Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Seed Faith and the Church of the Almighty Dollar

John Oliver recently took on "Seed Faith" in a segment of his weekly news, conflating it with Prosperity Gospel, which apparently owes its roots to Oral Roberts.  The tele-evangelist became infamous for pleading to his television congregation to send in $8 million to save his university, saying that God would "call him home" if he didn't raise that money in three months.  I guess desperate times called for desperate measures.  However, ORU never got out of the hole, and as of 2007 was over $50 million in debt.

But, this isn't quite what Joel Osteen and other prosperity theologists are preaching these days.  They have amassed tremendous personal fortunes and espouse the idea that it is perfectly OK to be rich, and if you follow a few simple steps you can become more wealthy too.  Osteen is really more of a motivational speaker, along the lines of Tony Robbins, exhorting persons to take charge of their lives.  In itself it is not bad philosophy, but when coupled with religion it drifts across the line in Pastor Rick Henderson's view.

Preachers shouldn't be encouraging class warfare among their congregations, or between one congregation and another.  Some have audaciously claimed that Jesus wasn't born into poverty at all, and that we should ignore passages like that of Matthew 6:14 that stated, "You cannot serve both God and money."  For Kenneth Copeland and his wife Gloria this is an utterly preposterous notioon, as the two have built a fabulous life for themselves on the backs of their congregation.

John Oliver takes this Holy Roller couple, among others, to task for essentially extorting money out of their congregations.  Gloria goes so far as to encourage viewers to send in money to be healed from cancer, which one woman did only to find herself with untreatable stage four cancer in the end.  There is widespread belief among the most radical evangelical sects that persons don't need medicine, they need faith in God to heal themselves.  But, apparently this spiritual healing doesn't come cheap.  You are expected to donate heavily to achieve a certain level of faith to be "cancer free."  You would think the IRS would go after charlatans like this but as Oliver shows, the definition of "church" is so broad that you can virtually get away with murder in the name of God.

John Wesley healing the masses

Faith healing goes way back, and in it seems to be the origins of this Prosperity Gospel and Seed Faith, as you were expected to ante up for such spiritual blessings, holy water and ointments to cleanse your body once and for all.  In the old days, I suppose this was as good health care as most persons could hope to find, but by the and of the 18th century there were reliable vaccines like Jenner's small pox vaccine and numerous medicines available that could alleviate many illnesses.  Still, many persons turned to faith healers, especially for incurable diseases like cancer and tuberculosis.

However, it is hard to reconcile faith hailing in this day and age, when there are cures available, provided the cancer is detected early enough.  This is why cancer screenings, which Planned Parenthood provides, are so important.  Unfortunately, faith healers like Gloria Copeland still tells her parishioners that faith is all they need, and if they plant enough "seeds" in the church they can expect God to grant them complete remission.

What's worse is that these faith healers are advising parents to forego vaccines for their children, claiming that God will look after his children.  If not, Pat Robertson tells bereaved mothers that the kid may have turned out to be Hitler so God spared us that evil seed.

Compounding the problem are political candidates like Carly Fiorina, who should know better, decrying vaccine mandates to a hayseed crowd in Iowa four days ago.  She even wore a checked red and white shirt and low-rise jeans to make her case, looking like she came off the set of Oklahoma!  Most of the GOP candidates are against vaccine mandates.  Fortunately, the good Dr. Ben Carson believes strongly in vaccine mandates, even though he is a Seventh-Day Adventist.

It is literally like stepping back in time to hear these tele-evangelists.  They work on a largely archaic set of quasi-Biblical notions, discrediting science, medicine and for that matter all rational thought.  Yet, they use the modern-day technologies of television and the Internet to spread their messages among what appears to be a very large gullible audience that literally buys into these false prophets.  It doesn't matter how often these tele-evangelists are discredited, usually as a result of their own foul actions, they somehow find a way to reconnect with what's left of their followers.

Many of these congregations have become so vast that it takes a tremendous amount of money to support them and their enterprises.  They have expanded into universities and amusement parks to educate and entertain their faithful.  Jim Bakker's Heritage USA is no longer around.  It once drew 6 million visitors per year.  Jerry Falwell's Liberty University has become the mecca of religious conservatism in the country, attracting politicians and other renown figures to its bi-weekly mandatory convocations.  Liberty University even invited Bernie Sanders to speak to its students next month.  All this began with "seed money" and the belief that these contributions were going to something bigger, something far more important than just one's miserable life.

Of course, this isn't much different than those splendid Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic churches of the past that similarly were trying to give their flocks something larger to aspire to.  If nothing else, a resplendent burial place for a town or city's most honored citizens.  Most of the early colleges and universities were faith-based.  If we are to believe David Barton, so too was Jefferson's University of Virginia. Barton, by the way, is an Oral Roberts alumnus, now parading as a "Dr." of history.

Religion imposes itself on us in so many ways.  Most of us become inured to it, but others want to believe there is something more out there that they haven't been able to reach in this earthly sphere.  So, we have tele-evangelists who prey on these people and find ever more clever means of extorting money from them to build their congregations, mega-churches and "parish houses," with private planes to boot.  If nothing else, these poor souls can live their lives vicariously through ministers like Creflo Dollar, who believes that a $70 million jet is necessary to properly spread his message globally, which seems to be mostly greed.

If there is a God, you would think he would put a stop to all this, because clearly this isn't found in any of his teachings.  Whether it be by flood or some other natural disaster, it seems it is time to remake the world along more simpler lines, just so we can be rid of these quacksalvers and two-bit charlatans who proclaim themselves to be messengers of God.

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