Marjoe, the Atheist Revival Preacher

by Luke Muehlhauser on January 17, 2009 in General Atheism,Video

The 1972 Oscar winner for best documentary, Marjoe (watch above, download here, or buy the dvd) tells the story of Marjoe Gortner, a successful revival preacher who admitted he was an atheist, and held revival meetings for the money and attention.1

Marjoe performed a wedding ceremony at age 4, his parents claiming he was the world’s youngest ordained minister.2 They taught young Marjoe how to mimic the voice and theatrics of revivalist preachers, then took him on the road to hold tent revival meetings. They also taught him money-making tactics, for example how to sell “holy” articles of healing.

The family took in about 3 million dollars during Marjoe’s teenage years, but then his father disappeared with the money. Marjoe moved in with an older woman and became a hippie. Later, pressed for cash, he decided to make use of his old skills, and re-emerged as a revivalist with a charismatic stage show modeled after rockers like Mick Jagger.

Stricken by conscience, he had a camera crew follow him on his last revival tour and filmed the behind-the-scenes business of revival preaching. When the tour was over, he came out as an atheist and released the documentary.

Today, Marjoe (age 65) works as a public speaker.

I often wonder how many revival preachers and faith healers are faking the whole thing. Some are probably genuine, and think they are actually hearing God’s voice and healing the sick. Others have been exposed, and it’s clear they know they are just swindling people.

Also see the interview with Marjoe at Positive Atheism, and Robert Price‘s article on Marjoe.

  1. Marjoe reminds me a bit of Jean Meslier. []
  2. This short bio summarizes Marjoe’s Wikipedia article. []

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