I am presenting this viewer mailer in his own words, unedited, and not even including my own rebuttals in order to avoid biasing any of you in some way to my opinions. I insert one clarification into a response I made that he includes in one of his replies, simply to make more clear what I see as a legitimate misunderstanding that arose at the end of the dialog. It is not offered as any sort of rebuttal to his claims, just a note to explain more precisely the position I was putting forward versus how it was misinterpreted by the correspondent.
His Letter 1:
Became a Christian 25 years ago (now an Atheist/Agnostic), did the whole gig from the born-again accepting Jesus to fully immersed water baptism. Bible studies, prayer, etc… Approx a year into this thing I was on the search for a church. My buddies and I decided to check out a church one night, never been there and this was in the days before they had rock concerts for worship. I’d say they had about 100 people that night.
Pastor was up talking (just a basic sermon) and at some point during the service a group of people at one end of the church (it was kind of U shaped) started laughing out loud, we were sitting in the middle of the church. It was almost like people were doing “the wave” like you see at sporting events, but with laughter. My buddies and I watched as it seemed to be moving closer to us with each set of folks laughing and almost acting drunk. Don’t know what it was, but the next I knew we were all hanging on to the pew in front of us to keep from falling down and laughing. It was wild. Absolutely hands down the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life. Pastor said it was the presence of God.
I remember leaving the church and feeling like I was glowing or radiating. Couldn’t quit smiling, it was strange. I asked some friends we ran into shortly after leaving the church if they could see anything radiating or glowing off me. Sounds whacky, but I couldn’t figure it out.
At a high school reunion 10 years after that happened, I ran into one of my buddies that experienced it with me. I asked him if he remembered it and he confirmed that we’d all experienced it.
Not saying this validates anything, I’ve just never been able to reconcile it. I started doing research on these types of experiences and it “appears” others have had similar experiences where it wasn’t manufactured (Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, etc), more like a wind or spontaneous event that you can’t control.
My question is: Do you guys really believe that things like the Toronto Blessing, Kansas IHOP Smithton Outpouring and Lakeland Outpouring in Florida (using their names, not mine) are all manufactured by mind control? In other words, let’s say a person experiences something like I did (I’ve talked with others who’ve had similar experiences without the hype), would you give that any credence to something supernatural?
His Letter 2:
Thanks for getting back to me. Yep, I’ve definitely had those “laughter is contagious” episodes with friends and family. I’d write off my experience below to something like that if the backdrop might have been different (i.e. in a more intimate setting like one on one or with a small group) and if the experience was just about uncontrollable laughter. There really wasn’t a catalyst (e.g. someone eating something bad, pastor saying something funny, strange noise in church, etc.) other than laughter and noise breaking out at one end of the U shaped seating arrangement.
I guess the bigger factor was that the three other people in my group felt the same thing; they also had to hang on to the pew to keep upright when whatever this was appeared to make its way to us. It was like watching “the wave” at a sporting event and when it was our turn, we had no choice in the matter. It all happened very rapidly. It wasn’t like we started laughing and stayed laughing for several seconds causing us to lose our balance. It appeared to reach our section and we immediately felt euphoric while simultaneously having to hang on to something to keep from falling. When we talked about it afterwards, we all confirmed feeling something strong kind of pass through us that resulted in laughter and an incredible feeling.
I don’t buy into the manufactured hype in church services with rhythmic music and yelling. Something like that could easily lead people into a euphoric state of believing they are feeling a supernatural presence. I struggle with the rapidness in which this happened, that it appeared that everyone in the church experienced it, the euphoric feelings all of us confirmed afterwards and just the “strangeness” with which we all labeled the experience.
His Letter 3 (with only the segments of my reply he included in his letter):
>>Unless there was something wildly different about the experience than what you have expressed in your letters, it just seems extremely mundane to me. <<<
Well, let me kick it up a notch then. The validity of this experience has been bugging me for over 25 years; your responses fueled the fire a bit more so I continued my investigation. There were 5 of us (friends from high school – we were in college then) at that particular church service, so last night I jumped on FB and starting digging for names. Found a few people that I thought might know how to contact these guys and sent them private messages. I ended up with a possible phone number for one of the guys and left a message. Keep in mind; I haven’t talked with any of these guys since that event (over 25 yrs ago).
He calls back and after the shock of hearing from me after all these years, I ask if he remembers being in that specific church with me and the other guys 25 + years ago. He confirms it and then I ask if anything strange or unusual happened. He laughed and proceeded to tell a story similar to mine, although he described it more like excitement breaking out at one end of the church and moving around affecting everyone. He also verified a “euphoric feeling” that seemed to hit us all at the same time that made us unstable on our feet. He compared it a wind blowing through the church that seemed to make some people laugh, some people shout with excitement and a personal feeling better than any drug. Apparently, he and the other guys kept going back to the church (I only went once) for that very reason and would bring others to experience it. Said it would happen randomly. I asked if he knew how to get a hold of the other guys, and like me, he hadn’t talked with anyone for 25+ yrs. However, he did have the name of a town for one of them, so I took that.
