Bizzaro News of the Weird from the World of Christian Faith
I've been collecting stories for a few years about the nutty, wacky, pointless, questionable, stupid, ill-advised, inane, dangerous, and often lethal things the faithful do to prove, test, or further demonstrate the "strength" of their faith; as well as some of the more outrageous scams they get suckered into. My primary criteria for deciding what stories made it onto my list was, foremost, that it had to have either a humor or ironic factor. Thus, while all of the following are tragic, I opted to omit stories of children dying of very treatable maladies because their parents insisted on prayer instead of antibiotics, or well-intentioned missionaries to cannibal tribes ending up in a stew; while blatantly mocking incidents such as the man who fell to his death after stepping off a ledge out into mid-air, sincerely believing God would help him fly. What would possess a rational, grown man to attempt levitation off a 33rd-floor balcony? Um...well, that's just the point. These folks are not rational, not because they weren't potentially born sane, but because religion makes people do crazy stuff. Christians believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, so when the Bible makes what sounds like an unusually lofty claim, many faithful are so fully committed to their hopelessly blind faith that they ignore their own personal experiences to the contrary and embrace the outlandish passages as true. Some examples of the ones that have gotten people into the most trouble:
- Jesus: "If you shall ask anything in my name, I will do it." John 14:14
- Jesus: "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Matthew 21:22
- Jesus: "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20
- Jesus: "And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all..." Mark 16:17-18
Unfortunately (or very fortunately, depending on who you ask), many people prefer to live in the fantasy world of the Bible rather than the reality of every day life. If nothing else, it provides a constant source of amusement for the rest of us. So, without further ado, here are a few more appeals to the promises of faith, along with their quite unsurprising results. Say what you will about their sanity, but you at least have to admire that these people - unlike most Christians - actually, truly believe what they say they believe (not that it them helped any, of course)
Snake Handlers and Poison Drinkers
In 1909, Reverend George Went Hensley of the Church of
God in Grasshopper, Tennessee, began a traveling ministry based on Jesus' words in Mark about handling snakes and drinking poison. He took the Bible's words at face value and sincerely believed that he had divine permission to handle deadly snakes without recourse. Rattlesnakes and various other venomous snakes were used, and the stunt turned out to be quite the crowd-pleaser.
Unfortunately, it also turned out to be quite the business-pleaser for
neighboring mortuaries. Rev. Hensley himself ended up quite dead from
snake bites. In 1950, the Alabama legislature was finally forced to
pass a law banning the practice of "any reptile handling" at public
events. So, the ever-faithful ditched the serpents and turned to
strychnine, eager to test the validity of the second portion of Mark's
passage. This assurance, too, failed spectacularly, and by the time all
was said and done, hundreds of faithful followers were dead either by
snakebite or poison ingestion. The rest of us simply accepted from the start that a book which instructs one to nail a slave's ear to a doorpost isn't the ideal source from which to extract information on potentially life-threatening undertakings.
THE DARWIN AWARDS
Traffic Proselytizing: October 27, 2000 - An Illinois woman was run over by a truck after receiving a divine message that she and a few other faithful Jehovah's Witnesses were supposed to preach the Gospel in the middle of Interstate 55, and that God would protect them from the onrushing traffic. As expected, God failed epically, and they had to scrape the remains of the poor believer off the highway with a spatula. What would possess any rational person to to hold a revival in the middle of rush hour traffic? Oh wait, we already answered that question at the top.
November 24, 1999: A group of Christians based in Los Angeles, CA, decided that their unique faith would help them succeed where St. Peter had eventually failed...at walking on water. They held weekly gatherings at lakes, the Pacific ocean, and any other place they could find a healthy body of water. Not surprisingly, they were quite unsuccessful, which they all took to mean that either their faith wasn't up to par, or else they just weren't practicing hard enough. Their leader decided he could get extra daily practice in his own bathtub, which is where his wife eventually found him. As he had apparently not yet mastered the ancient, lost art of Hydro Hovering, he stepped directly to the bottom of the tub, where he landed on a bar of soap, slipped and cracked his head, and then drowned.
Daniel and the Lions' Den: A Modern Reenactment in 3 Parts
You'll begin to notice that these stories start to get more bizarre as we go along. According to BBC News, January 13, 2004, a man at an Argentine zoo jumped into the lions' pit after "hearing voices from God" instructing him to do exactly that. Surrounded by God's divine protection - and holding his jacket up like a bull-fighters cape, "just to be sure" - the lion immediately proceeded to pounce on the unfortunate Bible believer, mauling his arms and face. The lion was tranquilized, and the man successfully treated at a nearby hospital.
