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An Intriguing New Documentary: The Search – Manufacturing Belief

One of the most interesting interviews I’ve done in recent years was for a feature-length documentary that has now appeared and available for viewing (e.g., Amazon Prime) called “The Search – Manufacturing Belief.”  It was the brainchild of Patrick Payne, who also produced and directed it. This is how it is described on the Documentary Channel:

Juxtaposing reason with mythology, philosophy with religion, and science with mysticism, filmmaker Patrick Payne interviews thought leaders from across this spectrum to build a penetrating, provocative and personal inquiry into the question of awe, objective truth and trust in the 21st Century.

I thought it might be worthwhile to have a kind of personal introduction to the film, and so I asked Patrick to provide us with some insight into how it came into being and what it’s about.

Patrick is on the blog and he will be able to respond to any questions or comments you have.  Here is what he has to say:

*************************************************************************

The Search – Manufacturing Belief

An exploration of the spiritual experience

and the origins of belief.

 

“The Search – Manufacturing Belief,” a feature documentary I directed and produced, was released on VOD on June 16, 2020. It is the culmination of more than forty years of exploring the “spiritual experience” and the profound and perplexing questions I’ve grappled with during my search, all prompted by my experience at a weekend Christian retreat when I was seventeen. The documentary reconstructs this experience, interspersed with interviews with leading science and secularist thinkers, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Bart Ehrman, Dacher Keltner, Anil Seth and others. Brian Janssen provides analysis and historical origins of the Cursillo movement. Mary Payne, my mother, offers our personal experiences with Catholicism.

The story all started at an unforgettable event at my Catholic high school in 1975. I was recruited to attend a religious weekend retreat called “The Search.” I was in grade 12. For generations my family was Catholic. The organizers made the unusual claim that by the end of the weekend event most people would experience “a real encounter with the Holy Spirit.”  Having been raised in a traditional religious culture this claim was truly extraordinary. This could be the validation, the proof I had longed for since childhood, that my belief in God was justified and the bible really was true.

The film begins with a re-enactment of the inciting events at my high school in 1975 that led up to my personal epiphany. That weekend, as it turns out, was a roller coaster ride of well-orchestrated and carefully programmed events.

The next section of the film examines the historical origins of the Christian retreat weekend phenomenon with context from Brian Janssen PhD and Presbyterian Minister in Hospers, Iowa. The Search of the 1970’s was rooted in the Cursillo movement that emerged from the Catholic pilgrimages in Spain in the 1940’s. By the 1950’s and 60’s the weekend retreat program had expanded around the world. It was modified and adapted to the modern generation and had branched into virtually all sectarian and denominational Christian groups using a variety of monikers like “Tres Dias”, “Road to Emmaus” and many more. “The Search”, as it was called in the 70’s was focused on Catholic high school students and young people, especially teenagers. Youth were considered open-minded and searching for meaning and answers to the big questions of life. High school students are particularly susceptible to these programs and were easily recruited. By 2020, millions of people had participated in religious retreat programs worldwide. In 2015, I decided to attend another Cursillo weekend retreat in the USA. I wanted to experience the program again first hand. I was astonished to see that very little had changed since the 1970’s. Unexpectedly, even though I had anticipated the sequence of events to come, the retreat left me physically exhausted and psychologically shattered.

Following a summation of the origins and methods used in the retreat program, the documentary examines the latest research into mind control techniques, revealing that my experience in the 1970’s and again 40 years later in 2015 was anything but haphazard or accidental. These programs and practices are now well understood by neuroscientists and psychologists as powerful manipulation techniques. They are used in extreme circumstances by military regimes for thought reform and reprogramming. Of course, the weekend retreat at my high school in Calgary, or later at the Cursillo, was not as brutal or coercive as the North Korean torture or the military brainwashing techniques of the fifties. Yet, the resemblance was nonetheless remarkable and surprisingly very effective.

