Folks who are regular readers of this column know that I'm particularly focused on political links to dominionists in this column. Today will not be an exception.
It's rather rare that I refer to dominionist preachers as literally being chunder-inducing; it's even rarer when this is literally accurate.
In the case of John McCain's present "spiritual advisor", John Hagee, the comparison is both literal and figural--right down to the "deliverance ministry" practice of upchucking the Devil (no, we aren't making this up). Thanks in part to a successful expose by Matt Taibbi that finally blows the cover off the "private face" of neopente dominionism, we learn the vomit-induciveness isn't just figurative.
Binge and Purge for Jesus
In yesterday's post, we went into detail on how Matt Taibbi recounts the process of "recruitment" in Hagee's church and in particular an "Encounter Weekend"--essentially a "Jesus Camp for grownups" that combines coercive tactics with pop psychology (in a manner that has more in common with Scientology "auditing sessions" than your typical prayer retreat). Along the way, I've noted how several of the tactics do compare with those used in coercive groups and themselves raise multiple red flags among those of us familiar with how religiously abusive groups work.
Taibbi notes this it's revealed that on Day 2 the punchline to the madness is finally delivered--again, taking a page straight out of Scientology's book, apparently all problems are the result of "engrams and thetans", erm, "generational curses and demonic oppression":
But then, midway through Saturday, Fortenberry and the coaches started to show us glimpses of the program's end game. The wound, it turned out, was something that was inflicted upon us because of a curse, a curse that perhaps spanned generations in each of our families. Alcoholic parents abused their children, who in turn carried their parents' curse to their adult lives and became alcoholics themselves — only to have children and continue the pattern again. Now, why was that curse there to begin with? Here was where we could get into religious explanations, see the footprint of Satan, etc. We were unhappy because of earthly troubles from our childhoods, but those troubles were the work of a generational curse, inflicted upon us by devils and demons — probably for unbelief, bad behavior, disobedience, worship of the wrong gods and so on.
This little bit of semantic gymnastics helped transform all of us at the retreat from being merely fucked up to being accursed carriers of demons. Having ridden an almost entirely secular program to get our biographies out in the open in a group setting, Fortenberry could now switch his focus to the real meat and potatoes of the weekend: Satan and the devils inside us.
Again, red flags are going up all over the place. Literally every checklists of coerciveness flags this: BITE (major portions of Emotional Control axis including sections 4 and 7; Information Control axis, sections 3 and 5; Thought Control axis, section 1 and potentially 2); ABCDEF (sections 3, 4, 5, 15, 17); Lifton's (Sacred Science axis as well as major sections of Doctrine Over Person axis); and Thaler Singer's ("Manipulate a system of rewards, punishments, and experiences in order to promote learning the group's ideology or belief system and group-approved behaviors"; "Systematically create a sense of powerlessness in the person").
In addition, it can legitimately be argued that the entire concept of "generational curses" can be seen as a form of use of loaded language (see previous post).
For that matter, this also does some major pinging of "deception" sections of most checklists. This includes BITE (section 1, 2, 3, 5 of Information Control), ABCDEF (section 3, 4, 5, 11), Lifton's (portions of Mystical Manipulation and Milieu Control axes), and Thaler Singer's ("Keep the person unaware of what is going on and how she or he is being changed a step at a time")
Suffice it to say, this is Bad with a Capital B. Previously, I did a direct comparison of neopentecostal dominionist "deliverance ministry" and Scientology "auditing sessions" and "introspective rundowns"; now we get to see how "Deliverance" goes from abusive into downright psychological torture.
