Monday, March 3, 2008

Hinn the Hack

I was expecting a bit more from this article--when it discusses infiltrating a Benny Hinn show with plans to pop embarrassing questions ("Pastor Benny, is it true that the US Senate is investigating your finances?") to him during his "faith healing" routine, I was expecting something spectacular like James Randi's exposé of Peter Popoff. Well, they didn't actually get to embarrass Hinn with the question, but the article is still a good inside look at the methods Hinn uses to swindle gullible people and create the impression that he has divine powers.

There is nothing mysterious about how you earn $US200 million ($215 million) a year promising people prosperity, healing and eternal salvation. No one knows how to do it better than Pastor Benny Hinn. I was at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre last month and saw the Hinn machine in action - healing and sucking in the money.

I went with my friend Greg Toohey, who was in a wheelchair. There is nothing wrong with him - he wanted to get on the stage in front of 8000 people and pretend he was healed. The idea was to put a question to Hinn at the moment Toohey was meant to collapse under Hinn's touch, "slain in the spirit". This was the question: "Pastor Benny, is it true that the US Senate is investigating your finances?"


We arrived at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre two hours early. Already a press of people was streaming out of the car parks, many like Toohey in wheelchairs. The air buzzed with expectancy. Some walked past offering encouragements. An elderly woman put her hand on Toohey's shoulder and said: "I have faith that the Lord will be here for you tonight. Do you?" Toohey replied: "Yes I do."

We followed the signs to the "wheelchair entrance", which took us directly to the floor of the centre and our place with the sick, behind 15 rows for VIPs. Next to us was a young man with his profoundly retarded son of three or four years. His boy showed no reaction to the world around him. With infinite and loving patience this young father tended his son, rarely taking his eyes off him, adjusting his bed in the stroller, lifting and cuddling him, putting in a dummy, offering a bottle of juice. This was a life without respite for him.

Behind us a man struggled to assemble a camp bed. Since 2.30 that afternoon he had been working to get his friend to the centre. It was a painful sight. His friend in a wheelchair was desperately sick. He was dishevelled and dirty. He had on wide-legged shorts displaying pathetically thin legs. A colostomy bag balanced on his lap. An inflatable mattress was produced and after an agonising effort it was in place. He was laid on it and his friend tenderly put a pillow under his head and laid a coat over him. Within minutes he was asleep and didn't wake until it was time to go home.

Hinn brings a large group of operators with him, veterans of a hundred events like this. A Brisbane crowd of 8000 is small stuff. They have meetings of more than a million in Kenya, Latin America and Indonesia. A couple of men I recognised from Hinn's TV show cruised the rows of the sick like sharks, looking for prospects for healing. They were not interested in the profoundly ill. The man and his boy, the poor fellow asleep on his bed, were of no use to Pastor Benny.


Toohey struggled out of the chair and unsteadily took the handles at the back and began to move forward. I whispered: "We've got to get down the side to the front."

We found ourselves in a strange melee of people, a sad crowd urging towards the stage. If you made it, Hinn would slay you in the spirit: the final confirmation of divine intervention.

Toohey and I were stopped by a large Pacific Islander, who said kindly: "You need to stay back there." He was pointing to white tape on the floor. Why were we stopped when others were moving over? Then I overheard one of the Hinn veterans speak to another volunteer: "I told you. No one over here who is not 100 per cent healed. Don't just point … move them out."

I whispered to Toohey: "We've got to lose the chair." In a couple of minutes we were in with the 100 per centers.

The Hinn man grabbed Toohey and pulled him into the open. He put his arm behind him and pushed: "Come on brother, praise the Lord, come on." Toohey responded until he was almost running. The man stopped and put him at the front of the line. He directed a volunteer to get the wheelchair and park it at the bottom of the stage.


Over the next 15 minutes people struggled over the 100 per cent line and joined us along the wall. Suddenly, a huge black security guard came over and said: "You're up first." He looked at me: "You can go up with him."

We were herded to the stairs and started up. I looked at Toohey and something worried me. I grabbed him hard on the arm and whispered: "Don't you bloody fall over, Toohey."

We burst into the dazzling light and there was Pastor Benny. Up close he looked soft, almost feminine. His skin is smooth but flabby. His hands were small and the nails were highly manicured and polished. He walked towards Toohey and asked: "What has the Lord done for you?" Toohey began muttering about falling off a mountain again. Hinn looked annoyed: "What has happened?"

Toohey returned to his story about the mountain. I was muttering to myself: "The question, the bloody question." Hinn reached out and with thumb and first finger pushed on Toohey's neck. The minders behind him reached forward and pulled him back, and Toohey collapsed. Hinn moved up stage to reveal a more obvious miracle of healing. Toohey was dragged to his feet and we left the stage, collected the chair and returned silently to our seat.

So what happened? Hinn and his handlers are seasoned professionals at the miracle game. Toohey was too contained. They needed the trembling ecstasy of a person overwhelmed by spiritual power. So in a second they had him on his back.

In short, Hinn's faith healing is completely staged to provide the illusion of miracles. The people who are seriously ill are not picked at all. I would bet that when Hinn's handler asked Toohey "Do you feel anything?", that was the second stage in their selection. First was visual: determine who was clearly incapable of being part of their ruse, beyond Hinn's "miraculous powers", and pass them by. The people left, who looked like likely possibilities, were interviewed personally and tested to see if they already believed in Hinn's powers and were thus open to suggestion, and whether they could move under their own power already (even if only in a limited fashion) or not. Of course, I don't know that's how it works--it would've been nice if the author had noticed whether all the other people in wheelchairs were similarly approached by Hinn's helpers.

Finally, only the people who were "100 per cent healed" were allowed onto the carefully-arranged stage. Once there, instead of being knocked down by Hinn's magic powers, they were pulled down by the staffers behind him.

Praise the lord!

No comments: