The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Benny Hinn: A Massive Fraud & A Crook?

January 8, 2005, 12:13 am

By P.N.BENJAMIN

Author's Note: Newspapers in Bangalore have taken a policy decision that they will not publish any item critical of Benny Hinn's Festival of Blessings - PRAY FOR INDIA - crusade that will take place in the City from Jan 21-23. The reason: they don.t want to lose the income from the regular daily advertisements published regarding the event. Hence, understandably, the following article will not find a place in my weekly column in the local daily.



What the heck will the controversial American televangelist and faith-healer, Benny Hinn, be doing in Bangalore from Jan 21-23 during the ‘Festival of Blessings’ crusade allegedly organised to “Pray for India”? It’s weird.

Various investigative reporters around the world have debunked Benny Hinn as “ a dangerous fake. He is not a healer; he is an accomplished and wealthy entertainer who preys on the weaknesses, hopes, and superstitions of thousands of worshippers who all want a quick fix”. The colossal gullibility and stupidity of so many thousands of people to believe in the clever theatrical tricks being performed by Benny for the sick and dying is disturbing and saddening.

There’s a CBC documentary which tears apart him as “a massive fraud and a crook”. He runs a huge multi-million empire, taking money from poor susceptible people. He collects around 200 million US Dollars annually. Benny Hinn, undoubtedly, “is more a servant of Mammon than God.”

Benny Hinn’s meetings follow a strict pattern that’s calculated for maximum emotional impact, not so coincidentally, maximum offering collection. From the time the crowd enters the arena, they’re massaged with mood lighting, repetitive music, response chanting, group gestures, group singing, and various forms of choral and instrumental entertainment. Just before the show starts a lackey comes out to get the crowd excited. Then they dim the lights and show a video depicting all the great works Benny does around the world, spreading the Good News.

Then walks in Benny Hinn to center stage, in his ivory-colored suit, his diamond rings flashing, and silently raises his arms to the heavens. The entire crowd raises their arms, too. He strides about the stage invoking the miraculous. He claims his jacket is imbued with the Holy Spirit, and he regularly flicks it at his followers, many of who claim the act has rid them of life-threatening diseases.

He is a master crowd pleaser, alternating between hypnotically melodious whispers and fearful shouts about the dangers of sin and the flames of hell. The acoustics, Benny's accent, or a combination thereof often makes it difficult for the crowd to understand what he is saying. But that doesn't stop the crowd from periodically yelling "Hallelujah!” Many of them often standup and yell, "Praise Jesus!" Many shake their head ruefully and sanctimoniously when hearing Benny talk about the fires of hell.

Then the to-be-healed are brought up on stage. A Benny associate with microphone in hand will excitedly describe each person's condition. Usually it is some problem with walking, a bad back, or what not. Benny would walk over to the person and abruptly place his hand on their shoulder or neck. In response to his touch or gesture, the healed collapse, "slain in the spirit”, supposedly in some type of religiously ecstatic state of (un) consciousness. (However, it is said, one can notice that a few of those on the floor would look self-conscious enough to pull their shirts back down over their stomachs. If they were "slain in the spirit" would they really worry about a bare belly? ) After they are helped to their feet by the attendees, the "healed" would take a few steps around the stage.

Benny fancies and makes people fall down without even touching them. Well-trained men fall dramatically backwards on the stage as if shot. Benny makes some of his assistants fall down simultaneously. It is obvious that these men are acting and that this is a trick they perform at all the crusades.

Benny's healings, however, have the common characteristics of being internal, invisible, and unverifiable. All "healings" by Benny Hinn are temporary and brought on by emotions and wishful thinking. So, he doesn't make an amputee's arm grow back right there on stage. He doesn't he make a bald man grow hair. He cannot remove scars from a burn victim's face.

The doctrines Benny Hinn preaches, his misquotations and misinterpretations of the Bible, his false prophecies, his alleged visions of angels and contact with the dead, and his emphasis on the prosperity of the Gospel and physical healings are controversial and exaggerated. He has no church. He belongs to no denomination. He’s not even affiliated with any particular religion, although his buzzwords indicate he tends to dwell on the freaky backwoods fringe of Pentecostalism. As recently as three centuries ago, he probably would have been burned as a heretic! It may be recalled that last year, the Bombay Catholic Archbishop diocese distanced itself from the Hinn show because his teachings that leave much to be desired from the Catholic viewpoint and can easily mislead those who lack deep faith formation and are not conversant with Catholic ethos.

The organisers of Benny’s Bangalore ‘visit’ could have better spent all that money – running into crores of rupees- on tsunami relief.

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