Christian Questions Motives
of Many Christian Ministers
"Snake Oil in the 21st Century" is a great and enlightening article by Gregory Tinkler. Years ago a family member of mine went to a "healing" service and was asked to pretend she had come in crippled and was healed.
While I am a Christian and believe in God, there are many ministers whose motives and belief system I question.
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Washington, Andrea"
Subject: Re: Positive_Atheism_Letters_Section
Date: January 09, 2003 9:50 PM
It is indeed doubly in your interest to ferret out these "impostors" such as Benny Hinn. [See note, below.] Unlike so many Christian critics of some ministers, you don't overtly question or doubt their faith, membership in the church, or identity as Christians; we think this displays thoughtfully mature honesty on your part.
Of course we share your compassion for those vulnerable ones being swindled, people who, through no fault of their own, live at a pronounced disadvantage. Speaking from personal experience, I know that many times one can function only by trusting that others -- strangers -- will not take advantage of us in our weakness! The past two years have been quite a lesson in this respect.
Where you have an additional interest is in seeing the reputation, the integrity of your group and indeed your ideology being trampled. I will go so far as to say that such religious opportunists actually slander you and others like you who practice their faith in all sincerity! The tricksters practice the same outside ritual as you do, but they practice it strictly for the purpose of banking on the good name that you and yours have worked so hard to secure.
Until recent decades, the faith healer was one of the many ways in which con men took your fellow Christians for their ride. As such, it became a simple matter to warn against any and all who allege to have supernatural powers.
Today, religious Machiavellians no longer need to resort to magic, if you will: political exploiters have emerged as the single most successful school of religious sharpers going. It would be much harder to separate the sincere from the sharks if religious leaders could even get that far. Unfortunately, the task of even raising suspicion against a political ally is daunting, bordering on insurmountable!
Falwell and LaHaye cemented this stumbling block permanently into place with their Moral Majority group of the 1980s: To gain political clout for their group, Falwell and LaHaye allowed non-Evangelicals (Roman Catholics, Mormons) and even non-Christians to join the organization. With this precedent, it became taboo to question the religious integrity of one's allies while engaged in a political struggle. I cannot tell you to what degree this is still the case, but it certainly must be great.
Hopefully I (or someone) will have an opportunity to develop this concept further. This is all I've come up with thus far, however, so take it for what it is. Indeed, the subject of phony faith healers remains much simpler to see, understand, and therefore address.
When I was a Christian the groups I hung with had similar points of view. The groups ranged from those who rejected all modern claims for the supernatural ("God stopped working miracles during the age of the Apostles") to those who for doctrinal reasons reluctantly felt obliged to accept such claims, taking them with more than a mere pinch of salt.
Doctrinal problems abound in using the supernatural as part of one's recruiting efforts, but it is inappropriate for me to discuss them. However, serious logical problems also arise, and these I am very qualified to address.
When you start to use alleged supernatural events as "proof" for the existence of God, you start to get into some embarrassing situations, not the least of which raises its ugly head when the believer is called upon to explain the alleged supernatural phenomenon of rival sects! This is to say nothing of how this thinking can become so misleading!
The best summary of this error (that the performance of seemingly supernatural feats proves supernatural power or access) that I've seen comes from Nicolas Humphrey's book, Leaps of Faith. Still not having fully unpacked from last year's move, I shall paraphrase:
Suppose you were somehow granted supernatural powers and were now capable of performing any feat that's physically possible (e.g., no square triangles, please). Would you demonstrate your powers by pulling rabbits out of a hat?
The irony, then, becomes clear the moment we point out the parlor-magic elements of the many miracle healing services designed to "prove" that God: (1) exists; (2) is at work in this particular service (i.e., endorsing this particular preacher); (3) is proving that this particular sect (i.e., Christianity), has His endorsement. The same can be done with many of those described in the New Testament. In any event, nothing involving a rigorous, as we would take for granted, today, is mentioned in any of the ancient scrolls.
Thanks for writing: It is always a pleasure to discuss seriously with a theist, particularly a Christian, seeing that I have quite a bit of familiarity with that religion. Unfortunately, all too many write solely for the purpose of hurling abuse at us. (They likewise slander you and yours!) I am sorry this is so sketchy and incomplete, but I am experimenting with some new medical procedures and as such can barely keep my eyes open right now. Just as well, I guess, considering that the most common criticism I get regards my long-windedness!
Positive Atheism Magazine
Seven years of service to people
with no reason to believe