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.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

HR Manager - HR Generalist / Sole in HR

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - HR Generalis...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis