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Destiny Churchism in Theory and Practice


Destiny Churchism in Theory and Practice

by Adam Vink,
20 August 2008

Amidst the terror and debauchery of the Old Testament are some passages of striking intrigue and beauty. Among these is Psalm 79 - a passage I was drawn to ponder during a recent visit to a ‘Miracle Faith Healing’ service held by one of our country’s more colourful religious organisations.

In the following, the psalmist laments over the apparent caprice of his god who seems ambivalent to the suffering and defilement of his people, despite their endless propitiations:

O god, the heathen are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.

The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.

Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem; and there was none to bury them.

We are become a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.

How long, LORD? wilt thou be angry for ever? Shall thy jealousy burn like fire?

Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.

The psalmist is seriously and hopelessly wondering why his omnipotent god hasn’t heaped a lavish destruction and torture on their enemies. ‘How, oh Lord’ he seems to be asking ‘do you put up with this shit?’

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Over two and a half thousand years later – Brian Tamaki stands before an audience, with the same blood curdling rhetoric masking an obvious frustration at a world he perceives god to have, in many ways, abandoned. Standing at the podium in an astonishing suit that could itself easily be the foundation of a new religion, Bishop Brian excoriated less in the manner of a theologian or a teacher and more in that of the used car salesman whose general sales pitch is that by rejecting his product, one is both rejecting the greatest offer ever made and bringing about the end of civilisation as we know it.

Indeed, the product on offer at Destiny appears on the surface, dazzling and impressive. Brian’s appearance at the podium came about only after over 50 frenzied minutes of saturnalian veneration to the boss (the celestial one). The perfectly staged arrival of Destiny’s decidedly more tellurian patriarch involved an entourage of frighteningly dapper and attractive young men, escorting their leader through the throng to a climax of multi sensory pomp.

Regrettably the rock ‘n roll performance, slick and professional as it was, seemed to your humble correspondent to contain little of the majesty and transcendence of, say, the catholic liturgy or the beautiful Adhan – the Islamic call to prayer. If this is in fact how god intended his creations to repay the favour, god certainly has no taste.

As far as I could discern, Tamaki’s sermon explored three themes. Theme one: all churches besides ‘Destiny’ are inept and misguided (I did not strictly disagree with Tamaki on this point, though this sentence is precisely two words too long). Theme two: Honour thy pastor. Without pastors, he claimed, there is no connection to god. Theme Three: our society, thanks to its widespread rejection of Christianity, is corrupt, immoral and quietly bringing about its own destruction.

To expatiate on these themes (with the possible exception of the third) would be both boring and unnecessary; in any case the most striking feature of the proceedings was the distinct lack of actual theology and the overt political tone in which Tamaki addressed his flock. There was little reference to the bible, religious philosophy or doctrine. Tamaki didn’t once offer any theological perspectives, insights or interpretations. Of course, Tamaki and his minions know as much about theology as they do about the dark side of the moon. Unlike other apostolic organisations, absent were the eschatological conspiracy theories or a lucid definition of religious ideas and terms. Instead politically tinged demagoguery, sound bites and endless prosaisms clearly learnt during his years as a highly successful entrepreneur appeared to be Tamaki’s modus operandi; it was a style in which he proved himself masterful.

Tamaki’s political claims demand a high amount of unqualified contempt for New Zealand society, culture and cosmopolitanism. However critical one may choose to be about such issues, there is a ridiculous tendency to hyperbole, equivocation and tautology in Tamaki’s assumptions that should always put a reasoned person on their guard.

In order to show, for example, that such a godless, liberal country with godless, immoral and corrupt leaders has descended into violence, drugs, economic ruin and an unwholesome obsession with sexuality, we are asked to ignore some fairly glaring truths.

To start with, Tamaki would have us overlook the overwhelmingly more violent world of our pious predecessors, NZ’s extremely high ranking on political transparency indexes, the high quality of life compared to elsewhere around the world and the recourse on offer to a standard of human rights and justice that has never before been so clearly established and defended. He would then need to show us where a society that has strictly adhered to traditional religious values has achieved a greater level of material, intellectual and creative abundance as well as a greater respect for rights and justice. This may prove difficult given the catalogue of emaciated theocracies that scatter our planet.

Tamaki always seems confused when people point out the parallels between his church and a totalitarian regime bent on subordination and control. But perhaps this lack of actual religious contemplation and philosophy is this major reason that I am, like many others, genuinely concerned about groups like the Destiny Church. It is also the reason why Tamaki, and the more moderate Christians -whose faith tacitly support him and whose core beliefs Tamaki is only drawing to their logical conclusion - cannot be ignored with a chuckle and a groan.

An inability to engage intellectually or philosophically about issues like rights, morality and social justice forces Tamaki and his organisation, as well as all religions varyingly, to become dangerously enamoured of political power in this world, not the next.

Brian Tamaki and the cultish rock concert experience he offers would be simply farcical and easily ignored, if it weren’t for the fact that the totalitarianism and irrationality inherent in the religiosity of Tamaki and his ilk provides an unsleeping threat to democracy, human decency and social progress. The economic and spiritual desperation to which religion so cynically caters has a long and terrible tendency towards violence and obscurantism while the tribalistic formation of communities in this manner presents a serious threat in this crucial age of rights and global justice. This is why such superstition and dogma should always be opposed and discredited, however docile the threat may seem at present. Bertrand Russell, one of history’s most interesting thinkers, once warned ‘as soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles’.

How does one argue with a tyrant who has no real ideology besides the promulgation of his own will to power? Tamaki must surely know what happens when totalitarian ideology derived from superstition and irrationality gains significant political puissance. From Somalia to Sri Lanka, from the Taleban to Joseph Coney – what makes Tamaki think his particular (I will not say unique) brand would not deliver similar results?

More worrying, and a likely proposition, is if Tamaki doesn’t believe the things he preaches at all. If he did he must surely wonder, with the endless amount of fawning praise heaped on the dear leader, why isn’t he decent enough to give them some small token? Something tangible to aid the cause – what about just one miserable seat in a godless parliament? Surely too must Tamaki’s followers gaze in awe at his material success, then at their poverty and ask themselves similar questions.

At the conclusion of Tamaki’s colossal throat clearing, I watched the crowds assemble before the stage to receive their ‘healing’. We were told that ‘miracle faith healing’ was available for ailments of the physical, spiritual and even financial variety. Being disappointed at seeing no amputees rushing forward to receive a new limb, and relatively few devotees falling to gargle for a spell in tongues, I was once more reminded of a wee bible passage. This surprising and rather more charming line in the First Epistle to Timothy finds the apostle Paul - in some interpretations - unable to heal Timothy’s chronic stomach problems and frail disposition through miracles or faith. So instead Paul recommends that he:

Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities.

Finding no cure to my own insatiable scepticism and disbelief in all this nonsense and a rapid nausea fast overwhelming me, I felt that Paul’s advice suited me fine; after a swift exit from the premises followed by a sweet and generous glass of the ‘Jesus juice’ from the nearest local establishment, I felt truly delivered.


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