After a particularly extreme bit of Generational Curses 101 (in which apparently labour pains are a direct curse as a result of Eve convincing Adam to nosh on that apple) which includes some decidedly unconventional theories--like "alcoholism is the result of a 'generational curse'" (genetics has a bit more to do with this--not your ancestors being naughty) and "every gay man on the planet is the result of anal rape by paedophiles" (which ties in to an urban legend among neopentecostal dominionists that all "out of the closet" gay men are potential boy-rapists)--asthmatic attacks of children are literally blamed on Harry Potter books by Pastor Drill Sergeant (no, I am not making this up--see here, complete with lurid descriptions of kids gasping for air until "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" is torn asunder and chucked out the window). We've officially boarded the train headed for Joel's Army Whackyland.
The whole affair wraps up on Sunday in a "deliverance service" where people are not only instructed not to pray (I'm sure this will horrify most of my mainstream Christian readers, if past experience is any guide--neopentes preach that instead of praying one should have "God move through them" in the form of yammering in tongues, waving around "swords of the lord", etc. instead) but which ends up turning into (to quote a certain segment of the movie "Stand By Me") a literal barf-o-rama:
Fortenberry began to issue instructions. He told us that under no circumstances should we pray during the Deliverance.
"When the word of God is in your mouth," he said, "the demons can't come out of your body. You have to keep a path clear for the demon to come up through your throat. So under no circumstances pray to God. You can't have God in your mouth. You can cough, you might even want to vomit, but don't pray."
The crowd nodded along solemnly. Fortenberry then explained that he was going to read from an extremely long list of demons and cast them out individually. As he did so, we were supposed to breathe out, keep our mouths open and let the demons out.
And he began.
After attempts to "exorcise" demons of the traditional seven deadly sins, and less-traditional sins such as "astrology", the Holy Hurlage (because "holy rolling" is so 1950s!) begins in true neopentecostal style:
Coughing and spitting noises. Behind me, a bald white man started to wheeze and gurgle, like he was about to puke. Fortenberry, still reading from his list, pointed at the man. On cue, a pair of life coaches raced over to him and began to minister. One dabbed his forehead with oil and fiercely clutched his cranium; the other held a paper bag in front of his mouth.
"In the name of Jesus Christ," said Fortenberry, more loudly now, "I cast out the demon of lust!"
And the man began power-puking into his paper baggie. I couldn't see if any actual vomitus came out, but he made real hurling and retching noises.
"Chundering for Christ" in neopentecostal dominionist "exorcisms" is something that isn't new to longterm readers of this diary--Skipp Porteous wrote about his role in these types of "puking exorcisms" for an early support group for walkaways--but this may well be one of the first works since Porteous' to describe puke-a-thon "deliverance services" in detail.
There is so much red-flagging here I'm not entirely sure where to begin. The descriptions of the pre- and during-exorcism activities manage to ping portions of each and every section of Lifton's "Eight Criteria of Thought Reform"; this is pretty damn impressive, seeing as generally only the "worst of the worst" ping everything. The results aren't much better with other coerciveness tests, with the "deliverance service" almost batting .400 on a number of other checklists including: BITE (the entire Emotional Control axis, the entire Thought Control axis, sections 2 and 4-8 of Behaviour Control, sections 2 and 4-6 of Information Control--it comes pretty damn close to covering all of BITE as well); ABCDEF (sections 1-5, 11-13, 15, 17, and potentially 14, and the specifically anti-"lust" and anti-LGBT stuff qualifies under sections 9 and 10); and Thaler Singer's (batting .400 as sections cover the entire list).
Deliverance ministry, in and of itself, is known to be possibly one of the most abusive tactics ever documented (and I think this may well be the first time that a formal documentation of the harmfulness of a "deliverance ministry" has been done, at least based on commonly used tests of coerciveness); as it is, the service itself tests as literally more abusive in some aspects than Scientology. In addition, people surviving this particular flavour of holy hell often end up with severe psychiatric injuries, some of which have required inpatient treatment, almost invariably lead to PTSD in survivors, and have on occasion resulted in fatalities.
Not only is the practice done here and in Teen Challenge...but is a typical part of every Assemblies of God church service, especially those for "longtime members" and the Sunday night and Wednesday services. Hagee's church is no exception; again, the fruit doesn't fall very far from the tree in this regard, and if anything, he seems to ramp stuff up even worse.