After some Google searches, I was able to come up with a name and phone number. Called this guy and he was REALLY shocked to hear from me. It was an awkward conversation at first, as he was trying to figure out the motive for my phone call after all these years. I explained I was trying to verify something and asked if he remembered being in that specific church with all of us 25+ years ago. He verified it, so I asked if he remembered anything strange or unusual about that church or the service we were in. Silence. He asked why I wanted to know. Awkward. I told him I remembered something unusual happening, but couldn’t put my finger on it and wanted to know he if remembered anything. Without going into details, he also verified the experience and his version which was similar to both of ours.
In both cases, I allowed the person to tell me their version of the experience instead of telling mine first. I have two more guys to contact; we’ll see what they say. I’m not implying that this proves anything other than the experience appeared to be more than just a case of the “giggles” or “contagious laughter”. Both of the guys I talked with last night alluded to a euphoric or ecstatic feeling more than a laughing fit. They both confirmed it happened quickly and when it appeared to reach our section of the church, it was hard to keep our balance. They both went back to that church and said the same experience happened several times after that. Sorry for the long e-mail, it was just hard to let it go.
His Letter 4:
You bring up a valid point that individual people and groups of people experience laughter, excitement, and euphoria. Especially when at symphonies, ballets, operas, sporting events, movies, etc. You’ve pointed out that people experience uncontrollable laughter. I get all that, promise.
Here’s the dilemma in my mind. No instruments were being played to stir emotions, no one was singing, we weren’t watching a performance, and it happened rapidly (within a matter of seconds). I get laughing and not being able to stop, but this wasn’t about laughing uncontrollably. Laughter was involved, however, it was out of an overwhelming euphoric feeling rather than laughing because someone next to me was laughing.
Two of the guys verified independently that it appeared to be something we couldn’t see that caused those feelings and our momentary imbalance. They verified it happened rapidly, they had trouble keeping their balance, the feelings were indescribable, and nothing special was going on in the church other than the pastor talking up front. I have a meeting set up with another one of the guys who happens to live in the same city. Haven’t seen him for years and I’m curious to hear his recollection of that experience.
Honestly, I don’t have an agenda here. I’d like to think I am critical thinker, an atheist/agnostic and definitely not religious. Not sure where the word “miracle” came from, but the only thing I’m implying is that I couldn’t find a natural cause for this experience. Just seems strange that I thought it was caused by something I couldn’t see and the two other guys I’ve talked with independently verified the same thing without my prompting or leading questions. If it was a natural cause, you’d think at least one of us would bring that up.
You’ve made general sweeping statements that these kinds of things happen all the time to people and groups of people. I’ve never run across anyone in my lifetime who’s had an experience like this, in the setting I described, with independent verification from others who couldn’t figure out why it happened. Maybe I need to get out more often.
His Letter 5 (with the segments of my reply he included in his letter, as well as the clarification I mentioned earlier):
I get your point, you think a group of people got a case of the giggles, the people next to them caught it and so on. People laughed so hard they felt euphoric and some even ROLFed. Got it.
You’re too focused on the laughter, which makes sense, it’s the easiest explanation. The problem is, I mentioned other factors like a euphoric feeling and loss of balance. The euphoric feeling and loss of balance happened first, the laughter followed. The laughter was because of the euphoric feeling, not because someone next to us happened to be laughing. If the laughing came first, I’d concede your point. Besides, I’ve experienced contagious laughter and this wasn’t even close to that. In fact, I’ve never been a part of a contagious laughter situation in a large group that appeared to spread in a matter of seconds. without some type of stimulus (e.g. comedian)
>>>Feelings are NOT caused by external input.<<<
[The clarification I mentioned earlier: Physical response, such as vomiting or loss of balance, is not what people generally are discussing when they say “feelings”; “Feelings” are usually used to represent emotional responses, and that is precisely how I intended it to be used. I interpreted him to be using “euphoria” in the emotional context of feelings of happiness and exhilaration. While such emotional response is caused by physical brain activity, we generally do not conflate physical responses with emotional ones. So, when I say “emotional pain” you do not think of that as burning your had on a hot iron. And when I say “physical pain” you don’t confuse that with grief that accompanies the loss of a child. We generally differentiate the two even though they both require physical response. Emotional response is a function of brain feedback. Physical response can be induced by physical stimuli. I do get this. However, comparing a feeling of “euphoria” at a symphony with a feeling of riding a roller coaster is not, in my view, a reasonable comparison, for these reasons.]
You can’t be serious? I take it you’ve never been on a rollercoaster, jumped out of a plane, been drunk or had sex? Touched a flame? I get that once you touch the flame, you can’t feel the pain sensation until signals are sent from the brain, but c’mon.
Your belief is the laughter (or no external input) was the cause of the euphoric feeling and loss of balance. My story is, the euphoric feeling and loss of balance came first, then the laughter (similar to jumping out a plane, feeling the rush of free falling 200 mph towards the ground and then getting excited). Not much else to say. The two guys I talked with gave the same story, maybe I’m making this into a bigger deal than it really was.
That’s the last I’ve received so far. I don’t expect there to be more. But if he writes back I will direct him to this blog post where he can see if it’s the consensus of other skeptical thinkers that I’ve been unreasonable in rejecting his claims as he’s described them, or he’s been gullible for accepting them as anything but mundane.