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Iyov

Pentecostalism does not really compare with Hasidism. I suspect that you know much more about Pentecostals than Hasidim, for example, I doubt you have ever spent any significant time in Hasidic communities.

While both have aspects of exuberance, mystical experience for Hasidim is private and interior; while for Pentecostals, mystical experiences appear to manifest themselves in exterior forms. It is against Jewish law, for example, to depend on faith healing. Snake handling is disallowed as dangerous. And I am unaware of public displays analogous to speaking in tongues.

Furthermore, Hasidism is an all-encompassing practice with distinctive dress and members often belonging to closed communities. Education is highly valued in such communities, and rabbis are expected to be scholars.

In contrast, Pentecostalism is open to everyone, and often adopts a distinctive anti-intellectual tone with pastoral leaders who take great pride in their status as common folk.

JohnFH

Thanks, Iyov, for drawing some careful distinctions. But you know as well I do that they are not absolute.

With respect to snake handling, I only know of Honi in the Talmud. Was Honi a proto-Hasid? Well, if Jesus was, as Vermes claims, then so were Honi and Hanina ben Dosa. But perhaps you are not aware that most Pentecostals will have nothing do with snake handling either.

According to some interpretations of Torah, faith healing is forbidden. But that didn't stop Baal Shem Tov from being a faith healer, which got him into trouble with the rabbinic schoolmen of his day. You are wrong to disassociate faith healing from Chassidus.

Attitudes toward contents, method, and the purpose of education have a history in Hasidism. Your brief characterization is misleading insofar as it fails to bring out the fact that precisely in this area, Hasidism, especially in its "hot" periods, differs markedly on these matters with more straight-laced forms of Judaism.

I know it's popular now to emphasize the elite nature of Hasidism, but these words from "Essential Judaism" by George Robinson are accurate nonetheless, and suggest that the distinctions that you make, though each contains some truth - are subject to qualification:

The Baal Shem Tov and the first generations of Hasidic rebbes placed a high value on devekut (becoming attached to God), on the anni­hilation of the self through ecstatic worship, on kavanah (intention and focus) as an absolute necessity in prayer. But where kavanah meant a knowledge of the intricacies of the sefirot to a kabbalist, for the Hasid it signified a sincere involvement of the heart in prayer. Clearly, on some level the Mitnagdim [those who defined themselves “against” the Hasidim] saw this anti-intellectualism as a direct threat. How could unlettered peasants possibly engage in serious study of sacred texts? It was said that the Besht himself was particularly fond of the prayer of a poor shepherd who said, “Dear God, though I keep cattle and sheep for others for pay, for You I would keep them for nothing because I love You.”

The Hasidim were also relentlessly anti-ascetic. Even the perpetually depressed Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the Besht’s great-grandson, counseled his followers, “It is forbidden to despair. Never give up hope!” Worship should be accomplished with joy, with music and dance. The Mitnagdim were appalled by the spectacle of Hasidic wor­ship, of men turning cartwheels and shaking uncontrollably in their prayers, singing and shouting and clapping their hands.

Iyov

John --

Actually, we have mostly legends of the BeSHT -- which are very wild and most do not believe. And the BeSHT lived in the 18th century. Hasidism is a living movement.

I do not know George Robinson. Is he an authority on Hasidim? I looked at the Amazon description of his book, which describes him as a journalist who rejoined a Reform synagogue, after 20 years as an apostate. I am not impressed by his credentials.

With all due respect, you don't know what you are talking about. Visiting an Reform synagogue or doing a casual Google search does not make you an authority on Hasidism. You could, for example, actually talk to some Hasidim.

Peter Kirk

John, thanks for this very fair comment. These are indeed real dangers, ones which I don't think Todd Bentley is encouraging but nevertheless the reactions of some to what is happening. In the long term I hope there will be more emphasis on study and community. Meanwhile weeds may spring up and choke some of the seed, but I expect to see a lot of real fruit in due course.

Whoever said I only blog things which make me popular?

Iyov, I suspect that you know much more about Hasidim than Pentecostals. Snake handling is very much a fringe activity. Faith healing is practised but hardly depended on. And speaking in tongues is only rarely a public display (and then only when interpreted), much more something which is encouraged for private devotions. I have no idea how this compares with the Hasidim as I know almost nothing about them.

