Friday, December 28, 2007

Spiritual Deceptions - My first GraphicTruth.

`Gospel of wealth' facing scrutiny - Yahoo! News Annotated

The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor's living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.

And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Fla., area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinnand a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.

Only the blessings didn't come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn't strong enough.

By their fruits you will know them.
  • There isn't any reason why a Christian can't be prosperous, of course, but there's nothing in the Bible - or any other spiritual text - that highlights wealth as a special and particular blessing of faith.

    As for those preachers who are enjoying the fruits of their ministry to the extent of living lavish lifestyles and hob-nobbing with presidents and powerful business leaders who love to think that their aquissitive nature is a spiritual gift - "Behold, they have their reward."

    - post by graphictruth

The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles — the "Gospel of Prosperity," or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.

This story is very personal to me - and the connection to Oral Roberts is direct.

You see, my mother - a religious addict by any reasonable use of the term - was much taken with Oral Robert's ministry, back when I was ten or twelve, and on days when she didn't feel up to driving the thirty-odd miles it would take to get us to church, she'd watch his show.

And usually, she'd stuff whatever "love offering" he requested for whatever trinket he was selling that day.

Now, our usual church was Episcopal. Being a dutiful and very aspy child, I took my mother's obvious wish that I become "saved" and conversant with the words and works of Jesus very seriously indeed. And as it happened, that church had a very advanced Sunday school, where we really got our teeth into the word, and chewed it with the help of concordances, interlinear bibles, and various translations. I had my own Amplified Bible, which I found very useful.

To make a long story short, I was quite the little deacon at that point, although I had by that time also learned that in regards to my parents, "hiding my light under a bushel" was by far the best course.

However, when Oral Roberts pulled a "prayer cloth" with his holy blessed hand-print upon it, stated that he'd personally prayed over each and every one of these objects, and because of that, they would by some twisted transubstantiation personally connect him to you via the Holy Idiot Box if you placed your hand over his as he prayed with his own hand raised on Teevee...

Well, this little deacon exploded, and while I didn't speak in tongues - as mother really thought any believer should - for once I did not hold it. Nor was it a "word of knowledge." You don't need that when scriptural first principles are being raped before your eyes.

I pointed out that it was idolatry - both of an object and a man, and as graphic an example of a man placing himself before God, as a god-substitute as you would ever see. It still angers me to this day, that a man professing to be a Christian minister could not even get through the FIRST commandment without pissing all over it.

I say that deliberately, as a graphic and visceral illustration of the clear and mindful insult to both his followers and to the God he pretended to serve.

I was actually rather surprised the roof didn't fall in on him right then. It took a few more years, and the "fall" was metaphorical, but rather satisfying, nonetheless.

But in any case, that one time my mother listened to me and did not actually put twenty bucks in an envelope. But it didn't keep her from sending it off to Bob Schuller. Indeed, she sent hundreds, if not thousands to him. One Christmas, my major gift was a window in the Chrystal Cathedral.

Imagine my joy.

As far as I'm concerned, nothing says "transparent fraud" better than the Crystal cathedral. Although these days it's far from the worst such church. Rev. Bob Schuller was a sincere advocate of an inoffensive ministry that was based more on his blandly optimistic self-help pep-talks than on the Bible.

It was a dose of weekly feelgood that came with no strings of personal obligation, other than to buy his books and be optimistic - and all you needed to do in order to progress spiritually was just that - buy his books and be optimistic.

It wasn't nearly as offensive as the "name it - claim it" theology of Oral Roberts, and that is what my mother fell back into later on.

And just like the bitter woman in this article, my mother ended up bitter and unfulfilled, having sacrificed pretty much everything in a futile quest for sanctity and moral superiority without doing the heavy lifting involved involved in discerning Right Action.

Yes, I am informed by other religious traditions. As should you be, if you are moved toward a quest for spiritual insight. If you merely wish to belong to a church that offers a community of belief at a reasonable price, and puts some effort into doing a good job of it, though, I would recommend either a Catholic or Anglican Communion congregation, depending upon your need for governing authorities.

The important thing in my mind is that neither faith is one that encourages self-righteousness and self-involvement to the same degree as the evangelical, "prosperity gospel" mega-churches.

