Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Miracle Mongers

3how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. 4God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Hebrews 2:3-4

When I was a believer I was a member of a very fundamentalist and charismatic movement known as the Pentecostal church. Back in those days (1990-1994) when I was an active evangelist and part of a local evangelistic ministry the church had some very different beliefs that at the time I think was what drew me to this particular sect of Christianity. As a child I was raised for about four years by a foster family who were devout Catholics. We went to mass every Sunday, but I found the Catholic church Sunday mass services to be quite boring. I hated going to church but was forced to do so by my foster parents. I was baptized in Catholicism and did my first communion there as well.

As I grew older religion was never an important part of my life. I wasn't a practicing believer nor did I go to church services, although if asked I would express openly that I did believe in God. My mother was never a practicing Christian either but she believed in God in her own way and she was also convinced that the Pentecostal church was the one true church. When I asked her why she believed that she would often reply that God moved in that church and performed miracles and that people felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Pentecostal church is a very fundamentalist sect of Christianity who believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and interpret its texts in a literal manner. These Christians base their faith entirely on emotions and on their literal interpretations of the scriptures. In fact, what they read in the Bible must conform with what they feel and experience in their faith.

17And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”  Mark 16:17-18

Most  biblical scholars agree that Mark 16 ended at verse 8 and some say 9 and that the rest of the verses we find in our modern Bibles were added on later by some unknown author or scribe. The main reason for this belief is that verses 9-20 do not appear in some of the earlier manuscripts of Mark. But most Pentecostals are either not aware of this and if they are they don't care, because for them it is all the word of God.

But it is verses like these that back up their claims. They are almost entirely driven by emotions and subjective personal religious experiences. If they are even in doubt about a religious experience the solution is to pray and seek confirmation of their experiences through the word of God. These people by the nature and commitment to their beliefs are impervious to reason. To them the very fact that they "feel" the presence of God or his Holy Spirit around and within their being is evidence of the existence of God. It never crosses their minds that their experiences could be entirely psychologically driven.

Pentecostals are also driven by what they interpret to be God's will. For instance, when it comes to faith healing if a prayer for healing is successful then God is praised. If it fails then either the person did not have enough faith or quite simply it was not God's will to heal that person at that time. Either way you look at it God wins. If you are a believer but your life is a mess and things just don't ever seem to go right for you, then God is testing your loyalty and your faith as he did with Job. If you endure and have faith without faltering then your blessings will surely come but you must remember that it's not when you want them or in your time but in God's time.

As a Pentecostal my worldview was pretty simple. There were three things that influenced everything: God's work, the devils works, and mans disobedience to God. I enthusiastically read books written by popular evangelists both old and new claiming to have raised the dead, healed the blind, etc. believing and praising God for doing these works without ever questioning the validity of these stories. Initially I was a miracle monger who looked for the hand of God in everything. In my life there was no such thing as coincidences. Everything happened for a reason and God was in control at all times.

Often I prayed for people and upon encountering them at a later time would be told how they were healed. Never once did it cross my mind that their ailments could have been psychosomatic. and even if I knew what that was I would've probably have ignored it and claimed it was a demonic deception to keep me from seeing the glory of God. I believed at the time that I had and used all of the so called gifts of the Spirit and no matter what anyone had to say about it my experiences told me differently.

For the miracle monger subjective experiences count as evidence and are even more powerful as such than any logical argument you can make against such experiences. If you try and point out that there are other religions out there whose adherents claim to have similar experiences they will reply by saying that those experiences are demonic and false. They are meant to deceive mankind from ever finding the "truth." It's ironic, but every single criticism that fundamentalist Christians or Christians in general have to say about other religions can easily be said about their faith and applied to their beliefs.

Former Christian apologist and now atheist John W. Loftus has made a great case for this very irony in his OTF (outsider test for faith) which basically asks believers to analyze their beliefs with the same criteria that they use to criticize other belief systems. He outlines the OTF here on his blog, and if you want to know more about it you can also purchase his book  'The Outsider Test For Faith'.

Note: All biblical texts are taken from the New International Version of the scriptures. 


  1. I have not yet read the OTF, but I will do so in the future. I was a Baptist fundamentalist so I particularly "enjoyed" (metaphor for accelerating my deconversion which was painful at times) reading his book, "Why I Became An Atheist" (WIBAA) where he pointed out problems with inerrancy. For me, I could justify anything as long as it agreed with the Bible, and dismiss anything that disagreed. But I had a good bit of cognitive dissonance concerning Genesis, and that opened my mind a bit to the idea that God's Word "could be" (ha ha ha) errant and therefore not divine in origin. WIBAA was a blast of fresh air I didn't know was fresh and didn't know I needed. I'm sure the OTF is more philosophically based, which I am less knowledgeable about, so I have been putting it off. But all of John Loftus' books that I have read so far have been great. And again, good blog post!

    1. Thanks Byron, I deconverted in 94' way before John Loftus and atheist books were popular. My first hurdle was trying to find explanations to all of the subjective experiences I had as an evangelist and how to explain the apparent miracles I had witnessed. It took a book by John MacArthur called Charismatic Chaos to get me to a place where I could begin to question the charismatic aspects of my ministry. The very title blew me away when I saw it in the book store. The rest was history. It was a long and painful six year journey before I was free from the effects of my formerly deeply embedded indoctrination.