Centurion “sick of the palsy and grievously tormented.” Jesus’ choice of words is interesting; “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed so be it done unto thee.” Jesus is unashamedly utilising faith in the treatment and this is a common theme in Matthew’s reporting of the miracles. Again, in Matthew 8:14-15, Jesus cures Peter’s mother- in-law by direct suggestion; “and he cast out the spirits with His word.”
Could it be that Jesus realised and fully appreciated the enormous power of words well chosen and the underlying psychological mechanism lurking behind them? The point seems to be made very clear by Jesus himself and must surely be apparent to any Biblical scholar.
In Matthew 9:28-29, two blind men came to Jesus who asked them “Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea Lord. Then touched He their eyes… and their eyes were opened.” Hysterical blindness is a well known psychological condition and in many cases, easily cured using hypnosis or just plain old suggestion.
Jesus has this habit of checking whether his subject believes in his powers first – sensible move for any hypnotist. But as with any hypnotist, those that don’t believe simply aren’t going to turn up in the first place and I have no reason to believe that it was any different in Jesus’ day. Yes, Jesus needed the cooperation of his patients before attempting cures at random. Interestingly enough, when Jesus returned to his own home town of Nazareth, the people there rejected him and his powers. Any good hypnotist knows never to try to hypnotise close friends or relatives; it’s not so much because you know them, it more because they know you!
In Matthew 17:14-20 there are other examples of mental illnesses being cured but strangely no examples of severed limbs growing back. Even the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is held in suspicion by many Biblical scholars and churchmen. And it’s also safe to assume that Jesus’ failures were not so highly publicised. Neither are Uri Geller’s, Paul McKenna’s or Benny Hinn’s…
Most disturbing of all is the notion that Christ died on the cross for our sins. This makes us all feel guilty… but thank you anyway for providing a truly brilliant fixation point – the cross.
The offer of the possibility of life after death is such a tempting inducement; it has the power not only to temporarily suspend rational or critical thought, but also to ensure that lesser mortals toe the line. There may indeed be life after death – no one really knows for sure – but it’s not going to be available just because an individual follows a certain set of rituals or a particular guru.
There have been plenty of instances and examples where other mortals have tried to pull the same stunt since, but nobody has ever achieved success on the same scale – it’s probably something to do with being the first to corner the market. In living memory, the ‘reverend’ Sun Myung Moon springs to mind immediately. The smartest people have realised that in a world where the market in religion has already been cornered, the best way to make the real money is to start your own franchise of the same well established religion; enter Benny Hinn and all the other evangelist types.
Whatever the angle, all these bandwagon jumpers have been shrewd enough to follow the tried and tested formulas, even using the same or very similar patter. They claim that they have been chosen by God, to do ‘His work.’ Anyone who questions this will find themselves stood out from the crowd, labelled a troublemaker and running a very great risk of being ostracised by the rest of the group. Failing that, they may very well get their legs broken; such is the competitiveness of the God industry in America.
The more exotic claims of any religion, be it Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Jedi Knight, have no more basis in fact and offer no more empirical proof than astrology or horoscopes, most of which are almost certainly made up the night before they appear in the following day’s newspaper. Millions of people tune in to this twaddle which makes it a perfect example of the power of suggestion on a grand scale.
But I digress… the fact that over a billion people believe in this sort of insanity is cause for concern. Anyone who seriously believes that if you live a good life you will go to heaven, or live a bad life and you will go to hell and be tormented by the devil for all eternity is disturbed. And yet these same people never fail to express mild amusement or occasional abject disgust, even horror, when they are reminded of the quaint beliefs of other societies with their sacred cows, monkey gods, Tokoloshes and ancestor worship. Each religion claims to be the one true faith, the only approved and credible purveyor of God’s word in exactly the same way that different organisations claim to be the only credible bodies representing hypnotists! God is always on the winning side, except when God chooses not to be (on the odd occasion when he decides to exercise His Will, etc., etc.)
