I was thumbing through a book at work yesterday (edit Tuesday 29th Sept – Connected: the surprising power of a social networks and how they shape our lives by Nicholas A. Christakis) and came across a fascinating bit of what the hell. Fortunately, I don’t need the book in hand to write about it, thanks to the internet.
It was Tanganyika in 1962, but we know it now as Tanzania. An epidemic of bizarre school-closing proportions broke out in January of that year, after three students shared a joke and then found they could not stop laughing. Their infectious hysteria (laughter, agitation, crying) spread through the school within weeks and by March ninety-five of the 159 students were affected. They closed the school for a couple months but the same thing happened again when they reopened in May, affecting 57 kids.
The girls sent home from the Kashasha school appeared responsible for the spread of the epidemic. Within 10 days of the school closing, laughter attacks were reported at Nshamba, the home village for several of the Kashasha girls. 217 of the 10,000 Nshamba villagers, mostly school age boys and girls, were afflicted.
A further outbreak occurred at Ramasheyne girls middle school on the outskirts of Bukoba, close to the homes of other Kashasha pupils. This school closed in mid June after 48 of the 154 students suffered laughter attacks.
This crazy business went on until June of 1964 in schools and villages all over the Lake Victoria area. In the end, they resorted to quarantine measures to keep the crazy from spreading any further. It petered out eventually, and as far as I can discover it hasn’t happened there or anywhere else since.
Scientists searched for toxic gas or a virus in the blood of the afflicted that might have caused the laughter epidemic but found nothing that could offer an explanation.
The laughter spread along the lines of family, tribal and peer association with the closer the relationship between victim and witness, the more likely it was the witness would become infected.
The conclusion drawn was that it was of psychogenic, hysterical origin.
Wild, eh? My cousin and I could have been terminal cases when we were kids. Any time we had a sleepover, we’d just get a flash of a glimmer off our eyeballs in a darkened room and have to bury our faces in the pillows to stifle the giggles. It was so insane, and yet so hilarious. Tanzania, 1962? Not so funny.
Strange as that is, I came across something even weirder than that. A commenter at Scribal Terror (who had quoted from Discovery News) mentioned the Toronto Blessing that occurred at Toronto’s airport church, in January of 1994. It’s also called the Toronto Phenomena. Wikipedia seems to have the only article not written from a theological perspective (God/Devil did it!), so I’ll quote that first.
The blessing has become known for ecstatic worship, including what is known as falling or resting in the Spirit, laughter, shaking, and crying. “Holy laughter” was a hallmark manifestation and there were also instances of participants roaring like lions and making other animal noises. Leaders and participants claim that these are physical manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. One TACF teaching, the golden sword prophecy, has been spreading among charismatic churches.
TACF is shorthand for Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, the church where all this happened. The “golden sword prophecy” occurred on the third anniversary of these events, when one of the pastors, Carol Arnott, flung herself to the floor of the warehouse and gyrated wildly for 20 minutes like she was having an invisible sword fight. She also did a lot of yelling about who’s sword it was (God’s I’m guessing) and later “annointed” anyone who wanted the same saving she appeared to have had. Pastors at other churches that might still wish to perform “The Sword of the Lord” or “the Warrior Anointing” can also hold their hands above their heads like they clutch swords and bellow at the top of their lungs with some kind of god-inspired warrior cry. Sounds … fun. Yeah. More wiki:
Some Christian leaders were enthusiastic about what they saw as a renewal in North American Christianity, while others saw it as hysteria and spiritually dangerous. Critics referred to it as “self-centered and evil” and cited the strange manifestations as warning signs. Others defended the blessing as historically rooted in earlier revivals and as having positive effects in the lives of participants.
I will of course quote a critic now, even if he is a man of god. At least we’re both in agreement over how ridiculous this is.
I read an article by a woman who had the experience of making animal sounds. She tried to defend the practice, and her conclusion was that God’s intention is to strip His ministers and His people of “their dignity,” just as Jesus was stripped of His dignity on the cross. It may be true that man stripped Jesus of His dignity on the cross, but that is hardly a base for deducing that God will strip His people of their dignity
Arnold Fruchtenbaum writes also about the leader/founder of Toronto Vineyard (as it was called then) who was later invited to Israel to show the interested people there how to achieve similar results (the laughter, barking/baying nonsense, etc). He arrived the very day Yitzak Rabin was assassinated. But, rather than cancel, or at least postpone the revival, they went through with it. So, while much of the country was crying or quietly mourning the loss of their leader, a group of devotees was working their way up to some silly holy giggle fit of hysteria instead. Way to show you care, people.
