The body language of "charismatic" preaching

I went to a wedding not long ago, held in a church that I think is Pentecostal, certainly is happy-clappy "charismatic" evangelical in it's style. The preacher took the opportunity to "reach out" to the wedding guests who weren't members of his congregation, and went all-out to convince us of the love of God that was sweeping through the room, and that those who failed to heed this were damned. I didn't feel anything other than cold and uncomfortable; not only did I feel the fire and brimstone aspect of his sermon was highly inappropriate for a wedding, but there was something about the man's body language and tone that was eerily familiar, and that made me very unsettled, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was.

Then, for an entirely unrelated reason, I came across this excerpt from Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" -

I got cold chills watching it. The same intonations, the same gestures, the same crests and reliefs in the rhythm, and I had an odd feeling that you could have swapped "seig heil" for "amen" and no one would have noticed the difference. I'm the first to admit I have almost no experience of evangelical or charismatic preaching, so I have no idea if this is a one-off coincidence, or is it more common than that. It would make sense that evangelical preaching shares similarities with Hitler's speeches - both seem to be sound and fury that is emotionally catchy enough that the lack of substance and the logic holes simply aren't noticed.

I'd be interested to know what others think, who have better experience than me in this area.

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Comment by Beth KZ on August 31, 2012 at 7:02pm

I have watched them.

I've also watched a number of Adolf Hitler's speeches. I cannot understand the German, but I can hear his intonations, watch his gestures, and watch the crowd's emotional reaction. He did have the ability to make very persuasive speeches.

I've also seen some fundamentalist preachers - only a handfull of times in their churches, but more in city parks, university squares, or on television and other videos. The whole cadence, the whole sound of the speech, and moreso, the reaction of the crowd is alarmingly similar.

This sort of emotionalism and persuasive/motivational speeches are no doubt why it is that the majority of Christians have no idea what's in their Bible, what their religion teaches (except that everyone needs to control their "homosexual urges" - which they would not have at all if they were or are truly heterosexual), and "don't abort them babies!" They just are told what's in the Bible, they believe the people who are telling them, and...that's that.

If what's in the Bible makes the difference whether they're going to heaven or hell in their belief, it would seem to me that they would go to great effort to find out what it is that they should do - for themselves. That doesn't seem to be the sort of thing you'd trust someone you don't know with if someone really believed it. I have to think that most titular "Christians" don't believe the teachings any more than atheists do, but they get something out of the name... whole experience. They probably should just call it "Churchianity".

I've had a number of them tell me that it's "in the bible" that George Bush would be president, Obama would be the downfall of the country, that Saddam Hussein was the antichrist, that Osama bin Ladin would be the downfall of the United States. I've asked them "Where?" They'll usually point me to Revelations, sometimes with a chapter and verse. Then, "No it's not". I've had a number of them look REAL SURPRISED when I looked up the verse in their Bible right then, had them read it aloud, and it says nothing of the kind.

I should do this more, and connect the dots for them. If they are telling them lies about their most sacred beliefs, lies about what their Holy Book says, and Christianity does have some things in their teachings (Old and New Testament) about telling the truth (or bearing false witness), where does this put their preacher? Refer to John 8:44, where it mentions that lies are the devil's native tongue.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on August 31, 2012 at 1:04am

I tried to look at a few preacher videos to compare voice tone and body language, but it made me nauseated. I'll take your word for the resemblance, until someone with a stronger stomach than I can post side by side clips.



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