Group Behaviour – Part II – The Christians
We respect other’s right to believe, so why do others deny our right not to believe? This article tries to explain the psychology behind the problem.
In every large group there exist sub-groups, cliques and factions. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that some sub-groups may be more extreme than others – you can tune in to any current News programme to see this hypothesis at work on local, national and international scales. In politics for instance, there are Tory Party members who are more tolerant and open minded than those who subscribe to a rather more robust philosophy, especially when it comes to issues like immigration and the criminal justice system. The same applies to religious groups. There are the more open-minded members of the Church who don’t have much of a problem with gay marriage or women becoming bishops. At the opposite end of the scale though, are those would happily see them burn in hell for even suggesting such an idea.
There are many Christians who could be fairly termed ‘weekend Christians.’ They go to church occasionally, but they hardly give Jesus a second thought during the week. Then there are more committed Christians who are content to go to church every Sunday and whom are not too concerned with those who don’t. Most of them are intelligent enough to realize that non-Christians are probably nice people too and even atheists barely merit an unconscious ‘tut tut.’ But then, as in Islam and er… well, just Christianity and Islam actually, there are the fundamentalists and the extremists. Now this is the last time I am going to refer to Islam, for reasons that are blindingly obvious. Instead, I am going to concentrate solely on the fundamentalist Christians – that’s the regular church-going, Bible thumping, bigoted, self righteous, self-absorbed, smug, better-than-you God-botherers.
Of the billion or so Christians worldwide, the fundamentalist sub-group represents less than ten percent of the whole. They are mainly to be found in the Bible belt of heartland America, South Africa (the second most religious country in the Western world) with a few scattered and much smaller groups in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe. Remember, we are talking only about the extremist, fundamentalist, creationist Christians. These are the Christians that in America in particular, build the ‘mega-churches’ that boast tens of thousands of members: their services are broadcast on local cable TV networks, sometimes seven days a week. In the United Kingdom, traditional Sunday morning worshippers are unrepresented in this sub-group. Absent too, are Catholics and the majority of members of the Establishment Church of England. The sub-group I am talking about is an offshoot, a relatively new mutation of the religion virus. They reject out of hand the evidence of science and stick doggedly to a literal interpretation of the Bible. They are the ones who lobby the US Government and State Legislatures to try to ensure only Creationism is taught in American school, the twisted, ignorant, fanatical zealots. They are doing irreparable harm to their children, who will grow up to find it difficult to gain acceptance into normal society when they reach adulthood. A classic case of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the sons if ever there was one!
What irks me is not religious belief in itself, after all, it’s fairly normal for individuals to explore their own spirituality, and belief in a deity can offer comfort in difficult times. What horrifies me is INDOCTRINATION, because indoctrination robs the individual of their right to make informed choices or make up their own minds. The indoctrination of children is a form of child abuse.
Indoctrination is just another name for hypnosis. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that indoctrination is similar to hypnosis: Indoctrination IS hypnosis. There is no difference between the two. They are both exactly the same and utilize all the same methods and techniques.
The other problem I have always had with hardline fundamentalist Christianity is that they don’t seem to apply the turn-the-other-cheek-love-thy-neighbour doctrine to non-Christians. In the last thousand years, there have been more deaths caused by religious wars, crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, burnings, murders and final solutions than anything else. Not even the Black Death, smallpox and the great flu of 1918 put together have killed as many people as the Christians have. (Just for the sake of completeness, over 40,000 witches were burned alive in Europe in one year alone in the seventeenth century!)
Let me nail my colours to the mast here. Right now, as you read this, there are thousands of priests, nuns and church workers living and working in the most appalling conditions in the most terrible places on earth. They bring hope to people who otherwise would have no hope. I am in awe of their goodness, their sacrifice and consider them all to be living saints. I am also aware of the part religion has played in human evolution (there’s an irony) because religion has played a part in codifying the altruism that is part of the human survival strategy. In other words, our survival as a species may not have been so straightforward had it been acceptable to murder, steal, and commit adultery with thy neighbour’s ox.
