Hypnosis in Religion Part 2

2287861In Matthew 17:14-20 there are other examples of mental illnesses being cured but strangely no examples of severed limbs growing back. Even the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead is held in suspicion by many Biblical scholars and churchmen. And it’s also safe to assume that Jesus’ failures were not so highly publicised. Neither are Uri Geller’s, Paul McKenna’s or Benny Hinn’s…

Most disturbing of all is the notion that Christ died on the cross for our sins. This makes us all feel guilty… but thank you anyway for providing a truly brilliant fixation point – the cross.

The offer of the possibility of life after death is such a tempting inducement; it has the power not only to temporarily suspend rational or critical thought, but also to ensure that lesser mortals toe the line. There may indeed be life after death – no one really knows for sure – but it’s not going to be available just because an individual follows a certain set of rituals or a particular guru.

There have been plenty of instances and examples where other mortals have tried to pull the same stunt since, but nobody has ever achieved success on the same scale – it’s probably something to do with being the first to corner the market. In living memory, the ‘reverend’ Sun Myung Moon springs to mind immediately. The smartest people have realised that in a world where the market in religion has already been cornered, the best way to make the real money is to start your own franchise of the same well established religion; enter Benny Hinn and all the other evangelist types.

Whatever the angle, all these bandwagon jumpers have been shrewd enough to follow the tried and tested formulas, even using the same or very similar patter. They claim that they have been chosen by God, to do ‘His work.’ Anyone who questions this will find themselves stood out from the crowd, labelled a troublemaker and running a very great risk of being ostracised by the rest of the group. Failing that, they may very well get their legs broken; such is the competitiveness of the God industry in America.

The more exotic claims of any religion, be it Christian, Moslem, Hindu or Jedi Knight, have no more basis in fact and offer no more empirical proof than astrology or horoscopes, most of which are almost certainly made up the night before they appear in the following day’s newspaper. Millions of people tune in to this twaddle which makes it a perfect example of the power of suggestion on a grand scale.

But I digress… the fact that over a billion people believe in this sort of insanity is cause for concern. Anyone who seriously believes that if you live a good life you will go to heaven, or live a bad life and you will go to hell and be tormented by the devil for all eternity is disturbed. And yet these same people never fail to express mild amusement or occasional abject disgust, even horror, when they are reminded of the quaint beliefs of other societies with their sacred cows, monkey gods, Tokoloshes and ancestor worship. Each religion claims to be the one true faith, the only approved and credible purveyor of God’s word in exactly the same way that different organisations claim to be the only credible bodies representing hypnotists! God is always on the winning side, except when God chooses not to be (on the odd occasion when he decides to exercise His Will, etc., etc.)

This does not mean of course that there is no place for God or even gods. One has only to understand the basic principles of physics or simply look up into the night sky to realise that the universe is constructed in ways that appear to conform to known laws of physics. Stephen Hawking (an atheist) once said that if God exists, then he is a mathematician. If God does indeed exist, then he must exist in every electron, every atom of every grain of sand, every drop of water, every star and every galaxy in the whole of Creation. The catch is that God may not be quite as altruistic as some would have us believe. If God is all seeing, all knowing and all powerful, then surely God feels the anguish of all the suffering in the world and yet for some reason seems to be too busy with other things to do anything about it.

There are many sensible, obvious and logical reasons for this view, but for the time being, it is enough to understand that if God created man in his own image, man has recreated God in his own image, and that’s what we’re stuck with. God must be fuming. No wonder he sends the odd earthquake to smite us on occasions when he’s frustrated to the point of Supreme Anger.

When we consider organised religion, far better a universal faith with rules and guidelines which apply to all and protect all, than this mish-mash of nonsensical ideologies. I read with despair recently about a white middle-class English couple in London who had paid for a spiritual healer to clear their house of any bad Ju-Ju before moving in. Doubtless they also employed a Feng Shui (moving furniture around) expert too! Perhaps they had already considered an exorcism just in case but had probably decided against it on the grounds that it was far too mainstream. This sort of thing is becoming all too common and is symptomatic of a society which has either lost its sense of direction or has too much disposable income.

