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Religion, Faith, and Hypnosis

February 4, 2012

I’ve been struggling with how to handle this particular subject.  It’s difficult and unpleasant for me, but it’s something that’s laying on top of my brain like a brick.

I’ve talked about Christianity and organized religion before, and not really in a positive way.  The news is full of stories about people, professing to be Christians, who are attempting to exercise distinctly un-Christian actions upon those who they find fault with.  The same-sex marriage debate comes to mind first, as do attacks on charitable institutions and the concept of social justice.  People outside of the Christian faith are quick to point out that these so-called “Christians” aren’t following the values that Christ preached, and many “Christians” respond with… well, vitriol, threats of violence, and other responses which are, again, un-Christian in nature.

It seems that a large number of very vocal practitioners of the Christian faith are acting in a spectacularly non-Christian manner, while still shrouding themselves in Biblical teaching.  There are only really three explanations that I can see for this dichotomy, and all of them upset me.

  • Those acting and speaking in a non-Christian manner are incompetent
  • Those acting and speaking in a non-Christian manner are dishonest
  • Those acting and speaking in a non-Christian manner have been badly misled

The first possibility postulates that people who are quoting scripture in the justification of hatred, bigotry, and ignorance are doing so because they honestly can’t read any other message out of the Bible.  Given the current state of the educational system in general, this is certainly a possibility.  This presumes, of course, that there are broad groups of Christians who are reading the Bible themselves and attempting to find their own interpretation, which isn’t the case.  The majority of Christians, particularly in the United States, get their interpretations handed to them by a church organization.  Could the church organizations themselves lack the mental capacity to properly interpret the relatively simple Christian message?

As much as I’d like to revel in the possibility, that’d just be me dancing on the grave of my faith in the Church.  No, I’ve known far too many brilliant individuals in church leadership and education, at least in the organizations I’ve been a part of.  I can’t speak for every church organization (there are many), but as for the ones that I am familiar with, their Biblical interpretation kung-fu is strong.  A dedicated group of individuals reviewing Biblical text using hermaneutical interpretation (interpreting the Bible using the Bible as primary source) can generally do the job and come to common conclusions.

The second possibility postulates that Christians who are loudly proclaiming non-Christian values as gospel are aware that they are speaking contrary to the teachings of Christ, but they choose to do so anyway.  Whether it is to advance a personal or organizational agenda, or out of some other motivation, they are lying.  You know, there’s a lot of money in organized religion.  Money, power, political influence… plenty of reasons to forward a false “Christian” agenda.  Again, it would fill me with glorious schadenfreude (the pleasure gained from another’s misfortune) to jump up and down and yell “THIS!  This is what!  They’re evil!  EEEEE-VILLLLE!”  It may well be, in some cases.

I am prevented from doing so for two reasons.  One, a lot of very good, very well-intentioned people are in the camp that I’m discussing, and I would be doing them a disservice by jumping to the conclusion that all of this behavior is based on deliberate malfeasance.  Two, I try to put the best construction on everything and everyone (according to Luther’s explanation of the eighth commandment), and dishonesty isn’t the most charitable explanation.

So, I’m going to look very hard at the third possibility, from my own personal perspective.  See, among my skillset, I can list not only game design and Biblical theology, but also Hypnosis.  Depending on which accrediting organization you ask, I’m not only a Master Hypnotist but also a certified Medical Hypnotherapist.  I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what Hypnosis is (and what it isn’t), so if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to go off on a tangent for a moment.

Thanks to Hollywood and popular culture, there are a lot of misconceptions about Hypnosis out there.  Hypnosis isn’t mind control, and it isn’t brainwashing.  It doesn’t help that Hypnosis is misnamed – Hypnos is the Greek god of sleep, but Hypnosis isn’t sleep.  It’s a natural state that humans fall into on a regular basis.

Whenever you focus on something so much that everything else seems to fade away into the background, you’re in a state of Hypnosis.  If you’ve ever concentrated on something to the point where someone had to call your name a few times, or jump in front of you to get your attention, you’ve been in the state of Hypnosis.  In the moments between waking up and opening your eyes in the morning, you’re in a state of Hypnosis.  As you fall to sleep at night, you’re in a state of Hypnosis.  When you go to a movie, or watch television, or even when you’re staring into a computer screen, you’re in a state of Hypnosis.