And that, of course, brings us back into the secular world. Indeed, since we are speaking of Oral Roberts and his Mega-church legacy of sanctified greed and the elevation of
over actual moral virtue, we have never left the secular realm!

If you have not yet grasped the thrust of my words, let me be blunt - I consider none of these televangelists, with their politicalmaneuverings and highly profitable enterprises to be anything other than entirely secular con-men, or, for the very best of a bad lot, no better than any other motivational speaker.

But the worst of them - Benny Hinn leaps to mind - are fully in the tradition of Marjoe Gortner and P.T. Barnum, but blessed with even less conscience than either of those.

Now, I have studied the Bible from front to back and back to front over the years, searching for the context and intent of the words of Christ. For the most part, I consider what I've learned to be highly personal, and not at all something I feel either comfortable or qualified to preach toward - though it would be easy to argue that my scruples are rather unusual in that regard.

One truth is obvious enough to me to share with you in context. In the times of Jesus, sheep were a vital part of the economy, and nobody could possibly have missed the subtext of Christ saying to his Disciples, "feed my sheep."

It's not a complementary metaphor. There are few animals that make a collie or Irish setter seem bright in comparison, and sheep are at the top of the list. They have been bred over thousands and thousands of years to be meek, inoffensive, biddable, stupid creatures who are incapable of finding food for themselves. They NEED to be "led to green pastures" and "to lie beside still waters."

So when Christ said "feed my sheep," nobody thought it was anything other than a thankless chore involving inherently stupid creatures who needed to gently and compassionately cared for. Jesus cared about his stupid, bleating, sheep like followers, who could as easily be led to war against the Romans as "beside the still waters."

What he did NOT say was "fleece my sheep." And that is what these mega-churches do, with their for profit banks that will helpfully accept direct deposits from your place of work and deduct a thirty percent tithe.

Oh yes. Thirty percent. Some actually take that much.

Tax free, for them. Not for you, of course. Since even if you are able to deduct all the thirty percent, you will still be paying the differential on property and other municipal taxes to allow for that corporate monstrosity.

That's not just fleecing the sheep, it's skinning them alive, and then slaughtering their lambs in front of their bleeding, soon to be corpses.

That metaphor applies to the Evangelically sanctified "war on terror."

Meanwhile, these massive edifices exist without paying property tax or any other fees to the "godless" community they take advantage of, even though the impact is similar to a large stadium in terms of traffic and environmental impact.

All of this is in return for a promise that you will get into heaven eventually, and meanwhile, due to your faith, deserve all kinds of rewards in the here and now.

Some of these churches actually take a step toward making that happen, with an entire "grey" economy wherein all the members essentially agree to do business only with other members of that church - so an illusion of prosperity, and even perhaps a little actual prosperity may occur - but of course, only for a few, who are held up as exemplars of Christian virtue, even though scandal after scandal seems to reveal intentional patterns of fraud, abuse and the worst sorts of sexual and political corruption.

I think we have all suffered enough at the hands of such "virtuous" Christian shepherds, and shoveled all the crap left behind them that we need to grasp the point that they cannot be trusted with the lives and prosperity of those foolish enough to take them at their word. We need to "shake the dust from our feet."

Matthew, Chapter Ten is pretty much the definitive instruction set and doctrinal basis for Evangelism. Inasmuch as it contradicts just about everything mega church, prosperity gospel "evangelists" say and do, you can, and SHOULD take it as Gospel.

After all, it IS Gospel. Believe it, or do not, but if you believe the Bible is true, then you must admit that such creatures are false to the core - and how much more obviously true this must be if you consider the gospels to be a variety of fable.

And as this "prosperity gospel" with it's emotional and authoritarian appeals are so deeply entwined with our current administration and it's political appointees that there is effectively no difference, I suggest that no distinction need be made. We should impeach and convict the lot of them. The righteous need to retake the churches, while those who believe in ethical, constitutional, professional and accountable leadership must retake all three branches of government.

Please do what you can to encourage Sen. Grassley toward Right Action in this regard, that in service to this action of cleansing our body politic of the pernicious influence of corrupt and deceptive churches, he should become a co-sponsor of Dennis Kucinich's Impeachment resolution, if he has not already.

After all, it's the same lot of corrupt bastards, all scratching each other's backs, swapping their private planes and fleecing the gullible sheep.

The goats need to take back their flocks.

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