But… and this is the BIG BUT… I have always had difficulty with those who cannot follow a reasoned argument. This has, admittedly, won me a reputation of not suffering fools gladly; but really, life is too short to waste time and energy banging your head against a brick wall. I accept other’s right to believe. What I find unacceptable is that a) certain sub-groups absolutely refuse to accept my right NOT to believe and b) the terrible divisiveness of mainstream religion. What I am attempting to do in this article is explain the psychology behind the problem.
For the record, some of the greatest minds in human history were atheists; Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, for example.
Historically, Christianity has gone through such a series of mutations, modifications, adaptations and evolutions (!) it is hard to establish what parts of the Bible are a true representation of the teachings of Jesus, and which are the result of centuries of translation (from Aramaic into Greek, from Greek into Latin, from Latin into English) not to mention good old-fashioned embellishment. For instance, when William Tyndale first translated the Bible into English, he rewrote entire passages, making them more poetic, more beautiful – and in the process, accuracy flew out of the window.
Isaac Asimov said that the Bible, if read properly, is the greatest advertisement for atheism ever written. The Bible is riddled with absurdity and weirdness. Do you seriously believe that the world was created in a mere seven days, that Noah was 500 years old, or the Great Flood covered the whole planet? The fundamentalist Christians do. You have to be blind to science or mentally ill, or both, to think that every word in the Bible is true. Of course some Christians think of these stories as mere allegories, and even I find that acceptable – there are also some great truths in there, as there are in Dickens and Shakespeare.
The God of the Old Testament is an irresponsible, angry, jealous, misogynist, mass murdering, child-killing sicko. The first four items on the list of ten things God does not want you to do all concern not having any other Gods. The other six things on the list of ten things God does not want you to do are just common sense. With all his smiting, drowning, battles and child sacrifices (God is big on human sacrifices.) God kills about 33 million people in the Old Testament, a record that would not be equaled until humans had a go at it in the second millennium AD. Whatever happened to ‘Thou shalt not kill?’ Or is it alright to kill in the Lord’s name?
It is not until we get to the New Testament that God re-invents himself. It here that we are introduced to the loving, caring God via a collection of stories about a man called Jesus. These stories are at best contradictory and non-contemporaneous. By the time we get to the Book of Revelations, the most ridiculous fantasy about the end of the world ever written, we could be forgiven for wondering if it is the work of a drug-crazed mental patient. It’s what Harry Potter would have been like had J K Rowling allowed him to take crystal meth.
The real truth, and one which is accepted by Christian scholars, is that Christianity as a formal religion really begins with St. Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, as he was originally known. Saul, a Jew, working for the Romans and whose job it was to try to break up the new Christian sect (originally for Jews only – no Goys allowed!) experienced his ‘conversion’ on the road to Damascus, doubtless as a result of increased activity in the anterior superior temporal gyrus, the neural correlate of insight, which becomes active just before any kind of epiphany, stroke of genius or any other kind of brainstorm. Or maybe Saul, or Paul, suddenly realized there would be a lot of money to be made out of it if it were made available to Gentiles as well. Smart move on his part, because once everyone and anyone was invited to join, membership skyrocketed and the collection plates filled to overflowing. And thus we see one of the great flaws in the argument. An all-seeing, all-powerful, all-knowing, almighty God always seems to need more money. Despite being somehow (as yet unexplained) able to create the entire universe, God doesn’t seem able to manage his finances.
Despite what you may think, most Christians haven’t actually read the Bible. Instead, they have had it read for them by other people, and even then only in very short bursts. And yet, innumerable souls still gather on a weekly basis to listen to experts on what Jesus is supposed to have said, and what he is supposed to have meant when he said it, expound on the importance of every word in the Good Book. They conveniently ignore the indisputable fact that the Bible was written by men, not God (as opposed to the Koran, which is God’s word as dictated to the Prophet Mohammed.)
The Gospels were not written until at least thirty to forty years after the death of Jesus, and then by authors who could not possibly have been alive when Jesus was doing his magic tricks, such as turning water into wine, curing psychosomatic illnesses, raising Lazarus from the dead, and as a finale, attempting to do the same thing to himself. Christians conveniently ignore the fact that all those tricks had been done before by a plethora of travelling prophets, including the trick of restoring sight to the blind, resurrecting the dead (a feat made possible by the careful administering of the juice from digitalis purpurea) and the miracle of the sawing of the woman in half, performed many times by St. Paul of Daniels.
