Supernatural Silliness: The Dangers of Holy Laughter

NM asks: “Can you tell me if the Toronto Blessing is from God, or is it a bad thing?”

The Toronto Blessing, aka Holy Laughter, is definitely a bad thing and you don’t want to be wherever it is manifesting (usually at charismatic prayer meetings). Although it usually begins as uncontrollable laughter among members of a group, it quickly ushers in other more bizarre behaviors such as orgasmic groaning, mock birthing complete with “coaches”, disrobing (called holy nakedness) and vomiting, to name a few.

Holy Laughter is a phenomenon that first manifested back in the 1850s during the Cain Ridge Revival where it was ultimately declared to be “mass hysteria.” It broke out again in the early 1900s in Pentecostal groups but was eventually cast out as a demonic influence. In the 1980’s, Jimmy Swaggart was in Argentina preaching to 80,000 people in a stadium when another outbreak occurred. The people who were affected by it were taken outside and delivered of unclean spirits after which time the phenomena disappeared.

It resurrected itself once again with a man named Rodney Howard-Browne, 51, a charismatic preacher from South Africa who says he received an anointing of holy laughter one night in 1979 after challenging God to “come down here and touch me or I will come up there and touch you.” He claims that his body suddenly felt like it was on fire and he began to laugh uncontrollably. Then he wept and began speaking in tongues. “I was plugged into heaven’s electrical supply,” he wrote in his book, The Touch of God.

The result was an overwhelming desire to plug others into this divine electric supply which he did for the next ten years, traveling around and eventually moving to the U.S. in 1987. While preaching in a church near Albany, New York, holy laughter broke out among the congregation. His reputation grew as did his popularity among those looking for a new spiritual high.

The so-called anointing made its way to Toronto when John and Carol Arnott, pastors of the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (now known as the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship) invited Randy Clark, a pastor from St. Louis, Missouri, to minister at their church in 1994. Clark, who had been influenced by Browne’s ministry, preached at the Airport church for several months where holy laughter began to manifest. News of the “new outpouring of the Holy Spirit” spread and hundreds of thousands of people have come from all over the world to experience it.

The problem with this “new outpouring” is that it isn’t very new at all. It has long been practiced by Islamic mystics, called dervishes, who would transfer it to their students by a touch or wave of the hand. The result would be uncontrolled laughter, weeping, convulsions, roaring, barking and hissing.

In the book, Kindred Spirit, we read about the so-called “Laughing Buddha” whose whole teaching was just laughter. “He would move from one place to another, from one marketplace to another. He would stand in the middle of the market and start laughing – that was his sermon. His laughter was catching, infectious, real laughter . . . the whole village would be overwhelmed with laughter . . .” (p. 44-45).

Browne’s contemporary version of this so-called supernatural silliness is being led by Pentecostal churches whose pastors claim they are trying to unite Christians – which is why the phenomenon has been seen in both Catholic and Protestant circles. Some of its leaders claim that it will be a trans-denominational movement that will bring us all back together.

It may sound good, but it isn’t. The fact this is not from the Holy Spirit is borne out in this  treatise on the subject of Holy Laughter by EWTN theologian Colin Donovan,

“Based on the principles of discernment enunciated earlier, it seems exceedingly unlikely that the Toronto Blessing is from God. Those who receive it exhibit both heterodoxy (false teaching) and bizarre behavior incompatible with the Holy Spirit. Some phenomena, such as uncontrollable laughter, could be the result of the human spirit and does not necessarily forebode demonic activity. The reports of bestial grunting and groaning, and rolling around on the floor, however, is worrisome, since the same reactions accompany authentic cases of possession, both in Scripture and in Church experience. They are not, however, unequivocally extraordinary since they are within our power. Of a more certain extraordinary character is the phenomenon called ‘holy glue.’ (A person becomes extremely heavy and others are unable to move them). This is a recognized mystical phenomenon called ‘extreme immobility’ and is the opposite of levitation. It is clearly beyond us; however, it is within the power of an angel . . . .” (i.e.,
a demon).

It’s is also problematic that the phenomena is being associated with a trans-denominational church.

As Donovan points out: ” . . . (I)f the Toronto Blessing is ordered to the building up of a trans-denominational church authority, as some of its leaders suggest, then it is incompatible with Catholic truth and unity. It already has begun to demonstrate this property by the divisions being created in parishes and the Church at large. Aside from the dangers associated with a false charism, the participation of Catholics in a movement with such a goal would certainly be a grave sin.”

This would not be the first time the faithful have been fooled by counterfeit signs and wonders, nor will it be the last.

My recommendation is to stay away from Holy Laughter, and any group where it might be manifesting.

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