JohnFH

Iyov,

You are right that George Robinson is not an authority on Hasidism. But the statements he makes are in conformity with what I've read in the field of Jewish studies over decades of reading. My guess is that you wish to downplay the role of ecstasy, faith healing, messianism, apocalyptic fervor, and magic in Hasidism for apologetic reasons. This reminds me of approaches to the study of early Christianity which do the same thing. I was trained in non-confessional contexts; the apologetic approach is not connatural to me. I do not wish to criticize you for taking sides in debates within Judaism about the Hasidim historically or currently. But my approach is bound to be different. I am interested in the phenomenon itself, and I resist efforts to edit out of the history of the movement "unseemly" elements to suit apologetic needs.

Besides reading widely in the primary sources, the authorities I have read include, in chronological order of reading, Buber, Heschel, Scholem, Green, Idel, and Alexander. You may have noticed I added a couple of websites on Chassidus to my blogroll. That's because I plan to re-introduce hasidism to a wider audience a la Buber, but without making the mistakes that Buber did. (I'll make my own, of course, but that is inevitable.)

As for the Baal Shem Tov, I rely on the research of Rachel Elior. She describes him as a faith healer.

If there are other authorities you think I need to consider, let me know.

JohnFH

Peter,

we agree of course on many things, and this is one of them. I look forward to more from Henry Neufeld on the subject. I've noticed a depth of wisdom to his reflections.

Alan Lenzi

To answer your question:

Pentecostal Outpouring as a human expression: true.

As a divine visitation: false.

These outpourings tell us more about the people who are participating in them and their cultural situation than they do about a deity. By the way, these kinds of charismatic, wild events are dangerous for all kinds of reasons to individuals as well as institutional churches. In some ways, revivalism is a collective analogy to the problem of loose-canon prophets in ancient Israel, which led the Deuteronomists to put controls on prophecy.

JohnFH

That's interesting coming from you, Alan.

It's as if you want to say, I accept that a people might be visited by its deity through a routinized priesthood, but as for prophets at Mari and in Israel who received their messages in ecstasy, that's dangerous and wild. A deity wouldn't do that.

I wouldn't be so sure. Non-rational means of discovery play a huge part in human life. Even rationalists, since Freud, admit as much. Given what we know about the human psyche, a deity would be dumb, as it were, not to reveal himself in non-rational ways via dreams, visions, and encounters that generate ecstasy.

The Deuteronomists, furthermore, do not ban ecstatic prophecy. The controls they put in place are content-oriented.

Alan Lenzi

You pretty much missed my point, I'd say.

It's as if you want to say, I accept that a people might be visited by its deity through a routinized priesthood, but as for prophets at Mari and in Israel who received their messages in ecstasy, that's dangerous and wild. A deity wouldn't do that.

No, I want to say that deities don't visit people, period. But revivalism, like some prophets in Israel (e.g., Amos), can stir things up too much. Prophecy can also manipulate politics and cause all kinds of ruckus. So some segments in society might want to put some controls on some prophets or silence them altogether (I'm not speaking about central court prophets, etc.). Now I don't think Amos caused the Deuteronomists to put controls on prophecy, but I do think they had something to fear from prophets in general. Institutions and reforms require stability. Prophets and revivalists are not always amenable to such, ecstatic or otherwise. So the Dtrists wrote into their laws something that would keep prophets and people assessing prophets on the Dtic straight and narrow. The same kind of thing can be seen in traditional theological assessments of Pentecostalism, especially in its earlier stages. When you have a book religion or an established way of doing things, visionaries and impromptu revelations can be troublesome. Sometimes this trouble helps bring down wicked powers or reform society in a positive way. But it may just cause chaos.