The next would-be lion tamer was reported by the Los Angeles Times, Novemeber 4, 2004. A 44-year old man at the Teipei Zoo - after being supposedly instructed by God - not only climbed into the lions' pen, but did so with his Bible held aloft, apparently trying to convert the lions to Christianity. And, lions being lions, one immediately attacked, clawing him repeatedly and biting a chunk out of his leg. Zoo workers managed to drive off the lion with a water hose, and our faithful Christian brother lived to "fight the good fight" another day, albeit it with somewhat of a limp.
Our third Daniel wanna-be wasn't so lucky. Also reported by BBC News, June 5, 2006, a 45-year old Ukrainian man lowered himself by rope into the lion's pit at a zoo in Kiev. As soon as he reached the bottom, he took off his shoes, and was promptly seized by the throat by a lioness, severing his carotid artery and killing him on the spot. Witnesses at the scene later told reporters that the man had told them he was assured of divine protection from harm, before loudly declaring, "God will protect me, if He exists!" as he lowered himself down the rope.
The Flying Nun...er...Priest
It's one thing when the lay people and parishioners try a feat of astounding stupidity. It's quite another when those in charge attempt something that Jackass members would be reticent to mimic. Case in point: A Brazilian priest, Adelir Antoni, thought the best way to advertise God's calling on him to create a chain of spiritual rest stops for truckers was a publicity stunt in which he'd try to set a new world record for manned, clustered balloon flight, apparently inspired by "Lawn Chair Larry's" 1982 flight (which inspired the movie Up!). What do Catholic priests conceivably know about clustered balloon flying? Not all that much, as it turns out. Whereas Larry used 45 weather balloons for his journey, our priest decided on 1,000 helium-filled party balloons.
Antoni was an experienced skydiver, and packed a parachute on board should things go wrong, which of course, they did. He also brought an international cell phone and a GPS system. Unfortunately he didn't bother to learn how to work the GPS before he took off. The winds changed course, somehow despite God's wishes, and blew Antoni out to sea. Antoni declined to parachute to the safety of land while he still had the chance, and instead used his phone to call for help. But since he couldn't operate his GPS system, nobody could locate him. His balloons starting turning up off the coast of Brazil after a few days, and his body was eventually discovered by fishermen some 3 months later, identified by DNA. I don't really know what the moral of this story is. Maybe it's that if you want to do something nice to help truckers (who spend 19 boring hours a day sitting in a chair), perhaps building them a place where they can lay down and go to sleep is a better idea than creating another place for them to stay awake in a chair, paying attention to boring religious stuff.
In addition to these ill-advised "faith stunts," there is no shortage of opportunistic Capitalists willing to take advantage of gullible Christians' willingness to purchase absolutely anything advertised at them, so long as it supports something they believe in. My two new favorites just happen to be beverages. Yes, that's right, folks...Christian beverages!
Christian Energy Drinks
It's not as if spirit-filled, dancing-in-the-aisles, thrashing-spastically-on-the-floor Evangelicals needed to get any more amped up; but, need it or not, they can now do so without selling their souls to the devil for a Red Bull. Behold the all new, Church-approved energy jolt: 1in3 Trinity Energy Drink.
I've never tried it, but the website assures me it's delicious, you know, being "fused with the Fruits of the Spirit" and all. That's right. Someone actually located a temporal form of a theological idea...and then bottled it. As far as I can tell from the ingredients, it's the exact same as any other energy drink, only it's...um..."Christian." Might this just be the single Product-We've-All-Been-Waiting-For-To-Change-The-World? I dare say so! Well, either that, or it'll just give a big ol' energy boost to all the people trying to kill each other in God's name.
I found 3, yes three, different brands of Christian Coffee! (I'm not positive, but I think one's Protestant, one's Catholic; and since a sample of the other just arrived at my front door, I'm assuming it's Jehovah's Witness.) There's "Volcanica," Holy Ground," and "Holy Roast" brands, which, I'm sure we can all agree, are very nearly almost witty names. Personally, I would've opted for "Jehovah Java," or maybe, "Roasted Now So You Don't Have to Later." I was joking about the "denominational varieties," but since all 3 unanimously claim to be the single best tasting coffee ever produced, perhaps my feeble attempt at humor was not so far off. Leave it to Christians to come up with 3 different variations of the exact same product, and then try to sell each one as Superior To All The Others. The coffee itself is marketed along with coffee mugs bearing various Bible verses, as well as the claim that this particular roast will actually help you read the Bible better in the mornings. No more Folger's-induced confusion over "once-saved, always-saved!" You heard it hear first, folks. There is a coffee bean, grown in South America, that helps you decipher ancient Jewish texts. And, I also have some beautiful, ocean-front property I'd like to sell you right here in Tennessee. For a really good price, of course.
