Special to The Observer
Published: Thurday, April 12, 2001
This weekend there is an event in Charlotte that you really must be sure to miss. "Faith healer" Benny Hinn is bringing his circus to town. When I heard about his planned visit I was reminded of my "Pokemon mornings" last year. Let me explain.
As parents of nine-year old twins we were dragged into the craze that the nation's youth went through for these Nintendo-generated characters. I had set my personal VCR at work to tape the early morning show off Rock Hill's WFTV. Upon arrival at the office I would return the tuner to where it lives in support of my observational astronomy: the Weather Channel. Sometimes before doing so I would find that WFTV was showing the Benny Hinn show, a flashy preacher's performance in a fabulous, filled auditorium. Lots of people, lots of drama. Lots of bucks.
You would think that this sort of show would die out like most of the dying people who approached the stage for help. Their record of actual, proven healings is zero.
The story of faith healers has been well documented by a gentleman who began as a similar but more respectful illusionist: former magician James Randi. In his book, "Faith Healers," he outlines their typical methods and then discusses the life works of famous and infamous healers. The origin of healing is found in Christ's instructions to his disciples in Matthew 10:8, to "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils." The history of such attempts goes back at least to 1307 when King Philip the Fair of France was laying on hands, providing the "royal touch."
Healing really took off in the era of mass direct-mailings, radio, and television, and now, with Hinn, the Internet. Early pioneers in fleecing the gullible included A.A. Allen, Leroy Jenkins, W.V. Grant, and Peter Popoff. Names more familiar include Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson.
Popoff was the healer Randi exposed on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Randi, with the help of local skeptics, used a scanner to find the radio transmissions sent to the hidden earpiece worn by Popoff. The backstage crew would radio personal info on his "calling out" victims. On Carson's show they played a video clip of Popoff calling out for a particular individual, apparently guided by God, with the radio audio overlaid. Popoff's career then began a nosedive.
The Popoff story served as the basis for the 1992 movie, "Leap of Faith," starring Steve Martin as preacher Jonas Nightengale. The movie is pretty faithful to all of the worse aspects of Popoff and similar healers: cold-reading techniques, gathering information at the start of the show, and offering older but walking visitors a wheel chair that would be later cast aside. And, the cah-counting afterward.
Pokemon is history, now replaced with "Dragonball Z". And, Popoff is gone and now we have Benny Hinn. I contacted the James Randi Educational Foundation (www.randi.org) for Randi's take on Hinn. I asked the receptionist whether they knew anything about Hinn. "Oh, yeah", she chuckled, "we have a big file on him." Randi called me back to tell me a bit about Hinn, whose show he and fellow skeptics had infiltrated in Toronto.
Randi told me some sad stories, including one of a sick child who, after being kept away from the stage at eight previous shows, was carried forcefully to the stage by a desperate parent. Hinn quickly laid on the hands asking God to heal him immediately, or today. Or whenever. They were then quickly escorted out of the area by Hinn's large security force. The really sick were not allowed near the stage. And those that do get up front are "rehearsed" on how to fall back gracefully when "healed."
It is criminal that these kind of snake-oil shows are still legal, but the Constitution extends a long arm to religion and a thus a cloak to cover these related bogus operations. These shows give false hope to the unfortunate and divert money that could have gone to research that truly leads to healing, or to legitimate religious evangelical activities. The only one that wins is Hinn, with buckets of money they will collect--all untaxed, by the way.
So this weekend, skip the Hinn carnival and rent "Leap of Faith" for entertainment. Give the money you would have wasted on Hinn to your own church or donate it to the health research organization of your choice.
Don't make Good Friday good for Hinn's wallet. Let him experience
"Friday the thirteenth" instead, as his unlucky victims will.
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