I snapped this billboard on MG Road in Bangalore last month. The celebrity televangelist is so quintessentially capitalist cheese, so ’80s camp, so late-night TV that the ad seemed utterly incongruous. ‘This town has gone completely Amrika-crazy,’ I mused.
Since the guy has brown skin, it never even occurred to me that he might not be desi. Turns out it’s the American evangelist Benny Hinn (no relation to Benny Hill), he of whom bloggeth Abhi yesterday. Hinn is a Christian Arab Israeli from Florida. There will be a pop quiz on that in 30 minutes.
Hinn kicked off his prayer meeting at an airfield outside Bangalore today. The airfield resounded with the usual miracle healings, but violent protests against the convention flooded central Bangalore with torched buses and tear gas.
I’ve seen it all before, this bubble. It’s a land grab for souls and page views, folks, and India’s perceived as a wide-open market. It’s one of the largest and most passionate markets for religion in the world, so Hinn’s hungama is nothing but a trade visit, really. American churches already outsource prayers to Kerala. And for false miracles, every American charlatan put together couldn’t hold a candle to Indian holy men. Check out Gita Mehta’s brilliant Karma Cola:
Gita Mehta details the extent of the hippie infatuation with South Asia in her classic book… Westerners seek instant salvation; Easterners the quick rupee. Gurus could pack entire astrodomes in the ’60s, levitation was believed to signal salvation, and Western disciples believed above all else in moksha through easy sex and hard drugs. At one point there were over 100,000 hippies trekking all over South Asia searching for enlightenment in woolly-minded religious platitudes and a variety of uppers and downers.
The Antioch Community Church [of Texas] is one of a growing number of evangelical groups that believe in mixing aidgiving with discussing religion, an approach that older, more established Christian aid groups like Catholic Relief Services call unethical… According to its Web site, the congregation uses small groups called “cell churches” to attract new members.
A Jan. 18 posting from the team in Indonesia says the country’s devastated Aceh Province is “ripe for Jesus!!” “What an opportunity,” it adds. “It has been closed for five years, and the missionaries in Indonesia consider it the most militant and difficult place for ministry. The door is wide open and the people are hungry…”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: shadowy regional groups are quietly recruiting religious converts. They’re forming independent cells to expand into new countries, and their aim is to sway public opinion overseas.
The shock troops of the soul are locked and loaded.