Friday, 18 June 2010

That's Me In The Spotlight

'You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you.
This is not the worst thing that can happen.'
Ah, religion. Well, this shouldn't cause any controversy or anything. But I'm not a complete idiot, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Behind my sarcastic-bastard atheism, I can still respect the idea. Religious faith is human nature; we need to be observed and judged on our actions, and it's easier and more believable to ascribe that to gods and prophets than it is to think of it as a kind of narcissism; the fundamental vanity of thinking that anything we do matters on any kind of a universal scale. And for all the dogma, intolerance and bigotry, it's still asking fundamental questions about the nature of life, the universe and everything, and the basic message of just about any religious doctrine you care to name is always some variation on 'be excellent to each other'. So, I can get behind that much at least. Faith, to me, embodies some of the best and worst facets of human nature. You don't need me to tell you about the bad parts. But it also gives people something to aspire to, an at least nominal drive to build a better world, and that's one of the noblest parts of humanity.

Or so plenty of people have asked themselves, over the years. It doesn't help that people on some level have a need for some kind of tangible authority, I think. For most people (i.e. non-schizophrenics), it's hard to get a direct message out of a god who doesn't show up. He nice, the Jesus, but if some visible dude in a funny hat gets up on a platform and starts talking at you, you're going to tend to listen to him instead. Which brings me to Benny Hinn.

Yes, this is a real thing.
Probably better not to ask.

If you don't know him, he's essentially a televangelist, who amongst other things, makes amusingly inaccurate predictions about the fate of the world:
Jesus is coming again within the next two years.
- Benny Hinn, 1997

Jesus Christ will appear with me on the platform...
- Benny Hinn, 2000
And does 'faith healing', via the unusual expedient of knocking people over and shouting at them in a weird, borderline-dadaist accent only found in Canadian-Israelis and Scottish drunks:

So he's a charlatan. A pretty talented one, I should say, with a knowledge of stagecraft and a very fine example of the ubiquitous white suit and pompadour look. And it's also quite funny to watch, in a horrific kind of way. These are adults, after all, and if they want to pay for the privilege of being pushed off their chair by a vituperative orange shyster in the name of Jesus, that's their own personal lunacy. But what shouldn't surprise anyone who's seen Jesus Camp, is that people bring their kids to these things. This verges from horrifically uncomfortable to bizarrely funny:

It gets even worse once you look at the numbers, and see that this guy's ministry takes in over $200 million a year. Which is a lot of money to push people over. I'd like to say that this is one of those uniquely American phenomenons, like spray-on cheese, but Hinn and people like him take their respective travelling circuses all over the world, and in particular have a huge audience in Africa. It's really not too hard to draw a line from this kind of con artist, through the evangelical movement and the activities of groups like the amazingly-sinister-sounding Family to a whole wave of Very Bad Things happening in Africa, in particular Uganda. Of course, other denominations are just as guilty of this (why would you trust a man who's taken a vow of celibacy to tell you about the morality of contraception?), but evangelical Protestantism is probably the worst offender in my mind. I'm sure it gives a lot of people solace, but when you're spewing bigotry, intolerance and lies to all four corners of the earth for money, you can't expect people not to call bullshit. Oh, and just in case I didn't have enough reason to be scornful, it turns out demons and witches make you cut yourself:

This is, needless to say, tremendously depressing. Not to mention taking advantage of deeply vulnerable people for financial gain. I get weirdly protective of self-harmers as a group sometimes, which is odd considering how free I feel to mock them at others. But to quote a very wise man, I'm the captain of this leaking, half-sunk failboat, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give this fucker a pass. Mental health care as it stands now is complicated, fuzzy, and sometimes outright useless. But a lot of the time, it actually works. And in the words of MC Hawking, what we need more of is science.


Anonymous said...

Aye aye, captain.

aethelreadtheunread said...

I was in the middle of writing a long, detailed reply to your post, but then i realised that even i thougt i was going on a bit, so i deleted it. In truncated form, however:

1) religion isn't about asking fundamental questions. Philosophers and scientists and other empirical people ask questions, religious people try to answer them with non-answers that only defer the question: "It all happens because of god, but we're not going to tell you how or why because that's a Sacred Mystery."

2) good theists acribe their better deeds to god, evil ones use god to justify their worst ones; good irreligious people ascribe their good deeds to something other than god, evil ones use something other than god to justify their worst ones. People who believe in god and people who don't are equally capable of behaving well or badly, so why not praise the good behaviour without getting caught up in whatever supernatural explanation people have for why they behaved well? If we want to build a better world we need to build a world, not churches.

Given this was the short version, i imagine you're quite glad i didn't subject you to the full one... ;o)