I grew up going to big rock shows at an arena in Houston called The Summit. In fact, the very first big rock show I ever went to was held there – Billy Squier on the “Emotions in Motion” tour with Fastway opening. My mom took me and my brother. I was 11 or 12.
For years after, any big rock or metal shows in Houston were held there. I saw everyone from AC/DC to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest to Motörhead at that huge venue. It was big, loud, and not particularly comfortable, but it was the scene of a lot of great shows over the years.
It’s still the scene of a big show of sorts. It’s currently the headquarters of Joel Osteen Ministries and his enormous Lakewood Church. I suppose that certain Christians would find this turn of events to be some sort of victory for their religion – God’s Army occupying a former stronghold of Satan’s music of choice. Judging from a quick perusal on the Internet, lots of Christians still think that Satan is in control, as Joel Osteen is not universally popular among the ranks of the faithful.
Despite that, he IS incredibly popular with millions of other Christians, so why is this guy so polarizing?
Well, he’s one of the more successful proponents of the “Prosperity Gospel” or “Word of Faith” movement, a relatively recent religious theory that claims that God wants his flock to become wealthy and successful. In fact, faith can be measured by the devout’s worldly successes if one buys into this line of superstition.
Despite never having stumbled across anything in the Bible that backs this weirdly magical connection between wealth and faith, it’s a very popular idea. That popularity makes sense if you look at basic human nature, as most of us do want to become successful and financially secure, and most people seem to have a basic need to feel like they’re good people. For those with an inclination towards religion, it must be comforting to think that God wants us to be successful and comfortable, and in fact will reward those that are devout enough.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that really backs that idea anywhere in scripture that I can think of, and Jesus in particular seemed to have a dim view of those that coveted money too much. It seems that the canonical references to wealth are used as cautionary tales, not an enticement to greater depths of faith.
But charismatic modern preachers have carved out very successful careers for themselves, promising their followers that God wants them all to be prosperous. Not just spiritually, but also financially.
Some of these mega-preachers are outwardly so slimy that it’s difficult to understand how much of anyone could be taken in by their obvious quest for personal riches. One of the techniques they claim garners the Lord’s favor is (of course) by their followers filling their churches coffers through donations. Pretty much all churches ask for donations, but hucksters like Oral (The Lord will call me home if you don’t donate enough $$$) Roberts, or Robert (speaking in tongues) Tilton took this greedy form of faith up several notches by telling their followers that God expected them to plant “seeds” of faith in the form of money sent to their ministries. These financial “seeds” would then in turn bloom, rewarding the faithful with worldly and other worldly successes.
As a general rule, it’s probably prudent to not trust multimillionaire ministers. But people continue to do so, despite the almost inevitable scandals that reveal their character.
The Prosperity Gospel has a decidedly dark side, and not just because it breaks from what the Bible actually says. It’s extremely popular with lower income folks and minorities, people that probably can’t afford to endlessly plant financial “seeds” to prove their faith to God. If their seeds don’t result in greater success (and they won’t) then those people just end up further down the hole, perhaps spending money on the outward signs of success (Since God’s favor is tied so closely to worldly successes), when they could be spending that money more wisely.
For religiously-inclined people that are financially secure, the message must be a popular and comforting one. God favors them, and has shown his approval of their lives by rewarding them with financial success. Who cares if some of them might be awful people? God doesn’t think so. It might be less convenient for them to remember that Satan is supposed to be “lord of this World”, and the dude more fitting to ask for money.
Joel Osteen seems like a nice guy. Why would I pick on him? He’s not so obviously insincere and sleazy as people like Benny Hinn or other wealthy televised purveyors of faith. Heck, Osteen might actually believe the crap he’s spewing. It’s not based in anything I get from the Bible, and sounds more like something out of a self help book, but why should I feel so strongly about him?
Well, he’s from Houston, and he’s set up shop in a place I used to enjoy going to. I guess that’s part of it. Maybe I just work for the Devil, and live to knock down incredibly rich televangelists. Or maybe I just don’t like smarmy rich fucks that take advantage of people looking for a positive message. I don’t know.
I like to think that maybe I just don’t buy into hogwash and bullshit that easily, and don’t like to see others taken in by it either.
From a purely selfish angle, I just don’t like the idea of millions of people walking around perhaps thinking that they can act like creeps as long as they follow the Prosperity Gospel “rules” and are rewarded by God.
In any case, I say it again. If you’re looking for someone to follow, perhaps a multimillionaire religious figure is not the person you should be considering. Something about a camel and the eye of a needle.