The documentary examines the following mind control techniques that have been defined by renowned psychologists Margaret Singer “Cults in our Midst” (1996) and Kathleen Taylor in her 2004 book “Brainwashing.”

The film examines and explains the six primary techniques systematically utilized in these weekend retreat programs namely:

Isolation – Control – Uncertainty – Repetition – Emotion – Group Dynamics

The film certainly does not infer that the Cursillo organizers cynically or maliciously deploy these brainwashing techniques. The weekend planners simply and naively carry out these programs by following the official Cursillo handbook. It lays out the process in well-defined detail. However, the repercussions and outcomes of these powerful psychological techniques are truly extraordinary. By the end of the weekend most people experience a kind of catharsis or overwhelming awe experience. It works. Participants with underlying mental instability could certainly find themselves in a precarious situation. From my experience, virtually everyone had an intense emotional response and at least half of the participants were mentally overwhelmed. This emotion is best characterized as a sense of cathartic surrender, a unique manufactured sense of awe.

Next, the film explores the unique human phenomenon of awe. Dacher Keltner and Sam Harris discuss how awe is a complex emotional reaction. It is often a result of physical and mental exhaustion and may include an unusual combination of fear, bewilderment, surprise, relief, joy, confusion and astonishment.  It may also include powerful spontaneous feelings of warmth, love, connection, peace and tranquility.  Although awe is a relatively uncommon occurrence in daily life, most people claim to have experienced this emotion. We may spontaneously experience it when gazing up at the stars in the vast universe, or at the birth of a child, when listening to music, at a concert, or dancing or in the serenity of nature.  These vivid experiences are as varied as the humans who encounter them. But why and how do humans experience awe? Is it genetic? Is awe an evolutionary adaption or determined by one’s cultural or religious origins? The film also examines the origins of mankind’s most sacred texts with world-renowned biblical scholar Bart Ehrman. Is awe an inscrutable psychological state or some kind of mystical, spiritual phenomenon?

It’s easy to see how this sudden inexplicable, cathartic experience could be interpreted as a “spiritual experience.” It is certainly unlike any other sensation we commonly encounter.  Because it is so often a sudden, overwhelming transcendent, emotional occurrence most people interpret the feeling as a type of “supernatural” event. It may seem like a profoundly meaningful encounter with the mysterious. In most cases this mystical or sacred connection relates directly to an individuals particular spiritual upbringing and beliefs. This is a reasonable association because these correlations have already been drawn and integrated in a religious context. If one cannot comprehend this phenomenon, it appears to be connected to the supernatural, inexplicable, inscrutable mystery of life or consciousness itself.

Finally, the film explores of the intrinsic connection between awe, spirituality and consciousness. Consciousness as defined by Anil Seth, Neuroscientist, is that ineffable experience we are all very familiar with but very rarely examine. It is how we comprehend and ultimately make sense of our life experiences and existence itself. It is, by its very nature, the subjective point of view created by a complex alchemy of biology, psychology, evolution, neurochemistry, behaviour, instinct and many other components. Comprehending consciousness is perhaps the most profound mystery currently facing humanity.  It is not surprising that people refer to our consciousness as the soul, the “Elan Vitale,” or the life force. Many ascribe all manner of supernatural or magical attributes to what neuroscience refers to as consciousness and for millennia humans have assigned supernatural attributes to anything that was incomprehensible. Religion is essentially the resolution to this intellectual tension.

As science continues to inexorably decipher the complexity of the universe and unravel the origins of life itself, it seems entirely possible that the enigma of consciousness will be completely understood at some point in the not too distant future. Brash proclamations like “mankind will never understand consciousness”, or “the soul is sacred and may only be examined by God” (“non-overlapping magisteria” – as per Stephen Jay Gould), may be eviscerated by the relentless march of human curiosity and scientific progress. When and if we do ultimately understand consciousness, it may be lamentable, distressing or disturbing to some and perhaps liberating to others. Regardless, it may occur within our own lifetime. Will we be left to ponder the meaning of life or redefine our place in the universe?