This does not mean of course that there is no place for God or even gods. One has only to understand the basic principles of physics or simply look up into the night sky to realise that the universe is constructed in ways that appear to conform to known laws of physics. Stephen Hawking (an atheist) once said that if God exists, then he is a mathematician. If God does indeed exist, then he must exist in every electron, every atom of every grain of sand, every drop of water, every star and every galaxy in the whole of Creation. The catch is that God may not be quite as altruistic as some would have us believe. If God is all seeing, all knowing and all powerful, then surely God feels the anguish of all the suffering in the world and yet for some reason seems to be too busy with other things to do anything about it.
There are many sensible, obvious and logical reasons for this view, but for the time being, it is enough to understand that if God created man in his own image, man has recreated God in his own image, and that’s what we’re stuck with. God must be fuming. No wonder he sends the odd earthquake to smite us on occasions when he’s frustrated to the point of Supreme Anger.
When we consider organised religion, far better a universal faith with rules and guidelines which apply to all and protect all, than this mish-mash of nonsensical ideologies. I read with despair recently about a white middle-class English couple in London who had paid for a spiritual healer to clear their house of any bad Ju-Ju before moving in. Doubtless they also employed a Feng Shui (moving furniture around) expert too! Perhaps they had already considered an exorcism just in case but had probably decided against it on the grounds that it was far too mainstream. This sort of thing is becoming all too common and is symptomatic of a society which has either lost its sense of direction or has too much disposable income.
The problems really start when religion moves from being quaintly illogical to downright ridiculous, something which if not reined in can lead to bigotry and worse, persecution which all too often result in mindless wars and pogroms carried out in God’s name. Allowed to get out of control, religion can promote racism and creates the foundations for movements like the Ku Klux Klan. All of the above is as preamble to the point I am now going to attempt to make.
Unscientific ideas are perpetuated by society’s blind acceptance of untestable beliefs and pre-conceived culturally generated ideas. Magicians know this very well, which is why their illusions work so spectacularly well and, more importantly, so do hypnotists – especially stage hypnotists, a few of whom are extremely skilled at pulling the wool over large numbers of people’s eyes on a nightly basis. They are even better at it than the spoon benders who only know the one trick but nonetheless are able to make a living out of it.
The mantle of modern day Messiah has been taken up by the new breed of corporate guru or overpaid football star. Stage hypnotists can accomplish all the same illusions – the only difference is that they are transparently honest and obsessively truthful about what hypnosis actually is.
And this is precisely why the religious types don’t like them. This disapproval goes much further than plain old fashioned jealousy, superstition and fear of the unknown. It’s more than just the misunderstanding of a concept that is difficult for most people to grasp. For the uninitiated, there is bound to be the uncertainty that accompanies something which seems inexplicable or magical. There’s more to it than the confusion of the phenomenon of pure verbal suggestion with the forces of evil, although without doubt emotions play a large part in that fear.
The damnation of hypnotism and hypnotists, especially the stage variety is based on the fear that once made public, the knowledge of what is actually happening will upset the apple cart once and for all and the game will be well and truly up. The gravy train will grind to a halt and along with it, the tenuous hold on power. The God-botherers will then not only be out of a job, but exposed as the power crazed con artists most of them really are. I would like to quote Thomas Jefferson; “The priests of the different religious sects… dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they thrive.”
This particularly applies to charismatic ‘healers’ like Benny Hinn. This brand of faith healing service is something that is found almost exclusively in the Christian religion. It is highly competitive and definitely falls into the category of big business. Benny Hinn is the market leader and makes around one hundred million US dollars a year. No wonder he, and the rest of his ilk, don’t want you to know how it’s really done! They unashamedly capitalise on expectation and therefore suggestion before the punter even turns up at the venue. The psychological build up, the expectancy, starts from the moment the willing spectators book their tickets. Just like the stage hypnosis show, the evening follows a tried and tested pattern with highs and lows, the liberal use of appropriate music to drive home the point and the peak experiences enjoyed by the people lucky enough to end up on the stage… all in the name of the power of the Holy Spirit. These public exhibitions of mass hysteria are called ‘ministries’ or ‘crusades’ and this too is a very powerful use of language.
Shakespeare also knew this trick very well. In Macbeth, we are introduced at the beginning of the play to three witches who prophesy King Duncan’s murder and Macbeth’s own inevitable demise. From that point on, the tension builds until he breaks the spell by introducing the character of a drunken porter who tells bawdy jokes about the perils of drink and its effect on sexual performance before building the drama again to its final dénouement. There can be no doubt that Elizabethan audiences would have found this both shocking and riveting. But Shakespeare was a master dramatist. He knew that the employment of highs and lows would not only rivet the attention of his audience but would drive home the message of the dangers of evil ambition more than any pulpit sermon. It’s a tried and tested technique and stage hypnotists know it well, or at least stage hypnotists who know and understand their business know it well.
The stage hypnosis show (just like the charismatic healing shows, relentlessly copied but never really refined beyond the certainty of ‘what works’) follows the same formula of highs and lows. First there is the expectation of the audience and then the jokes, then the ‘miracles’ and then the climaxes. It’s like sex really. For some, it’s a substitute. So is gambling.
But that does not mean that religions do not have their miracles – they do. The difference, especially where the ‘miraculous’ healing of the sick is concerned, is that the phenomenon is distinctly the patent of charismatic Christian preachers who use hypnosis as a matter of course even though they don’t admit to it. To give some benefit of the doubt, some of them may not be fully aware of exactly what it is they are doing, even if they may have a sneaking suspicion, but most certainly are and are cashing in big time. In my view, it is impossible for experienced hands to do this sort of thing on a regular basis without the realisation that there is something else, something psychological going on. If they stopped to ask themselves the question; why some and not others? That might lead them on to more scientific enquiry.
Charismatic preachers use the same suggestibility tests, convincers and deepeners that stage hypnotists know and love so well. Even the ‘laying on of hands,’ or hypnotic inductions, are the same. Getting people to fall backwards using the power of suggestion is an old hypnotist’s trick, and these men of God use it all the time. As someone who has had some considerable personal experience in this field, I would hasten to add that there is virtually no difference between the two except to say that the American style evangelists are generally speaking, better showmen! The only real distinction is that with the stage hypnotists, the public have to pay to get in, whereas with the likes of Benny Hinn, they pay to get out! It would also be fair to say that although stage hypnotists are well known for getting people to run round like a chicken, Benny Hinn just has to get them to run round. Stage Hypnotists freely admit that the phenomena they present in the name of entertainment is purely suggestion, even though any further explanation to their audiences is curtailed in order to preserve at least some of the mystique. Charismatic preachers like Benny Hinn resort to age old hocus-pocus and lay the blame for sickness and infirmity on… demons of sickness and infirmity. In his services, Benny Hinn casts out demons with a theatrical relish that would be the envy of any B-movie hypnotist. Hammer House of Horror could not have done better.
Ordinarily speaking, anyone who openly said that they could see “a demon, half man, half beast, walking out through the door” could expect an appointment with a psychiatrist… but not Benny Hinn. Tens of thousands of normally rational people, living in the supposedly advanced United States of America, go for this clap- trap every week and at the same time adopt a patronising attitude toward other cultures that also have demons and spirits as part of their belief systems. It is only because their critical faculties have been temporarily suspended by the hypnotic techniques Hinn uses to great effect that the demons so feared in the middle-ages are allowed to make a brief come-back.
In the highly charged atmosphere of a charismatic ‘healing’ service, human beings behave in a manner that is above all, predictable and preachers like Benny Hinn are nothing more than skilled showmen who have mastered a set of simple psychological and theatrical tricks. They are human beings influencing other human beings, modifying behaviour in exchange for cash. Using every trick in the stage hypnotist’s handbook, they carefully select only the most suggestible from the crowd to come up onto the stage. These participant’s reactions to Hinn’s suggestions serve to confirm the expectations of the rest of the crowd, creating a situation where everyone becomes more suggestible.
The music rises and falls and every so often shifts up a semitone and this helps to generate a heightened state of emotion which releases opiates that increase suggestibility and therefore hypnotisability. Benny Hinn coordinates these experiences like the conductor of an orchestra and he works his audience hard. In keeping with the best traditions of show business, his arrival on the stage is carefully timed to happen as the final verse of the hymn How Great Thou Art, in a superb arrangement for massed choirs and full orchestra reaches its inspired and thrilling climax.
As he walks to the front, Benny exudes supreme confidence, tempered with just the right degree of humility so as not to upstage God. On any given night, scores of technicians, riggers, sound and lighting engineers, musicians and singers encourage the fabrication of the illusion.
As if all that isn’t enough, Benny (God bless him) uses another old trick – the bogey-man, in this case, the Devil, Satan, the Forces of Darkness… and the crowd laps it up faster than he can spoon-feed it to them. He’s the greatest!
Although Palestinian by birth Benny Hinn is the epitome of the all- American success story; arriving in the United States at the age of six – a refugee from the Arab/Israeli Six Day War – he has seized opportunity in the land where the seizing of opportunity is the one true religion. And he plays the part perfectly; wearing white suits (the good cowboys always wear white) he confirms and reconfirms all the beliefs that America holds dear.
He is the ultimate middle-man, and his share of the profits has realised a life-style his congregation marvel at – and accept. In one of his recent broadcasts he quite openly and transparently appealed for six thousand people to send in a mere $1,000 each – and as a matter of urgency. And what would they get for their six million? Everlasting life? Eternal bliss? A seat at the right hand of God? Er… no; what they would get for their money is… a brand new private jet for Benny’s personal use. Within the first ten minutes, there had been fifty-two calls! God bless America!
(Actually that is not strictly accurate; only fifty-one calls were from people pledging their thousand dollars, the other one was from me asking the telephonist to pass on a personal message to Pastor Benny from yours truly and I have to say, the person on the other end of the line was not as helpful as I thought she would be.
Well, I suppose the old adage is true; “Only in America!” But wait… Benny comes to the UK at least once a year and you can’t get a seat! He has been to Manchester and filled the 30,000 seat Manchester Evening News Arena three nights on the trot! Even I – yes that’s right, even cynical old me has finally realised that I’m in the wrong business.
He asks the entire congregation to look at him “eye to eye please… you must let every guard down… become completely open…” and when Benny Hinn performs hypnosis, he rarely meets the resistance that other stage hypnotists encounter for the simple reason that what is on offer is the opportunity to be “filled with the rapture of the Holy Spirit,” and invitation which is so seductive, they can’t wait to throw themselves on the ground, egged on by the mass hysteria of the multitude. They really want it badly! I have come to the conclusion that for a lot of people, it’s a substitute for sex. On a good night, large numbers of ordinarily sane individuals will writhe, fit and perform just as expected.
When large numbers of people come together like this, performing actions together, in lock-step, they get caught up in the heat of the moment and it is at this point that they can be persuaded to behave in ways that they would not contemplate under normal circumstances – some will even leap out of their wheelchairs.
But the preacher is only the catalyst for such conduct. The mild glow, the wide eyes, the tears of joy are a direct result of chemical and electrical reactions taking place deep within the brain. They are literally intoxicated… This state of euphoria produces naturally occurring painkillers that make it possible, for the duration of the performance at least, for those in pain to leap and run about the stage in paroxysms of ecstasy as the suggestions delivered by the preacher take on a personal meaning and significance. The willingness of the recipient to blindly accept the suggestions transforms even the most banal utterances into perceived wisdom – there are things you can say to a thousand people that would be impossible to say to ten people, another thing the Nazis fully understood.
But the ‘cure’ is only temporary. Within a few hours, the brain will rebalance its chemicals and the aches and pains return. Benny Hinn meanwhile is already on his way to the next town, most usually flying in his private jet, counting the money. For the people left behind, especially those who have been so deeply hypnotised into believing that their cancers have been cured, that they all too often go on to refuse the treatment and life-saving drugs their doctors and specialists say are necessary and this blind belief is typical of hypnosis. Suggestion cannot restore an amputated limb or cure a brain tumour, despite Benny Hinn’s claims to the contrary.
Leading theologians condemn these practices because they prey on the desperate and give false hope to those who have no other way of escape from lives filled with difficulty and pain and suffering and yet this kind of hypnosis is happening all over the United States on a daily basis. By default, this creates a vicious circle where the mind becomes trapped in a cycle of control and dominance where people are constantly being hypnotised and re- hypnotised every time they go to one of these events – and many people go a lot!
How on earth do they get away with it? Surely there must be someone in the vast heartland of the United States that could, or should, say something. Surely they can’t all have been taken in? The answer to this question has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with politics.