Every year, at Eastertime in the very Roman Catholic Philippines, devout Christian men allow themselves to be crucified. They are literally nailed to crosses so that they too can share Christ’s suffering. What they want to prove by doing this defies any rational explanation, but real nails are hammered through real hands and feet and real people spend the entire day enduring the very real agony of a real crucifixion. Some go the whole hog and are whipped and scourged; they are then crowned with real thorns that lacerate their flesh. All are scarred for life. At dusk, they are taken down from their crucifixes and taken to the nearest hospital. And yet, they all manage to survive; fatalities are unknown. The official Catholic Church does not approve of this activity but remains quiet about it. Nonetheless, it shows that it can be done. Death by crucifixion is a tortuous, barbaric death by suffocation. Eventually the feet are no longer able to support the whole weight of the body, which then hangs by the wrists, constricting the lungs and starving the victim of oxygen. The actual blood loss is quite small and the appearance of death produced by ingesting digitalis purpurea. Had Jesus’ attempt at dying and coming back to life worked out as he had planned, he might have got away with it and become the real overnight sensation he always wanted to be. But it didn’t. It might have just come off too, but a wide-awake Roman soldier decided to take no chances and give him a good prod with a lance just to make sure.
If you look at the accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible from a psychologist’s point of view, certain personality traits are obvious. Jesus is an extravert. He is optimistic; he is great in the company of others and the life and soul of any party*. He is both imaginative and creative and has the ability to be able to think on his feet, finding unique solutions to problems. He displays a quick-wittedness that would have been the envy of others, even today. Extraverts are known to be more likely to become leaders. Jesus also seems to by an agreeable type – he’s the likeable, all-round nice guy. But he also likes attention and thrives on adulation, just like many show-business types today. He also knows how to work an audience. Jesus comes across as a man who doesn’t mind taking a few risks.
*(The ancient Greeks knew how to turn water into wine by the way; the feat is accomplished by using the simple and scientific principle of creating a vacuum in a double-chambered vessel. Every magician knows how to do it.)
If Jesus was really who he claimed to be, and wanted to galvanize the world into action, surely he could have given us something a little more impressive, like maybe curing all lepers or all blindness. Then he would have left us with something a bit more credible! Instead he relied on our blind (pardon the pun) faith. The gospels are based on hearsay and urban myths that spread from mouth to mouth, just like some sort of infectious virus. It’s a racing certainty the stories would have been subject to embellishment along the way, during the thirty or so years following Jesus’ death, because that’s human nature. And then worked up some more when eventually they were committed to papyrus. Therefore, we are left with an unreliable account that was then subject to a bit of artistic licence.
In the Bible, no phrase is too small or insignificant to be examined, re-examined, discussed, picked over, in order to extract every last drop of meaning from it. And the faithful lap it up week after week; unthinking, unquestioning, uncritical, and as susceptible to the influence of suggestion that has been part of human evolution for a hundred thousand years.
It’s not their fault. Really, it’s not. It’s not even the fault of the preacher man spouting this bull. The human desire to conform overrides reason and critical thought, and free will is temporarily suspended.
In the United States, church going has increased markedly because it has been craftily and surreptitiously woven into the fabric of family life. Churches lay on crèches for the kids during services, providing the opportunity for middle class adults to compare clothing and thence to be robbed of their cash. At the same time, their progeny are being brain-washed so that when they are old enough, they too will be willing to hand over their cash. The churches also run outings, hog roasts and picnics to attract families. Before you know what’s happening, you are now part of a close knit and loyal community, where most, if not all of your friends are evangelical nut-cases and where distrust of non-Christians is inexorable replacing racism and the Ku Klux Klan, one bogey-man exchanged for another.
In short, churches have their own social networks and membership of a church is thought by some to confer a special standing in a community. Non-believers are considered immoral, untrustworthy and very unlikely to be elected President.
Gather together a group of people with the same fears and concerns and they will become even more prejudiced than they were before and form even more extremist views. Gather together people who are already predisposed to aggression and they will become even more aggressive when isolated within their own peer group. Just like gangs of football hooligans, the Nazis, those with extreme political ideologies (think Bolsheviks) and people who have suddenly got the idea that because they are going to be saved by Jesus, they are better than the rest of us.