The Search-Manufacturing Belief recognizes that, most importantly, it is our personal relationships and the quest for truth that brings the most satisfaction in life. The personalities in the film, including Richard Dawkins, relate their private moments of awe and transcendence in their work and personal lives. My goal is making this documentary was to find common ground between believers, sceptics and people simply searching for philosophical and spiritual answers. I hope you have a chance to watch it, and if you do let me know how I did.

 


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    RickR  July 6, 2020

    From this description, it looks like a very one sided and biased documentary. It’s always nice if documentaries like this include both sides of a question, or at least mention that alternative views exist. Again, just from this post, this documentary appears to be a one-sided polemic against spirituality and the possibility of the divine. It’s easier to attack an opposing viewpoint when you set up straw men so you can easily knock them down.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      I think you should see the film. I include an interview with my mother who is very spiritual, believes in a divine presence and continues to pray even to this day. Also included in the examination of awe, Brian Janssen, a Presbyterian minister with a PhD, explains how awe for him includes the acknowledgment and appreciation of God’s creation. I could have easily edited it out his perspective but I didn’t. I agree it is important to be balanced when one expresses a particular viewpoint, but it is also about my narrative and ultimately the story of my personal experience growing up and later as an adult and how one can change over time. I believe in the “steel man” approach where one accurately articulates and explains one’s opponents best arguments and positions to ensure your own argument is sound. I certainly don’t believe I caricatured the opposing viewpoint. I attended two weekend retreats one in 1977 the other more than 40 years later to ensure I was accurate in the depiction of the program. Thanks for your perspective and comments and I hope you get a chance to see the the film.

    • Avatar
      stokerslodge  July 8, 2020

      I totally agree. Very one sided

  2. Avatar
    gwayersdds  July 6, 2020

    Mr. Payne, Many years ago I went on The Walk To Emmaus. For me it was an amazing experience and I have been involved with Emmaus ever since. Yes, it is set up to be psychologically influential. It s designed to lead you step by step into a deeper relationship with God, but not in a “brainwashing” bad way. It is not meant to convert anyone to a “correct” way of thinking. It is only designed to deepen one’s faith. Everyone reacts differently to the experience. For some it is life changing, for others, not so much. For me it showed me how God’s grace has been and is still working in my life. When will this program be aired? I definitely want to record it. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Thanks for your comments. I am sure many people interpret the experience as a “spiritual encounter” with God. Personally, I think using psychological techniques as you admit are used, is a dubious and deceptive approach to “spirituality” don’t you? Especially with young people or vulnerable individuals dealing wth prison, addiction, abuse, divorce or other emotional issues. Why doesn’t God just reveal himself without all the programmatic tactics? (like waking people up in the middle of the night, isolating them from all outside influences, emotional rollercoasters, love bombing, surprise meetings etc) I’m not sure if the Road to Emmaus program uses all these techniques but I wonder why they are necessary at all? The film is available on AppleTV and Amazon Prime in the US and UK. It is on the Documentary Channel in Canada again this fall. I hope you get a chance to see the film.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 6, 2020

    Patrick: Wow! Wow! Wow! Can I order this as a DVD from Amazon?

    Being a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, I found this blog to be fascinating. It reminds of my childhood experience of week long church retreats every summer. I assume the six components especially repetition (the illusion of truth effect) and group dynamics are part of most religions and maybe even a lot of politics. Have you considered how this works in our current U.S. politics which also seems to involve a lot of “Manufactured belief”? Thanks

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Thanks, DVD’s are not available at the moment but I think you can download the film from AppleTV or Amazon Prime. Conformity and group dynamics (in-group vs out-group behaviour) are very much at play in US current politics. The use of powerful emotions like fear, disgust and anger are triggers for the amygdala and create a powerful fight or flight response that can be mentally destabilizing and make people vulnerable to influence and coercion. Also in an artificially contrived atmosphere of “fake news” and misinformation the level of public uncertainty makes it possible to promote narratives that would otherwise be inadmissible. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Avatar
    Poohbear  July 6, 2020