The problems really start when religion moves from being quaintly illogical to downright ridiculous, something which if not reined in can lead to bigotry and worse, persecution which all too often result in mindless wars and pogroms carried out in God’s name. Allowed to get out of control, religion can promote racism and creates the foundations for movements like the Ku Klux Klan. All of the above is as preamble to the point I am now going to attempt to make.

Unscientific ideas are perpetuated by society’s blind acceptance of untestable beliefs and pre-conceived culturally generated ideas. Magicians know this very well, which is why their illusions work so spectacularly well and, more importantly, so do hypnotists – especially stage hypnotists, a few of whom are extremely skilled at pulling the wool over large numbers of people’s eyes on a nightly basis. They are even better at it than the spoon benders who only know the one trick but nonetheless are able to make a living out of it.

The mantle of modern day Messiah has been taken up by the new breed of corporate guru or overpaid football star. Stage hypnotists can accomplish all the same illusions – the only difference is that they are transparently honest and obsessively truthful about what hypnosis actually is.

And this is precisely why the religious types don’t like them. This disapproval goes much further than plain old fashioned jealousy, superstition and fear of the unknown. It’s more than just the misunderstanding of a concept that is difficult for most people to grasp. For the uninitiated, there is bound to be the uncertainty that accompanies something which seems inexplicable or magical. There’s more to it than the confusion of the phenomenon of pure verbal suggestion with the forces of evil, although without doubt emotions play a large part in that fear.

The damnation of hypnotism and hypnotists, especially the stage variety is based on the fear that once made public, the knowledge of what is actually happening will upset the apple cart once and for all and the game will be well and truly up. The gravy train will grind to a halt and along with it, the tenuous hold on power. The God-botherers will then not only be out of a job, but exposed as the power crazed con artists most of them really are. I would like to quote Thomas Jefferson; “The priests of the different religious sects… dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight, and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subdivision of the duperies on which they thrive.”

This particularly applies to charismatic ‘healers’ like Benny Hinn. This brand of faith healing service is something that is found almost exclusively in the Christian religion. It is highly competitive and definitely falls into the category of big business. Benny Hinn is the market leader and makes around one hundred million US dollars a year. No wonder he, and the rest of his ilk, don’t want you to know how it’s really done! They unashamedly capitalise on expectation and therefore suggestion before the punter even turns up at the venue. The psychological build up, the expectancy, starts from the moment the willing spectators book their tickets. Just like the stage hypnosis show, the evening follows a tried and tested pattern with highs and lows, the liberal use of appropriate music to drive home the point and the peak experiences enjoyed by the people lucky enough to end up on the stage… all in the name of the power of the Holy Spirit. These public exhibitions of mass hysteria are called ‘ministries’ or ‘crusades’ and this too is a very powerful use of language.

Shakespeare also knew this trick very well. In Macbeth, we are introduced at the beginning of the play to three witches who prophesy King Duncan’s murder and Macbeth’s own inevitable demise. From that point on, the tension builds until he breaks the spell by introducing the character of a drunken porter who tells bawdy jokes about the perils of drink and its effect on sexual performance before building the drama again to its final dénouement. There can be no doubt that Elizabethan audiences would have found this both shocking and riveting. But Shakespeare was a master dramatist. He knew that the employment of highs and lows would not only rivet the attention of his audience but would drive home the message of the dangers of evil ambition more than any pulpit sermon. It’s a tried and tested technique and stage hypnotists know it well, or at least stage hypnotists who know and understand their business know it well.

The stage hypnosis show (just like the charismatic healing shows, relentlessly copied but never really refined beyond the certainty of ‘what works’) follows the same formula of highs and lows. First there is the expectation of the audience and then the jokes, then the ‘miracles’ and then the climaxes. It’s like sex really. For some, it’s a substitute. So is gambling.

But that does not mean that religions do not have their miracles – they do. The difference, especially where the ‘miraculous’ healing of the sick is concerned, is that the phenomenon is distinctly the patent of charismatic Christian preachers who use hypnosis as a matter of course even though they don’t admit to it. To give some benefit of the doubt, some of them may not be fully aware of exactly what it is they are doing, even if they may have a sneaking suspicion, but most certainly are and are cashing in big time. In my view, it is impossible for experienced hands to do this sort of thing on a regular basis without the realisation that there is something else, something psychological going on. If they stopped to ask themselves the question; why some and not others? That might lead them on to more scientific enquiry.

Charismatic preachers use the same suggestibility tests, convincers and deepeners that stage hypnotists know and love so well. Even the ‘laying on of hands,’ or hypnotic inductions, are the same. Getting people to fall backwards using the power of suggestion is an old hypnotist’s trick, and these men of God use it all the time. As someone who has had some considerable personal experience in this field, I would hasten to add that there is virtually no difference between the two except to say that the American style evangelists are generally speaking, better showmen! The only real distinction is that with the stage hypnotists, the public have to pay to get in, whereas with the likes of Benny Hinn, they pay to get out! It would also be fair to say that although stage hypnotists are well known for getting people to run round like a chicken, Benny Hinn just has to get them to run round. Stage Hypnotists freely admit that the phenomena they present in the name of entertainment is purely suggestion, even though any further explanation to their audiences is curtailed in order to preserve at least some of the mystique. Charismatic preachers like Benny Hinn resort to age old hocus-pocus and lay the blame for sickness and infirmity on… demons of sickness and infirmity. In his services, Benny Hinn casts out demons with a theatrical relish that would be the envy of any B-movie hypnotist. Hammer House of Horror could not have done better.

Ordinarily speaking, anyone who openly said that they could see “a demon, half man, half beast, walking out through the door” could expect an appointment with a psychiatrist… but not Benny Hinn. Tens of thousands of normally rational people, living in the supposedly advanced United States of America, go for this clap- trap every week and at the same time adopt a patronising attitude toward other cultures that also have demons and spirits as part of their belief systems. It is only because their critical faculties have been temporarily suspended by the hypnotic techniques Hinn uses to great effect that the demons so feared in the middle-ages are allowed to make a brief come-back.

In the highly charged atmosphere of a charismatic ‘healing’ service, human beings behave in a manner that is above all, predictable and preachers like Benny Hinn are nothing more than skilled showmen who have mastered a set of simple psychological and theatrical tricks. They are human beings influencing other human beings, modifying behaviour in exchange for cash. Using every trick in the stage hypnotist’s handbook, they carefully select only the most suggestible from the crowd to come up onto the stage. These participant’s reactions to Hinn’s suggestions serve to confirm the expectations of the rest of the crowd, creating a situation where everyone becomes more suggestible.

The music rises and falls and every so often shifts up a semitone and this helps to generate a heightened state of emotion which releases opiates that increase suggestibility and therefore hypnotisability. Benny Hinn coordinates these experiences like the conductor of an orchestra and he works his audience hard. In keeping with the best traditions of show business, his arrival on the stage is carefully timed to happen as the final verse of the hymn How Great Thou Art, in a superb arrangement for massed choirs and full orchestra reaches its inspired and thrilling climax.

As he walks to the front, Benny exudes supreme confidence, tempered with just the right degree of humility so as not to upstage God. On any given night, scores of technicians, riggers, sound and lighting engineers, musicians and singers encourage the fabrication of the illusion.

As if all that isn’t enough, Benny (God bless him) uses another old trick – the bogey-man, in this case, the Devil, Satan, the Forces of Darkness… and the crowd laps it up faster than he can spoon-feed it to them. He’s the greatest!

Although Palestinian by birth Benny Hinn is the epitome of the all- American success story; arriving in the United States at the age of six – a refugee from the Arab/Israeli Six Day War – he has seized opportunity in the land where the seizing of opportunity is the one true religion. And he plays the part perfectly; wearing white suits (the good cowboys always wear white) he confirms and reconfirms all the beliefs that America holds dear.

