The curious case of the holy laughter

Recently, I wrote about how I faked speaking in tongues when I was a member of a Pentecostal church, and how that experience led me to question my faith, and ultimately led me to reject religion altogether. But that wasn’t an overnight event. It took me quite some time to even arrive at the conclusion that everyone who claimed to be “spirit filled” was as big a fraud as I was. For months after, I assumed that something was wrong with me, that my walk with god was in some way so flawed that he would not give me the gift I craved so much. In fact, I attended that church for a few months after my faked spirit baptism, until I witnessed something that made the pieces start to fall into place: holy laughter.

Holy laughter is a phenomenon in which someone laughs spontaneously during church meetings, often hysterically so. In this incident, a woman in the choir began not only to laugh hysterically, but convulsively, rocking back and forth. Mascara tears streamed down her face. She would double over at the waist, then suddenly straighten up like one of those drinking bird toys. It went on throughout the hymn, subsiding only when the pastor took the lectern for the first reading. Later, after the service, it was all anyone could talk about, how the holy spirit had come over this woman.

And I wondered, how could the holy spirit have come over this woman? She was one of the most petty, cruel, and self-centered people I’ve ever known. Yet she spoke in tongues frequently, had on more than one occasion been “slain in the spirit” during services, and now had drawn everyone’s attention with this so-called holy laughter.

She was a fraud. Everyone had to be aware of it. Everyone had to know what kind of person she was, yet she was up in front of the whole congregation, whooping and shouting. And no one said, “Excuse me, but that’s an act.”

It made me feel better about myself. I wasn’t the only fraud; I was merely the only one willing to admit it to himself.