Pentecostal fervor

Those who are unfamiliar with the kinds of things that happen at Pentecostal services might be shocked by the extreme nature of the things that the congregation can get whipped up into doing. Babbling incoherently (also known as ‘speaking in tongues’) and wildly gyrating as if they were having a fit are common. This video clip that I received from readers Lisa and Norm gives you some idea of how wild things can get.

It is a good example of how delusions can spread, with one person’s actions inducing others to think they feel the same thing and act accordingly. You should see the film Marjoe about a former star Pentecostal child preacher Marjoe Gortner who explained how with practice and coaching you too can convincingly babble so that it sounds like you are speaking some unknown language. He also said that as a preacher in his heyday, he would be able to get the crowd so worked up that they would really believe they were doing it because they had been possessed by the holy spirit. He himself did not take any of that stuff seriously.

The documentary can be seen in its entirety on YouTube and here’s the first part.

In the documentary Gortner explained that it was quite easy to get people to behave like this because these services are a form of entertainment for Pentecostals who are forbidden to enjoy almost all the forms of enjoyment that ordinary people can indulge in, such as watching films or TV, listening to the radio, dancing, drinking alcohol, and so on. So the religious services become the main source of entertainment and they can dance away with abandon while imagining that they doing it as a form of worship because you are possessed by god and glorifying him. It was their way of having a good time in an approved manner.


  1. kagekiri says

    Yeah, a lot of “holy spirit” style worship is like a moshpit at a concert for Christians. Jumping up and down, shouting, raising hands, basking in the atmosphere, some calls for dancing/shouting/freestyling, etc. I hadn’t thought of it as a way to replace secular entertainment…but yeah, I suppose I did used to think of it like “why would I need drugs or sex? worship feels so free!”

    The Biblical defense is David dancing naked in the streets worshiping God like a crazy person, and saying we should be that free and focused on God in our worship that we don’t care how we look.

    I never did much of the whole tongues, prophesying, or being knocked over by the Holy Spirit bits, but I had my share of euphoria, crazy hopping/dancing, and senses of peace.

    Unfortunately, the cost was that I had to hate myself tremendously and believe myself worthy of hell to become so thankful for salvation that I would feel that good during worship. It’s not a price worth paying for limited spurts of happiness; hell, it’s been more damaging to my mental health than most recreational drugs could ever be.

  2. codobus says

    Ugh, I remember this portion of my childhood. I agree with kagakiri it’s a heck of a high, and you definitely pay the price. I can’t remember how many hour long altar calls our church had. A full hour or more of people crying and sobbing about how terrible they were, how worthless they were without God. There is nothing about that part of my life I miss at all.

  3. HP says

    Thanks for the link to the Marjoe documentary. Now I know my plans for this evening. I knew this documentary existed, but I’ve never seen it. I’m a big fan of 1970s low-budget exploitation films, and Marjoe Gortner was always so deliciously creepy in those during his acting career.

    Comedian Sam Kinison was also a child preacher.

    Back when I was studying music in the 80s, I was taking a survey course on African-American music, and we made a field trip to a local (white) Pentecostal church to see the role of music in charismatic Christianity. It actually had a huge influence on me that, as a musician, I draw on to this day. Everyone in the church who played an instrument was obliged to play in the service, which meant it was this weird orchestra of pipe organ, electric keyboards, oboes and flutes, electric guitar, accordion — whatever was in the house. And while the individual musicians were not technically proficient, the kind of trance-state fervor they entered meant the music was really amazing.

    See, the hardest thing for formally trained musicians to do is to let go of self-consciousness. If you’re acutely aware of what you’re doing, it can become paralyzing. And after watching the Pentacostals play music, I realized that I could harness that same kind of quasi-trance-state selflessness, without supernatural or chemical aids, while not giving up any of my hard-earned knowledge or skill. Anyone who’s interested in performance could do worse than to visit a rural Pentacostal church on a Wednesday night.

  4. dcortesi says

    Yeah. Bad memories of childhood. Give a passing thought to the effect on a child, when its parents engage in this kind of thing. The sinking sensation of realizing, wordlessly but poignantly, “My parents have unimaginable depths of uncontrollable weirdness and unpredictability,” which just hugely undercuts the child’s sense of security. It introduces a wild card into every interaction and into every moment when you accompany your parents in the normal world.

  5. smrnda says

    I’ve run into a few people who told me that there is immense pressure in Pentecostal and Assembly of God churches to speak in tongues; it’s seen as this wonderful experience your life isn’t complete without. I also have heard from people who eventually just faked it, and realized to late that everybody was. The thing is that some people are capable of such self-deception that they honestly believe it’s really going on.

    I don’t really get the need for boisterous enthusiasm, but it may be that I lead a more balanced life where fun is not against the rules so I don’t need to go crazy 🙂

    What I note is that a friend of mine saw a Buddhist monk channel his grandmother’s spirit in Malaysia -- he said it was probably the same kind of fakery you see here. The only question is how self-aware are the people who are doing the faking. It sounds like Marjoe knew it was a scam from the beginning.