He is the ultimate middle-man, and his share of the profits has realised a life-style his congregation marvel at – and accept. In one of his recent broadcasts he quite openly and transparently appealed for six thousand people to send in a mere $1,000 each – and as a matter of urgency. And what would they get for their six million? Everlasting life? Eternal bliss? A seat at the right hand of God? Er… no; what they would get for their money is… a brand new private jet for Benny’s personal use. Within the first ten minutes, there had been fifty-two calls! God bless America!

(Actually that is not strictly accurate; only fifty-one calls were from people pledging their thousand dollars, the other one was from me asking the telephonist to pass on a personal message to Pastor Benny from yours truly and I have to say, the person on the other end of the line was not as helpful as I thought she would be.

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Benny Hinn’s preferred mode of transport.

Well, I suppose the old adage is true; “Only in America!” But wait… Benny comes to the UK at least once a year and you can’t get a seat! He has been to Manchester and filled the 30,000 seat Manchester Evening News Arena three nights on the trot! Even I – yes that’s right, even cynical old me has finally realised that I’m in the wrong business.

He asks the entire congregation to look at him “eye to eye please… you must let every guard down… become completely open…” and when Benny Hinn performs hypnosis, he rarely meets the resistance that other stage hypnotists encounter for the simple reason that what is on offer is the opportunity to be “filled with the rapture of the Holy Spirit,” and invitation which is so seductive, they can’t wait to throw themselves on the ground, egged on by the mass hysteria of the multitude. They really want it badly! I have come to the conclusion that for a lot of people, it’s a substitute for sex. On a good night, large numbers of ordinarily sane individuals will writhe, fit and perform just as expected.

When large numbers of people come together like this, performing actions together, in lock-step, they get caught up in the heat of the moment and it is at this point that they can be persuaded to behave in ways that they would not contemplate under normal circumstances – some will even leap out of their wheelchairs.

But the preacher is only the catalyst for such conduct. The mild glow, the wide eyes, the tears of joy are a direct result of chemical and electrical reactions taking place deep within the brain. They are literally intoxicated… This state of euphoria produces naturally occurring painkillers that make it possible, for the duration of the performance at least, for those in pain to leap and run about the stage in paroxysms of ecstasy as the suggestions delivered by the preacher take on a personal meaning and significance. The willingness of the recipient to blindly accept the suggestions transforms even the most banal utterances into perceived wisdom – there are things you can say to a thousand people that would be impossible to say to ten people, another thing the Nazis fully understood.

But the ‘cure’ is only temporary. Within a few hours, the brain will rebalance its chemicals and the aches and pains return. Benny Hinn meanwhile is already on his way to the next town, most usually flying in his private jet, counting the money. For the people left behind, especially those who have been so deeply hypnotised into believing that their cancers have been cured, that they all too often go on to refuse the treatment and life-saving drugs their doctors and specialists say are necessary and this blind belief is typical of hypnosis. Suggestion cannot restore an amputated limb or cure a brain tumour, despite Benny Hinn’s claims to the contrary.

Leading theologians condemn these practices because they prey on the desperate and give false hope to those who have no other way of escape from lives filled with difficulty and pain and suffering and yet this kind of hypnosis is happening all over the United States on a daily basis. By default, this creates a vicious circle where the mind becomes trapped in a cycle of control and dominance where people are constantly being hypnotised and re- hypnotised every time they go to one of these events – and many people go a lot!

How on earth do they get away with it? Surely there must be someone in the vast heartland of the United States that could, or should, say something. Surely they can’t all have been taken in? The answer to this question has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with politics.

In America, the influence of the fundamentalist Christian Right is not only felt in the small towns of the mid-west and the Bible belt, its influence is most strongly felt – and feared – at the ballot box. Any candidate standing for election knows full well the hold the preachers have over the significant majority of the population, and to criticise them is akin to criticising God Himself. Any Representative, Senator or Presidential hopeful is simply not willing to take the risk of losing tens of thousands, or even millions, of votes. In fact, the majority of politicians actively court the Christian right simply because their voice is so powerful and their votes so numerous.