Karate for Christ
I find this particular marketing idea so much funnier than the Christian coffee and energy drinks because, unlike beverages (which are sorta religiously neutral), Martial Arts are generally widely frowned upon in Christendom: "Jesus was a peacemaker;" we're told, "we're supposed to 'turn the other cheek;'" and, in fact, "violence in all its various forms is to be strongly condemned...unless, of course, it's to blow up the occasional abortion clinic." I actually once had a lady in church lay her hands on me and try to rebuke the "spirit of Tae Kwon Do" - as she called it - out of me when I was 17. She told me God told her to do so (which was weird, as I've taken several different styles, Tae Kwon Do not being one of them). I've trained in 6 different Martial Arts over the past 22 years, and taught for several of those years. I've had no shortage of Christian clients who show up for 1 class and then quit for religious reasons; or come up to me after class and tell me they'll have to pray and consult their pastor before continuing training; or simply state that they're disgusted by what I do, and will ask their weekly prayer group to supplicate God that we go out of business (none of these prayer endeavors have ever proven successful). Enter: Christian Karate. What is "Christian Karate?" Again, it's like regular Karate, except it's...um..."Christian."
After perusing this website, I have been able to determine that "Christian" self-defense is the exact same freakin' thing as "regular" self defense. The only difference I can detect is that, instead of throwing "punches," they throw "Jesus punches." And instead of "kicking," they "Holy Spirit kick." And instead of "blocking," they "salvation and speaking-in-tongues block," or something. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that they probably also substitute the big embroidered yin-yang on the back of their gi with a Jesus fish. Of course, they're quick to point out that they don't condone aggressive fighting, only "self defense." But...that's exactly the same philosophy every other Martial Arts academy instills. Martial Arts aren't passed along as a method for extracting lunch money, but for protecting yourself or someone else. For some reason, Christians would have you believe otherwise, that Martial Artists are just loose cannon wrecking balls running all over their fellow man. It's a brilliant marketing tool, you gotta admit. You can simply attach the name "Christian" to any product or service you can dream up, and the faithful will line up in droves to shell out their dough.
"Hey, Billy! Wanna go with us to the strip club tonight?"
"Get thee behind me Satan! I don't subject myself to such worldly, lustful pursuits."
"Did I mention it's a Christian strip club?"
"Hold on. Let me go grab some one dollar bills.'
And coming to a McDonald's near you soon: Christian McNuggets!
When The Circus Comes to Town
I know we could spend weeks trying to list all the 1-hit-wonder, sensationalist, revivalist, scam-artists and frauds to hit big tents and arenas near you; but none of them have been so jaw-droppingly...BIZARRE as one Todd Bentley, who set up shop in Lakeland, FL. for a few months. Bentley is a biker-looking, tattooed, facial-pierced, ex-con (sexually assaulting a 7-year old boy) from Canada, who had a "healing" ministry a-cookin', though his methods were far from formulaic.
