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No Experience Is Better Than False Experience

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 10, 2010

Here’s another personal story from me. This was originally published as a guest post at my Texas friend Dave’s Agnostic Pentecostal. I use a bit of Christian jargon, hope it makes sense.

I’d like to tell my story of not being slain in the spirit.

I spent a fair bit of time in spirit-filled practice when I was a student, attended a charismatic church and worked closely with Pentecostals in our campus christian group. I can still speak in tongues on demand, if you want me to. At the time, a pentecostal ministry ran a revival week in a huge tent out in the countryside. I’ll let the cynical among us note the appropriateness of using a circus tent for such events. They brought a number of apparently-big-name preachers in from overseas and one of them was a clean-cut young man who was surely not even thirty years old. I’ll call him Redfords LaGrange. God had allegedly been talking to him since he was seven years old, and he’d made a study of “God’s Generals,” famous spirit-fooled preachers.

Standing at the rear of some 1500 people, I listened to him. On another night I’d heard Redfords exhort the whole crowd to voluntarily speak in tongues at the top of their lungs. I felt uncomfortable with this, mainly for what I felt were Scriptural reasons. It also seemed kinda stupid and I quietly left to stand in the dark field and pray. As the roar of the crowd behind me surged, I could hear the cry from the poor folk trying to sleep in a distant farmhouse: “SHUuuuuuuuuT UuuuP!” This rather amused me, especially since they actually used more colorful language.

slain in the spirit

Anyway, on the night in question Redfords LaGrange called for those engaged in youth ministry to come up; he was going to pray for them. I walked up the long aisle into the spotlights along with about 50 others and we stood in a line along the front. Now, when you’ve got 50 people to pray for individually and you’re a preacher with no time to spare, you have to kind of rush along the line and spend about 15 seconds with each person. You don’t have time to even ask the person’s name. As Redfords was coming, I prayed “God, I’m open to anything you want to do. Do anything you want to me. Make me fall over if you want, only please let it be you and not psychology.” I’d been praying that all the way down the aisle too. Let me say, I was very sincere about both things. I wanted a touch, but only if it was real.

I knew falling over was likely, as that tended to happen in these kind of meetings. I always preferred to call it “falling over”, as the term “slain in the spirit” is not one found in scripture. The cynical can point to the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who were slain BY the Spirit. I doubt anyone wants to recreate that experience.

Indeed, as Redfords came down the line, I saw people falling over out of the corner of my eye. “Catchers” ran forward to make sure they didn’t hit the ground too hard. Many of us already had catchers standing behind us in advance. If it’s an experience from God, I always wondered why he would allow you to be hurt?

Redfords LaGrange reached me and prayed, his hand gently on my head. I didn’t sense any physical pressure from him, I was alert to being pushed. He prayed kindly and briefly, and moved on. Did I sense him hesitate when I didn’t collapse? I stayed there praying, slowly realising that out of the whole line, I was the only one who hadn’t fallen over. Maybe I was resisting the spirit, maybe my intellect had made me hard-hearted. But I know I was sincere. I just didn’t want it to be weak buckling at the knees under the influence of emotion, tiredness or peer pressure.

Mark Vernon migrated from christian clergy to atheist, and now calls himself an “agnostic christian”. He’s an advocate of silence and not-knowing. Vernon says it’s important to draw a clear line between silence and an experience of ecstasy.

“There is an emphasis on experiencing ecstasy in much contemporary churchgoing. This is Christianity that is authenticated by some kind of peak experience, from speaking in tongues, to being healed, to seeing a statue move. Typically, the experience is noisy, demonstrative and, qua the experience, often barely distinguishable from a bungee jump or druggy high. But this is Christianity as psychological buzz; its passion is no more than emotion. It’s aims may be valid – happiness, satisfaction, belonging – but they eclipse the goal of spirituality, at least according to [Meister] Eckhart, which is that of sacred ignorance. For the pursuers of pure experience, the unknown is regarded suspiciously. They substitute the language of personal fulfilment for the language of … doubt.”
~ After Atheism, p 120.

So what do I make of this? As it happens, in the course of many other meetings I’ve never fallen over. I’m not a hater; I believe that if God was there, then my prayer was honoured. I also have a funny feeling that at least some of those people fell over because they felt they had to, or look unspiritual in front of the audience. Have you ever felt left out when others all seemed to be getting blessed? What did you make of it?


? What do you think?
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Speaking of “slain”, have some Slayer. (“Cult” Lyrics.)

8 Responses to “No Experience Is Better Than False Experience”

  1. My wife grew up in that sort of Xian church. She told me about being taught how to “speak in tongues.” It gets worse: the Biblical story is about the Apostles speaking to multilingual crowds and being understood by all, not about them flailing around, waving their arms, and babbling.

    Heh, and they call what we do demonic. Yeeeaaaah.

    • Exactly, Freeman. That’s one of the “scriptural” problems I had with it at the time. Even worse, there’s a specific passage in the NT about NOT speaking in tongues in public all at the same time, because if an outsider comes in “they will think you are mad”.

      There were various ways to get around this I think, but the latter one was singularly ignored to my way of thinking.

  2. TheTruth said

    Interesting read. I have never fell over, however, have seen these types of happenings before. From experience we went to a Pentecostal church and once people began speaking in tongues, it was very strange at first. My wife and I decided that Baptism was what we wanted to do, and so we did.

    Before going into the Baptismal I spoke with my Pastor and told him that I had never spoke in tongues and questioned whether the experience we were seeing was real or not. If it was, I wanted to experience it for myself.

    After being Baptised, while still in the tank, I felt a strong rush of energy and words began to come out of my mouth uncontrollably. The experience has been recorded and I am still amazed each time I watch it.

    I am not able to speak in tongues at will, however, it does happen during times of worship and praise.

    Still I question falling over?


    • Many thanks, Ron for sharing.

      I don’t think it’s going to be that interesting for other readers for me to get into a long detailed discussion about Christian things (or is it? readers?). I think that’s something for us who’ve been in that scene or still are in it 🙂

      Having said that, yeah. When I was a christian I was open to the idea that supernatural things could happen. I just wanted them to be REAL, and not fake or emotionalism. I still think the same. Sometime I may tell some other stories here, there’s a lot of life experience waiting to come out 😀

    • Oh, I should add that your story of tongues happening “spontaneously” sounds a lot more real that other things I’ve experienced.

  3. Nicole said

    When at uni I had a couple hot 30 something Christian friends who would invite me to events in efforts of conversion. I gladly went along as I liked the girls.

    One time we went to a pentecostal youth church event where they had this band playing called the Lads. I really enjoyed the lads, they were a fun band. They also had a competition to do with bobbing for marbles in the baptismal pool, I know, weird…
    anyway at one point they had a mass prayer thing. At the time I was a practicing animistic witch so I watched with some amusement.

    It was a weird feeling where everyone in the room was focused on their prayer, heads down, eyes closed. I was standing tall and just looking around. That was actually quite a freaky experience for me, I felt like at any moment they would notice my lack of involvement and tear me to pieces. That was the feeling in the room. There was so much energy going on, the power of the crowd. I did not feel any god like the others did but I felt that directed faith. It was not a good feeling for this poor little witchlette.

    I guess my point is that with the pressure of that situation, the combined weight of an audience with one focus, I can see how it would feel like you were experiencing stuff. And it would feel real. Aloof from it it did not feel real to me at all, it just seemed misguided and dangerous.

  4. […] things, people fall over. Or is it just that religion makes people weird? A little while back I wrote about my experience of NOT being “Slain in the Spirit”, as pentecostals like to call it. If you want to see […]

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