What Hypnosis does is to increase your general level of suggestibility.  The conscious portion of your mind, the part that makes judgment calls and filters concepts that are sinking into your brain, becomes less prevalent.  Advertisers are quite aware of this state, as an evening of television will tell you.  Ideas presented to you when you’re in this suggestible state are more likely to take root in the mind.  When you focus on a big movie screen in a darkened theater, and they show that twenty-foot-tall ice-cold Coke, with condensation beading down the side and that little mist of carbonation at the top, you tend to really want a Coke.  Heck, I want a Coke right now just typing that.

You’re not helpless to take these suggestions, though.  You still, and always, have the ability to reject them.  You can either simply plant your mental feet and say “no, I don’t want a Coke.”  Truly deep states of Hypnosis, where you are highly suggestible, require a lot of trust on the part of the person being Hypnotized.  If you walk into that theater trusting them to put nothing on the screen that you would want to reject, you’re probably gonna get a Coke; also true if you were kind of “on the fence” about whether you were going to get a Coke or not when you walked in.

(As a note: you’re also less suggestible if you are aware that this process is occurring… just by reading this tangent on Hypnosis, you’re going to be rendered a little less suggestible to advertisements in movies and television).

There are a number of mental and physical activities that increase one’s level of suggestibility, allowing one to reach deeper states of Hypnosis.  You’re probably familiar with some of them… meditation being one of them.  One of the great things about Hypnosis is that when you’re in a deep state of suggestibility, you can give yourself suggestions for self-improvement.  Self-Hypnosis is very real, and very effective.

Now, what does all of this have to do with religion, faith, Christianity, and the church?

Hypnosis and suggestibility are modern names for things that people have been using for a very long time.  The arts of communication and persuasion are as old as civilization (perhaps even older).  There are a lot of traditional activities that induce and deepen levels of suggestibility, but most traditional practitioners of these activities would never call it Hypnosis.  It’s just the way things have always been done.  If you practice traditions in a generational model, just doing what the people who came before you did, and passing it on to the next people down the line, the original reasons for these traditions can be lost to time.  The traditions continue, though.

All of which is to say that I’m not accusing anyone of doing anything willfully, here.  I don’t believe that the people involve understand what it is that they’re doing; it’s just the way that things have always been done, and it works for them, so why change it?  Of course, it’s possible that some people may be doing this with the full knowledge of what, exactly, they’re doing to people, but that isn’t the only explanation, nor the most charitable.  I’ll chalk this up to generations of tradition.

If you gather a large group of people together, you can increase their suggestibility as a group.  The depth of suggestibility can be greatly increased if you induce it in a group of people, as they will tend to reinforce the suggestions you give them among one another.

Getting all of those people to visually focus on common points in space, such as symbols on walls or windows, especially symbols right in front of them, increase and deepen their levels of suggestibility.

When there is strain on the optic nerve, such as when the eyes are looking upward, suggestibility is increased and deepened.

Speaking, chanting, or singing in unison increases and deepens the suggestibility of the entire group.  If the group is using words in a language that they do not understand, the suggestibility is increased and deepened even more.

A pattern of physical movement, such as a sequence of standing, sitting, and/or kneeling increases and deepens suggestibility.  Doing it in a group, where the actions of those around you mirror you own, serves to increase and deepen suggestibility even more.

Once a deep level of suggestibility has been reached, the average person remains at their maximum suggestibility for about twenty minutes.

Suggestions given to someone in this state often need to be reinforced; the ideal interval for sessions of suggestion turn out to be about once a week.

The real trouble here is that I’ve just described the average church service.  Everything done in the service, from the cross (or other symbol) at the front of the church when you walk in to the bits that you do in Latin to the sermon, increases the suggestibility of the group.  Most modern Christian faiths teach that you need to be a regular church attendee, going once a week or even more often.  Immediately after being in this deep state of suggestion, there’s Bible study and Sunday School, where information can be presented to the freshly opened minds of the congregation.

