The Prosperity Gospel

An article on the front page of my local paper caught my attention the other day. It always amazes me to see the different flavors of Christianity that attracts people to it like flies on … whatever it is flies like to land on. However, this was on the front page of the paper, practically advertising this guy’s form of religion. In fact, the print edition had a large color photo of the billboard referred to in the article. Don’t get me wrong. The news can print anything they want, but the state (the capital of which this paper is published in) is going through a budget crisis, resulting in unpaid state workers for the past two months, Obama is trying to get a national health care package approved, and of course there are still two wars, escalating as we speak, that we are involved in, yet this story is the front page article. This paper’s news prioritizing is one of the reasons I canceled my subscription a few years ago.

The article is about this self-proclaimed evangelical preacher in the city who preaches what is known as the prosperity gospel. He seems to believe that his material wealth, whatever that may be, comes from god. Trust in god, and he’ll make you prosperous. Love god and he’ll give you stuff. Now, in a failing economy, does this sound like a theology that might be attractive to certain people? Say, the poor, or the unemployed? The article starts off almost salivating.

Bishop Larry Harris’ big cuff links sparkle like diamonds as he preaches the promises of heaven, down to the literal dimensions and the pearly gates — along with the promises of wealth right here on earth for the faithful.

“Bishop” 1 Harris believes in prophecy and is a big fan of Benny Hinn Ministries.

As Bishop Harris tells the story, a prophecy came to him two years ago from another evangelist while they sat onstage during a Benny Hinn Miracle Crusade at the Giant Center in Derry Twp.

The prophecy said five Boazes, [not Bozos] wealthy men like Boaz in the Old Testament story, would come into Harris’ life — three to support his ministry and two to support his personal needs.

It was a detailed prophecy. One of the Boazes will buy Harris a car every year, it said, and jets and yachts will be provided for the ministry. (Yachts? Jesus preached from a boat, Harris noted.)

Astoundingly enough,

Harris is still waiting for the prophecy to come true…

Oy. I can just hear the gullible when they read this article. “Honey, no need to pick up the Powerball today. Let’s go join Bishop Harris instead.” Is it a wonder that

That expectation of material reward often is packaged with belief in prophecy, faith healing, speaking in tongues and miracles in general.?

Well, of course, people who believe in that for which there is no evidence, will also believe pie in the sky promises of material wealth.  “Belief in prophecy, faith healing, speaking in tongues and miracles” have been the tools of flim-flam artists over the centuries, and are still the tools of religion in general. But that’s not all he promises:

“I stop husbands from fighting their wives. I stop wives from fighting their children,” said Harris…

Which is why the county courts have an overflowing  Protection from Abuse  docket.

He also teaches — in the Pentecostal tradition that defined his childhood in Georgia — that miracles happen today just as described in the Bible.

I can teach that kissing frogs turns them into princes, but it doesn’t make it true.  I’d love to see some of the real biblical style miracles he refers to. Grilled cheese artwork doesn’t count. I wonder if he can cause an amputated human limb to spontaneously regenerate? They didn’t even do that in Bible days.

Seriously. Why is a newspaper of general circulation, one that normally reports sober news, and relegates the religious stories to the weekly “faith” section, reporting about this particular scam artist so breathlessly? The reporter’s attempt at even handedness falls flat. The sociologist she obtains a quote from ends up sounding like he endorses this nonsense.

“It really resonates in the context we’re in now, when most folks are concerned about money.”

It really resonates? How about “It really defies intelligent thought”?

And exactly how does this prosperity gospel work in Third World countries, countries that are overwhelmingly religious, yet also conspicuously poor?

Here’s the money quote:

“You’ve got to ask yourself why people are poor,” Harris replied. “What causes poverty? Serving Satan. Sin.”

Close down the welfare office. No need for a national medical insurance plan. Just hunt down Satan and kill him.

He’s probably in a cave in Afghanistan. How hard could it be to find him?

1 It seems his only qualification for being a Bishop is that he is a retired Army
sergeant. Apparently a Bishop in the church is the hierarchical equivalent of a

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28 thoughts on “The Prosperity Gospel

  1. This is the sort of crap that makes me realize why most all rational people despise religion so much.

    You’ve got to ask yourself why people are poor,” Harris replied. “What causes poverty? Serving Satan. Sin.

    That’s complete BS not to mention anti-biblical. Jesus was poor. John the Baptist was poor. Were they serving Satan? The Bible also states very plainly that sin can and does bring wealth. Jesus had somber words for those who love money to the neglect of people, and IMO, Benny Hinn and preachers flashing their cross-embellished diamond cufflinks are the ones serving Satan, whether they realize it or not. Take that crap off your wrist, melt it down or sell it and help some folk. From I’ve gleaned in 15 years of reading the Bible, the “religion” it preaches is about taking what you need, and sharing the excess with those who need. Helping widows and orphans. That sort of thing.

    All this stuff your newspaper somehow seemed to prioritize instead of the real issues just makes me wanna puke.