In America, the influence of the fundamentalist Christian Right is not only felt in the small towns of the mid-west and the Bible belt, its influence is most strongly felt – and feared – at the ballot box. Any candidate standing for election knows full well the hold the preachers have over the significant majority of the population, and to criticise them is akin to criticising God Himself. Any Representative, Senator or Presidential hopeful is simply not willing to take the risk of losing tens of thousands, or even millions, of votes. In fact, the majority of politicians actively court the Christian right simply because their voice is so powerful and their votes so numerous.
Individuals are already conditioned before they turn up on Sunday morning for worship and such is their virulent opposition to anything supernatural (other than their own more mainstream beliefs) that even Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a target for their dread.
As a stage hypnotist, I rate Benny Hinn as one of the finest in the business. I congratulate him on his showmanship, on his presentation, his stage presence, his hypnotic ability and on his ruthless business acumen. I also admire his phenomenal success. He truly is an accomplished performer. The ‘cures’ or ‘miracles’ are brought about not by the power of the Holy Spirit, but by the power of suggestion.
Benny Hinn’s services follow exactly the same pattern on every occasion and the results are what any stage hypnotist would instantly recognise. An obvious question would be that if God really is all seeing, all knowing and all powerful and he really does know all about the suffering of those with terminal pain, why then does he need Benny Hinn to do his work for him?
There is one other major difference between the healers and the hypnotists. Whereas Benny Hinn’s ‘miracles’ are short lived, the hypnotherapist can teach clients the relaxation and visualisation techniques that will help ease pain on a more permanent basis.
It is no accident that Benny Hinn and the rest of the coincidental hypnotists are the same people who are the most virulent opponents of stage hypnotism and this opposition is loyally disseminated through the ranks whenever the opportunity arises. Hypnosis or ‘the devil’s work’ as it is sometimes known, has attracted a fearful reputation amongst the religiously brain- washed. These are people who have been so utterly convinced that hypnosis really is a form of demonic mind control that their own minds are no longer able to function well enough to see the other side of the reasoned argument. Surely it is this purposeful economy with the truth and the determination to keep people in the dark and handing over money that is the real devil’s work!
There is nothing in the Bible that specifically mentions hypnosis, although there is a rather vague hint in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, where there is a quick mention of “binding one with a spell.” After a brief on-line discussion with the person who pointed this out to me, I received the following reply; “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are willing to come to your home to have Bible discussions with interested persons at no cost.” No thanks, I’ll be worshipping Satan that day. Well, I’ll be watching the rugby, which is the next best thing.
There’s also a great passage in the New Testament that says “and the roar of the Triumph of Jesus could be heard throughout the land” – living proof that Jesus was the first man in history to ride a motorcycle. I suppose in the end, it’s all down to how you interpret it. In any case, hypnotism per se didn’t exist at the time the Bible was written, although ironically it is down to the power of suggestion that the book has become the best selling volume in history. Even many less religious people are suggestible enough to feel that they need to have a copy, just in case….
There is another admonition which comes from a group known as the Seventh Day Adventists who believe that no one should exercise their will to control the senses of others and this is based apparently on Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:28; “Come unto me all ye that labour.” I know, it’s difficult to see the connection but that is exactly what is quoted. We have already seen that the subject is always free to accept or reject suggestions as they please, so the warnings of religious types are pointless anyway, but there it is….
I think it’s worth pointing out that Jehovah’s Witnesses are also unalterably and implacably opposed to any type of blood transfusion on the grounds that there is a passage in the Bible which forbids that as well although I have been unable to find it.
The cult of the Christian Science faith however is an altogether more interesting study. This offshoot of mainstream Christianity is opposed to hypnosis absolutely, in any form, even hypnosis used strictly for medical purposes. And the reason for this rabid hostility? Stand by to be amazed. The Church’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy suffered from hallucinations, a condition now thought to be associated with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy but in the less enlightened 1860’s people believed her when she told them that it was the voice of God she had heard in a series of ‘visitations.’ In the more enlightened twenty-first century, she would probably be laughed off the stage and sent to see the nearest psychiatrist.
