01 March 2007

The Incomprehensible Phenomenon of T.V. Faith Healers

I have long been flabbergasted by the phenomenon of T.V. preachers and "faith healers." In particular, Peter Popoff (official site), "Bishop" Jordan (official site), and Benny Hinn (official site).

It seems, and this is being generous, that such preachers are either, a) Horribly ignorant of their faith and deeply unorthodox or, b) Straight-up frauds. Most people wouldn't even consider the first possibility. But it does seem that there is a disturbingly large amount of people who believe c) That these people are legitimate, sincere, genuine, and holy.

In 2004, Peter Popoff raked in over $16,000,000 (!). According to the L.A. Times Benny Hinn pulled in $89,000,000 (!!) in the 2002-03 period and at one "crusade," 1.2 million people were in attendance.

"Bishop" Jordan is one of the strangest personalities in the late-night preaching circus. He claims to be a "bishop," but is not ordained, and claims apostolic succession from St. Peter. He claims to be a prophet, as do Hinn and Popoff, but perhaps a different spelling would be more appropriate.

Clearly, people are listening and paying. Who in their right minds would do either such thing? One factor may be the growing number of self-professed Christians who desire a form of worship outside of the church "system." But, if I may be so bold, I think that perhaps the deciding factor is followers' stupidity. Even with the benefit of the doubt, it is difficult to come to any other conclusion than the patrons of such dubious characters are, at best, naive and, at worst, totally moronic.

So an interesting question stems from this conclusion: is it unethical for the frauds to defraud? Are such idiotic people worthy of protection? Is there such a thing as ethical fraud?

The whole phenomenon—from the preachers to the content of their messages to the faithful followers—defies comprehension. The predominant message of these "ministries" are best categorized under the Prosperity Gospel, or Word of Faith movement (the same rubric under which we find such illustrious characters as Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Kenneth Copeland, and Creflo Dollar).

Scriptural support is sketchy at best, and much time is spent hawking things like "Prayer Handkerchiefs" and "Miracle Spring Water." These folks at the pulpit ooze a seedy aura so thick as to cause credulity-asphyxia. Why on earth?

From a business standpoint, the venture into preaching the Prosperity Gospel is mighty tempting: you have millions of suckers, low investment capital, no need for any real theological aptitude, and charisma is only an added benefit—some of the late night characters are as engaging as a small town City Council meeting. Mighty tempting indeed.

(It should also be noted that there seems to be only one Catholic "faith healer," the apparently valid Reverend Father Ralph DiOrio, who is decidedly less crass and tacky than his Protestant counterparts. But still, Ralph, for shame!)

UPDATE: Relevant book.

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