Saturday, 3 November 2007

What's so bad about Brent?

Today’s headlines: one hundred feared dead in the Dominican Republic, 43 dead in Haiti, three hundred thousand made homeless by floods in Mexico, Red Cross appealing for relief supplies… and the Guatemalan navy have caught two thieves trying to steal a dinghy (Brent’s basking in reflected glory, although it looks as though the thieves might be released for "lack of evidence").

Retouched photos of angels, Brent you must be joking. When you encounter guys like Borthwick, you’ve got to wonder why anyone falls for it. But some do. And others can’t see what’s so bad about these religious head cases, they don’t really hurt anyone and their followers obviously get something out of it.

Let’s start with the question of why people fall for it. Well… in a room full of frothing believers, even the most skeptical begin to doubt their critical faculties. Technically, it is achieved through a mix of “socially-constructed reality” and “abreactive trance”, sorry about the psycho-babble.

The famous demonstration of socially-constructed reality, cited in lots of places (such as “A note on the drawing power of crowds of different sizes” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 13, 79-82, Milgram, S., Bickman, L., & Berkowitz, O) and repeated many times, goes like this:

Place one person on a busy street corner looking up at an imaginary object. People will walk by, look up, see nothing, and consider him daft. Place two people on that corner looking up, and the same result. Place three people on the corner looking up, and passers by will stop and look up much more carefully before walking on. At some point, as you continue to add people looking up, the passer by will change from thinking “what's wrong with you” to “what's wrong with me that I can't see anything”. Reality becomes socially defined regardless of what's “really” out there.

Now change from a busy street corner to a room full of people, of any denomination, filled with the “Holy Spirit”. The longer a skeptic stays in the room, the more they begin to doubt... “Maybe there is something going on here”. Now change the skeptic for someone who wants to believe. The shift occurs much more rapidly.

That's half the story. Here is the other half.

Most hypnotists sooner or later run into a phenomenon known as abreaction. It seems to occur when the entranced client lets go of some emotion he or she had been repressing. Abreaction manifests itself as anything from crying, to limb shaking, to other unusual behavior. In hypnotherapy, it’s usually regarded as counterproductive, so the therapist just suggests it away. However, in a room where weirdness and flailing about is a sign of the Holy Spirit, and such behavior is not only allowed, but desperately sought, one can expect a significantly higher instance of “on demand” abreaction. Once someone sets the context and expectation by starting the process (often a stooge), the rest of the adherents can honestly and sincerely begin to flop about like beached fish.

Brent ministers with Fresh Fire Ministries (FFM), he boasts about it on his own website. Here is Brent’s sidekick Todd Walker from FFM pulling the old falling down stunt.

Strip away the superstition and you are left with cheap fraudsters taking money from deluded people through false pretenses. Okay, it’s sleazy. But religion has always used hypnosis. People should be warned: con men “never give a sucker an even break”. Okay, so they’re religious nutters, what’s so evil about that?

The answer is that these criminals target the weak and desperate. Here, if you can bear to watch it, is a cock-a-whoop Todd Walker exploiting the misery of a child with muscular dystrophy (of course at that age he must be desperate for someone to wave a magic wand to make him better, to make him not different, to make him fit in like other kids). And then this creep goes on to promise to cure cancer, heal abused women and the rest. There are lots of Todd's videos on YouTube. He's obviously very pleased with himself. And so he should be. FFM are making millions from it, according to their Revenue Canada filings. I wonder what's Brent's slice of that action?

I don't object to people having religious beliefs, what I do object to is those who use these beliefs as a cover to prey on the weak and the desperate. What’s so vile about vermin like Brent and his mates is that they are attracted to countries like Guatemala by the many poor and vulnerable people.

Brent may not be able to write and spell but don't be deceived; the measured tones, the wholesome image (always pictured with his family), he is a skilled manipulator. There is real human tragedy here in Guatemala. Yes Brent, people with problems even more dire than the possibility that their credit card debt might not be cleared at the end of each month. And you are the last thing they need.

Retouched angels and pleas for maintenance costs aren’t funny, they’re sick. I can hardly find the words to express my utter disgust at such wickedness. These “mega-yacht missionaries” should go far, the further the better.

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