People who share similar attitudes and beliefs will reinforce those attitudes and beliefs when they are brought together. This is one of the reasons I find fundamentalist religion so disturbing. The effect is contagious. People who have previously only harboured a vague idea about certain thoughts or beliefs will inevitably find that those same thoughts or beliefs become stronger when they are egged on, and especially if they are egged on by their peers or the guy at the front who has already established his leadership credentials, and therefore his credibility. People soon find themselves openly expressing more extreme opinions, whereas previously they wouldn’t have thought it possible to do so.
These types of groups quickly become more dogmatic, and thus better able to justify actions that the rest of society would find unacceptable. They find moral justifications for their actions and have a tendency to form stereotypical views of people who become targets of racial or religious hatred. As far as the rabid Christians are concerned, Hypnotists come near the top of the list of people to hate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the real reason they don’t like hypnotists is because that’s what they do every Sunday, every time they ‘convert’ someone into the faith, and every time someone falls over backward through the power of suggestion, believing, naturally, they have been just filled with the Holy Spirit. (There is a more full and complete explanation of this phenomenon in the article Hypnosis in Religion and All in the Mind.) I once attempted to explore this point with a couple of fanatical Christian zealots and quickly discovered that you simply cannot have a reasoned discussion with these people. One of them threatened to kill me. The other simply stood and stared at me with a rather silly grin on his face. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn he was on something; but now I come to think of it, smiling is definitely the preferred leisure pursuit of the born-again. They do it all the time. It’s as if they want to be martyred.
Extremism and the ability to smile at nothing in particular apart, Conformity is vital to the cohesion of any group and it is an ancient force. There is safety in numbers. In our ancestor’s day, membership of the group was vital to survival. A group becomes polarised [Group Polarisation] when the opinions of individuals become extreme. Conformity increases when there are at least three or more present. In those circumstances, there is an absence of insecurity. Instead there is a state of unanimity. Just one dissenting opinion can be disastrous for the group, so dissent is not only discouraged – it is dealt with, swiftly and efficiently.
Nonetheless, when a group is united, an admiration develops for the group as a whole: where an individual previously lacked any other prior commitment, there is now a commitment to the group. More insidiously, the group becomes engaged in a covert surveillance of the individual. This surveillance is undertaken by the other members of the group quite unconsciously, though it is accepted as being for the individual’s own good and his/her own safety and security.
Particularly extreme religious groups are often established in isolated places or remote locations. This keeps them away from cultural common sense or possible exposure to dissent or ideological challenge.
In the 1970’s, Irving Janis studied Groupthink. In particular, he studied the experiences of the members of close-knit religious groups, exploring the symptoms and similarities of membership. He found that in any group, there are close-knit ties, which are difficult subsequently to break. Many members of the group experience feelings of invulnerability and excessive optimism, often discounting warnings that challenge assumptions or unquestioning belief in the group’s superior morality. Members ignore, or are oblivious to, the consequences of their actions. They have a tendency to form stereotyped views of enemy leaders, most especially those that present a threat to the authority of the group’s leaders – hypnotists for example. Pressure to conform is applied to dissenting or disloyal group members. Extreme religious sects strive to preserve the illusion of unanimity, often employing ‘Mindguards’ – members who ‘shield’ the group from dissenting opinions.
Group Responses are predictable. Group Responses tend to mirror the individual responses, beliefs, and so forth of the most confident group members, even when they are patently wrong. Members who are perceived to be the most confident are also perceived to be the most competent – even when they are not.
This type of behaviour is immediately recognizable in religious sects such as the Scientologists, Moonies and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But it is also prevalent in the mega-churches. We don’t see it, because we assume that Christianity is ‘normal.’ But watch carefully – the pastor and any number of volunteers are only too willing to spend time giving spiritual guidance to any wavering member of the flock, lest the church loses a precious strand of income. And if it’s not for the money, it’s because it gives the pastor a sense of his own superiority. This feeling of superiority excites the pleasure centres of his brain. In other words, he gets a ‘spiritual’ lift from it as well. Everyone’s a winner!
