Monday, July 6, 2015

Fasting Evangelist Promises a Gluttonous Paradise

I went to see a somewhat renowned evangelist named Emmanuel Twagirimana, who claims to have died in the shrapnel cross-fires of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide before miraculously being resurrected. According to him (unverified by anyone else), he was dead for 7 days, and as maggots began to decompose his wounded body here on earth, his soul went to heaven where he met Jesus and was shown around, including a little jaunt through hell. 

Emmanuel was then told it wasn't his time yet and he had to return to his decrepit, festering body so he could travel the world and spread the message that heaven is real but so too, unfortunately, is hell (as if no one in a church had ever heard this story before). He has since written a book, produced a DVD and traveled to 154 countries. He has ministered to the likes of Nelson Mandela and the Queen of England.

Suspicious. I know.

Everyone else at the rather humble church I sometimes attended could not believe their good fortune and great blessing that out of all the places in the world he could have chosen, Emmanuel had chosen them to minister his message from the great beyond.

They must be special and what does the collective ego like more than feeling “special”? Nothing.

Now, up until this point, for perhaps the preceding year, I had been more open to the idea of organized religion and a spiritual realm than I had ever been in my life (mainly because of a series of bizarre personal experiences I am perpetually trying to make sense of and because I have an aversion to psychiatrists). So I wasn’t completely closed off to hearing what Emmanuel had to say.


I still had the left side of my brain and I could still think. It would seem the blinders in logic I would have to don in order to accept what Emmanuel claimed as truth were beyond my mental capacity. Apparently I was not as adept at suspending disbelief (even in spite of my aforementioned bizarre personal experiences) as those around me.

And it isn’t necessarily because I don’t believe it’s possible Emmanuel really did have a hallucinatory out-of-body experience. But in my mind, after facts and raw data, interpretation is everything and Emmanuel’s interpretations of his delirious state are preposterous, even in the context of religiosity. More preposterous is how seemingly lucid people who haven’t themselves undergone a similar psychosis, mystical experience or paranormal encounter can so easily believe such fantastical stories riddled with inconsistencies, fallacies and contradictions, ESPECIALLY when the person peddling these stories is profiting from them.

In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with tales they have concocted. The longstanding verdict against them remains in force, and their destruction does not sleep ~ 2 Peter 2:3

Emmanuel’s harrowing tale sounded less like the rantings of a madman, religious fanatic or someone filled with the Holy Spirit, and more like the flamboyant fabrications of a slick salesman, although outside his avid, religiously shackled audience, I’m not sure how “slick” anyone else would find his claims. In other words, I call bullshit.

For example, Emmanuel, a man of enormous girth, whose message was heavily laden with references to massive amounts of food and being constantly fed in the Promised Land, said that after Heaven repatriated him back to earth with a redundant message everyone has heard before, he was informed he would immediately be able to recite by rote the entire Bible without even having read it in the first place.

He furthermore would be able to repeat and interpret specific passages on command in any language without a translator, a degree in theology, Rosetta Stone, the aid of Leapfrog Phonic Fridge Magnets or anything. The only thing he had to do was eat this big ass piece of Moses chocolate Jesus gave him while the two of them were hanging out in paradise and BOOM! Instantaneous idiot savant.

So excuse me when I was a little perplexed that not only did he have to read directly from the same Bible he claimed had been magically downloaded to his brain via a stone-tablet-sized chocolate bar, but he also had to have his lovely, long-suffering wife translate everything he screamed from the pulpit because he couldn’t speak English even though he claims (lies) he can preach in ANY language.

English is a language.

But magic treats, zealous screaming, bald-faced lying, and the English language aside, everyone there was waiting to hear the nitty-gritty details of heaven and hell, such as what kind of cheeses would we eat in the celestial kingdom, would lactose-tolerance and a digestive system even be necessary, and just how big and ornate would our literal Christ-appointed mansions be?   But most curious, how exactly would the unsaved sinners be forever tortured and could we, the saved ones, watch with eternal voyeuristic glee? It was why the church was the fullest I had ever seen it. So when Emmanuel spent the first hour raving about how if you don't tithe and fast you won't get into heaven and the next two hours on the evils of divorce, a boring reality for a good many of us, it was again a little perplexing. 

The teaching that a person should stay in a marriage at all costs because “God said so” is a dangerous one for any spiritually confused, psychologically vulnerable person, especially a woman who is trapped in a situation where she is being slowly blood-letted of her magnificence and weakened to the point of death. The faulty beliefs instilled by the kind of punitive dogma Emmanuel and people like him hawk interfere with the “dying” woman’s survival instinct and natural right to fight off the parasitic scavengers who take advantage of her confusion.

They (the faulty beliefs) tell her to lie there and take it, that the whole purpose of her being is to nourish the sadistic gluttony of others or to be the host to a mass of unthinking, urge-driven leeches who lack the fortitude to take care of their own needs. And if that doesn’t work, if she doesn’t buy into the idea that her sole purpose for existing is to act as nothing more than a material function for someone else, they manipulate her into believing that even if she did want to strive for a higher purpose or simply be a self-sufficient, independent human being with her own thoughts, she doesn’t have the strength to stand up, shrug off her parasites and thrive on her own anyway.

This of course isn’t true. She might be weakened, but she’s still a magnificent creature. She merely isn’t aware of her magnificence because it’s extremely difficult to self-realize amidst the noise and suffocation of a world in the process of killing you. 