This doesn't address how revivalism can be dangerous to individuals. But recall points 4 and 5 above: "Unbalanced emphasis either on personal experience and spirituality . . . and Desperation. Desperate people . . . are very susceptible to pretending" (I'd say it's the power of suggestion and/or self-deception). In my experience, these two things, experience and "forcing it," have factored heavily in revivalistic circles. People leave the service thinking their problems are solved when they are not. They leave thinking they're healed, only to find that the cancer is back (and they die). They think that god will change their husband as he said he would (in an intuitive way at the "altar") only to find that life with him is still miserable. Revivalism suggests people need an extra shot of faith that will get them over the top and on to better things. It's an emotional charge, at best; a false hope, at worst. A revival may be positive for some people, but from what I've seen I think the negatives outweigh the positives. (By the way, some people will dismiss me as just a bitter former Pentecostal. But I left the movement with much struggle and internal wrangling; moreover, leaving had many personal ramifications that I don't intend to discuss here. Dismiss me if you wish, but my view is based on 20 years of insider knowledge set in juxtaposition to an understanding of the anthropology of religion.)

I wouldn't be so sure. Non-rational means of discovery play a huge part in human life. Even rationalists, since Freud, admit as much. Given what we know about the human psyche, a deity would be dumb, as it were, not to reveal himself in non-rational ways via dreams, visions, and encounters that generate ecstasy.

I don't doubt the role of intuition, emotion, tacit knowledge, etc. in shaping how we think. That's not an issue at all. I don't even know why you brought that up. And whether a god would use such means to communicate to a human is just speculation. Based on Christian theology, I don't doubt that such fits with that system. But you've really missed the point, which I've already made above.

Finally, Deut.'s specific controls are not the issue. The point is that they intended to regulate prophets, steering them and the people to an understanding of the phenomenon that fit their agenda.

JohnFH

Thanks, Alan. I understand you better now.

I don't doubt one minute, furthermore, that revivalism - no less than more institutionalized forms of religion - sometimes accentuates a person's psychological and moral unhealth rather than contributing to its healing. I've got tons of experience, too, and could cite examples in my own extended family if it were not unseemly to do so.

Iyov

John --

Forgive me. I can understand now that you've read a few books. True, none of the books you've cited are actually by Hasidim, but you've made up for that with once a year attend a Reform service -- and probably some of the people in that synagogue know someone who knows someone who knows someone who is a Hasid.

I can see that my experience actually living in Hasidic communities for extended periods of time cannot compare with your far deeper knowledge. (I've never once seen faith healing in a Hasidic community. Not at all. Not even a little bit. The topic never even came up. On the other hand, I've watched a bit of GOD TV on the Internet and I did notice the topic was mentioned.)

Yes, your points are not completely without merit. Hasidism has an element of magic about it, and as I wrote above (in a comment which, in your usual fashion, you failed to read) Hasidism has elements of exuberance about it.

Thank goodness you will be able to correct Buber (who, although he was not Hasidic, had experiences living in Hasidic communities.) I am reminded a conversation I once observed, between an American graduate student who had taken a year of Spanish and a graduate student from Spain. The American graduate student lectured the Spanish one on the meaning of "terrible" in Spanish, explaining that the Spanish student did not know the meaning of that word in her native tongue.

Franz Kafka wrote a literary masterpiece, Amerika, based entirely on his imagined notion of America. For example, he describes seeing the Statue of Liberty, with an unsheathed sword in her arm. I expect your work will maintain similar standards.

Now, of course, you could write about something you know about -- such as your first-hand experiences with charismatism. However, clearly, it would be a waste of your talents to write about something that you know about, when you can spin such wonderful tales.

JohnFH

The problematic aspects of Buber's take on Hasidism, of course, are common knowledge. Even so, Buber's construct remains very influential, which is why I singled it out for mention.

But you are right to blame things on my Reformed, Reconstructionist, and Conservative Jewish teachers and friends, the experiences I have had celebrating Passover, Sukkot, Rosh HaShanah, Purim, and so on with them. This has fooled me into thinking that Jewish tradition is something anyone might learn from and appreciate.

Silly me.

Iyov

Hasidism is alien to most assimilated Jews (which is one reason that it is such a fascinating topic). The fact that Buber got some of it wrong (which, you are right, is common knowledge) despite his expertise shows that it does not yield its secrets easily. It takes more than just attending a Purim party.

Of course, in reality, Hasidism is far more mundane than the exoticism which is usually attached to it (I believe you once described a core document as "pedestrian"). But, for those who can get past the facade of exoticism, it is sublime.

In the same way, I would like to believe that among intellectual side charismatism, there are gems to be mined.

