BENNY HINN is a controversial figure in the West, and his critics come from within the categories of believers and rationalists. There are many Christian denominations that have differences with him over doctrinal interpretations - his claims of curing the sick, for example. The Trinity Foundation, a Christian watchdog group that monitors the working of televangelist ministries, is one of the many Christian organisations highly skeptical of his work and claims.
Born in Jeruselum and raised in Canada, Hinn became a preacher early in life. He practises what is called the Prosperity Gospel or the Word of Faith, which believes that faith is what propels an individual to health, wealth and other personal success. To become a follower the individual must "sow a seed of faith", or make a cash donation to the organisation. Although the Benny Hinn Ministries is not legally obliged to make public its finances, the revenues are believed to be in the region of $100 million a year.
Two notable media exposes of the Benny Hinn establishment, the first by NBC's Dateline programme in December 2002, and the other by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in November 2004, have shown Benny Hinn's claims of curing the sick and terminally ill to be false. The programmes also investigated the finances of the organisations and provided revealing information on his personal financial profligacy.
In Bangalore, an organiser from the Festival of Blessings told Frontline that a panel of eight reputed city doctors would verify each case of an individual being cured of an illness. This promise was soon retracted. There would be no medical verification, he said. Instead, the individual would be asked to sign an affidavit stating that he or she was free of an illness, after being miraculously healed by God through the intercession of Benny Hinn!
"Any religious preacher who makes use of hunger, illiteracy, the lack of medical facilities, or ignorance, as a means to influence people, is violating the fundamental principles inherent in the freedom of religion and conversion," Sanal Edamaruku of Rationalists International told Frontline. "Benny Hinn makes fake claims. People have been known to be taken from hospitals to his healing services. They have later died. Some people may survive after his `cure' for some time, but they too die later. With techniques of mass hypnosis, psychosomatic illnesses can certainly be cured by these people, but more effectively by psychiatrists".
The difference between a village quack and Hinn, says Edamaruku, is the latter's use of a "modern communication system and money". According to him, in a country like India, where medical and scientific illiteracy is rampant, costs of medical care for serious illnesses like cancer are high, and medical insurance coverage is inadequate, the "crime" of promising cures is doubly compounded.
In the absence, however, of genuine opposition to the Festival of Blessings, that targets unreason and blind faith, the promise of miracle cures will remain the big draw of the event. On this there appears to be little disagreement between the organisers of the festival and its Sangh Parivar detractors.