Thinking Out Loud

June 8, 2020

Hillsong Church: Hypnotizing People into the Kingdom

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am


Brian and Bobbie Houston in Los Angeles Sunday, reporting back to the mother ship in Sydney.

For all the influence that Hillsong has had on worship music — think of Shout to the Lord, Cornerstone, Touching Heaven Changing Earth, Mighty to Save, etc. — I realized a few weeks ago that in all my online travels, I had never watched one of their church services.

This dawning came courtesy of YouTube which put one of their live services into my suggested videos on a Saturday night. Australia is half a day ahead of us, so our Saturday night is their Sunday morning.

I was joining the service late, but got to hear Pastor Brian Houston preach. My wife, who was sitting next to me doing some work at her own computer was finding it to be ‘sermon lite.’ But I kept listening and was impressed with the remarkable number of scripture citations and allusions contained in the message. Here was a man seemingly less consumed with the mechanics of creating an impressive sermon and seemingly more concerned with reflecting the heart of a pastor.

I vowed to catch the thing again, but kept hitting roadblocks. Unlike the usual YouTube live links which then revert to on-demand status, Hillsong’s links kept disappearing. I went to the church’s website a few weeks later thinking I could short-circuit the process that way. I had missed the start of one service, but if I waited could catch one for another campus the next hour.

Well, sort of an hour. Some Australian time zones are apparently 90 minutes apart. I guess you need to be an insider to know how their various live streams function.

And then there was these attempts to use links that had been live just hours earlier:

I posted this to Twitter and noted that this like being invited to a party, only to arrive and find out your name’s not on the guest list. That feeling of being turned away. And how can a church service be private? Is this a way to silence your detractors?

I want to say that I’m not your stereotypical Hillsong critic. I have no reason to be. But overall, I’m not sure that my admittedly subjective online experience in any way enhanced my perception of the church.

Which brings us to hypnotism.

I noticed that throughout the entire Hillsong church service, there is a keyboard bed playing in the background. Announcements, prayer time, sermon. It reminded me of every science fiction movie I’ve ever seen.

Actually it reminded me of a trip we once took to a casino. I’ve appended that article below, which first appeared here in 2011.

The last service I caught, which was this weekend, as a musician I noticed something about the background keyboard.

It was a loop. A very, very short loop. A 4-bar loop. Repeating over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. No room for silence.

Once I realized this, my brain could not stop processing it. There was a guest reporting on the history of Australia’s dealings with its indigenous people, and how that relationship compares to other countries in the British Commonwealth, and I really wanted to hear what he was saying, but it was getting harder and harder to focus on his words.

Actually the whole earlier part of the service, with its concessions to Black Lives Matter events of the week — more focused since Brian and Bobbie Houston were actually in California, throwing back and forth to another pair down under — seemed artificial, forced, contrived.  It’s not up to me to judge whether or not it was, I’m just saying that with the particular droning in the background, that was how my ears processed it. I was becoming unnecessarily skeptical and started thinking the indigenous expert was just a token plant to appease that part of their audience.

I realized I was starting to go insane. Four bars, over and over.

So I did something I truly did not want to do: I stopped the live feed video and turned off my computer.

I could have had a completely different reaction. I could have just allowed my brain to be lulled into anything they were offering; to effectively be hypnotized into the kingdom.

I wonder how often that happens.


We dropped by one of our local casinos, mostly to see what the restaurant was like.  No money changed hands.  I’m always struck by the blinking lights that lure in the customers, but it was something on the auditory side of things that struck my wife. I’ll let her describe it:

The room was huge, I don’t know how many square feet, but we figured that it contained 6 or 7 hundred machines. Just a few green baize tables in the centre, surrounded by slanted rows of blinking, shining machines.  Each one a variation on slots, with different colour schemes, different images, but the same configuration.

The volume of sound, the pleasant sounds generated by the machines – of dinging and pinging and chirping and ringing – in the casino seemed almost deliberately modulated. Just loud enough to be engaging, but not loud enough to distract or interfere with conversation.

But the further we went into the room, the more it became apparent that every one of those 6 or 7 hundred machines was pinging and dinging in the same key. The same musical key. No discord, no clash, no change as you walked through. Exactly the same. It surrounded us like a warm pool. You could hum along with it.

And the more you listened – the more you swam through it – the more you became aware that most of the pinging and ringing and chiming was the same note. An octave or two apart, but the same sound, the same tone over and over and over, following you through, or propelling you. At just the right volume, with no irritating edges. Soft, round, mellow.

Hypnotic? Maybe. Deliberate? No doubt.


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