Individuals are already conditioned before they turn up on Sunday morning for worship and such is their virulent opposition to anything supernatural (other than their own more mainstream beliefs) that even Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a target for their dread.

As a stage hypnotist, I rate Benny Hinn as one of the finest in the business. I congratulate him on his showmanship, on his presentation, his stage presence, his hypnotic ability and on his ruthless business acumen. I also admire his phenomenal success. He truly is an accomplished performer. The ‘cures’ or ‘miracles’ are brought about not by the power of the Holy Spirit, but by the power of suggestion.

Benny Hinn’s services follow exactly the same pattern on every occasion and the results are what any stage hypnotist would instantly recognise. An obvious question would be that if God really is all seeing, all knowing and all powerful and he really does know all about the suffering of those with terminal pain, why then does he need Benny Hinn to do his work for him?

There is one other major difference between the healers and the hypnotists. Whereas Benny Hinn’s ‘miracles’ are short lived, the hypnotherapist can teach clients the relaxation and visualisation techniques that will help ease pain on a more permanent basis.

It is no accident that Benny Hinn and the rest of the coincidental hypnotists are the same people who are the most virulent opponents of stage hypnotism and this opposition is loyally disseminated through the ranks whenever the opportunity arises. Hypnosis or ‘the devil’s work’ as it is sometimes known, has attracted a fearful reputation amongst the religiously brain- washed. These are people who have been so utterly convinced that hypnosis really is a form of demonic mind control that their own minds are no longer able to function well enough to see the other side of the reasoned argument. Surely it is this purposeful economy with the truth and the determination to keep people in the dark and handing over money that is the real devil’s work!

There is nothing in the Bible that specifically mentions hypnosis, although there is a rather vague hint in Deuteronomy 18:10-12, where there is a quick mention of “binding one with a spell.” After a brief on-line discussion with the person who pointed this out to me, I received the following reply; “As Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are willing to come to your home to have Bible discussions with interested persons at no cost.” No thanks, I’ll be worshipping Satan that day. Well, I’ll be watching the rugby, which is the next best thing.

There’s also a great passage in the New Testament that says “and the roar of the Triumph of Jesus could be heard throughout the land” – living proof that Jesus was the first man in history to ride a motorcycle. I suppose in the end, it’s all down to how you interpret it. In any case, hypnotism per se didn’t exist at the time the Bible was written, although ironically it is down to the power of suggestion that the book has become the best selling volume in history. Even many less religious people are suggestible enough to feel that they need to have a copy, just in case….

There is another admonition which comes from a group known as the Seventh Day Adventists who believe that no one should exercise their will to control the senses of others and this is based apparently on Jesus’ words from Matthew 11:28; “Come unto me all ye that labour.” I know, it’s difficult to see the connection but that is exactly what is quoted. We have already seen that the subject is always free to accept or reject suggestions as they please, so the warnings of religious types are pointless anyway, but there it is….

I think it’s worth pointing out that Jehovah’s Witnesses are also unalterably and implacably opposed to any type of blood transfusion on the grounds that there is a passage in the Bible which forbids that as well although I have been unable to find it.

The cult of the Christian Science faith however is an altogether more interesting study. This offshoot of mainstream Christianity is opposed to hypnosis absolutely, in any form, even hypnosis used strictly for medical purposes. And the reason for this rabid hostility? Stand by to be amazed. The Church’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy suffered from hallucinations, a condition now thought to be associated with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy but in the less enlightened 1860’s people believed her when she told them that it was the voice of God she had heard in a series of ‘visitations.’ In the more enlightened twenty-first century, she would probably be laughed off the stage and sent to see the nearest psychiatrist.

Travelling through the United States at the time was a stage hypnotist called Phineas Quimby and Quimby was willing to give lessons in hypnosis to anyone who was interested for a staggering $100 a time, a fortune in those days. One of his students was… Mary Baker Eddy! Quimby had also made an attempt to start his own religion but his efforts were eclipsed by those of his protégé.

