I’ve never considered myself a scrooge, a misanthrope, but this last week has made me feel I may be a closet Ebenezer. I’m not happy about it. It is disconcerting to think you might have a really rather unpleasant character flaw.
A preacher, big in Houston (well of course he would be, everything is bigger in Texas), by the name of Joel Osteen has just published another book and is being splashed all over the press. This one called, Everyday a Friday. Catchy: and it almost doesn’t need the tagline How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week.
Apparently if the plethora of ‘how-to’ books available now is to be believed, we need a guide for everything from computing, to carpentry, to chicanery. Which when you think about it is interesting because there appear to be very few men, certainly of my acquaintance, who read printed instructions on how to do anything.
You would be wrong though to think this cuts into Mr. Osteen’s book profits. They are remarkably healthy, so much so he hasn’t taken a cent in salary since his first book was published in 2005. But with a purported $13 million advance on his second publication this magnanimous gesture palls a little.
Yes, I’m definitely feeling scroogish.
But honestly it’s not the money. It’s the content that I find baffling. Each book tells the same message, described by Reverend Michael Horton, Professor of Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, as ‘cotton-candy gospel’. Osteen’s pronouncements appear shallow and not backed up by that rather good book, The Bible: and I do struggle with his description of other religions and their guiding principles as false religions; particularly in view of the sensitivities around multi-culturalism in many countries.
Over 40,000 people scroll through his mega-ministry, Lakewood Church, each week and who each year contribute around $43 million to its coffers. The mailman delivers a further $30 million annually from the roughly 10 million Americans and countless other millions who tune in around the world each week.
That’s an awful lot of people listening to a non-denominational preacher with a semester’s worth of college education in radio and television communication, and who then spent 17 years producing his father’s television sermons. Osteen’s first trip to the pulpit, oops sorry, it’s called a podium at Lakewood Church, was two weeks after his father died in 1999 and since then his prosperity gospel has increased very significantly.
I don’t have an issue with his lack of formal education, he obviously knows what he is doing as far as communication is concerned, but if one is proselytising surely there should be some substance for those you are attempting to convert to base their decision on.
There I go again, Ebenezer coming through.
Maybe I’m wrong but to me a good preacher is like a cypher through which someone else’s words are transmitted. He makes you think about those words rather than telling you what to think, or at least challenges you to think for yourself rather than drip-feeding inanities like, Keep in mind, just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean that one does not exist. You simply haven’t discovered it yet. It all seems a little too much self-belief rather than what to me a ministry should be encouraging; that if you believe in God you will find a way.
I recognise and respect that many find great solace in their religion whatever it is, but I do find Osteen’s brand rather disquieting. No cross, no religious symbols. Is that because they encourage idolatry, or because those maybe straying from other religious beliefs to Osteen’s mantra will feel less intimidated? So many people being entreated to expect happiness, health and prosperity every day of their lives, and that if they just listen to him they to will get it. Life is not like that. We need a certain amount of conflict to spur us on to the next challenge; and we just have to look at the news to now optimism alone doesn’t stop pain and poverty, or natural or manmade disasters.
Osteen has little truck for those who question his authority and denounces them with the words, I don’t waste time engaging in conflicts that don’t matter to me. I’ve learned the critics cannot keep me from my destiny. But what exactly is his destiny? I do have a smile. I do have joy. I do have God’s favor. I do have victory, he says. Does that mean he’s reached it? Because to me preaching, moulding people’s thoughts, without substance would appear to be a rather hazy goal.
But what do I know? I’m being scroogish again and I need to take heed of Mr. Osteen’s words God wants you to be a winner, not a whiner.
So I’m now going to listen to Bobby McFerrin’s lyrics sung by Bob Marley, In life expect some trouble, but when you worry you make it double, don’t worry, be happy.
And I won’t have to pay a tithe to hear it.