Travelling through the United States at the time was a stage hypnotist called Phineas Quimby and Quimby was willing to give lessons in hypnosis to anyone who was interested for a staggering $100 a time, a fortune in those days. One of his students was… Mary Baker Eddy! Quimby had also made an attempt to start his own religion but his efforts were eclipsed by those of his protégé.
From that point on however, the techniques of hypnosis, and especially of stage hypnotists were used extensively by the Christian Science Church and by exploiting tried and tested methods of concentration, followers were “miraculously able to bring about changes in mental and physical health.” Poor Mary, to make all this work, she had to denounce the very thing that had inspired her in the first place, deciding to present it as a divine religion rather than a simple psychological technique.
To be completely fair, people in whose lives the church plays a significant part are generally happier than their non church-going counterparts. Those who prey on a regular basis and trust in God are in the main, more able to withstand the stresses and strains of everyday life. People who are able to enter into fervent and sincere prayer seem to have found a firm mental rudder with which to steer through the trials and tribulations of life. These people also have the support of a strong and caring community. Nonetheless, the very act of closing one’s eyes and praying and talking to God, is a form of self-hypnosis. No religion in the world teaches its followers to pray with clenched fists or whilst trying to balance on tip-toes. The preferred attitude of prayer is one of relaxation (or hands-up supplication in the case of the happy-clappies.) Those that pray all agree that when they open their eyes they break the connection with God. This is what happens when people decide to open their eyes during hypnosis – the spell is broken.
It is during these intense moments of concentration that the emotional experience is at its most effective. If the experience is given a positive motivation and direction, a beneficial transformation is likely the happy result. Even in prayer, or self- hypnosis, it is possible for very powerful and positive suggestions to take root, even if these suggestions are based on what the person doing the praying wishes for themselves.
Emotion concentrates the mind. Even if a subject has a cognitive understanding of their own particular problem, it is often at the emotional level where the introduction of positive suggestions can most effectively influence and modify the negative ideas that may have been accidentally implanted.
Persons who find it easy to experience deep emotions and express those emotions much more frequently succumb to bouts of emotional or mental illness. They also happen to be highly suggestible. Those with a more cynical (and in my view healthy) and realistic outlook on life find it difficult to stir their emotions or even express them. The stoic personality, because of its inflexibility, does not make a good subject, even though stoics and cynics can be very imaginative. These latter types tend not to suffer from emotional problems and so you very rarely see them in the therapy room.
When dealing with the Holy Spirit we often see emotional experiences or emotional awakenings. Go along to any modern day charismatic Christian Church, especially in the United States and you will routinely see the cringe-worthy spectacle of people speaking in tongues – a direct result of the hysteria which affects groups of people when they are subjected to just such an emotional experience. Now of course they’re not really speaking in tongues, they just think they’re speaking in tongues – any rational analysis will reveal that their bizarre rantings are nothing more than gibberish. I remember in my student days suddenly and unexpectedly being able to speak fluent Swahili when pissed, hunched over the toilet, vomiting and saying “Oh God” quite a lot.
In all formalised religions, the young are taught how to pray from the earliest possible age. Knowing how to pray properly is the key to the acceptance of suggestions. Just as in hypnosis, prayer contains a seriousness of intent and purpose which is the direct cause of the acceptance of barmy ideas. Many religious people aver that prayer changes things, and indeed it does, for exactly these reasons. All you have to do is believe…
God however reserves the right to answer prayer with a resounding “No” and examples of auto-suggestion have never been seriously disputed by any theological scholars.
There are no countries that actually ban hypnotism outright, either on stage or in therapeutic practice, although there are some countries that regulate its practice. Chief among them is the United Kingdom where public performances of hypnotism for the purposes of entertainment are regulated by the 1952 Hypnotism Act. Stage hypnosis is also regulated in Australia by the Psychological Practices Act, although most Aussie performers simply ignore this inconvenient rule and carry on doing shows regardless – one or two have taken to calling themselves ‘psychological illusionists’ or ‘mind magicians’ in a brilliantly successful attempt to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness with local bureaucrats. In Sweden and Norway stage hypnosis can be carried out with the permission of the Social Authority. I have performed many times in all these countries and have never been refused permission. Other than that, hypnotists have pretty much a free reign worldwide.