From that point on however, the techniques of hypnosis, and especially of stage hypnotists were used extensively by the Christian Science Church and by exploiting tried and tested methods of concentration, followers were “miraculously able to bring about changes in mental and physical health.” Poor Mary, to make all this work, she had to denounce the very thing that had inspired her in the first place, deciding to present it as a divine religion rather than a simple psychological technique.

To be completely fair, people in whose lives the church plays a significant part are generally happier than their non church-going counterparts. Those who prey on a regular basis and trust in God are in the main, more able to withstand the stresses and strains of everyday life. People who are able to enter into fervent and sincere prayer seem to have found a firm mental rudder with which to steer through the trials and tribulations of life. These people also have the support of a strong and caring community. Nonetheless, the very act of closing one’s eyes and praying and talking to God, is a form of self-hypnosis. No religion in the world teaches its followers to pray with clenched fists or whilst trying to balance on tip-toes. The preferred attitude of prayer is one of relaxation (or hands-up supplication in the case of the happy-clappies.) Those that pray all agree that when they open their eyes they break the connection with God. This is what happens when people decide to open their eyes during hypnosis – the spell is broken.

It is during these intense moments of concentration that the emotional experience is at its most effective. If the experience is given a positive motivation and direction, a beneficial transformation is likely the happy result. Even in prayer, or self- hypnosis, it is possible for very powerful and positive suggestions to take root, even if these suggestions are based on what the person doing the praying wishes for themselves.

Emotion concentrates the mind. Even if a subject has a cognitive understanding of their own particular problem, it is often at the emotional level where the introduction of positive suggestions can most effectively influence and modify the negative ideas that may have been accidentally implanted.

Persons who find it easy to experience deep emotions and express those emotions much more frequently succumb to bouts of emotional or mental illness. They also happen to be highly suggestible. Those with a more cynical (and in my view healthy) and realistic outlook on life find it difficult to stir their emotions or even express them. The stoic personality, because of its inflexibility, does not make a good subject, even though stoics and cynics can be very imaginative. These latter types tend not to suffer from emotional problems and so you very rarely see them in the therapy room.

When dealing with the Holy Spirit we often see emotional experiences or emotional awakenings. Go along to any modern day charismatic Christian Church, especially in the United States and you will routinely see the cringe-worthy spectacle of people speaking in tongues – a direct result of the hysteria which affects groups of people when they are subjected to just such an emotional experience. Now of course they’re not really speaking in tongues, they just think they’re speaking in tongues – any rational analysis will reveal that their bizarre rantings are nothing more than gibberish. I remember in my student days suddenly and unexpectedly being able to speak fluent Swahili when pissed, hunched over the toilet, vomiting and saying “Oh God” quite a lot.

In all formalised religions, the young are taught how to pray from the earliest possible age. Knowing how to pray properly is the key to the acceptance of suggestions. Just as in hypnosis, prayer contains a seriousness of intent and purpose which is the direct cause of the acceptance of barmy ideas. Many religious people aver that prayer changes things, and indeed it does, for exactly these reasons. All you have to do is believe…

God however reserves the right to answer prayer with a resounding “No” and examples of auto-suggestion have never been seriously disputed by any theological scholars.

There are no countries that actually ban hypnotism outright, either on stage or in therapeutic practice, although there are some countries that regulate its practice. Chief among them is the United Kingdom where public performances of hypnotism for the purposes of entertainment are regulated by the 1952 Hypnotism Act. Stage hypnosis is also regulated in Australia by the Psychological Practices Act, although most Aussie performers simply ignore this inconvenient rule and carry on doing shows regardless – one or two have taken to calling themselves ‘psychological illusionists’ or ‘mind magicians’ in a brilliantly successful attempt to avoid any unnecessary unpleasantness with local bureaucrats. In Sweden and Norway stage hypnosis can be carried out with the permission of the Social Authority. I have performed many times in all these countries and have never been refused permission. Other than that, hypnotists have pretty much a free reign worldwide.

I have never come across any objections from any of the mainstream religious organisations. I have done enough free shows for Jewish, Moslem and Christian charities over the years to know that there are no objections on religious grounds from these groups either. Likewise, as someone who had a reasonably strict Catholic education, I know that there is no objection from the Vatican. Not even the Scientologists are bothered about hypnosis. Mention hypnotism to a Scientologist and their first reaction is more likely to be a request for help to stop smoking.