That is one reason I have several times encouraged you to write about this subject, which I expect you know inside-out, rather than the exoticism of the other. Like all Americans, I have had a some of exposure to charismaticism, but only in a crude (and unenlightening) way. How much I would enjoy someone who would take the time to write intelligently, honestly, and deeply about the experience of being a charismatic.

JohnFH

Thanks, Iyov, for the encouragement to write more about my own faith experiences. I'm learning; it's a slow process. In the above post I did manage to recount one experience.

First of all, I share your sense that Chassidus is sublime, though of course I know little about it compared to you. But now you have made me curious about faith healing among Hasidim of this generation. It doesn’t seem right to me that you exclude it as an ongoing phenomenon. Perhaps it is a question of labels.

This is the kind of thing I had in mind:
Roland Littlewood and Simon Dein, “The effectiveness of words: Religion and healing among the Lubavitch of Stamford Hill,” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 19 (1995): the focus of this article is, as the abstract states, “Testimonials of miraculous healing offered by Lubavitch Hasidim.” Another article by Simon Dein with a similar title appears in Medical Anthropology Quarterly 16 (2002) 41-63. As the abstract states,

Instead of separating religion and magic as separate domains, recent work on ritual examines how symbolic and pragmatic acts interrelate. After discussing current theories of religious healing and, specifically, the power of words in healing, this article examines how a group of Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews deals with sickness and the relation between the group's use of biomedicine and religious healing. . . . The manipulation of religious words mediated by the Rebbe results in bodily healing.

So my question to you is: are these particular Hasidim quacks in your opinion? If not, do you reject the work of medical anthropologists who study religious healing among the Hasidim as if it were a species of a genus anthropologists know cross-culturally?

This is my problem, Iyov. When I read the testimonials mentioned above, I tend to believe them. Not all of them, of course: I'm not a credulous person. Alan Lenzi above is right: the power of suggestion is also a factor - but if it is a sufficient explanation, then one can only conclude that the power of suggestion needs to be systematically harnessed by modern medicine. I have seen the healing power of words in action many times. Yes, it is spiritual and bodily healing together, or it is nothing.

This is not the stuff of a Purim party for sure. It's far more interesting and important.

Iyov

After reading your last comment, I did read the Littlewood and Reid article.

Much of the article discusses the history of the Lubavitcher movement. The final section of the article discusses five examples where Hasidim consulted with their spiritual leader regarding health problems: for a toothache, the spiritual leader recommended checking a prayer shawl; for a variety of body pains, the spiritual leader recommended checking a type of ritual writing in what is called a mezuza; and for a couple seeking a child, the spiritual leader told them the woman would soon become pregnant.

I suppose that if you consider this faith healing, then this does take place -- indeed, it is analogous to what I have personally seen. It is quite commonly held in religious Jewish communities (not only Hasidic communities) that one who keeps the commandments is rewarded. Similarly, people often pray psalms for the recovery of the sick. (I understand that petitionary prayer is common in Christianity and indeed, in most religions). However, I am unaware of any instance in which a member of the Jewish community was advised not to seek medical attention.

My key point is that this is of a substantially different character than Todd Bentley's laying on of hands. In particular, it appears to me that touching causes Bentley's faithful to have mystical experiences; without study or meditation. This phenomena, which in some ways can be viewed as anti-intellectual, appears to me to be far more common in Pentecostal circles than in Jewish (or, as far as I understand it, Muslim or Buddhist) circles. For me, the startling aspect of this is that one is "healed" without any "spiritual work."

Nonetheless, I do not dispute the validity of the Pentecostal experience. Indeed, I wish that more was written about it. Rather, I think it is of a fundamentally different character than faith experiences of a contemplative nature (e.g., Buddhist or Jewish mediative experiences) or from those requiring obedience (e.g., Benedictine spirituality or keeping of the Jewish commandments.)

For this reason, I think that comparing Pentecostals and Hasidim is not particularly enlightening. A far more common comparison is of Hasidism to Buddhism -- the comparisons I have seen seem apt to me, but I do not know enough about Buddhism to form an informed opinion.

JohnFH

The not-going-to-the-doctor business is an abomination of course. That's confusing faith with presumption.