    Biggest “belief industry” today is manufactured DISBELIEF. Postmodernism teaches there is no truth.
    George Orwell’s book “1984” spoke of Big Brother (and its surveillance.) The erasure of the past. Though control. Defacing monuments. It’s all here now. How did he know?
    To quote David Berlinksi:
    “Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close.
    Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close.
    Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close.
    Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough.
    Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough.
    Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close.
    Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough.
    Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irational? Not even in the ball park.
    Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Ok thanks for your comments and I understand why you might make these statements even if I wholeheartedly disagree with them (David Berlinski). I won’t go through every point but science is based on the capacity to falsify evidence through experimentation and replication of results. The fact that God’s existence cannot be verified is exactly the problem. On many of science’s other shortcomings (fine tuned universe, quantum mechanics, origin of life etc) at least science freely admits the mysterious nature of these problems and continues to make significant progress. Science surrounds you and we rely on it more and more if one takes the time to look around. For example the vaccine the world is currently looking for relies on a multitude of scientific and technological fields like microbiology, genetics, evolutionary biology, to name just a few all working synchronously on a solution. Lastly, unfortunately the Discovery Institute of which David Berlinski is a senior fellow has an agenda to promote Intelligent Design. Are you a creationist Poohbear? This is quite a difficult hypothesis to promote especially in the scientific arena. It appears to be a predetermined catch-all solution looking for any facts at all to support it, despite more than a century of contradictory, well-established scientific evidence of evolution including speciation. Nevertheless, thanks for you comments and good luck with your crusade against science.

  5. Avatar
    Q11Temple  July 6, 2020

    I’m loosely part of the Hebrew roots movement but also am still searching and skeptical. I feel like there is something very wrong with the way many people I know engage with the spiritual uncritically. Saying something is from God when it isn’t is a serious sin and almost nobody I know takes this seriously. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)

    The excuse I’ve heard is “that only applies to prophets” . . . well what do you become when you represent something as coming from God? Many of the prophets just talked about what would otherwise be natural events (an invading army) and said that God was sending it to punish Israel.

    So I think documentaries like this are good but I don’t know if many people who actually need to see them will watch them.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Yes, I’d have to agree with you. Most people really don’t like to challenge their own strongly held beliefs and find cognitive dissonance extremely uncomfortable. People also like to assign supernatural agency to just about anything unforeseen, unpredictable or difficult to understand. That’s not surprising since humans do not like uncertainty, it’s very likely an evolutionary adaptation. It’d be nice if people were more open minded but it appears that the trend is in the opposite direction.

  6. Avatar
    Emmu  July 6, 2020

    Hi Sir,
    Big fan from India.I am a 19 year boy.first of all I wanna thank you for the free membership option because of that I am here.from couple of months I am seeing your youtube channel and free blogs and it makes me your fan and i realy appreciate and respect your work.

    Sir I have an off topic question I have seen presentation of suffering you say that in some places in the bible God is responsible for suffering and in some places devil is responsible.Some verses say that God has forsake people because of sin thats why people suffer romans 1 24-28.And james 1 14-15 say that sin leads to death.One of our pastor say this is the law of God that’s why people suffer.It makes me confuse please clear my doubt and please give your views on this.

    Thanks Sir.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 7, 2020

      It’s a very complicated situation! I would never say what God’s actual relationshiop to suffering is, because I don’t believe in God. But what I will say is that different parts of the Bible have different answers to the question, and some of those answers are not consistent with one another.

      • Avatar
        Emmu  July 9, 2020

        Thanks for reply Sir.Sir according to you what was Paul’s view on this subject.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 10, 2020

          There are forces of evil in control of this world and God has begun to destroy them with the power of Christ and soon will make his victory complete.