This fear and loathing of hypnotists and the attendant mind numbing paranoia that goes with it, is only found in certain sections of the Jesus-loving community, and then, only in certain parts of the world. It is only in the cultish subdivisions of mainstream Christianity that one encounters any hostility and apart from the born-again task force, this appears to be limited to a few Jehovah’s Witnesses, the odd Seventh Day Adventist, Christian Scientists and another sect calling themselves the Christadelphians. There may be more, but I haven’t come across them yet but doubtless I will in the future!

All these anti-hypnosis groups have the same things in common. They are all run by lay people rather than full time priests or scholars and are principally found in small towns or rural areas which are safely situated well away from the influence of the more sophisticated philosophies that thrive in big cities. Their followers are conservative, often right wing and usually a good deal more concerned with the fight between good and evil than followers of the more mainstream religions than is psychologically healthy. They are more likely to view things in terms of black and white and willing to compromise more seldom than their urban fellows. Preachers generally have day jobs, are staunchly middle class, and more often than not are elected to their positions in the same way town councillors are. It is this background that provides us with the first clues.

Once in office, they very quickly become pissed with power, to coin a phrase, and rapidly develop a ridiculously high opinion of their own morality and importance, something which they then become desperate to impress upon their fellow parishioners. They soon become addicted to this exalted saintliness and never hesitate to resort to the tried and tested techniques of rule by fear, eventually becoming skilled manipulators of, and spokesmen for, everyone else’s conscience. Bush and Blair are both fundamentalist Christians and know this trick well. They have both claimed that they consulted God before committing troops to Iraq. Coincidentally, Adolf Hitler claimed that he too was the instrument of God’s Will in his hysterically funny book Mien Kampf. Whether or not Bush and Blair really did receive God’s sanction is, I think a matter for God, but I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes if they just made it up when He eventually kaks them out for it.

These tin gods control a very small empire of maybe a few hundred or so simple folk within a relatively small locality and they never hesitate to rise to the challenge of impressing their worthiness and authority on more than just issues of local and trivial importance. What better bogeyman than the evil stage hypnotist to provide an excuse to vent a little spleen and keep the rest of flock in check?

The arrival of a stage hypnotist in town gives them a perfect opportunity for some serious spleen venting and absurdly fatuous pronunciation. God forbid any follower should attend a show and suddenly become curious about the incredible similarity between what is done on stage in the name of comedy and what occurs every Sunday morning in the name of mind control, er… sorry, I mean praising the Lord, or when they tune in to the Christian TV channel to watch this week’s episode of the Benny Hinn Show. Even Cletus the slack-jawed yokel might have his suspicions aroused. Best give them a good reason to stay away…

The second clue is in the geographical demographic. The anti- hypnosis brigade has their main support in the heartlands of culturally underdeveloped countries – countries like the United States of America. Forget the real underdeveloped parts of the third world for a moment; the countless villages of India and Vietnam have never even heard of hypnotism let alone developed a view on it, although doubtless they will have experienced it! We are talking about nations that have at least the pretence of sophistication and modernity. In reality, the great populations of Middle America displays many of the symptoms of being culturally backward and individual thought can be something of an unfamiliar skill. These populations have achieved a level of conformity and obedience that Stalin would have envied.

But these Middle American Bible-belt communities (and the Dorps of South Africa) are not sophisticated. In fact they are totally unsophisticated. Their idea of sophistication is having mayonnaise instead of ketchup with their chips… sorry, French fries. With sophistication comes the ability to see a bigger picture of the world and make rational decisions based on as much information as possible. And this is what the God-botherers fear so much. Sophistication brings with it the rationality and logic of cynicism. Cynicism goes hand in hand with intelligent and coherent debate and the facility to not only answer the questions, but question the answers. Do away with blind unquestioning, ignorance, and cynicism becomes second nature. It is entirely healthy for human beings to question, even to challenge any traditional mind-set, to suspect authority and inevitably distrust the hierarchy behind it.

