Friday, August 15, 2008

The demons of televangelism - Botswana Guardian

There’s an advertisement going around for a forthcoming “Leadership Life Development Convention”. This is being run by Bible Life Ministries, a local evangelical church and will be attended by “Bishop Dr” I.V. Hilliard. This gentleman is shown in the advertisement looking very serious as he rests his theological chin on his no-doubt very spiritual fingers.

My problem is that the so-called Dr Hilliard appears to break Harriman’s 1st Law of Evaluating Preachers. This says that you shouldn’t trust a preacher who drives a better car than you do or, in this case, a preacher who wears a more expensive watch than you do.

He also breaks Harriman’s Law of Doctorates. Anyone who claims to have a doctorate when in fact they bought it from a diploma mill is a fraud. Both Hilliard and his charming wife Bridgett have honorary doctorates from Friends International University. Not even the normal dodgy degrees purchased over the internet after submitting an essay, these guys got honorary degrees, presumably after dropping some cash?

I’ll put aside my personal beliefs for a while and will willingly acknowledge that certain religious groups do provide a real sense of community to their members, they provide moral guidance and a vision of hope. Frankly I don’t believe a word of it but each to his own I suppose.

My objection is to the flagrant abuse that televangelists get up to. Hilliard and his fellow ministers like Joyce Meyer (who also has a doctorate from an unaccredited university) and Benny Hinn, who is simply stealing money from his victims, are exploiting the gullible, the na├»ve and the sick. Benny Hinn is my “favourite” in that I find him particularly repulsive. A series of undercover operations have exposed the way in which his teams filter out the really sick from his televised miracle healing. His financial operations are notoriously secretive although he has recently been under very close review by the US Senate Finance Committee who wonder where all the money goes that he gets from his unsuspecting and hugely credulous viewers. His public appeal for donations towards his new $36 million personal private jet just seems to summarise his approach.

In my very brief research on Fake-Dr Hilliard I found an online invitation to his wife’s 50th birthday party in 2006. OK, you might think, how sweet of him to invite people to celebrate his beautiful wife’s birthday! But not so. Firstly you had to pay him $100 to attend and then you’re asked to bring her a present. There was even a list of gift ideas that included “Monetary gifts. Designer handbags: Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton. Gift Certificates: Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Escada”.

I confess I don’t know what half of those things are but the first one is just so blatant that it deserves repeating. “Monetary gifts”.

Roughly translated this means. “Pay me $100 to attend my wife’s no doubt spectacularly vulgar birthday party and bring along some cash to give her.”

As George Carlin once said about the typical evangelist’s message from God: “He loves you, and He needs money!”

This seems to be the basic message we get from the televangelists. The solution to the problems we face, whether it’s perceived family breakdown, HIV/AIDS, crime or old-fashioned social isolation, is to listen, switch off your critical faculties and to hand over the cash.