>Evangelist Todd Bentley has been featured on CNN and other major news outlets regarding his FreshFire revival going on down in Lakeland Florida. They’re calling it the “next big thing” but I’m calling B.S…
“I want to change”, “fill me”, “wash me”, “set me on fire.” This was the mantra shouted by the emcee, then repeated by the crowd, over and over, prior to the live feed television broadcast. The people were being hyped up and primed for the cameras. Prayers and more prayers, with lots of shouting preceded the program. This is a healing revival and according to them, it requires activating faith. “You have to expect it” stated the emcee. And the people definitely expected something.
I began my interest in stage magic and hypnotism several years ago after seeing a show in a local bar. Though I never actually engaged in the art, I studied the techniques intently and greatly enjoyed trying to figure out various tricks and illusions. One particular interest was the power of suggestion and how it relates to everyday life, especially in advertising and later in Charismatic meetings. Few people realize that hypnosis is completely voluntary and only works on willing subjects. Trickshop.com put out a book called “Mastering Hypnosis”. In it, they define hypnosis as:
“…an altered state of consciousness characterized by heightened susceptibility to suggestion. Under hypnosis, suggestions bypass the critical faculties of normal consciousness and directly enter the subconscious mind where, if accepted, they are acted upon. The deeper the level of hypnosis, the greater the subject’s suggestibility.”
“This entire process is based upon the fact that while our conscious thought processes produce inductive reasoning, our subconscious uses only deductive reasoning. Once a suggestion is accepted by the subconscious, it is automatically transformed into reality. It does not matter if the suggestion originates from an internal source (i.e. self hypnosis) or an external one (the operator). Indeed, the distinction between autosuggestion and heterosuggestion is considered to be both arbitrary and superficial.”
The speaker approached the stage with a serious look and a nervous twitch that apparently told the audience that he was about to say something important. “Seventy-five percent of what happens here is due to hunger” he said. “Are you hungry tonight?” The crowd responded loud and long; of course they’re hungry, that’s why they’re here! After several minutes and more such comments the band cranked back up.
The music was carefully selected to create an atmosphere of surrender and expectation. I’m no stranger to this sort of manipulation, but I’m not going to say it’s necessarily a bad thing either. Maybe I’m just defending the art since I’m a musician but before you stop reading, at least here me out. I would say that all music is or can be a form of meditation. At least it helps one experience a meditative state. These type worship songs are a merging of music and message which allows one to accept the suggestion and experience it emotionally. What’s wrong with that, as long as the suggestion is positive? All music does that to some degree and that’s why I still listen to Christian radio. At least I am meditating on pleasant things for the most part and not subjecting my subconscious mind to accept the crap produced by the various other artists such as Brad Paisley “checking his girl for ticks”, or Juvenile’s infamous “Back that ass up”. No thanks, I’ll stick to the positive message found in Christian music whether or not I describe myself as one or not. In doing so I’m making a logical and informed decision on what I allow to influence my mind. The trick is learning when and how to turn it on and off. For a brief moment, I allowed myself to relax into the music, but that would quickly change.
The speaker once again took the stage and began telling an Old Testament story where Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms so that Joshua could defeat the Amalekites. He then told the crowd that they too could be like Aaron and Hur and undergird Todd Bentley by becoming a, you guessed it, “ministry partner” to financially support the revival crusade. This classic bait and switch was a bit too blatant for me. I almost called bullshit but just then they asked for twelve more volunteers to help with the offering. “Meet at the bottom of the platform, stage right” said the emcee. I immediately leapt to my feet and didn’t even have time to tell my wife where I was going; she knew. It was all the way across the arena so I sprinted down the steps, nearly busting my butt on the sticky soda stained floor but I made it to ground level in tact. Others were running too, and they beat me. I showed up at the corner, out of breath and attempting to speak. “I’m… here… to volunteer” I said but was too late. The younger, more agile guys (with football pads and numchucks) made the cut and I was turned away.
On my way back to my seat I decided to get the lay of the land. To check out the people and see if I could get a better feel for the type of crowd that was present. As I made my way around the floor seats I noticed several wheel chaired individuals, people with various infirmities and some with obvious deformities. Some were old; some were young; like this one little girl with dark hair and angelic smile. Her legs had not formed properly and they hung from the wheelchair motionless but most notable thing about her was the way she brightened up the space around her with her presence. I walked by an old man, slumped over in his chair barely moving. It looked as if he’d had a stroke or something, his wife stood behind him dutifully with rays of hope beaming from her eyes as she looked around expectantly. I saw another man walk by and I caught myself do a double-take as I noticed a large tumor protruding from the right side of his face causing his right eye, nose, and part of his mouth to be distorted by the intrusive mass. As I continued to walk, I noticed more and more chairs and people, all in some need of physical healing, all with the same gleam of hope and air of expectancy. By the time I made it back to my seat I was emotionally exhausted. My little comedic adventure of trying to volunteer was overshadowed by the notable suffering of the individuals I passed.