  6. codobus says

    I remember when at one of our church services there was a “young people speaking in tongues” moment. All the young persons in the audience who wanted to speak in tongues came down to the front(myself included) and it was announced that we wouldn’t leave until every one of us spoke in tongues. I know I caved and made up crap so we could be released, I can only imagine how many others were like me but couldn’t even admit it to themselves. Peer pressure definitely is part and parcel of what occurs in these churches. At least by my experience.

  7. Charles Sullivan says

    Do you think this is any different than African spirit possession music in Nigeria, Haiti, Brazil, Cameroon, Jamaica, etc?

    All based on superstition, of course.

  8. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I had no idea that the Pentecostal Christians had such a funky taste in music.
    I remember a story that was out a few years ago about a man who hurt his head in an act of Pentecostal breakdance. It reminded me of the Russian proverb: “Make a fool pray to God and he’ll hurt his forehead”.

  9. GuddayM8 says

    I was baptized into the holy roller Pentecostal movement and quickly picked up glossolalia (tongue speaking) but soon learnt of many members who faked their gifts like giving up smoking from their children.
    So I set a trap as at that time they had pastors with the so-called gift of tongue translation. I found that I could mix swear words and fruit into my speaking in tongues and get away with it being accepted as genuine. Then I told people I knew the translator visited some lies and when it came to my turn to speak in tongues, I mixed a lot of F#$# and C@#$# plus apples and bananas into the babbling. After which the translating pastor started with the usual “Praise the Lord” and thanked the lord for the things I lied about receiving.
    I simply got up, said gently “F#@$ you all!” and left the building. They darkened my doorstep a few times trying to get me back into their flock for more fleecing, but I bluntly told them to go away.

    They have removed the “Gift Of Translation” from their list of holy spirit endowments because of people like myself.

    Yes, it’s all a confidence trick to fleece (tithing, gifts, wills, etc..) poor gullible people!

  10. smrnda says

    I wonder how much of the pentecostal movement is just a reaction against rationality; people who find being rational and thinking systematically a chore like a place they can go to engage in magical thinking and bizarre behavior and where their reaction against thinking become a kind of virtue.

  11. One Thousand Needles says

    This is the greatest story about speaking in tongues that I’ve ever heard! Thanks for sharing it.

  12. One Thousand Needles says

    In fairness, I understand that temptation. In my own experience, it can be a downer to realize that I am engaging in wishful thinking or self-deception, and have to “check my skepticism” as it were.

    Still, I prefer it to my religious days, when blind faith was the pinnacle of virtue and giving attention to doubts was to succumb to the voice of Satan.

  13. pipenta says

    It’s right out of that old Cheech & Chong sketch:

    “I used to be all fucked up on drugs. Now I’m all fucked up on the Lord!”

  14. says

    Funny thing — all the places you mention are places where the indigenous religions were heavily Christianized, at least on the surface.

  15. McC2lhu iz not nu. says

    Reading some of the stories on FtB about people who grew up in religious households really makes me feel exceptionally thankful that I grew up in a home with a religiously ambivalent father and sarcastically skeptical mother. It’s like being given a head start in a foot race. Unfortunately, my grandmother was pseudo LDS and mentioned enough woo that I felt moments of panic when finding myself alone with a Playboy magazine as a teen. I guess if that’s the only scarring moments I can recall, I got off immensely lucky compared to some.

  16. GuddayM8 says

    True Needles, though I was always a maverick, even at school where I attended R.I. only to stir up the gay church minister taking it. He often asked us boys about our sexual preferences and told us it was good to masturbate and even offered to teach us how. So I started a little gang that often ridiculed him so badly that in only six months of having us in his class, ended up resigning after a nervous breakdown. LOL! Served him right!!
    I only joined the Holy Rollers to see if the Holy Spirit could help me give up smoking as I was addicted. As a bloke recommended it to me, though even he and everybody else using it for the same purpose failed.
    Tobacco is stronger than God! LOL! 😀 😉

  17. tuibguy says

    When I was about 16 I was an evangelical Christian and belonged to a “Youth Singing Group.” I only joined to learn how to play bass guitar and it was the only way I could join a musical group in a small town in the hinterlands. One weekend we traveled to a Pentecostal college in southern North Dakota, and I felt the pressure from some of my peers to learn how to let go and speak in tongues with Espiritu Sanctum flowing through me. After trying and trying and not getting anywhere I just decided to fucking let go of my inhibitions and start making up some vaguely latinate wordsounds come out of my mouth. It became really easy after that.

    To my surprise, joining in on glossalalia induced euphoria and so I sincerely believed there was a spirit-thing in me while I was speaking in tongues. I eventually lost interest in it over the years when I discovered real drugs and good music, but then fast forward to my thirties when I joined a Wiccan Circle.

    During the “Raising of Energy” I realized that I was experiencing the exact same euphoria I had while “speaking in tongues.” It was confirmation of the suspicion I had that religion is a purely human and not a supernatural experience.

    That circle led very quickly to me finally admitting to myself that I am an atheist.

    Yeah, I know why those people go to church three times a week..

  18. GuddayM8 says

    Gr8 Story M8! Maybe it would be good to look for many similar stories to yours and compile a book on such cases on people coming out of or experiences that brought them out of Pentecostal Christianity.

    Just a thought @ the mo!

  19. Lucien says

    Wow, I thought I was the only one whose religious parents seemed to be part of a delusional reality. It really is an isolating experience.


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