An evangelical group called the Dead Raising Team (DRT) wants to resurrect your dead. They claim responsibility for 11 successful resurrections through the power of prayer. Their group showed up in a recent BBC story, which triggered some interest in a documentary about the group, called Deadraiser, directed by someone named Johnny Clark. Curiously, they've received no attention from the medical community, who would probably want to know if this strategy was working.
Still, they certainly want publicity, and their movement seems to have growth in mind. They're hoping to train new agents in the art of dead-raising at one of their seminars throughout the US.
The group is run by a guy named Tyler Johnson, who believes that Matthew 10:8 – "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons" – amounts to a "Christian job description" and should be taken literally. If you actually read Matthew 10, it's about Jesus empowering the 12 Apostles, and only the 12 Apostles, to perform these tasks. He also orders them to walk around Judea couch-surfing, and tells them not to bring money or clean clothes with them. The Dead Raising Team brings luggage and travels on planes.
It looks to me as if these guys have been idolising Zak Bagans and want to put a Christian spin on his spiky-haired-idiots-go-to-a-spooky-place-and-drink-a-lot-of-energy-drinks formula, but I don't really claim to know what's going on in these guys' heads. The "About Us" section on their site lists the following under "What we do":
Love Jesus, raise the dead, speak at churches and conferences, spread revelation of God's love and goodness, heal the sick, play with our children, enjoy marriage, write books, start other DRTs, love the poor and light fire in the nations.
I assume "enjoy marriage" is a Christian euphemism for "have sex", but the list stops short of including their turn-ons and turn-offs. That's too bad. I was wondering what gets a necromancer's motor running.
But the proof is in the pudding. If you're raising corpses from the dead by closing your eyes and concentrating really hard, you pretty clearly have some kind of wizard powers, and I have no business questioning your theology – or your lifestyle. Who are these 11 people who have been resurrected by the DRT?
The trailer offers some clues. Eight of those resurrections were apparently carried out by an EMT. A news story on a militant atheist site called Freethinker says a heart-attack victim was "resurrected" through the power of prayer and a set of defibrillator paddles. In short, it sounds like the trademarked prayers of the DRT operate at peak efficiency when combined with modern medicine.
From my uninformed point of view, this seemed like a novel approach among faith healers and TV preachers, so I asked Samantha Carrick, a PhD candidate at the University of Southern California who focuses on "bodies stuck between sleeping and waking", if this sort of thing was new. "I'm going to say it's been around forever," she said bluntly, pointing me to the work of some other academics who work in this field.
Carrick led me to philosophy professor Christopher M Moreman of Cal State East Bay, the author of Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions. When I spoke to him, he was really only surprised by one of the DRT's claims, and it involved theology. "I noticed in the trailer that one of the guys said he’d seen three versions of the Bible that completely removed raising the dead. I have no idea what kind of Bibles those would be.”
Christopher suggested that this is some old-time religion, and not just Western religion either. "There are examples of people having similar kinds of experiences in Buddhist texts," he said. "But to call it resurrection, that part seems a bit weird. Calling it resurrection is kind of a Judeo-Christian and Islamic thing."
He said the DRT's approach is flavoured by the way death is treated by contemporary media. ABC's new show Resurrection suggests that cheating death is gaining popularity as a pop-culture motif, but it goes back a couple of decades.
He referred me to the later work of George Romero, the inventor of the zombie film genre. "George Romero has a sub-genre in which the zombie is gaining intelligence and is an underclass of people," he says. There's also Warm Bodies, a film that seems intended for people who identify with the zombies themselves. "It's as if what people want is to just not die," Moreman said, "without the mindless part or the cannibalistic part."
As for the Dead Raising Team's technique, I was reminded of those hangover cures that work because the instructions on the pill containers say to take them with no less than 12 ounces of water. Dr Moreman was reminded of something else. "There was a movie that came out a few years ago with Nicolas Cage called Bringing Out the Dead," he said. "There’s a scene in which [a paramedic played by] Ving Rhames knows the guy is gonna be OK, and he gets everybody to pray around the body, and the guy wakes up and everybody thinks it was a miracle. It reminded me of that."