This does not mean that I am advocating anarchy. Ignorance breeds superstition whereas enlightenment brings a natural and truly God-given ability to decide for oneself. This is one of the fundamental principles of secular government. The French fought for it in their Revolution – an event that did not just free the people from oppressive government based on wealth, rank and privilege, but it also broke the stranglehold of the church on all public affairs. The Americans have the principle enshrined in their Bill of Rights, when they choose to remember it and the European nations cling to the idea with a zeal that has been earned at enormous cost by people ravaged almost to the point of annihilation by two World Wars.

So, can the principles of hypnosis, (or suggestion,) ever live side by side with the principles of religious belief when there is obviously such an overlap in practice? It is my opinion that they can, and for lots of reasons.

The most obvious is that they already do anyway, at least most of the time. An understanding of hypnosis, even the practice of hypnosis or a rational appreciation of the power of suggestion should not affect an individual’s religious beliefs in any way shape or form. Religion is simply a matter of personal choice. Hypnosis is a very simple psychological technique that has its own value. Only a fool (or a control freak) would try to persuade another that his or her mind will be taken over by the power of the devil, Satan or the Dark Side of the Force. Advertising is far more influential than hypnotism can ever be, if only because it is far more subtle, and yet I don’t hear anyone cursing Saatchi & Saatchi, although they should. Perhaps an awareness of the power of suggestion should be taught in schools? Now that would be an interesting development! God forbid though, that the advertisers and the churches should unite in common cause and return us to the Dark Ages!

Both the practice of hypnosis and the practice of religion involve a certain degree of ritual. The ritual of the hypnotic induction, particularly in the stage setting, is as important a part of the process as the ritual of worship. This may go some way to explaining the success of Neuro-Linguistic Programming in America. NLP uses hypnosis without using the word hypnosis. NLP practitioners thrive in places where hypnotists would once have been burned at the stake. NLP is devoid of all the old connotations of mind control and the associated baggage of witchcraft, voodoo, Vincent Price and all the rituals that are an unfortunate hangover from the days of Franz Mesmer and animal magnetism, although Richard Bandler has assumed the role of Messiah as far as his disciples are concerned.

In the final analysis, it is only those who are either wilfully or naively ignorant, or those with a vested interest in the power trip of control that feel the need to confuse or exercise dominion over what is after all, simply the clever use of language. I fully understand the nature of suggestion – it has been my specialist subject for nearly thirty years – and yet I also can’t help thinking from time to time that there might just be a God and He might just have a plan for the universe, whatever it is and in which case I make it a habit never to second guess God’s plan.

But I don’t suffer fools gladly either. So when they rant and rave, and call me the son of Satan, I merely smile and say it does not matter whether they come to see the show or not, their children have already seen it on TV and they laughed a lot. They are now mine forever and will never again believe another word hurled at them by a preacher of fire and brimstone.

It is truly astonishing the things people still believe in this enlightened age. The distrust of hypnotism and hypnotists is exactly the same sort of hysteria as the dread fear of witches in days long gone. Remember, it was so called righteous men that manipulated many a community’s way of thinking and in turn condemned tens of thousands of innocent women to a barbarous death at a burning stake. The same holds true today. It is always those who are desperate to hold onto their smidgeon of power who are first to light the bonfire. I have no time for them, for they are the real evil-doers. May they be chastised by the devil for all eternity and may their progeny all have small penises – especially the boys.

Even though blind belief is an evil in itself, in the twenty-first century, the devil of the new religion is the climate change denier; unscientific, selective and worse, government controlled false conviction (not to mention a great new way of raising taxes) and mass hysteria in a new, unproven and hideously erroneous bogie man. Global Warming denial is so politically incorrect now that climate change deniers have become the new holocaust deniers. Baa, baa, baa…

For more information about Hypnosis and Religion, read All in the Mind – Hypnosis, Suggestion and the New Mesmerists. Available from this website or from the publisher.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2013. All rights reserved.