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Meditation 284
Truth, Myths, and Fictions

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"Benny Hinn, an American televangelist, drew over a million people to his last faith-healing extravaganza in Nairobi. The audience handed over their shillings and were wowed as the apparently crippled rose to their feet and skipped off the stage. But not everyone was so lucky. Three elderly Kenyans who had discharged themselves from hospital hoping for a miracle died during the rally. Ten others fell out of trees while watching the rally, and did not have their broken bones fixed."

The Economist 28 October 2004

When I read the above item in a very reputable news magazine, I put it aside and saved it. It was something I knew I could use for an article sooner or later. It certainly would be useful in making a point on the charlatanry of faith healing. However, I wanted to research it a little further to get more details on this Nairobi event. The Economist had provided no information on when the incident occurred.

Interestingly when I started to research this, most of the items I found referring to Hinn's Nairobi crusade (29 - 30 April 2000) were focussed on his prediction made several times in the months preceding the Nairobi crusade that Jesus would appear with him in Nairobi, a prediction that utterly failed.

But I did find quite a few articles about people dying, and others falling out of trees and suffering injuries. But nearly all mention four people, including two babies who died; not the three elderly people mentioned in The Economist. And all of these other articles use as authority for their version an undated Reuters story (which I can find no evidence was ever published in a newspaper anywhere) which talks about the events happening in May 2000. Given the incorrect date attributed to the rally, it is reasonable to assume that the "Reuters" story may be a fake, deliberately circulated to discredit Hinn.

Essentially, I can only find one story that I am reasonably sure of which reported on any deaths resulting from Hinn's rally, a story which appeared in a Kenyan newspaper - The Nation - on 2 May 2000.

"An ailing four-month-old baby died on Sunday at the "miracle'' crusade graced by American Evangelist Benny Hinn, police reported yesterday.

Baby Clondin Adhiambo was taken to the crusade at the University of Nairobi grounds by her mother, Lorraine Atieno to be "healed", police said.

"According to her mother, the baby girl had been suffering from an undisclosed ailment since she was born," a senior police officer said.

He said the baby's condition worsened at the prayer venue and she was taken to MP Shah Hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival."

There is no mention in The Nation of other deaths from the sick seeking a cure, nor injuries suffered in falling out of trees. This is as close to the truth as we are likely to get. It is reasonable to suggest that the other stories with higher casualty figures are just exaggerations building on this single unfortunate death.

How did the Economist get it wrong? The reference to Hinn appears in a human interest filler on the susceptibility of Kenyans to witch doctors and sorceresses. I suspect the reporter picked up this item from local gossip rather than deep background research. The tale was accepted by the reporter because it served to make the point. And as a human interest filler, it somehow did not get The Economist's rigorous fact checking.

Likewise, my own preconceptions about Hinn and about faith healing led me to uncritically accept the story initially. It was only my desire to get a more details to make my own point that led me to question it.

On the balance of probabilities, it is just not true that 3 or 4 died and ten were injured falling out of trees. Rather, it is fiction.

On another level, it can be argued that the story, fiction as it may be, expresses a deeper truth; faith healers do not really cure and some of the time they make things much worse. On this level, the story can be considered to be a myth. On this myth level, it certainly expresses a "truth" about Benny Hinn and all the other faith healing quacks.

There's nothing wrong with truths arising out of myth, but we have to clearly differentiate these "truths" from factual truths. After all, we criticize those who interpret their holy texts as literal truths instead of looking for deeper spiritual truths arising out of myth.

As skeptics, we should hold ourselves to at least the same standard.

If we want to criticize Benny Hinn, remember, contrary to his prediction, Jesus did not appear in Nairobi. And don't hold your breath on future predicted appearances.