Friday, April 29, 2011

Conversion Experiences

Before you read the following paragraphs please watch the two videos listed below:
Derren Brown - Religious Beliefs Pt.1
Derren Brown - Religious Beliefs Pt. 2

Derren Brown is a British illusionist, mentalist, writer, painter, artist and is most well known for his ability to perform intricate mind tricks. In the videos listed above Mr. Brown pretends to be a minister who claims to have the power to convert people to a belief system by his touch. His experiments are interesting and certainly raise some questions.

In class we talked about the importance of knowing and discerning truth from from error. Particularly related to spirituality, we discussed how just because one may have a real experience or spiritual awakening, it does not mean that they have also have an encounter with what we as Christians firmly believe to be the true God, triune in nature, eternally existing in the person of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Also in class we talked about the immaterial part of the man, and established that although one may know some aspects of the immaterial dimension of a person, it is a difficult task to strictly conceptualize within clear-cut parameters the differences between dimensions of the immaterial man. Specifically related to that, one may ask whether the experiences people have in the videos listed above are emotional, or spiritual in nature, or both, or is the distinction between the two even important?

So far, the people that I know and have watched the Darren Brown videos expressed different opinions. Some have said that he is operating by the power of the evil one, others have said that people in the videos are just having an emotional experience and there is nothing spiritual about what they experienced. I will briefly discuss the latter opinion. I found it common among some Christian circles to play down the importance of emotions when it comes to experiencing the presence of God. Maybe they find even more evidence in videos like this, or others that show evangelists exploiting the emotional nature of people's experiences. It seems, that some are more comfortable to define true spirituality within a purely rational or cognitive framework. I wonder if such a conceptualization is too reductionistic. I understand the reason for caution, and videos like Darren Brown's, where one can see how emotions can be manipulated into deceiving one into a religious or spiritual experience re-emphasize the necessity for caution. But I wonder if maybe it might be more helpful to conceptualize spiritual experiences from multiple perspectives such as cognitive, affective and even physiological and ultimately even supernatural

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