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We're off to see the Benny, The wonderful Benny of God

(Subtitle: No room at the 'inn)

The Sydney Entertainment Centre can hold 12,500 people when the seating is configured for the maximum capacity. On 7 June, 2002, more than that number turned up to see faith healer Benny Hinn do his act of curing people of many illnesses through the power of Jesus. A team of observers from the RatbagsDotCom Empire and the Australian Skeptics went along to see the magical Benny but, alas, we got there too late and were left standing outside with the many hundreds of other people who had also not bothered to start queuing ten hours before the show started. Buses emblazoned with the names of Christian congregations from various parts of Sydney arrived, only to have the occupants be told that they could hit the freeway again because there was no room for them. People in wheelchairs moved through the crowd, and people stared at closed doors and security guards. There was a pall of disappointment that was almost palpable. Inside, the buckets were passed around to collect the tax-free cash.

We asked some of the waiting people about their disappointment and their expectations had they been able to get into the building. What we heard was depressing and bewildering. Some of the ones in the wheelchairs had expected to walk home. Some with diseases and ailments had expected relief. Some had brought written prayers from members of their families. All had expected that this slimy charlatan would perform miracles. Inside, the buckets were passed around to collect the tax-free cash. As we moved through the crowd, Hinn's henchmen followed, asking people what we had spoken to them about. We were told to get off the private property (it was a public footpath). Earlier in the day, a crew from a television current affairs program had fared even worse and were ordered to stop speaking to people waiting in line to get into the building. It seems that Hinn doesn't want any publicity unless he controls it. The fact that bookings could not be made for the show suggests that Hinn is just as shy about accounting for the tax-free cash that he steals from the gullible and desperate.

Another Benny – a much more entertaining one.It did not seem possible that all of the thousands crammed into the building could be there to be cured of something and we were pretty sure that all of the skeptics were outside in Harbour Street, so we wondered about the motivation of the other people who had come to see Hinn. We received a clue when we fell into conversation with a young lady in a bar across the street from the venue. This girl (who was about 18 or 19) had travelled about 100 kilometres to not get in to the Hinn show, and she invited herself to our table knowing who we were. She expressed a theology and knowledge of Christianity which were so confused and incoherent that it seemed that she was totally detached from reality and had never absorbed even the rudiments of the teachings of any mainstream Christian church. It was quite unnerving to sit next to an extremely attractive girl who just talked nonsense. I spoke to her mother at another table and she seemed to be a normal church-goer. I got the impression she was only there because her daughter wanted her to come, so I guess that the silliness was not hereditary. I realise that a sample of one cannot be representative of much, but there is certainly the possibility that Hinn and his like attract people who are desperately seeking some sort of meaningful religious experience, as well as those who are desperately seeking relief from illness. To Hinn they would all be the same, anyway, as long as they have money to put in the plastic buckets.

I should make it clear that I do not object to Hinn on any religious grounds. I have no idea what his theology is or what he preaches beyond a banal, infantile reading of the Bible. In fact there was a gospel revival meeting at the nearby Sydney Town Hall on the same night and what was going on there was of no concern to me. What I object to about Hinn is that he is exploiting people's hopes and fears for nothing beyond his own financial gain. He does no missionary or outreach work, he funds no shelters for the homeless, the indigent, for orphans or abused women. He simply takes money and keeps it.

The Sydney Entertainment Centre is in the city's Chinatown district. Within that area it is easy to find prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers, fantan and other illegal gambling games, and producers of pornography. The difference between these criminals and Hinn is that they at least provide some value for money. Hinn just takes and in return offers lies, false hope and (if the stories about people throwing insulin and other drugs onto the stage at his shows are true) potential death.

See more about Benny Hinn here.

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