Touching is a very common "means" by which religious healing occurs. An anthropologist may have no choice but to class manipulation of words and manipulation by touch as subspecies of the same genus - "magic" - but I definitely see your point about how they are also different.

Your emphasis on the nexus of mitvos-reward-healing is well-taken. The closest Christian analogy has to do with the importance of forgiveness. That might be called a commandment (for some dumb reason we don't call it that, but that is what it is). That is, if you fail to forgive those who have harmed you, don't expect to receive God's forgiveness / healing. A hard mitvos to put into practice, to be sure, but a ton of scientific research backs up its essential validity.

Buddhism, it is true, uses verbal mantras a lot, as does Hasidism, but so do Pentecostals. The Pentecostal way is not quite as rote - I don't mean 'rote' negatively; I struggle hard to teach my flock to memorize scripture - but the verbal aspect is important. Words are central to a Healing Service as performed in a United Methodist context (it's in our Book of Worship, probably available online), though touching and anointing with oil are also important. Laying on of hands and anointing with oil are not Christian inventions, but go back to Second Temple Jewish tradition according to a scholarly consensus.

A very interesting topic, if you ask me, and worth discussing again, with a wide variety of opinions expressed. I think it was very helpful to have had Alan in on the discussion. I suppose he's shaking his head mightily by now. But I value his perspective.

Iyov

It seems to me that belief in magic is something which is common to a wide swathe of religions. For example, to mention examples from mainline and Catholic Christianity:

(1) Wearing a crucifix, a scapular, or a medal as a protective measure

(2) Receiving blessings (including blessings on houses, blessings on pets, blessings on marital unions, etc.)

(3) Saying the rosary

(4) A belief (encouraged by many clergy) that God will reward those who give generously to their church.

I do realize that there are alternative, non-magical explanations of these phenomena, but a casual google search will reveal that there are plenty of those who believe in magical phenomena associated with these rites. I can give similar examples from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and non-Hasidic Judaism.

Because I have only a shallow knowledge of charismatic experience I am under the (probably mistaken) impression that charismatics have a less rich mystical experience than those in other belief systems. For example, as I sit here now, I cannot identify any charismatic writing with the depth and poetry of the Zohar or the Lurianic writings (by which I mean the writings of R' Chaim Vital) -- or for that matter of the modern Hasidic masters (e.g., R' Nachman's Likutei Mahoran or even Sipurei Maasios (his collection of "stories".) Similarly, I am not aware of contemplative practices of charismatics and do not know what corresponds to lectio divina, meditative practices, or aspirations for unio mystica. As yet another example, I note with considerable disappointment that charismatic writings are absent in Bernard McGinn's anthology of Christian mystical writings.

As I indicate above, I believe that this reflects my own ignorance rather than some particular feature of charismatic thought. Still, I wonder, what is the interior life of the charismatic like?

JohnFH

It's probably hard going for a non-Pentecostal to fathom a work like "Perfect Everything" or "Manifest Victory" by Rufus Moseley, or a work by Agnes Sanford. Another fascinating figure and author is Watchman Nee, whose writings have had an immense influence; he is sometimes considered a proto-Charismatic. But charismatics are just as likely to rely for devotional literature on William Law, Oswald Chambers, Charles Finney, even a French Catholic mystic like Francois Fenelon. The press runs of some of these authors' works are absolutely astounding. I should post sometime about the library of classic devotional writings John Wesley had republished for the benefit of those touched by the revival he helped oversee. It is fascinating.

Great stuff. If only it was written in the holy tongue (Hebrew). In that case, I might spend more time with it.

Peter Kirk

Alan wrote:

I want to say that deities don't visit people, period.

Alan, with these words you clearly identify yourself as either a deist or an atheist. Thank you for making your worldview so clear. And given this, your assessment of the Lakeland happenings is to be expected.

What is not to be expected is the similar assessment I am seeing from many Christians, who are supposed to be theists and believe that God does visit people, and proved this by visiting at the time of Jesus and still today. The problem is that many Christians are more or less what Jack Deere has called Bible deists, believing that God did visit people during Bible times but does not do so today. That position is philosophical nonsense. At least yours is consistent.