I have never come across any objections from any of the mainstream religious organisations. I have done enough free shows for Jewish, Moslem and Christian charities over the years to know that there are no objections on religious grounds from these groups either. Likewise, as someone who had a reasonably strict Catholic education, I know that there is no objection from the Vatican. Not even the Scientologists are bothered about hypnosis. Mention hypnotism to a Scientologist and their first reaction is more likely to be a request for help to stop smoking.
This fear and loathing of hypnotists and the attendant mind numbing paranoia that goes with it, is only found in certain sections of the Jesus-loving community, and then, only in certain parts of the world. It is only in the cultish subdivisions of mainstream Christianity that one encounters any hostility and apart from the born-again task force, this appears to be limited to a few Jehovah’s Witnesses, the odd Seventh Day Adventist, Christian Scientists and another sect calling themselves the Christadelphians. There may be more, but I haven’t come across them yet but doubtless I will in the future!
All these anti-hypnosis groups have the same things in common. They are all run by lay people rather than full time priests or scholars and are principally found in small towns or rural areas which are safely situated well away from the influence of the more sophisticated philosophies that thrive in big cities. Their followers are conservative, often right wing and usually a good deal more concerned with the fight between good and evil than followers of the more mainstream religions than is psychologically healthy. They are more likely to view things in terms of black and white and willing to compromise more seldom than their urban fellows. Preachers generally have day jobs, are staunchly middle class, and more often than not are elected to their positions in the same way town councillors are. It is this background that provides us with the first clues.
Once in office, they very quickly become pissed with power, to coin a phrase, and rapidly develop a ridiculously high opinion of their own morality and importance, something which they then become desperate to impress upon their fellow parishioners. They soon become addicted to this exalted saintliness and never hesitate to resort to the tried and tested techniques of rule by fear, eventually becoming skilled manipulators of, and spokesmen for, everyone else’s conscience. Bush and Blair are both fundamentalist Christians and know this trick well. They have both claimed that they consulted God before committing troops to Iraq. Coincidentally, Adolf Hitler claimed that he too was the instrument of God’s Will in his hysterically funny book Mien Kampf. Whether or not Bush and Blair really did receive God’s sanction is, I think a matter for God, but I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes if they just made it up when He eventually kaks them out for it.
These tin gods control a very small empire of maybe a few hundred or so simple folk within a relatively small locality and they never hesitate to rise to the challenge of impressing their worthiness and authority on more than just issues of local and trivial importance. What better bogeyman than the evil stage hypnotist to provide an excuse to vent a little spleen and keep the rest of flock in check?
The arrival of a stage hypnotist in town gives them a perfect opportunity for some serious spleen venting and absurdly fatuous pronunciation. God forbid any follower should attend a show and suddenly become curious about the incredible similarity between what is done on stage in the name of comedy and what occurs every Sunday morning in the name of mind control, er… sorry, I mean praising the Lord, or when they tune in to the Christian TV channel to watch this week’s episode of the Benny Hinn Show. Even Cletus the slack-jawed yokel might have his suspicions aroused. Best give them a good reason to stay away…
The second clue is in the geographical demographic. The anti- hypnosis brigade has their main support in the heartlands of culturally underdeveloped countries – countries like the United States of America. Forget the real underdeveloped parts of the third world for a moment; the countless villages of India and Vietnam have never even heard of hypnotism let alone developed a view on it, although doubtless they will have experienced it! We are talking about nations that have at least the pretence of sophistication and modernity. In reality, the great populations of Middle America displays many of the symptoms of being culturally backward and individual thought can be something of an unfamiliar skill. These populations have achieved a level of conformity and obedience that Stalin would have envied.
But these Middle American Bible-belt communities (and the Dorps of South Africa) are not sophisticated. In fact they are totally unsophisticated. Their idea of sophistication is having mayonnaise instead of ketchup with their chips… sorry, French fries. With sophistication comes the ability to see a bigger picture of the world and make rational decisions based on as much information as possible. And this is what the God-botherers fear so much. Sophistication brings with it the rationality and logic of cynicism. Cynicism goes hand in hand with intelligent and coherent debate and the facility to not only answer the questions, but question the answers. Do away with blind unquestioning, ignorance, and cynicism becomes second nature. It is entirely healthy for human beings to question, even to challenge any traditional mind-set, to suspect authority and inevitably distrust the hierarchy behind it.