I am in danger now of committing the ultimate sin in that I want to use a quote, but can’t remember who should rightly be credited with it; so whoever it is, my apologies! Anyway, the quote is: When religion enters the room, reason tiptoes politely out of the door. And that is precisely the problem when trying to have a sensible discussion with a serious God-botherer.
Religion is a cruel fraud heaped on our shoulders by those who seek to ignore and override natural human cynicism. They hypnotize the suggestible, the needy, and the gullible.
Not all the preachers understand why it is they find hypnosis and hypnotists so repugnant; the message that hypnosis is ‘bad’ has been disseminated through the ranks at the behest of those who do, and that is reason enough. The monopoly on souls, and thus donations, is possible only because the free will of the individual is manipulated and managed by those trained to be expert in the most insidious form of mind-control.
But many people now feel that religious belief is no longer so important, particularly now that there is a more universal understanding of science. The church has consistently lost ground over the last four centuries as religious belief has declined – a process that has gained momentum in the last 50 years and looks set to accelerate even more once older generations stop filling in their census forms. More and more people are coming to the realization that they can lead good, productive lives without God. I believe that this Humanist approach is healthier. Humanists are anti-war and are horrified at any sign of religious bigotry, let alone violence.H
Recent research shows that non-religious types are more likely to go into science, particularly astrophysics and cosmology, mathematics and engineering. The more religious types are less likely to have a spontaneous sense of humour. I have had ample opportunity to confirm this last observation on many, many occasions and I know it to be true. Some religious types are just SO deep! It’s like they are drowning in their own piety! (And yes, I do detest those holier than thou types.)
Praying to God is very much a hit and miss affair. It’s a lot like begging at the traffic lights. Sometimes God grants your request, but more often than not he doesn’t. When he doesn’t, then it’s God’s will, because God has this great plan. This rationale, followed to its logical conclusion, means that it’s pointless praying to God for anything anyway, because he’s already has his big plan. Anyway, everyone prays at the same time, on Sunday, which is his day off.
The vast majority of people accept religion simply because they were brought up that way. This is the Nurture part of the Nature versus Nurture debate. Indoctrinated at an early age with various rituals and practices, the connections between the neurons, particularly those associated with unconscious thought and actions are strengthened. In the same way that an individual’s personality becomes established by their late teens, so religiosity can become established – at least that has been the conventional wisdom so far, but new research casts considerable doubt on that theory.
Even where a strong religious belief has been established, outside events can effect powerful changes on belief. This is also a double edged sword; it is not unknown for those with no particular belief to convert as a result of a sudden peak experience, the onset of a bout of temporal lobe epilepsy, or because membership of a new church or religious lifestyle brings with it new benefits and convenient advantages. Membership of a religious group can confer its own rewards, particularly when times are hard. Religious groups, whether mainstream or cult, are magnets for the needy, the emotionally unstable, or seekers of attention. New recruits are fawned over and made to feel ‘special’ and for certain individuals, this kind of attention can satisfy a need, or needs, and can even be a powerful aphrodisiac. Again, having specific needs satisfied will excite pleasure centres deep within the brain.
In a moment, we will look at the effect of personality on religiosity, but for the time being, it is important to understand that in many cases, Social Forces lead to religiosity more than divine intervention. In a lot of cases, the need to belong is as powerful as the need for oxygen. In Scandinavian countries, the sense of social responsibility and the sense of community is much stronger than in Britain and certainly stronger than in the United States of America. Which explains why the majority of the populations of Denmark, Sweden and Norway have very little time for God. Danes say they don’t need to go to church to experience a sense of community because they live in Denmark!
Nevertheless, a person’s religiosity can change in later life. There is a true and verifiable story of a Rabbi, crowded onto the back of a truck taking Jews from the camp to the gas chamber. He called on God to stop what was happening… “This is against You!” and of course nothing happened. Exhausted, broken, he slumped back down into his seat, as though suddenly forced to accept a truth more awful than his impending earthly fate; then he said, matter-of-factly, “There is no God.”
The question is not whether or not God exists, but why he exists for some and not others. This question is explored in detail in Hypnosis In Religion. What I want to know is, if God loves me so much, why did He make me an atheist? Or is it because He’s too busy watching children starve to death in Africa?