The chapel descends into essentially a Vomitorium for God Warriors (including descriptions of women sounding like they are choking from "deep throating"), culminating in some very unusual diagnoses of "demonic oppression" being puked out of Mr. Taibbi:
Within about a minute after that, the whole chapel erupted in pandemonium. About half the men and three-fourths of the women were writhing around and either play-puking or screaming. Not wanting to be a bad sport, I raised my hand for one of the life coaches to see.
"Need . . . a . . . bag," I said as he came over.
He handed me a bag.
"In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of handwriting analysis!" shouted Fortenberry.
Handwriting analysis? I jammed the bag over my mouth and started coughing, then went into a very real convulsion of disbelief as I listened to this astounding list, half-laughing and half-retching.
"In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, I cast out the demon of the intellect!" Fortenberry continued. "In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of anal fissures!"
(Yes. Anal fissures. As in tears in the skin of your poop-chute, which last I read tended to be caused by physical means like being horridly constipated or from not using lube when, ah, engaging in anal intercourse. Yes, you're reading this right: aforementioned God Warrior accused Taibbi of being possessed by a demon of torn assholes. In the immortal words of Dave Barry, "I am not making this up".)
After another guy is diagnosed with being possessed with a demon of "philosophy" (You always wondered why there's such a hatred of science and hard thought among neopente dominionists? It's because they literally think it's demonic!), and after the mass hysteria goes on for some time, Taibbi gets a new perspective on just why politicians associated with the "Joel's Army" wing of Christian Nationalism give the screaming, shitting horrors to those of us who survived that stuff:
Afterward, a frightening thought shot through my head. It occurred to me that over the past decades, any number of our prominent political leaders (from Jimmy Carter to Chuck Colson to W himself) had boasted publicly of their born-again experiences, broadcasting to Middle America an understanding of their personal relationships with God. But whereas once these conversions were humble things — Billy Graham whispering and putting his hand on W's shoulder in Kennebunkport, or even (in the case of Tom DeLay) a flash of recognition while watching a televangelist program — the modern version might very easily be this completely batshit holy-vomitus/demon-exorcism deal. The thought that any politician could claim this kind of experience and not be immediately disqualified from public service seemed utterly terrifying.
He'd be right to be terrified. In fact, Jimmy Carter left the SBC because this stuff is becoming more popular there--and it's part of why some of us worry re "The Family" and Hillary Clinton's connections with them.
So far, two of the four checklists we're using have had every warning sign flagged, and BITE is damn near completely covered (literally the only section of BITE that has not been pinged yet is the Behaviour Control axis, section 3--"Need to ask permission for major decisions"--and the cell group probably covers that once they're recruited. ABCDEF is almost entirely pinged too; the only sections I have not specifically noted so far are sections 6-8, 16, and 18--and the parent church pings all of those.
In short, we are literally dealing with a group that by four separate coercive group identification frames is probably one of the most abusive groups yet documented, particularly in "deliverance ministry" services (which have been previously documented to be so harmful that mental breakdowns are not uncommon). It's not entirely surprising in this regard that Matt Taibbi was starting to develop a "cultic personality" in less than three days.
Afterwards, people are annointed with oil--typical in Assemblies services, and usually cheap olive oil or even Wesson oil (the actual Biblically mandating "annointing oil" used for the coronation of kings and blessing of priests in ancient Israel would literally cost as much as a brand new Kia or Hyundai to make)--of note, this is the same sort of stunt that was attempted on the floors of the Senate by one of the major informers as to Hillary Clinton's links with "The Family"--and are practically coached in how to "speak in tongues" (a skill I never quite mastered--too much internal honesty :D). Taibbi has a wee bit of fun with them in speaking the lyrics to "What Is Autumn?" by Russian rockers DDT, and the result is nothing short of bizarre:
"It's important that you practice," said Pastor Fortenberry. "It sounds silly, but when you're at home, when you have a little time, just try to let it out. You'll get used to it, and soon you'll be speaking in tongues like nobody's business!"
