Have you been in a large crowd before? At something like a gig or sporting event? The atmosphere can be overwhelming. Hundreds or thousands of people all coming together to chant, cheer, scream and all focused in on one specific event.
I have been to a lot of Christian conferences, festivals and misc events. Some say that they can be very powerful times of meeting with God and being encouraged in your walk with Him. Others say that they could be viewed as massively manipulative events, arguably being harmful to an individual and abusing their emotional and psychological states.
Evangelists repeatedly remind churches in their books and their sermons that it is far easier to convince someone that Jesus is real and that the Bible is true the younger they are. If you can convert someone as a child, they are far more likely to stick to their faith than if you convert them as an adult.
They also remind us that people are far more likely to become Christians at large church events with 20 or more people. It is rare for people to become Christians with fewer people, and it is even rarer for people to become Christians on their own.
If you, like me, think that it is really strange how God only tends to ‘turn up’ when we are focusing on Him at a prayer meeting or church event, events when a lot of people are all together and saying ‘God is turning up’ in their prayers and actions, you will feel very cynical and probably fairly pissed off at the manipulation of people’s emotions and thoughts.
I would also note that just because something explains life to you, doesn’t mean you should just accept it as fact without looking into the reality of the claims it is making. God answers a lot of people’s deeper questions, but that doesn’t mean that God is real and that the answers that religion provide are true. We need to have real facts which feed into honest feelings and will allow us to come to a conclusion about what is being claimed.
I attended a conference recently run by a Christian organisation. They had some big names speaking and their worship was in a concert style (Bethel or Hillsong).
I was stood at the back, watching as people ‘entered into worship’, hands in the air, expressions of amazement and anticipation on their faces (I walked to the front a couple of times to get a good look over the crowds). People were dancing in the aisles and soaking up the buzz and the flashing lights, smoke machines and tight music.
There is power in large crowd events. As I mentioned before, even 20 people gathered together can bring an atmosphere to a room, we have seen this throughout history. Just think about the plays of old or amphitheatres throughout the ancient world. People, when they are brought together in small or large numbers, can be refocused and led far more easily than keeping them separate and meeting them on their own.
You can also experience ‘spiritual’ feelings far more easily on a Sunday than you do say, on Monday morning on the train into the city for work. At church events, God turns up emotionally and psychologically, and the leaders of churches know this is what it is and do nothing to stop people from being drawn along. It isn’t God, it is a psychological or emotional manipulation. Quite often if you remove the feelings all you are left with is meaningless words.
If you worship God outside in a none religious event you won’t have people falling on the floor, talking in tongues, bringing prophecy for everyone or praying out loud – this is because we have structured our churches with a formula to experience God, and it all rests on how we feel and what we think right there and then.
We don’t stop and ‘experience’ God at regular intervals each and every day. We do it in groups and in set circumstances. Ok sure, you might have a couple of ‘spiritual’ experiences alone in your life, but for most people life is fairly standard and ‘life’ like, without these ‘spiritual’ experiences.
I can imagine someone saying, ‘Yes, but God turns up at these places because His bride has come together to seek Him and Worship Him outside of the world’. But that isn’t where we see God move in the New Testament. If the New Testament is true, God moves outside of the Churches (small gathering of believers) far more than He moves within them… those healed and those being preached to with signs and wonders were rarely (within the New Testament) already a believer in Christ.
People are listening and focusing on how they are feeling within a Church setting because that is how we judge if it has been worth attending or not after a Sunday morning service. They are reminding themselves of the positive messages of Love and Hope that the Bible and their church leaders repeated throughout the meeting, and then getting enough positivity to make them feel, and in a lot of circumstances behave in a spiritual way.
There is a massive power in music and crowds – with or without each other. Both of these things draw out of us things that are not there when we don’t have them to hand. Scan anyone listening to a song and scan them listening to nothing but the scanning machine itself and you will see that the brain singles and activity will be drastically different, even if you don’t like the song. Talk to anyone who has been at a large crowd event and they will all tell you that they felt something special or awkward. Why do you think sporting events or gigs are so popular, you experience things there you rarely experience in any other area of your life.
What I am trying to say is this. I don’t think there is a way you can prove to me that the feelings and emotions people experience on a Sunday morning, or at prayer meetings, or at a worship events, or at any religious event, are anything other than the same feelings and emotions than none religious people feel at none spiritual crowd events.
I listen to a lot of classical music when I read, as I feel it helps to soothe my mind and allows me to engage with the words on the page. I listen to a lot of pop when I work out, as the fast beats and story-based songs allow me to switch off and work out really flipping hard.
I remember as a young boy being massively influenced by the feelings I had at a massive youth festival. Or the weeks away at youth camps. Gathering a ton of people together, repeatedly claiming the same ‘truths’ and reinforcing it as the answer to all of life’s problems and questions is nothing but mental and psychological manipulation.
Feelings are fleeting. It isn’t what we feel that matters, it is what is true that matters, and you can test that on multiply different plains within your life (social, emotional, physical, etc). Yes, I can feel my wife love for me, but I can also see it and be reminded of it by the practical outworking of her love. Feelings are very important, but they shouldn’t be weaponised against those who feel them lead them into a belief system that simply isn’t true. I feel love for my wife, I do practical things to demonstrate this love and I then feel love for my wife, so I outwork it more – the cycle repeats.
If God is God, He can bring about these feelings and psychological tugs at any time and in any way, but it appears to me that He doesn’t.
There is power in music and large crowds – but it doesn’t mean anything spiritual is happening. It simply means you are human and open to conscious and subconscious manipulation, not that you are godly.
_End of Blog Blurb_
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.
Podcast: If you like what you read then you could always check out the podcast ‘When Belief Dies’, it is available on all major podcasting platforms or you can listen via YouTube. Dave and I upload and publish via Anchor FM each Wednesday at 7 am.
Grammar, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation: I am massively dyslexic. It has taken me years to get to the level I am currently at with writing and I have done this mainly through reading. I want to be better and ask you, reader, to please forgive any errors in my writing. I hope you notice improvement upon improvement over the coming years.
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