Recent research has discovered that religiosity is much more likely to affect those with certain personality types. Genetic factors account for over half the variability in religiosity, just as they do for one’s overall personality, and research has corroborated the genetic component, confirming the certainty of a biological basis for belief. When we look at personality, we can see that a person’s genes serve to predispose that person to particular character traits and behaviours.
Agreeableness and conscientiousness are prevalent in religious types and perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a trend that extends over all the mainstream religions. They are more likely to cooperate with each other and more readily volunteer for things. They are more likely to lead healthy lifestyles – they don’t take drugs, don’t drink to excess and are less likely to smoke or commit adulterous acts with oxen.
But could that possibly mean that religion is responsible for installing these more desirable traits? Er… no. Personality really does decide an individual’s religiousness. This is something that has been substantiated by painstaking testing, involving thousands of questionnaires. Those people who were conscientious and agreeable in childhood continued to retain their religious belief as adults.
On the up side, religion fosters social cohesion and has undeniably played an important role in evolution. Rather mainstream religion than the downward spiral of drug-addiction of chronic alcoholism. (I am at least a pragmatist!) What is interesting is that religious people, or at least those with religious belief, are more willing to help others. However, that particular personality trait comes with a disturbing caveat. Religious types discriminate between helping people they know and those they do not. Humanists on the other hand are equally willing to help strangers. It’s as I always suspected… there is a streak of bigotry that goes part and parcel with religion. This mean-spiritedness becomes particularly obvious when individuals, particularly persons who represent a threat to the group, are the ones in need of help. And perhaps not unsurprisingly, the more deeply, conservatively religious are even less likely to lend a helping hand to ‘outsiders.’
Given our evolutionary history, this attitude is easy to understand and has its roots in the survival of the group, the tribe, the village. What is more interesting however is that this behaviour seems to be entirely unconscious. The deeply religious profess the tenet that all men are created equal in the eyes of God, and yet when put to the test…
But… I am the bringer of Good News! Even if during childhood and adolescence there has been exposure to a great deal of religion and religious belief, which would include the religiousness of immediate family, friends, school etc., and this religious upbringing has played an important role, there is still hope. Between the ages of 18 and 25, the genetic influence starts to take over. As the early environment becomes less prevalent, as the child passes from adolescence into adulthood, education, and with it, logic and reason begin to assert themselves. Once that vulnerable child, brought up to love Jesus, gets out into the big wide world, they begin to question. Before you know what has happened, they too will partake of the fruits of the tree of knowledge, their consciousness emerging from the prison of blind belief.
Why then do some people still cling to Religion?
Images are much more powerful than purely verbal information when it comes to affecting emotions! And sermons, in fact the whole ritual of hearing about Jesus’ love and his advice about keeping slaves (honestly!) his magic tricks and sideshow hypnotism, are full of imagery. Once the group is listening to the same message and repeating the same comfortable and familiar choreographed actions (kneeling, joining hands in communal prayer) they are unconsciously acting in lockstep, as one organism. The next step is then to get the emotions in lockstep, and this is remarkably easy. This is where religious ritual emerges triumphant. It’s really just a quirk of human nature, an accident of evolution, and one that has exacted a terrible price.
Just as in the army, all that square-bashing isn’t a waste of time. Repetitive tasks carried out by groups of people, even for no apparent reason, forges bonds between the members of that group that grow continually stronger. Psychologist Scott Wiltermuth at the University of Southern California has confirmed what generations of Regimental Sergeant Majors already knew – when the individuals in the group cooperate, the emotions become aligned. What to do with those emotions is then a matter of moral judgement. Aggression is the more likely outcome. The more tightly knit the group, the more it becomes a fiercer and more destructive force, even to the extent that individuals within the group will do things they later admit they wouldn’t normally do! (See: Group Behaviour – Part I.)