  2. You know, when you look at the Michelangelo painting of God touching Adam – you realize something. If God had been reaching out with a fistful of Benjamins, I bet Adam’s hand would have looked much more receptive!

  3. Hmmmm…I’m a retired army sergeant, too, if that guy can do it, I can…maybe I’ve been farting around with music too long…?

    Nope, can’t do it, I have enough trouble sleeping as it is.

  4. I know a lot of ministers and missionaries and many of them disagree vehemently with the Prosperity Gospel. The preachers I know mostly live in circumstances that range from spartan to modest, with a handful living just slightly above “modest.” They are uncomfortable with the lavish lifestyles and misleading messages of the Prosperity preachers.

    (Chappy Trivia: A rough count of ministers and missionaries (past and present) in my family yields a total of 36; you can bump that up to 38 if you add the deacon and me as former preachers – and I’ve probably overlooked a handful.)

  5. I think this type of doctrine resonates with Americans who think they’re entitled to the American Dream. If you work hard, you can be a self-made man. Well now you don’t even have to work hard. Like buying a lottery ticket, you can just put your faith in giving money to one of these hacks.

    My parents still believe in these types of preachers, like Kenneth Copeland. When I was a kid I used to wonder how the money got to God when the offering plate was passed around. When I was older I realized that it just went to a back room for counting. And I have no problem if a church takes up donations to give to the poor as charity with no strings attached. But in many cases the money that’s collected goes towards the wealth of the church, and usually the wealth of the people who run the church. And that’s very clearly fraud.

  6. ordinary girl –

    “And I have no problem if a church takes up donations to give to the poor as charity with no strings attached. But in many cases the money that’s collected goes towards the wealth of the church, and usually the wealth of the people who run the church. And that’s very clearly fraud.”

    how do you know that its “in many cases”? i’d like to think that its only a small minority of churches that use the tithes of its members to create personal wealth. the aforementioned benny hinn comes to mind. personal wealth, btw, excludes a salary for the pastor which from my experience is a very modest sum.

  7. SI,

    I was with you completely. “Urgh,” I cried. “When will people stop being so gullible, on the one hand, and greedy, on the other?” I railed and I fumed at the sheer, unthinking stupidity of it all.

    And then I saw the reference to pie. In the sky. Free pie. Falling from Heaven like manna. So I’ve joined the Something for Nothing Gospel with Sgt. Harris.

  8. One of the problems with confirming anything is that churches are somewhat exempt from public audits. I think the IRS, if it suspects that there is a violation of the Tax Code, can look at the books, but generally churches collect and spend money without much oversight.

    Bishop Harris, in the article, says that he takes no salary. But that’s often just code for “The Church pays all my expenses”. Who do you think owns his Mercedes, by the way? I’ll bet he doesn’t, and the church, or some charitable offshoot does, and deducts the expenses from collections.

    And just wait ’till his prophecy comes true and the cars and yachts start rolling in. He won’t be shipping them off to Somalia.

  9. how do you know that its “in many cases”? i’d like to think that…

    I’d like to think that someone who tries to call someone else out on a lack of evidence wouldn’t then followup with an opinion based counter, but then I’d like to think people who comment wouldn’t be trying to emulate e. e. cummings as they do so either. Que sara, sara.

    The prosperity variants are interesting, aren’t they? Probably the most interesting is The Family. But then, you can make religious texts support whatever the fuck you want. For example, using it to argue against public option to healthcare as well as any type of welfare program.

  10. Jason –

    Well, if you consider religion a fraud, then using money to support religion is fraudulent, right?

    A lot of churches perform charity or support charities and I respect that. I’m not going to be down on anyone for helping out the less fortunate, unless like Pat Robertson, they’re using it as a front to rake in the money.

    But, I don’t see pastors, priests, or mullahs taking vows of poverty. Some do, I’m sure, but that is definitely in the minority. Many live well or lavishly. The pope, pastors of large churches, and tele-evangelists all do very well for themselves.

  11. “When will people stop being so gullible, on the one hand, and greedy, on the other?”

    Are you implying that they should experience cognitive dissonance? BTW, do you know if (gullibility + greed) is logically equivalent to (faith + reason)?

  12. Chappie,

    I just kind of meant that people are, in general, either greedy or gullible. But now that you’ve brought it up, I don’t see that those two states have to be mutually exclusive. I’ll bet I couldn’t heave a bible without beaning someone who is both.
    Faith and reason, on the other hand – yes. Those two can’t live in the same head. Er… though they’d make compelling television if you put them both on “Big Brother”. Lots of fights.

  13. Our local paper covered this a few weeks ago. No idea if it is the same asshalo, but it is the same scam. It never ceases to amaze me just how dumb people can get if you dangle bucks in front of their face. And all they need is one in a million getting rich and all the other sheeple will belly up to the ‘Baaa’ to plunk down the money and take their (microscopically small) chances.

    (Truth in blogging – I buy Powerball tickets and (((Wife))) likes the Crossword scratch games. We know we ain’t gonna break even, but we don’t go to bars, get drunk, cheat on each other, or do other expensive things, so, if that’s our vice, its a minor one.)