  7. Avatar
    flshrP  July 6, 2020

    I had that weekend retreat experience junior year in high school (my class was the class of 1959). Boring as hell and a waste of a perfectly good weekend. Learned nothing new and what I heard there just reinforced my visceral dislike of religion dating back to grade school. I think half of my class of 185 students felt the same. Of course, we were only kids from blue collar families and probably were too dumb to realize that we were the innocent subjects of insidious mind control techniques by the Catholic Church.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      As I said in the film, I really don’t think the retreat organizers were diabolical thought reform masters and I suspect some programs were more structured than others. That said, the techniques are effective and in my experience had a profound influence on certain individuals. Remember that is the intention too, recruitment and commitment are key objectives of the program. I’m glad you were blissfully impervious to the assault on your senses!

  8. Avatar
    rwhershey  July 6, 2020

    I’ve just watched the documentary and find it quite provocative. It brought to mind a slightly tangental though important question that I’ve always wanted to ask you:

    When I was an undergraduate studying religion in the mid-2000s, there was an increasing trend toward using the word “spirituality” in place of the word religion. It was a method by which people felt they could discuss ostensibly theological matters without using religious terminology, even if the conversation was only about the substance of a religious tradition rather than an attempt to hash out theological problems. I recall academics (usually scholars in disciplines other than the study of religion) becoming very uncomfortable when I would ask them why they were using “spirituality” in place of “religion,” and if they could define it. They were almost never able to answer either question.

    But to be fair, most of my religion professors refused to use the word as part of proper academic discourse. The problem was mostly that of definition – what does “spirituality” mean? My questions for you are: Do you avoid using the word “spirituality,” and have you come across a satisfying definition of it?

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      I try not to use the word spirituality too much, simply because it is loaded with other correlated context usually associated to the soul and life after death or spirits. Anil Seth describes it in an interesting way suggesting the brain/consciousness can very convincingly produce “spiritual experiences” like the feeling one is lifting from the body or floating in the air. If it could be understood how this mechanism works and could be reliably replicated it may undermine the mystical dimension to the phenomenon. Some people would undoubtedly be aghast at such a project but I think it would be interesting. Religion on the other hand is the historical, structural, organizational and ideology that supports the belief system. I think the mystery of life and indeed our own existence in the universe is central to both religion and “spirituality” and the overlap is sometimes exploited in support of a particular religious belief and should not be part of the academic discourse as you rightly point out. Perhaps it should remain in the domain of philosophy. (?) Thanks for your comments. Maybe Bart would also like to add a comment to this post.

      • Avatar
        timcfix  July 9, 2020

        Anyone who has been on an Emmaus Walk knows what is being taught.

  9. Avatar
    Christopher Gates  July 6, 2020

    Awesome! I’ll check it out.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Excellent thank you. Please let me know what you think.

  10. Avatar
    darren  July 6, 2020

    I remember going on similar retreats when I was in an all-boys Catholic school! Except rather than brainwashing, I seem to remember the priest talking more about how we wouldn’t go to hell for masturbating, but shouldn’t do it anyway. Ah, the Catholic life!

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Yes, oddly enough my experience with Catholic priests was very good, never any questionable behaviour. That said, two of the priests I encountered later from a distance in high school were convicted of sex crimes, one even played a leading role in the weekend retreat I attended when I was 17. I hope you get a chance to see the film.

  11. Avatar
    NonFingo  July 6, 2020

    The techniques Payne lists for his weekend Catholic retreats:
    Isolation – Control – Uncertainty – Repetition – Emotion – Group Dynamics
    certainly conform to what I experienced every summer as a teenager in week-long “camp meetings” sponsored by the Nazarene church. The radical personality transformations I saw in other kids were often stunning, although usually short-lived.
    I look forward to watching the documentary.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Thanks for your comment. These techniques are widely used and obviously not just by religious organizations. They are surprisingly effective and the techniques are constantly being refined and streamlined. I hope you enjoy the film.