I put on a couple of shows in a small town in South Africa called George, something I had done with some success in a number of towns in South Africa. Andrew Newton, world famous Hypnotist, would be appearing at the 1,000 seat Civic Centre on Wednesday and Friday at 7.30pm. Most of the audience for the Wednesday show was made up of older students from local schools, but we also had a good turn out of local shop workers and businesses who had been given free tickets to make up the numbers, and to give me the word of mouth publicity to fill the ‘extra’ Friday show, which would be announced at the end of the Wednesday performance. This is a tried and tested way of selling out shows in South Africa and it has worked for me many times, most notably in the 3,000 seat 3 Arts in Cape Town, where I have had several successful runs. Sure, I have to do two shows, but I don’t spend a penny on advertising and I get more exposure.
We had already had objections from one of the local churches as soon as the tickets started going out. Some ‘Christians’ had made strenuous objections to the council about allowing the hall to be used for a hypnotist show, and they were out in force at the front of the theatre, with their Bibles, singing their hymns and praying for the souls of the people on stage. No one ever takes much notice of them and they provide me with some mild amusement. On the Friday evening however, something happened that I had never seen before. At around seven-o-clock, cars started pulling up as usual outside the hall. As the people stepped out of their vehicles, we noticed that they were being intercepted by others handing out leaflets – advertising a free entertainment, with free food, free music and free rides for the kids – all organized at 36 hour’s notice, and right across the road. A group of about half a dozen adults stood on the opposite pavement, arms folded, and glared, unblinking, at us. It was amazing. I hadn’t seen that sort of behaviour since I was seven years old, in the school playground. We undoubtedly lost some business because of this, maybe two hundred or so potential customers is a perfect illustration of the targeted aggression described above. Is it a classic example of what happens when a group indulges its prejudice. There’s something wrong with these people. Added to which, it’s childish, which makes it an even more interesting study.
It would be easy to dismiss the Christian fundamentalists as a flock of nutters, inevitably destined for extinction if they did but know it. But this would be to understate their organizational abilities. You can destroy an army, but it has been proved time and again that it is impossible to suppress an idea. This is another reason for the delayed negation of religious belief in the face of science.
There is an insidious Right Wing Christian influence gaining a foothold in Hollywood by default. The natural evolution (oh, and how they HATE that word!) of science over superstition is in danger of being delayed further, not by the Bible thumpers, but by the moneymen.
Hollywood has realized that there are 80 million committed fundamentalist Christians in America and the movie industry is equally committed to getting its own share of that particular entertainment dollar. ‘Faith-based audiences’ are a lucrative market and Hollywood has an impressive track record of tapping into it. In the 1950’s and 60’s big budget Cecil B. De Mille blockbusters like The Robe, The Ten Commandments, and The Greatest Lie Ever Told starring, amongst others, Charlton Heston, put a schmaltzy, wide screen Technicolor twist on well known Christian fairy tales. Ironic that nearly all those movies were produced by Jews.
But Hollywood continues to court a market with disposable income and an appetite for anything even remotely Godly. There are websites that pastors and ministers can download clips from, complete with a copyright-free invitation to use them in their sermons and other ramblings, along with biblical quotations to prove how truly holy the movie is! The PR men invite religious leaders to advance screenings, sometimes months before the opening in theatres, emphasizing the film’s faith-based story lines (check out HollywoodJesus.com) complete with goody bags of biblical style promotional materials.
The recent Sandra Bullock film, The Blind Side about a Christian woman who adopts a poor black teenager, who then goes on to be a rich black teenager by playing football (American football that is) is a prime example of this new kind of market strategy. Clips from the film were made available to more than 22,000 mega churches throughout the US before it was released, complete with selected Bible passages for sermons. Kinda makes you want to throw up doesn’t it.
Anyway, the good news is that even in America (according to the last US Census) the Bible bashers are succumbing slowly to the inevitability that the God myth is about to exceed it’s sell-by date. The number of people who don’t hold any religious belief has doubled from a mere 5% to a more hopeful 10% in the last ten years. In the United Kingdom, the figure is even more encouraging. In the census of 2011, the percentage of the adult population that held no religious belief was a heartwarming 39%, up from 28% in 2001.
Education and Science are making inroads as never before – a refreshing change from the days when Copernicus and Galileo were imprisoned as heretics, having suggested that the world was not the centre of the universe after all. Science has been slowly gaining ground against the ridiculous superstition of the invisible man in the sky, and that gain is accelerating. Long may it continue – the world would be a much better place without religion.
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