By Steve Higgnet
Steve Hignett is a member of the Skeptic's Society, a group that promotes science, literacy and critical thinking. He is also a member of the James Randi Educational Foundation, an educational resource on the paranormal, pseudoscience and the supernatural. He unapologetically questions everything.
Late night television infomercials, oh boy what a laugh they are! Watching people with orange-tinted fake & bake tans overact their excitement over the next great "revolution" in kitchen knives, juicing machines or rotisserie cookers is hilarious to me. Watching an otherwise sensible looking man smile with glee while applying spray-on "hair" to his bald patch is a bit entertaining, a bit funny and a bit sad. I also find it a bit humbling. Not because I need to buy or have ever owned a new pocket fisherman or smokeless ashtray but because I make my living as an entertainer. and I know that if work suddenly became scarce for me and I was offered a gig playing a "random" member of a studio audience or a pitchman for the next great shoe polish or whatever product they were trying to flog, it would be difficult to turn the offer down. Hey, we all need to eat and work is work right? Besides, these funny little slices of the marketing world are really just a cure for insomnia and a cheap laugh right?
Except one in particular. One is dangerous, vile and I notice it is on almost every night on various stations. The Peter Popoff Ministry. I can't believe he's back and at it again.
This person travels America putting on revivals and ministries that are recorded and later televised in syndication. During these performances he claims to have divine guidance from god, who tells him the names and illnesses of his faithful in his audience. He then calls these sick and desperate people down to his stage, lays hands on them and claims they have been healed of all ills, be they medical, emotional or financial. Sounds pretty amazing doesn't it? Except for one particularly unfortunate bit of business. It doesn't work. In the mid 80's Popoff was exposed as a fraud by skeptic and magician James Randi, of whose foundation I am a proud, card-carrying member. It seems that his divine information actually came in the form of radio transmissions from his wife detailing the names, illnesses and other personal information of his audience. Information that was filled out by the audience members themselves on "Prayer Cards" before the show. Randi went public, Popoff went bankrupt that was that for a decade or two, but he's back again and up to his old tricks.
I try very hard to be respectful in all matters of faith while writing on this blog, but I find this particular topic to be enraging and heartbreaking. I know very well that the audience members in a standard infomercial are not the same as those who attend Popoff's show. His audience is made up of the desperate, the sick, the dying and the faithful. Perhaps they can't afford the medical care that they need, perhaps the medical community has said that their illness was terminal, so these poor people take one final leap of faith and hope that a modern day snake oil salesman will cure them. With no alternative left, who can blame them? Except.....on his program we are all offered the opportunity to write to Rev. Popoff. In return we are told we would be given miracle water from Chernobyl (?!), and if we follow his accompanying directions to the letter we will be given all the health and wealth we can handle. So I did. Under the pseudonym "Deiter Noshgo" (an anagram for "there is no god", I like to be cheeky sometimes) I got my packet of Chernobyl water...and a note to send him $24 as a "faith seed". Popoff claimed that if i did plant this faith seed then god would send me a cheque for $4600. Wow. What a whopper. Though I got a huge kick out of the idea of my trying to cash a cheque with god's autograph on it, I decided to pass. In true infomercial fashion...But wait, there's more! About a month later the good Reverend then sent me a little cross necklace and a packet of "miracle salt"...and a note to send him $18. Hmmm, the out of pocket cost for my health and wealth just went down by a huge percentage, but still I ignored his kind offer. Several weeks went by and I got one more gift from the man, a little packet of oil...and a note to send him $31. I guess I shouldn't have held out, as the cost went up again, but hey at least I could fry and season my dinner now. I suppose he got sick of sending me free condiments because that was the last offer "Deiter" got. 3 strikes and I was out I guess.
The point that I've rambled to get to here is please question your faith from time to time. And to beware of anyone who claims they can speak to the supernatural. Psychics, Faith Healers, Dowsers and Crystal Gazers all make money by taking advantage of others. They exploit faith, they capitalize on sickness and they toy with the emotions of not only their customers, but those of their families and friends as well. Their miraculous solutions to all of your problems sound too good to be true because they are. There are too many con artists in the world who would be only too happy to help you out of your problems, as long as you pay up front and don't ask questions, and there are not enough James Randi's out there willing to expose these people for what they are.