Does the pastor at the front of the church understand what he is doing, by ascending the steps up to the pulpit and causing the congregation to lift their eyes up to him, increasing strain on the optic nerve?  Does he know that the twenty minutes usually allotted for a sermon is the ideal amount of time he has to plant suggestions deepest into the minds of his flock?  Does he know that he is conditioning the congregation?

I strongly tend to doubt it; I’ve seen the training that pastors get in several different faiths.  There isn’t a course on “deepening the Hypnotic state of the study group.”  There are only traditions, passed down from those who learned it from those that passed it down to them.  They are spreading the Gospel and serving as diligent servants of the God they truly love and are completely devoted to.  I have to believe that in the majority of cases, they honestly have no idea that they are engaging in mental conditioning.

Now, please understand, I’m not saying anything about the validity of the faith involved.  I have my own views on Biblical truth and the nature of Christ and Christianity, and I wouldn’t try to tell someone that their beliefs are invalid any more than I’d let someone else tell me that mine are.  I’m not saying that any Biblical beliefs are, in any way, invalidated by the fact that this process is occurring in churches.  I’m just saying that this process is occurring in churches.

If a Christian seems to hold strongly to their beliefs, it’s because those beliefs have been given a powerful presence in their mind.  They’ve had their questioning, judgmental minds relaxed and massive amounts of suggestions on what it is they should believe poured in, week after week, year after year.  They are surrounded by people who share these beliefs just as strongly.  These aren’t just a set of suppositions that are open to question or debate; they are truths of the divine Universe and the key to eternal life.

In many ways, it’s becoming harder to be a Christian, and I think it should.  Christianity was never meant to be easy.  At the same time, the church is under constant attack from the world around it.

No, I’m not going to start talking about Christians like they’re a persecuted minority, because they’re not.  They’ve gotten use to a world of special privilege, and it’s gone to their heads.  I’m saying that in a world where science is learning more and more about how the universe functi0ns, holding to a strictly Biblical interpretation of time and geology is increasingly difficult.  Faith, after all, probably shouldn’t trump facts.  Many Christians, in the defense of beliefs that have been solidly driven into their brains, end up having to sound tremendously ignorant to everyone else.

“The world can’t be five billion years old – God only created it six thousand years ago.”

“Evolution is a lie – God created Adam out of the dust of the Earth, and then created Eve out of his rib, and that’s where we come from.”

Or, of course, any statement that begins with “When the Rapture comes…”

I like to think I’m a rational person.  I had a few of these beliefs in my head myself, once upon a time.  Back when I was a once-a-week church-goin’ Christian.  Heck, I still have some residual resistance to portions of the theory of Evolution – not that I think God created Adam and Eve as progenitors of the human race, or that I doubt the demonstrable mechanisms by which Evolution occurs, but rather in how all of the pieces of the theory are assembled.  It’s hard to put into words, ’cause that’s not my discipline.  I’m studying it, though, and trying to enlighten myself.

The church is packed full of beliefs which are challenged by the world around them, all of the time.  They’re well-armed for this… even Scripture tells us that the wisdom of man is the foolishness of God, while God’s wisdom may appear to be foolishness to man.  Or, in other words, “people are going to tell you that this stuff sounds stupid, but it isn’t.”

Now, if this set of beliefs was limited to the story of creation and how mankind has been saved from original sin, that’d probably be just fine.  It’d be a set of beliefs that would give people comfort and a sense of their place in the Universe, and I’m not going to begrudge anyone either of those things.  The conditioning delivered in the average church, however, doesn’t stop with these things.

Pastors and other church staff, as it turns out, are people.  Even when they have the best interests of their flock of followers in mind, they also have their own agendas.  Agendas of all kinds, including their own set of political beliefs.  These beliefs come out in the church service, during the sermon and the prayers.  They come out when their congregation is suggestible.  These beliefs become intertwined with the strictly religious beliefs that people are open to, and become one in the same.

Suddenly, we have a conflict of interests.  Politics get involved in religion.  Democrats are immoral atheist communists who want to chisel away at the faith of the decent Christians, and take their guns away as well!  Conservatives are the only people who are trying to protect decent Christian values.  Liberals are trying to promote a homosexual agenda!  These beliefs are driven deep into the minds of the caring congregation like bullets being loaded into the chambers of a revolver.  They will be held with every bit of conviction that a belief in a six-day creation story is.

