Pseudo-Secularism

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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Secular Superstition

By Balbir K. Punj, ‘The Asian Age’, January 31, 2005

“Should a state claiming to be "secular" extend a red carpet to a faith healer like Benny Hinn who uses his dubious expertise as an instrument for evangelization? Again why should Gladys Staines, widow of killed Australian missionary Graham Staines, receive the Padma Shri award this Republic Day? Her only claim to fame is that she is the widow of Graham Staines, who was brutally charred to death along with his two minor children in a remote village of Orissa's Mayurbhanj district in 1999. His gory end was a violent reaction to his fundamentalist religious policies practised on naïve tribesmen of Baripada as part of his evangelical drive.

Christian missionaries are also busy using the aftermath of the tsunami as an opportunity to evangelise distressed people and orphans. Evangelical channels in India like Miraclenet are openly calling for "Bringing Jesus Christ in the lives of tsunami survivors." In Samathapettai village of Tamil Nadu, near Madurai, the starving tsunami survivors were shocked when missionaries who had brought truckloads of food, clothes and medicines put a precondition before them: convert to Christianity. Have evangelising activities received a shot in the arm after the UPA government's ascent to power? No prizes for guessing why this might be so”, writes the author of this article.

In Congress' "Dharmakshetra" (the land of Dharam Singh!) Karnataka, it is "communal" to hoist the national tricolour on a public ground. Uma Bharti, the then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, had to quit and was incarcerated for this "crime." It is "secular," however, for the same Congress establishment to lend its political blessings to the "Festival of Blessings" by an American "miracle" evangelist. The regulations of Airports Authority of India were contumaciously flouted to turn Bangalore's Jakkur Airport, a defence facility, into a site of evangelical pageantry by Benny Hinn, a controversial faith-healer. Why should this former pastor of Orlando Christian Centre, whose ministry reportedly rakes over $100 million a year, which allows him to maintain a $3.5 million home, spend lavishly on airline fares and stay in $2,000 per night hotel rooms, be a "guest of honour" for the Congress government of Karnataka?

Again why should Gladys Staines, widow of killed Australian missionary Graham Staines, receive the Padma Shri award this Republic Day? Her only claim to fame is that she is the widow of Graham Staines, who was brutally charred to death along with his two minor children in a remote village of Orissa's Mayurbhanj district in 1999. His gory end was a violent reaction to his fundamentalist religious policies practised on naïve tribesmen of Baripada as part of his evangelical drive. If a gory death is the sole criterion, then the kith and kin of Godhra and Best Bakery case victims have an equal claim to such honour. The UPA has not merely honoured Gladys Staines (who decided to leave for Australia last year), it has, in fact, glorified evangelisation, with a purpose.

Christian missionaries are also busy using the aftermath of the tsunami as an opportunity to evangelise distressed people and orphans (vide Christians on mission to convert tsunami survivors in the Daily Telegraph, January 22). Evangelical channels in India like Miraclenet are openly calling for "Bringing Jesus Christ in the lives of tsunami survivors." In Samathapettai village of Tamil Nadu, near Madurai, the starving tsunami survivors were shocked when missionaries who had brought truckloads of food, clothes and medicines put a precondition before them: convert to Christianity.

Have evangelising activities received a shot in the arm after the UPA government's ascent to power? No prizes for guessing why this might be so. Personally, I have no qualms about "faith healing" or "miracle cure" per se. Every religion, to a lesser or greater degree, has such a tradition. Even non-believers occasionally acknowledge benefits of auto-suggestion, self-hypnosis, and mesmerism that prove the "mind over matter" concept. Should a state claiming to be "secular" extend a red carpet to a faith healer like Benny Hinn who uses his dubious expertise as an instrument for evangelisation?

Christ's healing miracles occupy an important place in the Gospels. Perhaps that's why miracle healings enjoy such reverence in Christianity. But Christians believe that everybody has a potential to heal oneself through one's faith: "But Jesus turned around, and when he saw her He said, 'Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.' And the woman was made well from that hour" (Matthew 9:22). Thus there is no place for a "professional" miracle healer in the name of Christ.

Benny Hinn's "miracle" was exposed even before he could start; 18 of his agents including 16 from Kodagu village, were arrested from Kanyakumari. They are healthy men who were to pretend as paralytic patients in his show, till Benny Hinn would "heal" them. This confirms that the real motive behind Benny Hinn's pageantry was evangelisation. But even this evangelisation is less spiritual and more earthly.

Did the Congress and other "secularists" promote Christianity by extending a red carpet to Benny Hinn? I doubt it. Noted journalist T.J.S. George calls Benny the most dubious trader in religion. George further informs: "He is not alone. In the thick of the tsunami relief work, an Andhra American, K.A. Paul, landed in Cuddalore. One of the richest evangelists in the world today, this one lacked the sophistication of Benny Hinn, but not the swagger. He had arrived in his custom-built Boeing 747 and proudly informed a News Today reporter that only George Bush had a similar aircraft … poor J.C. He never boasted and he only had a mule for transport. With airborne pretenders as friends, Jesus Christ needs no enemies. The Pauls and the Hinns abuse and bring discredit to their God" (How to abuse God with lies and boasts, New Sunday Express, January 16, 2005).

One wonders what the "rationalists" and leftists were doing when this state sponsored imported superstition jamboree was taking place. They raise hell every time someone seeks to promote the learning of Sanskrit, astrology and even yoga. Any mention of miracle cure by the likes of Satya Sai Baba is promptly challenged. Why are they silent now? In the Benny Hinn case, it is not Christianity versus the rest. It is a two-dimensional conflict of commercialisation of Jesus versus traditional Christianity. On the other hand, it is also a conflict between superstition and rationality. And when the state lends its support to a wholesale healing enterprise sans rationality, it is not an issue which involves just "secularism." The state, in this scenario, is seen abdicating its responsibility of promoting the cultivation of the scientific spirit, which the Constitution enjoins upon it. Ironically, all this happened in the IT capital of India, Bangalore, that Nehru used to call the "City of the Future."

Christ said, "And again, I say to you that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25). Christ lived and died in poverty, but Christian ministries are rich beyond imagination. This is a mafia in action under the guise of Christianity.

Christianity, as a stand-alone religion, has its own beauty and humanistic appeal. It is also an inseparable part of western identity. But evangelisation is an integral part of the Church. Missionaries trace their evangelical activities to a command of Jesus Christ: "Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). One third of humanity might have become Christian due to this tradition of evangelisation. But, ironically, it has encountered its biggest hurdle in Asia, the continent from where Christianity emanated before reaching Rome.

Not more than five per cent of this kaleidoscopic continent subscribe to Christianity. Rather, their population has steadily declined in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Turkey where Christians have been living since pre-Islamic times. The 1949 revolution in China shattered the American dream of a "Christian China." Asia today is the grand opportunity as well as extreme challenge for Christian evangelists. Pope John Paul II himself, in November, 1999 in New Delhi called for the evangelisation of Asia in the third millennium like Europe and the two Americas in the first and second millennia respectively.

Pope John Paul II has services of all the miracle workers of Christendom at his disposal. Yet his Parkinson's disease is getting worse with time. Has the Pope not heard about the healing wonders of Benny Hinn?

Balbir K. Punj is a Rajya Sabha MP and convener of the BJP's think tank.

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