  14. philly chief –

    “I’d like to think that someone who tries to call someone else out on a lack of evidence wouldn’t then followup with an opinion based counter…”

    i would say that if one is to opine then perhaps one should state it in exactly that manner – as an opinion. it wasn’t and so i commented – not to call o.g. out but to understand why she has such an opinion. i stated my opinion from a standpoint of experience. every church that i’ve worked with has handled their financial affairs in manner above reproach. the good stewardship of members’ tithes is a duty that is taken extremely seriously. and i like all lowercase. it has a laid back feel to it and that works for me.

    ordinary girl –

    “Well, if you consider religion a fraud…”

    some i would…others i would not. but then opinions will vary.

    “Many live well or lavishly. The pope, pastors of large churches, and tele-evangelists all do very well for themselves.”

    there’s that word again – many. why do you feel its a majority? i’m afraid i can’t speak intelligently on the matter of the pope’s finances but then again its just one person – a small sampling indeed. i’ll give you televangelists if you’re referring to the usual suspects that make no effort to conceal the enormous wealth they’ve accumulated through their church – benny hinn, etc… i’ve been closely affiliated with both small churches with memerships less than a dozen and very large churches with memberships well into the thousands and i’ve never seen one of the pastors at any lead a lifestyle that could be called lavish. as i said before, their salaries are modest and below that which would be expected for the amount of work they do for their flock and their community.

  15. If 10% of doctors did something that led to the death of 1 patient, that would be “many”.

    If 20% of Senators were caught taking a bribe, that would be “many”.

    If 25% of Americans thought evolution was not fact, that would be “many”. (So what do we say about the 60% that we have?)

  16. As for the “many” bit, I’d say it’s undeniable that the “flashy preacher” is a common personality type, but even then what jason is saying also rings true for me.

  17. “Is there a rule stating that “many” = “majority?””

    no, of course you’re right – i’ve overstated the meaning of the word but in this context its use by o.g. does lend itself to a subtle implication of “more than not”. and again its stated as a fact and not merely an opinion which is what it really is.

  18. Jason –

    I think you’re still misrepresenting my statements. I never represented anything other than my own opinion. If you read my first post it says, “I think..” which should clue you into that.

    I gave examples specifically of people and positions that have abused their power. I gave credit to those who perform charity. But I did not say that I had a list of pastors that formed a majority that misused their position. You made that assumption.

    My opinion is that there are a lot of crooked pastors, priests, men of God, whatever you want to call them out there.

    My opinion is that there are also a lot of people who do good work with charity.

    And, my opinion is that religion is a fraud.

    You can disagree with me, but don’t try to discredit me by changing my words with your own colored assumptions.

  19. I agree with OG. There probably are a lot of crooked pastors, etc. who use religion to, at best, make a living, and at worst, become wealthy on the backs of the lemmings who believe what they preach, and hand over their hard earned money in the belief that they, too, will reap the same benefits.

    Religion, in that sense, is a fraud. It’s a fraud because it does do some good. There are churches and good people who use their money for good. Lot’s of money at services actually do go to starving children in Africa, or whatever. But all this does is put a gloss, a patina, on religion to mask the fact that much of the money collected actually goes into the pockets of the religious leaders, to maintain their lifestyles, and if they are as big as Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Rick Warren, to fund their cultural and political agendas.

    In the end it’s just another commercial enterprise that uses the little bit of good it does to hide the fact that it’s just a source of income for the people at the top.

  20. every church that i’ve worked with…

    Anecdotal tales are cute, like kittens.

    On a seemingly unrelated note, I saw an interesting thing online about how to spoof an ip. At least on Windows it seems pretty easy, or that might just be because there are so many more Windows users than Mac users that it leads to many more solutions to be found from a Windows perspective than a Mac one (and no, I don’t think I have to quantify “many” here). There’s even companies out there making money providing ip spoofing services, under the guise of greater security of course and not as a way to expand your online douchery, but I suppose it might be appealing as a security feature for those with alternative porn tastes.

  21. @ Philly –

    Yes, but he **did** go on to note:

    i’ve never seen one of the pastors at any lead a lifestyle that could be called lavish.

    So, with many “data points”… ??

  22. I was once sort of friends with a rapist/murderer. He was nice to me, and even would shake my hand hello and goodbye, which was unusually formal when both guys are barely 18 (or at least it was back then). If anyone had asked me then if I thought he would do what he eventually did, I would have said no, just like anyone who saw those guys with the kitten might not believe they tortured and gassed people.

    I got curious about the ip spoofing thing because someone said it was hard, but I don’t think it is, especially on Win because there appears to be free apps for it. I can always wait until I get to campus and ask the pros, I guess.

  23. Philly: The nazikitteh is now making the rounds at my office. You have corrupted a federal workplace.

    And yeah, the banality of evil is truly horrifying. Interesting, but horrifying. They don’t all wear hockey masks, wield chain saws, or have swastikas tatooed on their foreheads. Some wear religious regalia and will take the last penny from a poor man with the promise that, if he believes enough, he will be repaid with wealth.

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