The emcee took the stage and delivered a monologue which I would describe as a Bentley promo. He told a story of how a group of ministers recently said that whenever Bentley came in the room, they could feel the presence of God and that they would often drop to the floor (in typical charismatic type fashion I suppose). My ears perked up at this because I felt he was laying the groundwork for what was to come later. He was literally and blatantly implanting suggestions. I predicted (not prophetically) that Bentley would use these suggestions later to create the desired effect so I quickly jotted down notes. I put myself in Bentley’s shoes and tried to read the crowd. They were not that difficult to read, it was like they were holding up a neon sign that read: “we’ll believe whatever you tell us, but just tell us SOMETHING!” And tell them he did.
A Successful hypnotic induction relies mainly on acceptance by the subconscious mind of the target. “Even under hypnosis this acceptance is not always automatic but rather relies on proper timing, repetition, and delivery. Timing is the single most important element in presenting a suggestion” says the book Mastering Hypnosis. “Always begin by suggesting what will happen, and gradually work up to reinforcing what has happened”. Bentley’s crew did a wonderful job of doing just that. They certainly don’t call it that, they call it activating faith. But the entire evening, prior to Bentley’s first appearance, has been spent on priming the pump and implanting suggestions. “Think of repetition” says the book, “as the glue that binds your timing together. It helps to ensure you maintain proper timing with regard to your suggestions. In addition, the persuasive power of suggestion tends to be cumulative in effect.” The music, the prayers, the cheering, the repetitive and monotonous nature of the songs, growing in intensity, all culminate in one thing; the arrival of the main speaker.
I see Bentley sitting on the sidelines reading a magazine. No doubt it is the Charisma Magazine article which just today published their take on the event. I thought he was about to take center stage but another man walked to the podium and asked the crowd if they were ready for testimonials. It may seem pretty innocuous to ask that question, and the guy probably didn’t mean anything by it, but it is significant nonetheless. They were responding on cue and willing to be led. He began by reading a testimonial he received via email. A man was flying into the Lakeland airport and saw an angel outside the plane. My mind immediately raced to the Twighlight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” where a creature devoured the wing of the plane right in front of a passenger who subsequently went nuts. Even though this guy’s angel didn’t do anything as cool as that, I listened intently. He said the angel looked in the plane at him as if wondering to himself, “why are you in a plane?” I thought that must have been a really dumb angel. Then the man said that he looked ahead and saw thousands and thousands of angels spiraling into the city of Lakeland to attend Bentley’s event. Wow. That sounds pretty cool and the crowd seemed to enjoy it as well. I’m sure there were more skeptics at the event, but everywhere I looked I saw nodding heads. The man read other testimonials claiming various healings and such but what struck me was that there didn’t seem to be any verification process, they simply took their word for it.
As Bentley approached the podium the crowd began cheering. He’s a lot shorter than I imagined and pale, the man is very pale. Tattoos cover most of his arms, hands, and neck and his face is pierced with several metal studs. His appearance is certainly atypical and stands out from his peers. That’s about the only thing that stands apart from them though. His voice, his mannerisms, and his style all seem to mimic those who have gone before and you can definitely detect a Kathryn Kulhman-esque quality in his performance. He didn’t preach, and I’m not sure he even had a message. But he did have a point and it came through loud and clear. Todd Bentley is the next big thing. He droned on for a long time, dropping names of the charismatic superstars like John Wimber, Paul Cain, and Bobby Conner showing how they all approved of Bentley. He spoke of their long-time prophecies that called for a big revival and proceeded to insert himself as the fulfillment of that prophecy. And why shouldn’t he? Bob Jones sat directly behind him nodding in approval.
At first I was confused as to why he was pumping himself up like that but it soon became clear. It wasn’t because of healing, it was because of support. He wanted people to give to his ministry, become a “ministry partner” and help spread the word. He told stories of spreading the FreshFire revival worldwide and that even Arab countries are opening the airwaves to his ministry. He claimed that a group of Arabs attempted to hop a plane and come to Lakeland but that day terrorists shut down the Beirut airport so they called Bentley on his cell phone telling him of their predicament. I wonder how they got his cell phone number? I’m calling bullshit on that one.
Bentley went on and actually made a theological point. He claimed that God was in heaven, and that he couldn’t come down unless we tore open a hole so that he could come through. And if we tore a little hole, we would get a little bit of God, but if we tore a big hole, we would see more of his presence. It doesn’t matter that this statement has absolutely no basis in fact, reality, or even biblical theology; he said it and that’s all that matters. The people responded with cheers; maybe they were attempting to let God out of his cloudy prison, I don’t know. But the wording here is important. Bentley suggested to the crowd that they were responsible for how much of “God” they would receive. The ball was now in their court and he garnered himself a bit of plausible deniability. If nothing significant happened, then he could blame it on the small hole, if something cool happened, then all they would remember is the name Todd Bentley and that cool thing. It’s a win-win for him.