Sunday, June 26, 2011

Joel Osteen: Faster Horses

I admit, I am fascinated with Joel Osteen.

Primarily, the whole gospel-of-plenty thing, really blows my mind. Catholics will do a sneaky novena asking for greenbacks here and there, but nothing like Joel counsels us to do. He says you have to think BIG, like God does. He sounds like Cecil B DeMille.

As I've said before, this whole line of thinking was stolen wholesale from the late Reverend Ike, appropriately dressed up and taken to the white suburbs. Joel constantly tells us we deserve big things, better jobs, giant houses (don't settle for smaller!) and prosperity prosperity prosperity!

Listening to him, I have more than once recalled the chorus of the old Tom T. Hall song, Faster Horses:

Faster Horses
Younger Women
Older Whiskey
And More Money
I halfway-expect Joel to belt that out, at some point.

While I am admitting my fascination with America's foremost preacher of the Prosperity Gospel (note the link does not include Reverend Ike, whom they all stole from), let me catalog my points of fascination:

1) His smile and his teeth. The literary term, "he beamed at us" hardly suffices for what Joel can do... his smile is bloody incandescent.

Ronald Reagan Jr once said no man was a match for his father, when his father decided to "turn on the high-beams"--and I daresay, I have found the match.

Could anyone argue with this smile? I certainly couldn't. If he was in sales, he would be as rich as the Sun King... oh wait, he is and he is, I forgot.

2) His wife, Victoria. As a feminist, I don't usually call women Barbie dolls, since that would be mean, she winked at her readers. And besides, that would only be describing her appearance, not her famous diva-tantrums. Joel never talks about her tantrums, but I wonder how he feels about her periodic um, moods?

I'd love to be the proverbial fly-on-the-wall during one of their squabbles.

3) His hair. Nobody would listen to a promise of prosperity from a 49-year-old who was losing his hair. It's a psychological thing: since he has an enviable, profuse, heavy head of hair, he probably has LOTS OF EVERYTHING. Samson and Delilah, etc. His prayers keep his hair from falling out, don't they? Obviously, his prayers work pretty good!

4) The way he points upward (to God and heaven, presumably) at key points during his sermons. I once attended a retail-sales workshop in which I was taught that I should touch the item I intended to sell. Pick it up and make it "intimate"; you will notice on shopping networks such as QVC and HSN, there is virtual non-stop pawing of the merchandise. You have to make it real for people, and putting something REAL in your hands, is the way. And it does increase sales.

What do you if it's God you are selling?

Some preachers pound that Bible, or pound that lectern, or emote-in-extremis whilst explaining things (Jimmy Swaggart was famously very good at this). Joel points upward. Lots. It's like he's been there already, and has come back to tell you all about it.

Well, if having millions of dollars is the way to heaven, or is the equivalent of heaven on earth, or something... I guess he HAS been there, hasn't he?

My question is: In these harsh economic times, why isn't everyone jealous of him, instead of giving him even MORE money?

I think this is due to--

5) The amazingly-wholesome vibe he puts out. This is what keeps me glued to the screen. He is so POSITIVE, so, so, so... POSITIVE. There just isn't any other word for it. OPTIMISTIC maybe. And the people I've met who like Osteen, are just this optimistic and positive also. Although they tend to believe fundamentalist ideas (or at least give lip service to them), they are reluctant to judge others, and concentrate mostly on their own lives and spreading good feelings and love (while praying for prosperity).

You might say Osteen has learned to combine the peace-and-love of the hippie era of his childhood, with the Reagan-era go-getter capitalist concepts of his adulthood... just add Jesus and stir. Works for Joel.

Joel is way better than the Mike Huckabees of the world, and yet, there are Christians who are driven bonkers by his warping of the scriptures, dragging in that tired old Prayer of Jabez and ignoring the words of Christ Himself.

Christ was no fan of the rich, and that is the Gospel. And yet, it seems this unabashed embrace of capitalist values insures they won't meddle too much in social issues. After all, unbridled capitalism IS a social issue, too, and I think Joel knows that. I watched an old sermon last night, dated 2009, and it was interesting in the way he says "Don't worry that you can't afford a new house, because God will provide!"--wait, I thought, did this idea contribute to the housing market crash?

Hanna Rosin has been there already, and is way ahead of me:
On the cover of his 4 million-copy best seller from 2004, Your Best Life Now, Joel Osteen looks like a recent college grad who just got hired by Goldman Sachs and can’t believe his good luck. His hair is full, his teeth are bright, his suit is polished but not flashy; he looks like a guy who would more likely shake your hand than cast out your demons. Osteen took over his father’s church in 1999. He had little preaching experience, although he’d managed the television ministry for years. The church grew quickly, as Osteen packaged himself to appeal to the broadest audience possible. In his books and sermons, Osteen quotes very little scripture, opting instead to tell uplifting personal anecdotes. He avoids controversy, and rarely appears on Christian TV. In a popular YouTube clip, he declines to confirm Larry King’s suggestion that only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven.
Osteen is often derided as Christianity Lite, but he is more like Positivity Extreme. “Cast down anything negative, any thought that brings fear, worry, doubt, or unbelief,” he urges. “Your attitude should be: ‘I refuse to go backward. I am going forward with God. I am going to be the person he wants me to be. I’m going to fulfill my destiny.’” Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and “invites more negativity into your life,” he writes. Instead, you have to “program your mind for success,” wake up every morning and tell yourself, “God is guiding and directing my steps.” The advice is exactly like the message of The Secret, or any number of American self-help blockbusters that edge toward magical thinking, except that the religious context adds another dimension.
Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s, says [religion professor Jonathan] Walton. These are precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures, according to Eric Halperin, of the Center for Responsible Lending
[Most] new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. [Religious researcher Kate] Bowler, who, like Walton, was researching a book, spent a lot of time attending the “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches. Advisers would pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” she recalls, but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.

Nationally, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among African American and Latino congregations. This is also the other distinct pattern of foreclosures. “Hyper-segregated” urban communities were the worst off, says Halperin.
It is not all that surprising that the prosperity gospel persists despite its obvious failure to pay off. Much of popular religion these days is characterized by a vast gap between aspirations and reality. Few of Sarah Palin’s religious compatriots were shocked by her messy family life, because they’ve grown used to the paradoxes; some of the most socially conservative evangelical churches also have extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce.
In short, it's Joel Osteen's hour. He won't put you down for being divorced, etc.

He will point upward, and for some unfathomable reason, you just want to follow him up there.