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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Blaming the Victim

So I'm flipping through the TV channels this afternoon looking for a quick fix to veg to for a few minutes when I happened upon a documentary titled A Question of Miracles. It follows two faith healing evangelists (Benny Hinn and Reinhard Bonnke) on their "crusades" and then pretty much calls their bluff and explains away all the "miracles" performed by these two men of God as either fakes or just plain non-miracles (i.e. the "cured" still suffered from their afflictions after they had been "healed" or in the worst case, died shortly thereafter). Since I already knew that these guys are just scam artists preying off the pain, suffering and ignorance of their victims, I wasn't going to watch it, until I noticed that the Benny Hinn crusade they were going to examine was in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. So I just had to watch it.

This documentary was actually quite good. It took a scientific approach to answering questions about how large groups of people can be encouraged to behave in ways they would not normally behave (such as falling violently to the ground when Benny Hinn merely points to them). One of my favorite comparisons was to facism and Nazism in particular, such as how Hitler was able to get large groups of people to act out in ways they wouldn't normally be inclined to do. They even compared the Nazi salute of raising one arm up into the air with people at these crusades raising their arms up to God (as they were instructed to do over and over again).

But it was heartbreaking at the same time. Parents bringing their brain damaged children to be saved. Paraplegics in wheelchairs hoping to walk again. People shunning their medication and refusing to have operations because they believe they have been healed. And of course, the healing didn't begin until the collection plates had been passed. And they'll take cash, check or major credit card. The donation slips they hand out have suggested donation amounts, with the minumum being $500 and the maximum $10,000! The Rose Garden in Portland holds about 20,000 (and the place was packed). Assume the average donation was the minium $500. I'll let you do the math.

But I'm not going to write a review because you all know how it ends anyway. Instead, I want to concentrate on one particular family that was followed in the documentary. They had recently converted from Hinduism to Christianity and genuinely believed that Benny Hinn would cure their 10 year old boy from the two inoperable tumors in his brain. The doctors had given him only a short time to live, but they knew that with enough faith, God and Benny Hinn would cure their son.

Though they were struggling to make ends meet due to the amount of money it cost to care for their dying son, they were already on Hinn's $100/month donation plan. And at the crusade in Portland, they were so caught up in the moment that they decided to donate another $2000 there on the spot. Why they thought that giving $2000 to Benny Hinn would help cure their son, I don't know? Was God demanding some sort of monetary payment for his services? Sounds like blood money to me.

So they brought their son to this weekend long crusade with hopes that Benny Hinn would personally cure him. But as the crusade was winding down, Hinn had still not called out to their son. Amazingly, at the suggestion of the director of the documentary, on the last night, Hinn called the entire family up on stage. He spent minutes talking to the parents and praying for the boy and rallying the crowd. The emotions were overwhelming. And then at last, Hinn put his hands on the young boy's head and declared him healed.

And you all know how this one ends.

Nine months later and the boy is dead. The parents can barely speak, they are so overcome with grief after his death. They really believed that Benny Hinn (and God) were going to cure their son of his fatal brain tumors. So the family is out an extra $2000. Maybe they won't be so quick to throw it away as fast next time? And it's not like the boy had any alternatives. He was receiving medical treatment after all. The problem was, there was no cure. So if Benny Hinn could bring just a little hope and comfort to this family in the face of certain death, what's the harm?

One of the last questions the director asks the father after his son's death is whether he blames himself in anyway. And the father explains that his son was punished for his own sins earlier in life. He believes that he has cursed his family and that the curse may last for several more generations. This poor man believes that he is directly responsible for his son's brain tumors and may go to the grave believing that he basically killed his own son. And where did he get such a ridiculous idea? You guessed it, from Benny Hinn.

Bad things happen to good, innocent people. Yet this man will continue to suffer for the rest of his life believing that he has contributed to the death of his son. I guess there really is a Hell on earth, and religion is stoking the fires.


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