Friday, March 23, 2012

Reinhard Bonnke and the Case of the Evil God

"When you grasp what we are saying here, then you join the army with the battering ram of the Word of the Cross. It will pulverise the strongholds of the devil. It is the drum-roll thunder of God’s invincible army on the march."
 "No matter how brilliant a sermon may be, in a form as perfect as the bullet case of a tank cartridge, if you do not fill it with explosives it will simply bounce off the hardened hearts of the unbelievers."
"Witnesses should witness; it is our nature. Soldiers are not fitted with uniforms and equipped with weapons simply to go on parade; their true place is on the battlefield." (Wasser und Mehr)
There are religious books that only provide heat when put on a bonfire. (Evangelism by fire.)
The church was never constructed for defensive purposes. The gates of hell should be invaded, not avoided. Offence is the best defense. Instead of waiting to ward off the devil's onslaught, turn the tide of battle and launch an invasion of the devil's territory. Jesus is with you. (Official Facebook page) 

Many years ago I spent a rather enjoyable week working in Istanbul. It was my first time in a Muslim majority country and much less of a difference than I had perhaps naively expected. I avoided alcohol, pork, and long conversations on unstunned Halal slaughter. I'd heard a rumour that showing the sole of one's shoe could be considered offensive. This was prudish of me - I have no doubt that I would still have been welcome had I indulged in all the above perceived vices - but it seemed only fair that I make a moderate effort when visiting.

But what of Reinhard Bonnke? A close associate of the very rich huckster Benny Hinn, Bonnke was called in a dream (naturally) to minister to Africa, where his performances are billed under the ill-advised heading of crusades.

I feel certain that Bonnke must work late into the night in his efforts to provoke reactions when he 'invades the Devil's territory'. Crusades are not looked upon with kindness by Muslims and they have strong historical precedent for adopting this position. Couple this with Bonnke's incessant, dreary repetition of analogies with soldiers, guns, explosives, invasions, tanks and so on and you're left quite certain that he is not a chap interested in interfaith dialogue.

But could it get worse?
Fire is a running theme throughout Bonnke's war-inspired ministry. You can see it in his book titles, literature, posters and throughout his website. The celebration of immolation is extended to participants - they are encouraged to bring the trappings of their former religion to bonfires scattered throughout the open air spectacle, where they will be doused in lighter fluid and ignited to both song and dance.

There are over a billion Muslims on the planet. I do not deny that there are some significant problems in Islam, but the caricature of exploding into rage at the slightest offence does not bear serious examination, and if you think otherwise I strongly suggest trying to get to know some of their number. 

Caveats and background information provided, what happens when Bonnke takes his warm and glowing message to Islamic areas?

1991 in Kano, Nigeria, saw the deaths of hundreds in riots. In a pale and distant second place to this needless loss of life we see widespread property damage, curfews and the suspension of religious services.

Victims of his message of love are not limited to one Abrahamic faith. His enthusiasm for filling his venues far exceeds his desire to provide appropriate facilities, and his bogus claims of healing attract a crowd characterised by infirmity and limited mobility. Those expressing genuine hope in his self-described ability to cause healing find themselves too often rewarded with crush deaths. (Also here, here and here.)

We should also consider the immense suffering caused by convincing those who have HIV that they are cured and no longer need to use protection.

Bonnke attempts to counterbalance this mountain of the dead with one tale of resurrection. (I must warn readers of gentle disposition that the link contains images and quotes of Pat Robertson.) Thankfully Nigeria is willing to handle its own problems and has produced Humanists more than capable of debunking this tale. This Christian debunking is also noteworthy. For my part I'll only emphasise that the timing of this story seems remarkable, its arrival after the HBO expose on Benny Hinn and Reinhard Bonnke's dubious healings seeming most serendipitous.

Let us for a moment entertain the fanciful notion that his occasional parlour tricks are actually miraculous. What conclusions can we draw from the mountains of dead caused by this man, and the one life he pretends to have restored? Stephen Law does a rather good philosophical challenge called the Evil God challenge.  Among other things he asks if the good in the world might be created to better allow suffering and misery, benefiting said evil God. What of these miracles, offering the tiniest ray of hope, but demanding obscene payment in blood?

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