Alan Lenzi

Despite my non-theistic position, I still think that revivalism should be studied in the context of the history and sociology (and pyschology) of religion. It's important, I think, to understand what these events do to and for people (and set these interpretations into a larger framework--as John and Iyov are discussing). I'm not going to just dismiss revivals as nonsense and leave it at that because these events reveal something about humans. And humans are intrinsically interesting, especially when they posit non-obvious beings.

I got into religious studies to understand "God." Now I'm in it because I'm interested in people and the strange things we do.

Peter Kirk

Thanks, Alan. It is of course important to study whether revivals are good or bad for people. This may even help their leaders to steer them in good directions, which of course on their worldview (and mine) should be synonymous with God's directions.

You write that "these kinds of charismatic, wild events are dangerous for all kinds of reasons to individuals as well as institutional churches." Well, I accept that they are dangerous for institutional churches, and I think this is a good thing! Institutional churches are dying, at least here in the UK, and I think the best thing for them is to explode some metaphorical bombs in them, which will very likely put an end to those for which there is already no hope but just might stir some of them up to new life.

As for such outpourings being dangerous for individuals, I see your point about dangers of manipulation and of raising false hopes. I am sure that Todd Bentley tries to avoid manipulating people. Concerning false hopes, I think your worldview is showing again when you assume that the hopes are false.

You effectively conclude with "from what I've seen I think the negatives outweigh the positives". Now I don't know what you have seen, perhaps only some real abuses rather than genuine moves of God. I don't dispute that there may be some negatives from genuine healing revivals for certain individuals, especially those who refuse to accept their genuineness. But I don't think it is fair to this outpouring to declare, while it is still going on and far too soon to evaluate its consequences properly, that in it "the negatives outweigh the positives".

eclexia

This is one of the most interesting and informative comment threads I've followed in some time. John, I would also love to hear more of your personal faith story, though I respect how the unraveling and telling of such is not something that happens on demand or in a rush. You always make me think, and I'm always acutely aware of the interesting stories (in addition, of course, to your serious study and thinking) that must certainly be behind your intense and challenging perspectives.

Iyov, your questions and challenges, as well as the reiterating of them from different angles, are incredibly helpful to me as I'm still trying to form some of my own questions. Your thoughts also help make more sense of the relevance (to my thinking on this topic) of conversations I've had with my Buddhist neighbor, who is very interested in spiritual healing. Not so much in determining my own thinking about healing in Christianity and particularly in charismatic circles, but in how I think about that in comparison and contrast with healing and manifestations in other religions.

Peter, your point about being a consistent theist is, I think, why wrestling with this topic and the implications of it is so important to me. Your point also makes me think about what it means for me to be able to ask questions or even doubt a specific manifestation without that being equal to doubting that God, as God, is able and does manifest himself in ways that will never fit my box.

And Alan, people fascinate me, too. We are intrinsically interesting, as you say, and I hadn't realized until I read your words how much that reality also drives and motivates my studies and inquiries (and mostly, my curiosity). As a theist, I do care about things from God's perspective (I'm not saying that as a loaded statement in contrast to your beliefs. I'm only saying it matter of factly, and accepting that it implies a load of assumptions on which you would disagree with me). As a human, though, I am amazed and incredibly curious about how many different things we people do with God and how varied (and admittedly often self-serving) our understanding and application of what we understand about God and why we think that matters.

As always, it scares me a little to step into a discussion a bit out of my league intellectually. But I did want to say how much I am being challenged by the discussion and also how much I am thoroughly enjoying each perspective and the challenges and questions you ask of the others.

JohnFH

Eclexia,

thanks for commenting so sympathetically. It is often not easy for believers to think like an anthropologist.

Religious anthropology has got to be a favorite subject matter of
anyone who believes that man (=anthropos) is the measure of all things, but also of someone who believes that man - and not just Christians or what not - is made in the image of God.

Alan Lenzi

Peter, of course my worldview is showing. I'm not hiding that.

You say: "Now I don't know what you have seen, perhaps only some real abuses rather than genuine moves of God."

It seems that the only way people can deal with my type (the apostate) is to say that I never really experienced the genuine article--a real move of god. If that's what is needed to keep your delusion alive, then good luck with that. The alternative is not so pretty: You have to admit that I experienced the same kind of thing you and many others have, but I have realized that it was generated by humans and not a god.