  12. Avatar
    veritas  July 6, 2020

    Hello Patrick, I have not watched this documentary, but I will certainly do so. I love your cast, truly , most of them have sparked an interest in my personal development and admire their work. Interestingly, the six systematic techniques used in these retreats are very controlling/powerful and have an underlying aspect of surrender . Two in particular, repetition and uncertainty, are ones I have personally experienced much of. Your mind must be teachable( uncertainty), that is their mantra, and hearing the same thing over and over(repetition) eventually lands that credibility(brainwashing) that it must be true even though you still have difficulties accepting. In short, they bridle your self(psyche), surrendering all of your authority to a mystical deity/belief system. Oddly, these people are immensely convicted. I would like to ask you, something that boggles my mind at times. Why can so many readily accept these feel good mental exercises and come away convicted, while others, like myself, have a harder time digesting these beliefs even though the teachings may be useful in our lives? BTW, do you still live in Calgary? Great city,lived there a number of years.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      That is a very good question and I really don’t know why some people accept the experience as an authentic “spiritual visitation” while others are more skeptical. It may have to do with the recognition of the meta-framework or program structure. I was a little apprehensive when I first arrived and I wondered why the program was designed the way it was. In the end, perhaps that made me a little more dubious of the entire premise. That said, the system undoubtedly works and many people especially vulnerable individuals yearning for change or connection, may accept the process and outcome much more readily. I now live in Vancouver though I visit Calgary fairly regularly to see family and friends. I hope you get a chance to see the film.

  13. Avatar
    janmaru  July 6, 2020

    This docufilm isn’t available in my location on Amazon Prime. Guess I have to wait or look around.

    But the argument is compelling.

    I am just curious, browsing the reviews and the trailer, to know what is the criterion for choosing the cast. I read about your personal experience, nonetheless, an argument so important requires some selection.

    There are so many historians, like Richard Carrier who had a wow and Dao experience while in the United States Coast Guard, willing to explore their vulnerabilities.

    There are so many fashionable places where Catholics stroll with nature, like in Medjugorje.

    There are so many times, in the late ’70s and ’80s, in India, were participants in “Encounter and Primal Therapy” would end up physically hurt.

    There are so many terms like “mind control”, widely in use today, that doesn’t seem to have any meaning.

    There are so many streams of thoughts nobody has been able to control them.

    And there are so many gospels where nobody really is in control.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      Thanks for the comment. The film is available in the UK and USA on Amazon and AppleTV and will be available everywhere else via Vimeo in the next week or two. The selection of interviewees was based on my research for the last 4 or 5 years but also includes my mother and a Presbyterian pastor (a true believer) with a PhD who wrote a book on the Cursillo movement. With regard to coercion, persuasion and mind control, I learned through the interviewing process how easily ordinary people can be easily manipulated psychologically, using emotional exploitation, it’s very powerful and it was quite a revelation to me. Dacher Keltner’s research work on the awe experience was particularly inspiring and Anil Seth’s ability to decipher the complexities and mysteries of consciousness are fascinating. I hope you get a chance to see the film.

  14. Avatar
    Matt2239  July 6, 2020

    Why is it that all the errors and wrongness identified in religions should cause anyone to embrace atheism? Atheism is the belief system that works for Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris. But their logic is faulty. Errors in religion could simply be like errors in science — those practicing haven’t found the truth yet, but are working on it. People reject religion for any number of ridiculous reasons, and yet they accept science even when it fails again and again and again.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 8, 2020

      That is an interesting perspective. I see it quite differently. Science embraces mistakes and constantly asks questions. I don’t think religious dogma is quite the same. In Science, facts are only facts until they are disproved. Most beliefs in religion can’t be falsified and are accepted despite the evidence against it. There are countless examples of this like miracles, resurrection, creation, floods, virgin births etc. Science also freely admits when it doesn’t fully understand something such as the origin of life or the universe or quantum mechanics and many other mysteries. Religion seemingly provides an answer to just about everything, even if it is unsatisfactory, like creation, everlasting life, spirits or souls, heaven and hell to name just a few. Also to be clear, Dennett, Harris and Dawkins have all said numerous times they are more than willing to be proven wrong about the existence of God – there just isn’t any reliable evidence at all, so I’m not sure where their logic is faulty. Thanks for the comment.

