I’m currently reading Breaking the Spell, a novel by Daniel Dennett about the scientific analysis of religion. I’m on the 6th chapter, and just came upon a line that read:
Every priest and minister, every imam and rabbi, every guru knows the same thing, and the same gradation from knowingess to innocence can be found today in the practices of revival preachers, as vividly revealed in Marjoe, the Oscar-winning 1972 documentary film that followed Marjoe Gortner, a charismatic young evangelical preacher who lost his faith but made a comeback as a preacher in order to reveal the tricks of the trade.
So I decided to look it up and found it on youtube (embedded below, divided in 10 parts).
I think it’s an interesting question as to whether Marjoe is a bad person for what he’s doing, which he himself admits – sort of (watch part 10 for that part).
For instance, is he not just providing a service to people, of being touched by the holy ghost, for a fee, a fee which they decide? It seems that way. Is it better for him to continue on, and not tell anyone? Or to reveal the fact that he’s been a fraud the entire time?
For me, I can see how the short term consequences are good. Some people don’t have much in their lives, and a preacher like Marjoe could really bring them excitement and hope and meaning and so on.
However, in the long term, perhaps there are other social events/organizations that could touch them in this way, and ones whose donations actually go to a good cause…
Dennett at one point asks (I’m paraphrasing): “Would it be better if he was only deceiving other evangelical preachers, who did believe and did their sermons?”, in which case the preachers and the people are both believers. Again, I think my response would be the same (and similar to what Dennett answers.)