The master at work: Derren Brown converts a room full of atheists to believing in God

In my quest for a download of ‘The Devil’s Picturebook’ (Derren Brown’s training video for magicians), I came across ‘Messiah’. I didn’t see this program when it was originally aired, but Lucy being a big fan of Derren Brown prompted me to find some of his programs on YouTube.

Derren travels to the US, where at the time of making the program he was almost completely unknown, on a quest to convince ‘genuine’ alien abduction experts, a psychic, a Christian minister and other big players in the new-age industry, that he is a new face on the scene, set to take the world by storm with his incredible abilities to talk to the dead, catch dreams, convert people to Christianity with a single touch and is in great possession of many super-natural gifts.

The twist, in case you’re not familiar with the common tread throughout Derren’s work, is that apart from being one of the finest illusionists in the world, he is also completely open about the fact that everything he is doing is auto-suggestion and psychological manipulation. All that any of the so-called experts have to do, in order to have him explain this about himself, is ask him if it’s a trick.

EDIT: Since posting this to someone in the comments section there seems to have skipped immediately to one or two clips and failed to catch the actual point being made, so let me reiterate.

Derren does not use stooges. These people are simply being manipulated in exactly the same way all religions and cults, spirit healers and snake oil salesmen trick their audience into believing whatever they tell them to believe. That is the whole point of using people who are self-espoused atheists (in the conversion to God stunt). It was, I thought, obvious that the whole point of that particular illusion, was to say, “if you can do it to these people – you can do it to anyone”, but some people still seem to have managed to completely miss the point.

All I would say is watch that section again and you’ll realise he tells all of the people involved exactly what to do before they do it. They’re just so pre-programmed to take in the world around them in a particular way, he is able to slip in the back-door of their frontal lobe thinking and demonstrate exactly what all preachers, faith healers, psychics, mind readers and new age practitioners do all the time – often without admitting to themselves these are the techniques they use, or even might quite genuinely believe come from outside of the explainable – when they demonstrably do not.

12 comments on “The master at work: Derren Brown converts a room full of atheists to believing in God

  1. Okay, okay, okay… i know he’s doing these to make a point. It was humorous and clever with the psychic stuff, but at the religious section, I just… I got really mad. And angry. Like I wanted to punch him. More likely the anger is misdirected, like I wanted to punch the first 25 years of my life for being lied to, or punch the whole concept of religion, but when he took that red-headed girl and made her start thinking of her grandmother who had passed… that was personal. That girl could be me. Or when he TIMED catching the guy (after putting the notion into his head (i’ll catch you if you fall back), who had lost a 3 year old to leukemia… I was just mad. I hope to hell he told these people afterwards that it was a trick and this whole thing was an experiment. I’m sorry if that’s included in a later video, but I was so angry I couldn’t continue. . . .

  2. There is a caption at the end that he sets people straight about it being a trick. I feel a lot better knowing that. Otherwise I think I’d have to buy an airplane ticket and punch him in the mouth.

  3. I’m sad that you didn’t realise that the whole point of Derren’s act is to debunk people who play on people’s emotions and that he’s clearly touched a nerve with you. This is particularly a shame because I posted it thinking you would perhaps like him more than most.

    He is, essentially, agreeing with you entirely in the points you’ve made here, but also in private e-mails to me. He’s just doing it in a way which gives a practical demonstration to people on how easily religion and all circular thinking can work on anyone’s suggestibility – even people who are self-professed non-believers in “that sort of thing”.

    He’s showing up how easy it is, once you’re trained in certain cold reading and manipulation techniques, to get people to do anything you want them to do. He is an expert illusionist. He is known in magic and conjuring circles as the undisputed master of misdirection – and he never claims any of the things he does, as part of his act, are anything other than slight of hand and physiological manipulation.

    Everyone in his programs are always happy to sign off on their appearances once they’ve had it explained to them what has actually happened. The common theme through all of his work is “I used to be a born again Christian. I read some books. There is no such thing as the spirit world, God or the paranormal and I can prove it by showing how it’s done”

    Please, watch the whole program and familiarise yourself with his other works, which are out there on YouTube. I think you’d like him a lot. He has been a big influence on me and it never ceases to amaze me how, whenever I do something in my life which touches upon him or his work or even just his ideas, it always raises a response.

  4. Remember when we were walking to that crappy Christian hotel from my house, and I was telling you he manages to make Athiests believe in God just by making them fall over, and them thinking it was due to a “higher being”? I was on about this.

  5. Well, I watched the rest of the programme tonight. Watching Derren work made me realize he is really quite talented , and most of the charlatans are just cheap versions of him, that require props, plants, staging, music, group work before time. He is really a very good person in terms of character, for going on TV and showing how this is all a scam and asking people to THINK about stuff. I found the ‘be honest’ phrase was a great part of his… it was authoritative in a soft way, but encouraged you to discontinue analyzing — just go with your hyperactive, hyperaware ‘gut’ sensation right now.

    Really great stuff. Thank you for sharing. Sorry bout the whole knee jerk thing earlier — more me being angry at my religious brainwashing upbringing (and knowing my parents are so fully wiped they’ll never be recoverable).

    At least my babies will be born free.

  6. In many ways, he’s like James Randi. He demonstrates how easily people can kae the “mystical” experience and how faith “healer” and “psychics” are nothing more than charlatans preying upon the gullible.

  7. For those of you thinking this is debunks all paranormal experiences and christianity itself think again,, Derren brown actually does use actors and some have come forward, Part of his trick is acting like he is being honest about his dishonesty, in reality , He’s lying , the people used in this video could be actors as well, Read the article, You have been duped yourselves into throwing God out the window.

  8. Everything is very open with a very clear clarification of the issues.
    It was really informative. Your website is very helpful.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. To Jess, many years ago I was take in by a fundamentalist group of believers and they ( unknowingly use these technics to convert people instantly) they are the revival centres international,& revival fellowship in Australia , beware it’s happening now and they offer no choice or release , until people see shows like Derren Browns and get de programmed,

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