So loaded, these Christians, when they see their beliefs threatened or challenged, will react like human beings.  They become less likely to react with a calm and rational mind, or even with the core values of Christianity, but more likely to react with anger and vitriol.  “You better not say that crap around MY church, or we’ll send you to God so He can set you straight!”

True Christian faith, distinctly non-Christian message.  Deeply held beliefs, corrupted by deeply held beliefs.  Traditions of the church which put ridiculous amounts of power in the hands of the clergy; power which the clergy may not (or may) understand.  There are people out there who are afraid of Christians, you know.  That isn’t the relationship that Christ wanted His followers to have with the world.

This is part of a much, much larger set of issues, but I need to tackle them one at a time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 4, 2012 6:54 pm

    It would be nice if more religious groups taught without the more subtle acts of mind control. Then again, those organizations that survive are going to be the ones most effective at persuasion.

    I think just being aware of it is the best thing.

    The message I often find most disturbing is the “You are a flawed sinner, and you should be ashamed, but its OK because I can forgive you if you just love and obey me.”

    How many abusive spouses, parents, or kidnappers use that tactic?

  2. Twisted Joe permalink
    February 26, 2012 5:23 pm

    I don’t think I agree completely. I think a large part of humanity is prone to reject new ideas and new realities and so has problems accepting that the world isn’t how they saw it. While I think this creeps into the teaching of that religion, I think it mostly tends to make those who already are prone to reject coming to terms with new knowledge of the world more comfortable in doing so, but not inherently instilling those prejudices.

    One such example, in my opinion, is the issue of racism. After all, the original Christian teachings were much against racism. And while the Roman Catholic church has done much to corrupt Christianity, this is one of those areas where the influence of the Roman empire, which largely ignored race (at least much more so than virtually anyone else at the time), was a positive factor, accepting those from Ethiopia or other areas as brothers.

    But this didn’t prevent many Catholics becoming just as mired in racism as anyone else. Where they and others were racist, those churches were racist and where people were more open and accepting, those churches preached tolerance and brotherhood. Instead of the churches creating the problem, they simply mirrored the prejudice of their flock and the priests of the area.

    And that’s why I said I don’t completely agree, because while I don’t think it necessarily originates with the churches, I think those churches that hold to these traditions prevent their flocks from honestly evaluating that new knowledge in the light of scripture. It doesn’t create the problem, but it prevents any solution to it.

    It’s also why to me, any true church cannot be one where only an ordained expert can speak, but where all may speak. It’s astonishing to me that Jesus said in multiple passages that we must be more like children that churches then insist that we must all listen to the most elderly, unchildlike, authorities to properly understand him. They all seem to think it’s only a matter of children having absolute faith, despite the fact that neither Thomas, nor even Jesus himself, had that kind of faith.

    Instead, it seems rather obvious to me that it’s that same ability to recognize our ignorance and our willingness to learn that makes them “the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And it’s only when we are willing to listen to speak and listen as equals in the eyes of our creator, as we all are, that we can truly learn, listening to those with different points of view and coming to terms with those.

    So to me, I’ve only ever been to a true church once, one held in a high-school classmate’s home. In that case, we talked about various things and while much of what I thought and believed didn’t mirror his own (or those of his parents), they listened to my thoughts and views with respect and responded in kind. In some cases, he changed my mind, in others I changed his and in the vast majority of the times, neither changed, but we held no animosity toward the other for our differences. We came to understand how each other felt and what our understanding was of what we read, but each was ultimately left to be led by God alone, not by the other.

    In such a setting, there is certainly a place for learning, where understanding of translation, geography, social customs of biblical times or so on would lead to a better clearer interpretation of the reading. But at no time should such a learned man’s opinion replace that of the reader themselves. If God wants each of us to come to him and moves each of through the holy spirit to better understand him and we each read such passages with that Godly intent, it is no man’s place to come between him and that understanding, suggesting that his opinion is better than that which someone comes to through the mind and gifts given to him by God. Or to put it another way, I have known men of great learning who were nothing but fools in their hearts and I have known people with little education who were full of wisdom, love and joy. We all have value and we should hear the opinions of all if we truly wish to understand love, the most important of all qualities.

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