Your denigration of my experience as somehow "other" is insulting.

Peter Kirk

Alan, I don't mean to insult you. But actually your position here is inconsistent. We agree that there are fake human generated pseudo-revivals. You have witnessed them. I may well have. I believe that there are also genuine moves of God. I don't know if anything that you have witnessed is what I would call that. Maybe it is not, in which case you have perhaps just been unlucky, or have chosen not to go to certain places. Or maybe you have witnessed genuine moves of God but have interpreted them according to your own worldview, in a way which I would consider a misinterpretation. That would hardly be surprising as we are all bound quite tightly by our worldviews.

But it is you who are denigrating my experience by saying that what I call a genuine move of God "was generated by humans and not a god". Better to use a non-judgmental term about it, not "I realized that it was" but "I interpreted it as". Fair enough. I interpret it differently. Neither of us can prove the other wrong, so let's agree to differ.

Alan Lenzi

The burden of proof is not on the atheistic/agnostic/skeptic when it comes to the existence of extraordinary phenomena and non-obvious beings--at least not anymore. It lies with those who make the extraordinary claims. If you are insulted because I do not accept your extraordinary claims about your experience, then so be it. By the way, I'm not telling you your experiences are phony. They are real. I know. I've been there. They are existentially and emotionally as real as anything. But if my not going all the way and accepting them as divine denigrates them, then consider them denigrated by me. I'm not going to apologize for calling a spade a spade. I'd say the same thing to a person claiming to have been abducted by aliens. If this position is inconsistent with what I expect from you about my experiences, then I am guilty of inconsistency.

I can agree to the language of "I began to interpret them as" instead of "I realized them to be" as a matter of semi-neutral language of scholarly discourse (and would have used such language in the classroom or in a paper), but since this is a personal conversation the latter phrasing captures my own personal evaluation that affected my lifestyle, etc. It is a value judgment. And it seemed appropriate in context. If it offends, I can't really apologize for it.

Now here's why I was insulted. There was a time when I was on your side of the fence. A time when I thought I was experiencing divine presence. A time when I believed the Holy Spirit spoke through me, etc. For over 20 years I felt this way in dozens of churches, conferences, groups, colleges, etc. all over America. But I changed my mind about what the experiences were. When I talk to people about this it seems that the idea often comes up that I didn't get it, that I missed something, that I didn't have the real deal, or I didn't have enough faith. (You know, the kind of stuff you say in your last comment to me.) That's a cop out. I compared experiences with hundreds of people in the movement at the time of the various experiences. The accounts were all similar. By all human reckoning (and there's your escape hatch) I had the same kinds of experiences as other Pentecostals and Charismatics. But instead of people still in the movement recognizing that these experiences were genuine (in that they were real to me as experiences) they turn on me and tell me something was wrong with me. Why? In order to insulate their own experiences from mine; in order to assure themselves that what I "discovered" (i.e., I changed my mind about the significance of these experiences) has no relevance to them because I wasn't really ever one of them; and perhaps in order to try to get me to continue or renew the search. But this is a crass defense mechanism and anyone with an ounce of logic would see it that way if they weren't so entirely wrapped up in the movement as an insider.

Here's a non-insulting theological interpretation of what I did:

I rebelled against "god" and exerted my human autonomy. I tasted, I experienced, I saw, and I rejected. For this I am responsible.

That's a judgment, not JUST an interpretation. It's the kind of thing that takes theological guts, which the church generally lacks nowadays.

Peter Kirk

Fair enough, Alan. I'm not going to apologise for calling these experiences real, and I don't expect you to apologise for calling them not so, or at least only subjective.

Thanks for clarifying your experiences. I'm sorry for misjudging them on the basis of very little information. Yes, it seems from what you now write that you did have genuine experiences of God, which I would have to say that you formerly interpreted correctly and now misinterpret. You are responsible for that, before God, and it is not for me to condemn, just to be sad. But perhaps the time will come when you return to what I believe is the correct interpretation, and God will forgive you.

Terri
"I am sure that Todd Bentley tries to avoid manipulating people."

Is that a joke?

Really...watching him in action is hardly something I would call "trying to avoid manipulating people".

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