    • Avatar
      JakSiemasz  July 12, 2020

      Atheism in NOT a belief system. It is lack of belief in any god(s). This is a thinking error common to theists.

      • Avatar
        patrickpayne  July 12, 2020

        Yes, good point. I’ve heard people use the phrase, “We don’t have a category of people who don’t play golf. They’re not known as ‘non-golfers.'”

    • Avatar
      Geogray21  July 16, 2020

      To your first question: if you find errors in your belief systems, you either find a way to rationalize them away or you reject some or all of the belief system. Are you a conventional Christian? If so, why are you not a Muslim or a Mormon? If you’ve looked at those religions, you’ve likely found them unconvincing. (Or maybe you’ve never considered other religions.) most atheists just don’t find any of them convincing. As already pointed out, atheism is a LACK of belief. The more general position is: I withhold belief until I’m presented with good evidence.

      To your last point, we accept the claims of science because they work! I don’t know what you’re referring to when you say science “fails again and again.” Science is responsible for virtually all of our modern progress, from life-saving medical treatments to the methods we’re using to have this conversation. If science “fails” (like the claim of cold fusion made decades ago), then it tends to self correct (no one could reproduce the cold fusion claims, so they were discarded; same goes for the claim of a link between vaccines and autism.)

  15. Robert
    Robert  July 6, 2020

    Sorry to hear about your friend Ben’s suicide.

    I also went on a Cursillo-based retreat when I was a senior in high school. It was called TEC: Teens Encounter Christ. I’m thankful that is was not anything like what you experienced. An unconsciously and unintentionally manipulative group experience, absolutely, but not at all evangelical, and no obnoxious peer-evangelization. I was already an atheist at the time, and I actually liked it, enjoyed debating with the kind old priest who was not afraid to counter my challenges, and I learned a lot and gained a new-found respect for the sincere beliefs of the ‘Teckies’ I had previously ridiculed at high school lunch-time debate sessions. I think it was basically just an attempt to find some sense of community that was supportive of traditional beliefs and I subsequently enjoyed being welcomed into this community and grew as a person because of it.

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 7, 2020

      Community is perhaps the most important benefit of organized religions. Humans need companionship and community.

      When it comes to teens I think the program is particularly insidious since young people are often emotionally vulnerable and longing for acceptance and connection. If the experience is mentally destabilizing enduring damage can be inflicted. I am sure lasting friendships and strong relationships are also nurtured within these communities so it can’t all be painted with one brush.

      • Robert
        Robert  July 10, 2020

        “When it comes to teens I think the program is particularly insidious since young people are often emotionally vulnerable and longing for acceptance and connection. If the experience is mentally destabilizing enduring damage can be inflicted. I am sure lasting friendships and strong relationships are also nurtured within these communities so it can’t all be painted with one brush.”

        So much depends on parents and teachers to protect young people and encourage open-minded pursuit of knowledge. I did not fully realize it at the time, but I was lucky to have attended a very advanced, progressive high school. The chaplain was a German bible scholar and one of the religion teachers introduced us to meditation, Zen Buddhism, and encouraged us to enthusiastically read anything we wanted, eg, Teilhard de Chardin, Sufi Hindu stuff, Voltaire, etc. It’s part of the reason why I became agnostic (part-time atheist), but it also engendered in me a healthy respect for sincere and open-minded religious people.