He then pronounced us baptized in the Holy Spirit and fully qualified now to cast out demons.
(One now wonders at the effectiveness of J-Rock or K-Pop, much less "Dragostea Din Tei" or "Caramelldansen", in the use of the Rite of Exorcism. Reportedly this is by far not the only incident like this--people who can speak in the Hebrew language whilst "speaking in tongues" are apparently seen as especially "blessed", and it has not been unknown for persons to have a wee bit of fun with this.)
Taibbi wraps up with a sentiment very remarkably similar--eerily so--to what I have been stating regarding neopentecostal dominionism for fifteen years and what Troutfishing has been posting on extensively:
By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to "be rational" or "set aside your religion" about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you've made a journey like this — once you've gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It's not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that's the issue. It's that once you've gotten to this place, you've left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you're thinking with muscles, not neurons.
By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you've gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no "anything else." All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this "our thing," a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that's all.
You folks wonder whom the "Nineteen Percenters" are who still support George W. Bush? They're folks like that. As Taibbi accurately reports, it can be literally stated people are not entirely within their right minds in these groups (it is probably not exaggeration--coming from someone who's been there--to describe it as a form of induced insanity)...and whatever the pastor states is law:
The crowd swallowed that one whole. One thing about this world: Once a preacher says it, it's true. No one is going to look up anything the preacher says, cross-check his facts, raise an eyebrow at something that might sound a little off. Some weeks later, I would be at a Sunday service in which Pastor John Hagee himself would assert that the Bible predicts that Jesus Christ is going to return to Earth bearing a "rod of iron" to discipline the ACLU. It goes without saying that the ACLU was not mentioned in the passage in Ezekiel he was citing — but the audience ate it up anyway. When they're away from the cameras, the preachers feel even less obligated to shackle themselves to facts of any kind. That's because they know that their audience doesn't give a shit. So long as you're telling them what they want to hear, there's no danger; your crowd will angrily dismiss any alternative explanations anyway as demonic subversion.
Needless to say...this is a recipe for very, very, very bad things to happen. This is, in part, why Holocaust-revisionist hate groups like "Watchmen On The Walls" are not only encouraged but promoted and even given offical sanction. This is why paramilitary groups and women's clinic bombers are not only tolerated but lauded. It is not exaggeration to state, in seeing this, Sinclair Lewis' observation that "When fascism comes to the United States, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross".
Even on coerciveness checklists, this puts the final piece of the puzzle in place--on no less than four separate tests of coerciveness, the pastor being the "ruler of all" (and the pyramidal structure, as proven by the use of cell-church groups divided into "Tribes") means that each and every single warning sign on each and every one of the four checklists I have used in testing this show conclusively that not only Cornerstone Church is highly abusive but may be one of the more decidedly psychologically abusive groups ever documented. (This actually shocked the hell out of me when I totaled this up; cumulatively, Hagee's church--and most other churches sharing similar practices and theology--literally score as bad as Scientology or the Moonies. This is especially the case when one figures in that "deliverance ministry" is a staple of Assemblies and "Assemblies daughter" church services--and is actually part of the core theology of these groups.)
Hagee's statements, as previously documented, would also fall under the missing portions of ABCDEF (not only hypocrisy, but also sections specifically calling for violence against others--and when you talk about wanting to see LGBT people genocided and actively call for not only turning Iran and Russia into glass parking lots but the literal omnicide of everyone who isn't a neopentecostal dominionist...well, you can't really get more for "calling for violence" than that).
Now you know why I wonder for my sanity some days!
And hence why it was in fact terribly dangerous for Taibbi (and frankly, I still hope he's taking serious measures to protect his personal safety--I think there will be a number of folks less than amused to see his exposes). At any rate, I'm grateful he took the risk--maybe, for once, us survivors will be believed.