One of the assignments this week in Atheism for Lent was to watch a video called “Messiah.” In a nutshell Illusionist Derren Brown convinces people with various belief systems that he has supernatural powers. He poses as a medium who can speak with the dead, someone who can see another person dreams, an alien abduction survivor, a psychic and an evangelist who can cause people to believe in God with just a touch.
It was fascinating to watch people accept his story and his [false] abilities no questions asked. If anyone had simply said “Is this a trick?,” he would have confessed it was—but no one asked.
In a scene straight out of a Christian revival meeting, Brown invited a room of people to stand. After just a few words and broad arm motions from Brown these people fell as if they were struck by a supernatural force (back in the day we’d say “slain in the spirit”). What was even more fascinating was these people just a short time before they had identified themselves as atheists. He’d converted them and convinced them of a supernatural worldview in just minutes. It was amazing to watch.
It struck me how vulnerable we are to suggestion. Looking back on my time in the church, I recall multiple times when things seemed off. But, I put my trust in a pastor or saw others have an emotional response to something deemed supernatural. I abandoned my skepticism and went along with the crowd. Because this is the way church is, right?
When I began asking questions I was told that I needed to pray or that the spirit moves in ways we don’t understand. If I persisted the responses became a bit more intimidating. My faith was called into question and I was encouraged to join a discipleship group with people more mature in their faith than I was. I was offered private meeting with the pastor and told not to discuss things with anyone else in the church. Ultimately, I just learned how to say the right things and know the right passages to quote. But, the questions persisted.
We can be convinced of almost anything. Be vigilant on what you are being told and don’t believe something just because you respect the messenger. I used to hear things like “Come to church each week expecting an encounter with God,” or “God has revealed to me…” Statements like these set us up for manipulation. Perhaps these statements are spoken innocently, but the expectation is that whatever happens and whatever is said should not be questioned. After all it’s directly from God.
So what should we do to protect ourselves? Let’s encourage one another to ask the tough questions and continue to ask until the answers make sense. Focus less on emotion and more on what is being asked of us. A little skepticism is a good thing.
P.S. You can watch Derren Brown’s “Messiah” on YouTube. He also has a special on NetFlix called “Miracle.” Both are worth viewing.