  16. Avatar
    Clair  July 6, 2020

    I see it a bit different. I went to Catholic school for 8 years, before Vatican II. The first 6 at a French school that if you asked the nuns if your friends who went to St Patrick’s were Catholic, they would say sort of but the French Church is the only proper one. Things were cut and dry regarding dogma, ritual and of course Canon Law. Who needs a Bible when all the good stuff is in the Missal? Then came Vatican II tossing out all sorts of things and promoting self exploration and such. It was, I thought, Protestant Light! It did not matter, as by that time, I had lost belief in most of the Nicean Creed and the Office of the Holy Inquisition had been disbanded!

    • Avatar
      patrickpayne  July 7, 2020

      I think I know what you mean. I was an altar boy who could recite the entire mass in Latin. By the mid seventies we were all gathered in a circle singing folk songs and Kumbaya. Things changed very quickly.

  17. Tuskensp
    Tuskensp  July 7, 2020

    Thank you for making this beautiful documentary. I loved it, and I left a 5 star review on Amazon prime. The film doesn’t prove God doesn’t exist, but it does a great job of showing how well intentioned people can manufacture “spiritual” experiences, thus pulling back the proverbial curtain a little further. I didn’t experience the Search weekend retreat, but I had similar experiences growing up going to Christian camps, and the “religious experiences” I had played a major role in my belief in Jesus and God. Thanks to books, films, and youtube videos by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and especially Bart, I was able to give up my christian beliefs about 15 years ago and have been an agnostic atheist ever since. Is there anything you learned in making this film that you would recommend as the best way to prevent more people from being manipulated into believing in god from these “manufactured” experiences? I have a four year old daughter – Is there evidence for the best way to inoculate her against this type of manipulation?

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      patrickpayne  July 7, 2020

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I think the only way to prevent people from being manipulated by these types of events is to shed light on them publicly and get people talking about their “spiritual experiences.” I’m am quite certain people will have a wide range of responses to these techniques. Some will say they are harmless and even helpful to people, some may believe the experience truly is in fact an encounter with the Holy Spirit, while others will see it, as I did, as coercive and psychologically reckless.

      When it comes to children I think Richard Dawkins said it best. “Teach children “how” to think not “what” to think. Let them ask questions and don’t be afraid to say “We don’t know, maybe you’ll find the answer someday…” As well, I don’t think children should be sheltered from different philosophies and ideologies. Open minded conversations should be encouraged and supported. Usually they are quite receptive and non-judgemental in general. And of course children are the future and I think we have an obligation to ensure they have the opportunity to explore and enjoy all the possibilities and opportunities life presents! Thanks again.

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    Bujin  July 7, 2020

    Mr. Payne,
    As a former Christian who attended more than one of these Christian retreats as a child and came away with these exact emotions you described here, I cannot wait to watch this documentary! These retreats were intense and had a huge impact on my conversion to Christianity when I was younger. Thank you for tackling this issue. I will be sure to watch the documentary in the very near future.

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      patrickpayne  July 7, 2020

      Thank you and please send me your comments after you watch it. It took me quite some time to process the experience and I often wonder how certain people fare that may not have the emotional or psychological wherewithal to resist the techniques employed on these retreats. I’ll be interested to see how your retreat experiences compare to mine.

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    rivercrowman  July 7, 2020

    Patrick, I’ve watched it more than once now. Educational and very-well produced. No questions!

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      patrickpayne  July 7, 2020

      Thank you very much! It was very a very interesting project and I was lucky to have such great interviewees like Bart! Cheers.

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    stokerslodge  July 8, 2020

    I watched some of this documentary last night, about 20 minutes remaining. I came away with the impression that it’s unbalanced and one sided. It seems that no one was invited to speak on behalf of the ‘suspects’, they were painted as villains throughout. Also, if you’re going to portray believers as delusional you should at least give them the opportunity to explain and express their reasons for believing whatever it is they believe.

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