Now, I've been to my fair share of revivals and "healing services" in my day, and observed all kinds of different methods employed. I've seen The Guy Who Puts His Hand On Your Forehead And Tries To Push You Over. I've seen The Guy Who Just Starts Yelling Out Maladies Until Someone In the Audience Raises Their Hand And Says They've Got It. I've seen The Guy Who Plays A Saxophone Into The Face Of The Sick Person. I've seen The Guy Who Bangs On A Drum Held Against The Stomach Of The Sick Person. I've seen every variation of this game known to man. Or at least I thought I had 'til I came across Todd Bentley. Bentley has a remarkably unique approach to his healing services. Put simply, he beat the crap out of you. Instead of "laying on of hands," Bentley preferred a boot. I'm dead serious. There was never any question about "is this guy intentionally trying to make me fall down?" as there is with many a faith healer. Bentley left no room for doubt. When a man takes a running start and then launches himself into a Bruce Lee side kick into your sternum, you can be pretty sure he wants you to fall down. A man came to Bentley with colon cancer, so Bentley kneed him in the stomach as hard as he could. He kicked an unsuspecting old lady in the face. He punched a guy in the mouth, knocking out a few teeth (he preferred yelling "Bam!" every time he struck someone, eerily reminiscent of those old Batman serials). He choked a guy, leg-dropped a pastor, and infamously yanked an elderly woman out of her wheelchair and started beating her legs against the ground like a baseball bat. Basically, after you left a Todd Bentley "healing service," you needed immediate medical attention. And - as is always the case at these kind of events - Bentley needed your money. All of it. Or at least most of it. People poured into Lakeland from all over the globe to receive a special blessing, and perhaps a black eye and some cracked ribs. I mean, looking back on my past, I can't ever remember going to church and having to worry about leaving the service with cauliflower ear, but then, what do I know? I'm not a prophet. Bentley kept the people coming back by promising everyone that Jesus was going to appear on stage in person "one of these nights." Amidst widely publicized claims from Bentley's organization that he had raised 32 people from the dead, and healed hundreds more, the Associated Press finally decided to investigate. They weren't able to verify any of those claims, but they did learn that Bentley was fabricating a number of them. They also found no evidence for the 20-foot tall angel Bentley claimed to be in close contact with. Bentley was finally forced to pull the plug on his circus side-show after it surfaced that he'd been having an on-going affair with one of his interns and was battling an alcohol addiction. Hmmm.....a philandering, hallucinating, alcoholic, ex-con biker bully....bringing revival to our land. How grand! Today he's operating Fresh Fire Ministries, offering "healing, miracles, signs, and wonders"...and of course, asking for donations.
Nudists For Christ
I'll be honest with you. This is one I never even dreamed of discovering: a colony of naked Christians, lifting up the name of Jesus via the glory of their wondrous birthday suits. Bear (bare?) in mind, these are not just naturists who also happen to be Christian. They are also not merely Christians who just happen to eschew clothing. They are - quite unabashedly - Naturist Christians, whose motto is "...serving God naturally." This is a group quick to point out that God created Adam and Eve quite independent of Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein. Hell, to this very day we're still being born without a stitch of clothing covering us. Why should we then succumb to the ever-changing social norms and mores of public "decency" when God could very well have seen fit to birth us in a toga? The Naturist Christian website points out that Scripture never admonishes against nakedness (not directly, but indirectly very much so, btw). They preach a message of embracing the form God endowed you with, and fighting the socially programmed ideals of what the human form should look like. Now, I'm all for restraining oneself and one's family from perpetuating media-instilled ideologies, but I find myself a bit hesitant to accept that the best way to go about this is by tossing our pants into a wood chipper. Don't get me wrong. I'm no puritan. I've been to nude beaches, where I freely frolicked with the locals. I've also been to topless beaches in Europe where my wife was more than happy to implement the "When in Rome..." mentality. I could probably write an entire essay on the virtues of this particular practice (after all, when was the last time you saw one of those naked, indigenous National Geographic tribes harboring porn and/or strip clubs?), but it just strikes me as so rudimentary..."un-Christian." Perhaps this particular topic does not meet my criteria of inherent humor or irony, but...c'mon! You gotta admit that the entire concept of spreading the message of Jesus Christ by prancing around butt-starking-naked is kind of amusing.
Post-Rapture Public Service Announcements
I saved my favorite for last. I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is by far the most clever and funniest way yet to extract money from the gullible faithful. A Florida man decided to do a bit of a social experiment, and play a practical joke at the same, by creating the Post-Rapture Post. Needless to say, the faithful bought it hook, line, and sinker; and started lining this creative entrepeneur's pockets with their hard-earned dollars. What service was he offering in return? You're gonna love this. As a self-proclaimed athiest, he fully acknowledged that, should the rapture ever come, he most definitely would not be among those sucked up to heaven in God's cosmic vacuum cleaner. In lieu of this deficiency, he advertised a Post Master service whereby he would deliver letters to those left behind by their recently departed, explaining where they went and why. In short, Christians could write a letter or card explaining to their un-saved loved ones that, should they ever mysteriously disappear from the face of the earth, it is due to the fact that they have been celestially reassigned, reclaimed by their Lord and Savior. They could then pay an avowed atheist to deliver the message for them when the proper time came. I know what you're thinking: "This must be joke!" And you would be right, which was exactly my point. It was a joke. A very lucrative one, I might add. Those gullible faithful who sit up in their double-wides at 3 o'clock in the morning, making out their welfare checks to Benny Hinn, suddenly started canceling those checks and began writing letters to everyone they knew who might "miss the bus." It's sheer comic genius to the rest of us, and a rather damning pronouncement on the mentality of the misguided souls who take this stuff seriously.