But sometimes a person can surprise herself, and everyone else who underestimated her, and break free from that which enslaves her, whether it’s an oppressive belief system, a terrible marriage, a self-medicating addiction, or some worse hell like the chaos of her own mind.

In the blinding light of such an escape, however, there will be those who, depending on their particular bent, will attribute her initial disorientation with a mental illness, a medical condition or demonic possession. They will say she isn’t “herself” and do everything to rope her back in and return the pieces of her to the cage she has just escaped before she ever has a chance to find her bearings and put herself back together on her own.

They will watch her more closely now and if religion isn’t an effective intellectual straightjacket, they will use pop psychology, psychobabble, scientism and pharmaceuticals to restrain her renegade spirit – all vying for control of her, not because they are interested in anything she has to offer, but because they want to shut her down, put her in quarantine where her “insanity” won’t bother anyone, where they don’t have to watch her so closely, and where they won’t have to think about her very much at all, until it’s time to get rid of the body, that is.

Still, even if she does manage to liberate herself without recapture, it can be lonely skies with storms yet to be weathered and a willpower yet to be mastered. She might begin to feel the tug of the cage and doubt her decision to fly away, the initial feeling of manic exhilaration faded, replaced by the cold realities of her struggle. But when she realizes that pain and suffering are predicaments to work through and not avoid, like the thorny bramble before a clearance of meadow and fresh burbling brooks, she perseveres.

She perseveres even though it hurts and even though there is absolutely no guarantee things will work out. She could fly into a mountain just as she’s getting comfortable with the flight, her wings could stop working for no obvious reason, she could get caught up in the propeller of a plane, or have some version of God suddenly appear in the clouds after a lifetime of total absence and cause her heart to stop mid-air before her feet ever reach the ground. And if external forces don’t get her, she could grow lackadaisical with her internal vigil and the demons she manages inside her head could take over and consume her entirely.

It would be tempting in such circumstances to abandon the storm and safely follow evangelists like Emmanuel Twagirimana with their promises of earthly delights in heaven, or prosperity ministries with their promise of heavenly delights on earth. 

Anyone, so goes the claim, can reach these idealized states of foolish euphoria if only one ignores intuition and surrenders her will to the guardians of absurdity and their deceivingly welcoming herds who claim to have the “absolute truth” which is ridiculous. Truth of this sort is relative to perspective. You say the dress is white and gold.I say it’s cornflower blue and brown. Consensus reality says it’s black and blue. I don’t know what God says.

In any event, whatever way you spin it, it’s ALL absurd.

So why should one mob’s explanation of the absurdity be more trustworthy than the explanation that appeals to any single individual? Why would anyone, for instance, replace the voice in her own head with that of Emmanuel’s claiming that the need to get out of a soul-destroying, possibly abusive marriage is driven not by heaven but by hell, and that to leave such a situation is to turn against Christ and probably end up in an afterlife with Satan’s minions as sweaty work slaves delivering draught beer to the pleasantly cooled saints in paradise (which is one of his weirdo, food-obsessed claims). 

Thank you but I think I’ll take my chances with the minions and get out of the shitty marriage in this life. Bring on the absurdity.

And Emmanuel does just that with one absurdity after another, which you're free to believe or not. You can choose, for example, to believe that if you do make it to nirvana with the aid of Emmanuel’s book and DVD, which you can buy online or in the lobby of any church he is paid to preach at (donations are a tax write-off), you will be greeted by “angelic cooks” who will happily serve you. They will literally pick the best fruit from an abundance of fruit trees that line the jewel-crusted, golden streets of heaven “like you’ve never seen on earth” and then prepare enormous fruit salads again “like you’ve never seen on earth” under their diamond-adorned wings, which frankly sounds disgusting and unappetizing. Sorry, but you can keep your angel pit hair salad. Gross.

In addition to his preoccupation with preventing divorce regardless of domestic violence or suicidal unhappiness, Emmanuel is excessively concerned with all the food you can eat in God’s kingdom, which he says “is not a kingdom of hunger”. And no, he was not speaking figuratively or metaphorically during any of this. He saw and greedily narrowed in on all the overloaded plates himself while he was in heaven and asked his guide (which you will remember is the actual Jesus in the flesh), “What’s with all the food?”

Jesus replied that those plates were set in preparation for the “prayer warriors”. The more these prayer warriors prayed and fasted while alive on earth, the more their plates piled up with delicious foods in anticipation of their eventual death and heavenly ascension. I guess Emmanuel must be exempt from the fasting part, as inferred by his monumental size, and concentrates purely on the praying part, (which is confusingly hypocritical since he spent such an inordinate amount of time warning the rest of us if we didn't fast regularly we would be doomed to hell).

No one in the church put up their hand to ask the obvious question, “Why would we have to eat so much in heaven, or at all, when we’re disembodied souls?” It seems like it should be wholly unnecessary. Personally, I’m sick of always having to feed and dress myself now, not to mention all the other tedious things one has to do in order to survive in the world. Once I’m dead, I’d like to forget about all the annoying chores of physical existence. If you want to sell me heaven, give me either pure ecstatic sensation or blissful oblivion. I don’t want to have to fucking eat.

I also do not want to feign respect for a charlatan, so after the 3-hour mark, any semblance of politeness that existed within me had completely vanished and without any apologies, I told my companion, who seemed to be enthralled by the whole thing, that I was leaving. She was surprised and asked if I would be coming back the next evening, as Emmanuel would be preaching for the proceeding three nights. I restrained all sarcastic urges and replied simply, "No. No, I will not".