It is not insanity when MPs bark or roar

Faith and Reason Dr Patrick Dixon, a medically qualified evangelical church leader, this week defends the `Toronto Blessing' against its many critics.

When thousands of Christians start falling over in church, laughing, shouting, moaning, groaning, wriggling, writhing, shaking, rolling and jerking you may think it is time to call in the psychiatrist.

However these things are happening to the most unlikely people. A quietly spoken Conservative MP recently fell over at church, a judge has been shaking when praying for others, a merchant banker has been incoherent with laughter and a bishop has crawled on the floor roaring like a lion.

As a doctor and church leader I have observed these phenomena over the past year in every personality type, in large meetings and small, after rousing sermons or before, in times of silence or during worship, after prayer or before prayer has begun.

Those affected often describe an experience of God beyond logic or language. Their accounts are strikingly similar to classic descriptions of altered states of consciousness (ASCs) found in the Old Testament prophets, the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the writings of St Paul and accounts of Christian mystics and charismatics over 2,000 years.

There are also clear parallels with ASCs after sensory deprivation, LSD, fasting, anaesthesia, high-altitude flying and techniques of meditation. The human brain has three states: waking, sleeping and somewhere between. It is in this third state that we usually have our most profound spiritual experiences, when awareness fades of the immediate and we become sensitised to another dimension.

St Paul tells us to fix our eyes on what is unseen. He describes being caught up into a ``third heaven'' beyond words. Peter also knew transcendental states: Dr Luke tells us that Peter fell into a trance when hungry - fasting is a common ASC-inducer, which is presumably why so many religions promote fasting as well as prayer.

Fasting alters brain function, making us less able to process sensory data. As a result we often feel more detached and spiritually aware. Repetitive praying or liturgy can also settle brain activity, bringing tranquillity and spiritual openness. For charismatics, speaking in tongues can have a similar effect. It turns off language and logic centres of the brain, and is a rapid ASC-inducer.

ASCs do not bring us into God's presence, but they can make us aware of a presence to be brought into. ASCs can be as intoxicating as alcohol, hence the early disciples were accused of drunkenness, and Paul tells the Ephesians not to get drunk with wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I have seen people so drunk after church that they have been unable to walk or drive home. I have seen euphoria in the face of tragedy and deep sadness despite apparent good fortune. Disinhibition is common with long suppressed emotions bubbling to the surface, an explanation perhaps of some of the most bizarre manifestations.

So is this a genuine move of God or just emotionalism or worse? If one believes God exists, and also that He created people to have a relationship with Him, then it is hardly surprising to find that this relationship can affect us physically and emotionally as well as spiritually.

In any group of people seeking God there will always be a mix of human, divine and other spiritual forces operating together. The greatest test is future history: what will be the lasting results of this new wave of emotional faith? The early signs are of widespread personal renewal, of many thousands finding new love for God, a new sense of purpose and direction, a new call to service, a new desire to share their faith with others, to worship and pray.

Some have been disturbed or offended by what they see as dangerous emotionalism. Others have felt inadequate or excluded. In our society the old school continues to promote self-discipline and a stiff upper lip, while a new generation promotes self-awareness and emotional release. The same culture clash is found in the Church and is at the root of the conflict over recent events.

One thing is certain. The Church in Britain will never be quite the same again. What is happening today has followed several decades of change. Half of all evangelicals are now charismatics who promote emotional faith - and the Archbishop of Canterbury is one too. Unlike charismatic churches, the majority of ``stiff upper lip'' congregations are shrinking, especially where there is vague doctrine and a loss of vision.

Recent events in Britain make most sense when one realises that we are on the edge of the biggest spiritual awakening the world has ever seen, with more people now finding faith in Christ every month than has ever happened in the whole of recorded history. Mass hysteria? Certainly not. Infectious faith, yes, and a lot more of it to come.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent