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.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

T J S George: How to abuse God with lies and boasts

Sunday January 16 2005 00:00 IST

Amillion people, or is it three million, are heading towards Bangalore. Even the sprawling Palace Grounds are not vast enough for them, so the airfield at Jakkur has been taken over. The occasion? A ‘‘pray for India’’ meeting by the world’s most successful Christian evangelist-preacher-converter-healer-miracleman, Benny Hinn.

Unfortunately, he is also the world’s most dubious trader in religion. Unknown to his Indian followers, a considerable volume of literature exists on him, from books like The Confusing World of Benny Hinn to videos like ‘The Many Faces of Benny Hinn’. What they paint is not a pretty picture.

Apparently the man is an Arab-Israeli who became a Canadian and then an American. A list of ‘‘lies and exaggerations’’ by him has been chronicled. He said, for example, that he was born with a bad stutter but God cured him so that he could do God’s work. Research showed that he never suffered from stammering. He said his father was the mayor of Jaffa in Israel. Records showed that he was a clerk in an Arab labour office. He says Jesus visits him in person and that the Holy Spirit often has one-to-one dialogue with him.

He also holds some interesting views. He once said ‘‘God originally designed women to give birth out of their sides.’’ When challenged, he denied having said this. But there was a tape that disproved his denial. His organisation’s former security director is fighting a court case against him. Hinn’s own lawyers say that if the director reveals the financial secrets he knows, it could lead to the organisation losing 90 percent of its support.

The evangelist gets away with things in countries like India because he promises instant cure for everything from cancer to paralysis. His hi-tech stage shows are replete with miracles. He touches a sick devotee who then falls to the ground in a trance shaking – and gets up cured. He blows into the microphone and the Holy Spirit is dispensed into the listeners. It’s commercialised theatrics at its best. This is the magician who will now ‘‘pray for India.’’

He is not alone. In the thick of the tsunami relief work, an Andhra American, K.A. Paul, landed in Cuddalore. One of the richest evangelists in the world today, this one lacked the sophistication of Benny Hinn, but not the swagger. He had arrived in his custom-built Boeing 747 and proudly informed a News Today reporter that only George Bush had a similar aircraft.

He had other things that George Bush didn’t have. He said he had the ‘‘world’s largest’’ orphanage in Hyderabad and would accommodate 5000 children from the tsunami coasts. He said he had Rs 4000 crores at his disposal. He regretted that he had to go and call on Jayalalithaa instead of Jayalalithaa calling on him. Surrounded by bodyguards, beauty queens and American TV crews, the boastful Paul told the hapless survivors that they were alive because of Jesus Christ.

Poor J.C. He never boasted and he only had a mule for transport. With airborne pretenders as friends, Jesus Christ needs no enemies. The Pauls and the Hinns abuse and bring discredit to their God.

America provides them the financial means to exploit the desperation of the sick and the hopeless. Are there no legal devices that can protect us from their trickery? Let us indeed pray for India: ‘‘Father, do not forgive them, for they know damn well what they are doing.’

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