Now, Religion in the News—a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from Media Guardian, May 14, 2003, dateline: United Kingdom—“Channel 4 is to test the limits of taste and decency with a televised game of Russian roulette, in which psychological illusionist, Darren Brown, will attempt to avoid shooting himself in the head. The program is part of an exclusive two-year deal Brown has signed with Channel 4, which will also include a live séance special and a second series of his Montreux award-nominated show, Darren Brown: Mind Control.
“In the Russian roulette special Brown will choose a member of the public to load a real bullet into a pistol and will guess which of the 6-numbered chambers it is in. He will hold the gun to his head and when the chamber he believes contains the bullet comes around to the barrel of the gun, Brown will fire it away from himself.
“ ‘It’s just going to be me, the other person, and a gun in a bunker,’ said Brown. ‘If you put six items on a table and ask someone to pick one, I can always work out which one they choose. As long as I don’t think about the gun, I’ll be okay. I’m just going to have to get used to guns before I do this.’
“For the live séance special, viewers will be encouraged to hold their own séances at home while Brown conducts his in the studio. Brown said he was trying to debunk the myth surrounding séances rather than encouraging people to become involved in the occult. People at home will be able to join in. ‘It’s going to be very interactive,’ he said. ‘But I don’t believe it’s a spiritual thing. I just see it as a more scientific, psychological thing.’
The two specials will be broadcast as part of a Magic Month season.”
Tom: Dave, this is interesting to me because this is England—this program appears in England—but he’s sort of like the Skeptical Inquirer; he’s trying to debunk certain things, and he is trying to tell you that this can’t be spiritual—all these things that take place, they’re not spiritual. They are just psychological, and so forth. Like in the Soviet Union when they…
Dave: Well, in the Soviet Union they even had what they called “reincarnation therapy,” although they didn’t believe in reincarnation.
Tom: So again, he’s trying to debunk and dismiss these things, at the same time encouraging people to try them. We’ve done a little research in this area, and when scientists do that, usually things show up that they can’t explain.
Dave: Well, there is no explanation for a Ouija board, for example. They have done experiments where they blindfold the persons on the Ouija board, they scramble the alphabet, and they even put a board between them, something that they cannot possibly see, and under those conditions the planchette moves faster than ever, spelling out meaningful messages. Now there is no way you could explain that. What is it, the subconscious? Well, is that spiritual? Even if you talk about a subconscious? But the subconscious—how does the subconscious know where the letters are that they have scrambled? That’s not going to work either. There is something involved, and it’s not the spirit of the human being unless you’re going to say that it’s all knowing.
Now, there was a group of psychologists—parapsychologists, skeptics—and it sounds very much like this man—and they said, “We’re going to show you that this is…it’s all in the mind, and we’re going to make up…we’re going to have séances, but we are going to make up a fictitious character—we’re going to call him ‘Phillip’”—and you can look this up, it’s in scientific literature.
Tom: And they were called the Phillip’s Group, as I recall.
Dave: That’s right, the Phillip Group. And they made this whole thing up about this guy that committed suicide and this ghost, and they’re calling the ghost “Phillip,” and then what do you know! Nothing happens until they say, “Okay, look, we’ve got to really believe this.” When they began to really believe in Phillip, Phillip starts knocking on the table! Now these are scientists, and they’re freaked out. And he answers their questions, he straightens out… “No, you guys, you’ve got the wrong story about me. This is what actually happened.” And then he levitates the table. In fact—they have a video—he levitated the table and he flew that table around so fast they had to run to keep up with it.
Well, what is this, the mind? No, but now what this man is doing is a bit different because there’s no spirits involved in what he’s doing. There had better not be or they might shoot the gun at his head. What he is doing is trickery—it’s magic, sleight of hand. How he does it, I don’t know.
Dave: Illusion, right. And then on that basis, he is trying to say there is no spirit world, there’s no demons, there’s no God, there’s no Holy Spirit, there’s no human spirit, so there’s no life after death. It’s a debunking of everything. In fact, we can prove scientifically there is life after death.
Tom: Dave, you remember a number of years ago these debunkers went after Uri Geller, the Israeli psychic. And Uri was on tour of TV programs throughout the country, and one of his items was spoon bending. He would hold the spoon and just kind of rub his hand over it and the spoon would bend. And then somebody like The Amazing Randy, a debunker, would come along and say, “I can do the same thing.” Now, what The Amazing Randy didn’t mention and what only came out later was that the TV stations got thousands of calls from parents who were alarmed and worried because the very thing that Uri Geller was doing, their kids were doing at home. So how do you explain that?
Dave: And the spoons were bending—they were frightened.
Tom: They didn’t know the trick or anything like that.
Dave: Well, Tom, that reminds me of another instance—and there are many like this, we had better be careful—of a group of high school students. They said, “We’re going to pretend that we’re having a séance.” And the young man who pretended that he was the medium, a spirit took over and possessed him. He would go to cemeteries, and what happened to that young man was horrific. Psychological? No, it was demonic. So, you open yourself to the possibility, then it could very well happen, and I certainly would not recommend it. And even though this man is a trickster, it’s very dangerous for him to have other people trying to do it in their home.