This does not mean that I am advocating anarchy. Ignorance breeds superstition whereas enlightenment brings a natural and truly God-given ability to decide for oneself. This is one of the fundamental principles of secular government. The French fought for it in their Revolution – an event that did not just free the people from oppressive government based on wealth, rank and privilege, but it also broke the stranglehold of the church on all public affairs. The Americans have the principle enshrined in their Bill of Rights, when they choose to remember it and the European nations cling to the idea with a zeal that has been earned at enormous cost by people ravaged almost to the point of annihilation by two World Wars.
So, can the principles of hypnosis, (or suggestion,) ever live side by side with the principles of religious belief when there is obviously such an overlap in practice? It is my opinion that they can, and for lots of reasons.
The most obvious is that they already do anyway, at least most of the time. An understanding of hypnosis, even the practice of hypnosis or a rational appreciation of the power of suggestion should not affect an individual’s religious beliefs in any way shape or form. Religion is simply a matter of personal choice. Hypnosis is a very simple psychological technique that has its own value. Only a fool (or a control freak) would try to persuade another that his or her mind will be taken over by the power of the devil, Satan or the Dark Side of the Force. Advertising is far more influential than hypnotism can ever be, if only because it is far more subtle, and yet I don’t hear anyone cursing Saatchi & Saatchi, although they should. Perhaps an awareness of the power of suggestion should be taught in schools? Now that would be an interesting development! God forbid though, that the advertisers and the churches should unite in common cause and return us to the Dark Ages!
Both the practice of hypnosis and the practice of religion involve a certain degree of ritual. The ritual of the hypnotic induction, particularly in the stage setting, is as important a part of the process as the ritual of worship. This may go some way to explaining the success of Neuro-Linguistic Programming in America. NLP uses hypnosis without using the word hypnosis. NLP practitioners thrive in places where hypnotists would once have been burned at the stake. NLP is devoid of all the old connotations of mind control and the associated baggage of witchcraft, voodoo, Vincent Price and all the rituals that are an unfortunate hangover from the days of Franz Mesmer and animal magnetism, although Richard Bandler has assumed the role of Messiah as far as his disciples are concerned.
In the final analysis, it is only those who are either wilfully or naively ignorant, or those with a vested interest in the power trip of control that feel the need to confuse or exercise dominion over what is after all, simply the clever use of language. I fully understand the nature of suggestion – it has been my specialist subject for nearly thirty years – and yet I also can’t help thinking from time to time that there might just be a God and He might just have a plan for the universe, whatever it is and in which case I make it a habit never to second guess God’s plan.
But I don’t suffer fools gladly either. So when they rant and rave, and call me the son of Satan, I merely smile and say it does not matter whether they come to see the show or not, their children have already seen it on TV and they laughed a lot. They are now mine forever and will never again believe another word hurled at them by a preacher of fire and brimstone.
It is truly astonishing the things people still believe in this enlightened age. The distrust of hypnotism and hypnotists is exactly the same sort of hysteria as the dread fear of witches in days long gone. Remember, it was so called righteous men that manipulated many a community’s way of thinking and in turn condemned tens of thousands of innocent women to a barbarous death at a burning stake. The same holds true today. It is always those who are desperate to hold onto their smidgeon of power who are first to light the bonfire. I have no time for them, for they are the real evil-doers. May they be chastised by the devil for all eternity and may their progeny all have small penises – especially the boys.
Even though blind belief is an evil in itself, in the twenty-first century, the devil of the new religion is the climate change denier; unscientific, selective and worse, government controlled false conviction (not to mention a great new way of raising taxes) and mass hysteria in a new, unproven and hideously erroneous bogie man. Global Warming denial is so politically incorrect now that climate change deniers have become the new holocaust deniers. Baa, baa, baa…
For more information about Hypnosis and Religion, read All in the Mind – Hypnosis, Suggestion and the New Mesmerists. Available from this website or from the publisher.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2013. All rights reserved.