Steven Rugel went to a house of worship and came out believing in something else entirely.
I recently saw a video in which a 3 year old toddler with a microphone was preaching “Jeee-suhs-ah!” to a hootin’ and hollerin’ tongue talkin’ church crowd. It reminded me of an experience I had, long ago, the day a pentecostal organ player accidentally saved my life.
I was maybe 14 years old, sitting in the pentecostal tongue talking assembly church my father had decided could replace his recently deceased father in his suddenly lonely life. He had replaced his loneliness, but unwittingly created mine. I found myself alone every Sunday, sitting, then standing, then sitting, then standing – all movements at the whim and will of the preacher – surrounded by a mob of hyper-believers. I was uncomfortable with this environment, to say the least, hated it to high heaven, to say the most.
On the particular Sunday on which this story takes place, I was standing, again, among the “believers”, sadly watching the congregation “praising”.
I was never a praiser, never even a believer, preferring quiet contemplation, or intelligent conversation about god to hootin’ and hollerin’ and beatin’ one’s breast like pharisees in public, but I was listening respectfully, since I had no choice but to do so, lest my father “not spare the rod” in “beating the devil” out of me after the service, should I misbehave.
So I was standing along with hundreds of hootin’ and hollerin’ praise and worship and tongue talking types, while all around me “believers” were getting off on jesus, most hyper-emotionally, some certainly literally, if their blushed cheeks and gyrating shaking bodies were any indication.
I was wondering why people would behave this way when jesus was so clear about not showing off your prayer in public (he could not have been more clear on this point). I was watching, listening to the music, the organ player was blending chords and progressions on the keyboard. The “praise” went on for minutes and was, I suppose, really enjoyable to those who enjoy such things. After a couple minutes, the “worship” began working up to greater and greater heights of emotion, the people were babbling in tongues, eyes closed, the sounds of myriad babblings blending into a song, a progression of chords, the “praise” flowing, ebbing, flowing again. The “stand and worship him” part of the service was building upon the energy of itself, people were seeking, reaching upward, the congregation moving in unison to a point of ecstatic climax of praise, all eyes were closed, all mouths were open, all hands were raised, all hearts and minds were turned toward heaven.
Suddenly, the organ player fumbled her fingers on the keyboard.
The music, which had been beautiful chords climbing up and down the scale in a Pacobel’s Canon-esque beautiful and moving wave was instantly shattered by a “donk!” - a terrible sounding noise that didn’t match the chords she had been playing.
The spell of worship was instantly broken.
Instantly the praise fest collapsed, the unison was shattered, the bee hive hum broke down into individuals chattering to themselves. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit – had left the building.
The organ player tried to recover the flow of her previous beautiful chords, the feelings of the music, the progressions. She made a very determined effort to recover the lost praise and worship spell she had cast over the audience.
The pastor – and I was watching this like a social psychologist, not just standing with eyes closed accepting this and going along with the crowd as I could see all the other people were – I alone was watching as the pastor walked over to the edge of the platform nearest the organ player and shot her a look of furious anger that said very clearly “You fucked up, lady! You just fucked everything up!”
He was mad as hell, I could see his face clearly and it was literally red with rage, screwed into a furious tight lipped simian war face.
The organ player blushed in shame. She knew she had totally destroyed the program, her blunder had blown the spell her music had cast over the crowd.
She tried to recover the mood with her music, her now nervous hands searching for the lost chords and progressions, struggling under the weight of her boss’s condemnation. The preacher made an Herculean effort to help her regain the lost momentum of the service, ramping up his enthusiasm and commitment to the program. He began conducting with his hands the tempo he wished her to play, then he began adding hyper enthusiastic tongue talking and tears flowing down his cheeks, shouting in his “heavenly god given language”– Shonda lo kieeey!!!! Oh Shonda looooooo!! Thank you Jeeee-suhs-hah! Oh Shonda lo!!! – but the mood had gone with the music and the pastor and his organist could not get it back.
Eventually, they gave up trying to rekindle the mood and the preacher, clearly disappointed and frustrated at the collapse of group praise told everyone to sit down and started his sermon earlier than planned.
From that day, from literally the moment the organ player hit the wrong chords and her instrument let out a “donk!”, I have known beyond any doubt that people are highly programmable, highly suggestible, that people feed off each other’s behavior, that groups of people in complete “agreement” with each other are dangerous to an individual’s freedom of thought, and that God has nothing to do with mankind’s tendency to get worked up in worship services, to do what they are told by anyone who claims to be in charge, to believe what they are sold by any man who can organize a crowd, talk the talk, and stream tears and tongues on a moment’s notice. Mankind is needy and vulnerable to suggestion. Me, and Houdini and Pastor Jack Williams, we know exactly how easy it is for one man to play an individual into a group, a group into a cult, and a cult into an unquestioning, uncritical flock of sheep.
In fact, when Pastor Jack showed his angry frustration with the organ player, I learned that running a “worship service” or “praise fest” has nothing to do with GOD at all, but are functions of preachers practicing a sort of snake charming, or group hypnosis, programming people’s behavior and group think, and that music is more powerful than faith or god in manipulating the emotions of people.
This is, sadly, especially true for well meaning sincere people who are needy and seeking, as was my father after he buried his father. Hurting seeking people are extremely susceptible to suggestion. Hurting seeking people are extremely easy prey for a man hunting through their hearts and minds to find and palm their wallets. There is no truth, no reality, no god involved in such things, such things being beneath the dignity of god. In such things, there is only mass hypnosis and the willingness of individuals to be hypnotized, “by their own choice and for their own benefit”, they think, of course.
It’s the energy of the crowd, it’s the suggestions, the orders, the stand up sit down stand up sit down, now praise him with all you got! It’s the program.
It’s being surrounded by the sounds of the acquiescence of others, the fear of defying what everyone else wants to believe, people, it’s the cadence of the way a preacher shouts “Jeeee-suhs-hah”, or “The devil-uh-hah”, or “Sinners-uh-hah” or “The Blood-uh-hah”. It’s the pattern of the organ player’s chords backing up and punching the preacher’s words. It is, literally, the pattern of well practiced sound waves striking your inner ear and traveling through the ear canal into your brain. There is no god required for your hypnosis into religious ecstacy, no jesus needed, no holy spirit present, no Zeus, no Athena, no Quetzalcoatl, no Allah, no nobody, baby. Just Pastor Jack and his wonderfully, usually but not just that once, highly skilled, organ player.
It’s all been done to mankind for so many thousands of years now that the “leaders” have it down to a science and the followers, well, I don’t even have to put that word in sarcastic quotes, do I? Sheep say “baa…baa” when the shepherd says “And now we’ll take up a love offering, please give unto the Lord when the bucket passes down the aisle. After that, you are free to sit down again, and listen to me speak for one more hour, after which, you are all free to go.”
And so, as I recently sat and watched a video of a 3 year old toddler with a microphone preaching “Jeee-suhs-ah!” to a hootin’ and hollerin’ tongue talkin’ church crowd, I was reminded of an experience I had, long ago, the day one slip of an organ player’s hands on a keyboard broke the pattern, exposed the wizard of oz behind the curtain, freed me from the power of dastardly, conniving, cowardly, shitty men, and accidentally saved my life.
photo: rubygoes / flickr