Even if I allowed my experience to be a criteria for determining truth, this, alone, would have finalized in my mind the tragic error and ungodly origins of this phenomenon. It made some of my friends sick to have observed this. In my case, it made me sick only to hear about it. This should show how far away from the will of the Lord this whole experience is. But, again, the final criteria must be the Word of God.
I bold that which I will come back to at the end of all this. Carry on reading.
People all over the world went to these things (to do all this. Click that one. I’m serious.) Later, a church in Darbyshire, UK, also took these revivals to heart and tried to duplicate the god-giggle-connection over there. Names were altered in this witness’s report of what went on when devotees who’d been in Toronto were invited to share their experience.
We both prayed before we went to the meeting that God would protect us from anything not of him, and had an open mind on the subject. We sat there listening to the speakers, all of which had been to Toronto. One speaker related how he had been on all fours roaring like a lion. Another said of how he had seen many controversial things, things that had upset him, “But” he said, “I won’t tell you about those, I’ll just tell you the good things.”
I thought that was so unfair of him as it denied us the chance to judge for ourselves. All the speakers said that they hated the first meeting there, and wanted to run from it, but they had to put their fears and hang-ups aside, in order to receive the blessing.
Later on, the speakers went through the whole routine. Soon the pastor’s wife and others fell to the floor, stricken, but the writer and her husband remained seemingly unaffected, no matter how much pushing and hugging and praying went on to get them to join in.
I was prayed for three times and felt absolutely nothing. I felt so empty, so alone, like I wasn’t really there, I wasn’t a part of it. Sebastian and I seemed to be the only ones standing. I walked into the ‘Ladies room’ in tears. I prayed, “Lord, why aren’t you with me? Why have you passed me by? What have I done so wrong that you don’t want me?” After praying, I went back into the meeting and stood at the back, just watching.
Interesting how her first assumption is that something’s wrong with her, eh? Not something wrong with the whole lot of them. An actual fear that her god doesn’t want her because she won’t moo like a cow and wiggle on the floor like everyone else.
Yeesh. There’s a lot more to her story, but you can read through that yourselves. I want to conclude this with another bit from Fruchtenbaum (but I’m adding breaks to make it easier on the eye).
one defense I have heard many times is, “How could this not be of God when they focus so much on Jesus?” But how does one know that they focus so much on Jesus? It is based on what they say verbally as you constantly hear them saying, “Praise the Lord,” or “Praise Jesus,” or some similar-sounding phrase. It is constantly repeated and what the Bible-based observer must realize is that this is merely a formula, much like those who recite a mantra in eastern religions. There is nothing concrete there.
Just verbalizing the name of Jesus over and over again does not, by itself, prove anything. In fact, it fits this verse quite well: “and with their mouth and with their lips 2 do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me” (Isaiah 29:13b). Their heart is far from God in reality for the same reason: they have learned to fear God on the basis of man-made experiences, rather than on the basis of the Word of God (20:13c).
They follow man-made doctrines and repeat constant phrases someone trained them to repeat, believing that this constant repetition is what makes them spiritual. As a result, more time is spent seeking further experiences than on actual study of the Word of God in its own context.
I’ll just point out that I’m quite sure the whole of the bible is a man-made doctrine. Inspired by a belief in a god, sure, but men wrote it and more men translated it, and more men began to interpret the words to fit their own agendas and belief systems and entice more men and women into looking at the words their way. This is what allows these charismatic churches to be a laugh a minute while the Roman Catholics across the street solemnly promote holy mystical cannibalism.
And each side completely believes they’ve got it right. They’re reading the so-called words of god every day and still they can conclude that.
Study it in context, Fruchtenbaum writes. How? Most people can’t read ancient Greek or Hebrew, nor do they all have an encyclopedic knowledge of what the world was like back then and what knowledge and experiences led to the telling of these stories in the first place. All they’ve got is their most loved translation of a much translated book. And for some of them their only experience of ancient history comes out of there anyway, all that one-sided propaganda selling an image of a people that isn’t necessarily accurate or even remotely true. Most people don’t have a clue how many hundreds of years lie between the days described in Exodus and Paul’s letters to the Romans. And you can’t go by the book itself to tell you — Matthew and Luke don’t even agree on how many years a generation might be. One says 25, another says 40. Job gives a different answer, and Chronicles says something else entirely.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8
Forever in contradiction, that is.